Do something pretty while you can, don’t fall asleep.

Oh my friends, I’m back in Wisconsin, and it’s cold, but I’m back, but it is very very cold. But I had a lovely vacation, so I really can’t complain, or if I can, if I’m entitled, I will choose not to. Complaining is for dorks! Here is the sad part of my vacation: I let Rachel down. By not blogging this past week, that is, which is really too bad when you consider what an awesome hostess she was, nearly wrecking her car to drive me to every beach in Maui and then putting up with my unquenchable cravings for soda and agreeing to give up that thing that we were both going to give up but then I kind of stopped giving up. Rachel, you are awesome, thank you!

So the thing is, if I were actually going to write about the good times I had in Hawaii it would be pages and pages long, because there were many. Use your imagination: if it was glorious and Hawaiian, we did it. So instead I am going to write about the one bad day that we had which was a Friday, which is not the day of the week that you would expect to be the bad day. It all started out with a cloudy, windy day at the beach. At some point we both admitted that we were cold and not really enjoying ourselves, so we decided to get an early start on the evening’s activity, which was to be an epic beach-side camping trip, capped off the following morning with some surfing! (I had already tried surfing a few days earlier which might have been more successful if I knew how to swim). Somehow it took us four hours to pack, but we managed to get to Lahaina before sundown and set up camp. We hung a hammock with rusty bungee cords, and when we both climbed into it it broke, which was very funny and not at all painful, thank God, but there went our plan for sleeping arrangements, and maybe that was the first sign of bad things to come. Our friends started a fire and some more friends joined us and as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean we enjoyed some hamburgers off the grill and a few drinks and everything was going so well.

And then the man with the blinking yellow light approached. We watched as he stopped at a few camping sites before ours and then when he reached he asked (was it in Pidgen?) if we had a permit. We did not and he told us he would be back in an hour and we’d better be gone. We tried to be friendly and he changed his tune–he’d be back in a half hour and give us a ticket if we were still here. So we packed everything up and moved a mile down the road where the man with the blinking yellow light had informed us we were free to camp without a permit. Maybe it was free because it was right on the edge of the freeway with a million cars zooming past us. The ceremony continued–there was fire dancing and s’mores and White Russians–we were unstoppable. Until it came time for bed, and without our hammock or a tent or a cushy van with an air mattress (like SOME people had), Rachel, DJ and I found ourselves squashed into the trunk of DJ’s car and as the violent wind shook our car about, I slept the worst, most uncomfortable sleep of my life. And in the morning I woke up and I was covered in ketchup. And best of all, which is to say worst of all, there were no waves, ergo, no surfing, which had been kind of the thing that started the whole adventure. But I’m pretty sure that if you have a series of lousy events but share them with some really great people it still ends up being a great experience, which is what happened. It was the worst day and also the best day, and to celebrate we drove into Happy Valley and crammed together into this little booth at this little dive called Tasty Crust, and when they boast of having “World Famous Pancakes” they really aren’t exaggerating.

Tasty Crust

If you want to hear about some of the more classically good times, I have stories of those as well. Or just take it in by pictures. Full photo album here.

Now, from an island.

I am in Hawaii! I was planning to write a quick post before I left, sort of a send-off, sort of an “I’ll be back with a vengeance!” because I know I’ve let my writing slip. But now that I’m here I just feel like I need to rub it in. It’s below zero at home, and I’m in Hawaii. Rachel is making me pancakes and I can see the ocean if I look over my left shoulder from where I’m sitting. This is very, very nice. I’ll have more to say, of course, but it will likely be after I have returned. There is just too much vacation to be had :) Blessings to you in the arctic!

The real problem with the United States.

We have North Dakota and South Dakota, North Carolina and South Carolina, we have West Virginia, but no where in our Union is there a state representing the cardinal direction of East. To amend this tragic oversight I propose we rename Michigan to East Wisconsin. While this change is taking place I propose we absorb Upper Michigan into Wisconsin, which should have been done a long time ago. Who could object? We love da Yoopers and I hear they kind of like us also, and they don’t even touch the mass of Lower Michigan who tends to look down on its peninsula anyway. I hope that our new President, whoever he or she may be, will consider these changes. Thank you.

