25 September 2003

Tonight I learned a very important lesson: cockroaches eat poop. How did I learn this lesson, you ask? Well, when I was out in my backyard hunting for dog poop with a flashlight and a shovel, I noticed that nearly every pile of poop I found was crawling with brown roaches, their exoskeletons glinting like deer eyes in my light. It didn’t take too many piles of cockroaches to convince me that poop hunting is an activity that should be reserved for daylight.

There are a lot of differences between Iowa/Wisconsin and New Mexico, of course. The “no ten-gallon hats” sign at the movie theater, the green chile and cheese bagels (which are so great!!), the large number of people who’ve never heard of Michael Feldman, the fact that Hardees is called “Carl’s Jr.” and a “patio” is a small open courtyard in the center of a house...but these are all relatively minor differences. They have no real impact on my daily life. However, there are some major differences as well, and one of these is the Poop Problem.

In the midwest, most people have yards full of lovely, thick, green grass and soft, rich dirt. It rains a lot, and yards are full of dandelions and flowers and clover. When a dog poops in this garden paradise, the poop hides between the lush foliage and then magically disappears when it rains. In the southwest, most people have yards full of rocks and dirt and cacti. It never, ever rains, and yards are full of rocks. And dirt. And cacti. When a dog poops in this desert world, the poop sits out in full view of everyone, drying up in the sun into petrified poop that will never go anywhere. For this reason, it’s necessary to go shovel the poop up about once a week. I usually do it on Tuesdays, because Wednesday morning is garbage pickup. This is why I found myself tonight wandering through my backyard in boxers and a tee shirt, carrying a shovel and flashlight, looking for poop.

***

Another thing to file under “things that are different in NM” – kids can get high school credit for being in the ROTC, and spend a whole class period marching around the school parking lot yelling “left, left, left right left”.... when we pulled up at Moriarty High School today, one such group marched past us and Jennie said, “You know who that is, don’t you?” I couldn’t hear them, so I shook my head. When she said, “The ROTC,” I thought she was kidding. Also, the school has a big pasture out in back of it, full of sheep for the ag kids. Moriarty makes Oregon seem ultra cosmopolitan in comparison, which is pretty scary.

***

Today was a good day overall – we taught our first class out at Crossroads, Moriarty’s alternative high school, and all the kids were just great. Crossroads is located in some trailer classrooms out behind the school (near the sheep pasture). After class, I walked across the parking lot to throw some boxes in the dumpster, marveling at the vast Moriarty sky (Moriarty’s on the east side of the Sandias, far enough from the mountains that it’s flatter than Iowa), when I was struck with a pang of the teacher/artist divide... I love kids, and being in a classroom like the one at Crossroads or like Holly’s 6th grade classroom at Roosevelt always makes me think about how I would decorate my classroom, and sometimes – like today – makes me think that I should have a classroom, like what am I doing dicking around with these lizards? I’m supposed to be teaching scansion! (And the big 6th grade team at Roosevelt is teaching The Giver! Today when we were there, the teachers were filling out Ceremony of Twelve certificates in team meeting, and I got geekishly excited.)

And then tonight after work, I went to the Jonson Gallery on UNM’s campus to see a presentation by Susan Ressler, whose new book Women Artists of the American West features a chapter written by Tiska, who spent some time talking about the focus of her chapter, artists Agnes Pelton and Florence Miller Pierce of the Transcendental Painting Group (late 1930s/early 1940s). As art history presentations always do, this one made me question the way I just turned my back on painting when I went to college, made me wonder why or how I could give it up when it meant so much to me. Afterward, I said something along these lines to Tiska, and she said, “But writing is an art, too – you’re an artist!” But it’s not the same. I told her that if I could do college over, I’d be an art history major. (Which is a lie, of course. If I, Molly-Backes-who-already-graduated-with-an-English-degree could start as a freshman, I’d be an art history major for sure, but only because I’ve taken enough literature classes that I can take them for granted.... And to be honest, there are certain lit class experiences I would not give up for anything, including Broe’s post-colonial class and Cavanagh’s Milton seminar, and even Andrews’ women/writing/nature seminar – though I rolled my eyes through much of it at the time, it ended up making a huge impact on the way I think about a lot of things....and each of these significant classes required all the hoop-jumping of the many trads classes....)

After the presentation, Tiska kept introducing me as her friend (or sometimes as Diane’s cousin) Molly, who just moved to Albuquerque and is working on her first novel! At one point, I laughed sheepishly, or bashfully, or maybe doubtfully, and Tiska said, “I just love how that sounds! It’s so pure, and so inspiring!” I said, “Jennie always tells people I’m a novelist, too. I think she does it to convince them that I’m really as great as she says, because in her mind someone with my skills should not be working for such low pay at an npo, but she can justify it by telling people I’m writing a novel in my free time.” Tiska said, “Maybe it’s just that we can see you in a way that you can’t see yourself.” I love her!

Tiska took Susan and me out for dinner, to a restaurant called Gyros behind the Frontier. The food was less greasy, and the atmosphere a little more refined, than that of the famous Olympia Café, but it’s not necessarily better than the OC, which seems more authentic, more sloppy and weird and human. Comfortingly dirty. Danielle says that children who grow up in obsessive-compulsively clean households are actually more prone to illness than kids who grow up in normal houses that walk the line between cleanish and dirtyish. Or like our house, I guess, which long since crossed the line from hairyish into grossish, thanks to Zeke.

After dinner and grocery shopping, I finally got to talk to Dave Skogen and tell him about the Shins. As I predicted, he freaked out, and I almost convinced him to get in his car and start driving. He kept saying, “Man, if only I had known yesterday, I totally would have come.” Too bad, but I promised I’d tell James et al that my friend Dave loves them so much he was this close to driving forty hours round trip just to see them play one show. Done and done. Happily, D reports that YB was hob-nobbing with the likes of Beck and the Foo Fighters on their last tour, playing to crowds of thousands. And then they came back to the states, and played for eight people in a bar in Des Moines. Somehow that imbalance reminds me of a recent quote from a certain Josh Blue: "well...guess who was within FIVE FEET of JACKIE CHAN tonight!?!?!!....its almost as cool as the time I met Mr. Rogers and Mr. McFeely....." Vintage, Josh, vintage.

