Wednesday, August 5, 2015


This has been a crazy last month. I feel like I could write a book about everything that’s been going on. But books don’t fit into blog posts.

So here’s a bullet list in chronological order:

  • At the start of the month - I traveled to Philadelphia and Maine with Andrew to spend a week with his family. It was my first time to Maine, my first time eating fresh lobster, my first time watching a lobster race, and overall a pretty intense family trip. It was beautiful and exhausting.
  • One week later - I delivered my colloquium (thesis defense) for my MFA in Creative Writing. After six years I have finally completed all of my degree requirements and I will officially receive my degree in December. You can listen to my reading here (I’m the third reader - about 20 minutes in.)
  • One day later - My friend, teammate, and supervisor Kathy Peterson committed suicide.
  • One day later – I played my first wedding as a part of the wedding band. The wedding was beautiful and logistically crazy (but was totally amazing and awesome) and took place with 200 gorgeous people in Pelican, Alaska (pop. 163). Sydney Akagi put together a wonderful video, my band is around 3:45: 
  • One week later – I attended a lovely memorial for Kathy with some past roller derby teammates, which made me realize how even though those relationships sometimes fade, they still have great meaning and impact.
  • One week later – I led my first foraging walk. I took out a group of chefs and food writers including Anita Lo and Elizabeth Falkner. It was super fun and very successful (as far as I can tell) and made me want to do that for the rest of my life.

And now we’re in August.

And I’m 32 and I can’t stop thinking about how it feels like my life is just as crazy and just as all-over-the-place as it was when I was 25. Except with more debt. How can it be that I still have no idea what I want to do with myself? I’m writing another novel. I’m trying to make the food blog take off. I’m toying with the idea of getting an accounting degree. I'm toying with the idea of writing a foraging book. I want to start a small business – catering? tourism? bookstore? party planning? astroid mining?

It feels stupid to complain. And I’m not quite sure that’s what I’m doing. I’m more trying to express how completely overwhelmed I am.

And I’m planning a wedding.

And our folk fest meetings start next week.

And I’m working on my cajun chops, getting ready for a trip to Louisiana.

And there’s a weasel living in our garden shed.

And we need to kill the chickens before the weasel does.




No wonder I’ve spent the last three days barely able to keep my eyes open.

Time to suck it up, buttercup.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I'm Sorry, Cora Campbell

“Oh my god, can you believe that’s the Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game? She sounds like a teenager!” I said as I listened to Commissioner Cora Campbell during a radio interview not long after her confirmation in 2011.  She was 31, pretty, and I assumed had gotten the job as a result of more of the oh-so-common insider Alaska political shenanigans.

Fast forward to 2014. I was working as part of the team putting together the 2nd Alaska Women’s Summit and we wanted to include Commissioner Campbell. We decided to ask her to be on a panel that felt a little crazy. The panel was called “Redefining Like a Girl” and began with a viewing of the short video put together last year by the Girl Scouts and Always (watch it and be prepared to get weepy and hopeful).  

The panel included Iditarod hero Deedee Jonrowe, Olympic skier Holly Brooks, Special Olympic Athlete Ayesha Abdul-Jilil, and Commissioner Cora Campbell.  When I pitched the panel to the Commissioner’s staff, I described the panel as a discussion of the way these woman had dealt with stereotypes, as athletes, and in the Commissioner’s case, possibly as an outdoors-woman? It felt like a stretch, but somehow I felt like the panel would actually be an interesting place for the Commissioner.

What resulted was a surprising conversation, especially between Deedee Jonrowe and Commissioner Campbell (you can watch the panel discussion here). These two whip-smart, driven, and articulate women had each spent their careers battling the same kinds of stereotypes, and both seemed to feel that the directions of their lives had been altered as a direct response to those battles. Each of them had been underestimated, looked down on, patronized, and each of them had come out swinging for the fences. They each spoke about being a woman in a culture that has a systematic and sometimes subtle way of telling women that they’re not good enough.

And as I listened to the panel, I realized that I had done the same thing to Cora Campbell. I had made assumptions about her intelligence and experience based off of the fact that she was a pretty, young woman. I consider myself a feminist, and a pretty well-informed one at that, and I had made all those same negative assumptions about Cora Campbell. I was part of the problem.

I was shocked. Like most young professional women, I’ve been there. I’ve had both men and women say things to me that they would never say to a man in my position, make assumptions about my intelligence, my ambition, and my capabilities. AND I HAD DONE THE SAME THING TO ANOTHER WOMAN. And the worst part? I’m sure it wasn’t the one and only time. These kinds of societal expectations are so insidious, so “natural” that they feel like it’s just the way world works.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I thought Cora Campbell was pretty. I think that has something to do with the way I responded to her. I recently worked in an office full of intelligent, ambitious, savvy women, who all also happened to be gorgeous and fashionable. Over, and over again I watched these women being taken for granted, talked down to, and underestimated by both men and women. Yes, sometimes you can use the fact that you’re being underestimated to your advantage (hello, sneak attacks!), but it still feels shitty. And frustrating. And infuriating. And even when I would try and empathize with whoever it was that was making these assumptions (usually older men, although not always), I couldn’t help but hope that I was witnessing a dying breed.

This morning I read Hana Schank’s piece in Aeon “Why Don’t More Women Play Chess” and was reminded again of how this issue is not just about changing societal stereotypes, it’s about being more aware, being more thoughtful, really looking at how we teach and how we talk to all people, not just young women. It’s about checking every assumption we make and allowing the people around us to grow in whatever way they’re capable of.

