Crushing and Coding

I stayed on the homefront the weekend. Still unpacking, somehow, from the month away. Still studying. Still getting my bearings back in the city. That has included a lot of running. Miles and miles every day. What the hell? I'm not a runner. I've railed against running since I was forced to walk the miserable mile death march in 7th grade. But something about medicine, all the new people and the numbers and the acronyms,  every part of this frightening and fascinating new path I've been shot onto, I feel like I'm filled up with gasoline and every new passing thought is a match.

 I started running down the cold, beautiful mountain road in Leavenworth after class every day just to get an hour by myself, to have a few moments to think about what in the world I was doing out there, if I was going in the right direction. If crushing down on on a man's chest who coded in the middle of a casino was something I wanted to do on a daily basis.  I decided it was.

I also decided I sort of liked running. I'd never choose it over a day on the river or on the rock, but I like that I can do it whenever, and all by myself.
We celebrated spring last night with the official Ballard Margarita Tour 2012. A combination of EMS and Boat world people. We got along just fine.
Ballard on a sunny Saturday evening, the first warm day of the year. We were brave just to venture out. 
 Today it's Easter, so they tell me. In the grand tradition of this Holiday, I'm having brunch. A liquid brunch of espresso, music, highlighters and once again, the chapter on the airway. I love this. I want so much more of it.  
And it's warm. Warm enough. This picture proves it. 
Happy Easter, y'all! Hope you are outside somewhere, with somebody you love, and a dog, studying something that makes you, in equal parts, want to fall in love and want to vomit. 

I love you, but-

It starts, as all Northwesterly adventures should, with iron sky and glassy water.

The Saturday afternoon ferry is mostly empty. There are a few tired families sitting in booths looking out the window, children stretched across their parents' laps. A few older men with long white ponytails sit opposite one another, playing cards on the table between them. They both look like ship captains, one eye on the game, one eye on the water. 

As Lisa and I walk through the cabin, I see a young man and his girlfriend in the very last row of seats. She is half reclined, resting her cheek against his chest. He is reading out loud to her, absentmindedly rubbing a section of her hair between his fingers. His own curls fall long across his forehead, she has her eyes wide open, listening. I pull on the hem of Lisa's jacket and make a small motion in their direction.

"If you had told me," I say as she opens the door and we step onto the windy deck, "nine year ago, when I moved out here to Seattle- I was 17, right out of boarding school, so excited and so optimistic - if you had told me that after almost a decade in this state, I still wouldn't have that for myself?" I lean my weight against the railing, feeling the cold metal press into my stomach. "There's no way I would have believed you.

"I would have said- are you kidding me? In this his huge city? In all of the people I'm going to meet in school and through climbing and ultimate and swing dancing and everything I'm planning on doing? You're telling me I won't have someone- in nine year I won't have found anyone- who will read aloud to me on the ferry? That boy with the curls and the carhart vest and a green knit hat who adores me and escapes the city with me each weekend- I haven't found him? You're nuts."

We're looking out at the dark cabins built on the edge of the water, at the end of long wooden docks, small boats bobbing slowly beside them. I wonder about the people who live there. If they have children. If it's their second home or their third home or maybe their only home.

"I would have told you you were totally nuts." I say again.

 "What about this-" said Lisa. "What if someone told us when we were kids: listen, you're going to do everything right. You're going to work hard all through school, you're going to make good grades, join all the right groups, play sports, volunteer, debate, model citizens, you'll take the SATs and never get in trouble and be nice to people, and drive carefully and recycle and brush your teeth. And then you'll get into college, a good college, and you'll study hard and make the dean's list, win awards, work a part time job, and you'll be smart and witty and well read and good. You'll never dream of taking drugs and never break the law and then-" 

As she speaks, my heart becomes an angry butterfly.

"And then you'll graduate. And then? The economy will tank. And there will be no money, and very little jobs, and no opportunities. Somebody in some bank made some bad decision that will have halted everything and there will be too many people and there will be nothing waiting for you."

Something about the leaden sky, the mid-May weather feeling like November, is making us think harder than we should.

So I think about it. All the job applications scattered around the city- half of them garbage, things on Craigslist that turn out to be scams- half of them real positions that I am so, so perfectly suited for. I think about the empty inbox and phones not blinking with any messages from employers. I think about the health insurance still out there with no answer, about men who say "I love you, but-"

And this is what I tell Lisa: "If someone had told me that when I was a kid? I would have just asked, 'then what's the point?'"

That's why we are taking this trip together.  To figure out, well, what is the point? Not in a bitter way, despite how this may sound. Not in a caustic way or a self pitying way. We have open minds and many questions.
 Life has changed a lot from the life we were told we were going to have. When I was younger, how could I have understood the intricate relationship between job markets and house markets and the economy in Iceland and banks and loans? How could I have known how dazzlingly complicated things could be between men and women- even for those with the purest hearts?

When we arrive on Orcas island- a little crescent of land in the San Juan islands- the town is shut tight. We are the only ones walking the quiet streets. The restaurants are closed. Dinner is peanut butter cream Oreos on the cold beach.

And the evening's entertainment is studying driftwood. And walking around.

We both wanted some place to be by ourselves. To sort a few things out.  And I think we found it.

What if, when I first landed as a teenager onto the tarmac at SeaTac someone had given me a glimpse of my life as it is now. There will be endless exploration, and adventures of all sorts, over a thousand different landscapes. There will be much freedom and incredible happiness. But those things you thought you'd have by now, the things that you think make you a real person- a career, an income, a house, someone who is crazy about you. You don't have those things yet.

Would I say it was enough? Would I stand up and shoulder my backpack and hail a cab into the city and say- I love you! I love the exploration and the adventures and the wild coasts and mountains and friends and photographs. This is all that I want or need for the next ten years.

Or would I creep backwards towards the airport. I think I need something more, I might have said. I don't think we're heading in similar directions. It's not you- you're amazing- it's me. Would I say: I do love you, but-

Eat Spring

Do you remember reading my post about Ordinary Things? Of course you do. You loved it so much you told everybody you know to read it, too.

In that post, I mentioned that I filled out the 22 page Washington State Health Questionnaire. Health insurance has been an ongoing battle in my adult life, ever since I left the safety of my parent's Cobra and went venturing into the dark waters of individual plans. Fear it! I've been rejected before, which, considering what a terrifically healthy gal I am, is quite terrifying. What would happen if I actually got sick? It. Happens.

Because of all the stress surrounding insurance, actually dealing with it is my very least favorite thing to do. I'd rather do something truly retched, like get a pap smear. Which is ironic, since I can't even do that until I get insurance.

So anyway, I felt like a million bucks the other day, the day I completed the 22 page Health Questionnaire and placed it smartly into the hands of the Postal Worker. The job application was in. The health insurance applied for. I'M A WIZARD AT LIFE AND I'M GOING TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT HOW GOOD I AM AT DOING ALL THE THINGS!!

(I almost congratulated myself on my grown-up ways by trying a new  cake-pop flavor at the Starbucks next door- thank GOD I knew better.)

This past Wednesday was our weekly yoga and dinner meet up at the Garden House.

When I got home, stretched and rejuvenated and superior, I found a thick envelope lying on my bed. From the insurance people! An envelope! And thick! Yay! I'm a writer, so I know what a rejection letter looks like. Rejection slips always arrive in sad, flimsy, onion-skin thin envelopes. They ought to just send a postcard that says NO on the back.

But this- this was weighty! It was a Steak of a letter! I sank onto my bed, feeling a little thrilled at how neatly my life was falling together. Next up, I'd score an interview for The Job. Then I could get a place to live, bring my little dog back to the city.  Lose five pounds, complete a Triathlon, get a book deal, get married, pop out acouplakids. It all starts here!

I tore open the paper and pulled out the letter inside.

Dear applicant. Thank you for applying. We are unable to review your application....(eyes scrolling down)....the 22 page health questionnaire you filled out is invalid.....we realize you downloaded this 22 page questionnaire off our website....the place where it said 'download here to apply'.....but we are still not going to look at it....we've included a new 22 page questionnaire. Please go ahead and reapply.

The envelope also included my original 22 page Health Questionnaire with a big red X through all 300 of my neatly filled in scantron bubbles.