24 September 2003

11:45 pm, Home

Today was one of those “If I find one more goddamn cockroach in my shower, I am going to kill myself!” kinds of days. In the midwest I called these my “If I drop one more pencil....” days, as in:

24/25 April 2002
1017 High Street, Dining Room with mint tea and Todd’s CD mix

Ugghh. I have just been in the worst mood all day. I can’t shake it, and I can’t figure out what’s going on. It was just one of those days when it’s like – if you drop one more pencil, you are seriously going to lose it. And of course I kept dropping pencils all damn weekend. I mean day. I am distracted and distressed....



That’s how today was – if not for my weird mood, it would have been a great day. Jennie brought me a latte this morning as I struggled with the ancient (donated, of course) computer, and we had nice talks to & from Moriarty, I got to play with Robert’s beast of a weimaraner, Spook, and with his sweet little girl April (also a weimaraner, “the dyke queen of dogs”), I got to talk to funny middle-schoolers, Maddie and I were in hysterics in the two hours it took us to make two copies of the bully-proofing curriculum, Danielle and I went out to dinner at a nice Chinese restaurant.... These are all good things, and yet ––

I’m tempted to dwell on the bad parts of the day (the first of TEN YEARS worth of student loan bills, for one), but instead....

Good things:

1. The Shins!
(Saturday afternoon, at the bookstore with Lisa)
Me: (picking up a copy of a CD by a totally obscure group -- The Shins -- who Dave Skogen got me hooked on in November or December...) Oh, the Shins! I love this band! Do you know them?
Lisa: Well, just Marty.
Me: What?
Lisa: I don't know all of them too well, just Marty.
Me: WHAT?
Lisa: ... um?
Me: You know Marty?
Lisa: (looking worried, like I might suddenly attack) yeah?
Me: (suddenly realizing I've picked said CD off table labeled "Local Music") Wait, are they from Albuquerque?
Lisa: Yeah, didn't you know that?
Me: WHAT! No! I only have a burned copy of their CD, no liner notes. Are you serious??
Lisa: ...?
Me: In the midwest, NOBODY's heard of them. Just Dave.
Lisa: I'll introduce you to Marty if you want. I was just thinking that I should call him, actually.
Me: WAAGH!


2. Lisa.
She’s great!

3. My first talking talons paycheck!
More than enough to cover my first student loan payment... oh....

4. Dream interpretation.
Sunday morning before I woke up, I dreamed that Ali and I were starting a school in the mountains (implicitly around Albuquerque), and we were trying to get people to help us raise money and support for it. I got a call from a band who said they’d play a benefit concert for the school, and I was really excited about it, and kept telling Ali that they were “really big, like the Beatles!” – and maybe they WERE the Beatles... it was unclear in that dreamy kind of way. And then I got a call from Winnie and Nelson Mandela, who said they’d like to come help us garner support for our school, but only if I took them mountain climbing first. They said, “We know the world thinks of us mainly as advocates of human rights, but in our minds we’re mountain climbers first and foremost.” I was kind of surprised, because I’m no sherpa, but I agreed (of course!) and then spent the rest of the dream trying to arrange schedules to see if the Beatles-like band and the Mandelas could come the same weekend, but it seemed like they couldn’t.

On the way to Moriarty today, I told Jennie this dream, and she said it seemed like a really positive dream, and we talked about the fact that it’s really about balance. Trying to juggle the band and the Mandelas (art & education, perhaps?), and the whole mountain climbing/advocacy thing. Jennie said, “You’re not defined by any one thing... and before you can open your school, before you can save the world, you have to climb the mountains.” Also, she said the fact that the Mandelas showed up to support Ali’s and my school says that there’s something really good and true about it – either the actual school, or the fact of us as a team....

Often my dreams are full of weird symbols of other things (like the dream I had that OHS had been put on trucks and driven to Fitchburg and set down at the bottom of Ledgemont Court, so as I sat in math class I could watch my dad getting into his van and driving off to work — helped me realize that my idea of what school was, as I was looking at colleges, was moving closer to home – and then I decided to go to college in Iowa), but these symbols all seem pretty straightforward. After all, the educator/artist balance is one I’ve been struggling with for at least seven or eight years now.

5. Zeke.
He’s stretched out across my bed with his orange Desert Dog neckerchief on, sniffing and kicking in his sleep.

6. Tea
Tonight Danielle and I got sucked into Wild Oats on our way home and I found two of my favorites: Almond Sunset & Irish Breakfast. Hooray!

7. When life gives you sour grapes, make wine?
Okay, so my back yard and front yard and side yard are all full of speedy cockroaches, and okay, when I ran out to the truck just now there were four on the exterior wall, each longer than two inches, and yeah, so Danielle said that once or twice a year the city flushes out the sewer system and all the roaches start climbing up through the drains and end up in sinks and showers and toilets like crazy (if we hadn’t been in Home Depot and surrounded by old people looking at faucet handles, I would have screamed at this news) . . . . . and my closet and bathroom are both full of magic death-resistant spiders, and Robert said he killed a SIX INCH LONG centipede in his garage last night . . . . . . . but it could be worse, right? At least my house isn’t full of tarantulas, and the cockroaches in the yard could be scorpions or maggots or centipedes or. . . crocodiles . . . or . . . .Republicans . . . . . . .

20 September 2003

Round midnight, Home

Happy Birthday, Laura Wineland!

Thanks to everyone for all the mailbox love lately: Carrie Robbins (for the beautiful hand-made card), Jon Jeffryes (for the paper doll from Madison), Cynthia Rogalin (for the letter and adverts from Bristol), Ila Gates-Thomas (for the lovely letter), John Aerni (for the note from ALASKA!), Dave Waskowski (for the pre-poem & sketches), Mom (for the Onions!), and of course Dad (for 500 postcards from all over the world but strangely all postmarked Madison...). I feel so loved! Too bad poor Danielle’s developing a complex....

***

Though I didn’t have to work today, it was still a busy day. Had a lot of lame errands to run – like opening an account at the New Mexico Educators Credit Union, picking up a date book, writing and sending an article to the Tijeras PAC newsletter about the Bully Proofing program at Roosevelt Middle School – but also managed to squeeze in some good quality time. Spent a few hours writing at Irysh Mac’s, a cute little coffee shop across from campus, and toward sunset went hiking in the foothills with Danielle and Zeke.

We managed to time our hike perfectly. We reached the top of a steep crest just as the sun was beginning to fall behind the western mountains, and we rested on some rocks and watered the dog as the lights came on in the city below. Albuquerque at night is beautiful from above. I’m not wild about the city-ness of it when I’m in the middle of it, but I love to look down on it from the Sandias or from the West Mesa.