They searched each other’s eyes and were unimpressed with what they saw.

“I don’t find you particularly attractive,” says the man.

“And I think your wit is vapid,” is the woman’s reply, “and your posture is embarrassing.”

At least they are in agreement. At least there will not be a pitiful show of unrequited affection. At least, at the very least, their lifeless conversation has provided carbon dioxide to feed the balding conifer trees which surround them here in this romantic park of all parks, John Muir. It is a January afternoon,  a Saturday. The noise of the freeway drones on beyond the tree line. That freeway never rests, bringing desperate winter travelers from one point to another. It brought them both here today, and soon it will take them off in opposite directions. It will be a relief for everyone, even those who never knew them. It will be a relief for you, if you can believe that. Can you believe that? Are you able to believe such a thing?

It is not a break-up, this exchange of callous, calculated words, and neither is it a chance meeting, a slightly obscured “How do you do?”.

“How do you do it?” asks the man.

The woman would smile if she had any lips, if she had a heart. She has a hand, and with a violent motion she shakes it in such a way that a leather glove falls off of it and lands on the snow between them.

“How do you do it?” the man repeats. Demands, “Tell me.”

With a shake of her other hand another glove is flung from her and rests inches from the first. On each of her fingers on both of her hands is a large diamond ring, each with a different setting, each a different size. She takes them off, one by one, and puts them in her mouth. One by one she swallows them. The man watches with tears in his eyes. They are both crying now, but for very different reasons.

“So long, you,” says the woman, once she has swallowed the last of the diamond rings. She leaves her leather gloves where they are lying, turns, walks away. She has not answered his question and never will.

***

Millions of cats. Millions and billions and trillions of cats.

I miss you Pepper.

pepper

Sleepy boring sleepiness.

When I was an underclassman in high school I used to fall asleep on the couch every evening before dinner while my parents watched The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.  It was a very teenage thing for me to do, to sleep like that.  Tonight I had a repeat of that experience, and the familiar sound of political commentary took on a soothing tone as it blended with the song of the trumpets transitioning news items and simultaneously transitioning my dreams.  I would have guessed my mother was sitting on the other side of me, thumbing through the TV guide.  But she wasn’t.  I was alone, it was just another nap.

Didn’t I tell you that the every day details aren’t too riveting?  Today I had the urge to staple my clothes with a stapler.  I don’t know why I felt this way, but fortunately I didn’t give in.  Wouldn’t that be fun, though?  To staple right through your clothes?  I should get a job at a thrift store.

And my father, the safety man, commended me.

Ordinarily I try to spare you too many details from my every day life as I am inclined to be a bit of a bore. However, last night was really strange and this fog today has only reinforced the strangeness of recent events, and it’s my blog anyway so I can write what I want to.

So it’s last night. It has already been a bizarre piece of slumber, with my dreams drifting between deceased pets and the relative societal triumphs of the Bernstein Bears books (At last! A voice which represents the true humanity of bears!). I awake to the sound of someone tapping on my front door, which is odd enough on its own considering how, in my wakeful state, I do not ever hear when people knock on my door. And given that fact, and the sleep drunkenness which consumes me, I am a little confused and decide that the knocking must be something else, perhaps a neighbor tapping a stick on the fence post. But then I hear footsteps, up and down the stairs outside my front door, and then a voice, and it becomes clear that the action is happening here inside my home. My first reaction is one of annoyance at this rude disturbance of my sleep, but then with kind of a cold gripping of my intestines I remember that this month I am home alone, and a mysterious guest in the middle of the night could be less than friendly. It is four in the morning. The knocking continues for a bit longer, and grows a bit louder, and the voice and footsteps are right out there, and by now I’m just scared. It’s a showdown, but I wait it out, I win, and finally my unwelcome visitor retreats–I hear a car’s ignition turn and he drives away. The situation was unnerving, but not so much that I’m unable to fall back to sleep. I am.

