The Worst Journey in the World / drawing winner

I'm going to tell you what happened and I'm going to make it quick. I promise you, you won't want any more details.

Over the past week, I've enjoyed reading about why you love where you live. So much so, in fact, that I was inspired to knit your words together with mine, and write a whole post about all of us, scattered across the map, going about our happy everyday business. I asked for you to send me a photo of the place you call home, and I was rewarded with beautiful shots of snow and sunsets, street corners and oceans and outhouses. (That last one was from a Vermonter.)

The timing was perfect. I was about to embark on my annual Christmas Expedition to the North: a 17 hour drive from Asheville to Vermont, just the dog and I, listening to audio books and eating a bag of snacks picked with careful deliberation from Whole Foods. The snack bag is a splurge, bought with cash from the AB Tech textbook exchange, a Christmas present to myself.

Because the journey is long and the days are short, I drive in darkness for the majority of the trip. Sometimes, sailing alone down interstate 95 in the blackness, a certain loneliness will seep through the car windows and fill the space around me. On either side of the highway, the land rushing by looks bleak and unfamiliar, occasionally illuminated by fast food restaurants. I begin to feel very far from home.
This year, things would be different. I heard from many of you who live in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Maryland, and all up and down the Northeast Corridor. Now as I drive I can picture your bustling town just over the hill, the woods laced with running trails, your five roommates all cooking dinner together, and you at the grocery store, or at the late night coffee shop with your head bent over your work, drinking an Americano. Your words made the long road between my home and my other home feel familiar, friendly.

This year I broke up the trip into three days. I injured my back while putting my mountain bike on top of my car ("a bike accident that involved a car", is how I like to put it), and I can't sit down for long periods of time without pain roaring down my spine. My first stop is Durham, to pick up David's Christmas present I'd commissioned from his best friend, Ann. I planned to spend the night with David's parents, then drive up to Ithica to see my sister. On the third day I'd make the final push to Vermont.
The last week was a rigorous one as I doggedly tried to keep up with final exams. I had a test every day and ended up with straight A's, even in Chemistry, which I thought would do me in. So it had been a few days since I'd last posted. As I flew around the house getting things ready for departure, I tried to write something about the upcoming trip, cheerful sentences like 'the dog and I are about to do what we do best- drive!' But I couldn't swing it. Too many other things to do.

Finally, we pulled out of the driveway and made our first stop at Whole Foods.

I would tell you about all the nice things I chose to sustain me over the next three days, but it would make me too sad now. Let me just say this: I am so skilled at selecting road snacks that when I drove across the country, from Seattle to Asheville, I was never even tempted to stop for food.

When I left the store, the bag was heavy and I was brimming with optimism and holiday cheer. I sang along to the radio as we pulled onto the interstate. The dog sat upright in the passenger seat, smiling.

Then, not two hours into the trip, it hit me: this overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and the desperate urge to shut my eyes. I rolled down the windows to let the cold wind whip me awake. At 5:30 in the evening after a good night of sleep, this was completely out of the blue. Maybe it was the stress of exams hitting me after the fact, or the accumulation of medicines I'd been taking for my back.

By the time I made it to the Greensboro countryside to pick up Dave's present, I knew things were about to get ugly. This was no post-finals fatigue. I walked into Ann's house, and there on the mantle was the gorgeous knit piece that she'd dreamed up, designed and been working tirelessly on. She had put the final touches on the frame just a few hours before I arrived. As I stumbled in the front door she was holding her breath with excitement, anticipating my reaction.

"I think I'm going to barf," I said, and ran into the bathroom.
I threw up like, right after this.
Half an hour later, I was driving the winding dark road back to the highway, David's present carefully wrapped in plastic in the back seat. Ann had given me pieces of crystallized ginger and offered me a barf bag for the road. But for some stupid, illogical reason, completely unfathomable to me now, I'd turned her down. 

Twice on that country road I pulled over and dry heaved into the ditch, but nothing came up. I felt dread as I merged onto the wide, busy interstate. "Eighteen miles," I chanted. "That's all I have to do. I can survive for eighteen miles."

I lasted four miles. And then it was all happening. I tried to get off. I safely merged three lanes over and reached the off ramp but it was too late. I grabbed the only bag in the front seat- the one from Whole Foods full of my snacks and coconut waters, and threw up with a terrific slosh. The bag sat warmly on my lap until I found a gas station.

Crying and wiping my nose, I got out of the car and threw the bag and all its contents into a trash can. I bought a blue flavored Gatorade. I managed the rest of the trip to Dave's parents house without further incident, and that's where I am today. Marooned in Durham, too sick to continue.

As it turns out, David also got sick that evening, as did a number of our friends who attended the same company Christmas party last Friday. One that was richly catered by a local restaurant. "We never get to eat this kind of food," I recall whispering to Dave. "Dig in!"

So we all ended up with food poisoning. But I am the only one who ended up with food poisoning at 70 miles per hour.
For more photos of this girl and this dog and all the fun they have, find me on Instagram @melinadream

This week we are taking a break from the giveaways, for reasons that should be apparent. Next Monday we'll be back with a Christmas Mystery Prize (or two).

Until then, I'll be inching my way up North, slowly and less exuberantly than I'd intended. I look forward to that moment when I can sit down at the Cafe in White River Junction, Vermont, watch the snow pile up and type out the post about Home with all your words and photos.

Thanks to everyone who entered the drawing. And thanks to Appalatch, a company of true integrity and talent. The winner of the Custom Fit Sweater is....

Congratulations Grace! I understand that love of change- Vermont has four distinct seasons and the years felt dull without them when I moved away. Minneapolis sounds lovely, and you seem to be in good company- there were a wealth of comments from some very content people in Minnesota. Please email and we will get you all sorted out.

Thank you everyone for reading and writing. The make more mail initiative has been a smash hit so far! I hope you're having a safe and warm Holiday, and I'll see you back here in a few days.

My life is a raw, three layer disaster

I decided to become a raw vegan. It's the thing these days. It will give me glowing skin and tons of energy and make me a round the clock delight.

This is the right lifestyle for me and I thought it would last, and I was very excited.

I was messing around online, lost somewhere on Facebook, which incidentally has become a form of consensual torture, when I came across a recipe for raw, vegan peanut butter and jelly bars.

They looked fantastic. For three nights I lay awake in my bed fantasizing about them. On the fourth day I decided to go for it.

They say you ought to do one thing every day that scares you, and I've decided that for me, once a week is good enough, and this would be my thing.

So I made a shopping list, and I even remembered to bring it, which made me feel very put together and on top of things. At Whole Foods I bought what amounted to a savagely expensive deconstructed coconut. I bought coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut meat, coconut flakes, coconut nectar, coconut water, coconut milk, and on top of that I bought just a whole coconut. Later on I had to google how to slaughter it.

I hadn't been paying too much attention when I'd jotted down the ingredients in my kitchen that morning, but now that I was on the front lines I started to feel a little dazed. Besides the dizzying panoply of coconut, the bars also called for 34 whole dates. That felt like a lot. But I bought them.

I bought everything, reasoning that since I'd gone raw, I'd need all that stuff in the pantry anyway. Absolutely the only thing in my cart was ingredients for the dessert, and as I edged towards the check out line I could detect disaster in the air. The ingredients added up to 85 dollars, so the check out man said "your total is 85 dollars!" Cheerfully, as if it was okay to spend that much on a single afternoon of baking. Not even baking.

I've become good at playing very cool in the grip of catastrophe, so I slid my card with a little "sure sure no problem" smile, but inside my head I was a ten year old flying over the handlebars of her bike, feet kicking madly in the air, arms akimbo.

I'm not sure how it began but everything has gone completely off of the tracks.

It was far too late to back out. I went home and I constructed the thing, and it turns out that the one recipe used nearly everything I bought, with nothing but a few cups of raw cacao and some coconut oil leftover. But I did end up with massive, massive amount of raw peanut butter and jelly bars, so that's good, until I ate a piece and discovered I'd just created the world's most calorically dense substance on the planet, and I wouldn't need to eat again for five weeks.

So I just stood there, and stared down at the pan in awe and bewilderment. What have I done? These bars are worth 85 dollars. This is my cell phone bill. This is 3/4 of the plane ticket to Santa Fe that I didn't buy. This is three pieces of a trad rack I could be quietly accumulating so that one day I can be in the Patagonia catalog and die a fulfilled woman. This is my life in a raw, three tiered disaster.

This is essentially a well disguised coconut.

Pride and common decency kept me from scraping it into the compost, lethargy kept me from utilizing the freezer; I had no choice but to take it on the road. My dessert and I, a traveling sideshow.  I brought it from house to house, I fed it to my friends and I watched their reactions. They were decidedly mixed, ranging from the forced and determinately cheerful, all the way to the neutral, the bluntly apprehensive and those who vocalized regret upon first bite.

And in the end, I did end up in my kitchen, alone in wool socks, scraping it all into the compost bin, gritting my teeth and repeating to myself that we all make mistakes, we all mistakes, we all make mistakes.

The grand spectacular

I am absolutely the best version of myself: winter me, apres ski edition, blue tights and snow boots. I'm hanging out at Vert Fest after a day of gate keeping, it's early evening and the racers and volunteers and vendors are drinking beers out of plastic cups and volleying for spots around the fire. We have our heads back laughing, telling stories and subtly one upping one another as always. The thickly falling snow makes everyone feel fresh and vibrant and prettier than usual.

A boy elbows his way into the circle and is now standing next to me, palms outstretched towards the flames. He has very rosy cheeks. That's really all I can say about him, because that's the only piece of him not covered in synthetic fabric. He's got rosy cheeks and he's tall.

We glance at one another and do the once-over, you know what I'm talking about. Then he turns to Silas, standing on his other side, and begins a loud conversation I'm just certain he wants me to hear. This is good. This is all part of the equation. I drink my beer and wait for my cue, which arrives neatly after about five minuets.

"So!" He booms. "Really been meaning to make it into the back country this winter!"

I spin around. "I'm getting into the back country, and I'm looking for more partners."

The boy grins and widens his eyes in exaggerated shock. "Well, no offense Silas, but I'd rather follow her than you!"

Ha ha, ha ha. A few jokes about Silas being old, about my being young, something about my tights. We all have a good laugh

But really though, do you want to ski? Avalanche certified? Cool. We exchange phone numbers and discuss schedules. Then we have a few hours to stand there and be quick and witty and irreverent. "I hope you don't mind my jokes!" He says. He's so jolly! "I'm always offending people with my jokes!"

I puff up my down-covered chest and say proudly, "Well I'm from the East Coast so you can't offend me!"

And then ha ha, ha ha, we start bouncing jokes back and forth. Really, it's a great time. We're shouting over the chords of a bad cover band, the snow is coming down, new people show up at the fire, introductions all around. We're all feeling very young and delightful, very prime of life. The snow catches in our eyelashes.

Around ten o'clock I call it a night. "After all, lots to do tomorrow!" I tell the protesting crowd, mostly older men, and the boy and I walk to my car. He helps me brush off the foot of new snow that's accumulated on the windshield. Then he gives me a hug, the lingering type. I drive home on I-90 feeling on top! Feeling good! Perfectly executed, I think to myself. I mentally brush my shoulders off.

It really been a good day. I made some new friends- Silas and Ryan and Stefan, and Stefan showed me this secret lodge up there you can stay in for ten bucks a night. I bought an armful of lottery tickets and won an Avalung backpack and a couple of hats and ate some pizza. The whole event thing was a spectacular win. A grand spectacular! But I was most excited about the boy, of course. He seemed so good natured and convivial, and he'd already texted me by the time I got home.
Boy not pictured. Come one. I wouldn't do that.
So we start texting, a little back and forth about snow conditions. I'm not interested in snow conditions but I am interested in where this is going, so I play it cool. 

I wait for him to invite me skiing, which I'm absolutely positive is going to happen, but it's not happening. It's just banter, and it's going to go on forever. 

In Seattle, maybe in any other city but I wouldn't know, you can bounce back and forth with useless texts forever if you're not careful. It's like being stuck in a pinball machine of passivity and vagueness. And if you think a casual 'we should ski sometime' is going to get you out of that pinball machine, you're sorely mistaken. I've learned to keep it quick and specific- suggest a time, suggest an activity, send. 

So I give up waiting and I ask: Want to go skiing on Tuesday?

And this is when it all falls apart. 

He writes me back something about how good the snow was last Friday. He says there were thirteen inches. Then he writes, thirteen inches is never a bad thing, right?

I'm thinking, is he really this into snow or is this a penis reference? And if it's a penis reference, that's fine, that's totally fine, but how about we make these innuendos in person, say, on a chairlift, say, TUESDAY.

But I can't write that, too aggressive, so I write: Ha ha, yeah.