The hike itself was a bit difficult – though I was walking as much as ten miles a night this summer in Grinnell, the low hills of the 11th ave-T38-Hwy 6 loop did nothing to prepare me for hiking in the mountains. Of course, it’s not even the climbing that’s so hard – it’s the breathing. Stupid asthma. I told Danielle that sometimes I think I’d rather be deaf than have asthma. Zeke’s eager insistence makes climbing much easier, though. His old-man act fooled Danielle, and she was talking about walking him down to the golf course near campus with her flash cards, so she could study and walk at the same time... and then she actually took his leash, and realized how wrong she’d been about him as she got dragged up the street behind him. When I caught up to them, I laughed, “I warned you he was a beast!” I took his leash for the second half of our upward journey, and found him to be a great help as the terrain grew steadily more vertical. I joked that he was my “anti-gravity belt,” but he also made the climb easier by showing me where to put my feet.

Danielle and I decided that it would be safer for all of us to let Zeke off the leash and let him find his own way down. Down was a lot more treacherous than up, and though Zeke seemed to have no problem trotting down the rocky mountainside, Danielle and I slid and yelped our way down much of it. Maybe Zeke truly is a Desert Dog. He matched the landscape beautifully, with his dark brown against the lighter reds and browns of the rocks and the greens and yellows of the cacti and desert flowers. He’s still having trouble with cacti spines, though – Danielle and I ended up pulling about 15 of them out of his face and legs before we got back into the truck.

I kept asking Danielle for the names of things (thinking of Robert Hass: “I have believed so long / in the magic of names and poems. / I hadn’t thought them bodiless / at all. Tall Buttercup. Wild Vetch...”). Gesturing across the openness between our high perch and the southern horizon, “Do you know the name of that range?” No. The mountains past the West Mesa, lit blue before the light of the sinking sun? No. The cactus that looks like a spiny aloe vera plant? No. This ropy branch, from what tree? No. Finally I said, “Where’s the New Mexico native roommate who’s supposed to be introducing me to this land?” She laughed. “I used to know names, but they’ve been expunged and replaced with venereal diseases and facts about the pancreas.” In her defense, she did tell me about a virus or something I could catch from touching rat poop.

Still, I need to know the names of things. Tomorrow I think I will go hunting the used book stores for an old desert field guide.

***

Yesterday at work, we were sitting in the conference room waiting for a staff meeting to begin when Jennie (my boss) grabbed my hand and pulled it toward her in order to study the lines on my palm. After a few intent moments, she told me that I had been sick a lot as a child (which is true); that though I’m very particular about who I choose to love, I love them deeply; that I’m still very connected to home; and – and then she seemed really perplexed, and traced the long line that curves from my index finger down around the base of my thumb. “This line should be much deeper, Molly.” I got nervous, and looked at the line in question. She traced it again. “It should be much deeper. You have a lot of potential that’s just lying fallow, Molly. Either you’ve chosen to walk away from it, or there’s something standing in your way – something’s blocking it.” I got this creepy, shivery feeling up my spine and through my shoulder blades. Jennie shook her head, and said, “You’re very intuitive, but you don’t let your art come from your intuition. It’s mostly driven by your head. You should let more of your heart into your work.”

The shivery feeling along my spine was only getting stronger, but I stayed skeptical. “Maybe the lines on my hand are so light because I’m young.” Jennie shook her head and grabbed the hand of a girl younger than me. “Look at her hand – her lines are deep. It’s not age. The lines of your hand change throughout your life.” At that moment, Daniel (the executive director of Talking Talons) came up to Jennie and started talking to her. I tried to shake the creepy feeling off like Zeke shakes off water, but it stayed with me all morning. I had a hard time focusing through the meeting, and the beautiful Swainson’s hawk that was perched in the middle of the conference room didn’t help my concentration. She kept ruffling her feathers and opening and closing her mouth, and once in a while she’d make a peeping noise. I wanted to be like her, to puff out my feathers and then nudge them all back into place.

After work, I drove south on Highway 14 through Tijeras and into the Manzano Mountains. Ten or fifteen miles south of Tijeras, I pulled off the road into a Cibola Nat’l Park trailhead. I parked the truck and set off with my journal and a bottle of water down a narrow dusty trail worn into the side of a mountain. Rounding the first curve, I was shocked to come across a green, grassy meadow! I looked for a river, wondering where all this green had come from. Grass! And flowers! A whole meadow full of green!

There was no river, but the trail followed a dry riverbed, sometimes crossing right through it. I imagined that the bed must fill up with water during these brief evening rainstorms, and it’s probably even a proper river in the snowmelty spring. Each turn in the path offered a new gift: a stone cliff like the bluffs of western Wisconsin, a prickly pear cactus full of ripe red fruit, a sea of bobbing yellow cutleaf coneflowers, the trunk of a juniper twisting its way through a cracked boulder, the perfect bloom of a southwestern paintbrush. And then I came across a bright purple soda can still full of grape soda, wedged in the little niche between two halves of a split tree trunk. At first I was surprised, because I hadn’t seen a single person the whole time I was hiking, and then I was irritated. I almost plucked it from its nest to carry it out of the park, but then I thought, it’s like a talisman, a sign, the way travelers of old used to pile stones, to point the way to future travelers, to show they’ve been there. And so I walked on.

A minute or two later, I thought, why do humans need to leave evidence that we’ve been somewhere? Isn’t this well worn path, imprinted with the tread of hundreds of hiking boots, sufficient proof? Isn’t the path alone testament enough to the presence of humans in this juniper wood?

On my way back along the same trail, I grabbed the can and carried it out with me.

Deep in the heart of the river-cut valley, too far from the highway to hear anything but birdsong, I found a perfect stone chair set in the side of a hill, and wrote for a while. I thought about the few people in my life who have been quiet enough with me to share a moment like this; thought about the few who have walked through an autumn afternoon with me with open eyes and ears, open hearts, taking in all the beauty and offering nothing but the soft crunch of brush underfoot and the warm glow of contentment.

Sitting there in the afternoon sunlight, all yellow and orange before it meandered on along its own path behind the mountain, I remembered a day out at Rock Creek with Ali....