It's a tall order. But they say the first step is admitting you have a problem, right?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thank You, David Shayt

I didn’t care what internship I got, just as long as I got one there. The National Museum of American History’s website listed the likely projects that each intern would be working on and the required experience for each position. I applied to every single internship that I even vaguely qualified for.

I was 19, a displaced Alaskan girl finishing up my first year at the hippiest of hippy liberal arts schools, Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I had declared myself a History major immediately and was shocked to find myself one of maybe four in the school. I had some wild dream that I was going to teach high-school history in rural villages on the West Coast of Alaska.

It was 2002 and I wound up with an internship doing “object processing” for the one year anniversary exhibit of 9/11.

“Four people applied, but I thought that since you were from Alaska, you might be able to help more with some of these posters I collected,” David explained when I arrived for my first day. I thought this was doubtful, but he seemed pleased enough that I could find Kotzebue on a map without assistance.

With the eyebrows and voice of Eugene Levy, David’s lilting monologues on the history of Crayola’s color names and the functionality of silly putty were mesmerizing. He was fascinated and fascinating. The project David had brought me to work on, doing back-ground research and file building for four items collected at Ground Zero took me about three weeks. For the next three months I was directed along the path of the David Shayt School of Museum Studies, loaned out to anyone who would have me.

It was clear within those first few weeks that my internship was not like any of the other internships at the museum. Looking back, I’m certain David didn’t need an intern, but rather delighted in sharing his own passion and wonder. He told me how he had always loved the Museum of American History. He started out at 18 in the basement in the print-shop, back when all the materials for the museum were printed on actual printing presses. He did a stint in the Marine Corps, went to college, but then he returned to the museum. He wanted to be a curator, but he didn’t have a Ph.D., so instead he became an expert in all the things the museum didn’t have an expert in: bell casting, ivory carving, silly putty, crayons, coffin making, lunch boxes, wood-working tools, yo-yos, and on, and on, slowly building the curator position he had always wanted.

He showed me Foucault’s Pendulum, tragically stored in a wooden box. He let me touch Indiana Jones’ hat. He sent me to spend three weeks writing tiny catalog numbers on Julia Childs’ kitchen utensils. He sent me to the Library of Congress to do photographic research, which then turned into my excuse to get a LOC library card, granting me access into the holy of holies, the Jefferson Reading Room. He told me about Washington’s scandalous nipple. He took me into the bowels of the museum to see the old steam generators that used to pump life into the various industrial machines on display when the museum had been called the Museum of History and Technology.

He was in charge of making sure the bell in the tower of “The Castle” was in working order, so even though the entirety of the rooftops along the mall had strictly become off-limits in the post-9/11 world, we were allowed. We would go up and eat our sandwiches in the blessed breeze, looking down on the broad expanse of green grass and white marble.

I came out of his care confused, questioning, dreaming, in awe, and no longer a history major.

I ran into him six years later, surprisingly, in Juneau. He had come up for a museum conference that my boyfriend’s band was playing. I had crashed the party. I recognized him from across the room with his signature satchel bag and his smooth stride. He told me how enchanted he was by Juneau’s “gentle sparkling streams.”

I think about David several times a year. 

A few years ago I tried googling him to see if I could find an address to send a letter to him, to check in, to thank him for a strange and wonderful summer, but instead I found an obituary. So I wrote a letter to his wife, sent to what appeared to be her work address, trying to let her know that her husband had touched my life in a way that I couldn’t explain. How sorry I was for her family. 

How sorry I was that I had never told him.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Go Again?

Interesting that my last post, from November 2013, referenced livejournal. The majority of my blogging efforts these days are focused on, a blog all about food, hunting, foraging, and my attempts at being a dorky food-focused outdoor badass.

But I’ve got other needs as a writer. Needs that can’t be filled with blogging about food, nor by working on my fiction projects. I need a journal. And not one that I write by hand because that takes up too much time and is something I pretty strictly reserve for working through fiction problems.

So here I am, looking at this blog, and wondering if it’s too public a space to use as a journal. Not that I think the wider public reads anything I post here. But you know, nothing ever disappears from the internet and what if someday I decide to run for president and all those old musings about my hatred for Garrison Keillor get dredged up and thrown in my face?

I’ve got all sorts of things that I’m mentally working through right now  (besides how I feel about Prairie Home Companion) that it would be nice to write about, and maybe in some small corner of the internet, feel like I’m heard.

Psyching myself up.

Friday, November 8, 2013


Through most of college I kept a livejournal.  After a great trip last weekend to visit a bunch of college buddies, I decided to wade back through the archives.

I took a lot of quizzes.  And wrote a lot about being excited to get drunk.  I also spent a lot of time writing about how depressed I felt, apparently for no reason.

I am a different person now.  Clearly.  And I know it's because of work that I put in.  I hated being shy.  I hated being awkward.  I hated feeling overly self-conscious around strangers, or even friends.  And sometime during the last two years of college I started to force myself to get over it.  I had long talks with myself about how stupid I was being.

Now when I describe myself as shy, or explain how I used to be unable to speak to strangers, I get "yeah right" looks.

Out of curiosity, I just took re-took the Myer's-Briggs personality test.  I don't know why, but I remember exactly what I used to get: INFP.  Now, I get ENFJ.  It appears that these two personality types are closely related, and I recognize that these things are silly, and aren't truly reflective of the complex mishmash that every person's personality is made up of, but there are definitely kernels of truth.

