Thursday, July 31, 2008

adventure part 2

On Monday, I decided to forgo the Forest Preserve for a week and try my luck somewhere else. What I ended up deciding to do was to just ride up to Wilmette and see the Baha'i Temple and then maybe visit a big park that I saw just above there on the map.
The ride up is just shy of 8 miles, according to googlemaps, and much of it is along the lakefront in Evanston. It's a ride I've done before, at least in part, but that didn't stop me from losing my bike path through Roger's Park through sheer inattention. But it worked out fine, and I ended up at the temple unscathed. The temple itself is awesome; there are only seven full Baha'i temples in the world, and this is the only one in North America. It's this giant nine-sided ornately carved stone dome rising out of utter suburbia, seeming totally out of place when you glimpse it rising out of the houses that surround it. I didn't go in this time, because I feel awkward and voyeuristic being a tourist in other people's houses of worship, but I walked around the outside and ate a snack in one of the peaceful meditation gardens that surround it.

The park was okay, just semi-disappointing. Not too many people but enough, and I got sand in my shoes.
I am not sure what I'm looking for in these trips. I'm happy to be riding my bike longer distances, and it's exciting to be seeing new places in the city, but I always end up feeling vaguely disappointed. I think I am looking for someplace outside and quiet, and that's just so close to being a near-impossibility here. Even the Baha'i temple, that most serene of places, was surrounded by road construction. (The quietest place I've been is my own apartment, honestly. It's like a tomb in here, I rarely hear other tenants and I never hear any noise from the apartments around me. The only exception came several weeks ago when, as I was unlocking my front door, I heard someone behind the door across the hall scream-sing "Don't turn AROUND!" Ace of Base is my only sign of real life so far.) But I am having fun planning these trips, and it feels good to know the city well enough to get where I'm going even when I inevitably get myself lost from my directions. I really feel on top of my Chicago map-in-my-head, which is a good feeling.
So I'll keep taking trips, pushing how far I can ride my bike, and maybe I'll find a relatively quiet place. In the very least, I'll find a spot that I feel like I can claim as a new favorite. It'll happen.

Monday, July 28, 2008

less calories

Check out my flower cupcake! What a weird job I have.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