(from my plan 28 September 2000)
and we need to escape so we drive out to rock creek. the path takes us along a field of autumn grasses, all golden and beautiful oranges and browns, and then the path
takes a sharp drop and we see a quiet doe below us, in a grove of trees next to a little stream, and to our left is a pond among all the goldenrod grasses and the orange and red leaves and the sun is that perfect almost sunset color and the doe is so delicate like a unicorn and we are totally silent just watching her. after about five minutes she goes bounding into the woods so we keep walking, past the stream and take turns and forks until we come back to the lake, but far away from where we started. later we walk back and there are bright orange berries against fallen brown trees and golden grasses and red leaves and it is beautiful.



Speaking of plans, last night when I checked them, I was happy to see Mark [Baechtel]’s response to my Baechtellian Retrospective plan. “If you didn’t already exist, it would be necessary for me to create you.” Ah, the perils of being friends with writers....

18 September 2003

9:30 pm (Mountain Time), Home

Happy Birthday, George Carroll!

This morning I woke up with a sore throat and a stuffed head, and after my morning ritual of tea and toast, I thought about trying to do something productive in the hour and a half before I needed to leave for work, and then thought better, and crawled back into bed for another forty-five minutes with the dog as my pillow.

Apparently it was a terrible day for everyone with allergies. I couldn’t put my contacts in because my eyes were too dry and irritated, so I wore glasses all day. Though I know intellectually that when those friends of mine who normally wear contacts wear their glasses, I always think they look cute, I can’t get over the more instinctual feeling that my glasses make me look ugly. Even though I actually get a lot of compliments when I wear my glasses, it doesn’t matter: I am a four-eyed freak. I think this is partly due to the fact that I usually only wear my glasses early in the morning, late at night, and when I’m sick, so when I wear them to work I kind of feel like I’m wearing my pajamas to work. Like I’m not really dressed yet, like I’m dressed to bum around the house and watch movies, not dressed to be professional.

Getting into the truck, I bit my cheek so hard I actually started crying. And then I sat there for a minute, still parked on the street in front of my house, with my forehead resting on the wheel, and wondered how the hell I’d get through the day. A few minutes later, cruising east on I-40, squinting into the bright sunshine without my sunglasses, I thought about Leyla Sanyer, and how she always used to talk about high and low biorhythms. A low physical biorhythm was easily identifiable, because not only was your immune system flailing, but also you were just physically off, and your body stopped working very well in general. Your hips and shoulders would forget how to navigate their way through a doorframe, for example. Or you’d bite through the side of your cheek so hard you’d end up crying in the truck in front of your house. Layles would tell me I was at the very lowest point of my physical biorhythm, I thought, and then I did a mental scan to see where I was in my other biorhythms. Emotional? I’ve been doing pretty well, but this feeling sick thing is getting me down. Mental? Too many anti-histamines to think clearly.

At the store, Jennie told me that when she has days like this, she takes an extra long time getting ready in the morning, really pampers herself, maybe takes a bath.... I said, “On days like this in college, I’d wear my hair down so it hung in my face, wear my sunglasses inside, keep my scarf wrapped around my neck all day, and clutch my coffee to my breast, holding it between myself and the world. It was my alter-ego: the Alcoholic Actress.” Jennie kind of frowned (she doesn’t think alcoholism is funny), but Robert clapped his hands together, “I love it! A tortured diva!”

It seemed that everyone we met today was suffering from allergies, which made me feel better (you know what they say about misery...). In a moment of quiet at the center, Jennie took a spray bottle and misted the giant iguana, cooing, “It’s raining in the tropics, baby.” The iguana leaned forward on his front legs, lifted up his chin, closed his eyes, and – and I’m not making this up – smiled. He got the same expression Zeke gets when you stroke his ears, or Sally gets when you pet her hair.

At the end of the day, Jennie said, “You did such a great job today of hanging in there, even though you felt crappy. That’s so hard to do!” I said, “Thanks for the positive feedback,” and marveled at my luck in finding this job. I haven’t had a boss who was so actively affirming since I worked under Peter Beeber at Perkins in the summer of 1998. I feel so lucky to be working with such great people.

When I got home, Danielle said Zeke had been moping around all afternoon, so I spent about forty minutes running around with him, throwing his tennis ball so he could tear around the back yard after it, playing tug-of-war with him, and telling him that he was a good dog. I think it’s hard on him to have me gone all day, even though Danielle’s home in the afternoon more often than not. After running around for a while, we both came inside and stretched out on the green couch together. He laid with his paws across my abdomen, as if to make sure I stayed right there on the couch. We laid like that for a while, listening to All Things Considered... and when I woke up two hours later, he was still lying with his paws and chin resting on my stomach, but the house was totally dark and the radio was off. I vaguely remembered Danielle asking, “Are you awake?” and me answering, “No.”

The best part of the day by far wasn’t napping with the dog (twice), nor was it seeing the iguana smile in the “rainforest mist.” It wasn’t talking to Jennie, nor playing with Robert, nor having Chris Acklen, the counselor at Roosevelt Mid-School, introduce me to a school social worker as a “novelist,” and then saying, “And she’s an English teacher and we’re hoping she’ll come teach here next year!” No, the best part of the day – by far – was this:

Time: Wed, 17 Sep 2003 14:21:47 -0500
From: "Gail Gregory"
To:
Subject: Avid Fan


. . . And my, oh my, can you craft a thought. I haven't
read your work since I re-read "The Book"...I was
impressed and touched and delighted and provoked.
And now I'm all that and awed. You have displayed
that rare quality of making it "look easy". And it
ain't...not like that.

All the teasing aside, (I do so worry about you
getting a BIG head!!) I don't think I've told you
nearly enough what a gifted writer I think you are.
You really can make a person "be there". You blend
the concrete and the spiritual, the rocks and the
reasons-or lack of reasons-so beautifully. I felt
the heat of sun, heard the water ripple over my
feet, smelled the leaves burning, followed the
silhouette of the mountain horizon, felt the dog's
fur, heard the neighbor girls giggle in the night,
and I stood in wonder of you * your pick-up-and-go
life and your generous spirit to share it all. Not
just with the world, (anybody can do that now) but
over the years, with me. I'm feeling quite blessed.
Thank you . . . .





Speaking of blessed.... I am. All my love to Gail, for making my day and making me feel so loved, and to Tim, who reminded me that I once sold my soul to the devil for a shiny red truck. And to the smiling iguana, for reminding me that even on the worst days, the world is full of hidden gifts.

