Up the Rattlesnake (Montana is ugly).

Here’s the thing:

Montana is really, really, ridiculously good looking. Example A:

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It’s hard to take bad photographs here. It’s hard to not feel the urge to have a camera on you 24/7 (I usually have more than one to be honest). The sunsets, the trees, the mountains in the Western part of the state- it’s all very ‘Gram worthy (and in fact, I have noticed a lot more “influencers” who are based out of Montana- but that’s a story for another day).

It had snowed pretty consistently Sunday morning so Brenna and I postponed a longer hike and chose to head up the Rattlesnake. This is an area of Missoula that is busy with recreationists year-round, and we were passed by bikers (in the snow, mind you) and soon, I am sure ski tracks will be rife up there as well. Most Montanans (me excluded) have adapted to the reality of winters that last a minimum of six months, and have outdoor hobbies. Again, not me.

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Anyway, we went on a short-ish jaunt in the snow, and it was beautiful. We chatted, looked for animals, admired the quiet of the landscape, and soaked in this manageable amount of snow and cold.

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Here’s Montana in all her ugly, #nofilter. You’re welcome.

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Coisas que eu gosto

 

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Logan’s been gone and my Portuguese has become wretched, choppy, and even sadder than it was before he left (it was never really *that* good) . I’ve been trying to use short, small sentences and find words that I know are in my brain either in Spanish or Italian.

Coisas is close to cosi (It) and cosas (Sp) and so my mind has a bridge. Gosto is close to gustar (Sp), etc. and so forth. I can’t wait to actually hear and re-learn everything I’ve lost soon.

Recently a friend joked that in lieu of a relationship right now I’ve invested in skincare and I can’t say that it’s entirely untrue. Logan is gone but I’ve got little bottles and serums! I’ve shelved my The Ordinary bottles- they were giving me skin problems that made me unhappy, even though I loved the price, the way they felt, and the fact that they did brighten my skin. Instead, I switched to a BHA to help take care of some of the problems caused by the shelved solutions, and bought a new snail repair cream- I had the Mizon ampoule and used it to the last drop but it was sold out on Amazon at the time so I bought it’s sister product! I love the ampoule a bit more- it feels luxurious and less contaminating, whereas with this cream you dip a finger in and then apply. Both are hydrating and make my skin feel very cared for. I love the Mizon repair cream and this Cosrx BHA, they do what they’re supposed to and have been lasting me a while, and they were both right around $17-18. I haven’t yet purchased anything over $20, even though in  my dreams I’d be splurging on something from Drunk Elephant (that’ll be a bit down the road for sure!).

I am nervous for switching up my skincare routine in a few months, as I’ll go from the extremely cold, dry Montana winter to the humidity, sun, and heat in south/central Brazil. It’ll be an adventure in every sense of the word there!

 

Phone diary from July

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Logan’s been gone a month. I’m on my own here in Montana. I’ve adopted new skincare methods, moved into a new room, have four bags of clothes to donate, and have been trying to enjoy summer. That means reading- a lot. In distilleries, coffee shops, bed, on work breaks, in the park, anywhere and everywhere. After the books come walks- long, meandering, in the evening. Summer is always remembered as the best but it’s so hot during the day that I duck in and out of shaded spaces and cool buildings. I can’t concentrate when it’s so hot that the buildings themselves radiate heat after sundown. The fan goes, and my mind wanders in circles, and I loathe summer as it happens, but remember it as so much better when it’s over.

Black and white reflections

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Odds and ends of a strange month. I got my Canadian work visa from the kindest border agent and then had the most awful experience coming back to my home country. I stayed out late and saw people I rarely see, found a dead bird behind the auto repair shop on my way to work, ate at a diner outside Spokane in eastern Washington, spent some time by the sea with my mom in Bellingham the night before getting my visa, and photographed flowers sprouting everywhere here in Missoula. It’s 90 degrees outside and I miss those weird spring days where you still might see snow on the mountains and have frost on some bits of the yard.

A long goodbye.

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Tomorrow morning I take Logan to the airport and we will not see one another for about six months. He will fly home to Brazil.

Saying goodbye for this long has made me neglect many things. I’ve been coveting our time together, because I need to store up memories for the long separation. Books go unread, blog posts go un-posted, photographs unedited. Film sits at the photography shop, developed and all set in nice little rows for me to scan, but even the effort of going and getting that, rather than spending time with my person, feels weird. I will get it Thursday when Logan is safely home.

