Airport Duty

SeaTac Baggage Claim #10

I confess, I love being on airport duty.  I’ll happily drop you off or pick you up. I’ll park and wait at the luggage claim, I’ll drop you off at a crazy hour in the morning—I will be there for you.

I used to say that I’ll do it because I’ve been there too—the girl without a car, trying to get from Riverside to LA, willing to take an 8 hour bus ride but grateful for the passenger seat of a friend’s car.  This is still true, but it also boils down to selfishness.  I like taking people on the first leg of an adventure, I like welcoming my loved ones home.  I like the anticipation, the slight fear that I won’t recognize someone as they come out of the gate, and the relief when I see the shape of a shoulder and know immediately—there. That is who I’m waiting for.

Airports are a great equalizer.  The travelers are sleep dazed and weary, the friends are eager and bright.  I’ve been the exhausted traveler, I’ve been the friend at home, sobbing in my car after a tight hug goodbye and an uncertain time apart.  I’ve been the eager person, embarking on something unknown.  I’ve been the sorrowful traveler, leaving loved ones.  I’ve worn sneakers that slip off easily and an oversized sweatshirt that still smells of a lover and I’ve worn heels that click satisfyingly against the linoleum and turn heads as I pass gate after gate, just because I could.  My flights have been nondescript, turbulent, creepy.  I’ve had seatmates that are chatty and ones that ignore me.

I can remember the flight home when my father died, but I can’t remember if my sister or my best friend picked me up. I remember crying on the plane, quietly.  I remember flying home thinking I should feel different somehow.  I remember landing in Mexico still surprised to see my friend walk up to find me, even though he said he’d be there. I remember the first time T came being sure we would never know each other, and I remember how we rushed each other, arms open, the same people we’ve always been. I remember waiting to go through security in Texas, feeling the certainty of leaving.

Today Mt Rainier loomed above the horizon and, before I realized it, I was in the lot, I was waiting at the empty baggage claim.  Slowly, people joined me and before long I saw K and her boyfriend on the escalator. A hand waves. A hug, some laughter. Bags found, elevator, car, highway.  The city stretches before us and we are all home again, on solid ground before our next adventures. Do you need a ride? I’ll be waiting.

December Snow

Another day of heavy clouds broken by sun and rain—Seattle winter. Sometimes I think it’ll never snow again.  In California the closest we got to snow were fires, the Santa Anna winds blowing ash into gutters like snowdrift.  Here I can see the mountains and their white peaks but it feels so distant. One year I bought perfume that smelled of a snow storm when you open a warm front door—the cold crashing into your body, the edge of darkness pushed back with spilling light.  I wore it at my pulse points and went to a friend’s fundraiser hoping to find a rugged mountain man to keep my evenings warm and spent the night dancing with an ex when I should have run. I still remember the surprise in his eyes when he touched my skin, sweaty from dancing, and a different evening flashed into sight. So the snow lured him back, in a way, for a time.

Christmas time is a strong recipe for nostalgia, especially after spending 4 years in college in Bethlehem, a city that had to put out a press release announcing the generic postmark after being overwhelmed by out-of-towners depositing endless sacks of mail. White lights twinkle and, for most of December, you can hear the college choir practicing or performing for Vespers at the Moravian Church. Is it because fresh snowfall erases so much about a city? Is it because of the hush that falls, the filtered light, the way a window steams up as if to push away night fall?

The first major storm in Bethlehem I was caught at work on the wrong campus, a mile from my room with buses that, even with chains, had stopped running. It was probably a Friday night, that was the night that I closed the library with my boyfriend, and the place was empty.  We walked the stacks, gathering books from the tables, watching the snow out of the large windows.  Campus police came to lock and, because they saw us every Friday and often closed the coffee house I ran, knew we’d be stranded. They gave us a ride down the hill—slowly navigating the empty streets, and dropped us off at my building.  I ran upstairs to drop my things off while my boyfriend smoked a cigarette on the porch and when I came back down there were a few friends gathered.  Quiet energy was building—the kind that’s unique to snow storms and college students—the world closing into a bubble around young bodies just beginning to stretch into adulthood.

One of the houses we passed on Church Street. Photo credit: Kathleen Connally

We walked down the street a few blocks to the town library where we’d spent our first few hours together, reading romance novels out loud to each other during the monthly basement book sale, trying desperately not to laugh too loudly.  The landscaped shrubs had nets of white lights over them, peeking through the snow, and the courtyard was a blank field of white.  Snow haloed around the orange street lights and our footprints trailed blue shadows behind us. We scooped up snow into our gloved hands and drank deeply—still children in that way, wanting the cold on our tongues and reveling in the way it disappeared down our throats. My boyfriend cleared a bench off and I sat beside him, leaning into each other as our friends tipped back into the blank field, making snow angels.  When he kissed me our warm breath mixed with ice and snow dusted our shoulders.