17 September 2003

11:45 pm (Mountain Time), Tuesday night, Home

For the last week, everyone's been talking about how happy they all are that it's finally beginning to feel like autumn, and I've been confused, because none of my normal fall clues are present.... and it's still in the 80s during the day, which does not feel like fall to me. Fall is cardigan sweaters and hoodies and jean jackets, not tee-shirts and shorts. But this morning when I woke up, it was very cool in my room and the morning air smelled like autumn campfires.

After work I decided to drive up to Sandia Crest before heading back down into the city. I’ve been meaning to get up there for weeks, and it makes sense to go directly from work, as the entrance to Sandia Park is only a few miles down the road from where I work. It took me maybe five minutes to get to the park – and then nearly an hour to get to the very top of the mountain. At 10, 678 feet, Sandia Crest is the highest point in the Sandia Mountains (Albuquerque’s at somewhere around 5,000, I think). Though it had been in the low 80s all day in Cedar Crest, Tijeras, and Moriarty, it was freezing at the top of Sandia Crest. Luckily, I had a jacket in the car, and was able to bundle up before I headed up to the highest point.

On the way up, I saw a large number of aspens with leaves turning to trembly gold, and felt relieved. Autumn! It comes, in familiar guise, even here! I even saw a few tall bushes and trees beginning to turn orange and red! The roads were lined with yellow flowers -- lots of wild flowers I don't recognize yet, or whose names I don't know. All the yellow and orange made me believe in oncoming autumn, and I felt centered again. The higher I got, the more the air smelled of pine and dark dirt -- smells which always evoke the woods of the UP and northern Wisconsin for me. I had a sudden urge to curl up in front of a wooden cabin fire with a good book and a glass of Merlot....tell me once again why I'm living in a city?

The sun was low in the sky as I stepped up onto the highest patio on the crest, and the panoramic view was incredible. The air was already taking on that particular quality of light that sunrise and sunset bring. Every dip and shoulder of each peak down the chain was clearly silhouetted, like muscles on a Michelangelo nude. Storm clouds were sweeping across the southeastern horizon, defining the sky in curtains of grey rain. Looking to the east, I could see the (relative) valley of Cedar Crest & Tijeras et al, half in and half out of the shadow of the very mountain on which I was standing. I knew that it must already feel like dusk down there, where the sun had already slipped behind the peaks of the Sandias. Because the sun was bright in the western sky, I couldn’t look down at Albuquerque for too long. I shaded my eyes long enough to see the Rio Grande twisting and flashing its way through the city.

One of my first thoughts upon reaching that height was that the view of Albuquerque was similar to the view of Chicago from the top of the Sears tower, or the view of NYC from the top of the upper decks of the WTC. Though the family is always teasing me about being a country mouse, I felt like a city girl at that moment, and tried to recall the last time I had stood at the very top of a mountain. I think it’s been since we were in Winter Park, CO, in ‘91 or ‘92... or Estes Park.... It was long enough ago that I don’t remember details, only the sensation of being alone with the clouds against the sky. Of course, the peaks are significantly higher in those more northern Rockies – and now I’m remembering a thrilling moment at the top of a mountain in Banff, in ‘96 maybe, and how I marveled at the tourists who saw the snowy peaks around us just long enough to snap a picture, and then turned their attention to the little peanut-eating pikas and marmots on the ground....

7 August 1996, Mount Sulphur, Canada:
“Being here has lead me to develop a new theory --
what I call the Big Mac/Little Human Theory.
Basically, it asserts that when Humans are faced
with the majesty and beauty of nature they
appreciate it for as long as their pea sized MTV
spawned brains can handle. Then -- automatically --
before they realize how powerless and
insignificant they really are, they immediately
switch over from the overwhelming glory of nature
to something smaller which they have the power to
control -- food, for instance. This explains why,
at the top of the mountain this afternoon, most
people seemed to be more interested in the hungry
little chittering chipmunks than the sweeping
eagle’s eye view of the Canadian Rockies.”



Anyhow, this afternoon I spent far more time up at the crest than I should have, but it was worth it – I stayed until the sun began to set in earnest, and the mountains to the east and south all turned deep violet against a rosy blue sky, and New Mexico’s signature clouds turned orange and navy blue in light and shadow, and the lights of Albuquerque and the east mountain towns came on one by one.

Driving down from the crest later, winding around the mountain again and again, I kept thinking, I want someone here to hold my hand in the face of all this beauty. It was too much for one person to hold alone, like grief, and I was overwhelmed by the responsibility of standing witness to all this majesty.

15 September 2003

7:15 pm Mountain Time, Home

Happy Birthday to John Aerni & Maureen Cowan & Danielle Pattison (yesterday)!

The whole house smells too strongly of pine-sol, except my hands, which smell too strongly of the lotion I used to cover the smell of pine-sol. I spent nearly two hours cleaning the kitchen this afternoon, which was in a sad state after the party Friday night, even though Danielle spent a fair amount of time cleaning Saturday morning before she headed off to gross lab, and though her mother cleaned up a bit yesterday afternoon as well. What took me so long was the process of cleaning the floor: first I had to get all the empty beer bottles & cans off it, empty the coolers of ice out onto the roots of the two pathetic rose bushes in the back yard, fold and sort the many beer boxes, collect all the stray bottlecaps, and wipe up most of the stray spilled beer. Then I swept the floor until a kitten-sized ball of dog hair and dust flipped its way out the back door and went bouncing across the yard, and then I moved all the furniture, and then mopped. Mopping in itself wasn’t too bad, because I was listening to my darling This American Life, which was about the “allure of the mean friend,” and was just great as usual. Unfortunately, my timing was off, so the program ended and All Things Considered came on while I was still on my knees scrubbing the dirty linoleum which was probably white during Carter’s administration, but is now a dishwater gray color with slate blue and dusty rose highlights. Linoleum, incidentally, gets its name from linseed oil, which is heated and pressed together with rosin and cork (and color pigments) to make everyone’s favorite floor covering.

12:30 am Mountain Time, Home

I was going to write about The Alibi’s haiku contest, and copy my favorite haiku into this journal (one was about stealing pants from Ashcroft, I think, and one about putting children in the freezer....) but Danielle came home early from her study group and we got inspired to make a real dinner, so we ran over to Smith’s for red & yellow bell peppers and onions and grape tomatoes and lime juice and fish sauce and we made my signature chicken curry with white rice and had a nice dinner with Vivaldi and candlelight and white wine left over from Friday night. I added more curry than I usually do, so the dish was much spicier than usual, but it never disappoints me in its appealing combination of colors and flavors. I found, too, that it takes far less time to cook it when I have a sous chef.

