Monday, May 4, 2015

A man with a plan. I mean a plan with a ham.

“It has to be less than twenty dollars.”
$22.46, $28.30, $24.98.
“What about this one?”
“No. It has to be less than twenty.”

I’m standing in  the Corvallis Trader Joe’s, elbow deep in Easter hams. The gold and silver foil crinkles while I grasp at labels, becoming increasingly desperate.

“This one. This has to be it.”
Carly glances at the price sticker. $20.36.
I realize I’ve been holding my breath when I remember to inhale again.
“But you’re going to owe me thirty-six cents.”
Of course. 

It started with a free sample.

But before we get into it, I have a confession. I’m thoroughly infatuated with Trader Joe’s. I love the individually priced, seasonally-rotating produce. I love the gimicky specialty items, canned dolmas and cookie butter. I swear by their soyrizo when an event calls for breakfast tacos. And of course Two Buck Chuck, which is technically now $2.99 Chuck, but still the best bargain on the block.

Now that I have a reliable income, Trader Joe’s has become the foundation of my adulthood. Hell, before I had a reliable income I’d treat myself to their $1.99 microwaveable black bean and tofu enchiladas. [Note: this was during an unfortunate period of time where I experimented with gluten-free veganism AKA acute self-hatred.] I primarily subsist on chicken sausages, bags of kale or spinach, and the occasional 85% cacao Dark-Chocolate-Lovers chocolate bar. And the samples. Party meatballs in honey bourbon barbecue sauce. Chicken fiesta quesadillas with mild tomatillo salsa. Once the Trader Joe’s on 39th and Holgate gave out carne asada samples and I visited three times in as many days.

You guys, there are few things I love more than holiday meats. Having been a vegetarian a good portion of her life, Carly has little experience with holiday meats in general Easter ham in particular. One fateful sunny afternoon we walked into Trader Joe’s where I bee-lined for the sample station, per usual. She followed more slowly, actually doing some precursory shopping before sidling up next to me. Nestled in those little white paper cups were morsels of thick-cut maple glazed ham, smeared with dijon mustard.

“Right. Because Easter is a thing I guess.”

We ate our cups of sweet, salty, meaty goodness.

“What do you want to do for Easter?” I asked.
“Eat a ham.” She responded, zero hesitation.

Thus the Easter Feast of 2015 was conceptualized.

What makes a feast? 4 lbs. of pre-cooked, spiral cut ham, one jar of Sweet n’ Hot mustard, one package soft, sweet pull-apart rolls. A veggie tray, because we’re not brutes. 20 fluid ounces of coconut water to wash away the dredges of last night’s wine. The final crumbling corner of Carly’s chocolate chip banana bread. Sitting in my car, we appraise our recently acquired goods.

“What now?”
“Oh. You don’t want to sit in this parking lot and eat ham with your bare hands?”
“Let’s find a park or something.”

Easter Sunday 2015 we woke up in Corvallis, Oregon feeling a little delicate, having become unconscious in our Super 8 hotel room the previous night after an evening of poetry, wine, and late night television. Saturday morning we’d driven down for Festival Poetics, where I would eventually perform 25 minutes of poetry to an audience of eight people, because Easter Sunday.

But first, the Feast! Unfamiliar with the area I plug the word “park” into Google Maps and we’re off. Sunlight glimmers off the silver ham wrapper. Sketchy looking clouds begin to crowd the horizon, and things look windy, the way they’re starting to drift horizontal like gravity switched off. But my comfortably warm and sheltered car lulls us into believing an outdoor picnic will be tolerably warm.

The “park” nearest Trader Joe’s was actually an empty field with free-standing benches on each corner. Across the street, a church and a community garden. Between the two at the foot of a giant shade tree, a lone picnic table. A scattering of volunteers hunch over rakes, spades, and trowels. They’re busily weeding and tilling. I count at least three straw hats, as many as five humans total. Responsible adults, every one of them. And there, maybe 15 feet from the garden gate, was the picnic table beckoning.

“Wet grass where nobody can see us, or picnic table where those other humans might watch two grown women eat a ham with their bare hands?”
“Or we could just sit in Carrrl?” Carly suggests hopefully.
“Noooo, we cannot sit and eat a ham in my car!”
“Ok, ok. Let’s do the picnic bench.”

We gather our food items and every piece of warm clothing we own, having realized fairly quickly it is NOT tolerably warm outside. I smile and give Carly a thumbs up. Game time. We’re halfway across the street when a hooded figure swoops around the side of the church with alarming speed and perches atop the one picnic table, casually texting. We freeze, clutching the ham, looking uncertainly from each other to this angel of picnic doom. A small animal cry of desperation wrings itself from my lips before we’re laughing, helplessly standing in the middle of the street, shuffling uncertainly.