Then he asks where I'm going on Tuesday, and I say Stevens, but I could do Alepental, and he writes that Alpental is closer, and then he doesn't say anything else. 
What would you do if you asked a guy to dinner, and instead of saying yes or no he asks where you're going. So you say, either the Sexton or The Matador, and he said "The Sexton has better fried chicken." And then he doesn't say another thing?  No shit the fried chicken is better at the Sexton, I eat there every Wednesday, do you want to fucking come with me or not?! 

In the old days, you'd get full on rejected and it was wonderful. When I was in 8th grade I asked Oak Clifford to be my boyfriend, after only four months of gathering courage, and he said no. No is pretty easy to interpret. So I moved on and I set my sights on Ethan Waldo, no problem. 

Sometime in the past six or seven years, the customary rejection became just no response at all.  It's a lazy but generally straightforward no. You don't hear from him within 24 hours? Move it along. 

It's the same in the publishing industry. Used to be you'd receive a rejection letter in the mail. Someone took the time to type out a no thank you, or at least send a copy of a form letter. They were almost a badge of honor; authors would do ironic things like turn them into wall paper or make books out of them. 

Not these days. Now you just hear....nothing. Ever. I've written about 15 punchy little magazine pitches in the last six months and submitted them, painstakingly following all the guidelines, each time a quivering little ball of excitement- this is the one, best pitch ever! And then nothing but crickets. Not a word. 

It's just how it goes. 

But this? These non-response responses? It's a new kind of humiliation, because you've gathered the courage to ask someone on a date, and twenty minutes later you're still texting, trying to figure out whether you're talking about snow or about penises and then you remember- wait, didn't I just ask you out? 

(I'm using Vert Fest boy because it's recent and hilarious but he's not the only one, remember Snake Guy?)

So Tuesday comes along and I go skiing, without him, and he sends me a text later that evening. So, did you go skiing?

I'm picturing a cave man. A cave man texting.

I reply yes. He replies something about snow conditions. 

This should have been it. I know that. But to be perfectly honest, I gave it one last try. I shouldn't have because the writing was on the wall, and it's embarrassing to admit, but I did. Just in case he was into me, but he was just dumb as a rock.  

I asked him to go to Smash Putt for Jeremy's birthday with me.  He wrote back: Smash Putt?? 

I explained that smash putt was like mini golf, but hip. 

And that was that. That was the last I ever heard from him. 

So that's how this one ended. Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with an explanation of smash putt. 

At least I won an Avalung, so it wasn't a total wash. 

Curious and deranged with excitement

Here is a story I like to tell live. I perform two genres of stories: close-call adventures and moments of humiliation. Until now, I've avoided blogging about the cringe stories; a live event with a set audience is fine, but I don't have the guts to immortalize these stories on the internet. With this piece, the tides are turning.

I'd also like to point out to any teenage girl reading this, that even though this happened to me, and there were witnesses, I'm still pretty cool now. So that should cheer you up.
14 years old. Full braces smile after getting my billfold of Riverdance signed by the cast
When I was in eighth grade I had no sense of fashion. None. Even in Vermont, where anything goes, particularly in the wintertime, I was at the bottom of the heap.

I remember owning one pair of pants. Back then they manufactured pants that were sensible to the point of indestructible and unfortunately, they could last for years, handed down from cousin to cousin. This pair was dark green, wide-ribbed corduroy, with hefty pockets on the side and an elastic waist.  I paired these with sturdy flannel tops and Ts from catalogs with letters in the name: LL Bean, JC Pennies.

It was these pants, along with physics, that made me a victim of static cling. In case you've never done laundry, this is a phenomenon where static causes one article of clothing to cling to another. Usually you peel apart the items and go on your way. Sometimes, if the climate is particularly dry, there are sparks and it's exciting. Over the course of a normal lifetime, static cling is just a thing that happens, neither a force for good nor evil. I wasn't so lucky.

My green corduroys were roomy on my late to bloom adolescent frame. I may have been wearing long underwear at the time and, as we've all learned, an extra layer dulls sensation, no matter how thin. And so, when I got dressed that dark January morning, I was unaware that a pair of my underpants had become balled up inside of my pant leg during the drying process.

I know I'm not supposed to use the word underpants. It's a word generally dropped from our vocabulary by ten or eleven, either forever or until we become moms and start saying it again. It's not a good word. But that's what I wore at the time. Underwear is too neutral. Panties seems inaccurate and also slightly inappropriate. Nobody is more sorry than I to say this, but mine were Underpants with a capitol U. K-mart variety, dull white, no frills. They came in a pack of ten.

On this day, the air was so dry, the cling so mighty, that the underpants stayed in place until the end of school hours, when all my walking from class to class must have caused them to migrate down the leg and towards the ankle.

After lunch, I trooped as usual to Mr. Young's 7th period American History class. As luck would have it, that afternoon I was giving a presentation that required me to stand alone in front of my peers. Then, like now, I was not adverse to public speaking. I'm sure I dazzled. And then it happened.

As I was striding confidently back to my seat, the underpants tumbled from my pant leg, out from the ankle and onto the floor. By the time I realized something had gone wrong, I was a good three strides away from it. I paused, looking straight forward. I thought, "Please, please be a sock." And then I turned around.

In that moment, time stood as still as ice. The world shrank down to three entities: me, my classmates, and the underpants. Even the teacher disappeared. For a single, surreal second, all was still. And then, from the back of the class, came the voice of a boy, a voice at once genuinely curious and deranged with excitement: "Is that underwear?!"

Too late, I took action. Like a mother lifting a car off of a pinned child I sprung with the strength and speed of an Olympian. I snatched up the garment, arrived at my seat and shoved them into my backpack, never once breaking a tense and practiced poker face.

Then I made a very mature decision. In that instant, I knew that what had just occurred was so devastating, so career-ruiningly horrible, that I did not yet possess the proper brain circuits or learned coping mechanisms to deal with it. I decided to stow it away in the recesses of my mind, move on with my life, and wait until such time as I was better equipped to handle such things.
What I didn't know at the time was this: it was just the beginning, the smallest scrap of beach on an island of humiliation that would emerge, slow but steady, as the warm, protective ocean of my childhood dried up around me. I live a rich and wonderful life, but it's a life studded with moments like this, more than my fair share and, to my memory, it all began here.

Which is not to say it's all for naught. A serious adaptation for life stemmed from that slice of eighth grade horror: I no longer wear underpants. I wear panties, chosen with such cautious deliberation that, should a pair escape from out of my pant leg right now, I would feel nothing but pride, and you would feel nothing but desire.

For more, follow me on instagram @melinadream

The happiest moment of my whole life

The happiest moment of my life occurred at 1:13am on an early Tuesday morning inside of a Walgreen's. The happiness was artificially induced, buts its inauthentic origins did little at the time to diminish my state of euphoria.

I should have been disconsolate. First there was the fact of me being at a Walgreens at 1:13 in the morning, having just been released from the hospital where I'd lay alone for many a doped up hour.

Even worse,  I'd spent the last three days violently voiding the entire contents of a week's worth of food up my wind pipe and out of my mouth, over and over in a desperate, bent-kneed, eye-watering, gastronomical attack. In public. At the beach. In front of the boy with whom I share a rocky history and whose affections I was trying to win back. His eyes, as I staggered back towards him on the sandy path, wiping my eyes, held the wide-round horror of the "I know I should support you but that was really gross" variety.  

To compound matters, I'd just put him on a plane back to New Mexico, where, like clockwork, he'd come down with the virus. On the plane, not in New Mexico. So he was gone and I was missing him and hoping he wasn't too resentful of me for causing him such a wretched ride home.

But still, I was happier and full of more pleasant tidings than I can ever remember. When the bored, poker faced pharmacist told me I'd have to wait fifteen minutes for my prescription, I was thrilled. I had fifteen uninterrupted minutes to wander along the joyful aisles of a Walgreen's, how often in life are we given that opportunity? (A lot.)

After I'd put Will on the airplane, I'd choked down a bowl of soup, thrown up the bowl of soup, and then fell asleep. The next morning wasn't looking any brighter. I went down to the beach to try and heal myself with the fresh sea breeze and some rare self portraiture of me looking pale and skinny. The pale and skinny part of that sentence is what makes it rare. For once it didn't cheer me up; instead I puked quietly and despondently in the sand. So I trooped over to the hospital. They put me in the same room where I'd been less than week earlier when my shoulder bones began their trial separation.
Photo by Chris Forsberg, if I don't say this he'll be after me. He seems to know his rights.

The nurses gave me an IV and pumped me full of wickedly good stuff. I don't know what it was. I'd been feeling mildly stiffed that I'd had my hands on some Vicodin for my shoulder and it went to waste. I don't engage in mild altering activities and I hear vicodan gives you a pleasant high if it doesn't make you barf your head off. I was excited, and then I got the virus and barfed my head off anyway, so the Vicodin never made it to the correct receptors. Whatever they gave me that day in the hospital more than made up for it. I fell blissfully asleep, only not fully: I was just awake enough to be aware of how blissful I felt now that the pain was gone and I was floating above my body on a big white cloud.
The first two days of Will's visit were nearly as cheerful and peaceful as my drug induced high. For some reason, despite our checkerboard past and not having seen him for over a year, I was completely at ease. I expected my heart to be in my stomach when I retrieved him at the airport, but that wasn't the case. I am completely, utterly unselfconscious around him, which came in handy when I threw up on the door to the shower (not the inside of the shower either) while he was making toast in the other room. 

To get you over that image here is a picture of hometeam being held like a baby:
Those easy first days, we went to the beach and the huge park near the shipyard, walked through a terrific windstorm with our heads ducked against the gale, searching for glass and shells. We slept in and went out for perfectly crafted espresso at Fiore. I took him down to the yard and pointed out all the boats in my fleet except the Endeavour, which is wintering in Baja. Those two days swirl together in my memory, but they were sandy and windswept and happy. I got stuck in his eyelashes a few times. We were sort of entranced by one another.
We had dinner with Steph and Ammen, who held the permit to our grand canyon trip where it all began. They are the very reason we ever met. As always they fed us well, and we talked about cabins on the ocean we could rent for the weekend. I had originally planned to fill every second of our time with outdoors activity, which used to be the only way to keep him sane. Skiing, hot springs six miles deep in the woods, snow shoeing. Those plans evaporated the second my shoulder hit the snowy ground before the rest of my body, and so my next attempt was to whisk him away to the isolated coast to the West. 

On the way home, Will told me he didn't need a trip to the ocean. That the Puget Sound was ocean enough. "An isolated cabin with you would be great, but my life right now is completely isolated. I'd rather do city things? Like.... museums?"
His voice inflected into a question because he knew how shocked I'd be. I couldn't believe it. The city craving side of a man who lived entirely in and for the wilderness.

That night I drifted easily into sleep, thinking about all the ways I'd show off my city of a decade, the raw and colorful Pike Place with their flower bouquets and dusty magic shops and flying fish, the gum wall, a ferry out to Bainbridge island. I thought about the science museum and the aquarium and the sculpture garden at sunset. Simultaneously, somewhere inside, the virus was planning its blitzkrieg. I awoke in the morning and I knew it was all over. I ran into the bathroom, bypassed the preferred receptacle for vomit (not enough time to lift the seat) and threw up on the shower door. The cat observed silently from the sink.

For the remainder of his visit I was bedridden. Except for the unfortunate beach trip. It was really sad. He took care of me, along with my roommate, but there wasn't much they could do. It was one of those painful stomach viruses. If I moved, it hurt. If I sat up, I'd throw up. The second night I  burned up in bed with a fever and Will rubbed me down with pieces of ice. It was like the grand canyon sickness take two, only not as dramatic. Or traumatic. Or memorable, or storyworthy. I've gotten a lot of mileage telling that story live, but this one, how my crappy immune system ruined his once a year visit, I'll only tell here.

I was so fucking mad. "Will," I whispered after I'd been lying in the same position for 12 hours, "I must tell you I've become a very independent, vibrant, sporty and can-do person since we broke up." I paused. "You may not know that by looking at me now."

Will rubbed an ice cube on my forehead and said, "I know, Lina." He was bemused. Seventy five to eighty percent of the time, I bemuse him.

Then the airport, the soup, the hospital. The sweet, lapping waves of something good hitting my seratonin receptors. I was there for about twelve hours. Then, for the second time in a week, they  filled my discharge papers and asked, "Are you here alone? Because you can't drive after what we gave you." And, for the second time in one week I responded with a stiff upper lip, "It's okay, I'll just walk."

I didn't mind. I didn't mind anything in the world because right before I left they emptied a whole second vial of the stuff into my arm. It went right to my head and it made me deliriously pleasant to be around. The best way to describe it is that I felt intensely, bizarrely cozy inside. And so, script in hand, I marched down to Walgreen's at midnight, beaming at the empty streets and the few passing cars.

