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Leap III February 29, 2016

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It’s nearly 50°F and I’m just back from a morning walk with two of the Parts West Walk Posse. As predicted, the rain began near the end of the walk, and I arrived home wet and sweaty. Tomorrow it will be in the 20s once more. This may be the weirdest winter I’ve ever seen.

I stopped at the post office and happily found my poem-bearing postcard from Jenny. Perfect timing. I sheltered it from water-bearing sky all the way home.

“It takes a great deal of love to give a damn,” she writes. “Be rebellious. Do more than kiss a cheek.”*

Last leap day, I was swinging on the set next door in the snow and preparing to turn fifty. There’s something that feels more ominous about fifty-four. Still, maybe I’ll turn a cartwheel.

Two leaps ago, I bought my car. The one I still drive. That heated seat still keeps my ass warm.

Today I will get a massage, only my second since Kim left in July. One doesn’t often have a massage on February 29.

I should go to town meeting tonight. I have a love/hate relationship with town meeting, and sometimes I don’t make it there, especially if it’s on my birthday. Today is not my birthday. Tomorrow we vote.

Give a damn. Be rebellious.

Maybe I’ll go.

 

 

*Jennifer Hill’s new book, You Look Young Enough to Be Relevant, is available here.

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Colorado February 22, 2016

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The first time I went to Colorado, I was sixteen, and it was the farthest west of home I’d ever been. Earlier that summer, I’d gone to Paris, the farthest east of home I’d ever been. It was a big year.

I went to a conference in Estes Park (beautiful!), traveling by plane from Maryland with my local church youth group. It was a good time. Four years later I went back to work the conference, this time traveling with two guys, fellow camp counselors, in a pickup truck hauling a U-Haul trailer. There was some awkward sexual tension. There was a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, where it snowed in August.

I didn’t return to Colorado until September 2012, when Tim and I attended the snooty London club dinner in Denver and I got to meet my dear friend Gordon in person—the one and only time we got to see each other. (I still miss him. I will always miss him.) Gordon lived in Boulder, and I met him in the lobby of the Hotel Boulderado, where his family history went back a couple of generations.

Tim and I loved that trip. We fished the Boulder Creek. We rented bikes. We caught some great music at eTown, where a neighbor had worked back in the day. Tim did a serious fishing trip with some colleagues of mine, while I ran around Denver and checked out a speakeasy. We went to the snooty event in a beautiful hotel. We did a quick day trip to RMNP (it didn’t snow, but we both got a little lightheaded from the elevation). We visited Gordon and his family in his home, and he made us martinis. Gordon and I had talked about having a martini together for more than a decade.

Last July, Kim moved to Boulder. I miss her too. Boulder, Colorado, evokes a sad yearning. Maybe I’ll get back there someday.

Been there?: Yes

California (III) February 19, 2016

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I didn’t get to California—didn’t ever see the Pacific Ocean—until I was about thirty. I went for a medical writers/editors conference in Los Angeles with coworkers. One of our association doctors showed us around, took us someplace beautiful for lunch. Over the years, I’ve often heard him interviewed on NPR. My boss/friend Deb and I went shopping (I bought a leather miniskirt) and walked the beach at Malibu and checked out the La Brea Tar Pits (our tour guide was a black man named Björn).

I went back to LA at the turn of the century. I remember the timing only because I was there for the 2000 election; I had voted absentee so that I could visit my sister. I went to bed thinking, “Well, tomorrow this will at last be decided.” It was not.

On that trip, I went back to the La Brea Tar Pits and to the art museum. I walked into a dress shop only to discover that “large” might be a size 2. That might be generous. I could not pull the waistline of any dress over my flat chest. I went back out to the street and saw normal-sized people walking around with clothes on. It was confusing.

That trip was the last time I saw my favorite sister outlaw, a woman I’d lost (in a way) in the breakup with Tim’s brother. She was apparently going through early menopause, she told me. Almost a year to the day later, she gave birth to her son. I miss her.

I’ve made a couple of trips to San Francisco too (the food!), both involving heading north from there to Fall River to visit dear Val. You can see photos of his place here. There were owls in the barns and sandhill cranes in the fields. There was beautiful fishing and great company.

I haven’t done the wine country thing, although we drove past the exits to get to Val’s.

We went to Yosemite. Ah, Yosemite. We went to Mono Lake.

My nephew just moved to San Francisco. So I guess I have a relative in California again.

Been there?: Yes

Arkansas February 17, 2016

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I dipped a toe in, once.