They really should have just sent a post card: Sucker! Fuck your time! Ha ha ha!
The pages dropped out of my hands and floated to the floor. I turned the light off. I curled up in bed in a little ball of frustration. I made up this song: Oh life, Oh life Oh! Why you gots to be so HARRD....

At the very least, it's spring. It's still cold. It's still raining. But we know it's spring because there is evidence everywhere. Things are growing.

And Blooming.

And food is coming out of the ground. At dinner on Wednesday, we were flipping through cook books wondering what to make for dessert. Someone suggested a rhubarb crisp, so Ammen wandered right out into the garden and pulled some out.

This is how we know winter is over: swamped, quenched, resilient vegetables emerging from the soil. Otherwise, we might be fooled into thinking it's late November- dreary, draining, wilting, dark.

I wait to get health insurance, and for the person who decides such things to call me and offer me an interview. I wait for some financial security, the ability to take a deep breath in, and for the sun to comes out. None of this is a metaphor. I want some money. I want some flippin' sunshine. I'm 26. I'm experienced. I'm sharp. I'm educated. I'm nice. It's May. It's spring. COME ON ALREADY.

But all of us are waiting for something.

 And while we wait, we eat. We eat spring.

And if spring doesn't show up and we go right into summer, then we'll eat summer, too.

And if summer never shows up? Like last year? Well in that case, we're moving. All together. To a place where there are four true seasons. Where health insurance is guaranteed for everyone. Someplace like Vermont.

Hey reader, what are you waiting for?

Cloud Lift

Monday was Sarah's birthday. I wrote about it on her last birthday here and then, because there was still more to say, here. Sarah has been gone now for over three years.

Last spring, I lived in North Carolina. I woke up that morning knowing it was Sarah's birthday- it was important to me that I remembered not just the day she died, but the better anniversary as well. It was a sunny, beautiful, neon green Southern spring day. My girl friends and I went to Merlefest and watched the Avett Brothers sing Head Full of Doubt. It was about 90 degrees, we burnt through our sundresses and our snowcones melted into electric colored puddles on the grass. It should have been the perfect way to honor and remember Sarah, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't make that connection between she's dead and I need to celebrate being alive. I felt very sad. I felt like there was a horrendous hole inside of me.

Now that I'm back in Seattle, things are different. This is the city where I knew Sarah, where she was born, where she never left. I still see our mutual friends every day. I keep thinking I see her on the street, especially when I'm in Ballard, and I then I have to remind myself that it's not her and it never will be. But it doesn't feel so much like burning anymore. This is the way it is. She died of a terrible disease and the rest of us carry on. And each one of us lives with that much more appreciation for and fascination with being alive. There's something connecting all of us, and it's her.

Sarah's birthday came this year with terrible weather. It was pouring rain in the city. I was standing in the  living room at Greg's house, looking out across Lake Washington. He was washing his car in the  garage. We had plans to take the dogs to the dog park, but the rain was coming down too hard. It was late in the afternoon and I had nearly resigned myself to a day of watching animal videos on the computer reading. Then Greg came up the stairs and saw me there. I hadn't mentioned Sarah to him but I had said something about being homesick,  missing the country, craving small towns, wanting wilderness. "Wanna go hike rattlesnake?" He asked.

Driving from South Seattle to the foothills, Eastbound on 1-90 towards the looming, snow-spitting Cascade mountain range takes surprisingly little time. At least it does at 2:30 in the afternoon. Before long, the city and suburbs had eased away and the highway was surrounded on each side with darkly forested hills. The curtain of rain gave way to a gray swirls of mist as we cut through downtown North Bend. 

Seattle to Rattlesnake Ledge by way of Dairy Freeze: 

The mountain was green and wet and lit up with new moss. Greg's two dogs, Dante and Lucia, free from the leash and the car, were the happiest hounds in the world. We didn't see another soul as we switch-backed our way up the trail through the living watercolor. The world inside the forest was gem-colored, dripping, lush- each hue so exquisitely deep you could sink right down into it.

 At the top, we were out of breath and above the clouds. It looked as if you would walk right off the planet.

I think Sarah would have really loved the new song The Dog Days are Over. She would love Taco Tuesday and probably have put down 20 tacos long before we invented the 20 Taco Challenge. Remember, this is a girl who shaved her head for a pitcher of free beer. She would have loved that I sent a letter to a stranger at the climbing gym and failed miserably in that pursuit. She would have liked that I gave the shitty boyfriend I had back then the heave-ho. She would like that I'm writing this blog.
We thought we were running out light on the way back down, but it turned out to be just the trees and their filtering branches. When we burst out of the trail and onto the shores of the lake, we were met with the smooth, pearly light of evening and little patches of blue in the far corners of the sky. Blue sky is worth its weight in gold to a Seattle-dweller after a long winter. I think I've said it before: blue is gold.

In no hurry, we let the wild things play in the water until they'd exhausted themselves.

  There was one more stop on the way home. Fireplace, warmth, beers, dinner. Then a quiet drive home in the small, safe orb of the car. 

Sarah, I vow to honor you in my life by constantly doing cool shit with people that I love that way I love you.

Vantage: Wind and Ecstasy

How much does it cost to get out of here? Gas, obviously. Gas is expensive. But there are three of us in the car to split the tank: myself, Lisa, and Nick. Everything else we bring from home. The Subaru is crammed to the gills with all the tools of the weekend warrior: tents and down sleeping bags for the still-frosted night, coiled ropes and racks of gear, a coffee press, a stove, fuel, spices, pale ales, one amber tinted bottle of whiskey, camera gear, layers of jewel toned polypropylene.

It's downpouring as we merge from 1-5 onto I-90 East; the heavy, wet rain makes it seem as if the city is whimpering. Even at 9:30 at night, the traffic is chaotic. My psyche has completely unraveled. I did the neurotic packing thing, the gleeful excitement thing, the last minute what-if-we-go-hungry-seizure in the grocery store thing, the hysterical, uncontrollable laughter while driving thing, and completely depleted my personal reserve of energy before leaving the city limits. I generally become a bit unhinged when granted a weekend pass to the wilderness, but this particular occasion was made considerably more manic because I just- no less than 24 hours ago- returned home from Vermont, via a long and uncomfortable plane ride against headwinds. I think the changes in time and climate were throwing me.

We stop in Rainier Valley to pick up Lisa's forgotten sleeping bag. I traipse inside to say hello to her roommates, enjoy a little tumbler of bourbon, one ice cube, and fork over my keys to Nick.  He takes them and tucks me nicely in the back seat where I fold up, seat belt fastened, between two gear bags and a fuel canister. Jetlagged and booze warm, I begin to gently melt away.

I know enough about night driving to know this: it's one of the few times that physics is evaded. Time and space lose their stronghold on reality as you press forward in the dark at 70mph. This is even more true when you're a passenger, and I'm not often a passenger, least of all in my own car. I'm like a tourist back there. I don't really know where I am and I only sort of know where I'm going. The last time I went to Vantage was eight and a half years ago, when I was a freshman in college, and I seemed to arrive there by magic. I asked fewer questions when I was 17, and packed lighter. I just remember falling asleep in the back of someone's car and waking up in the desert.

As we leave the city behind, darkness deepens but the rain keeps slashing down. Rough road conditions make the car rumble, and it's very warm inside, and dry, like this little protected bubble rolling down the pass. And then Nick, he may as well have fed me a tranquilizer: he puts Rusted Root on the CD player. African drum trip, Ecstasy, Send me on my way.  This was the first Cassette Tape I ever owned. I wore the film strip down to threads, playing it over and over on my Walkman as I ran, alone, through the overgrown logging roads on my property, miles from anyone, flat chested, twelve years old, a happy kid but an isolated one, and impatient. I was decidedly blessed with a wild and free childhood but I knew- knew- that my grown up self would run even wilder and I could not wait to get there.

The interior of the car is ecstasy. The only thing keeping me awake- barely awake- are the statistics of traffic mortality. Inclement weather and tricky roads and the facade of immunity that can overcome a driver- dad studies these things for a living and has made me acutely aware of this- the ubiquitous terror of automobiles. Furthermore, it feels like 3am in my mixed up brain, and I'm convinced that it really is 3am, so every twenty minutes I'll startle myself awake, horrified that Nick has fallen asleep at the wheel and we're all dead.