If you ever get a dose of this stuff, go to Walgreen's. There is no better place for you on earth. Besides all the helpful boxed remedies, there is shelf upon shelf of cheap, inexcusably flimsy, wasteful stuff, which, when stripped on the labels of cheap, flimsy and wasteful, is actually just a bundle of plastic joy. The store was decorated prematurely for Easter (they mowed right through St. Patrick's day) which is the world's happiest holiday, strictly in terms of decoration. I just stood there and smiled back at all of it, completely blown away by the amount of fun surounding. Fuck me, is that a bunch of peeps skewered on a stick? Chocolate carrots wrapped up in orange foil? An M&M full of M&Ms? A pastel M&M wearing a basketball cap with legs filled with real M&MS?

So wondrous. All was right with the world.

I guess this is why people do drugs.

I can honestly say I felt as happy and blissful dreamily content as I've ever been.

So it was probably a good thing when my insurance refused to cover my script on the spot, and the bored looking pharmacist pushed the papers back at me and shrugged. I'm not sure if the medicine was the same stuff they'd pushed into my veins at the ER, I didn't think to ask, but if I'd had a whole bottle of that stuff for myself it may have ruined my life. In the most blissful possible way.

Which is sort of what Will did, because he lives so far away, with no prospects of moving here in the near future. He completely wrecked my Seattle life in the most windy, blissful, lovely way.
Annnd now for something completely different: the winner of the winter photo giveaway. Thanks for all the winter time survival tips, they were fun to read and a lot of people mentioned that they scrolled through and looked at all the comments to get some good ideas. The winner (chosen my is.....

Jacki said...
Something about that Irish Boat just grabs me - beautiful!

My surefire way to beat the winter blues is to take a four-year-old sledding. I would imagine any winter activity with an enthusiastic young pal would do, but my boyfriend's son + sledding = instant cheer.

And on days when my sledding buddy isn't available, hot chocolate and lighting a bunch of candles around the house.

Congrats Jacki! Irish boat coming your way. Email me at: melina (dot) Coogan (@)


Welcome to Vajanuary, the very special month I invented back when I was the only girl on the staff of an outdoors high school in South America, enduring a never ending onslaught of flaunted muscles, man-fests, bonfires, shirt-lessness and bearded men who were forever declaring their love for whiskey and driving with one elbow out the window NO MATTER HOW COLD IT WAS.
(Why did I leave that place?) (What is it with men talking about whiskey?)

Vajanuary was my antidote to this unending Movember- a month dedicated to spending time outside in the company of ladies, doing essentially whatever you want to do and ordering your drinks extra girly with a twist.  It's a holy month. And I began this year's in Missoula, where Nici and I indulged in all good girlfriend activities.
Late at night, we lay side by side on the living room floor and wrote, both pushing our deadlines to the breaking point. We were constantly interrupting one another's concentration with just one more thing- one more thing we have to discuss about writing or life before I swear, I'll let you work, and she kept putting a fresh martini in my hand until, sometime around midnight, I couldn't figure out what the hell I'd been sad about lately. Life was fantastic!

The thing is, at Nici's house, life is fantastic. I'm tossed awake up from a very peaceful sleep to Margot and Ruby jumping on the bed and pulling away the covers, and Andy puts a double espresso in my hand and then we go sledding. Sledding is followed by more coffee, and food, and card games and books and writing and talking and writing and talking. Then we go to sleep and do it all again.

And my God, but that woman makes a good Martini.
On Monday evening, Nici gathered up her girlfriends and we met a brewery for the things girls do best: talking. At length. About everything. Telling stories about ourselves and everyone we know. Leaving the table only to get another pint of beer, chasing it with red wine and the best burgers in Montana. Becoming louder, our laughter out of control, waving our hands around to get the point across.
No simpler way to say it: I love that woman and her sweet, chill, gorgeous family. I love the way she invites me so warmly into the workings of her household, the way she generously shares her friends with me around a wooden table covered in peanut shells, the way she gets me all liquored up on Montana Juniper and forces me to confront my fear of olives.

Happy Vajanuary! Are you celebrating?

notes from never land

1. I talk on the phone with Andrew, for the first time in nearly three months. I'm in the produce section of a PCC staring at a pile of oranges. It's fairly early in the morning. Because he used to be my best friend and I miss him and I haven't  heard his voice in so long, it is kind of a tough start to the day.

"Our breakup was hard for me, too," he's saying, "but I think I had a somewhat....different reaction."

"What do you mean?" I ask. I know exactly what he means.

"Well, I didn't need to escape to Montana."

I laugh a little. "I sure did."
2. I have been running away a lot lately. Picture a little kid running full speed, arms flailing, away from the blue cartoon dinosaur of sadness. That's how it looks in my head, anyway, although I have been told that my imagination is a bit, how do I put this, overactive. But it hasn't been the worst thing- not when there are so many tempting places to run away to.

My latest escape brings me back to Montana, to the cabin where I spent two weeks of rehab last November. This time I drive out, not to lick my wounds, but to celebrate Sebby's birthday party in proper form. The theme for the weekend is Peter Pan: pajamas, pirates, tinker bells. Never Never Land in big sky county- perhaps the greatest escape of all time.
3. The cabin that had been so quiet a few months ago, where I sat alone with my pile of books and busily stitched away at my heart, is now wild and loud, overrun with lost boys from Missoula. Their big, laughing, over-sized presence takes up every bunk bed and floor space, crowds into the snowy hot tub in a veil of white steam, falls asleep randomly on couches, circles the kitchen handing out beer and making coffee. They give out back rubs and tell jokes and keep us well fed.

4. The wingmen construct a tinker bell piñata with the head of a doll that's been ripped free of its body. The doll head has a little speaker and laughs like a maniac when you whack it with a boom. There is candy everywhere.

5. This place is, essentially, an exhausting and absurd and slightly insane p-a-r-a-d-i-s-e for a girl who is running away screaming from a dinosaur.

(By the way, the lighting is really tricky.)
4. During the day we ski Big Mountain, and I write a couple of articles in the cafe down town while Lindsey reads a book across from me. Then the evening comes, and it's  off with the layers, the heavy ski boots, on with the pajamas that zip up the front. First we hit the brewery with the cowboys and ski bums; we try to mingle at the bar and keep a straight face. After the third round, we head further down iced-over Main Street to Casey's (only the hottest dance spot in Whitefish).

5. In the middle of the dance floor, I find myself transfixed. There is a woman who is dancing on a pole. She is dressed in black and twisting around and around. She is so beautiful to watch that I forget I am wearing my pajamas.

Eventually she catches me staring at her, and she smiles. She reaches her hand out and pulls me up on the platform with her. Without saying anything, it's too loud to hear anyway, she places my hands where they needs to be, hooks my leg around the pole and gestures for me to spin. Then she steps down and leaves me alone, and this is how I learn how to pole dance as a lost boy.

6. By Sunday morning, the weekend has devolved into sleeping figures curled into sleeping bags and piles of glitter on the floor. I tiptoe around them, searching for my keys, packing up my bag in the early morning silence. I'm back in the car, sliding on thick ice down the long dirt road from the cabin back to the highway, headed towards Missoula and Nici and her girls.
 7. I don't mean to ruin any surprises, but I do end up back in Seattle, and that thing I've been running from gets me. It gets me real good this time.

8. But first, Missoula.

The very attentive lover

Yesterday was national tell a joke day. So, in the spirit of being a day late and a dollar short, today I'm going to tell you a quick story about a hilarious linguistic trap that I recently set for myself and quickly became ensnarled in.

Now, if you read this blog somewhat regularly, you'll know that somehow I ended up working as a Naturalist on a boat in Alaska. Which is unfortunate for all involved, because I know next to nothing about wildlife. 

Or geology. Or glaciology, botany, ornithology, biology or anything else I'm supposed to be an expert in. The things that I don't know about Alaska could fill a rather extensive collection of field guides. 

But I'm an excellent expedition guide. Safe, experienced, always on time, very well liked.

And I'm a pretty good medic- reliable, caring, knowledgeable within my limited but still useful scope of practice.

But I am the world's worst naturalist.  How my title job lept from the ideal "Expedition Guide and Boat EMT" to the frustratingly misguided "Naturalist" or worst- "Interpreter"- is something I may never understand.

Anyhow, a couple of times a week I'll end up as the naturalist on a small boat tour, motoring up to glaciers and gliding along the shoreline in search of bears and eagles. When the glaciers calve and the bears are mating on the beach, or, on one grim but fascinating tour- the daddy bear is ripping the head off the baby bear and eating it live- I don't have much talking to do. The passengers are pretty satisfied just to watch the show.

But on the days when nature isn't ponying up, I have about an hour and a half of silence to fill.
When I've run out of my basic eagle facts and my basic bear facts, I can usually get away with talking about ship life and boat lore. It's bad luck to whistle on the ship, for instance, or have a potted plant.  I'm very interested in these types of things and they tend to stick in my brain better than, say, the average weight of a humpback or the hibernation habits of a coastal brown bear.

Just the other day, I was on an extremely uneventful boat ride. We were supposed to motor up into Ford's Terror, which is like Yosemite only nine times longer, but the tide was flowing and a tidal surge prevented us from getting there. So we had an hour to kill in a pretty but unremarkable bay in Endicott Arm, looking at bits of ice and rock walls.

After exhausting all of my ice material (slush brash growlers bergie bits ice bergs glaciers, in that order) and all of my rock wall trivia (all of this rock is technically "exotic rock," please do not ask me any questions about it," I moved on to boat trivia.

"Did you know," I said to the sixteen guests, standing up in the prow of the boat. "That the word Bosun originates from the word Boatswain."

They appeared interested.

"And Swain means attentive lover. Isn't that interesting? So the Boatswain is the attentive lover of the boats." Our relief Bosun, Adam, had just told me that the day before, over dinner, and I was thrilled to have a new piece trivia for my collection.

My guests nodded, attentive in their own right. I plugged forward.

"It's like the coxswain, for rowing? The coxswain is the attentive lover of the-"
Hold up, I thought to myself. The attentive lover of the cock? That can't be right.

There was a long pause. Somewhere, from the tops of the dark granite Fjiords, an eagle cried out in distress.

"Of the what?" asked an older gentlemen in the stern of the boat.

Ladies and gentlemen, for one thousand dollars, the correct term would have been "cockpit." But, like a possum stuck in the suicidal freeze of headlights, I couldn't think. The only thing running through my head was:  Don't say attentive lover of the cock. Don't say attentive lover of the cock. Don't do it. Don't say it. Seconds dragged by.

I pulled my parachute.

I said, "The skeleton of a grizzly bear bares an eery resemblance to the skeleton of a human. Isn't that interesting?" Then I sat down.
There are many prime examples of me being a terrible naturalist, but this one really takes the cock.

The Survivor Mentality

On the ship you're either working or you're hiding. You are hiding by lying very still in your bunk in your crew cabin or, if you just can't take the confinement of that little room, you are up on the cluttered boat deck with the rescue boats and stacked Zodiaks, where the incredibly loud ventilation system guns away at all times but at least you're by yourself.

Sometimes I sit there under the ten o'clock twilight of an Alaskan summer night and think about what it would be like to go overboard. Unlike the rest of the decks, the boat deck has only a thin wire railing that you could easily slip and fall under or trip and fall over. Then you would plunge three stories into the sea, and unless someone happened to be looking out the window at the exact moment of your rapid descent, your plight would go unnoticed. Then you'd be in an exceedingly unfortunate spot indeed.  The ship would keep steaming along at 10 knots, leaving behind its foaming wake and then, nothing. The waters would calm and you would be alive and alert and treading water for probably four minutes before you lost control of your limbs and went under with only the jelly fish and bull kelp for company.
Adam and Scott, survivors both.
 About a week ago I got into an impassioned debate with my friend Adam about just how long one would last in that deadly cold water without a survival suit. It was crew dinner time and we were eating rice with chunks of unidentifiable animal. I was declaring that you'd have just a few minutes, tops, and my argument was augmented by  an onslaught of satisfying statistics on hypothermia and numbers regarding core temperature and comas. 

"I guarantee you, I could last a lot longer than that," Adam shot back. Adam- deckhand, relief engineer, relief bosun, has 32 years of sailing experience to my five weeks. "I'd take my pants off, blow up the leg, tie it off, and use that as a personal floatation device."

"Oh REALLY?" I asked. "When you're submerged in 42 degree water and your body is losing heat TWENTY TIMES FASTER than air of the same temperature, you'd just undue your belt and take your pants off, all the while kicking for your life? You think you'd have the dexterity to do that?"

"Yes I do. I know I would. And you know, that's what separates a survivor from a casualty. Someone who has a plan, and sticks with it and refuses to give up."