bearable lightness

I've been feeling really great lately, if you can't tell. I feel so much more passionate about a lot of things than I have for a long time: biking, being outdoors, getting up kinda early and drinking coffee by myself, trying new recipes, writing... Even things that I never stopped loving, like reading really great writing, have taken on an exciting glow that they've been missing. I feel bad in some ways (quite a few ways, actually), because I know that this is partially-to-mostly a side effect of being by myself and I feel guilty for feeling so goddamn good about something that was significantly painful for both myself and for Tabitha, but I can't help it. Even though I really did and do love her, I can tell that this is better. That's hard to say, but I can feel it even in my body, like a physical sensation of well-being. It actually feels quite a bit like how I felt when we feel in love, just delirious and energetic and thrilled to death by any new development that came around, which I think means that the relationship had just run its course. I feel like I'm coming back into myself after a long winter. I can feel happiness welling up inside of me; it's almost creepy, or it would be if it didn't feel awesome.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I feel exhausted in this completely pleasant way, the exhaustion that comes with physical exertion and being outside in the sun and then eating a good dinner of leftover armenian stuffed cabbage. It's kind of awesome. I had the last four days off, and I managed to run a ridiculous amount of errands, ride my bike all over the place, and spend too much money. But one of the many things I did was go the LGBT booksale at Gerber/Hart, which I haven't been to in far too long. I went with the intention of looking for some of the Dykes to Watch Out For comics that I'm missing, but instead I ended up getting a lot of other books, many of which I've read but don't own. My favorite find, though, was Trash by Dorothy Allison, a collection of short stories about being queer and Southern and feminist and poor.
Sometimes I forget how freaking awesome Dorothy Allison is. She writes specifically about growing up as poor white trash in this incredibly bitter, truthful, insightful way that I still don't see too often. But this book, of short stories, is one that I've wanted to re-read for a while and so I was thrilled to see it there. I went home and immediately read my favorite story, A Lesbian Appetite, which mixes food and sex in a way that is so visceral and violent and sensual. It's specifically about the food that poor white trash Southerners eat and how terrible and wonderful it is at the same time. You can taste what she's writing about: the bacon fat, the bubbling gravy, the biscuits, the pan-fried green tomatoes. And in between the reminisces about her mother's cooking, she talks about her lovers and the food that they either ate together or didn't, and the sex they had and how that ties together. There's a scene that I love where the health-food girlfriend is making her slice and salt eggplant, and the narrator starts rubbing eggplant slices all over her to salt it with her sweat, and they have sex and then fry the eggplant up with garlic and tomatoes and eat it together. It just... It makes me want to eat and have sex and lick grease off of my fingers. Pretty amazing.
But what really gets me is this food nostalgia that she writes about. The food that she ate as a child and young woman is, in many ways, still reflected in negative ways in her present-day body. She has numerous health problems caused by her former diet; in fact, one section of the story details how, after a seventh-grade teacher informs her class that the children of the poor are lacking in intelligence because they are deprived of vitamin D in childhood and it keeps their brains from developing properly, she starts obsessively eating dairy to try and catch up, to make her brain strong so she can get out of where she is. Twenty years later, a doctor tells her she has a slight dairy allergy that has caused her to have an ongoing stomach problem, and she just laughs. But despite all of this, she daydreams and dream-dreams about the food of her childhood, about baking biscuits and cooking beans with onions and pork fat and the sweat on her mother's neck when she prepares these things and it's all just this huge sensory glut of taste and scent and smell. I remember being vegan and home for Thanksgiving and how hard that was, and I think about all the vegetarians I know who still eat turkey that one day of the year, and I think about the power of comfort food. It's so wired into our heads, what we do and don't want to eat and why.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Well, the review on the forest preserve is mixed. I initially enjoyed the ride there, until it became clear that the directions I had meticulously written down had a mistake in them and were missing the crucial road name that linked the first and second part of the trip. That wasn't a deal breaker, just rather inconvenient. I was in a part of town I'm not too familiar with, I only had a CTA map with me so it didn't have all the streets on it, and I was in an apparently deserted residential neighborhood. (Actually, that was maybe the nicest part of the ride. Nobody was around, and while on one side there were nice houses as far as I could see the other side was a forest. It was very, very quiet.) I eventually decided to take a bike path I had noticed in passing that was headed the right direction. That was fine, and eventually dead-ended in the street that had been my original final destination, Devon. There was a rather harrowing ten minutes of riding down a busy street without a bike path, but I finally reached the North Branch Forest Preserve.
Which was... Hmmm. Not worse than I'd expected, but not as good as I'd hoped. There weren't too many people around (although plenty of parked cars, so I don't know where all the people were; maybe on paths I didn't know about?), and there were definitely short periods where I felt like I was really outside, with trees and water on either side. At one point the insect and bird noises actually drowned out the cars! Because really, I was never far from a road. I'd be riding along, enjoying the forest-y smell and relative solitude, and all of a sudden I'd turn a corner and there'd be a road, or the back of a house. I didn't make it to the Botanical Garden or the unpaved part of the trail, so maybe that's a little more isolated, but I was pooped and slightly disenchanted. Also my trail appeared to dead-end in a road, with no signage to indicate where I might want to go if I were to continue. The entire trip was about twenty miles (including some riding around after getting lost, which happened on the return trip also), and now I'm beat. But next time, I'll be able to amend my directions and get there more quickly, and maybe see some slightly more isolated parts of things. If I can make it past that dead-end.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

into the semi-wild (hopefully)

So tomorrow I'm going to do something I've never done before: I'm going to visit one of Cook County's forest preserves. I've been seeing the signs advertising them (their slogan is "so close to you!") on the CTA for years, and I'm finally getting my act together and seeing if the purported hiking (indicated by the little hiking man icon on the very hard-to-read map on their website) is anything of the sort. I'd be a lot less skeptical if many of the forest preserves didn't appear to be golf courses, but the one I'm going to contains the Chicago Botanical Gardens and also has unpaved trails so I'm hoping for the best. Even if it's just someplace away from a major road, I'll be happy. It would be nice to know that that's available to me in any form, even if it is sedate walking. I actually feel quite adventurous about this; I've written out my excessively-complicated-seeming bike directions, I've looked at the trail maps, and I'm excited to get on my way in the morning.
In other news, I'm having someone over tomorrow night for chilled spinach-yogurt soup and Armenian stuffed cabbage. If it goes well, I'll post the recipes. Thank god for my moosewood cookbook...