This one just hit home:  "ENFJs are optimistic idealists, often trusting other people more than they should." 

Ugh.  I'm the eternal optimist.

But I guess what I'm getting at is that I do believe it's possible to will yourself into a revised person.  While nature v. nurture arguments are interesting, they're both external forces.  And it's probably because I'm such a goddamned optimist, but I 100% believe that individuals are capable of transforming themselves through personal willpower.

This post feels like a livejournal post my college self would've posted. 

So here we are - a tribute to that shy, overly self-conscious girl.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Johnny Book-seed

On the ride home from a birthday party I asked our DD, Steve, if I he had read the book sitting in the middle of the trucks' front bench-seat, David Gran's The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.  When he said he had, I asked if I could borrow it.

"Well....okay.  I'm just gonna tell you this because I have to.  I hate loaning books to people and then never getting them back.  And I hate loaning books to people and then they never read the books and they just sit around in a pile in their house.  So if you really want to borrow it, and you're going to read it, and you'll give it back to me, or give it to someone else who really wants to read it, then yes.  You can borrow it."

With mild trepidation, I reached out and took the book.  I'd been wanting to read it ever since we did our Amazon trip in 2008.

"That's cool.  I really want to read it.  I pinky swear I'll read it and give it back."

I don't often care about whether or not books make it back to me.  In fact, I have a habit of depositing books wherever I go.  And I actually would've deposited this book in Beloit, Wisconsin if Steve hadn't given me a warning.

My advisor at Antioch College, the wonderful Robert Fogerty (long-time editor of the Antioch Review) was a collector of Modern Library editions.  He had a bookcase just for them in his home.  Picking up those books with their especially silky paper and their rough cloth bound covers, it made me want to be a collector.  I admired his passion for the physical object.  I used to try and do the same thing, because I thought that it was the right thing for a dedicated reader (and eventually a writer) to do. 

And then I realized I didn't give a shit.

Because it's not the physical object that gives me the pleasure, it's the ephemeral stuff, the weird magic that happens somewhere behind my eyes.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy physical books at all, I do, and haven't yet succeeded in using eReaders, even though they would drastically decrease my luggage weight.  But I don't feel attached to the book once it's through. 

There's something about leaving a book behind, the idea of some random meeting the book might have with the eyes of an as yet, unknown reader, that appeals to me. 

A Johnny Book-seed.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writer's Block - Dancing Bears

A year and a half.  That's how long it's been since I've been a writer.  I thought that I was so intrinsically a writer that, even without the act of writing, I would always be one.  Maybe that's the case, maybe it isn't.  But it's been a year and a half since I touched my novel.

That changed today.

And despite the fact that I haven't touched the thing for so long, it's still been with me this whole time.  Still rattling around in my head.  Still picking up flavors from randomly accumulated impressions.

Weirdly, I still believe in it - still believe that I have a good book in me and have the chutzpah to put a good book down on the page.

What finally got me going was this video:

The bear running across the field, directly at the camera, an image out of every hiker's nightmare.  And then the surprise of the wild beast transforming into a pet.  The weird physical intimacy of the trainer and the bear.  The way the german shepherd and the bear share the same coloring, emphasizing the similarities in their snout shapes.  The indignity of the bear jumping and clapping.  The endearing way the bear sits and holds the trumpet followed by the awkward march.  The way the bear paws seem both like hands and so unlike hands.  The child's chair.  The hula hooping.

When I was living in Moscow I went to a large craft market outside the city.  As you entered the market there was an area where street performers set up.  One of the regular performers was a dancing bear and his trainer.  The market was huge and floods of people would stream past.  The bear was popular and there was always a large circle around her.  Seeing a bear in the midst of vast numbers of people was disconcerting, watching a bear dance for the reward of squash was even more jarring.

But at the same time there was something magical about it.  Like the world was full of frightening things that could become friendly.  Like anything was possible.

Here we go again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Make Something Beautiful

Last week our local art house theatre, the Gold Town Nickelodeon brought the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing, a film about the work of Wayne White.  Colette, the theater manager and a good friend, also arranged for a live Skype session with White and the director Neil Berkely after the film.  While he’s made tons and tons of work, White is most famous for his design work for Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and another show that White worked on, Shining Time Station, were two of my absolute favorite shows when I was a kid. 

Weird, beautiful, creative, goofy, all that good stuff.

The documentary has lots of sweet notes with White’s family and so much of the film reminded me of family members, especially the Trolls and the Isons.

But the biggest message, and it’s one that made me think of so many of the people in our community, was that if you do anything with your time, you should make art.  And make art all the time.  Make weird, beautiful, fun, silly art.  Don’t be shy, just create create create.  Anything, especially all those discarded pieces of scrap you can never figure out what to do with, can be art.  It’s the spirit behind Wearable Art, behind Fran Downey’s zip tie art, behind Ryan Cortez’s wind-chime, behind the nail-gun world map on the dock, all that stuff.

I’ve got serious derby-brain right now, maybe because we just had our first bout of the season, and maybe because I just put together a derby-focused guest post for The Better Bombshell, but when I think about what it is I create in my community, what beauty I help to contribute to, roller derby is way up there.

Our very first bout consisted of our two home-teams battling it out in front of a sold-out crowd.  No one in Juneau knew what derby was, and still 500 people bought tickets, drank beer, yelled their heads off, and couldn’t talk about anything else for the next month.  My team lost.  But the only thing that I could think about was:

We just made something beautiful.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Try Try Again

While I sing all the time, as in, either constantly in my head or out loud, I don't really play the guitar that much.  Maybe a couple of hours a week, if that.