He seemed to have a point on this one. "Then I'd better not go overboard,"I whispered, stabbing a bite of seamonster with my fork. "I'd never be able to take my pants off and make a flotation device out of them when I was drowning. I can't even take my pants off in my own room."

And it's true- I can't. Not when I wear the company issued belt.

The belt has a cheap, silver metal clasp that jams up every damn time. My first night in uniform it got so badly stuck that I had to get a deckhand to undue it WITH A PAIR OF PLIARS. I didn't know anybody onboard and there I was, having to ask for help taking my pants off. ("I'm'm the medical team leader,"I said the next day during introductions and I swear I saw eyebrows raise.) The next day it got stuck again and this time, while wrestling with the thing, the sharp metal cut a long, straight gash into my thumb with bled on my equally horrible blue crew shirt. Oh, how I hated that belt. And now I didn't merely hate it, I feared it.

What would happen if the ship went down, and everybody made it into the lifeboats except for a few heroic crew who would include myself and Adam, certainly, who stayed on the listing, sinking vessel till the last possible second trying to jig the failed electrical system and call out our coordinates for somebody, anybody, to come to our aide, but we couldn't make it so we jumped into the ocean and the lifeboats had since rowed away leaving us to our lonely and icy demise? I can tell you what would happen: Adam would just whip his pants off and construct a little life raft out of them, and as he floated towards shore I would go down, straight down, my last wretched moments in this life spent wrestling with the clasp of the cheapest tin belt in the entire Mariners' Lifestyle catalog.

That very night I took the belt and I threw it into the trashcan in a dramatic gesture that demonstrated my wrought iron will to live.

Hell is a ship with food

“Do you want to know my version of hell?” I whispered to Meril. We were standing side by side in our matching blue and black uniforms, smiling and nodding at the people in the lounge.

“Hell is being on a ship, where the most wonderful food in the world is served.  Anything you can imagine. Everything is drizzled with crème fresh and seasoned perfectly and served with a fresh garnish of something or other picked just yesterday. And the desserts! Crème brule and pudding, delicate layer cakes and pink squares of something or other and chocolate mouse- all day long, whenever you want it.

"In my version of hell, you hear about the food all day long.  You smell the food wafting up from the kitchen. Everywhere you look, there is a television screen broadcasting the menu de jour. You can’t avoid it. The food is everywhere.

"But! And here’s the thing: you can’t have any of it. Not one single bite of the food can be placed in your mouth.

"You don’t starve- if you starved, you would eventually die or become so weak you would have to be removed from the ship, and this hell is eternal. In this hell, you are served three meals a day and you have absolutely no reason to complain. You are fed and there is enough food for you to have as much as you want.

And eat you should, because whatever you do not eat today, you will be served tomorrow. The crust around the sausage sticks will deepend and harden with every re-heating, until there is no meat whatsoever but just some sort of tough, breaded exo-skeleton. Eventually, all your meals will be oblong in shape and indecipherable.”

Meril nodded. “Don’t worry” she whispered in her lilting Louisianna acent, “Your meal will be covered in a pool of ranch dressing. So it doesn’t really matter what shape it is.”

I love to talk with Meril because I know she won’t go running to the captain.

 I’ve grown to love the Chief Engineer, Pat, and I’m afraid they are going to take him away the way they took away Dave Horner, the guy who built the ship that I loved so much but we left him on shore.

I was asking Pat yesterday what they do with those trays of fancy desserts if they don’t all get eaten. “Do they go into the trash?” The thought was terrifying, yet hopeful. If only I could get to them first….

“No,” said Pat, who has one arm tattooed like a robot arm. “The night shift deck hands eat them. Those deck hands survive on sugar and caffeine.”

“I’ve got to befriend a deckhand.” I said out loud.

Later that night, after Laurie and I had turned the light out, there was a knock on the door. The sound was confusing to me- nobody had ever needed me enough on this ship to knock on my door. Then the knock came again, and after a long pause I said, “Come in.”

The door opened and Pat came in. I was very confused because I had been sleeping, and because I’d taken a sleeping pill on a nearly empty stomach, which is the only way those things work anymore.

“Are you sleeping?” He asked, entering our tiny room. “I brought you this.” And he reached between the makeshift curtain I’d built around my bunk, made out of Patagonia layers, and placed a little pot into my hand and a spoon.

“It’s dessert. I stole it for you from the kitchen.”

I ate about three bites- it was a flambayed banana bread pudding- and then I realized I was going to choke. I was too drugged up to swallow correctly. I put the pot on my bed side shelf and fell backwards into sleep.

In the morning I saw it there, and I remembered the entire incident. And waking up I knew the day was a little different than any other day before on the ship, because someone had snuck something out of the kitchen, and figured out which room I slept in, and brought it to me in bed.

The Galley Smasher

May 31, 2012
Day 5 at Sea
Somewhere in Canada

Bosun and his spy glass
Everything was smashing in the galley this morning. The weather was rough as we were completing our first open Sea crossing. It was heavier than expected and while I was up getting breakfast the boat started really rolling and everything slid off the shelves.  It was spectacular. 

A palette of eggs was the first to go, and after that came the plates, a tower of chocolate croissants (not for crew) wine bottles, coffee mugs and silver wear, all hitting the steel floor  and smashing apart with a satisfying raucous. Everyone in the Galley made a grab for something- I threw myself on a stack of china plates- and held on as the sous Chef, Karlos, tried to keep his feet from slipping on the egg-covered floor and his palms from falling onto the hot stove top which takes up the entire wall as the floor of ship tipped back and forth. Meanwhile someone made a lunge for the broom and was trying to sweep up the glass while fruit platters continued to sail off the shelves. 

We sat in the dining room as waves of grey water lashed against the window and our breakfast slid all the way down the table and the all the way back. If you got up to get a fork or a knife, you had to task somebody with babysitting your plate and holding it down so it didn’t topple over and spill onto the carpet.

Then you’d be in real trouble.

We’ve sailed straight through an Orcas pod, and seen a glistening humpback appear slowly out of the water, and a Grizzly bear on the shore lumbering along, looking exactly like a man in a Grizzly bear suit. Those were my thoughts when I saw the bear- “That looks exactly like a man in a Grizzly Bear suit-“ and that’s when I knew I simply was not a naturalist at heart.

We’ve engined past bright, white waterfalls cascading off of deep grey granite (the granite was the color of the Humpback) and massive rivers spewing out of the trees and into the Sea and a dozen types of waterbirds including trumpeter swans and Marbled Murellettes and still, it is the image of the eggs and plates smashing in the galley and everybody hitting the deck in a collective hail Mary that sticks with me the most, and in particular the cook, dancing on the split yolks, his legs bicycling beneath him the way they do in cartoons, trying not to get grilled on his own stovetop.  

Write my story for me

Leaving Seattle

May 28th Day 2 Anchored somewhere in the San Juan Islands, Washington.

I cried in my room today, twice, once out of pure frustration and once out of sadness. I should never have taken this job, is what I was thinking. I really shouldn't have gotten on this ship.

I was standing in the bathroom of the tiny, windowless room, afraid my roommate, another guide, would walk in. Therefore I was forced to look at myself in the mirror as I cried, never something one wants to do.

This will not work, I thought. It will not be like this.

This is the time to find humor- the deeply buried humor and appreciation of irony that my wonderful, dry, Midwestern mom and Bostonian dad imparted on me.

 The fact that on this 8,000 dollar a week cruise the toilets don't work is a great start. The fact that on an 8,000 dollar a week cruise the toilets don't work is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me.

 Everything that happens on this boat is a story being written. Everything that now makes me crazy or furious or frustrated is merely my story being written for me. This is my autobiography being cranked out.

And all I have to do is do my job and laugh at everything and stand my ground. So the people that challenge me, I do what they say if what they say is reasonable. If its unreasonable, maybe I do it anyway. Maybe I have to do. Go ahead, I say inside my head. Write my story for me. Do your worst. I want it to be a good one.


I'm en route to North Carolina from Seattle. There is a two year old behind me, stuck between his mother's legs and the back of my seat, and he keeps plowing his head into the back of my seat with surprising strength. Bam! Bam! Bam! Those little people and their giant heads, like weapons. It goes on for hours and I keep turning around and looking at the mother but she always just smiles with determined ignorance. Finally I start to say something and she interrupts me: "Oh, is he bothering you?" And I say weakly, totally pathetic, "Um, maybe he could just stop with the head thing?"

She gently asks him to stop, with a little too much room in her tone for him to refuse, in my opinion. Then she flashes me one of those searing just wait till you have kids looks, and the plane starts to shake very suddenly. We're flying through something, something bad enough that the drink service is halted, which always feels way more disappointing than it should feel, and also unfair because the first half of the air craft got to have their drinks and now the plane is going down and they'll have more of a chance of surviving, since they're all hydrated and we're not.

The turbulence is bad. I hang onto my arm rest and feel really really angry at whoever is responsible for all of this, the invisible hydraulics in the air and the trajectory of the plane and the geography of the country and everything else. I was actually looking forward to the cross-country flight, a few relaxing hours to sit still and read a book and not be bothered. Actually, I was really looking forward to this trip- a quick trip- three days, two of them full travel days, to my grandmother's funeral in Cleveland.
The Wilderness Discoverer heads out to Alaska
You could say I'm a bit, oh how do I say this, overwhelmed with my new career choice. And I was looking forward to this little break with the excitement of a fifth grader about to be released on Summer break. Like, me? I get to go to Cleveland? I don't have to go to work for three days? Tell me, how did I get so lucky?!

It gets worse.

 Last Monday, some of my crew and I were hoisted away during the work day and taken into Ballard for a mandatory drug test. There were eight of us, and we had to go into that back room with the security guy one at a time. It took an hour and a half. I was the happiest I've been in a while, totally relaxed, sitting there with an Oprah magazine, mentally directing the others to pee slow. Make this last. When it was my turn, I did a quick overview of the space in the room- a tiny room with a nonflushing toilet and a sink with broken taps, no water- and just enough space for me to curl up on the floor and shut my eyes. If I wanted to. Which I did. I estimated how much time I'd have- ten minutes- maybe fifteen? Before the security guy pounded on the door. Fifteen golden minutes to myself.

I know how to work hard. I promise I do. But this life, this boat world, was dropped into my lap when I least expected it. I had a job, car, house, boyfriend, dog, routine, friends, plans. And then this offer happened, and I said yes, and suddenly I cannot keep up.  I wake up at six, try and get the dog out for a few minutes, pack my things, stop for coffee, run out the door to Fisherman's terminal. Almost everybody else lives on the boat. They already left behind the aforementioned dog, boyfriend, car, house. I haven't yet.
I screech into a parking space on the harbor and run up the gangway with coffee in one hand and it's amazing how much can spill out of that little hole in the to-go cup. I forget about breakfast or brushing my  hair, whatever it takes to get my ass onto that ship before the all-hands meeting at 7:30. Last week I went to the wrong ship and therefore was four minutes late getting to the correct ship and I got an extremely firm talking to by my captain. Being reprimanded by the captain of your ship is like being yelled at by the president, the chief of police and your mom all at once. I told this story to Lisa a few days later, recalling the whole scenario in horror in the back room of her work. "Did you cry?" She asked, eyes wide. "I would have cried."

I didn't cry. I think I left my body. Like a dying person who floats above their mangled, car-wrecked corpse on the side of the highway and feels peace. I felt peace because I was planning, with utmost certainty, to jump overboard and drown myself as soon as I got a moment to myself. I've never been yelled at before in my life- surely death was the only option.

The day ends after 6pm. Then I go home, to the moping dog, the half-packed house that needs a subletter, the car with the broken breaks that won't be fixed until October, and I run run run run from task to task, and late at night I drive across the city and shore up at Andrew's house and he makes me dinner and listens to my my tyraid, yet again, about how bad I am at everything. He's cooked me dinner three hundred times. I've cooked him dinner one time. I'm leaning on him hard.

Anyhoo. That's why the drug test was such a rush. An hour and a half sitting in a waiting room. The luxury. The magazines. The little cooler of chilled water. Peeing into a cup was nothing- I'd pee into a thousand cups if it meant having that quiet time with Oprah. I think my crew-mates felt the same way, only they have a legitimate reason. They spend all day scrubbing, sanding, hauling things. I outfit kayaks and put together slide shows about edible plants in Alaska. The expedition team does not have the most grueling job on the boat, at least not when we're in the shipyard. Whenever the bouson spots us on deck, studying maps or looking through books, he always finds something to slam. "Do you think this ship looks finished? Do you? Jesus, I wish I had your job!"