He is going home partially because there are no real immigration routes for him here in America (which is ridiculous for many reasons), and partially because it has been seven years away from home and it is simply time. Time to be around family, friends, his brother, to be a Brazilian again and forget some English, to hear parrots being rude out on the front porch and loathe the heat and listen to cicadas at night and go to fishing holes where coatis gather.

I will be here, working and saving money, missing him and remembering what it is to be alone, looking for the perfect flight to go see him. Living with somebody naturally blends and bleeds edges of yourself with that person, and I am excited to find out my own boundaries, habits, and other things for a little bit. To go by myself and read a book with a glass of wine, do my nighttime wanderings which I haven’t done, pick up too many library books and spend time taking photographs of things that aren’t him. It’s going to be very hard.

First Yellowstone trip of the year!

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April in Yellowstone is kind of a crapshoot. You never know if you’re going to have a blizzard roll in, a bunch of hail, or a perfectly clear, beautiful evening. You could literally encounter anything- elk in your campsite, bears, unruly humans- and you have to be prepared for all those options.

We drove through Paradise Valley, past the fast-moving, brown Yellowstone River, admiring the cloud-covered peaks of the Absaroka range. We got to the Mammoth Hot Springs campground. A park ranger let us know we got the last campsite in the area (yes!!!) and we proceeded to pitch our tent on the raised platform. This was the first time we would be sleeping in our new-ish tent that we had gotten for a ridiculous steal at an REI garage sale.

After pitching our tent we drove to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, and walked on the creaky boardwalks all over. The smell of sulfur belched from the ground, and there were dozens of cow elk scattered nearby, many of them pregnant. I wondered when they would be surrounded by their small, awkward calves and hoped I’d get to see some soon!

I ran into an old classmate from my Swiss college on the boardwalk as we were coming down. I hadn’t seen Heather in over seven years, and here she was! We hugged, and I shook my head in bewilderment. After attending Franklin College in Lugano, I feel so lucky to have my world be so small that I get to have experiences like that.

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Logan and I bemoaned the stupidity we already saw visitors exhibiting. We saw women try and pet the pregnant cow elk, and behind my gritted teeth I let out a vile hope that the elk would charge or kick somebody who dared to disrespect their personal space. Red dogs, or baby bison, cavorted outside our campground, and people got way…too…close…to photograph and marvel at the tiny little devils, who were dwarfed by their much larger, scarier mothers and fathers.

Yellowstone is best before Memorial Day weekend and after Labor Day, but it was still so awful to see so many people stressing out wildlife and putting themselves in danger. I usually refuse to visit after June starts because it just gets to be too much- I tend to become enraged so often seeing the ridiculous amounts of idiocy being exhibited by humans, so I just stay away.

Regardless, it was a beautiful, sunny day. Logan and I tried to go to the Boiling River, but the river was moving so swiftly, full of run off, and there were so many people crowded in the hot spots that we decided to try again tomorrow morning before too many people were awake. This plan was ultimately foiled.

We went back to our campsite and started a fire with dry grass, newspapers, and matches. We made some hot water for tea and cooked kielbasa, and then a hard wind came down, accompanied by fat, unapologetic drops of rain. We got into the car (the tent was being blown almost vertically by the rain) and waited it out. Soon, hail pelted the car. We looked at each other and wondered if we would need to get a cheap motel in Gardiner, because if the weather kept up this way there would be no way we could sleep in our tent, even with the rain fly on and it being sturdily staked in the ground. The wind was just too much!

Luckily after about 40 minutes it all subsided, leaving us with a beautiful full moon and some fluffy, nonthreatening clouds. We spent the evening eating and sitting by the fire, having a beer or two and just chatting in the way that a fire encourages people to talk. Eventually it was time to retire, and we crept into our little green tent and nestled into our sleeping bags. I slept like a rock, not waking until about 5 am, when the birds began to serenade us and the sun began to slowly make itself known. Logan stirred, and I rolled over, wanting to sleep in but also wanting to get up and get to the Boiling River.