Why is this a problem?

The problem is I want to hold my own in a band or a duo or whatever group of people I play with and realistically, to do that you have to play an instrument as well as sing.

So the idea is to be a bad-ass guitar player.  But to be the kind of bad-ass guitar player I would want to be, and that Andrew seems to want me to be, it would take as much obsession with guitar playing as I have with singing.

From our first performance as a duo.
I keep telling Andrew that I want to record a cd.  He keeps saying I need to work on my guitar.  Finally, a month ago, the discussion/argument came to a head when I realized that when we talk about making a cd as good as we can possibly make it, we mean different things.  

He means that we should work on my instrument (his is off-the-charts fine already) and our singing until it's professional quality and at its peak.  

Whereas I'm coming from more of a developing writers angle, which is that part of becoming professional is learning, producing, creating, exposing, and putting your stuff out there knowing that it will be better later.

It makes sense to me that we constantly develop as artists and that we shouldn't be embarrassed to publish/perform while we're still developing.  Because that's how you develop.  It's natural that your first effort will not be your best (at least that's the goal), but that through your first effort, you learn more about yourself and your process.

More often than not, it's an artists fearlessness that I admire most.  Because it's always scary.  At least I always find it scary to put myself out there.  And I believe in the fear, I believe that it should be scary, otherwise, the chances are what you're doing isn't really exposing as much as you should be.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, and More Stuff

I love presents.  LOVE presents.  I love giving them.  I love receiving them.  I love wrapping and unwrapping them.  I love talking about presents before and after they’ve been given.  I love guessing what wrapped presents are.  I love Christmas presents, birthday presents, travel presents, just-because presents.

All of it.  All of it except maybe the fact that most of the time, giving and receiving presents = adding to the accumulation of stuff, both in my life and in someone else’s.

So I spend a lot of time trying to come up with presents for people that are intangible (food, travel, events).  If I can’t come up with something like that, then I settle for a present that is super useful, but enough of a splurge to make it special.

Obviously, Christmas is the big kahuna of stuff and present holidays.  With so many people to get gifts for, how do you stay away from stuff-syndrome?  And what do you do with all the stuff you receive?

This Christmas was an especially hard stuff-Christmas in some major ways.  The biggest of which had to do with several deaths and moves in both my and Andrew’s family.  Andrew’s grandmother died two Christmases ago and his Great Uncle Stu died this Spring.  With Andrew’s parents moving into a new house, we had been prepared by Andrew’s folks that we would need to go through some stuff and see if there was anything we wanted.

Andrew and his mother went through boxes and boxes of beautiful old things.  I mostly left them to it, but every once in a while would be consulted as to whether we needed something. 

I have a weakness for small animal figurines, especially if they’re made out of metal or wood.  And I especially like little fat pigs.  (Who knows why?  I certainly don’t understand it, but put me in a room full of stuff and if one item has a pig on it, that’ll be the only thing I pick up).  So when Andrew’s mother asked me if I wanted two small ceramic piggy banks that used to belong to Andrew’s great aunts, I had a mental battle.

Normally I would’ve automatically said no - I already have too many pigs, too many animals, I’m already threatening to turn into one of those ladies with shelves and shelves of small creatures.  But they had belonged to Andrew’s great aunts.  Which despite anything else, imbued them with the quality of a family treasure.  They were the kind of little piggy banks a child would own, although they had never been smashed, so possibly never used.  I could imagine his aunts holding them in their tiny hands, shaking them, trying to remember how many pennies had been dropped inside.  By owning these little pigs I could bring his family history into our home, have a connection sitting there on the shelf.

But they were just little ceramic pigs.  Clutter.  StuffStuff that would be added to all of our other stuff which we would then add more stuff to until our house was overflowing with cute little pigs and more and more stuff.

I turned them down.

This weekend I brought home a bag of items that my mother had set aside of my Aunt Mimi’s stuff.  I wasn’t able to join the family when they went through her home so I told my folks that all I wanted was one or two small meaningful mementos.  That I didn’t want stuff.

Me and my Aunt Mimi at her wedding.  I was the flower girl.
When I opened the bag she had packed, I didn’t know what to expect.  I found a couple of pieces of clothing, a serving plate, and a hand mirror.  Honestly, nothing that I would normally keep.  And sitting there, looking at my Aunt Mimi’s things, I realized that it was okay for me not to keep them.

Because people don’t exist in their stuff.

My Aunt Mimi doesn’t live in her stuff.  And owning her stuff wasn’t going to help me remember her or help me keep her memory alive.  It was really just going to make me unhappy to have more stuff to keep track of.

My cousin Alex spoke at the start of my Aunt Mimi’s memorial this weekend and gave the opening prayer.  He spoke about how my Aunt Mimi reminded him of Matthew 6:19-20:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Alex talked about how my Aunt Mimi never saved up for earthly treasures, she didn’t save up for stuff.  She never owned a new car, or a nice TV, or a big house.  She saved up to go visit family and friends, to take trips to see people she loved, and to care for her dogs.

And I keep thinking about stuff.  About how we somehow equate stuff with success, and after people are gone, we equate stuff with our loved ones.  And how weird that is.  And how my cousin Alex is right, and my Aunt Mimi is right, the only stuff worth saving for is the stuff that isn’t stuff, it’s food for dinners with loved ones, tickets to concerts and plays you’ll never forget, and most importantly trips to see family and friends.  That the only thing really worth spending money on is whatever you have to in order to create memories with the people you love.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Close Reading

I know that this is the way that I should’ve been reading through my whole MFA program.  But who want to read with pen in hand making notes like “POV switch here with lack of descriptors.”  Yuck.