I was thirteen years old. My parents’ friend Ruth took me on a trip to Memphis, on a plane. (I think I’d been on a plane once before, as a small child, before logging memories.)

A couple of years earlier, Ruth had fixed me up with her niece, Margaret, in a pen-pal situation. I was going with Ruth to visit the family and hang out with Margaret.

It was a fun trip, but a stressful one that included a severe sunburn, insomnia, and ill-timed menses.

They drove me all around Memphis, past Graceland, where Elvis still lived.

Then we crossed the Mississippi into West Memphis, just so I could say I’d been to Arkansas.

Truly, I would love to see some of Arkansas. I have a couple of dear friends who grew up there. They represent well.

I’d like to check out the hot springs, play outside.

Maybe I can approach that Gulf states tour from just north.

Been there?: Yes but No

Arizona February 16, 2016

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There was that time in the ’80s when I was there in the summer, for a conference, and it was 115ºF. I have never gone back in July.

Once we headed north to the Grand Canyon.

Once we did a sweat lodge with some Yaquis—friends of friends—which nearly killed this easily dehydrated traveler. (Or maybe it just felt like it.)

Tim ran his first half marathon there, with Wayne.

Once I decided I was so in love with Saguaro National Monument that I would spend my thirty-eighth birthday, a year and a half away, watching the sun set there. I rented the entirety of my favorite bed and breakfast, and friends from California, Idaho, and New York filled it up. At sunset, I hiked off the road and into the scrub and settled in.

Once we headed south to Patagonia, hired a bird guide, and added nearly seventy-five species to our annual list. We stayed in a hotel room where Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp (allegedly) did it. I hung over the balcony just like she did, looking nothing like her.

The last time we were there, we brought some of Derek’s ashes back with us.

Dear friends live there. Each visit—usually years apart—is magical.

Been there?: Yes

Alaska February 12, 2016

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Reasons you might think I’ve been to Alaska: Wilderness. Great fly fishing. New birds to be listed. An adventure.

Reasons you might think I haven’t been to Alaska: Far away. Small airplanes might be involved, or cruise ships, either of which could begin that nausea thing that threatens days of vacation.

Sewa Yoleme and I were big fans of Northern Exposure, back in our DC days, sometimes even getting together to watch it. We both eventually moved to Vermont towns that made Cicely, Alaska, look downright metropolitan. (Before that, we both visited Roslyn, Washington, to walk those streets. Too bad that doesn’t count.)

I have an acquaintance who lives in Anchorage, an author with whom I’ve worked. It wouldn’t be a place to stay, but he’d take us fishing.

Tim has always wanted to fish there, but in that wilderness way, when the float plane drops you off for a few days and comes back for you.

MapQuest tells me that Anchorage is 4,498.7 miles from my house and that would take me 73 hours and 20 minutes to drive there. I presume this is under ideal conditions, perhaps in summer.

I have never been to Alaska. It would be awesome to see a willow ptarmigan.

Been there?: No

Alabama February 11, 2016

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My father is from Alabama. Grew up in Birmingham. You’d think that this would mean, for sure, that I have been to Alabama.

Well . . . no.

I come from (what feels like) a somewhat strange family, and I don’t talk about it much. It’s small, and growing up I rarely saw anyone who was technically a relative—not that there were many to see. Neither my sister nor I had children, so it’s the end of a couple of bloodlines, folks.

My father’s parents and brother died before I was born. His sister lived in Georgia.

An art museum stands at the spot where his house used to be.

I always thought we would make a trip there, but our family didn’t make a lot of trips, and we never got there together.

At least not during my consciousness. When I asked, my father said that he thinks I was in the state once, as a baby—but ever so briefly.

I don’t know anyone in Alabama.

I’ve always wanted tour of the Gulf states, but it doesn’t ever quite make it to the top of the list. I should, though, shouldn’t I?

Been there?: Yes but No

Traveling the States February 9, 2016

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Of course, with or without that passport, there are many places I would like to see right here in the states. Since Northbrook left me, I’ve done a little better about getting out west, to California, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. I wish I had way more time and money.

I’ve never made a list of the states I’ve been to, and I suppose I should, but I get hung up on defining a visit. If one has driven through the state practically nonstop, seeing only the interstate and maybe just at night, does it count? If one has only been in an airport in a particular state, one has physically set foot in that state, but again, does it count? I would argue no, but I guess it depends on what kind of lister you are. When listing birds, hearing the call counts—if it’s a positive ID, you don’t have to actually see the thing (although getting to is better!).