He's not asleep, of course. It's only midnight, Lisa and Nick are talking in the front seat. I can only make out the sharp S sounds from their conversation. Lisa says, "Lina, calm down, we're awake." She takes my hand in hers and its warmth pushes me over the precipice and into sleep. Real sleep.

I wake up in the desert. The crowded camping area below the Feathers are quiet, curled in their tents and trucks, gearing up for one of the first days of the outdoor season. John and Diana have waited up for us; we find them nearly passed out in camp chairs around the glowing red fire pit. I fumble for the door handle and fall out of the car onto the dust. As usual, I become instantly awake and chirpy when I get a breath of fresh air. "So sorry to keep you waiting." I stand up, brush off my legs. "We left the city a bit later than planned."

The others set up their tent and I arrange myself in the back of the car with the seats laid flat. I with my head on the pillow, I can just press my toes against the back windshield.  It's 1 in the morning in the desert, early April, and I sleep like a champion. In fact, I'm the only one out of the five of us who can sleep. As I'm dreaming (warm rocks, silver bolts, espresso shots and Hometeam) a wind storms bellows into the gorge like a silver Amtrak Passenger train. It whips out of nowhere and wrecks havoc on John and Diana's tent, pressing the fabric walls against their faces.  They give up quickly and bed down in their Impreza. (Picture trying to find a suitable sleeping position inside a large snail. I speak from experience.)

Nick's tent, impossibly well-rigged (NOLS training, don'cha know) stays afloat but rattles like canvas sails on a doomed ship. Meanwhile, safe inside metal and fogged glass, I am rocked lightly back and forth. I sort of remember clambering out to pee in the early morning and nearly getting launched off of the earth and spit into orbit, but that could be merely a fantasy.

Lisa wakes me up in the morning when she jumps onto my head, fighting against the wind to pull the car door shut. "OH My GOD."  She rakes the tangled hair out of her eyes. "This is ridiculous! Can we even climb in this?" "Oh sure." I say, veteran that I am. "If it's not raining, we can climb in anything."

Then I look out the back windshield and see John in his puff-ball coat, tumbling away as he tries to reach the safety of my car.

"Well, never mind." I tell her. "Not in this."

We are five people cramped into the back of a car, too stubborn to return to the city, watching tumbleweeds zoom around like angry, truncated snowmen. The simplest things become excruciatingly difficult. Example; Lisa getting dressed:


Regardless, we're here for two days, we want to climb, we really do, and we're starting to get hungry. What would you do?

Down Town Late Night

Avocado Bubble Tea? Sure! Avocado Bubble Tea plus dessert waffle with sandwich stacked fruit? WHAT?!!!
It is my belief that all good things are made even better when combined with other good things. For example, a dog walk is a dog walk, but throw in a strawberry milkshake destination at the end, and suddenly it's an event worthy of one's facebook status. If you're watching Teen Mom 2 alone in your chambers at night, ehhhhh you might want to make something up if a friend calls and says Hey What You Up To. But if you're watching Teen Mom 2 while nicely folding and color arranging your favorite tank tops? Well, that's what I call an evening!

Allow me to present my recent favorite combo: Girl Talk live at the Showbox Sodo, followed by all the delightful crap the international district can lay forth upon. Not too terrible for a Wednesday.  

(The next morning I went to the bank. The banker asked me if I did anything fun the night before and, feeling all sorts of cool, I said casually yeah, Girl Talk, you know. He nodded knowingly. "Oh Girl Talk, that's like the Vagina Monologues, right?" I just looked at him.)

Ordinary, Carnival, Wilderness, City

You're never going to believe this. I didn't. I knew my friends were galacticaly generous but who knew they'd take it to this level.  Behold, a very short account of the coolest thing ever to be done for me.

A few weeks back, the earth and atmosphere were still locked under a wet, grey February. Dead of winter is just a phrase in our part of the country- there's never anything dead, really, just slower, gloomier, darker, miserable rain and straight up espresso at four in the afternoon to get you through, nothing in comparison to the Midwest's scary gridlock-for-days on the highways or the Northeast's powdery snow and iron earth and tough, battle-scarred birds.

I was sitting in an armchair in Ammen and Steph's living room, my feet tucked under me. It was a Wednesday and we were just finished eating, Annika wrapping scarves around her neck and Jesse and Megan lost in eye contact and Ammen circling the room with his phone to his ear.  Every week, mid week, we meet up for yoga at the house and dinner; I'd read in Self magazine that these weekly get togethers are important to "Banish Winter Blues and prepare for Bikini Season" which, so promises each glossy page, is just around the corner.

"So," said Steph as she filled the sink up with hot water. "What would be a perfect birthday for you?"

My birthday falls smack in the middle of March; in Vermont this meant everyone was either depressed, sedated or in Florida. In college everyone was buried under finals exams or had already gone away for spring break, and twice I've lost my birthday entirely to the international date line. I've had 26 years of daydreaming (with a daunting capacity for wishing things were different than they are, I started as an infant)  of what would constitute a perfect birthday, in an alternate universe were I had been born a sweet mid-summer baby, instead of a mud season baby in that precarious spot between the lion and the lamb. A five year old couldn't have answered with more speed or certainty:

"I'd have coffee at Zokas, and then go to all my favorite places in the city, and do stuff, and see all my friends, and since my birthday is a Monday there's square dancing at the Tractor Tavern, so we'd probably go to that. "

It wasn't a tall order. It wasn't like I asked for a miniature Russian lap giraffe or anything. But, c'est triste, it's still merely a pipe dream to ask for a whole day of celebrating. People are so busy and spread out along the gridded city that it's hard to plan any sort of event, even just after dinner drinks. Just ask anyone who has ever tried.

Anyway, as soon as I finished the sentence, our friend Eli West came on the radio, and the conversation turned over to him.


Fast forward a month or so. We celebrate my 26th the evening before the actual date. Heavy chandeliers hang over us while outside, heavy mist blankets the cold sand along the Puget Sound. I drink myself silly and melt onto the tiled floor in a state of nearly catatonic (and vodka induced) euphoria. The next morning I wake up with a well deserved hangover. I get out of bed and advance down the hallway to the kitchen sink, topple over, curl up on the floor, right myself, topple over. I am fed water out of a cup and, against all protests, gently scraped off the couch, lumped into my car, and pointed in the direction of Steph's house.

I'm only following instructions. The night before she had handed me a map of Seattle and grasped the sides of my face, speaking slowly, over- annunciating: "Be at my house at 11:30am. I need four hours of your time." 

See how they refuse to make eye contact? They were all in on it....
I have no idea what's coming as I drive down Lake City. The Avetts are playing over the crappy car speakers as fetuses float by on billboards (I hate that) and curvy girls in leather bikinis arch their backs and lean out of the window at the Cowgirls Coffee stand. Car lots with the balloon-bedecked dashboards on the discounted models, QFCs and a Starbucks and grimy side streets and playing fields fly by. I'm thinking we might be spending the day at some spa in South Seattle that gives free admittance on your birthday. That would be nice. Hopefully Steph has allowed time for me to stop for coffee somewhere like I always do when we're driving out of town, regardless of the time of day. And food. This bloody hangover really needs some food.

"Good morning!" She says brightly as she answers the door, wrapping me in a hug and throwing all sorts of chocolate at me. (After a month on the Grand Canyon with me in biting cold and nonstop hunger, girlfriend knows what kind of chocolate I like.) "It'll just be one sec, our basement flooded again this morning!"  She skips off towards her room. She's excited and sneaky. I examine the bag of chocolate she's handed me- there's another map inside, folded up next to the lavender blueberry dark, with a sort of riddle written out. I open it:

Sweet Jesus in the sky, she's put together a scavenger hunt for me.

This indescribable Louisiana girl has done her homework, recording throughout the past few weeks all the places I like to find myself. The first clue leads us to Zoka, and thank God- I'm still dragging and nauseous trying to hide it. But as I walk in to that familiar place with the hardwood floor and sharp smell of roasting coffee, I start to feel a little better. If I can get a cup in me I just might live.

And hey, when I walk in I see my friend Jamen sitting at the first table.

Jamen, this gorgeous kayaker from New Hampshire, looks up and sees me and gets one of her huge, famous, light-up smiles. "Hey! You must want some coffee after that last night," she says, jumping up. "I'll get it for you. Anything you want."