The reason I’m a writer is because I’m a reader.  As a kid, it was the only thing I consistently loved.  And loved more than anything else in the world.

I now have all sorts of other things that take my time and attention, but I still can’t get to sleep unless I read at least a page.  Reading is still the way that I settle down my confused or unhappy mind, it’s still the way I anchor myself.

So right now, as I’m in the middle of this massive thesis struggle, reading is what’s keeping me together.  But strangely enough, it’s that horrible “close reading” that’s helping more than anything else.

This year I’m working with Jo-ann Mapson, a writing hero, and a writer’s dream for a thesis year MFA mentor.  After reading all the existing pages of my book she recommended that I read Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea.  I picked up a copy in September and immediately ate it up.  I’ve now re-read it twice since then, pen in hand, trying to suss out how Rhys accomplishes her tone, how she switches between narrators, time, and scene without a hint of hesitation.

How does she get to the clear-clean core of her story without losing all of its mystery and beauty?

I want some of her magic to rub off on me.

Weirdly, it actually feels like it is.  I’ve written new pages in the last week and I already like them better than anything else I’ve written in months.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dance Class Saved My Life (In Numbers)

Three hours a week.  Three hours out of one hundred and sixty eight hours in a week.  It looks like this:

3:168 or .01785 or 2%

It looks even sadder when you think of it in the context of the whole time I lived in Finland.  I was there for eleven months.

The Finnish equivalent of prom is called vanhat paiva, it's the day that the seniors leave the school to study for their finishing exams and the juniors become the oldest students in the school.  A formal dance is thrown that evening.  And by formal, I mean everyone wears costumes/dresses that would've been appropriate in the 1830s and performs choreographed classical dance.  As in Viennese Waltz and Polonaise.

So we had a three hour class once a week for four months. Forty eight hours out of seven thousand three hundred and ninety two hours in eleven months.

48:7,392 or .00649 or 0.6%

God bless the guy who took pity on the shy exchange student and asked me to the dance class, and therefore vanhat paiva, with him.

I knew nothing about Finland before I left, so it was a surprise to find out that there's little to no physical contact between people.  I'm not talking sexual contact, I'm talking every day contact: no pats on the leg, no quick hugs or kisses, no bumped shoulders, no nothing.  No. Touch.

It was half a year before dance class started.  And it wasn't like I was a touchy person to begin with.  But then that first dance class.  The first one was tricky, we were all giggly and shy, uncomfortable.  But even so, the structured intimacy, even just for brief moments, was blissful.  Those later classes would become easier and easier, when our hands dropped, we remained within a breath of each other, easy.

It was like being drunk.  Like being a drunk - and the only time I could get the goods was for three hours a week.  Everything in me pointed towards those three hours.  Up until that point, I had never needed anything so badly.

And what if I hadn't been asked to the dance?  What if it had been

0:7,932 or 0.00 or 0%?

I don't think I would've made it.  I would've come home early.  Or come home later even more messed up than I did.


Tonight I attended the swing dance class at The Canvas (our local community arts center).  Since Finland, I don't really do dance classes.  I'm not sure why, maybe because that structured intimacy is intimidating outside of a bar without a buzz.  But it was a blast.  And not awkward.  Maybe because I'm mostly past that phase.  Coming home from the class I couldn't help but think of Finland, and the contra dances we went to when I was young, and the Folk Fest contra dances, and the one salsa class Andrew and I took (dis-as-ster), and dancing in Texas dance-halls, and dancing at the festivals in Louisiana.

I love dancing.

I love watching people dance.

I love dancing with a variety of partners.  I love how every dancer has their own style, their own unconscious signature, their own favorite moves.  I love knowing a partner's signature.  I love being surprised by a new partner.  I love that some partners throw you around like a hurricane and some partners hold your hands like they're holding small birds.

I love that dancing makes me laugh and giggle and cackle (at least that's what Andrew calls it).

I love that when you go to the dance-halls in Texas and Louisiana there are distinctly different tones.  I love that when you contra dance it's best to stare as intensely as possible at your partner's shoulder in order to keep from getting dizzy.  I love the way that an entire rowdy bar slows down into a dreamy slow-motion when the dance floor goes into three quarter waltz time.

I don't think that I will ever stop loving dancing.  And I think that I feel most in love with Andrew when we're dancing.

In other words, if you're not already out there on dance floor, get to it!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Learning Lessons - Taking Lumps

Here we are again.  Fall in Juneau.  That dreaded span of months between the hope of summer sun and the hope of winter snow when all that we can look forward to is a break in the perpetual wet and grey.

Today is one of those days.  Clear and bright in the best of ways.

Maybe it’s the weather.  Maybe it’s always been the weather, but fall is a difficult time for me, including in my writing.  But finally, after three years of an MFA program, I’m starting to see a pattern.

This is my third and final year (THESIS YEAR) and, as would be expected, total panic has set in.  But this year, the panic is feeling familiar.  I realized two days ago that my last month and a half of writing has been extremely similar to what happened with my writing in Fall of 2010 and Fall of 2009.  Mainly, that I have been torturing myself by writing the same scenes (or lack of scenes) over and over again without actually moving.