Finally around 7 am we got up, put on bathing suits, and headed down the road. It looked like there were no cars in the lot! Yes! Upon driving closer, we saw why: the park rangers had locked the gate, which was a sure sign that the Gardner River had been deemed too fast and dangerous to stay open for visitors. We barely missed it!
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We went back to our campsite and made coffee and cooked the rest of our kielbasa for breakfast. We then decided to drive through the whole park to see what it looked like. Once we got outside Mammoth the temperature dropped rapidly, and we saw layers of snow that had been plowed off the road piled high. Mated pairs of sandhill cranes stalked in shallow streams, and we saw bison partially hidden behind curtains of billowing steam from the volcanically-heated waterways and geysers. There weren’t many people out and about, and we marveled at the sun glinting from mountain tops and how green everything was already.

On our way home, we stopped at Norris Hot Springs to soak for a bit, because we were at the bare minimum going to get to soak in at least one hot spot! Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds and mountain bluebirds trilled and called from the marshland around the hot spring, and we let ourselves relax. We shouldn’t have- as I drove over the mountain pass that lies before Butte, a freak snowstorm swept over us. Massive amounts of snow were falling, and the road was quickly getting full of slow-moving, careful cars. The heat in our car gave out, and I had to ask Logan to wipe the inside windshield so that it wouldn’t freeze up and block my vision. It was late April, and we were in the middle of a fucking blizzard?! I cursed my way over the pass, knowing that as long as we went slowly and carefully we could make it to the other side.

Eventually we did! It was quite a journey. We got home after 10 hours in the car in one day and collapsed in our beds. It’s always an adventure going to Yellowstone, no matter what you expect will happen.

No: Thoughts, regrets, and an on-going process.

I’ve been thinking about the word “no” lately. A lot.

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It comes with the territory of working in the domestic violence field.

I’ve gotten used to entering in paperwork that documents strangulation, human trafficking, and other atrocities. I have to. It’s my job, my $16.20-an-hour-plus-benefits job, and if I thought about every person who was on those forms, every instance of violence, violation, endangerment, or the other fucked up shit, I wouldn’t sleep. I would ruin my relationship with my boyfriend. I would have problems eating, enjoying sunshine, and smiling at all the puppies that are out and about on the hiking trails. I’ve managed to tune a lot of it out, compartmentalize my work, but it still gets to me, how many people couldn’t say no, couldn’t leave, couldn’t escape.

Something really got me recently though. I was listening to The Heart podcast, a beautiful, tender, hilarious, and marvelous podcast about sex, love, intimacy, gender, genitals, and humanity. The producer, Kaitlin Prest, created a series called “No” and it brought me back to so many places in my life. She discussed how hard it is to say the word. How she practiced for years saying no. How men ignored those no’s, selfishly, to achieve what they wanted- a blowjob in a basement, sex that would ruin a friendship, a massage that had boundaries clearly marked and then steamrolled over.

It brought me back to the thousands of instances where I wish I could have said no or felt safe doing so. When men would catcall me on runs in high school, I wish I could have rejected their harassment that made me hyper-aware of my body, my changing body that already betrayed me with periods and breasts and all these things that made me want to dig a hole in my yard and come out in a decade or two- no.

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I vividly remember sitting on my couch in my apartment my final year of college with my then-boyfriend Chris. He said, on an otherwise nice afternoon, “You would be so much sexier if you exercised more”. I should have said no, walked him to the door and shut it and ended it there. I should have rejected his judgement, his shaming of my body, the softness and fullness of parts of it that I sometimes still struggle to embrace even though I am beautiful. I remember blushing and feeling humiliated and like I had done something wrong, because male attention was still such a focal point of my life. I had been raised by television, magazines, my friend group, everybody, that men wanting you was right, good, important- that it validated my existence. I had given this man a lot but it was not enough and that was my fault.

Except, it wasn’t. It was his fault because he had issues about being a short dude so he would comment on my body because his was short and thin and didn’t make an effort to do anything about it- it was easier to let me know how I was supposed to act and look.

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I was working at the Forest Service, where a tall, beady-eyed, parasitic man named John who worked there, who was friends with the boss, would corner me in my front desk, which only had one entrance, and say things about my body and make me feel like I needed to take a shower after. I worked hard to speak up for myself, but he lingered for two years afterwards, and I deeply regret not telling him to his face that he was a loathsome creep, no. (Also,  a big fuck you to the Forest Service for never doing anything about John, who also was a fucked up grade A creep to many other women in my office.)