I'm very surprised to see her, and apparently so stupendously dim-witted that I don't put it together yet. "Oh look!" I say. "Oh hey, hi! Steph is taking me on some sort of scavenger hunt!"

"Is she really?" she reaches into her backpack. "Then you might want this?"

Oh. OH. I see. She's in on it.

We spend half an hour at the cafe, enough time for soy lattes, grapefruit juice and rehashing the night before. ("Um, yes, you did tell all of us -again- about the boy who broke your heart last year, and this time you made us 'huddle up' to listen...")

Carrying on, the three of us follow the 2nd clue to a raw foods restaurant in the University district. It's 12 noon and the neighborhood is teeming with undergrads, darting out from the Korean place and into the shoe shop and zipping into the bookstore.  It's become perfectly sunny out, and when we walk into the orange-adobe restaurant there's Kristin standing at the counter, grinning. She hands me a menu of their crazy healthy and infamously expensive food. "Anything you want, you got it."

Raw kelp noodles and fresh pressed vegetable juice with that inexplicably satisfying celery froth and I'm back to life, baby. Full force. And then Kristin reaches into her backpack:

Up to Ravenna we go to 3rd Place, our favorite independent bookstore. At this point I'm speechless, wouldn't you be? I walk in circles until Steph pushes me towards the front counter, where Julia has left a gift certificate for me to buy anything I want. (Side story: I buy The Circumference of Home, a book by Kurt Hoelting, a record of the year he spent living a within 100 miles of his Whidbey Island home, never getting in a car. I've been interested in this book and this man for three years now. On our last trip to Whidbey I brought up his name, feeling all righteous that I had heard the story on NPR and had bothered to do a little research on him. Turns out, Kurt Hoelting is Kristin's Dad.)

When I bring the book up to the counter, I'm handed another new clue. And believe it or not, this one has an avalanche receptor on it. They've hidden the clue with the beacon somewhere in the park and I have to go and seek it out.

Which takes me a good while, because they've stashed it up a tree.

This one takes me to Whole Foods. We walk there from the park, and unlike any birthday I've ever had in New England, there are signs of spring everywhere.

Waiting at Whole Foods is this huge bouquet of flowers in a glass bowl:

Bought for me by these people:

I unscramble yet another clue and end up at this frozen yogurt place, and I insist on bringing the flowers with me even though they're so big that I can't see where I'm going, so I don't exactly notice the boy who holds the door open for me. And I get a little lost in the rows of mochi and mango, so for a few moments I still don't notice, and everyone is watching me and laughing. And then I look up:

Greg draws the final clue from out of his Skronglite sweatshirt: Take the rest of the day to sleep it off. Then: Tractor. Square Dancing. 8pm.

At the end of the day, just like the end of every day, everyone scatters to their own bed, in their own bedrooms, in their own houses, on their own streets but- and this is what makes all the difference- in the same city. The same place.

For a long time now I've been living scrawled out across the map. The North and the South and South America. It was a lifestyle of never ending adventures, that's true, but the hallmark of such a life is that you do it alone. People are drawn together and scatter, time after time. The terrific joy of flying across the continent to see someone you love tremendously is nearly outdone with the sorrow you feel when you leave, and the big swings inside your heart get so tiring.

What I loved about this day is how my friends took such ordinary places, ordinary things, and stitched them together in a way that made me feel like a tourist in my own city, getting a glimpse of this happy life, a life I have wanted very much for my own. And when I finally dragged myself into bed around midnight, exhausted from New Belgium and the Talls Boys and the soporific perfume of flowers,  I had to pop open my eyes for one last second as I realized, with unprecedented satisfaction- aha! This is my life. This is mine.

The world is full of expensive things and grand gestures, and people who would claim to die for love and all that. But I think it's better if you stay alive for love instead, and go about your daily lives, and see one another from time to time, and keep in touch.

(Now I ask you, how -how on earth- do I begin to say thank you?)

A Constellation of Colorful Birds

When I get the drink in me, I attack. There are holes in my memory from Sunday night, but from what I can string together from photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts and my own glimmers of recollection, I spent the entirety of the evening fluttering around the room, treating my guests like creatures in a petting zoo, stroking faces, pushing back hair, grabbing body parts, squeezing hands, and generally looking for the next victim to throw myself on.

My friend Jason tells lit like this:  You would show up in a  whirlwind, kiss someone, say something somewhat nonsensical to those around  you, and then fly away to the next conversation.  Well done! 

Let me back up a bit and state for the record, and for my future chances of running for public office (ha!) that I do not get drunk very often. A little loosened up from a mojito, sure, a little extra fattened by those stupidly expensive and irresistible micro brews that this stupidly expensive and irresistible city fauns over, who doesn't. But drunk? Rarely. This is a very fortuitous thing for my friends because if it happened with any kind of frequency, I would have long ago destroyed them all. They would have suffocated beneath the physical and emotional crush of my adoration and my pressing need to let them know- right now! at this moment!! wait, for realz!- just how uh-mazing they are, how ravishing they look, how very much in awe I am of their accomplishments!

I'm making fun of myself right now. My friends really are tops, and I really do adore them. But I'm not sure they need me sneak-attacking their cleavage with a motorboat to understand this. Or holding their face in my hands to physically manipulate our eye contact. Or just lunging at them from across the table. Still, I do what I have to do to get the point across.  

One moment I remember with clarity: squeezing some girl's face, leaning in, and telling her very sincerely: "It means SO much that you came tonight." And she, tolerating, agreeable, but honest, looked me right back in the eyes and said, "But you have no idea who I am."

"Right! I said, undeterred. "I do not know you! That's what makes it so meaningful!"

My 26th birthday was held at a back alley bar in Ballard, one with rich lighting, cathedral ceilings, chandeliers and boissons with names like La Muse, du Bonne du Bonnet, and La Rive Gauche. I'm thinking the place may have been french. To rent out this bar for a private affair costs 2,000 dollars a night. Instead, I showed up a few days before around closing time, leaned across the bar and told the gentleman I was thinking of having my birthday party there. On a Sunday night. "How many people?" He asked.

"Oh..." I spun a length of hair around my finger. "Not sure, you know, anywhere between 8 and, oh, 20?"

He slid a little glass of brandy across the bar to me, and assured me that sounded doable.

So even though I didn't reserve, call ahead, or do anything that would have possibly landed me with a triple figure bill at the end of the night, they went ahead and laid little 'reserved' cards on most of the tables.  I showed up just after 8pm, with only five all-stars in attendance, and wondered if there would be enough people to fill all those tables. Then I sat down, threw back a Bees Knees and a French 76 and when I looked up again, there was a balloon on my chair, fancy little boxes of chocolate in front of me, colored tissue paper all over the table,  I was grasping a bouquet of flowers I refused to set down, and the whole place was full.

Every table! We had the entire restaurant to ourselves. Anyone in Seattle, I can't recommend Bastille & Back bar enough.

From our tally we performed the next day in the car, as my friends sent me in a tailspin around the city, well over 50 people showed up to celebrate. That tally included: (at least one) professional ski bum, one brain surgeon, eleven graduate students, three friends from my Vermont high school not counting my sister, one sister, one brother in law, one cousin, eight ultimate players, one mountain guide and his dynamite girlfriend, six Whidbey friends, the best of the climbing gym, the taco Tuesday crowd and the Wednesday yoga-ers, one incredibly handsome wood worker, one superbly witty Olympic torch runner and one rad bike mechanic, the mushroom hunters, one photographer, one cinematographer, one planned parenthood doctor, one professional skier, one teacher from high school (my teacher from my high school), one long lost best friend from undergrad, two kayaking buddies, one Indonesian sailor, and about five people I'd never met but nevertheless it was just so important that they were there! (!!!!!)

And, I attacked all of them:

At some point, late in the evening, somebody, (and I honestly forget who) set her coat on the back of a chair and asked me how the party was going. I (embracing her) responded, "This party is like a constellation of colorful birds!" This was about five rosemary lemonades into the night. I like that my drunk alter ego is a lover not a hater (or a screamer, a moper, fighter, a recluse, I've seen all of these, I've dated some of these, yikes!) Where there's wine there's truth, and apparently my most honest self is loving and grateful and knows no physical boundaries whatsoever. But still. If I'm grabbing your butt and throwing off phrases such as  constellation of colorful birds, you're welcome to clock me in the face. Just don't be surprised if I jump back up, bite you playfully on your shoulder and tell you that you, firecracker that you are- you are my absolute favorite! 