***

As terribly interesting as this domestic catalogue is, what I’ve been meaning to write about is the party we had Friday night. Danielle invited the entire first, second, and third year classes at the UNM med school, so we got a little worried on Friday afternoon that everyone invited would actually show, and we’d find ourselves with hundreds of people in our little house. We spent the afternoon cleaning, and then went out to the Olympia Café on Central (old Rt 66) for dinner – and then went to Smith’s for chips, salsa, and beer. Shopping for beer sparked one of the moments of dizzy dislocation I have from time to time. Danielle asked me what kind of beer I usually drank, and I looked at the rows and rows of beers I’ve never heard of, searching for anything familiar...trying to remember what we drank in college, and ticking off an internal checklist of beer after beer I wouldn’t find. Capitol Brewery, obviously, and Leinie’s, and Grainbelt, and Berghoff’s.... I had to steady myself in the face of a wave of homesickness, while Danielle asked brightly, “Do you like Tecate? Or what about Negra Modelo? India Pale?” I shook my head and blinked. “I don’t know....” She decided on Tecate. In the darkest, dustiest corner of the store, I found a few cases of Milwaukee’s Best, and suddenly felt much better.

Later, while Danielle was talking to the checker, I thought about Boom, on his Fulbright of poetry and exile, and wondered what he was finding. Albuquerque isn’t that much different from Iowa and Wisconsin, really, thanks to the magic of international corporations – and sometimes I wish that it were, wish that life here were truly exotic, even though it’s probably much easier to get acclimated when there are such familiar friends as Wal-Mart and Milwaukee’s Best.... Even so, every so often there will be something that you would just never see in the midwest. The other day, for example, Tiska and I went to see “Spellbound” and before the movie, along with the reminders to turn off cell phones and not smoke in the theater, there was a friendly “No ten-gallon hats please!” sign, complete with a graphic of a hat with an X through it. At the time, I pointed and laughed, “There’s something you’d never see in Iowa City,” but it’s moments like that, moments when this state steps up and asserts its uniqueness, when the distance suddenly means something to me, and I realize how far I really am from the quiet cows and long flat horizons of home.

To add to the sense of distance I had Friday, Ali called and said, “Come over and play with me.” She’d had a hard day, and I was kicking myself for not building that molecular transport when I had all that free time last summer.... The only thing I regret about not being in the midwest right now, the only thing I really honestly regret is the fact that I’m not around to watch Ali go through the student teaching experience and visit her class and harass her and remind her of how brilliant and awesome she is. I told her that she should come over here and play with me, but I’m nervous about saying that too often, because she just might, and the world needs her to be a teacher far more than she and I need to spend an afternoon together drinking margaritas and watching the clouds change shape and talking about anything that comes into our heads. And though I know the world needs her, and I know that she needs to teach, I can’t help but think – god, wouldn’t that just be wonderful.....

***

Yesterday was Danielle’s birthday, so her mum came up from Cruces and took us out to dinner along with Sarah and Devon from med school. It was a very pleasant dinner, with nice conversation the entire time, though I often found myself spacing off while Danielle, Devon, and Sarah talked about med stuff.... BO-ring!! After dinner, she, her mum, and I came home and watched My Fair Lady, which I haven’t seen in a long time. As usual, her mum made a big kissy fuss over Zeke, and snuggled with him for part of the movie, but he seemed to prefer my side of the couch, even though D’s mom was petting him and spoiling him, and I was laying on him as a pillow and punching him when he moved his legs.

Now he’s stretched out next to me on the big green couch in the living room, looking very handsome in his Desert Dog neckerchief. D’s mom kept exclaiming about how well it suited his coloring, and I made internal “ha” noises, because when Megan and I dug it out of our old toy box and put it on Zeke, Mom kept saying that it wasn’t his color. Over dinner tonight, Danielle and I decided that we should consult a zodiac chart and figure out what Zeke’s sign is, and use that to choose a birthday for him. We thought he’d be whatever sign has most difficulty getting along with air signs, since he chases birds so fiercely. Maybe he’s a water sign... he always loved going to Rock Creek and Arbor Lake to chase the ducks and geese. He’s probably an earth sign, since he loves to dig little trenches in the back yard and stretch out in the dirt. Today he was lounging in the sun, and I thought about Snoopy’s weird Desert Dog cousin... that’s my boy, I thought, he’s turned into Snoopy’s weird Desert Dog cousin. Great. But now, clean and stretched out next to me on the couch, he doesn’t look any different than he ever did in Iowa, and I think that he’s doing pretty well here, on the whole.

12 September 2003

10:00 am, Home

Happy Birthday, CJFO!

I had every intention of writing a long description of my day when I got home from work last night, but I was so exhausted that I had just enough energy to make myself a grilled pepperjack cheese sandwich, call mom, and fall into bed. Twelve hours later, after a full eight hours of sleep, my usual breakfast of toast & tea (Celestial Seasoning's "Devonshire English Breakfast" - I looked for Irish Breakfast, but though Smith's has more tea than Hy-vee & McNally's combined, they don't have I.B.), having just brought Zeke in from the backyard where he was happily guarding the one large bush from the threat of a full-fledged Sparrow Invasion, I can attend to the chronicles of daily life.

When I woke up yesterday morning, it was cold by NM standards: 63° F! I turned on NPR and jumped into the shower immediately, but though the water was hot, I kept getting goosebumps because NPR kept cutting to the voices of children reading names of people who died in the WTC two years ago. Hard to believe it's been two years already; I kept thinking about the wonderful people with whom I shared that terrible day -- most significantly my fellow Fun Nuns (Nadia, Mary, Juleah, & Ali) -- and hoping that they're all well, safe, and happy in their various corners of the world.

I had about two hours to kill before I needed to get ready for work, so I spent some time with the web page. I decided that I would be happier if the plans archives were listed in chronological order, and so spent nearly 45 minutes cutting & pasting the code for the sophomore year table into the correct order. Kevin fixed the front page of my site for me, so now the background behind my name doesn't look like it's melting. Thanks, Kevin!

