The Master of Fine Arts students had two days to complete a written response and submit a manuscript of the works that they created during the intensive week of study. I selected to begin as soon as classes were over on the Saturday night. By persistence, I had the assignment complete before the 1 pm Sunday check out from the Snow Lions.
What fascinates me is how efficient I am under stress and how when there is no hard deadline, or imminent show looming like a shadow being in my direct sight line, I tend to sink. I sink into the little, daily rituals of cleaning, looking on face book, repeatedly expecting my email to bring a personal or human spark in my dull existence.
A psychic once told me that I make progress from stone to stone but at times I just sit down and look at the river in despair imagining that I will never make it across. Was this a polite way of saying my manic depression is mild?
I finished the assignment; hit send; packed the car and headed to Denver. I don’t know why but I was feeling pretty challenged by the highway and the traffic at this point. I can always tell when I am beyond my comfort zone because that is when I start talking to myself. “Are you sure this is the correct turn?” Or I talk to others who cannot hear me. “Move over buddy. I need to get in that lane. What is your hurry for pete sake, it is Sunday afternoon?”
I wound around my brother’s neighbourhood not quite getting where his house was. Finally, after three loops I drove up. It was only when I was upstairs with my baggage in the room that it hit me exactly how tired I was. The long drive to Boulder. Everything new. Not being around objects and places I had lived with for over 20 years was a stretch. It was good for me. It was a full on challenge when I hadn’t been in a challenging situation in terms of work since 1999. Plumpt. I sat down.
My sister in law arrived the next day and I spent my days cleaning up and sharpening my pictures and posting them on facebook. I went for an hour walk every day and worked out every day. In the evening, she and I watched chick flicks and would exclaim to one another when we saw a cute purse, a fun dress or awe inspiring shoes. Our focus was on the fashion and the romance. It has been years since I had seen a girly movie with a friend and talked about what we were viewing. The altitude sickness was definitely effecting me.
One day I took the train into Denver and was again swept up in the sharp, vibrant masculine energy of the place. I shopped a bit but I found that I am losing interest in spending my time shopping. Last time I was in Denver I walked the entire town and went to the State building, the art museum, and sat in a Catholic Church to pray. I was still bleeding grief. But this time, my body was tired from lack of sleep, unaccustomed stimulus and long drives. So I found The Tattered Cover Book Store and was home. I felt like I could live in that book store. Is it wrong to choose a place to live based on its book store?
I fell in with a guide who was giving a tour of the city. I asked if I could eavesdrop and he said, “For only a little while.” So I set my watch in my head for “little while.”
He explained that the new “downtown” of the city was under construction. The outdoor mall that cut through the city was being extended. The glass towers that he pointed out were $400 grand for 600 square feet and sold out in a few weeks after they were put on sale.
In the future, the train station would have mass transport taking people to and from the airport to downtown whereby they could get on another train, take the free service throughout the downtown or jump off and walk or ride a bike all the way across the river. He pointed out of sight. Over there he indicated through the construction site. He informed us that they were already a year ahead of the target date of 2016 and if things kept going that well estimates were that this new more user friendly downtown to burb hub would be done as early as 2014. The city is vibrant.
Back in the car, the next drives were long.
I drove 14 hours one day and 12 another. In Vancouver, Washington where I had grown up, I stayed in a motel across for the one that was in my other life. When my mother was dying, I drove down and camped out in the Extended Stay. When my step-father was dying, I was there as well because it was close to my childhood home and to the hospital. Now I couldn’t afford such a luxury place since the financial settlement from my divorce. I can definitely delineate between a lower middle class motel, a middle class motel and the $50 a night places I was lucky enough to get on this trip.
towels are thick and the floor mat and towels look different from one another
there is a coffee maker
the bed spread is made of fabric and not plastic spun from orange fruit bags
all of the lights work on the first try
the heat and air conditioning does not sound like a super jet landing
there is a steel stopper in the bathtub that allows it to fill up (rubber stopper is lower middle class and no stopper is to discourage you from using the bathtub at all to save money. I found a prescription bottle cap works fine for this)
there are shampoos, creams, soaps in bottles not in two squirt plastic sleeves
the Bible is not out in an obvious place but discreetly tucked away
I booked the hotel for two nights because I arrived very late. Again I was lost. It was almost 9:30 and I circled a few times then asked a couple of young men at a Kiosk Coffee place for directions. Again the magic phone came out. He pointed the way for me. Laughing, I told him the story of the Chucky Cheese Angel He offered me a free large mango drink so that ,” I can be the bigger angel.” Men are so competitive. I gratefully took my directions and my large cold mango drink and found my hotel.