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It’s so fucking hard to say NO. I almost cried as Kaitlin described on her podcast being harassed by a dude in a basement who asked her, repeatedly, “give me a blowjob” and how hard it was for her to refuse again and again, because this disgusting, selfish man kept wearing her down, until she did it, because she felt like she didn’t have options.

I have done many things I never wanted to. I have been made to feel many things I never wanted to. My life has been struck through, like a streak of quartz, diamond-hard in rock, with shame, humiliation, frustration, anger, and insane amounts of un-quelled fear. I have been violated, my body disrespected, in more ways than I want to count- the men ganging up on me at a bar after one of them grabbed my ass so I couldn’t call out which one trespassed on my body. The guy I went to elementary and middle school with who made fun of me and called me names, who years later humiliated me in new ways, over a decade down the road, by touching me in a bar in Bozeman, Montana. I didn’t say NO because he was big, heavy, and because I also fell down a rabbit hole of new grief, because he had made me feel awful so long ago and now I was being subjected to fresh feelings of awfulness by this selfish bastard.

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I still am bad at saying no when I should. I like pleasing people too much, I like keeping things even and nice and smooth. In the moment, as a woman, it is safer to stay quiet, it doesn’t put me or my loved ones in danger. It doesn’t rile people up or harsh the vibe. It’s exhausting and not sustainable and yet almost every woman I know lives their life with this weight of this problem with them, whether or not they acknowledge its presence.

This isn’t a post about resolving to start speaking up more – that would be a bold faced lie if I typed it and left it here on this blog. I’ve been vulnerable on this platform blog for years and I can’t pretend to suddenly be strong, armored, and actively making up for all the time I’ve lost being disrespected, violated, ashamed, and made to feel that my body is not mine.

I do genuinely enjoy asserting my space and what I feel. Putting out my pointy elbows at a concert so men don’t crowd my personal space, calling out men who say sexist, wrong things, and always looking out for other women or other vulnerable people. I don’t mind sharing my past traumas with men and other women so they know that they’re real, and I don’t mind making people uncomfortable with these memories. I don’t like silence- it cloaks and obscures realities. I found it comforting in a dark, fucked up way, to hear Kaitlin’s “No” podcast discuss what so many women like me experience. Maybe talking about my experiences on this blog will comfort somebody else.

Bibliophile moments

I finally got my library card (YES!) and since have been checking out books just about every week.

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Recently, I’ve been loving Dan Flores’ Visions of the Big Sky: Painting and Photographing the Northern Rocky Mountain West. It’s a big, fat book full of illustrations and paintings, and even if you don’t read the text, the art he showcases within the pages is worth looking at.

What Flores does that drew me to this book, though, is re-examine so many stale, old stereotypes and tropes within Western American art that drove me away from it. I hate, for example, the same cowboys being painted again and again. I loathe the “noble savage” paintings done by white dudes that hang in galleries in Bozeman, Whitefish, and Jackson Hole. Flores looks at this art and calls it out for what it is- false narratives of hyper-masculinity that continue to be created to feed myths for the types of men who purchase the art. He also brings forth new perspectives on beautiful art that shrinks white men to ants, that works to show us something new, and something beautiful.

Hector Feliciano’s The Lost Museum: The Nazi Conspiracy to Steal the World’s Greatest Works of Art also caught my eye. My first degree is in Art History and after having lived in Europe and traveled extensively, there is still evidence of World War II everywhere. Feliciano traces how Germany systematically confiscated thousands of paintings by some of the most remarkable painters of the last five hundred years, including Vermeer, Matisse, Manet, Cranach, Bruegel, Tiepolo, and others. To this day, thousands of paintings, enamels, medals, coins, and other works of art are gone, likely squirreled away in vaults, museum archives, or in private family holdings. The sleuth-like narrative he uses intrigued me immediately and his knowledge of art, his access to declassified files, and other sources make the book thorough but also devastatingly sad.

I recently picked up Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, which I am so excited to read! I’ve heard amazing things, and ever since I took an art history course about Roman wall paintings and another about ancient Rome, my love for all things Roman has grown. A quiet dream of mine is to live in Rome for a whole autumn or spring at some point, and wander around the streets, have an espresso in a crowded cafe, and soak in the millenia of history.