Shh. Don't tell the others.

When we cleared out at midnight and someone guided me gently in the direction of a car, I was sure that was it. An incredible evening and so many people to thank over the next few weeks (in fact, I woke up at 6am, clear as a bell, and declared out loud, "I can't wait to write thank you notes!!" before falling back into a terrifically drunk sleep). Ah, but it wasn't the end. Not at all. Before going home, Steph handed me a folded map of Seattle with all the neighborhoods written out and this message:

  Be at the GardenHouse at 11:30 for your first clue.   

I'm not sure what I did in a former life to deserve this but damn, it must have been good.

Seattle Yogis

Hey Seattle readers, this is not a sponsored post or anything like that. It's just that Kula Movement in Ballard is offering 20 yoga classes for 20 dollars. That's a crazy deal, it's not hot yoga, and I called ahead: all teachers are required to wear underwear. (Phew!) You can score this deal for yourself by clicking right here! Anyone up for an evening triple: yoga, climbing, then a strawberry margarita at the Matador?

In the course of a day

We took the ferry from Whidbey over to the mainland, to the town of Port Townsend  We had the whole bright, blustery day in front of us, with nothing on our hands but time. Time and pocket change and seagulls sounding. We kept no clock except to notice the tide climbing in and out, and the sun wheeling overhead. That watery, mid winter sunlight warmed our faces for a brief spell around noon, but did little to stave off the stinging chill of the wind. I wore a wool hat and rain coat, and a jacket and a vest, and many other things as well.

A Northern wind blew salty air off the water and down the streets, lined with old factories and ancient hotels built by grandiose-minded architects. I spent most of the day reciting the lines of fishermen's poetry in my head, Peter Kagan was a lonely man in the summer of his years, and then one day he got tired of being lonely so he went on down to the Eastward, lost in an elaborate day dream.  I was dreaming that I lived in Port Townsend in a little house near the beach. I worked on the boats during the day and in the evenings I sang songs about sailors and drank whiskey drinks at the tavern. I wrote, and read Rudyard Kipling, and could repeat The Albatross in its entirety, by heart.  Every Sunday, I'd meet up with my friends and we'd practice the long lost art of lingering.

We were done striving; there was no more hurry.

A good friend is someone who will indulge your daydreams, as long as you've got the mind to have some. Mine were happy to play along on this Sunday. We moved through town as slow as Molasses, lured into candy stores by the primary colors, pulled into side streets because of a sketch on the wall, pausing at a toy store just to run our hands through buckets of glass marbles.

To walk outside in the sun feels like a miracle. To stand on the boardwalk and watch the bright boats bobbing in the dark water! To breathe in and not feel the thick clouds above bearing down on you! The wide open sky made us feel suddenly buoyant, filled with energy, as if we were coming awake after a sound sleep.

Winter inside the city limits is bearable, certainly. I've lived places where I couldn't say the same. I endured a childhood of snow, of standing in the parking lot after school watching ice fall in great sheets on the roads, light dwindling from the sky. Wondering if my parents were ever going to come get me, or whether they were  involved in some awful car accident, which happened frequently in our town, iced over bridges and churning rivers and miles of frozen fields with nobody around.

I whisper words of gratitude every morning that does not begin with scraping thick inches of ice off the windshield, huddled shivering in the car, breathing sharp white clouds into the air as you push through the feathery tunnel of another blizzard.

That said, the ubiquitous clouds and constant rain of Seattle does eventually ruin your walking boots and seep into your grey matter. Day after day, the sky is overcast, the mountains are blotted out, the meteorologist points a stick at cartoon clouds with angry faces.  My friend Sam, who checks the surf report every morning, explains the ten day weather report like this: Saturday: screw you! Tuesday: screw you! Wednesday: screw you! Thursday: why are you even still bothering to check this? 

This is less of a complaint, and more of an observation. There is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when the ceiling of the world is low and heavy with cloud cover, beyond seasonal effective disorder, beyond vitamin D lack. You begin to feel horribly claustrophobic, in ways you can't begin to understand. You  begin to believe that the world ends twelve feet above you. You feel stifled, and poor, life plodding forward in single, small footsteps. Your motivation and empowerment drains away.

When the sun does come out, well, Hallelujah, the world is a big place again! Life expands and seems possible.


This trip to the beach house was the first time I met Scott Everett. Kind, curly haired and self assured, Scott is a professorial photographer with enormous talent. Along with a DSL and a number of lenses, he lugged around this huge, beautiful, film camera.

The images he shot were so beautiful they made my teeth ache.  The rural islands of the Pacific Northwest are an elusive place; the mood changes with the light and with the weather. Scott was able to capture its many temperaments like butterflies in a glass jar.  Luminous. Windswept. Lonely. Safe:
Scott Everett...The way that man plays with depth of field is something I can only hope to someday replicate. 
One of the most inspiring images I've seen. Ever.
Catching light this delicate has always escaped me.

In the evening, we drank beer and hot buttered rum on the balcony of a bar called Sirens, high above the stony beach. The wind died down, and the light took on the filmy quality of twilight. 

What more could we ask from a place?

And at the end of the day, we left port Townsend behind us and headed back to the island.

The cold, damp air of Clinton Port woke us up from our salt water taffy, lulling ferry, hot toddy stupor, and we walked back to the beach house where our friends had gotten dinner started. That night, we slept in tents, on the floor, in four poster beds, curled up on the love seat, wrapped in feathers.

What more could we ask for from a day?

Portrait of a Ferry Ride as Metaphor for Long Term Relationship

9:00 am::  Heading to Port Townsend! for the day!! The whole gang!!!!!!!!

6:30 pm:: Misread the ferry schedule. Slammed down a hot buttered rum for no reason. Going home. The gang split up. And some of them went home. Even before they ate the brownies! (!!!!!???)

 Next time we depart for the mainland, for the love of God, let's do more than eat a shit load of taffy.


The autobiographer admits that, in hindsight, she was a bit more...animated....than normal on Wednesday, two days after her return from the island. She spent the first half of the day whipping around the house, unpacking, setting things straight, making things right, then she coasted down the hill to the cafe where, in the  good company of forty-three other caffeinated 20 somethings banging on keyboards, she banged on her own keyboard, wrote and deleted a good deal of words, and edited a slurry of photos in few short hours. Then- joy!- she encountered a friend sitting two tables down, who had just the previous night offered her two patient belays on the roof route in the gym. Which is not going perfectly:

keep it together keep it together keep it together keep it together keep it together keep it together keep it together


So she invaded his table and for a long while they discussed overhangs and heal hooks and toe hooks and all sorts of hooks, really. And books. At 5:00 on the dot she decided she must make a huge amount of soup, no real reason why as she was going out for dinner that night, but nevertheless she took off guns ablaze to the nearest whole foods which at 5:00pm may as well be a cattle yard. She went there and she went to the vegetable stand, indefatigable in the traffic and the sleet, and hurried home for a brief thirty minute period, wherein she performed something akin to vegetable martial arts, using every pot and cutting board in the house. She bottled it all up, right on time, nifty, threw it in the freezer, grabbed a coat and ran off in the snow to the Jolly Rogers Tap room.

There, underneath the hanging flag of a generic pirate, she ate a plate of very small cheeseburgers, 'sliders', and discussed with a table of mostly men their plans to climb the local volcano in early summer. Thoughts swarmed in clouds like bees, summits and snow fields and glacier goggles, the gear list and its stunning price tags blazing in front of her. She leaned forward, collected first names and phone numbers, grateful to finally be turning the people she saw every day at the rock gym into real friends, feeling enormously grateful to John, and his generosity in organizing and leading people like her on such a trek.

Caught up with the beer and the ambiance and dusty mountaineering terms rolling off her tongue,  she made plans for the next few days for climbing, dry tooling, lunch, birthday dinners. Then on the ride home, rolling past Wild West Trucks on Lake City lit up like Las Vegas, she was struck with the impulse to invite her friend Greg to come over and watch endless episodes of Parks and Recreation, what better way to spend a snowy city night?

Then she woke up the next morning with a potent case of bronchitis and couldn't move.