I just had to change the name of an old post from "defloweration" (it's about pulling the anthers off of lilies) to "anthers and reproductive musings" because I was getting so many hits from all over the world for the first title. My post is not, I assume, what most people who google "defloweration" are looking for, which is part of why I left it for so long. Anyway, if I get hits for this post it will just disappear, but that was my blog thought for the day.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

10 things i like about me

So Lauren the poet did this on her blog, and I just spent several hours at work with a PMSing co-worker and I'm in a terrible mood so... Instead of bitching to anybody (at least outside of this little intro), here are ten things I'm glad I did in my life.

1) Went to the U of Arizona and spent my whole undergrad there. I never, ever thought I'd say that. But I think I would have never stuck with being a musician if I'd been under the pressure that any of the other schools (mostly music conservatories) I'd applied at would have put me under, and I also wouldn't have met many of the people who are important to me now. Including, if you want to really think through it, all of the people I've met in Chicago, any of my ex-girlfriends, all of the people who read this blog, and pretty much everybody I know except for Emily and people I met at Interlochen. I know there would be others, but for the most part I like the ones I have now :)

2) Became a vegetarian. I eat fish now so really I'm a pescetarian, and I used to be vegan, but anyway. I love to cook and it's really been something that's gotten me through some bad times, and I don't know that I would have gotten so involved with that if I hadn't decided to stop eating meat. Plus there's the whole animal rights thing...

3) Going to Alaska a second time. Seriously. I'm so grateful that I bought that ticket, because I feel like this trip was worlds away from the last and it's a place that deserves to be enjoyed and respected. It's made me kind of reconsider my goals and desires, and it was also probably the single most enjoyable vacation I've ever taken.

4) Adopted my cat, Skip. That little furball made me realize why people have pets. It's really awesome having him around.

5) Rediscovered my libido. A little personal maybe, but it was enjoyable and affirming to find out that yes, I do actually have a sex drive.

6) Read Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. That book blew my damn head open, led me into the world of gender studies, and made my fascination with drag kings much more informative than it would have been otherwise. It changed the way I think about things, and that's awesome.

7) Started playing the viola. I don't think I really have to explain, but here's a short list: traveled a lot, got two college degrees, played with famous and amazing conductors, had life dreams that actually came true (so what if it sucked?), met many wonderful people, and got to experience so many musical rushes I couldn't even begin to count them.

8) Aggressively applied for a job in a flower shop last summer. That job kind of blew, but now I have a job that I like much better and an actual marketable skill, not to mention another potential direction to move in next. I'm thinking about taking some horticulture classes, because working with plants and flowers reminded me how fascinated I've been by them my whole life. That and library science are my short list of possible future moves.

9) Dated the three people I've been with. Although all three of my major relationships have not panned out, I've gotten so much from each of them. Some positive and some negative, but it had a major impact on who I am now and how I plan to live in the future, and I think that's important.

10) Moved into a studio apartment. It's only been three weeks and I was in Alaska for half of that, but I can already see that this was an important move for me. Just as I've been defined partially (and to too great of an extent) by the people I've dated and lived with, now I get to be defined much more by myself. And that is good.

So there's that. And I feel somewhat better.

Friday, July 18, 2008

crazy christian bale

Batman was awesome :) But midnight showings make me tired.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

they gave my blood and my urine a number

After a great day of hiking and eating delicious food at the fancy restaurant nearby, Erica and I decided to watch 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, a movie we'd been referring to mostly as "the Romanian abortion movie" for several days prior. I feel fairly safe saying that it kind of kicked both of our asses.
Well, for one thing, I thought it was kind of amazing. The movie follows Otilia (Anamaria Marinca), a college student trying to help her friend Gabita get an illegal late-term abortion in communist Romania in 1982. (According to IMDb, not only abortions but also contraception were illegal in Romania at that time.) Long story short, all sorts of things go wrong, many terrible things happen to everybody involved, and I ended the movie thanking god for Roe v. Wade despite the fact that I'm extremely unlikely to personally need an abortion. I'm not really concerned with the plot; if you want to know the details, watch it yourself. Although as IMDb also said, it's not for the faint of heart.