In Fall of 2009 I thought that there was no way I was ever going to write anything good and that I probably wouldn’t finish my first year of the program.  Fall of 2010 I thought that there was no way I would even come close to moving my novel forward, it would never be a novel, just a pitiful collection of mismatched scenes.  Both falls were terrible periods of punishing repetition, no climbing word or pages counts.

But then, in the following Winter/Springs there were major surges.  Last Spring I wrote what I believe to be some of the best work I’ve ever put on paper.  Pages and pages, six, seven, eight pages a day, cramping my hands.

So here I am, complaining to every person within earshot about how miserable I am.  How much the book sucks.  How much I hate it.  How frustrated I am.  How terrible the writing is.  How much I just want to throw the whole thing away, or maybe burn it, or shred it, or use it for papier-mâché piñatas, or weigh it down with bricks and throw it into the center of Lynn Canal.

And then I realized that this has happened before.

I turned back through the pages and realized that even though I was writing the same chapter over and over and over again from scratch, that I had learned something about my book.  I had learned about where I was writing about and who I was writing about.

I’m still terrified.  Still convinced that I no longer know what my book is about.  Still don’t know what is going to happen.

But in the middle of that frantic drowning, it seems like maybe there’s a ray of hope.  That maybe this is part of my process.  And maybe, just maybe, I should stop complaining, stop worrying, and start breathing again.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Step on a Crack and

I usually only notice when my stride begins to alter unnaturally: steps shortened, or lengthened, a little hop to make it fit.  My toe hugs the edge, and then, a few steps later, my heel just barely squeaks over the line.  I know what's going on here.

It's fine.  Nothing happens if you step on a crack.  I know that.  So step on the crack.  Step on it.  STEP.

I pull my feet forcefully back into line and place my foot deliberately on the seam.  I step on another.  Until finally I'm walking normally again, not paying attention.

See?  No broken backs.

When I was a kid I would jump on the cracks viciously anytime I was mad at my mom.  I'd get a running start on a good crack and pounce, pounding my feet into the pavement.  I'd hold both feet flat, parallel to the sidewalk, and slap them down, again again again.

It was a time when I hadn't yet learned that it's no good to fight fire with fire, that's it's much better to use cool water.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Where to Draw the Roller Derby Line

What kind of rollergirl do I want to be? What kind of rollergirl can I be?

This last weekend I joined 120 other Alaskan/Canadian rollergirls for a boot-camp thrown by the Rage City Rollergirls. Ten gals from Juneau Rollergirls went up. None of us knew what to expect, and with our very first roller derby bout quickly approaching (next Saturday!) we were nervous.

The bootcamp featured workshops run by three rollergirls from down south. Two of whom are some of the most famous rollergirls in the world: sisters Psycho Babble and DeRanged, who led the Rocky Mountain Rollergirls to victory in last year’s championship. Watching them skate was like watching Michael Jordan slam dunk over and over again. Their speed, agility, and power was unbelievable. And here we were, just trying to keep our feet under us.

And when they talked about derby, they talked about a sport of extreme athletes and extreme competition.

For one of our hitting drills I was paired up with one of the other Juneau gals, a gal who is on my team for our upcoming bout. We took a break for water and she said she thought we were doing well, but we hadn’t knocked each other down. I told her that I guessed I didn’t actually want to knock her down - I didn’t want to hurt her before the bout.

“Well I’m hitting you as hard as I can,” she said.

We went back on the track and continued to try and block each other out of bounds, cutting our skates across so that our full bodies slammed into the other skater, thigh to thigh, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder.

DeRanged was running our group of skaters and paused the drill to pull us all in to give us a little pep talk. She told us that we shouldn’t fool ourselves, we’re all here for blood. And if we weren’t there for blood? Then maybe we shouldn’t be doing derby. So when we hit each other, we should mean it. And I thought to myself Not me. I’m not in it for blood, am I? I don’t want to hurt someone.

I don’t know. I really enjoy derby. I like the physicality of it, I like the team aspect, I like that there’s a campy side with the names and outfits, and I do like that it pushes me to be an athlete. I like getting hit and I like falling down. I like it because sometimes I don’t fall down, and when I do, I get right back up. I like the challenge of that. But does that mean that I’m in it for the blood? I wouldn’t want someone to hold back on me, I would want someone to hit me as hard as they could, so why aren’t I hitting as hard as I can?

Watching DeRanged, Psycho Babble and Helen Wheels skate, it was clear that they are skating on a level that I will never achieve, and don’t want to. They’re skaters who have dedicated their lives to derby.

We met several of the Rage City Rollergirls’ skaters as well. Plenty of those women skate on a level that I consider extremely proficient. But watching them skate with the guest coaches, even the best of those skaters was clearly several degrees below them. So do I think I’ll ever skate on a top ten ranked team? Hell no. What about even a team like Rage City’s All-Stars? Probably not. But a B team? A home team? A team in it for nothing but fun and exercise? Yeah. That’s where I belong. Not to say that I don’t have some skill, because I do. This weekend I gained a lot of confidence in my skating and could actually feel myself developing greater strength and agility.

But this weekend I realized that I just don’t have that killer instinct, or that all consuming competitive drive, to become a top tier skater. I’m really looking forward to our first bout and I’m looking forward to continuing to bout, both within our own league and with those other Alaskan and Canadian teams we met at the boot-camp. I’m going to work on my skills, continue to push myself, but at least I now have some idea of where I’m going to draw the line.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Growing Old and a Defense of the Midwest

There are loads of things to write about, so why haven’t I written about any of them? The only thing I’ve felt like blogging about lately has been my search for loafers. LOAFERS.*

A giant lilac bush.