The next day I, in my usual manner, went for the 10 minute drive to downtown Portland and ended up driving for almost an hour. The bonus was that I saw a section of Portland that I had never seen before. The older houses with beautiful, copious drappings of green plants, tree limbs and vines stood along the curving road on both sides and spoke of a history that extended into the 1800’s. It was spectacular. I parked once in what I thought was a lot but then could see was private. I got out of the car once and went into a dealership of automobiles and was told I was in the wrong part of town. So eventually, I got into a parkade about a block from Powell’s Books.
What did I learn about the experience? I learned (again) that when I am very tired I become disoriented and have difficulty finding my way. Perhaps it was the early chaotic environment in which I spent my childhood. But the way for clarity and quelling confusion for me is to be fully rested. Being lost is not just a physical result. There have been times I have lost my sense of where I stood emotionally and spiritually. The work that I did on this journey was to understand when I was lost, to realize that my assessment of how well I was functioning was in error and then to calm myself down. I knew I could not starve to death, drive until I was out of gas and end up on a deserted planet far far away. (Worst case scenario.)
Walking in Portland is always a treat. First I went to Buffalo Exchange and tried on many, many items of clothing. Next I went to Powell’s Books and read a few books in the coffee room. Stump Town Coffee called me. Up the street from Powell’s is a hotel with Stump Town Coffee, a large reading room with a huge, low table at the centre and couches around it. It provides people with the opportunity to sit face to face and encourages conversation. As I was standing in line, I saw a business man wearing the shoe gloves that fit over each toe like a glove on a person’s hand. I asked him if they were comfortable. His friend looked down and said, “I didn’t even notice them.” We all laughed because they are screamingly obvious.
I was so excited about being in Portland that I started to riff. I suggested he get foot gloves with press on nails for women. I suggested ankle chains, toe rings. Oh I just started…. His friend said he thought those were great ideas so I made them both pledge to not steal the ideas. That was the first conversation I had had with another person for three days and was I ever “parched” for words.
Meandering was the theme. This time I was not driven as was my last visit to Portland. I couldn’t seem to find my way down to the linear park along the river but did stumble on an art gallery, a nice restaurant and discovered another park I had never seen before. My body was tired so I headed back to Powell’s and read books again for four more hours. Walking upstairs to put my books back, I found that a speaker was about to begin.
The writer was an English teacher from Lewis and Clark college was a PhD from Standford. He was modest, shy and had gathered around him on the floor a flock of fascinated students. The blocks and barriers that I have created in my life became so obvious. Why did he have the self esteem to push through and get his advanced degree. He had won prizes for his short stories. This was his second novel. What had I been doing? Cleaning. Weeding. Waiting. I was both inspired and tired after the reading.
The illusion of time running out has always been with me but because I am about to turn 68, there is a sharpness to that vision now. What have I actually done in my life that I set out to do? It churns in my brain.
Such a small, careful life that has left me open for incredible damage. The safe choices I would tell myself. But they weren’t safe. They were triple blind studies. Not seeing why I chose alcoholics. Not seeing why I refused to make large moves. Not seeing why I isolated myself. All the time I churn around in the bay in my tug boat, I dreamed of heading out to sea. To see.
When I returned home after a 13 hour drive, I felt a let down. Back to the same routine. Back to the small haven. Always my brain talks to me about how lucky I should feel. I am radiantly healthy. I have good friends. My children are both alive and have families. But where is the juice?
If impatience could be a rash, I would be red all over. Next. The next thing. The sense of walking through a door. But I want it to be safe. I want the door to be open so I don’t bang my head. Is that too much to ask, universe?