In the morning I am half awake as an unseasonal January thunderstorm pounds outside, and it’s that droopy kind of morning when the rain has given me the welcome excuse to drift back to sleep. It doesn’t help that I forgot to set my alarm. It is eight o’clock and I should be at work. I am suddenly alert. I grab my phone to call the office and see that I have a voice mail. And here, friends, is where there would be a commercial break, or maybe in this case a Google ad, but I’m not so cruel. I’ll continue with the story (are you dieing of suspense?)

I check my voice mail and it is a message from my landlord. Apparently during the night an icicle fell from the eaves (yes, one of these icicles) and struck our utility box, wiping out gas service to our building. This happened early in the morning, and the utility company didn’t want to turn on the gas without lighting the pilot in our gas stove, which is considerate and I appreciate that they wouldn’t want to fill our building with methane while we slept. But really, whose idea was it to pound on my door at four in the morning, hm? Who thought it would be a good idea for a man in boots and coveralls (I’m guessing) to rouse a young, single woman from her sleep and say, “Excuse me, could I please come in and light your gas stove?” Do they really think I would have let them inside my apartment?? Would anyone have? Is that really their policy–they can’t come back when the sun is out? I am baffled by this, that this actually took place, and I don’t at all regret that I left the utility guy out on the stoop (and, by the persistent sounds of his knocking, pretty frustrated.)

Lock your doors at night, friends. It’s a creepy feeling.

Of steroids and sugary monster cereals.

All right, I am now going to relinquish any kind of credibility I may have earned on matters of art and culture, because I’m sitting here watching American Gladiators and I am literally on the edge of my seat. I’m trying to convince myself it’s the nostalgia factor, but I don’t know. I mean, it is just so bad, it’s great! And not all that unlike last night’s New Hampshire debates (see, I watch smart stuff too.) Unfortunately for anyone hoping for a thoughtful Sunday post, I don’t have much more. Oh writers’ strike, please don’t let American Gladiators be my new favorite TV show.

Speaking of Nostalgia, I notice that they have re-introduced Count Chocula and Boo Berry cereals to the grocery stores. I was walking through the cereal aisle today and there was a young family standing in front of these breakfast classics, and it’s likely that the mom and dad grew up eating it, and now their kids on their hips are pointing and giggling “BOO berry! BOO berry!” like it is the silliest thing. And, aside from Gladiators, it probably is.

This election we will sing.

I’ve recently turned the dial on my clock radio a bit so instead of waking up to the noncommittal fuzz of the space between AM radio stations (which is surprisingly soothing) I wake up to NPR. Boring, I know. Well, I can be a bore. Anyway, this morning was, of course, the morning after the Iowa Caucuses, and while I went to sleep last night unsure of who would emerge victorious, I was coaxed out of sleep by the strangely melodious chant of “Obama! Obama! Obama!” Only it wasn’t just an excited crowd of college students, it was a chorus. And it sounded like that moment in Evita when the masses are worked nearly into a frenzy chanting their heroine’s pet name in heavy, cascading minor chords. Can you imagine it? Just like in Evita, the effect of this chant made me slightly uneasy. Not that I wasn’t as tickled as the next person to hear that Hillary had come in third. Remember, Barack made my Voting-Based-On-Looks top 3. I guess I can’t talk about that outside of Superficial Mondays, can I? I guess what this means is it might be time for me to start looking at what various candidates actually stand for. I can’t promise that I’ll have anything terribly intelligent to say about the election at any point during this campaign season, although I have been trying to stay informed.

I probably make genuine political bloggers cringe.

An alternate universe in which I received my Masters in Education.

Oh crap, I just yelled at one of my friends for not reading my blog every day and then I realized that I haven’t been writing in this every day. Friend who I yelled at, if you’re reading this (and you’d better be!), I apologize.

Here is what I did today: I gave a workshop, of sorts, helping seniors to write their life story. To write a life story is no small task, especially when that life spans over 80 years, and of course it would take more than the hour that we had today, but I like to think we covered some ground. Hopefully these seniors will be able to spend some time getting their life experiences down on paper for surviving generations. You might be thinking, “How are you qualified to give a workshop on such a topic? You have no training in education nor have you ever written anything truly personal about yourself!” That is exactly what I was thinking before I opened my mouth in front of these seniors, but to my surprise there was this little teacher inside me just waiting to burst forth. Maybe I should have stayed in grad school back in the day. Maybe I would have made a decent educator after all.