Which is where I stayed for about four days. Now, Sunday, I'm getting a little better. I can totter about the house. I can eat the damn soup that my subconscious made me make, for reasons not apparent at the time. But for those few days, it hurt. I was a little kid, shivering hard, instructing my brother in law to go out and buy me 'popsicles, you know, the whole fruit kind? Please!' I lay in my room, huddled in blankets and coughing hacking coughs, what the doctors would call a 'productive cough', shades drawn. My sister sticks her head in every few hours, 'don't you want some light in here?' and me, groaning, No. Another Popsicle. I faded in and out of feverish sleep and thought about the trip to the island, how cold and sunny it was, how energetic.

When we first arrived, just four of us to begin with, we walked through Ebey's landing where the air was crisp, smoke pluming from beach cabins in the distance. Ice crackled on the heaps of seaweed on the beach but the grass was a flourishing green.


Ammen Jordan's Photo
I lugged my tripod and lunch box of lenses to the top of the bluffs, hoping we'd be up there for the sunset. Worth it. Word of advice, it's always worth it to bring a tripod.

When the last of the light drained away, we turned back to the cabin where more of our friends had accumulated:

The cheesecake feeding frenzy, which one of you suckers gave me The Germ? Whatever, worth it.

To save us all the dreaded sentimentality that I'm sure your braced for after all those lovely images, I'll let the photos do the talking about our soiree on Whidbey Island. It's sufficient to say that, feeling shut away and lonely this past Saturday night, I clung to those photos and their vibrant colors, scrolled through them on repeat as I threw back shots of Robitussin.


So the dry tooling,  Jeff's birthday dinner, the Commodore's Formal Ball with all the sailors, the birthday party for Dave and the monthly Moth Storytelling and the climbing all went on without me, and I lay in a heap, like seaweed, thinking in a rare sun-ray of rationality that if I was missing all that in just three days of bronchitis, perhaps I over plan a bit.

Today, Sunday, I stand up wobbly, on sea legs. A few days with a seasonal sickness is nothing. But the dark days sliding into one another without a seam, lying on sweat-soaked sheets (at one point I took a hair dryer to them, no lie) were haunting to me. They reminded me of these days, when an angry shark tyrant with iron teeth lived inside my head and ruled my life. I don't like to be reminded of those days.

On the plus side, I ate as many Popsicles as I wanted and still lost five pounds.

The Big Picture Show

I was fifteen and excitable and sort of nuts. Ammen was patient and a little moody and had a lovely Arkansas drawl. He was my teacher at the Academy at Adventure Quest where I went to high school. It was a boarding school, we lived out of a van, and everyone was around each other 24/7. I thought Ammen was absolutely fantastic in all ways so, with my unusual maturity, even keel, and the compelling yet perfectly metered energy of an adolescent girl,  I latched onto him like a blood starved leach.
Hair cuts in strange places were an AQ tradition. Ammen was our resident hair stylist.
Wow, I must have bugged the crap out of him! I was in a perpetual state of bliss when I was in high school, to the point where I practically gave myself daily seizures. I WAS JUST! SO! EXCITED! TO! BE! THERE! The boys I went to high school with oscillated between funny brothers buckets of laughter gallons of fun, and hideous monsters who made bonfires out of books, covered me with their spit and ate their young. Much more so the latter. So, I decided the thing to do was to elevate myself to grown-up status and follow Ammen and my English teacher Kerry around like a duck on a string.

When I first met Ammen, he was about the age that I am now. He was my photography teacher, our classes would entail long walks around strange places, trying to ration our 24-print film as he explained exposure and aperture and how to correctly meter light. 

And this was me, all five feet at the time:

I was a neat kid, and I threw myself  at everything with manic enthusiasm, and didn't get in trouble. But I needed a LOT of attention.
Love me? Please Love me?
I picture myself during those years as a brightly colored cartoon me: big eyes, big gears whirring audibly in my brain, head swiveling in all directions.

I didn't fully realize just how challenging it was to be a teacher at such a school until I became one myself at age 23. Boy, do I owe a lifetime of gratitude to the staff at AQ, people who cooked and drove endless hours and planned trips through politically unstable, earth-quake prone foreign countries. They took a very talkative, extremely clumsy teenage girl, taught her how to top out on some seriously tall multi pitches, and somehow prevented her from bouncing straight off of the cliff top. 

Oh! And they taught me high school curriculum so I could get into college.

That was ten years ago, I grew up, and Ammen and I are still friends. We live in the same neighborhood of Seattle and we share everything:  food, friends, long weekends, trips, trials, troubles, defeats, triumphs, cars, everything. In our decade of adventures,  Ammen and his wife Steph are my greatest friends. Somehow, in the past decade, we've only had two full on shouting matches.

Even though they have jobs, and I have a job, and they have a house and I have a landlord, and they have a baby on the way and I have sheet-soaking anxiety dreams about my future career (?), we try really hard not to succumb to a land locked life. And for the most part, we do a really really good job.

Which is why last Saturday, we boarded a ferry on a freezing cold February day, and headed across the sound into the a violently strong headwind.

We found ourselves at a remote cabin on the beach of Whidbey Island.

Nine years after we drove through the state of Oklahoma, listening to Earnest Wranglin, hallucinating tornadoes, three years after we emerged from a month inside the grand canyon and we got stuck in Vegas and Ammen threw up next to an Elvis impersonator, there we were: standing the cold, empty, silent beach at Ebey's landing. And once again, I tagged after him as we walked, and peppered him with questions about light and meter and aperture. And he always explains it, again and again. 

What followed was a stretch of perfectly happy days in the company of a dozen friends hand chosen for their mediagenicy just kidding, and I was never, ever not behind my camera. We took some seriously bitching photos.  

(More to come, obvi.)

Tuesdays are my Holy Days

(For Katie Paulson, who is one mother-trucking bad-ass woman.)

I like it when it rains hard on a Saturday night because everyone is running through the streets. I love it when someone smashes a coffee mug on accident and the whole jabbering cafe gets silent for a moment.  When Billy Jean is Not My Lover is piped in over the loudspeaker at Stone Gardens, I take a joy lap, pushing my way through the throngs just to see everybody singing along and dancing in place as they belay. It's like living in a music video (which, by the way, is my ultimate goal). Pardon me for the epic (EPIC) cliche, but little things that bring strangers together, for an instant or an evening, are my favorite flippin' things on the planet. It still kills me that I was not present for the legendary (but true) audible-fart-that-caused-pandemonium-in-the-ultra-quiet-Suzallo-reading-room-during-finals-week incident in 2005. My friend Will was there. I see him a few times a year and every time, I make him retell me that story.

Anyway. Nothing brings people together like dirt cheap tacos. And that is why Taco Tuesday is my holy day. 

Until the sun decides to forgive us for whatever we did to make it quit, we're in a holding tank. The rocks are wet and cold and painful and dangerous. But when spring springs, everyone will go bursting forth into the world, scattering in all cardinal directions towards different summits and slabs of rock, pinnacles and columns, basking in sunshine and lactic acid and multi pitches. In a week, we'll be thoroughly diffused between Squamish, Index, Vantage, Cascades, the Olympics and the Exits.

But for now, in the crap-tastic weather of mid winter, here we are, all of us, jammed together on weekday evenings, cowboys in the same brodeo. 

I'm twitchy for spring to get here so I can wear my sundresses, but I do love gym season. Because nowhere else is bouldering so much like performance art, with a red-hot, real live audience watching your every foothold and commenting on your grip.

On Tuesdays, there are many of us present at Stone Gardens who are climbing for a higher purpose: to earn our tacos. Because up the street, open till late, the Tin Hat serves 69 cent tacos and absurdly cheap beer. 

And we work extra, extra, extra hard, so that we can go nuts and still have a shred of self worth the next morning.

(Ian, who had shoulder surgery on Friday, climbed for three hours straight on one arm.)

Sometimes, it can be difficult for some to leave the competitive determination at the gym. Which is how Katie and I found ourselves engaged in battle, matching each other taco for taco, each refusing to be the first to quit, stick it, stick it- you got it, go for it go go go yeah! still ringing in our ears. We couldn't talk, we could barely swallow our beers, we just kept eating and ordering, counting the crumbs left on the others plate. Friends, witnesses and waitresses shook their heads and pulled their hair in distress.

"Why? Why?" They asked us.

We gazed down at our plates with summit-drunk smiles, and responded "because it is there."