Thankful.

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This year has been tough. It’s been full of thoughts of failure and regret, of frustrations and complications. It’s been rejection, a lot more than I thought, and a lot of patience.

But this year has also been one of thrills, victories, and love. Getting up at 6 am and writing my thesis, slowly punching out the right words in the morning at my favorite coffee shop while saying hello to the crows I passed in the morning. Walking by the sea, my beloved sacred place, and listening to the waves. Having my dad and Ella visit me there in the spring, taking each to my favorite haunts. Going home and looking at homes with Logan, trying to find somewhere that felt like it would work for us. Struggling with my thesis edits and getting everything right while applying for job after job, only to hear nothing made me feel worthless. Making pizzas with Logan in our kitchen, and eating on our front porch, watching the shadows grow as the sun set in the summer. Seeing movies and walking across the Clark Fork river on the bridge, feeling the breeze on my face while holding Logan’s hand. Hugging my mother and sister when I see them and playing with my mother’s dog. Holding a hot mug of coffee in a booth at Butterfly Herbs.

While Thanksgiving as a holiday is a lot of historical erasure, I still took the day to be thankful for it all. For the struggles and the lack of money, which feels constant. For the love and support I give and receive. For the roof over our head and the car that is still running and for the fact that I am healthy and okay and that it will be okay.

I hope that you had a good day of thanks and that you were able to take a moment or two and think about the good things or hold the ones you love.

Fancy pants, one last nice day, and books.

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Montana is a notoriously fickle place. One day you’re basking on the front porch feeling like a queen, the next you’re huddled inside watching snow gather  holding tea in your hands, mentally prepared for the next six cold, unrelenting winter months. But, I did get to linger on our front porch, wearing nothing but a thin wool sweater, these glorious plaid pants, and this Icelandic wool hat that I got back in 2015 in Reykjavik. This hat has seen me through Hell and back, and the wool has always been so warm and comforting. These pants make me feel straight from the 1990’s in the best way, especially paired with the Dr. Marten 1460’s Logan got me last summer.

I’ve been bad at blogging here. My thoughts are chaotic. I feel restless, excited, nervous for the future. This lack of feeling static, of feeling like there are things to accomplish, lists to make and cross out, and chances to feel more alive, is good. I’ve got photographs to send to a lab and see how the prints turn out. I want to photograph more, and I am ravenous for subject matter. Life feels like it’s moving fast, and it’s rather scary but in a good way.

In a month I’ll be in Hawai’i, with a gallon of SPF 75 and a book, with my mom and sister, basking in the warmth like a lizard, soaking it in to save for later. It was a last minute idea, a last minute booking, but that’s often how the best things happen. This morning we made pancakes, with frozen blackberries from the garden this summer, and strong coffee. I’ve devoured two books in the last two weeks. The Round House by Louise Erdlich describes the events that come after an Ojibwe boy’s mother is brutally raped on their reservation in North Dakota. Ada Blackjack by Jennifer Niven describes how Ada Blackjack, an Iñupiat woman, survived on an ill-fated adventure’s trip into the Arctic, and the aftermath of her survival, including fame, fortune, powerful men conspiring around and against her for their own benefit, and how her life was drastically changed.

I loved both books for different reasons. Erdlich herself is Ojibwe and she brings to life the rhythms of life on a reservation and beautifully brings sensitivity and warmth to places that many of us are taught to be scared of. As a white reader, I loved reading about the complex relationship of law, land, and legacy that comes with being a tribal member on a reservation. I loved the realness of it, because I grew up with these grim, 2-D, unreal ideas driven into my head about “the res”. These ideas feel stale, and yet I do not know how to form my own, having not spent much time on a reservation and being thoroughly white. Erdlich gives me a peek into the beautiful, complex, loving, fraught realities.

Niven’s dive into the life of Ada Blackjack is different in that she weaves together a tale of one adventurer’s incompetancies and the ripple effects his bullheaded, optimistic, and cowardly nature have on the lives of men and women around him. Ada’s survival is also her downfall, and the way that she is treated as an object, an exotic “Eskimo” woman from the north, as a temptress and deviant in the press and by people around her, while also being embraced by the families of the men who died while in the Arctic with her, is thoroughly and tenderly documented by Niven.