In case you were wondering, I didn't do it. I didn't curl up on the bathroom floor like a demented person having an episode. But I could have. And that was thrilling.
The view from my doorway
Unfortunately the airplane isn't as luxurious as I'd hoped. It's no drug test, that's for sure. The turbulence not only makes me nervous in a white knuckle seat grasping suddenly religious kind of way, it's making the kid behind me nervous and he starts screaming and banging away at my seat again. Only this time I don't blame him. There have been times this past week I've wanted to bang my head against the bulkhead, or the wall of my bedroom, or the window of my car when I'm driving downtown to the DMV. Maybe it would help? Let him bang out his two year old frustrations and fear into my thoracic spine. What do I care.

Whiskey Soured

Driving up the access road to Baker Mountain is an overwhelming experience in itself. The road carves between two massive walls of snow that grow higher and higher as you gain elevation, until it seems there is an impossible amount of snow ready to crash down on you at any moment.

On Saturday morning, snowflakes were sifting steadily from the sky and the clouds were the silver white color of a mottled pearl. It was difficult to discern where the sky ended and the snowdrifts began. All you could see through the icy windshield was the dark outline of the road cutting in wide turns through the whiteness.
It was easy to see me, however, because in the endless line of cars winding slowly up the mountain, I was the only one standing outside of the vehicle, squeezed in the narrow margin between the traffic and the immense walls of snow, dressed head to toe in shocking pink. And I was throwing up.

Really, guys, did you ever think my perfect ski cabin weekend wouldn't start like this?
None of this happened on purpose. I never intended to wear a ski outfit of pure pink, it just happened over time, the way you slowly and inevitably grow old and lose your affinity for soda. I acquired each piece- the pink vest, the pink polypro, on a different occasion. The pants were a fluke. Patagonia Women's Powder Bowl uninsulated pants were only available in vivid turquoise or magenta.  And nobody can pull of turquoise. Nobody. Trust me, I've tried. Turquoise makes you look like a crossover between a muppet and a human child. I'm pretty sure that's why I've been single for so long.
As for the puking, that was also a fluke.

Andrew, Chris and I arrived at a cabin near Baker on Friday night. I had the tremendous luck of having just the right weekend off from work and a last minute invite to join a few friends for a birthday celebration at a ski cabin. As I carefully packed up the car, I could hear the satisfying click of the universe locking together. It was supposed to snow all weekend! There was a hot tub! Hallelujah!

As soon as we arrived, Andrew set to work making these sweet and refreshing Whiskey Sours.
He made a simple syrup over the stove and squeezed the lemons fresh. Look how beautiful! If a good looking boy placed one of these in front of you, and you were wearing green knit leg warmers, wouldn't you drink it down? I sure did. Thrice! I drank three! There was music playing, lots of talk about climbing and skiing. Things were going exactly as planned. My whole life was going exactly as planned.
The others went off to bed, but the three of us were just getting started. We hit the hot tub. Having run out of whiskey, I chose a Porter with blue icicles on the label. In my Patagonia bikini with a bottle in hand, steam rising off the water into the frosty night air with snow and pine trees all around us, I was feelin' good.
I never once stopped to consider how dehydrating the whole evening was.  How could a hot tub be dehydrating? There's water all around you! You probably absorb water. In fact I absorbed so much water I was sweating!

I felt happy, almost loopy happy, but of course I did. There was literally no where else on earth I wanted to be, nobody I'd rather be with. I was so content that I almost slipped down into the suspiciously murky waters of the hot tub and slept there all night. Glad I didn't, I would be dead.

I do have one little blink of memory where I felt the lightest touch of anxiety. As I crawled into the crimson sheets of my bed around two am and lay there, very still, I felt my body sinking deeper and deeper into a sort of bottomless crevas. My last cohernt thought was, "Oh." As in, "Oh, I'm very drunk." Then I crashed fully into a thick, black sleep and woke up five hours later when Brittany was calling us to breakfast.

And oh, how the world had changed overnight. It had become a painful, painful place.

I tottered out of bed into the living room. I was then peer pressured into having a few bites of eggs. My stomach clutched and protested. I drank a cup of coffee. Around me, the others were buzzing around like happy bees. Moving slowly, I gathered my things as best I could, leaving behind my fleece, my down jacket and my wallet, all arguably important things at an expensive ski area in a cold climate.

The car ride was too hot. The music was disorienting. The line on the access road was crawling because of a plethora of spun out cars. Andrew kept saying, "Oh, wow, we still have a long way to go." 

It was the perfect storm.

I knew what was going to happen before it happened. I clutched at the door handle, hopped outside into the snow and threw up in a neat arc against the towering white wall. There were at least 20 stopped cars behind us with a perfect view, and no reason to look anywhere else. I was the only spot of color in a whited-out world.  I got a few cheers of encouragement from some snowboarding bros in an Impreza. Evidently they wanted an encore. They got one.

Still feeling notsogood, I opened the car door and folded myself back inside. I knew I probably had to hurl again, but not for another few moments and I didn't want to freeze. "Hey Melina-" said Andrew, who was grinning, "Would you like a whiskey sandwich?"

Now, I still don't know where he came up with that or why he said it. But the image of such a thing- two pieces of bread soaked in alcohol, limp lettuce and cheese between them, gave me the courage to get up and do what needed to be done, which was throw up again. This time the cars were moving steadily. I had to jog slowly alongside the traffic to keep up.

Really, without such weekly humiliations, where would I be? I'd be enormously successful, I bet. Corporations would sponsor my life. I'd have no real friends. I'd be a real bitch.
When we finally reached the parking lot of the lower lodge, I was done. My friends bought me my lift ticket (no wallet) and I couldn't figure out how to put it on my jacket. I pleaded with them to go on without me. They didn't need too much convincing.

Relieved to be by myself, I threw up twice more, then went upstairs to the lodge where the sad people with bag lunches are supposed to go so they can eat their little ham sandwiches without the torture of watching the wealthy eat hot chili out of bread bowls.

I poured myself a cup of water, took a few sips with a straw, and then my head dropped onto the table and I passed out for about 45 minutes.

It was not the most auspicious way in which to start our skiing extravaganza.

After the nap, however, I rallied. I really did. I clicked into my skis and got on the lift and then another lift to the top of the mountain. I shared the second ride with another single rider, to whom I enthusiastically recounted my morning's adventure, even though he didn't ask.

Crazy Bitch

When I was in college, all I did was play ultimate Frisbee. And I thought that how well a person played ultimate Frisbee was a pretty good determination of their character.

So when one of the best ultimate players in the world, Ben, showed an interest in me, I was thrilled. When he said, "I'd like to date you, but with no rules, no commitment, and I get to flirt with girls, sleep with girls, travel with other girls, do absolutely whatever I want, and you have to be okay with that," I really thought about it. Initially, it did not seem like such a great idea. And then I considered what a good Frisbee player he was and I was like, "This seems like a really good deal for me. Onward!"

This was also a time of great enlightenment for me. I was a junior in college in Seattle, a very sex-positive city. I was taking all sorts of college classes, for college credit, towards my college degree, about sex. I took Sociology of Sexuality, Psychology of Sexuality and Psychobiology of Women. I remember my mom calling me and saying, "What's next? Poetry of Sexuality? Math of sexuality?" And I remember thinking, Those both sound good, I ought to look those up in the class directory.

At the same time, I was making a lot of new friends. Some were polyamorous, some were part of Seattle's "kink" community, and virtually everyone was bisexual.

I was learning all sorts of new things. I listened attentively, took a lot of notes, and always read the suggestive readings.

So when Ben suggested that we date- but that we pretend we're not dating around others so that he could keep his options open, I thought- fantastic! A chance to prove how super open minded I am!

I think open relationships can work. Never in my experience, but certainly in some situations. However, ours did not work. For many, many reasons, our relationship was terrible.  Absolutely a disaster.

When you're a girl, and you're in a *terrible* relationship with a boy, it's easy to start to hate other girls.  Girls are always hating on girls. We're encouraged to do that. So I made up my mind not to develop any negative feelings towards other women. That way, I'd be okay with everything always. I refused to become 'crazy' or 'needy' or 'clingy' or 'spiteful' or any of those other things that are a natural reaction to being fucked with.

Besides which, I thought this super-acceptance would really impress Ben. I was so easy to date! So convenient and open minded and accepting. I would literally have no needs or feelings. Between this and all the hair-straightening and outfit choosing I was doing, I might even be close to perfect.

And I'm sure he did appreciate it. I'm sure he was really impressed by me and appreciated how easy I made it for him. But he was so busy having sex with other girls that the conversation never really came up.

This went on for a long time. Whenever I felt like shit, I'd chalk it up to insecurity. And nobody wants to feel, or admit to feeling, insecure. When I felt jealous, I'd do some research. I'd literally google it like it was tonsillitis and there was a homeopathic cure. I once read that envy was just toxins in the body and a juice cleanse could clear it up forever. Totally game, I put on my book store outfit,  hopped on the bus to Barnes and Nobles and bought a card deck of smoothie recipes and a blender.

I even read good books, books recommended by my Poly friends and my professors, like "The Ethical slut." And I was so desperate to make it work out with Ben that I'd warp all the information I got in those books to support this dysfunctional situation.

It's too bad I never stumbled, during this period of enlightenment, onto Dan Savage and his Savage Love Cast. I would have found out right away, in very straightforward terms, that my relationship was actually abusive (mentally, not physically), tormenting, manipulative and that I should GTFO. Get the Fuck out. But somehow I didn't find the Savage Love Cast till years later. Too bad!

Around this time, Lisa and I were captaining our college women's ultimate team. Lisa and I took this pathetic, limping team that was falling apart and threw ourselves into making a real program out of it. We worked night and day, and it payed off. One year after our big push, we played in the finals of College Nationals on national television.

I'd gone to an all-boys high school, so being around so many women was new to me. I started picking up on all the thing we do, like apologize about everything, and all the negative words we used that were anti-woman. Bitch, slut, cunt- the male equivalent of these words simply didn't exist.

Also, this idea of women being called crazy started to really get to me. Listen for it- people are constantly calling women crazy. "She broke up with me, but it's okay, she was crazy!" "Yeah, I met her once, she was crazy!" Nobody bats an eye. The going theory is that all women are crazy.

So I refused to call anyone crazy and I refused to call anyone a bitch and I was determined to like everyone, especially the girls who were sleeping with my boyfriend.

And then came the Seattle Ultimate Carnival. This is the biggest party of the year. All the Frisbee players in the Northwest come down to Seattle for the weekend. It's held in some hip warehouse downtown. The teams prepare routines and costumes and compete for Patagonia gear. I'd been dating Ben for five or six months by this point, so I kind of figured he'd go with me to this thing. But we'd go together was so conventional and close-minded. Also, it would make him feel penned in and trapped if I asked, and I certainly didn't want to make him feel that way. And besides, I was going with my team.

Then I'm at the party, everybody is at the party, and Ben is there with some other girl, this girl he went to high school with. And he is all over her. And I'm like, that's strange, because I'm right here. This feels a little weird. It's upsetting, but it's totally my fault because I shouldn't be feeling jealous.

Everybody notices what's going on. Ben is not a subtle person. Our friends keep looking at them, and looking at me in confusion. Some of them, his friends, his teammates, are pulling me aside and asking what is going on. A few ask, "Do you want me to ask them to leave? We can make that happen."

And I say no, because the last thing I want to do is to make a scene. I can't admit in front of everybody just how messed up this relationship is (of course they all know that, because it's painfully obvious, but that's something I don't understand yet.)  I've come this far, I can put up with it for another night. And besides, she isn't doing anything wrong. She's obviously just a spirited gal (dressed in Japan-o-phile school girl outfit) having a good time. This is part of the agreement, this is cool.

Of course, this ruins the whole night for me. But finally, the party ends. Unfortunately, the after-party, which is even more fun and important that the actual event, it at my house.

So Ben takes this girl, this wacky girl nobody knows, and now they're in my house, in my living room. This girl is totally drunk, and she's falling all over everyone.  She's one of those clingy, touchy, overwhelmingly physical drunk girls. She's starting to really annoy everybody.

My roommates pull me into the bathroom. "Who the hell is this girl?" They ask. "Do you want us to make her leave? What is wrong with Ben?" And what they don't ask but it's obvious they're thinking is, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

But I really don't want to make a scene. A scene where some girl is kicked out of the house and Ben is yelled at in front of everybody? I would suffer for that later. It would be awful. I'd rather just let it happen. Besides, this girl....I refuse to dislike her. She's not crazy, she's just wild. She's just drunk and having a good time. In fact, I think I like her. We'll get along. We'll become friends.

Finally, everybody else at the party has had enough of her. They stick her outside and lock the door. The after party is winding down anyway.