Otilia and Gabita

Anyway, the plot was kind of the least of the things that really struck me. The pacing was grueling: Otilia runs into obstacle after obstacle as she tries to arrange the hotel room and reach the abortionist, much of which is complicated by the fact that Gabita has been less than completely truthful with everyone involved. Each obstacle is surrounded by this almost unbearable tension, even the somewhat less fraught ones like trying to obtain a hotel room while a convention is in town. We watch Otilia haggling with the desk clerk, and it becomes clear that this fairly mundane interaction has become so much more than that, has in fact become a matter of life or death, and the director had no hesitation to let silences spin out and to show every detail of every interaction.
And I can't even think of how to explain what a great job I felt like Anamaria Marinca did; she was so convincing as somebody holding it together under ridiculous pressure, and she conveyed so much without really showing a whole lot of "normal" expression. In one of my favorite scenes, she's left Gabita in the hotel room waiting to miscarry so that she can go to her boyfriend's mother's birthday dinner. She's surrounded by this jovial group of bourgeois Romanians, not saying anything and looking like she's completely not there at all, not in any way related to anything that's going on. The scene lasts for quite a while (considering it has nothing to do with the plot) and her alienation just keeps becoming more and more pronounced.
There were other interesting points, like the total acceptance and usage of the black market, and numerous examples of people helping each other with very mundane things for no foreseeable reason. My other favorite scene has Otilia standing on a bus when the ticket taker comes around. She keeps moving forward ahead of the collector, and it's obvious that she doesn't have a ticket, but at the last minute a total stranger hands her an extra. That's something I think we miss a lot of the time in the US: that sense of everybody watching each other's backs. We consider ourselves less oppressed than a lot of other people, but we're also so singular, so individualistic. I think we're probably missing out a bit on that feeling of safety from others.
I feel like I haven't done this movie justice, and even though it made me feel like I'd been hit in the head with a board, I wish that I could do a better job. Erica and I couldn't even talk about it after we finished; it was pretty damn powerful. I really felt like I understood what a horror back-alley abortions are, and the terrible injustices that they visit upon women. I understood the physical risk, of course, and the amount of shame involved, but there are so many more levels of ill-treatment that that system enables. It is inherently abusive to women to deny them the right to a safe legal abortion. And so I think that this movie did its job.


Today is officially the most alone I've felt in a long time. Not even the cat will snuggle with me, mostly due to heat and the fact that he's all high on catnip, but still.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

castles are burning in my heart

So that last post kind of sucked; I woke up that morning feeling like I had a cold and I was upset about it but I felt like I had to post to let people know where I was and I should have just left it alone. But erica cured me with a combination of little green chinese pills, lots of echinacea tea, and a clove of garlic chopped up and swallowed raw. Anyway, so I'm starting over.
The last time I was in Alaska, I was exhausted and pissy and generally not in a good place to really appreciate where I was. God, I'm glad I could come back. I may be heartsick and confused, but I feel so much more human and alive after this trip than I have in a while. Partially, it was what I did while I was there: hiking with friends, hanging out, meeting new people, and sleeping in after staying up late talking about everything possible. And partially it was where I was, in a place as different from Chicago as anything I could imagine, with mountains everywhere I looked and snowshoe hares in the front yard and less peoplein my immediate vicinity than maybe my apartment building has at any given time. I don't know how to explain, but it made so clear to me that there were other ways to be alive than what I've been inside, and that made me feel so hopeful about the future. (You can ask erica, but I was seriously incredibly cheesy pretty much the entire time I was there. I tried not to be, but I just kind of was anyway. Ah well.) I think I'm going to leave it at that and post comments about some of the pictures I came back with and see if any small stories come out of that. Sorry if it got a bit long, but honestly nobody's forcing you to read it. I hope you will, though.

Above is partway up Sugarloaf, the mountain we hiked up on the first full day I was in Denali. The majority of the hiking in this area is done without the benefit of trails, and it makes it into a completely different type of hike than I'm used to. I had a hard time getting the hang of things, especially going up loose shale slopes. I had a moment where I freaked out on the way up because I just couldn't imagine how I was ever going to get down this steep, crumbly slope without falling, but with some pointers from erica and Cassalyn (mainly just don't lean forward into slopes because your feet are more prone to go out from under you) I managed to make it up. And when I did, the whole world just kind of opened up, and we were completely surrounded by mountains and clear air on every side. It was awesome.

Cassalyn! I wish I had a copy of the one soon after this where she had cake all over her face.

Erica, partway up.

A marmot! Erica almost walked into this one, and we saw four more in close succession after this one finally ran away, which is apparently unusual. They're very slinky animals, like silky jelly on four legs.

Erica standing near the edge at the top of where we climbed to. See all the mountains? It looked like that all around us.

There are lots of pictures of erica lying down on top of mountains, and this is my contribution. Tundra is pretty nice and springy, and holds warmth pretty well.