Anyway, we’re making a Portuguese pizza (it involves boiled eggs!) and drinking a syrah we got last week, after we cleaned the house today and got rid of some stuff. Tomorrow is back to the scheduled monotony of working life, but the added bonus of a paycheck and something to do cannot be overly stressed.

Before all the leaves left the trees.

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Outside our window I can see the almost-naked trees sway in the wind. It’s cold and foreboding outside, and it’s the first snow of the year. I feel glad to be nestled in our house, warm and comfortable. I’ve had some health scares lately and am tired of calling doctors and making appointments and dealing with the what if’s of having a corporeal form.

But, having a job makes a lot of the worries feel less serious. I’ve been getting up early, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, and walking to work. The normalcy of doing so is healing, in my opinion, and while I don’t relish the realities of having a lunch hour or watching the clock a lot, it’s refreshing to know that my time means something to somebody, that as I work I get money. Having not necessarily worked with that exchange full time in a couple of years (hey grad school!) it feels so good.

I’ve had some film developed lately and I’m so excited to share it! Here are some frames from when it was still light out in the morning and the foliage hadn’t fallen off the branches yet. I already miss those times even though they still seem like yesterday.

 

The “I finally got a job post!

Thursday evening I was in my house trying to figure out if I should look for more jobs or make myself a meal when my phone rang. I’ve been desperately attached to my phone lately, hoping for good news, and as I picked up the phone I steeled myself for more bad news, or a wrong number, or a telemarketer. Instead, I was offered a job. A real, with-benefits, do-good-for-humanity job! I paused when I was asked if I wanted it, because I couldn’t be sure if this was real!

Four months. Dozens of applications. Dozens of rejections (or nothing at all). Six interviews. One job offer.

I did it! I did it! On Monday I will walk to my new workplace and meet my coworkers. I will be working for a department that focuses on relationship violence/domestic violence, and I am nervous but incredibly excited to get to work with and help people who have survived such circumstances. It’s going to be very intense work and I will be blogging about self-care and stress more, as I think I will have to be very, very careful to not bring work home with me. How do you guys not bring work home with you? I’m planning on joining a gym and trying to learn to meditate.

Anyway, it has been a journey. I’ve been so lucky to have family and friends and loved ones who have been supportive and encouraging, and it would be ridiculous to not point out that Logan has been the best sidekick ever through all of this. Thanks to everybody who stuck around through my posts about this, but in a world where not having a job is often seen as shameful and a symptom of laziness, it felt so hard to not let my status weigh in on most of my day.

Things to think about.

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  • This VERY IMPORTANT CAN YOU HEAR ME YES YOU IN THE BACK conversation about sexual harassment in academia, the silences that departments and professors keep, and the lists and whisper networks (phrase from the incredible Jenny Zhang) that students keep to protect ourselves and each other. In light of the Harvey Weinstein bullshit, which came as a shock to NO WOMAN, I’ve been thinking a lot about patterns of sexual harassment.
    • I’ve been made aware of creepy professors with known reputations before. I’ve been warned and cared for. Not by my department or professors or staff but by students who saw what was happening and let me know to be careful, to limit my interactions, to be watchful, and to be prepared.
  • This incredible interview with a strong woman who terminated her pregnancy at 32 weeks, and the Hell that is getting a late-term abortion in America.
  • The wit and pander that is Hungry and Frozen, a clever food blog of very do-able meals with a plentiful heap of hilarity.
  • Been thinking about how badly I wish I had a job so I could afford to splurge on a beautiful bottle of Galliano and just sip it and watch the world change outside my window.

At the end of the day, here’s what we all need to do:

BELIEVE SURVIVORS OF VIOLENCE AND HARASSMENT

DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE

IF YOU ARE A MAN BE WILLING TO CONFRONT TOXIC MASCULINITY AND ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR COMPLICITY IN SEXISM AND HARASSMENT EVEN IF IT MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE. BEING UNCOMFORTABLE IS GOOD. 

#WorldTeachersDay: In memorium.

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Hieronymous Bosch, closing panels of The Garden of Earthy Delights triptych. 

We moved to Montana when I was in second grade. I was skinny, awkward, and spent my days buried in books and authoring things on cheetahs, because cheetahs were the goddamn coolest animals to ever exist. My parents put me through lots of aptitude tests, which determined that I should skip a grade to continue to be academically challenged, but I was socially behind my peers due to my shyness and propensity for hiding with a book. Talking was hard with people my age, and making friends was absolutely terrifying.