Luckily, before we have time to formulate a new plan the black clad stranger leaps up with that same unfathomable speed and disappears back around the corner. This is how we found ourselves sawing off hunks of cold ham to squash between mustard smeared sweet roll, eating in near silence, our fingers purple with cold. We avoid eye contact with the gardeners as they take their leave. We avoid eye contact with the children playing tag. We avoid eye contact with the elderly couple walking their dogs past us. Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving. 

“Are you going to write a blog about this?”
“I probably should, right?”
“Yeah, probably.”
“Just two ladies in the park eating a ham.”

I'm so glad you're my weirdo.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

You're not a baby if you feel the world.

All of the babies they can feel the world. That’s why they cry.

This is the season to unravel; the season I feel sick in my cells. A snake shedding in reverse, the core of me sloughing away until emptied, I am ready to be filled again. These days like a fever. These days like a dream. There are days, and days, and days. So many and too few and the crushing weight of apathy blooming to clog the cogs of the entire mechanism. In my throat, silence folded into itself like hands clasped in prayer. I can hear my heartbeat no matter where I go.

Awake at 3am, I remember lying in my childhood bed held hostage by the pang of my bones expanding into their own full potential. The deep dull ache like tectonic plates shifting under my skin. How my mother held my hand in the dark, whispered Hush baby, it’s just growing pains. I imagined my femurs stretching their sleepy fists into the socket of my hips, digging their feet into the knobby hinge of each knee.

Now instead of growth plates, I’m carrying heartbreaks beneath my skin. In the dark holding my own hand whispering Hush baby, it’s just growing pains. I’m still learning to embrace the agony of becoming. I’m still learning to understand aches that only time and patience can soothe away. Consider this a reminder to myself, a way of holding my own hand on the darkest nights when my only company is streetlights. Hush baby, hush baby, hush baby.

It's going to be ok.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Hablo muy poco español...

Noches de Canto y Poesia
Cada 1ero, 3ero y 5to Viernes @ 8-10pm
Noches de Canto y Poesía son un tiempo dedicado a músicos, poetas y cantantes de la comunidad para que expresen su arte en español o con influencia Latina. Esto incluye pero no es limitado a boleros, baladas, rock en español, folklórico, latinoamericano, ranchera, trova, canto nuevo, jarocho, huapango y más. Todos están bienvenidos! Entrada gratis.

Last Friday a plane deposited Carly and I in Los Angeles, land of inexpensive tacos and unbearable traffic, for the L.A. Times Festival of Books. Rv originally approached me in February about attending the festival to debut my chapbook, do some networking, and book some readings. Once I decided Los Angeles was a thing I needed to make happen personally/professionally/financially, Rv got on his hustle searching for poetry shows in the area. Over the course of the next month a handful of dates, times, and venues filtered through our scattered communications. Among them was an open mic opportunity at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re preparing to give an important performance or presentation, and very slowly it dawns on you that nobody in the room speaks a language you understand, and maybe you’re not wearing pants? That accurately describes the small animal of worry gnawing through my sternum as I put my name on the reader list. Except for the pants, thankfully I had those.  

The man sitting next to me in the back row spoke beautifully accented English, and emitted a laidback sense of ease. He started and ended every sentence with “man” or “brother”. They called him the Conga Poet, and he pounded a flawless beat on three enormous drums while performing his spoken word piece “Latin Smiles”. Smiling the whole time. His performance kicked off three hours of beautiful language that I understood very little of. Since I couldn’t appreciate the meaning of their words, I read their bodies and faces. The young woman with gorgeous, long hair and dark eyes. The old man with a mumbling singsong voice, his hearing aid shrieking against the microphone’s feedback. The woman who wrote to survive, reading about cigarettes and rain. The man speaking seamless Spanglish about prison and heartbreak.

Growing up in Montana I have witnessed plenty of racism, intentional and otherwise. But as a white girl growing up in Montana, it’s never been directed at me. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve intimately experienced my Otherness, and almost always that Otherness resulted from my sexual rather than racial or cultural identity. To be honest my racial and cultural identity haven’t existed to me; they’re invisible in my realm of reality, defined by absence rather than substance. Sitting in Tia Chucha’s, I was profoundly aware of that absence. Embarrassed by it.

A week later writing this, I’m still embarrassed and I’ve struggled to identify why. But like most embarrassment, I think it boils down to fear. Fear of sounding ignorant or privileged. Fear of making too much or too little of this experience. Fear of the backlash. Fear of reducing this story to a lets-all-hold-hands, feel-good moment. Fear of carelessly appropriating something that doesn’t belong to me. Fear because I can choose to be ignorant of my culture without repercussion, when so many humans cannot. Because being a minority made me uncomfortable. Because until my racial identity exists to me, I can’t possibly be aware of the privileges it affords me.

Because appropriation. Because whitewashing. Because “I don’t see race”.