Apparently, she has a different idea because moments later, she punches through the glass window on the door and lets herself back in.  We find her in the front hallway, laughing and holding tightly to a fist that is gushing blood. My roommates are like, "This Bitch is crazy." And I'm like, ""

But by this point, my roommates are beyond furious. The window to our house is broken, glass is everywhere, this will all have to be explained to our landlord who is notoriously uptight, and it will be expensive, and until it's fixed there is no way to lock the door. And this girl is still here, in our kitchen, dripping blood onto the floor as she eats grapes out of our fridge. And Ben is here, and he realizes the situation is out of hand, but when he realizes things are wrong and he's at fault he just gets more stubborn and difficult. That's why he's so hard to deal with.

For my roommates, this is no longer about Ben treating me poorly in front of everyone. This is about a psychopath being in our home at 2 in the morning.

One of the girls informs Ben that if he doesn't get her out of there she is going to call the police. So I sit on the steps and watch Ben wrestle this crazy girl back to his place for the night. He doesn't once make eye contact with me or acknowledge that I am a witness to all this. But, you know, this is what open relationships are all about. Making yourself invisible.

At this point, it is becoming difficult not to feel anything negative. I decide to put myself to bed and either deal with or repress everything in the morning. I go downstairs. Back in those days, I lived in a room that was a re-done garage. You had to go outside and re-enter my room through a separate door. So I do that. I lock the door behind me, then turn the light on. And I am about to fall into bed when I see the walls.

There is blood on my walls. Streaks of blood, as if some girl who had just shoved her fist through a window had gone into my room and rubbed her bloody wrist on my walls. Which is exactly what has happened.

You know, I can be a dramatic person. I like to tell stories and perform. But that doesn't mean I like invite this type of drama, the let's-pour-a-bucket-of-blood-on-that-girl-on-prom-night psycho drama. No way.

In that one exhausted moment, I realized, holy shit. That bitch is crazy.

And Ben is crazy. And if I stayed in this situation any more, I would become crazy.

My advice to you if you're involved in anything like this: good relationships, open or closed, monogamy or monogamish or polyamory, all of it, are based on honesty and support. Anything else is crazy. And you need to GTFO.

I still believe in supporting women and all of that, and I've since found actual, legitimate ways to do that. I became a high school teacher, I lead girls' trips in the wilderness, I speak with groups of teenage girls about writing and health education, and eventually I became a trained doula. Letting a crazy bitch punch through a window in my house and track her blood over my walls, just to prove to the jerk I was 'dating' how tolerant I was of his fucking around? This kind of thing is less of a priority these days.

A Rousing Round of Pain Comparison

Last Saturday saw my complete transformation from a cool, composed, avalanche-savvy, skiing back country no-big-deal kind of hot shot to a crying, convulsing mass of wimp, writhing in the middle of a snow crusted parking lot as day trippers and their dogs gingerly stepped over me. In just under five hours!

A personal best.

You may be wondering, at this moment, about my use of hyperbole. "What she really such a hot shot at the beginning of the day? Was she actually convulsing? Could it be that she is just exaggerating to make me want to read this?"

Honorable questions. 

I will say this. As we were gearing up at the trail head, I felt like a million bucks. My general pre-adventure excitement was laced with the clear-eyed, stoic certainty that comes with beginning a long journey. On this morning, I was finally becoming a backcountry skier, a process that began a year ago when I first started to aggregate the expensive and elaborate set up. 

To everyone else, I looked like a normal girl with unusually thick hair putting on skis with maybe not so great balance. But sometimes I write about how things feel inside of my own head instead of how they are in reality. It's much more fun that way.

To answer the second question, yes, I was actually convulsing at the end of the day. Just my legs. But still. 

You ready to hear the story now or what?

I've been downhill skiing since I was 8 and I love it. But the one bad thing about skiing is it requires you to wake up early. I have a really hard time with this. I'm so bad at it that even setting an alarm makes me  anxious, and I have to distance myself from the reality of the situation. I'm like, 6:00? Yes, I recognize that those are numbers. I'm going to program this onto my phone and at some point it will make a noise, and I will rise from bed and I'll be awake, just like I am now. This will go fine

Then 6:00 am rolls around and it's terrible. It feels like I'm deep under a pond of pain. I'm always surprised by just how bad it actually is. I've nearly pulled the plug on my life's best adventures because of how miserable I felt in the morning. I always toy with the idea of calling my friends and trying to explain the gravity of the situation-"you don't understand, I think there is actually something wrong with me. I feel very heavy. I can't move. I was having a dream and now I'm very disoriented. Go on without me." 

But eventually I do get up, pull it together a little and slump my way to the shower. After the shower I sit on the bathroom floor with my head in my hands wondering what life is all about and why it has to hurt like it does. What kind of God are you? Then I put my clothes on. I load the car, turn on the radio, crank on the heater full blast, listen to a few good songs on low volume, sip some water and steer the vehicle towards somewhere that sells coffee.
If I can get to this point, I think -maybe. Maybe I can keep this up. 

This is how Saturday morning begins. By the time I meet Erika and Chris at the park and ride, I'm just beginning to side with the the Let's stay awake and give this day a try side of my brain.  
It's snowing heavily on the drive out to the Cascades. My extreme highway-in-snow anxiety is a nice perk up, and I'm wide awake by the time we get to the trail head. Awake and feelin good. As I pull my gear out of the car I have this really smug feeling because I'm on my new AT set up. I've got an avalanche beacon strapped to my chest and a shovel in my pack in case I have to dig out a comrade. And I'm going to be good at this, I can just feel it. I am one hell of an athlete, aren't I. 

So I'm acting all confident, cracking a few jokes, attaching my skins, giving out nods to the people schlepping by in their snow shoes (slow shoes!) and cross country skis. Hang with me now, guys, but we're gonna blow past you and go places you can only dream about. Because I'm not sure if you've noticed, but these are AT skis I have here. All Terrain.

No wait- that's not right. Alpine Touring is what I meant to say. Damn it I do that every time. These are Alpine Touring skis. As in backcountry. As in, I ski backcountry all the time. As in 'I might not make your birthday party, depending on snow conditions in the backcountry.' It's just much cooler than anything else ever. Yeah, I earn my turns. Yeah, my cheeks are always this windblown. Is that my boyfriend on the cover of that magazine about snow? No, but it could be. He does look just like that. 

I am one solid tour away from being that girl. It's all I've ever wanted. 

Then I try and put on my boot, and this is when when things start to go wrongity wrong. 

Getting your AT boots fitted is a relatively involved process. The dude at Second Ascent covers your feet in gel packs, heats the liners in a special oven and then presses your feet into different positions inside the shells for half an hour. In the end, the interior of the boots are perfectly molded to your feet and obviously very comfortable.  

The one important thing to remember is that you, as the owner of your feet, have to do a little bit of communicating with the dude. As in, "That's too tight." Or, "I think my toes are jammed." Or, "Why don't we try a larger size? These don't feel right."

This is especially important for someone with severe frostbite scarring and needs extra room in the boots for warmers and three pairs of socks. I'm referring to myself here. 

And I had a difficult time with it, the communicating part. Not because I have any problem stating my opinion or asking for what I want. Far from it. It's just that my self assertiveness goes up in smoke when someone touches me. I love being touched. I become the most agreeable and easy to get along with person on the planet. My best friends know this, and whenever I'm being overly excited or difficult about something (which never happens) they'll just reach out and stroke my arm and I'll become immediately quiet and docile.

One year ago,  I went into my neighborhood gear store with the intention of buying a perfectly sized and extremely expensive ski set up. What ended up happening was that I got a kind-of foot massage for an hour and walked away with some boots perfectly fit for a twelve year old. 

Also, the dude doing the fitting was a little suspect. He kept calling me 'Man.' He kept saying, "I only do this job so I can ski, man. Just so I can get out skiing. Man, I hate working retail." He'd push my foot down into the shell and it would hurt, but then the warmth of the boot lining would start to relax me. "I just hate working with people, man. I think I just hate working." 

And I'm sorry to say it, but him squeezing around on my ankles was probably the most physical contact I'd had in months, so I probably started to connect with him and by the end of the conversation I was just like, you're right. This isn't about me and these boots I'm about to buy. That was rude of me to even think like that. Let's talk about you and how terrible it is that you have to have a job. 

Then I gave him four hundred dollars and took the boots home. I did one quick tour with them, up and down at Hyak mountain, and was so busy congratulating myself for being such an adventurous jack of all trades that I didn't notice the blue and yellow bruising in my feet the next day. And then a year passed.  

So here we are, it's this beautiful winter day, and I'm feeling like a total champ. Except I can't fit my foot into my boot. I shove my foot down, then raise the whole thing and whack the boot on the ground with all my might. My foot is being compressed in every direction- pushed in from above, up from below, in from both sides. It feels like something is trying to squeeze my toes to touch the bottom of my heal, making my foot into a loop. Foot loops.

After I squeeze both feet somewhat down there, then I have to fasten all the buckles, which is  excruciating. There is no way I can leave the parking lot with my feet and shins in that much pain. But, if I leave the boots completely unfastened and pulled open at the top, I can sort of shuffle around. We start skinning up, and I immediately drop behind. I'm dragging my feet, not getting any distance into my strides. 

I'd always thought that when I finally made it out touring I'd look really pretty doing it, but also unusual and mysterious, like Taylor Swift on skis. But I don't. I look like an old person trying to walk on the beach.

Chris waits for me around the first turn. "How do they feel?" He asks. My response is something confused and indefinite, like "....I feel.....ahhhh....?" I don't want to turn around, but I don't want him thinking that this is how I always look when I ski. 

He frowns. "If your boots don't fit, we can just go into North Bend and get sauced. It's not worth suffering for." Erika nods in agreement. And I know they're both sincere about turning around and giving up a whole day of skiing. I've managed to sift through the masses of self involved assholes in this outdoor world and find the most un-selfish people in the whole tribe. 

But there's no way I'm going to admit defeat this early. I've been so stuck in the city lately, feeling irritable and antsy, working in front of the computer convinced that this is it, my life is no longer fun, just put me on an ice flow for chrissake. I have to get out and ski.  The thought of sitting around all day, then getting home before dark to sit around some more is far more excruciating then the pain in my feet.

Three hours later, when we're still skinning up, nothing is more excruciating than the pain in my feet. To keep my mind from shutting down, I play a little game. I call it the pain comparison game, and it's a lot of fun. "Is this more painful than...frostbite? Is this worse than migraines? Kidney Failure? That time I broke off the top of my pinkie in the door? Tonsillitis? What's worse- this, or that one time my foot caught on fire?" 

You know when you start to fall in love with somebody new, and you are just out of control into them, and it dwarfs every feeling you've ever felt in the past? You say to yourself, This thing I feel for Luke is the real deal. The stuff before this was just child's play. And while most of you is in wholehearted agreement with this conviction, there's a little part of your brain going, 'But that's what you said about Cam two years ago' and you're like SHUT UP. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. THAT WAS NOTHING. 

That's what severe pain is like. It's immediate amnesia. The bone-crushing steps of right now trump any flaming foot of back then.   

And that's how I come to the decision that this is the worst pain I've ever felt, ever. The scenery, however, really is beautiful. Top notch.

But eventually, I give up. "I don't think I can go any further," I say, looking down at the ground. "I know we've just skinned up for three and a half hours and we haven't gotten to the skiing yet. I'll just sit here while you guys go up." Which is essentially saying, I'll just lie down here, remove my boots, and take a nap. When you come back, I will have died. But go- you deserve it.

 Because Erika and Chris are not assholes, they refuse my offer and kindly suggest we ski back down on the track we skinned up on and call it a day.

To have any control whatsoever on the descent, I have to lean forward into the boot, which feels like driving a screw driver into shin splints. So I give up control. Fuck turns, I'm going straight down, gasping loudly the whole way. Not crying exactly, but crying out with every exhale, which makes it a lot better. I actually use some of the techniques I used in my doula class. And you know what? They don't work. Sorry ladies. Fuck the breathing. Take the epidural. 

And this is how my backcountry career ends, at least for the day- all whimper, no bang. I keel over sideways besides the car, writhing and trying to rip my boots straight off. I want the jaws of life. I want to cut them open with a hack saw and then bash them to pieces with a monkey wrench because these boots have literally ruined my life. 

Chris takes my boots off for me. My feet come out all bruised and alabaster and numb. I climb into the car, finish the rum, wrap a down jacket around my head and pass out, awash with self pity. 

But! It only lasts for about twenty minutes, and then someone has propped me up at a table at the North Bend Bar and Grill in front of a plate of Super Nachos. I drink two beers, get immediately drunk, and start planning a multi day touring trip with Chris and Erika and all our friends. All of the friends! Because I did so very well on this tour.  

The very next day, I limp into Second Ascent ready for war.  But, you know, I'm polite about it. I'm re-fitted into new boots two whole sizes bigger than the first pair. "How did this happen the first time?" Asks  the very nice guy who is helping me. I shrug. "I don't know, man. No idea."