My memory ends in that kiss and not what happened next. I’m sure we stood eventually, I’m sure we walked back to a warmed room and draped our cold things over chairs to dry.  Life kept moving forward, as it does when snow storms melt away.

Snow storms now mean something entirely different—friends disappear into the mountains chasing fresh powder, new tracks, higher elevation.  There are crevasses to be navigated, avalanches to be wary of, beer at lodges with loosened ski boots and thermoses of warm wine at the fire lookouts. The snow here is not my snow yet—it’s bigger, more dangerous, unfamiliar.  But look- I have skis leaning against my wall, borrowed boots, goggles that fog; I will learn.

(Image credit from this site.)

Outside the library, a different snow storm. Photo Credit : Kathleen Connally


Tub Series #3

Lately I have been spending more time alone, and it’s driving me back towards self-portraiture.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these shots—they aren’t really something that has a home.  I’m trying to escape the idea of audience though, and not let the worry about where something belongs stop me from making it.  I find that watercolor collage work is too small and peaceful.  Frankly, I’m not in a peaceful place, and I do a drawing and I just want to give it away as fast as possible.  Self-portraits are different—there’s a sense of absurdity to it.  There has to be. First of all, the selfie. It’s ridiculous and narcissistic.  It is also steeped in history, from the self-portraits of Francesca Woodman to Cindy Sherman, from Man Ray to Frida Kahlo. I’m not saying I’m in any class of theirs, but maybe I’m somewhere near the same conversation. Secondly, there’s the process itself. I’ve worn masks that tip and snag on everything, I’ve caught myself blurry, I’ve wound up completely out of the frame, I’ve been in the most unflattering positions possible.

My most recent series was inspired by a portrait I found a while ago from Bex Finch of a woman floating in water.  I wanted to see what I could do, so I filled the tub, set up a tripod, and dripped my way through a series of strange floating images. Out of the night, maybe three of them worked.

As always, my collaborator and best friend Tim Shannon was all support and cheering squad when I sent him the results.  Last night I got home, and while Tim had said he was sending me another camera, I didn’t really realize the magnitude of his awesomeness. (In general, yes, because he’s my homie and I will always always love him. As far as the camera, I was blown away by his generosity.)

In addition to his camera, I have a grocery bag full of fabric from a yard sale this weekend, from potential backdrops to lace overlays. I’m not sure how to turn my apartment into a photo studio yet—I need to find better lighting and use what I remember from the Heroes photo shoot at Greg and Bond’s apartment to visualize what can move and what can be used. I’m not good at spatial reasoning, and I’m sort of feeling like I’m a tumbling disaster zone who’s just going to accidentally break a table by trying to stand on it, or be overwhelmed by the messiness in my life.  Photography pushes all of that to the edges though, and I think that’s what I need.

These portraits are for me—as I regain strength, as I figure out what my body is capable of.  As such, they aren’t really suitable for most audiences.  It’s foolish to think I can put a nude or semi-nude shot up somewhere and have it received as just art.  I don’t know how to dissolve the line between potentially sexual and just form… just ask anyone about Stone Nudes.  I have friends who see body as form, and friends who see body as sexualized, and that’s just the way it is. I might need to find an anonymous forum for these—remove it from self-identification and also from meandering across the screen of someone who wants to know me and not see more of me than they bargained for. A few will make it up on here, but I don’t know about the rest. And I’m not worried about it.

Body is a tricky thing. It’s both intimate and not intimate at all. A body is simply a body, a functional machine made of tissues, muscles, and blood.  And then, in a different light, it’s intimate and something to be carefully shared.  I vacillate between feeling the preciousness of intimacy and feeling the functionality of form.

Now I have lenses, and filters, and a whole new set of things to play with, thanks to Tim Shannon.  I am so lucky in my life, to be loved unconditionally. And so I’m going to explore the vacillation. I’m going to see what I can do.

Flailing and failing gloriously

I scurry home from work and quickly pull on a sports bra and the shortest shorts that will work with a harness. It’s hot and I have a quick errand to run before heading to the crag. By the time I drop of jewelry with K. my shirt is damp and I’m uncertain we’ll actually get any climbing in. Traffic is heavy and it takes a while to get onto open road. A sweaty, long while.  Karis and I have been

Karis figuring out the plan for our group at We Did Rock.