My performance slot was halfway through the show, and I felt foolish approaching that microphone. I felt like an uninvited houseguest, intruding into a community that didn’t belong to me; something I’d been content to observe from the outside. But under the spotlight, in that dark room I was welcomed into an artistic community that transcended cultural and linguistic barriers. We were in a safe, creative space. Everybody invited to feel each others’ words pulse through a microphone, and hang heavier than a heartbeat in the air.

By art alone we are able to get outside ourselves, to know what another sees of this universe which for him is not ours, the landscapes of which would remain as unknown to us as those of the moon.  – Marcel Proust, Time Regained

I’ve never felt so grateful for a room full of smiling faces and nodding heads. If I can come home to a roomful of strangers in a Sylmar, California strip mall I feel like I can come home anywhere. This is my heartfelt thank you to the hosts and participants for their warmth, generosity, and support.

Until next time, kittens.


Friday, April 24, 2015

She Stole my Heart in the Trailer Park

[Note: Hello kittens. I know you're (probably/maybe) eagerly awaiting news from Los Angeles. But instead you get this story from Long Beach... Washington.]

This year for my birthday Carly gave me a glimpse into my future. 

At least that’s what she said as she handed me keys to the doublewide trailer we’d be spending the next 48 hours in. The Sou’Wester is a collection of rentable trailers and cabins located on the Washington coast outside the town of Long Beach. 

Your trailer comes with a stove top, toaster oven, and t.v. with built in VHS player. We’ve got a big collection of videos here in the main house, feel free to take whatever you’d like.

We’d had one other recent experience with trailer parks, an operation in Eastern Oregon called “Good Sam’s RV Lot”. At the tail end of a weeklong road trip spent hiking, camping, and hot-springing through Washington, Idaho, and Montana we were on our final leg of the trip home and desperate for somewhere to sleep our last night on the road. So far through some combination of minimal planning, affability, and dumb luck we’d managed an incredible trip. We’d camped in a shady, wooded campsite near a creek. We’d camped at the base of a mountain one mile from the most incredible hot springs view I’ve ever experienced. We’d camped beside a miraculous alpine lake, just us and eleven empty campsites.

Our last night, we decided to camp somewhere in the general vicinity of home. We’d driven approximately six hours from a campsite off of Highway 12. We woke up that morning, ate a tasty oatmeal and egg breakfast in our quiet campground, and took a leisurely stroll along the river. Behind a heavily-wooded curve of highway we’d stripped off our clothes and skinny-dipped in the frigid river, crawling out to dry our skins in the crystal light of a sunny September morning. 

Now we were on the final leg of our journey, headed for what we hoped would be a lakeside campground. The temperature had been climbing all day and by afternoon we were hot, restless, and more than ready to set up camp and jump into cold, clear water again. According to our technology, there was a scenic waterside campsite near the junction of Highway 12 and Highway 730. This is a lie. There is nothing scenic about that junction. We began to suspect as much when the landscape flying by outside went from rolling rural farmland to scabby, kind of scuffed up looking hillsides criss-crossed with electrical towers and giant blobs of rocky dirt.

The drastic change of landscape dragged me from my road-lull reverie with the first jolt of potential panic. So far we’d been so lucky, it was only a matter of time before that luck ran out. We were sweaty, and sleepy, and done with the road with no “charming waterfront campsites” to be seen. In fact, there was no waterfront anything except waterfront highway. At the junction we had a decision to make: left or right. Left would take us south, along the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Right would keep us on Highway 12 into the Tri-Cities region. My iPhone claimed there were plenty of camping opportunities in either direction, so at the last possible moment we chose to go left. Eastern Oregon. Oh how I loathe thee. 

After the junction, the Columbia River was literally our right hand man, the road transitioning into a steep, gross little embankment that plunged straight into the water. Good Sam’s was tucked between a line of electric poles and the river. Desperation washed over me as Carly pulled into the horseshoe parking lot, and walked toward the office. The continuous hum of generators hung heavy in the air. An elderly man hobbled from the interior of his RV onto a presumably permanent wooden porch, expelled half his lung into the bushes, then calmly sipped his beer. He stood there a few moments, coughing, taking in the splendor of his American flag flapping in the breeze, hands tucked into the waistband of his jeans. 

If personalized hells exist, mine resembles the row of permanent residences at Good Sam’s. 

But I was charmed by Sou’Wester’s blue and white Zelmar cruiser. The wood-paneled walls, the careful collection of trinkets… Sitting at the laminate tabletop, feasting on fancy cheese and champagne, I was the birthday queen of the trailer park. We whiled away the next 48 hours playing chess, hiking to lighthouses, and strolling along various beaches. Watching the sun set while wading through a field of golden dune grass, Carly’s hand warming in mine. Collapsing into bed with a belly full of good food and port, my head spinning with colors. I know she meant it as a joke, but if this weekend was a glimpse into my future, I’d be damn lucky.

Lovers. I hope your cheese is always fancy, your trailers always doublewide, and your VHS players always built-in.