By the very end of the day, I have new boots, new linings, inserts, and adjusted bindings. And just in time. A huge snow storm is whirling its way into Seattle, so Chris and Andrew and I are planning an early escape before the whole city falls apart. I set my alarm for 6 in the morning. This is going to go great. 

Somebody help this man

I was on my second date with Kai, an extremely handsome architect and ski patroller who lived on a boat.
On paper, as you can see, he was, and how do I put this without scaring you off- marriage material.

Off paper, I wasn't ready to make that leap. Our conversation during date number one was a little bit stilted, he wasn't the champion of asking follow up questions, and there were a few pockets of silence when we both studied our coffee cups as we returned them to their saucers, as if it were some sort of brain teaser that required our full attention. However, it went well enough, and his cheekbones were so pronounced, that a second date was still worthy of straightening my hair. Which, let the record show, takes four god damned hours.

We were having drinks at a really nice joint in Ballard, right on the water, a place that affords the most stunning views of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountain range. I'd ordered a gin and tonic. I dislike the taste of tonic (bitter? sour? sweet? umami? what the hell?) but I love the little slice of lime that accompanies it, and it sounds so much classier to order a gin and tonic than, say, the neon green Midori Sour that I want one hundred percent of the time.

After the slow to get going what-did-you-do-today banter (he went to work, I straightened my hair, which I wasn't going to admit, so I lied and said I went for a long run) it was clear that somebody was going to have to jump behind the wheel of the conversation and be the clearly defined trip leader of the evening.  And that obviously was going to be me.

I tried to steer us towards his parents and his East-coast up bringing, but I had to pull a U-turn when he announced that his father was dead and he didn't talk to his mom at all. "Well, " I said, "In that case, what did you do for Christmas?" (Which is such a softball: I saw my brother and his family. I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm Jewish. I went skiing. I baked a cake. Any one of those would do, and so many more.)

So why we had to jump directly to his rash, I'll never understand.

"For Christmas? I came down with shingles."

It was too late to hit the brakes. We were going down this road.

I said, "I see."

I say "I see" whenever I'm at a total loss. A few weeks ago I was on first date with some other guy, and when I asked what he did for a living he said "Math" and offered no follow up. So I said, "I see." Which was better than "Jesus Christ, I hate math. I literally chose my college major because it was the only one which allowed me to get away with no math." Instead I just said "I see" and let it hang.

Just yesterday at improv, I was doing a scene with a guy named Joe. Joe handed me an imaginary Glock and told me he needed to buy it because in this post-apocalyptic world, it was the only thing that could save his family from the werewolves. Then he waited, poised for me to accept his offer and add to it, but my brain was not computing fast enough. I held out my arms, took the imaginary gun and said, "I see." There was a long long pause, and then the teacher had to stop the scene and we all learned a lesson about choking.

Only in real life, there is no teacher to stop the scene when the players are choking. And so, the date marched on.

"Shingles," I said, finally. "I know all about those. My ex-boyfriend once got that. They're stress induced."

"I thought shingles only showed up in older people."

I took a sip of my drink, contemplated my next move, and decided to just plow forward with the truth. "He was old. He was 15 years older than me."

"Oh." Pause. Pause. Kai takes his time setting his drink down and arranging the coaster so its angles lined up squarely with the table. "So, anyway, I was supposed to spend my Christmas break at a cabin in the Cascades with my friend and his family. But a few days before the trip, I start to feel something weird. It started in my right nipple. It was really itchy. And my nipple hasn't felt like that since puberty, you know?"

And here he actually stopped and waited for a response, maybe on the off chance that I had experienced male puberty. I didn't, but this is why we have imaginations. I nodded seriously and made a face that said, 'Totally. Absolutely. I'm with you one hundred percent.'
Not this face but I needed to add a photo.
"....Anyway....I did some Internet research and it turns out that you can't actually spread shingles but you can spread chicken pox. And here I am- I'm supposed to spend Christmas at a cabin with these friends who have a baby, they have a one year old, and the grandmother who is going through Chemo. Obviously I can't go.

"Then I found out that you're only contagious if your rash is, if it's pussing? And mine wasn't pussing. And it wasn't like I was going to take my shirt off and then take a cheese grater to my chest and then give out hugs."

I was still nodding along, as if I was thinking of course, of course, that all makes total sense. You're not going to rub a cheese grater against your rash and then hug a baby. Who would? But inside, my maternal instincts were screaming Help this man! Help this man! This man is drowning! And the rational part of me was going How?!

Shift the subject. Just gently slide it away from the rash.

"Shingles are caused by stress....were you going through some severe stress?"

Kai paused for a moment. I saw his eyes roll up and to the right, which meant he really was thinking. "No, I don't think so. I mean, I just broke up with my girlfriend of four years but...that wasn't all that stressful."

And now we have landed at the heart of the issue.

You just ended a four year relationship and you see no causality between that and this painful case of shingles that nearly ruined your Christmas? This is what I was thinking but you know, this was a second date. It was not my place to try and explain that stress can often be internalized. And I'd rather discuss all of the kitchen gadgets in the world that one could use to aggravate a rash than discuss this former girlfriend. So I just said, "I see."

And after that, the conversation had a hard time really going anywhere. Unfortunately, I've never had a rash, so it was difficult to relate. Well, once, when I got poison ivy, and I toyed with the idea of sharing that but the conversation would have gone something like this: 'I had poison ivy once. I got it from the poison ivy plant. But I put some cream on it and it went away.' I kept it to myself because as a rule, I don't like to discuss creams, ointments or any sort of topical medication until after date seven.

If only there had been vomiting in his story! I can kill with vomit stories.

Alas, all there was to do was look down at my watch, feign surprise and suggest we get the check.  

That evening, I did not get to kiss that rugged man on his strongly jawed face, and it was clear I never would. Nor would I ever get an invite to his boat where maybe we'd play a board game and share a nightcap of whiskey before retiring into the berth to watch a few YouTube videos.  

No. What I got was far better-  the illustrious, wonderful, powerful story of a date thrown delightfully off of the tracks. The story of the man who said nipple, rash, and pus, the man who said cheese grater and pantomimed cheese grating his chest! He did! I saw him do it! 

Even better, it's the kind of date story where nobody actually got their feelings hurt, or their heart broken, or actually became infected with a rash instead of just talking about one. Those stories are fun, but they come at a price.

It's too bad that we'll never share a ski adventure, that I'll never upload a whole adventurous album of the two of us onto Facebook, with the sole intent of having the men in my life scroll through it and weep with jealousy. But I did get this story, this gorgeous little punch of a story. And for that, I will always be grateful. Because I love- and maybe this is why things go so poorly so often- I really love to tell stories. 

Running away from all of that

I was sitting at the Hopvine Pub with Jeff and Kurtis, two boys from work. Jeff and I had closed the gym that night so it was late, almost midnight. Jeff invited his roommate Andy to come out with us. Andy was well dressed, loud, funny. And he was Jewish. Historically, I always get big crushes on Jewish men.

Andy was really fun to talk to. He appreciated all the things I said just to get a rise. He kept laughing out loud and saying, "Wait, is that a thing?"

Which is a 30 Rock thing, in case you ", I don't watch TV, I don't even own one."

He said "Is that a thing?" four or five times before I called him out. "You're a Tina Fey fan, aren't you."

He tipped his head back and laughed so loudly it reverberated around the almost empty bar. "Wow- I've never been figured out so quickly by a girl before." Then he gave me one of those appreciative fist jab things, which is like a really meaningful high five.

The next bar we went to had a Medieval theme. There was a coat of armor in all the corners. Andy and I sat across from each other and started talking heatedly about comedy. Apparently we had not only watched the same shows but also read the same books. Everything was going well, really heating up, until he said, conspiratorially, as if I might agree:

"Not Amy Poehler. She's not funny."And then he said, "I'm Anti-Amy Poehler."

I stood up and with both hands tried to jerk the table over, but it was bolted solidly to the ground.  In fact, everything in the bar looked like it was sheathed in iron and welded to something else. "How is that possible?" I yelled. I yelled so loud that the waitress approached our table. "This idiot doesn't find Amy Poehler funny," I fumed. She shook her head. She was dressed like a wench.

"You're wrong," she said simply, shaking her head at Andy.

"Also, I don't think Jimmy Fallon is funny." Andy was clearly enjoying himself.

The waitress shifted her weight to the other hip and started taking empty beer cans away from the pile accumulating on Kurtis's table. "That I agree with. Last call."

"I have to get out of here." I declared. I held my face in my hands.

A few minutes later we had all spilled back into the cool December morning. It was 2:30am. Kurtis was getting screamed at by the bartender for something. I'd be more specific, but I really don't know.  We started strolling down 15th, and Andy offered me his arm. "What, you want to hold my arm?" I asked. I liked him. He was quick and good looking. But I haven't been on my game for the last....two years? Three?

He laughed and motioned again. I took his arm.

"Do you want to keep hanging out?" He asked.

"What- you and me?" For some reason I felt like giving him a hard time. Maybe make him give up. People can give up so easily these days.

"There's a place on Olive that starts serving breakfast at 3 in the morning."

A vision of the two of us flashed into my head, sitting on the wide black booths, ordering bacon (maybe he wouldn't?) and waffles from a stoned, surly waiter. We could keep talking about comedy. I don't get to talk much about comedy with my friends in Seattle, except for a rare and precious few. Others run for cover when I bring it up. I mean this literally. My friend Nika once hid behind a house plant.

I didn't give him an answer. I just kept saying, "What, me? No. C'mon, really?" And then something happened involving a disc golf frisbee. Kurtis had thrown one into the street where another group of kids (Adults? 20 somethings? Jerkoffs? What are we called anyway?) tossed it onto the roof of a Tullys Coffee. As they took off down the sidewalk, Kurtis was shouting "What the FUCK man?"

I started to saying, "It's okay Kurtis chill out, be quiet."

"What happened?" Asked Andy, throwing his chest forward.

"Those dicks just chucked the disc onto that building and took off! Man those things are like, 20 bucks!"

Andy, obviously a man of action, gently unlocked his arm from mine and started running after them. I could hear his shoes pounding against the pavement for a block.

Suddenly I was running, too. I was running in the opposite direction, heading towards my car. "Bye boys!" I screamed at Jeff and Kurtis. "Goodbye." Jeff called politely. Jeff is unfettered by everything. You could land a plane on him and he'd just go, "Oh, hey. A plane just landed on me." Meanwhile Kurtis was swinging his arms around going, "Wait- what?"

I was running in high heeled boots. Not super high heels and not at top speed, but still as I ran the three blocks I thought, "I am so good at this."

I was so pleased with the running and the escape and the car starting just right that I never stopped and wondered: why am I doing this?

I liked Andy. And I love breakfast at an obscenely early hour.  It's all so very On The Road. But I have this thing. I'm really good at the initial meeting. First I smile and act supremely confident. Then I say something sharply observant but slightly insulting across the table, smooth it out by catching their eye just right while touching my hair,  and then I listen to him for a while. Then I say something that make them go, "Woah, I wouldn't have said that out loud but yeah, exactly."

I have them just where I want to.

That's generally when I go home and read a book in the bath tub.

When someone asks to keep hanging out I'm like, wait- what? I haven't prepared a second act.

This time I told myself that running was the right thing because I could never get along with anyone that didn't share my love of Poehler. This was ignoring three hours of evidence to the contrary, but as judge and sole member of the Jury I declared myself correct and my actions warranted.

I made it home safely at 2:30, and calmed myself down by reading a book in the bath.

Well. Here's to a promising 2012, am I right?

Limping Reluctantly After My Groove

One day, a few years back, I came home and found my roommate engaged in a tickle fight with is girlfriend, right in the middle of the living room. "Oh, great!" I thought. "A tickle fight! Tickle fights are a lot of fun. I mean, they can certainly get out of hand, but in general they're very enjoyable."

The pair was rolling around on the couch. When they saw me come in the door, the girl started to yelp. "Oh, help me, help me!" She cried. "Oohhhhh! No no! I can't take it! Help me Melina! Eeeee!"

Seeing that I was needed, I jumped onto the couch and joined the fight, forcibly holding down my roommate with the great strength of a nationally recognized collegiate ultimate Frisbee player and tickling his stomach as hard as I could. The stomach is a very vulnerable place. Funny thing though, as soon as I jumped in, the tickle fight fizzled. They both sort of stopped and looked at me quizzically.  And that's when I realized, 'Wait a second. She didn't really need my help. This was never about tickling. This is about sex. Isn't it.'

When you're young and attractive and you've got somebody, everything is about sex. Take, for example, the game nights my roommates and I had in college. When someone first brought up the idea, I was immediately on board. 'Wonderful.' I thought. 'I could use a little friendly competition. What are we playing, Settlers? Scrabble? Tiddliwinks? Whatever it is, I volunteer to be scorekeeper.' I used to be an exceedingly competitive person, and I didn't trust anyone else to keep score.