Third grade came. I was assigned to be with Ms. Marcella Burke, a boisterous red-headed teacher who was so full of encouragement and love for us all it was sometimes overwhelming. I was young, too young for my memories to stand on their own in some ways, but she made me feel like excelling wasn’t nerdy or to be frowned on. She rewarded us with trips to meet important politicians such as the lieutenant governor and the governor. She had us put on plays, and we memorized lines, worked hard, and took pride in what we did. She spent her own money to buy things to reward us for our hard work, even as a single mom. She reminded us that every one of us had so much to offer the world, no matter our background or our challenges.

Ms. Burke was a proud Butte-born Irishwoman who talked about being bullied as a kid and being called “Marshmallow” instead of Marcella. I remember her as being inspiring and tall, even if she was in fact short. She made me proud of myself, and I wanted to make her proud in return. I remember losing my front teeth that year, and being dressed in horrible sweaters. It was the first time I remember being bullied as well, and feeling frustrated and ugly, something to be teased and remarked on. Books were my refuge, and Ms. Burke’s classroom was as well. She encouraged me to keep reading, and after school had ended, she invited my mother and me over to her house in early summer in a neighborhood nearby to talk to my mom about me, about plans for me, because apparently Ms. Burke saw something. Ms. Burke had recently been to Ireland and brought me back a postcard with the Gaelic alphabet on it, which I still have, and several coins, all in a beautiful white Irish lace bag. I ate brownies and sat patiently while they talked, because adults needed quiet sometimes. What I didn’t know was that she was already getting sick. Ms. Burke stopped teaching the next year or the year after, and she died in 2002 due to ovarian cancer, which my mother told me gently. I don’t remember my reaction, but the idea that she was no longer on the Earth was so foreign to me. How could somebody so intelligent, sturdy, hardy, and loving, ever leave?

Although I was young, too young to thank her in the ways that I wish I could, to this day I remember feeling like Ms. Burke saw something in me that nobody had yet. She saw somebody with potential, who was too smart for their own good and too awkward to show it in any way that mattered. She made me feel that my love of learning and reading were normal, and she assured me that I could go anywhere with literature. I wish she hadn’t died so young, and I dearly wish I could thank her for everything she’s done for me. I still have the coins and the postcard somewhere, squirreled away as mementos to a remarkable woman who made a serious impact on me, even when I was young and not necessarily paying attention. Marcella Burke, you incredible soul, I am so glad that you graced my life at a time when I really, really needed it.

Cloudscapes and thoughtscapes

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Cornbread muffins are cooling on the counter and the smell feels like a blanket. It’s early for a Saturday night but I feel exhausted in more ways than one.

We made pizzas last night and I have finessed two more cover letters to a point where I feel like they communicate what I want: That I’m capable and kind. At this point, it feels like a task that will never end. When will I wake up at 7am to get ready to go to work again? When will I have coworkers? When will that quiet assurance of a paycheck coming into my hands happen?

On Monday I worked for a day for a temp agency, filling in an admin position in an office for the day. It felt good to pack a lunch and spend a day at a desk pretending I knew what I was doing. Poor pay but damn, it felt right to be working again. I’ve been working since I was fifteen, after all.

Life is not just that limbo of unemployment, though it can feel like it. We finally had rain, steady rain that gently soaked everything around it. It was cold and we turned on the heat in our home for the first time since we moved here almost four months ago. I have found a place near our house full of locals who tell each other great stories in the booths there. I have heard men discuss the abstract art market, how to properly care for cattle, the benefits of tea over coffee, and other conversational snippets that are lovely to hear. This week I devoured The Picture of Dorian Gray finally, after having a copy in the house for a month or two now. It was brilliant and sassy and everything Wilde means to me. I have always loved the audacity that Wilde writes with, the sheer wit and breakneck pace of conversation about seemingly useless things driving you to turn each page faster and faster. The ending was brilliant, the book was horrifying, and the dense description was fantastic.

Anyway, here are some clouds I photographed on film from the plane that took me to Victoria about a month ago. The sunset was the most incredible I’ve ever seen, and the clouds and sky were beyond words.