Karis figuring out the plan for our group at We Did Rock.

climbing a lot this summer, but neither of us feel like we’ve been really working it. We’ve been caught in bad weather, we’ve been teaching friends, we’ve been learning to lead trad, but we haven’t had a real exhausting day together.  We chatted about climbing at Nevermind on Sunday, but the group grew from us to a few more, and then a few more, and quickly there were eight of us, with only Karis and I able to lead.  Sunday was great—good company and the few climbs we did were fun, but despite showing up early, by the time I jumped in the river with A. and T. in the late afternoon we’d only climbed three easy routes. A. was surprised, but that’s what happens with a large group.  Things take a while.

I roll into the lot and find Karis sitting on top of her trunk, eating salad. It’s hot, but not as hot as Seattle. There are only a few other cars in the lot.  The sky is hazy. I grab my rope, she has the draws and we head for the rocks.

We hike the few minutes up and take the trail back to Nevermind. It’s shaded and there are two parties already set up.  We nod hello, put our packs down and set up. I start. And… I’d like to say I cruise through, but I don’t. It’s a route I’ve done before, but I’m not sure if I led it or not. I pause. I try a move and down climb back to the bolt. I try it again, and again down climb. “I’m being a weenie!” I shout down at Karis, but she shrugs and laughs. “You got this.”  So much for Rope Gun. Yesterday may have felt easy, but I’m not that strong. 5.10a. Come on. Do this. I finish, but it feels harder than it should have.

We pull the rope and Karis leads it flawlessly.  She cleans, we pull the rope again and move on. 10c. “Want to lead it?” she asks.  I hesitate. The start is overhung, but everything here starts like that. “I’ll put the first draw in, how about that?” I agree, and then look up at the second bolt.  There’s a slabby hold that looks like disaster for my wrist, and I back down. Looks like it’s going to be a top-rope day for the rest of the evening.  When Karis finishes I lace up my shoes and have at it.  I don’t even touch the hold that had me worried, I climb it cleanly, and I come to the ground frustrated that I didn’t even try to lead it.

Next up is an 11a.  This is the climb I wanted to lead yesterday, but I’m feeling way over my head, and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to finish it following.  Karis leads it and looks graceful, even if she takes a few rests.  Then it’s my turn. “I can do an 11 outside, right?” I ask. “Yeah,” she answers, like it isn’t a real question. Chalk up. Here we go. Good. Lord. I scramble, forget to breathe, forget I have feet. I swear like a demon, and then a sailor. I sweat. And sweat. I fall. I get back on and try, but I’m slapping at holds, I’m frustrated. I can’t calm myself down, I can’t get back into my body. Somehow I eventually thrutch up the thing—it’s balancey and crimpy and should be a climb that I love. I’m pissed, and sore, and tired.  Karis smiles, we high five. This was exactly why we came out here.

It’s dark by the time we hike out, and a storm is rolling in. Lightening forks in the distance and I give Karis a hug at our cars and we leave, me back to Seattle, her to Olympia. I hit the highway and in a few minutes sky gives out—too tired of holding in heat.  The wind in my car windows smells metallic.  The rain pours and the clouds thunder and lightening breaks across everything.

My friend J. says I’m too tough on myself.  Maybe I am.  As strong as I might have seemed on Sunday, Monday night showed me how much further there still is to go.  I just want to be a good partner who is able to carry her own weight.  I don’t want to have to depend on someone else to lead something I want to try, and I want my partner to know I can get to the top of something she wants to try.  It’s going to take me a long time to get as strong as Karis, if I ever get there.  I’m glad she was willing to be patient, despite my swearing. Every time I climb with her I’m thankful that we’re friends.  She inspires me with her climbing and she supports me with her confidence.  I know that next time, I’ll climb it cleaner.  Eventually, I’ll lead it.  Last night wasn’t my night, but the rock has been there for years, it will be there for a few more.  My body feels bruised and my fingerpads are sore and I couldn’t be happier.

View from Nevermind as we hiked out with headlamps.

View from Nevermind as we hiked out with headlamps.

Girl, be a Lady Tonight

I’m slowly getting back to my own feet again. Metaphorically, of course—I’m getting off my feet more often. On my hands? I think I lost the thread. What I mean to say is—I’m climbing again, after a few weeks off.  A few weeks isn’t a terribly long time—I know this.  But I also know—within those weeks I wasn’t sure how long I was going to have to take off. I thought it would be the whole summer.

Enter leaping, excited, climbing ME! Enter a lot of other frustrations and tears and distress.  Enter sunshine, enter rain, enter North Bend and mosquitoes.