You are my Everest.  How I wish I could quit you:

In the midst of the feeding frenzy, Katie had a moment of clarity. Somehow, somehow she surfaced from the salt and the crunch to wave her arms in the air like a ref. "This is absurd!" She says. "This stops NOW."

A relieved onlooker snapped a photo of this miracle moment, when we vowed to leave the aggression at the door and never again compete gastronomically. By this point, we were personally responsible for the slaughter of sixteen tacos. Each.

There is nothing we love better than sharing our table with people from the gym who we don't really know. Stone Garden friendships (like all friendships in Seattle, home of the world famous SOCIAL FREEZE) are extremely slow to evolve. You brush elbows a few times while standing on the mats, eyeing a problem on the same wall.  Weeks go by. You begin to faintly recognize one another. More weeks go by. Then, one of you says something while the other is on the wall. Something like, "You got it, bro." Or, more often, "Yeah!" or just, "Yeah" sans exclamation.

That's a big day. But remember, it's a long process. Weeks go by. Little comments about single moves turn to longer discourses involving full sequences. More weeks go by. One of you gets injured and isn't at the gym for a month or so, delaying the process considerably. And then, there comes a day- a big day- where you finish a problem, and your new stranger-friend gives you the First Bump of Acceptance.

You've done it. You've made yourself a gym-friend.

Of course, I like to just steam-roll right through all that head for the friendship express lanes: an invitation to my stranger friend to join us at Taco Tuesday. More often than not, they don't come. But on the occasion that they're a brave, willing, or hungry soul, we welcome them with open arms into our booth. We toast them, physically surround them, fire bomb them with questions about their life. Usually, in particular if they are a Seattlite, our forwardness and unabashed eagerness to become friends scares the pants off of them.  And that is the most fun.

 Thank you oh Lord, for rocks, chalks, tacos, and the people who read this.


Years from now, I'll be sitting in my split level ranch and one of my dear children, who will be holed up in the den, watching television reruns in a shockingly unsupervised manner, will call out, "Mom, did you ever watch the show 'Portlandia?' when you were young?" 

And I'll twirl a swizzle stick in my for 4-loco martini ('mommy's afternoon helper', my invention,) and reply, "Watch it? Honey, mommy lived it."

It will take some serious effort on my part to explain to my children of the future how, when I was a quarter century old and living easy in Seattle, it was impossible to just stay cool. Keeping it real was simply not an option. One had to be hip. It just happened. Trust me, I tried to resist it. Big time. 

Last Friday, Melina "Born to Folk" Coogan, dragged her barely-consenting friends to a night of hardy sea chantey singing.

I swore up and down that this priceless event would be held on a sail boat; that we'd sit under thick blankets and drink from a flask.

That's not really how it went down. The Center for Wooden Boats is rebuilding their ramp which limited access to the boats. Or something. Poor excuse (hello? I can swim?) Instead, the chanteys were sung the basement of a Lutheran Church. AND LET ME TELL YOU, if there's ever a time and place to feel immune to the pervasive hipness of Seattle, it's in the basement of a Lutheran church, singing about pirates with the good folks of the maritime heritage center.

Of course, it goes without saying that I was happy as a clam. I could have stayed there forever. And, in my family's long standing history of exhibiting inappropriate behaviors in churches, (Solidarity, mom, Aunt Priscella and cousin Ali, and to all the people present that day at the UU church in Woodstock, we're still sorry) I drank three beers in the absolutely dry venue and got a talking to.

The singing subsided at 10:00pm, an acceptable time to call it a night if you ask me.  But then you step outside and get a breath of fresh air, and you shake off the dingy basement and the Lutheran, and the rain is just so emo, and you are downtown after all, so you decide to just stop in at a late night coffee shop.

And then you sit there, and after you get that second soy latte in you, who knows what you're going to do! Suddenly, you're on the freeway, and you're blasting The Decemberists, and you pick up some more friends along the way, and there's no stopping you now. Next thing you know, you're in capitol hill, you're riding a fixed gear and getting your hair cut like a boy.

There's no stopping it.  If you lived in Seattle in the 2000's, it just happened. There was no stopping it.

(11:00pm, Cupcake happy hour, 6 cupcakes for the price of three. We don't actually want 6 cupcakes, we didn't even want one. But then again, we didn't buy them for eating. We bought them to bring around in a box. We treated them humanely. We cultured them and showed them art. We engaged in debate with them, existentialism, the nothingness of being; human or pastry, what does it matter.)

Seattle, if you were a waterfall, I'd run you backwards and forwards and then I'd swim at the hole in the bottom. And that means I love you.

For the love of radio

I have a new friend. We were brought together by our mutual love of radio: Ira Glass, Stewart McLean, Radio Lab, Selected Shorts, Prairie Home Companion. (Well, as for the latter, I love it, he doesn't, what can I say.)  The radio is gold. Audio candy. Once, in the quagmire of the college break up, I clung to the radio like a life raft. (A melodramatic simile for a melodramatic time, trust me.) One night, I was pacing my room thinking about how treacherous life was and wondering why god hated me. I was listening to a story about girls raised by wolves. Then, in the midst of all the self-imposed chaos in my brain, a thought floated through like a big cloud on a blue day: at least I have my radio. I'll always have the radio. At that exact moment, my radio died. It made a satisfying little pop! sound.

This prompted me to start my incredibly angst-y fiction blog, Then the radio died.

Last Tuesday, this new friend and I went together to the MothUP, the Seattle version of the radio show The Moth. It has nothing to do with live insects and everything to do with live storytelling. Every show is based around a theme, and people from the audience come up and perform personal stories based on that theme.
Most of the people who came up from the audience to tell stories were incredible story tellers. They had their story dialed. The theme of the evening was "courage." We both stood there, open mouthed at the things we heard: from being shot at in Afghanistan to being held up at gunpoint at the dildo store and everything in between.

In the middle of all this storytelling, I began to feel a slight discomfort creep up my spine. I bounced from foot to foot and tried to shake it off.  Just stand here and listen, Melina, enjoy yourself. But the creeping feeling only intensified, coiled up my spine until a voice hissed at my eardrum from the inside. (Picture the big snake in Harry Potter.)  You can do that, you know. You have stories.

The truth is, as much as I love listening to stories, I love telling stories even more.

Nah, I shouldn't. I haven't prepared one. I'm just going to drink this second beer....


Nope, sorry. If there's anything I'm completely incapable of, it's melting into the background. Before I knew it, I was climbing up onto the stage to tell a story I hadn't prepared. I had a good idea of what story to tell, but not the vaguest idea of how to tell it.  There were a lot of people looking at me. I smiled at them. I had to stand on tip toes to reach the microphone. I was in the right place.

I don't know if it was the two Irish oatmeal stouts or my natural inclination to grab the spotlight and shove it over to my side of the room, but I told my story flawlessly. My style was conversational, not the splendid performance style of some of the others, but it worked.

It was a turning point. It was the first time I realized that I could take story telling out from behind the computer, that other people could set it all up and all I had to do was get up there and speak.

Story telling is so so so much easier (and much more fun) than writing (which can downright suck), because you can read the audience and work with them. If they laugh, keep going. If they're looking down at their Iphone, switch directions, fast. A good crowd is like a cheap shampoo that can be worked into a real lather. And nothing is more fun than a lathered up crowd.

My performance was nowhere near as talented as the others who spoke that night. But I would call it the beginning. Of something.


I used to think that I was chronically inflexible, but I'm not. It's just my legs. My hamstrings. Ham strings. What a funny term, anyway, for a part of your body. Ham Strings. I'd like to know who thought that up, and whether or not they were surprised when the term stuck.

It is because of these tightly wound hamstrings that I can't even touch my damn toes. And that yoga classes are a cause for suffering and self loathing, instead of the soothing soul balm the lady at the front desk promises me when I clank in out of the rain to the studio on Market St, in search of self-betterment and weight loss and enlightenment and everything else yoga is supposed to do for you. But it doesn't. Not for me, anyway. All sorts of anger and rage and thoughts of violence exude from my being when I can't do the friggin forward fold and everyone else is bent over with their foreheads on their mats. Even the old dudes. The competitive asshole inside of me dies a painful death, every time.