If you look closely at that white patch in the middle, that's as close as I got to seeing Denali the mountain this time. It's actually pretty amazing that it was out at all; only a quarter to a third of visitors see the mountain at all due to the weather systems it tends to inspire around itself, but I saw it the last time I was here too. We actually didn't go all that far into the park proper this time, which was totally fine, but it was nice to catch a glimpse.

The second major hike we went on was at Tattler Creek and then partway up Sable Mountain, to a kind of saddle between peaks. This one is actually inside the park. We went straight up a drainage (I'm pretty sure that's the point this picture is from, looking up), realized we were too far over, walked a little ways along the ridgeline, then backtracked down and then up another drainage to the saddle. I was extremely happy because (even though I had a cough from my weird almost-cold) I felt like I really had already gotten better at the straight-up-the-side technique of hiking. It made me feel strong and good about myself, like I could trust my legs and feet a little bit more, although I definitely tried to keep in mind that I shouldn't take it for granted. Still, a good alive feeling.

And from the top.

And again. We saw Dall sheep from a distance here, ewes and lambs (a nursery herd, I think it's called; the rams run in separate herds) that we could hear bleating and knocking rocks down the sides of the mountain. The lambs are quite cute and playful. We also saw a golden eagle, which I stopped and watched circling around for a few minutes. It was one of those moments of clarity for me, where I just wished so much that more people could see something that simple and powerful. Maybe wilderness preservation would be easier then.

I went on several elderhostel hikes (grandparents and grandchildren or just grandchildren) with erica while I was here. Basically, as far as I understand, these kids and their grandparents come out and stay at the park for a few days, go on educational walks and hikes, and hopefully come out a little more knowledgeable and excited about what they've seen. The last full day I was there, Erica and I got up early to lead seventeen kids (along with one other instructor) on a hike that passes by several lakes, including one with a beaver dam. The beavers were too savvy to come out when seventeen kids were around, but I still had pretty good conversations with several kids and came away reassured that something good was happening. Anyway, this picture is a bunch of the kids sitting under the root system of a fallen tree (white spruce?). Because of permafrost and the relatively shallow water table in this part of the world, the trees and other plants tend to have wide shallow root systems instead of deep taproots, so when they fall they have these huge plate-like root systems that just life out of the ground. The kids loved it.

I spent a lot of time querying erica on the flowers that we saw on hikes. She knows a huge amount about this now (she impressed me and cassalyn by naming most of the 40 different flowers we saw on our Sugarloaf hike accurately), including families and medicinal uses in some cases. Anyway, we spent so much time talking about it that I took a bunch of flower pictures. This one above is forget-me-not, the state flower of Alaska. I don't know if it grows at lower elevations (or if a subspecies does), but we definitely only saw it on higher slopes. The tiny flowers are almost neon blue, they are amazingly beautiful/cute. This is from Sable.

Shit shit shit... Anemone? I can't remember and it's been like two days. erica? Also on Sable. As an interesting side point, many flowers here have common names like those I see at work (goldenrod, veronica, anemone, etc.) but look quite different. I guess that's kind of the issue with common names, but it doesn't seem too terrible as long as the scientific name is also available.

Purple cress, from Sable. We initially thought this was a color variant of the forget-me-not, but it's a totally different flower.

Also purple cress (I think?), and the unfortunately blurry flower in the foreground is Arnica. Arnica can be used as a salve to relieve muscle pain. From Sable.

Tundra rose, which was one of my favorites just for being everywhere and cute and yellow. I mean, I like daisies. I don't necessarily favor the rare flowers.

Bluebells, from the kids' hike at triple lakes. I'm not sure if there's a more specific common name. I thought it was interesting that there were a lot of blue flowers here (a fairly uncommon flower color, generally speaking) but no red that I saw. We speculated that this was because the pollinators are different here, but I don't know.

This is from the plane window as I was flying out of Anchorage. It doesn't show up as well as I'd hoped, but I could see mountain peaks poking through the cloud cover, lit by a nice perpetual sunset.

There are lots of things that made me inexplicably happy, like eating on top of mountains or recognizing a flower I'd never seen a week before. But like all good trips, it had to come to an end. It took me 22 hours to get home to my extremely needy cat and start putting my new life together again. I'm already hoping I can go back next summer, and I'm thinking more and more about moving back west in the next few years. I need to be in a place where there are mountains, where I can see the end of the city and go there when I want to. I think it's becoming necessary.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I'm all moved, I guess. Boxes everywhere, but the furniture locations are pretty settled, which is nice. My cat is acting like a totally needy jerk, which is understandable but still a bit irritating. Can you tell I'm exhausted right now? Because I am.