I wonder how many English teachers require their students to keep a daily blog? If I were teaching that is something I would do. And I would read them, none of this Hillary Swank in Freedom Writers privacy business. I would say, “Students, you can choose between WordPress or Blogger or Livejournal but NO Xanga. You must write once a day at least three sentences and I will be reading them.” Maybe I would also make it a requirement that the students read my blog and leave comments–it may be the only way I ever get any comments.

I have more to say on all of this, but right now I’m off to bed.

The snow is always whiter.

Hello year 2008.

I am changing. Really! It used to be that I hated Wisconsin and hated the winter, and maybe it’s way too early in the season to make a statement like the one I’m about to, but I think it’s maybe becoming the opposite. Here is the thing: for a month now it’s been freezing cold and wet and slippery and gray and dark and all those depressing adjectives, but it’s done very little to make me depressed, and in fact it has me a little bit excited about the coming three or four months of this weather. Honestly, what is becoming of me?

In the spring of 2006 I moved back to Wisconsin after living for nine months (including one winter) in California. I thought, “Surely when this next winter hits I will experience heightened depression, having tasted the alternative. Surely I will regret my choice to return and will take the first presented opportunity to get the heck back out of Wisconsin.” I was bracing myself for a reaction like that. And granted, last year’s winter didn’t start until after the New Year (we’ll have an entire extra month this year!) but those dreaded feelings of gloom never came. Why not?

Of course there were distractions to help keep my mind off of the weather. I was starting my new temp job at the bank, I was applying for grad school, I was preparing for my Northern Waters art show, I was falling in love, those kinds of things. I’m positive there were days when I muttered about the cold and vowed to return to a warmer climate, but I don’t think it was ever very urgent, or very sincere. Through all of last winter you could say I tolerated the season but I don’t think you could say I appreciated it yet. You certainly couldn’t say that I liked it.

No, it seems those emotions would come this year. Earlier I wrote a post saying I found winter to be hilarious, but also noble and endearing. It brought us together as a Northern people. We are stronger for facing these winters. We are braver, kinder, and generally more well-balanced. Some would say we are crazy, for remaining in a climate so unkind to the human race with our naked skin and reckless driving, but the people who say that are neglecting to notice some of the things which I have been noticing–for the first time even –this winter.

If we take the unpleasant decrease in temperature and the frustrating conditions of the roads and put that aside for a moment, what you have left is one of the most fascinating aesthetics of all the seasons. The lush color of spring, summer and fall are obvious choices, and I will always love those seasons more than winter, I think. But winter–look at it! Who doesn’t enjoy waking up and finding that the world outside has been covered with a fresh blanket of pure white snow, and everything–the power lines and the tree limbs and the housetops and neighbors’ cars–is all part of the scenery? Of course we like that, it’s a post card, it’s a snow globe. And when the sun shines down on this landscape it is dazzling. But that’s not the winter I’m talking about. I’m talking about the winter that is gray and sloppy, melting and freezing and melting again. The streets are dirty and the sun hasn’t been present for days, and the trees are bare and twisted and ugly. There is no Christmas cheer and no one is walking around with a skip in their step. We are all depressed.

Except we shouldn’t be! Because there is something gorgeous about this miserable landscape. The world has been, temporarily, drained of color and we exist in the gray scale. Aesthetically it is remarkable–it is challenging and the values are subtle. We can’t rely on color to tell us anything. The world is a line drawing. Metaphorically it is just as challenging. We are grimy humans and we can, for a time, dwell in a world more suited to our dismal thoughts and continual failures. Life can be so ugly–here it is! We have this season to truly wallow, if we want to, or if we’re not the wallowing type we can be that beacon of hope, that smile which signals that spring will surely come. We will thaw and the ice around our hearts will melt. I’ve never been so sure of spring as I have been this winter. “I don’t mind the weather, I’ve got scarves and caps and sweaters.”

People living in warmer climates have troubles too. If you move there, you will not leave them behind. I’m glad that I learned this.

Greener Grass (From the August EP, August 2006)

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