On top of that, let's get real, I can't afford no yoga class. It would be highly foolish of me to become invested yet in another activity that compromises the integrity of one's bank account, (especially when the waiting room of said activity is adorned with 65.00$ tank tops that whisper ones name so loudly one fears one will go deaf).  Add in the post traumatic stress syndrome I'm still wrestling with, and there's no question about it: I really can't take a yoga class. But, son of a bitch, how I yearn for that long, lean yoga body. Climbing makes one strong, no doubt. But yoga makes one slim. Sliiiimmmmm. I've never been slim. It looks like fun.

 One evening at a little dinner party, my friends and I cooked up a scheme to make yoga accessible 'for the rest us.' Bring us your poor, your inflexible, your inexperienced, your weak.  We decided to meet up one evening per week and teach ourselves. And we do, every Wednesday. We down/up dog it up for an hour, then we Om then we eat.  It started off a little clumsy; we tried tapes, podcasts and videos, they were confusing, then we realized that there were those amongst us who actually knew a thing our two about yoga, and they became the teachers. As we began to improve, more people heard about our Wednesday gatherings and started to join. In fact it became so popular we completely ran out of room.

 But we tried to accommodate. The more people you include in such things, the more connections you gain, the more food you get to eat, the more poses and styles you get to learn, and the more opportunities are presented to you.  Which is how, somehow, we ended up this past Wednesday in our own private studio.

The studio had gold wood floors and plenty of windows; it was well heated and gently lit, a refuge from an unusually clear and frigid evening. Outside the glass doors, a quarter acre of land, neatly segregated into separate and specific gardens, led to a gorgeous two level home filled with drawers of spices, shelves of books, rows of neatly stacked matching coffee cups, a chrome espresso machine, marble topped counters, balconies, sun porches, and a long ladder on which one could climb up through the skylight onto the sloping rooftop deck.

None of us live here, of course, but one of us just happens to be staying here right now.

On this particular Wednesday there were only five us, which was fortunate because the little room would not have fit anyone else. It was just girls, for the first time. (Girlfriends are both a staple and a luxury in life, don't you think?) We sure as hell felt like impostors in such a clean, beautiful little spot. We're all scraping and struggling for money and jobs and all that, digging through laundry piles on the floor to find a jacket to go with the dress for a date we hope works out better than the last, already twenty minutes late, scouring the help wanted and taking care of other people's children and then finding out we're going to have children of our own, and cleaning other people's houses then arguing with roommates because we don't have time to clean the dishes, climbing  up mountains because we can't afford lift tickets- and yet here we were, doing inversions in our private backyard yoga studio.

Sure we're impostors, we're tourists, we're just borrowing. But for now, it's all ours. And it's free.

It was a good reminder that sometimes, your scrappy efforts to be frugal, to it yourself, to pull it together and pull it off, can yield some actual success. We're poor, but we're creative. We might be inflexible as hell but we're resourceful, and I think that's what has gotten us this far. 

My life as a bat

Small Melina on her first Lead Climb Evah
I ate eleven tacos tonight. That's Eleven Tacos, son! I only wanted ten but I pushed on to eleven in honor of the 5.11d I climbed today: my first 5.11d ever. Boys and girls, I think I'm actually getting better at this. It sure has taken a decidedly long time: I mean, I started getting on rocks when I was just a wee one (in fact, I was eleven.) Hell yeah, eleven.

And since we're discussing new records: post-climbing Taco Tuesday saw higher numbers than ever before,  with all of us squeezed into the booth, and folding chairs brought out for the rest. We raised our beer glasses every few minutes for a new toast:

Here's to Ian! He's getting up at 2:30am tomorrow to go skiing and he still came out with us!
Here's to Melina! She knows what AT stands for!
Here's to Jeremy! He...did something cool involving ice and tools!
Here's to Lisa! She climbed her first 5.10 today!
Here's to Katie, she looks really good in that halter top and she was on campus 15 hours today!
Here's to Brian! He's a guide on the gauley woah dangerous and he's had shingles before! AAAAHH!!

That's how it started, pretty soon we were raising foaming glasses to anything that was said that we found funny, which was woah, everything, we're hilarious all of a sudden! I didn't even hear what you just said and I'm still laughing! Yeah, we were that table, constantly clinking and hollering, and tacos kept magically appearing and disappearing, and the beer was amber and pretty and instantly refilled. Don't worry, I brought my camera. But for those of you tired of seeing photos of the inside of the climbing gym and the inside of different eating and drinking establishments in Seattle, wince not, because I forgot the camera battery.

Ah, but that's life in this rainy city, isn't it, in this season: inside and warm with plenty of friends, plastic molded rocks and drinks named after famous ships. Beats the hell out of what it's been like in the past.

It's all very exciting, this climbing thing, and it keeps me very happy and energized....although apparently not all the time? Check out this photo that Koko took of me, I appear to be upside down on my very favorite train for-the-roof problem, fast asleep:

Ascent and Ascent

It was my friend Yonton who introduced me to the concept of Ascent and Descent, or A&D. A summertime A&D is defined as such: a single day wherein you go climbing and then you go kayaking. Based on the amount of driving, shuttles, equipment, and energy required for both these sports, A&D is a real feat. Yesterday, Sunday, I had my own A&D, only it was the Winter version, and it felt more like an A&A, Ascent and Ascent.

Technically skiing is more of a downhill operation, but this was my first time on my AT (All Terrain) set up. I skinned up and walked straight up the mountain, and it takes a while. The way down is just swish swish and it's over. Really, it felt like an Ascent to me.

But if I want to be truly accurate about the day, it looked more like this:

Ascent.  Getting up the mountain. I skinned. Jenny Stepped:

Descent- my summit sandwich going down:

Descent. The classic kind:

Ascent. A few hours later, back in the city, on one of our favorite problems:

Descent. Coming down:

Descent. Self explanatory. Down the hatch:

Jenny got a panic stricken message from me late on Saturday night: "Jenny! It's, as you know, I know how to downhill, but I've  never been on AT's before and I imagine you dress different? don't know what to wear so, how about this- I'll just bring everything to your house tomorrow. Okay, see you then. Also, how necessary are poles?"
Oh, man.
A few hours later, "Hi Jenny, it's me. Just want you to know that I went to bed early and everything, but then I was woken up by a party next door, and there was no way I was going to sleep so I had to sleep somewhere else, so I'm farther away now and I'll be later than I said I would. Also, do you have any extra snowpants? Mine are too big all of a sudden. Bye!"

Jenny is a natural morning person. She wakes up at 6:30 every day without an alarm. I, on the other not.

Long story short, Jenny is extremely patient and it doesn't phase her a bit when, after finally getting my boots on, I go- "Wait, wait, I think I have too many pairs of socks on. Let's start over."  And another stop on the way to the mountain to get more coffee? She's all about it! I think I love her.

When we made it to the summit, we sat down to eat some food and celebrated having an entire mountain to ourselves.   
While we were chilling out, a couple of men came skinning up the face. The first thing the lead guy said to us? "Woah! You guys part of the blond army or something?" And without hesitation we replied, "Why, yes, yes we are."   Then the other guys came gliding up to us. There were three of them. "Well," said the third, "now you're outnumbered."
Jenny tossed her head back and responded, "We're not worried. There are more of us hiding in the woods." Then she turned back to her pasta.
It was a strange conversation.

And then the fog and the ice and the snow came. And the map didn't seem to make sense.

Probably because it a map of Alpine trails. We were not interested in alpine trails.

But don't worry, the blond army made it down no sweat. I have to say, Jenny is one hell of an athlete.  And the whole concept of skinning, AT bindings and the promise of back country almost made those countless, insufferable, ubiquitous Facebook statuses of Earn your Turns, Bro!  Free Your Heals Free your Mind or Whatever! Shredding Some Gnar up at Whistler this weekend! and anything with the word "pow"....bearable. (I said Almost.) (I'm looking at you, large majority of my friends.)

 Ten o'clock, after eating an entire pizza, working on endurance, last soldier at the gym.

And finally, Prost on Phinney Ridge, for somebody's birthday, where I literally stopped all conversation when I ordered a margarita instead of a beer. Relax, haters- that's just how it is.

So, that's about it for Sunday.  We don't have any money, we don't have kids, we're confused about careers, we're halfheartedly employed. But we do have snow, and friends with sail boats, and there are 36 places to drink beer in Ballard alone. So I guess we're doing alright.