What I should be writing about is my recent visit to the Midwest. My father and I went for a week and a half to see my grandmother and to visit a bunch of my college buddies. I love the Midwest. I get angry at people who badmouth it or refer to the center of the country as “the fly-over states.”  I come from the most beautiful place on earth (Juneau, Alaska) and I find tons of gorgeous landscapes in the Midwest: lush, green rolling farm lands dotted with big old barns and silos; the red and orange limestone cuts you drive down through to cross over the Mississippi, the river wide and ranging; the broad expanse of the Great Lakes, inland seas; the small ponds and forests full of giant, sweet-smelling lilac bushes and silvery birch, echoing with the sound of frog trills; the small run-down towns with old store fronts, faded art-deco facades and peeling 50s billboards.

But of course, we didn’t visit to sight-see, we were there to visit people, most importantly, my grandmother.

Next month she’ll be 94. She lives in the Northfield Retirement Center in Northfield, Minnesota, a facility in which she’s lived for the last eight years or so. It’s the kind of place where you can start out independent in a little apartment, and then as your health fails they have increasingly intense assisted living sections. The people there are extremely friendly and many of the workers have been there since the day my grandparents moved in.

Grandma is currently in the nursing home section and has been there for a year and a half. A year ago my grandfather died, leaving her the last living member of her generation in her family. She told me then that she was ready to go. And yet she’s lived another year. This visit was a hard visit. She’s no longer able to move without assistance and spends her days napping or sitting in her wheelchair in front of the large television with the other residents.

Her Alzheimer’s has progressed significantly in that she seems to get lost in her sentences and can no longer draw up memories from the past when questioned. I still want to know her, know about her life, but discovered that, unlike in past visits, when I question her now her only answers are “I don’t know” and “I can’t remember”. It was frustrating for both of us. I didn’t want to make her feel bad because she couldn’t answer my questions and I didn’t know how to talk with her without asking questions. It took several days for us to figure out how to communicate in a way that felt like it worked for everyone. My father and I would sit with her, discussing whatever topic came to mind, and here and there she might chime in. Mostly we would pause to check in with her, make sure she was still happy listening or find out if she was tired and wanted a nap.

A year ago, after my grandfather’s funeral, I spent some alone time with my grandmother. Her mind was slipping, but she was still there. We had a very personal discussion and I came away upset, a total wreck even. But on this year’s visit, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t upset, I was accepting. I think part of the reason I got so upset a year ago was because I could tell then that she was leaving us.

I love her dearly, but I don’t want to grow old like my grandmother. Her departure is long, slow, and drawn-out. She’s had, from what I can tell, a long loving life, but the way it is ending makes me afraid to grow old.

*Why has the world switched over to ballet flats? Loafers are the greatest shoe of all time: they slip on, you can wear them with or without socks, and they’re both casual and work appropriate. I’ve been searching for a new pair of cute, inexpensive loafers for about six months now and am starting to get pissed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

People v. Symbols - Thinking About Bin Laden

Like a lot of Americans, I’ve spent some time in the last twelve hours trying to figure out how I feel about the death of Osama Bin Laden. My Twitter feed was practically exploding last night with a strange mixture of: “I don’t like celebrating death,” and “WOOOHOOO.”

I guess I agree more with the former sentiment than the latter, but, even though Osama Bin Laden was a living breathing person (at the basic level, just like me), thinking about his death I realized that I didn’t really think of him that way. I think of him as a symbol. Which is an odd way to think about any person.

Part of this thought process may also be coming from the way I was thinking about the royal wedding this last week. Watching the replay footage of Kate and William taking their wedding kiss before a cheering crowd of thousands with newscasters commenting, the only thing I could think about was how weird it must be to be Kate Middleton (or William for that matter). These are living, breathing people who have been turned into an idea and have become symbols for thousands (millions?) of people.

Yes, Osama Bin Laden was a fellow human, but he was also a symbol, and more than that, he actively sought the role. There is no doubt in my mind, that once you achieve that level of symbolic recognition, your life’s meaning changes, for yourself and for others. Most of us go about our days with little concern for the impact of our actions upon society at large. But for a person who has become a symbol? That’s the point.

Clearly Bin Laden’s death is meaningful to many different people for many different reasons. The best I can think to hope for is:
  1. That some of those people find some solace in the destruction of one of society’s greatest symbols of terrorism.
  2. That his death isn’t viewed as a martyrdom by too many and used as inspiration for retaliatory attacks on any scale.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Secret Agent Dreams

This is going to sound nuts, but when I was in middle school, I was secretly convinced I was going to be a spy. I was pretty smart, I was athletic, and I felt like I was different from other people. I think every single adolescent goes through a period where they feel “different” from others, but what it manifested as for me, was this uber-awareness of what was going on around me. I felt like I was often observing the world from outside my head, always watching, always listening.

I was also a big reader and during middle school I got hooked on spy novels. Robert Ludlum was my favorite. I’m fairly sure that I have read every single one of his novels. I also read plenty of John Grisham and Tom Clancy. I’ll admit that even now I’ll pick up a thriller for a plane ride – Steve Berry is my current favorite. I’m a huge James Bond movie fan and have probably watched every single one at least twice and my favorites, many more times. I went to Turkey when I was 19 specifically because of the scenes in Istanbul in “From Russia with Love”.