We prepared for Game Night, which was to be held on a Saturday evening after dinner. I baked a three level frosted lemon cake for the occasion. My roommates invited their significant others. I was single at the time. Was that something you hadn't caught on to? I spent an entire Saturday making a triple tiered lemon cake. Of course I was flying solo.

Well, darn it if my comrades didn't treat Game Night like some sort of drawn out communal foreplay. They didn't give a shit who won; they didn't even try to win, much less keep up with the score. When I announced that I was the Scrabble champion by 207 points, nobody even bothered to double check my arithmetic! They thought the real win went to Gregory, who, earlier in the game, had managed to spell out Scrotum on a double letter score.

Game night was not the occasion for personal challenge and mental growth that I had been looking forward to. It was an excuse for flirtation, for cuddling, mock outrage and innuendo. Settlers of Catan was the all time worst. "Oh, Jessica, did you say you needed to trade for my wood?" "Oh, Gregory, I always need more Wood!" And then Andy would bust everybody up by saying "That's not what it sounded like last night!"

Meanwhile I'm sitting there with my score card and pencil sharpener thinking, "That's not even good comedy. How can they find that funny?"  Then I'd find a way to bring the attention back to myself. "Anyone want a slice of the cake that I spent all day baking?" I'd ask, and the room would erupt in enthusiasm.

"Oh, we do! We do! But you can just serve it to us on one plate, we'll share."

It was my big rebellion of the night to ignore that perverse request. I served out eight slices of cake with eight forks and eight napkins. Any other way was too ridiculous and I refused to participate.

Listen, I know what you're thinking. I know love exists, and that it's great and all that, I've been in love before! But I've never regressed to the point where I needed to share my dessert plate. Sharing dessert is complicated- what if you're busy telling a story, and your partner takes that opportunity to shovel the whole cake in his mouth? Forget it.

Game night always ended considerably earlier than it could have, usually with a few board games left untouched. One of the girls would yawn and stretch, and her boyfriend would nudge her and then they'd glance at the clock. "Oh, well, gosh it''s getting late. We really should be getting to bed." The others would murmur their agreement. It would be nine, nine thirty in the evening. "Wait!" I'd protest. "Doesn't anyone want to know the final tally?"

"No, I think you won, Lina!" They'd say, friendly and agreeable, as they filed downstairs to their rooms, fiddling with their Ipods for those abhorrent "Let's get it on" playlists. "You totally won! You killed us all!"

"Of course I won," I'd say aloud to myself. "You guys are all idiots."  

Well, I was the idiot this past Saturday night. I was working at the climbing gym, and there was this guy giving a lecture about mountaineering. His name was Brendan and I immediately found him quite attractive. When he came to the front desk to buy an Odwalla Super Juice I took the opportunity to introduce myself.

"Well, Melina, it's very nice to meet you," He said slowly, eyeing me. Eye away, my friend, because this morning I bothered to dry my hair so yeah, I'm looking pretty okay. "And let me say, Melina, that is a beautiful sweater. I love the subtle blue piping."

"Oh gosh thanks it's Patagonia!" I said, all in one breath. "Yeah I get a huge Patagonia discount for having once played on the world champion ultimate team." Then I proceeded to tell him all the details of my discount, what year it started, how often my password changes, how I'm never eligible for free shipping. I'm so smooth and full of mystery.

"My goodness!" Said Brendan, looking impressed. "That's a large discount! I don't even get that, and I'm a climbing guide!"

Well, that cinched it. He said my name twice, gave me a compliment and dropped in his rugged and enviable line of work. This dude is so obviously into me.

I realize that this interaction if far from scandalous. It's not titillating, it's not even interesting. But the fact of the matter is, for the past six months I have felt literally zero in the way of romantic interest. It just seems like, after ten years of overdrive, I've run out of enthusiasm.

I decided to do some investigation. "So, this Brendan," I said to my boss, "he a friend of yours?" The true nature of my question betrayed my faux-casual tone. My boss lit up with excitement. "I know what you're asking!" He said. "Wait a minute, I'm gonna go talk to him! See what I can find out!"

"No, No!" I pleaded, with the same level of sincerity that my roommate's girlfriend had used when she had begged for my help with the tickling. I didn't want to appear desperate, but at the same time I wanted that information.

My boss didn't get much news, but it was good news. "Well, he's not in a committed relationship and he's in the dating pool,"  he told me. Then we had a little discussion about Brendan possibly being gay. He had, after all, noticed the subtle blue piping on my sweater. We settled on probably not.

All systems go, I decided not to take my normal half hour climbing break, electing to stay behind the desk where I would be sure to see Brendan again before he left. Also, I was wearing my skinny jeans and the tall boots that zip up the back, which gave me a leg up in the gym. Sure, ladies look good in their skin tight Lululemon climbing pants, but still it was nice to stand out.

Around 8:30, I had another nice surprise when my friend Ginny showed up. She's not much of a climber so I was not expecting to see her. Also, she brought me a whole bar of Theo's Toffee chocolate, and when I offered to share she refused, saying she was on a cleanse. "Well, thank you!" I said, genuinely thrilled to see her and to have all the candy to myself. "I'll take a little break and we can go outside and talk. I want to tell you about someone I just met. Unless you want to climb?"

"Um, maybe? I don't know, I'm actually here to see my friend Brendan who is teaching a class today."

I thought Oh! She knows him! And then I thought, Oh, shit, she knows him.

"So..." I asked. "Are you friends with him or like, friends friends with him?"

"Well, I'm not really sure. I mean, we've sort of been on some dates?"

I sighed. "Well, full disclosure, I was going to tell you that I talked with an attractive guy but, never mind, because it was him."

Ginny waved her hands in reassurance. "No, no! Go for it! I mean, I think he's the kind of guy who dates a lot of girls at once. In fact," she leaned closer and lowered her voice, "this one time, he invited me over to his house to what I thought was going to be a small, intimate gathering. It turns out, there were three other girls he was dating, and he had invited all of us!"

I gasped at such blatantly bad behavior.

"Towards the end of the night, this one girl and I were obviously duking it out to be the last one there. And she won! I eventually just left and went home."

"That sounds awful!" I exclaimed. "That's a Sex in the City plot!" It really is a Sex and the City plot. It's the one where Samantha has to eat all that raw food so she can have sex with the waiter, who ends up being her boyfriend for the rest of the show.

Just then, Brendan came outside. "Why, look, you two know each other!" He said, beaming.

There was only room on the bench for two, so I got up. "I'd better get back to work. You two can catch up."

I went back inside and resumed my post behind the front desk. The front area was empty except for a very pretty girl who was standing idly near a rack of 5.10 climbing shoes. She kept casting distressed looks outside. When she saw the pair get up and head for the door, she ran across the lobby and hopped back into the bouldering room. Too late, she'd been seen. Brendan went to follow her, and Ginny grabbed my elbow and dragged me into the bathroom. "That girl?" She hissed, "That's the girl who ended up staying that night at the party! He did it again! He invited us both here to hang out with him!"

By this point I was thoroughly enjoying the drama, but my interested in the fellow was lagging. He had officially been denigrated from main suspect to person of interest, and I felt very little desire to jump into the ring. Ginny decided to climb for a while, so I had some alone at the desk to mull this over.

While I honor my resistance to the theatrics, I still need to encourage myself to have an interest in dating. In the past few months my personal life has reached a decidedly dangerous plateau. Do you know what I did last Friday night? I took Hometeam on a walk to the pet store, where we decided on a stuffed toy shaped like a an ice cream cone. On the way home, I ate a bag of popped Barbeque chips and listened to a Radiolab podcast on the History of the high five.  The previous night, I watched Jimmy Fallon's last episode of SNL where he tries not to cry as he says goodbye during Update, and I wept so hard that there were tears dripping off my elbow. And that was an episode from eight years ago. For crying out loud the guy was leaving SNL to have his own show. What I'm trying to say is, I need to get out a little. I need to start dating. You know, I apologize for using this term, but I need to get my groove back. I really do.

But oh, my God, the game playing! The tolerance and patience and luck and straight up guts needed just to get a date in this town? I'm not sure I have it anymore.

The whole evening reached a perfect crescendo just as I was starting the closing duties. I was standing in the lobby, holding a bottle of Windex and talking with Ginny when all of a sudden, Brendan comes around the corner, leans in and give her a big, lasting kiss on the neck. Then he takes her into his arms and gives her this big hug that lasts way too long. After about twenty seconds, I'm not kidding, their body language shifts and suddenly things seem, from my perspective, highly inappropriate. And that's when I realize, 'Wait a second, this isn't a hug. This isn't about being friendly or saying goodbye, this is about sex, isn't it.'

But I kept expecting it to end! After all I had been in the middle of a conversation. So I didn't move, I just stood there, frozen, just watching. My coworker, Ryan, was laughing so hard he had to put his head down on the keyboard.

Finally, the two released each other. Ginny sort of staggered backwards for a few steps. Brendan turned to look at me. "Melina." He said. "Goodbye. I hope I see you again. Very soon." Eye contact. Eye contact. Smile. Turn away. Damn. Dude's a pro. But you know, that stuff hardly works on me anymore.

"Nice to meet you, Leo." I called after him. A calculated move. Nothing cuts a dude down like confidently addressing him by the wrong name.

Later that night, alone in my room, I opened my computer and downloaded a few more episodes of Radiolab. That show is incredible; do you know how much knowledge you can absorb in one single, hour long episode? I mean everything- history, science, factoids, conversation fodder, ice breakers. I'm learning so much, I'm thinking about competing in those weekly trivia nights they host at the bars downtown. I'm actually looking for a partner. Any interest? But only if you're going to take it seriously. I mean that. Only if you play to win.

How does she do it?

Before I leave my home in Seattle for another city, I always have a little panic about what to wear. I know that what I consider to be a wardrobe here in the Pac NW wouldn't even begin to count as a wardrobe for anyone else who lived in any city, anywhere. Seattle's just that out of it relaxed.

So the night before I left for New York, I mined my friends' closets for clothes that would make me look hip and pulled together. I may never be on the cutting edge, but at least I can up there somewhere, maybe a few strides back from the edge, behind the safety railing, but still with a nice view. I brought home a nice haul of sweaters, legging, boots and layering pieces and threw them onto a pile in my bedroom, thinking I'd go through and sort out which outfits I'd wear on each day of my trip. I never got around to that. The stress of trying to predict my mood and what the weather would be for each day was too overwhelming. So instead I brought everything. I also had this idea, for some reason, that it was going to be extremely cold so I brought along a few extra jackets. The next day I threw it all in my giant trekking backpack and checked it onto the airplane.  I felt pretty good about it.

Then something horrible happened upon my delayed, 2 AM arrival. They gave it back to me! To take! This enormous backpack with things strapped on the outside was just sitting there, waiting there to be collected. It was then, in the harsh light of the Newark airport, that I realized my huge mistake. I had to run all around the city with this load. How would I fit into cafes? How would I stroll? The whole trip was going to be crushed under the weight of my own vain attempt to look appropriate.

You know those girls who own simple, elegant outfits for travel,  and they bring them around in little suitcases that roll? They don't own shirts or pants, they own 'pieces.' Most of their pieces are black and can be rearranged into any combination of business, formal, cocktail, casual. I'm not that girl. My 'pieces' are for sitting around, winter hiking, and attending funerals, and never the three shall be mixed and matched.

How do they do it, these elegant girls? These are the same girls, I'll bet you anything, that sleep in tight tank tops with satiny trim. I own a number of those sleep tanks, but they're not actually for sleeping. Everyone knows that. They're for wearing around when a boy is over in the evening, so that he'll think you're the girl that falls asleep cute and wakes up peppy. But who actually goes to bed in those things? I wear a big t-shirt and then I kick off my pants in the middle of the night. Guaranteed.

In any case, my attempt to blend as a New York gal on the go totally backfired. Instead of this:

I got this:

On the early morning train from Newark to Midtown to Brooklyn, I was all teetery and pushed around and in the way. I couldn't sit down because my bag wouldn't fit in my lap. My shoulders hurt. And I was sweating. 

There was only one way for me to turn this around. I decided that I was a visual arts major from Cooper Union and this 'situation' was my performance art. I'm constantly reinventing myself in little ways, so as the train made its many, many stops, I thought up little details for Cooper Union me. I was in my third year, I had a slight Adderall problem, and somewhere in the upper west side I shared a loft with my androgynous boyfriend who rode a bicycle. This morning's performance: A rumination on the Burden of Life and the Baggage We Carry.  By Melina Coogan copyright 2011.

So, yeah, in the end, I think I pulled it off.

I always pull it off. 

I'm a hero.