Excited that it was chilly enough to warrant my jean jacket, I thought of Carrie, who has shared the thrill of the first jean jacket day of fall with me for the last two years. It's getting colder here, but the other signals that tell me it's getting on to autumn are missing -- the trees are all either green or brown, no splendid oranges, roses, or yellows lighting up the hillsides; no Vs of Canada geese heading south; no bright merlot barns sharply defined against tawny fields of corn & brilliant blue skies; no prairie grasses waving yellow and orange in the afternoon sun; none of those goddamn little white bugs that swarmed campus every year in Grinnell.... I miss that huge tree above Darby with its thousand tiny yellow leaves, all winking together in a faint breeze like a shower of gold coins; I miss my autumn clue walks at Rock Creek where every red berry was a gift and a promise; I miss the smell of burning leaves.

Whenever I start thinking of how absolutely stunningly beautiful autumn in the midwest is, and when I start to feel a little bit sad that I'm not there to sit under a flock of geese flying so low and quiet that the only hint of their presence is a faint stirring wind and the distinctive sound of thirty pairs of wings pushing against the evening air, not there to be the only witness to a blue heron's soft descent into a tiny alcove of Rock Creek, I think of this time five years ago:

21 September, 1998 -- 1:24 pm -- Fire Escape with Kevin

Fall turned on today. It was that sudden. This weekend we were still snoozing
on Mac field in the warmth of the late afternoon sun, and then this morning
I stepped outside and it was cold. I love it. The chill in the air,
the smell of leaves... the need to wear sweaters... make me feel alive again.
I felt like I was really in school for the first time today, as I hiked across
campus in my brown flannel and my backpack saying thup thup with every step I took.
I will need to learn how to love Autumn in Iowa. In Madison, this day
would prompt me to drive to the arboretum after school, and crunch through
the leaves by the lake. I would drive with the windows wide open and inhale
the coming season, raping it of its shyness, forcing it into myself.
This chill breeze through these crisping leaves would set me longing for
apple cider and early mornings at the Farmer’s Market. Raking. Long
railroad track walks with the dog. Simon & Garfunkel -- campfires.
Jazzfest. Football games. Hot apple juice. Anne of Green Gables....
How can I make this Iowa oncoming autumn my own? I must find myself in
these autumn fields, these autumn streets.
I must create new rituals. This fire escape afternoon writing escape
from school is a good start. I am wearing socks for the second time all
school year...."


Surely it won't be long before I develop a hundred little fall rituals here, and then one day I'll find myself in an autumn far from New Mexico, missing the early morning mist across the foothills of the Sandias, missing the smell of roasting green chiles floating into my house from the little corner store across the street, missing whatever it is that will come to define autumn in New Mexico for me.

***

Anyhow, yesterday morning driving to work, I was just stunned by the mountains. They were all wrapped in mist, hung with clouds, so much so that I could only see the peaks of the Sandias, and I had to look long at the range to the south before I convinced myself it was really there. What is that southern range? It's marvelous, sloping farther down the horizon, green like Brigadoon.

And so I drove up into the mountains, up into the clouds, relishing the weight of my jacket on arms that have been bare for a month. I drove with my window open just enough to let in the morning air, with the radio tuned to the new station I found the other day -- Radio Free Santa Fe! -- and had nothing in my head but the physical pleasures of shifting gears and morning mountains.

Driving home, the mountains were blue in shadow, and their silhouettes clearly defined against the gray evening sky. I listened to the last song on YoungBlood's "center:level:roar" album again and again, feeling that its rise and fall of gentle horn & percussion voices -- like a rainstorm -- matched perfectly the mountains in the soft light of dusk. And then I came around a long curve, around the last large crest before town, and the sky was suddenly a warm tangerine all along the far western horizon. I had forgotten how sunset works in the mountains -- unlike Iowa, here the sunset can be a full hour later just twenty miles west, depending on where you are in relation to the mountains.

The descent from the Sandias was just amazing as the setting sun backlit the rippling mountains on the western horizon, far beyond the west mesa. To my left, the strange southern range was all violets and blues, once again proving itself the most elegant of the ranges. Accustomed to the wild magenta sunsets of Iowa, I was enchanted by the way the sunset here faded neatly from a bright tangerine to a pale dandelion down at the lowest edge of the sky, but the oranges and yellows of sunset faded so cleanly into the blues of the upper sky that the whole thing seemed to be one color, a color that was blue at the top and yellow at the bottom, with all subsequent hues between.

Last weekend Danielle and I drove west on 1-40 one night, just for the pleasure of conversation in a dark car and the feeling of motion. We turned around out by the Route 66 Casino, and as we approached Albuquerque from the high western plateau, the sky was bright and starry enough to see the contrast of the Sandias against the sky, and the wide spread of city lights against the foothills looked very familiar. It wasn't until I was home later that night that I found a painting of the very same scene -- the lights of habitation against the dark peaks -- and realized why it looked so familiar. The painting was my own, done when I was 16 or 17 years old, and I've had it hanging in my (many) bedrooms ever since.

***

This morning, I did a quick google search for any articles about the big art event Kevin's running in Maple Grove this weekend -- he was hired to organize and oversee the whole event, in which a ton of artists are taking shifts over four days to paint "sidewalk paintings" at the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes -- and though I found no news about the event, I did find this: "Kevin Cannon, 17, described his friends this way: 'Even if they're moralistic idealists and I'm a nihilistic Nietzschean existentialist, we can still get along just fine.'" It made me laugh.

10 September 2003

5:05 pm Mountain Time, Home

This morning I drove into the mountains again and spent a while at the store and then at the center, talking to Jennie and filling out paperwork. Jennie believes very firmly in the power of intuition, and said that she even reads... well, something... for people. What did she say? Oracles? Something esoteric and hippy-ish like that. The thing about Jennie, though, is that she comes across as being so matter-of-fact and real that she could probably tell you she'd been abducted by aliens and you wouldn't start questioning it until a few hours later, so when she says she reads oracles (or whatever), you believe that she probably does a great job of it.

Anyhow, at one point we were talking about how the major drawback of this job is the lack of cash, and I said that I didn't really care about money -- that the only thing I should be saving for is a trip to Africa in the summer of 2004. When I said that, her eyes got wide and she said, "Who's in Africa? It's someone important to you, isn't it? I have a feeling that you are in some way tied up with Africa. I just got goosebumps."

I was mostly speechless, but finally shook my head and said, "Yeah, my best friend is going there to teach, at a girls' school in Lesotho."

Jennie asked, "Is it a man? The two of you are very close...." She twisted her first two fingers around one another to illustrate two intertwined lives.

I said, "No, it's not a man -- it's my college roommate, my best friend. We're like sisters."

Jennie nodded. "I think you'll go to Africa. I think it will be an important time for you."

I didn't know what to say, so I just smiled and said, "Okay!"