I envisioned myself going to boot-camp, shocking people with how tough I was for how small I was. I imagined myself becoming fluent in four or five languages, living in foreign countries, blending in as a sleeper agent, and one day, sneaking into a vague foreign embassy to steal information that would save the lives of hundreds of Americans. At that point I had no real understanding of how actions could affect thousands, or millions of people. The most I could imagine was two or three hundred.

My mother and father, but especially my mother, constantly drove the message that we could be anything we wanted to be. I thought that maybe someday I would work for the president after my long and accomplished spy career. I didn’t want to be the president, but I wanted to be someone who was important to the president.

Now, fifteen years later, I can safely say that none of those dreams will come true. Thank goodness. I can safely say that I will never have to choose between the safety of an indefinite number of Americans and holding possible terrorists in prison for indefinite periods of time, torturing them, depriving them of any sort of human kindness. I’ll never have to follow an order that goes against my morals. I’ll never have to decide whether someone lives or dies.

Thank goodness I never followed through on those naïve day dreams.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

37th Alaska Folk Festival - Survived!

I’ve been wanting to write a post about the 37th Alaska Folk Festival, but I can’t figure out how to pull it off. It’s like trying to describe a color to someone who has been blind from birth, if you’ve never experienced it, there’s no way to even conceive of it.

The easy description is this: it’s a week-long free music festival in which anyone can play (all you have to do is apply) and everyone who plays on the mainstage plays for no more than 15 minutes. Because of this you can go to one night of the festival and hear punk-rock, sea chanteys, polka, ripping bluegrass, child fiddlers, and on and on. There are also two nights worth of dances, both contra and general, and two days worth of workshops. Again, it’s all free.

There are also bands at every bar in town, every night of the week.

But that’s just the formal festival. That’s the festival as described on the festival homepage. And even leaving it at that, it’s a totally unique event.

Alaska is a small state in a lot of ways. Everyone knows everyone knows everyone. Especially when you’re dealing with the music community. And the Alaska Folk Festival in Juneau is what one of our friends refers to as “The Gathering of the Tribes”. Everyone shows up, and if you don’t show up, you receive phone calls, drunken messages, emails, texts, and ultimately at least one toast to how you’ve been missed. I would loosely estimate that we had 50 to 60 people in town (including Juneauites) that belong to these tribes. And the most amazing part is that most of these people are incredibly talented musicians that can play an infinite combination of instruments and music.

A ridiculous five mandolin jam at the Triangle Bar.

Listening to people you love play the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard within four feet of you at five a.m. is one of those experiences that I will never be able to fully explain.

 It’s an all day, all night love fest in the most dorky of ways. By the Monday after the official end of folk fest I had completely lost my voice and was wearing a notepad around my neck. There were at least four other people in the same, or almost the same, boat. I didn’t lose it just from singing. I lost it from yelling, laughing, shouting, conversing, screaming, giggling, and hollering.

It says a lot that the two unofficial anthems of the tribes are called “We Are So Fucking Lucky” and “We Are Bands of Free Men”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Waterfowl and Roller Derby

When we teach girls how to do a two knee fall in roller derby we tell them it’s like doing a rock guitar knee slide: lean back, throw your hands in the air at first, and fall with all the weight on your knee pads. When I watch a group of girls do these slides, the sudden drop, the hard thwack, the raised arms, always remind me of a flock of surf scoters landing on water.

A surf scoter coming in from
The surf scoter is a common sea bird in Southeast Alaska. At first you think that there’s nothing graceful about the way a scoter hits the water: wings back, crashing at full force into the water, sending up a spray of white. But in the brut purposefulness of the landing, there’s something about it that is uniquely appealing, there’s no pretty finish to it, it is what it is.

I think about that a lot with derby. Derby done with skill is beautiful, but there is never the intent to be beautiful. If you focus on trying to skate gracefully, or are too conscious of how you might look, somebody’s going knock you on your ass. I’ve been helping with a beginner skating class, and over and over again when I’m trying to break down a skill or am speaking about skating form, the words I use are: efficient, power, stabile, strong, force.

Next month is the one year anniversary of the start of Juneau Rollergirls (if you count from the first day we actually skated). July 2nd, we’ll have our very first bout, a local event featuring all local skaters.

Gate City Roller Girl doing a two-knee slide from
 It’s been a pretty amazing development. There were six or seven of us at the first practice and only one person there had ever spent any significant amount of time on roller skates. The rest of us clung to the walls on shaky legs and tested out our new pads by trying the slides we had seen on YouTube tutorial videos. I had spent many of my pre-teen years obsessed with inline skating, which is pretty different from roller skating, but it meant that I was at least comfortable with the idea of having wheels on the bottom of my shoes.

Our first practices consisted of us skating around in circles, attempting to stop, and not really knowing how to start learning the game. Fast forward a year and our practices are highly structured, run by two dedicated coaches and a team of refs. We’re skating hard, working hard, and when I sit on the team bench during a scrimmage and watch the jam, I’m not watching a bunch of ladies trying to figure out what the heck is going on with their skates, I’m watching roller derby.

A couple of practices ago, as all of us were lined up doing wall sits* Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” came on the iPod and in the middle of our wall sits, practically every lady out of the twenty starting singing.

I’m so thankful to spend a couple of hours every week with a group of ladies who can sing through their pain and even in the midst of trying to knock each other down, give advice to their teammates on how to stay standing.

*A unique form of torture in which you press your back against a wall and drop into a squat so that your legs are at a 90 degree angle. Then you hold that position for a minute. We’re now up to doing four wall sits every practice.