So I’ll make a list here. I will scour my memory, thoughtfully consider circumstances, and assign each state to one three categories: Yes, Yes but No, No.

I certainly hope I can fully Yes more than half.

Passport 2: The Sequel February 8, 2016

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My passport expires in November. It’s on my mind, because I know there are places that one can’t go if one is within six months of one’s passport expiring. It’s also on my mind because I recently read an article in the New York Times warning of the expected flood of renewals in 2006 and 2007 because of 2007’s Western Hemisphere Initiative, which required passports for Americans returning by air from Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. Millions of people got passports that year, and those millions are up for renewal. The article suggested early renewal and noted that turnaround time is about six weeks, up from two.

That makes me nervous.

You may recall that I don’t like the idea of not having a passport at the ready, even though I apparently have always let my passport expire in the past (not this time! I swear!). Since that last neurotic missive about my passport, I happy to report that I did at last leave the country (London! Paris!), but it took 2½ years after that post. And I still haven’t gotten to Montreal.

And in a way, it’s Montreal that makes me feel unwilling to go passportless for six weeks. Even though I haven’t been there since my twenty-first birthday, even though it’s only four hours away, what if I want to go there at the very point at which my passport is not with me?

And should Tim and I renew our passports together or sequentially? Last time we clearly did it together, as they expire the same date. We should do it that way again, no doubt. But it makes me even more nervous to think that neither one of us would have the option of leaving the country.

Truly, not having a passport is less about being able to take a vacation and more about feeling trapped. I’m someone who always wants an escape route clearly in view. Without a passport, I’ll feel a little less land of the free and a little more home of the brave.

But I better embrace that home-of-the-brave soon.

Oh, crap. Now I need another photo of myself.

Selfie February 5, 2016

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It took me years to get an iPhone, what with bad cell phone coverage and all, but I got one a bit more than three years ago, at last, and of course I use the camera feature quite a bit. But in all that time, I have maybe attempted a half dozen selfies, always with other people, and it’s embarrassing when I try, because I’m bad at it. Because I never do it. Because I hate photos of myself, for the most part. Because most of them are really, really bad. (Well, either they are really bad, or I actually look like that, which is even more upsetting.) So why would I take a selfie?

In fact, I was going to post something last week (or so) that involved an old photo and a new photo but I don’t like the way I look in the new photo, so I let that stop me.

So a couple of days ago, Amy (see “The Shirt”) posted a rather long note on Facebook which began, “I dislike most pictures of myself. I don’t actively hate them, but I’d just rather not look at them. And what, exactly, do I dislike? I just don’t think they look like me. I feel glowy on the inside, but my pictures often look a bit . . . off. Flat maybe. You know how the camera just loves some people? Well, that is the opposite of me.”

She goes on to say that she didn’t always feel that way, that she used to like photos of herself, that maybe it’s an age thing, that her internal picture is about twenty years old. “Anyway, why do I care how I look in a picture? I guess because I want the world to see me the way I see myself. But, really, why does it matter how I look? Why is that such a big deal? It surprises me to realize this, but appearances are a bigger deal than I would like to admit. Logically I know this is superficial. But it is in there pretty deep! It is a hard layer for me to shed.”

This is all leading up to her plan to post one selfie a day for a month. I have so much trouble with photos of myself that I can’t even imagine doing such a thing (but I don’t have trouble imagining other people doing this—everybody else looks pretty good!). The comments to this first post, of course, are interesting, with so many people feeling the same way about photos of themselves. (It was within these comments that I got Amy to at last post her shirt photo.) One woman noted that “My beauty doesn’t translate to 2D.” I like that.

Amy’s sister, Anna, who may be one of the most confident people on the planet, wrote: “I always LOOOOOOOVED looking at pictures of myself until about three or four years ago. Now it feels very hit or miss! Sometimes I think I look amazing. Other times I look pretty astonishingly bad. But I have started having fun with trying to look as bad as I can in a photo and then telling myself, ‘There, that is actually worse than I look.’ Also—I am SUPERimpressed with myself at how bad I can look if I really throw myself into it. Do I get any points for the width of discrepancy? Or for daring to put this on FB?” And then she posted—and I love her for this—a photo she’d shared with us during our weekend together, a first-thing-in-the-morning photo in which she is nearly unrecognizable—alongside a potential head shot for her upcoming book.

Anna headshotsI don’t know that any of this can make me feel better about photos of myself or about even looking in a mirror (when I get my hair cut? I can’t do it.), but it’s good to know that even the beautiful can look bad if they try.