Later, I called Ali and tried to explain it to her -- how strange it was that this woman I had just met, my new boss, both sensed how important Ali was to me and also predicted that I'd go to Africa -- but I think that I failed to convey the weight of the conversation over the phone. In the retelling, I know, Jennie sounds like some crazy old tea-reading hippy, but in person she's so down-to-earth that you just think, "of course!" no matter what she says.

09 September 2003

4:55 pm, Mountain Time, Home

As I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert's The Last American Man this weekend, I kept thinking about how far I've been living from nature here, and the thought made me unhappy. New Mexico, to me, has always been the mountains first and foremost. The MOUNTAINS!

"I do not know the names of the trees rising on either side of us, do not know any words majestic enough to describe the glimpses of the Santa Fe valley we catch through the trees as we round the curves, cannot explain how perfectly happy I am just to drive in these mountains, and so I gesture toward the windshield and say, 'This! This! Amazing!'"

Of course it's the culture too, but what drew me to New Mexico, what arrested me in the first place, is the land. I am in love with this land. It's the quality of the air, it's the texture of these foothills, the patterns the shrubs make on the mountains, that green lace across these brown hills. It's the coyote I saw on the runway when my plane landed in 1995. It's the peace of the Taos River. The stillness of the woods high in the Sangre de Cristos last year, all swooping wings and birdsong. The stunningly blue skies with their majestic towers of white clouds. The indigo shadows of dawn and dusk across the rounded crests, the spines of the cacti, the brilliance of the sunlight....

So what am I doing in the city?? Though the Sandias define the eastern border of Albuquerque, and though I love to see how they change in every light, I live in the city, where there are no coyotes (though I saw one dead on the side of 1-40 today) and no stillness and the strange, almost luminescent clarity of air is compromised by the pollution. I've been here less than a month, but already I've found myself wondering how long I have to stay in the city before I can move to the mountains. I've been feeling a little like I did the summer in Boston, when I ended up begging Ali to drive until we could smell some dirt and some trees. Every night I fall asleep promising to take myself up to the mountains tomorrow, but too many days the chores and tasks of daily life interrupt my planned mountain time.

Today I went to the mountains -- drove east on I-40 until the peaks I can see from the corner of our block were surrounding me, until I was too close to hold the whole mountain in an unbroken gaze. An hour later, I was standing in a small, crowded courtyard, surrounded by shed-sized bird cages, each home to a different species of majestic bird. Some of the largest of the hawks and owls were literally breath-taking. I had a moment of absolute peace, surrounded by these beautiful birds. Over the rooftops rose the peaks of the mountains I love so well, not off in the distance, but across the street. I felt better -- healthier and more real -- than I have in weeks.

I spent the afternoon trying to come to terms with the sudden turn my life is taking, trying to digest the fact of this new job. Since I had no idea of what I was getting into until my interview with Jenny, I had no time to imagine myself in this position until after the fact, and so all afternoon have been explaining it -- to myself and to Ali, Cam, and Tiska -- in order to try to understand it.

This job is quite literally "beyond my wildest dreams," as I have never, ever imagined a position that combines so much of what I hold sacred: education, kids, violence-prevention & peace training, conservation, animals, social commitment, mountains, and stillness. It would all be far too good to be true if it weren't for the terrible pay -- it's a reassuringly low-paying job, in the grand tradition of almost all jobs that actually seek to make the world a better place. I'm going back tomorrow morning, and though I haven't officially made my decision, I think I knew what my answer would be from the first moment I saw the red-shouldered hawks blinking silently from their dark perches.

08 September 2003

8 September 2003 07:25 MDT | Posted by M. Molly

It's nearly 7:00 am (mountain time) and outside the neighborhood is beginning to wake up. Every two or three minutes the soft swoosh of a car driving by joins the birdsong, distant dog barks, and garbage truck noises already filtering through my open window. Curled up in my bed like a giant lima bean, Zeke is snoring and twitching. When he dreams, his eyelids open to reveal the red lining of his third lid, and even though I know full well that all dogs have this third eyelid, still I can't help but think about how much he looks like a demon. Every time. The worst is when he starts crying in his sleep -- he has nightmares, and his keening is distinctly un-doggish -- and I want to comfort him, to put my arms around him and reassure him that everything's going to be fine, to wake him and remind him that he's safe now, he's home, but his bright red third eyelids are swinging back and forth and I have to close my own eyes before I can hug him.

He's kicking now in his sleep, scrambling for purchase against my blue comforter, and I wonder what he's chasing in his sleep. Last year, we'd go out to Rock Creek nearly every day, where he could chase hundreds of Canada geese and ducks and dig for rabbits. These days he chases giant cockroaches through the gravel in our backyard, and I can't help but feel a little guilty for dragging him from dog heaven to the desert.

***

I have to admit that the whole phenomenon of blogging irritates me. For one thing, there's the word itself: blog. Could you come up with a more unattractive word if you specifically set out to do so? It calls to mind sluggish words like plod and slog, and that b-l-o combination is just awful. Bloat. Bloated.

Phonetics aside, most things with this much hype bother me, and since blogging's been the cool thing to do for the last few months, it automatically strikes me as lame. Maybe since I'm such a big journaler I should love the fact that everyone in the world suddenly wants not only to keep a journal, but to publish it for everyone in the universe to read it.

Sometime during senior year, Cynthia was reading my journal over my shoulder, and started flipping out because I was writing about something hopelessly pedestrian, like how much I hated to come home to a sink full of dirty dishes, or how much I dreaded the thought of going to linguistics the next morning. Cynthia had always imagined my journals to be full of nothing but crystalline poetry and stunning revelations, and my everyday whininess and gray prose disappointed her. Maybe other people's journals are better imagined than read, hmm?

I've come to that conclusion about my own journals hundreds of times, and yet here I am posting a journal entry on the web.... and justifying it thus: Because I'm so far away from nearly everyone in my family, and because they all seem to miss me (though the biggest difference between me here and me in Iowa is psychological -- in an immediate sense I was no closer in Iowa than I am here -- no more or less than a phone call away -- though yes, everyone, I realize that I can't just jump in the truck and be in Madison or the TC by nightfall anymore...) AND everyone's been cranky when I haven't returned their calls immediately.... so I figure, several-times-a-week updates will bridge the psychological distance between Albuquerque and Oregon/Fitchburg. Got that folks? This is for you. My journals are still mine, and I will continue to fill them with my most banal thoughts.