Despite being part of She Rocks, of course I head out to the mountains with a group of guys first.  (So why do I have to keep insisting that She Rocks isn’t a separatist movement?) The first time out found us hiking up the Little Si trail in a light mist.  We figured there wouldn’t be much climbing, but we might as well explore the area.  I hadn’t been past British Aisles, and it was nice to follow the walls through the moss-drenched forest.  We finally found some dry rock and medium grade climbs and I jumped on lead…. Only to swear and curse and hurt like a petulant child. Girl- remember you had a fractured wrist? Calm it.

Why am I so hard on myself? I’ve never been the best at anything, so what exactly am I expecting? In school I was always a strong runner, but there were women faster. I can hold my own with a paint brush, but there are people who make work that moves me more than mine own ever will.  I got into grad school, sure, but I got rejected by every school I applied to besides the one I went to.  I love writing, but I’ve yet to put together a manuscript that someone wants. This isn’t meant to come across as a litany of failure, just a realistic check-in.  Why can’t I calm myself down and be ok being ok? Especially now.

My friends laughed at me in the best way possible. They offer encouraging support and patience and are really very adult about everything. And still I was frustrated.

Exit 32- Human Foot - British Aisles

Photo credit – Jason Sellers

Then last night I watched a woman on some her first lead climbs. She moved slowly up the climb and, about ten feet from the top, got snagged.  Her partner waited patiently, shouting up what advice he had to give.  She was nearly at a clip and from the ground it looked like she could, if she just moved a hand slightly, make the clip and be safe.  Instead she was caught up in the rope, tentatively reaching, pulling back, reaching again. Freaking out.

I’ve seen a lot of bad ass climbers, but this woman sort of blew me away.  I know what she was feeling.  She was scared, tired, frustrated, in pain. She ended up above the bolt, trying to find a more secure place, and as we watched from the ground made the clip from above with a gut-wrenching move. Her partner started to cheer and say “If you want to rest…” but she was already up and moving, making her way to the anchors.  “That was so embarrassing!” she shouted.

No. No it wasn’t. It was amazing. And it made me want to keep my complaining tongue in my mouth.  She was inspiring.  She wasn’t climbing anything that people might think of as “tough” and yet it was so fun and powerful to watch her finish.  Because climbing isn’t what someone else can do, it’s what you can do. And she did it.  That’s what I was reminded of—climb for me, for where I am, and not for where I want to be or some bar that I’ve set for myself.  There’s time for that, there will always be time for that. But girl, calm down. Heal. Have fun.

The woman and her partner got to the trail-head right as we were about to leave, and I dug out a She Rocks sticker to give her.  She lives in Tacoma and she told me her name but I didn’t write it down and I completely forget what it was.  But to you—if you’re ever reading this—thank you.  You rock.

Nowhere Close. Try Again.


My best friend waiting at the top, trying to find the easiest way down for me at Hyak.

I wish that I was the sort of person to rush head-first into things, but in general I take a slower path.  This is true pretty much across the board—I don’t think I’ve ever been good, out of the gate, at anything.  I spent some time talking with my friend R this morning, soaking in a hot tub after a frustrating swimming lesson, and he paused a second before saying something along the lines of I’m going to say you’re not very good at change—because it means you’re not in complete control. It’s true—I’ve experience such frustration these past two months that I’ve almost broken into tears.  This isn’t to say I’m frustrated at my life; I couldn’t be happier.

I’m learning to recognize the learning period for what it is to me: a period of absolute frustration, stubbornness and tears.  It took six weeks of lessons before I finally had fun skiing.  Two weeks ago I almost broke down on the side of the slope, chattery corduroy snow beneath my skis, my lesson group at the bottom of the hill and my best friend waiting there, looking at me, saying just don’t turn in the ruts… look at me… turn to me.  No part of me was happy. I wanted to be better than this, to show him I can do this too, to show how much I’ve learned, to get to my class on time before they left for the lift, I wanted to be off the mountain, on stable ground, doing something I’m good at. I don’t want to be here. I looked down at him, looked past him to the group gathering near the lesson flags. The thing is—I had to get down.  There wasn’t another option, there wasn’t a button I could push to level anything out, the snow wasn’t going to get any softer, and I wasn’t going to get any stronger just standing there, terrified and stationary.  It wasn’t pretty, but I made it down. Because, I had to.

I’ve started to train for a triathlon.  Most of the training right consists of forcing myself to get in a pool and figure out how to swim.  It isn’t that I’m in danger of drowning—I’m a strong enough swimmer to play in the ocean or cruise around a lake, but I’m not a swimmer.  The first two sessions were with some of the other women signing up for the tri with me—none of us are really experts, so we’re just kind of giving each other moral support.  This morning I swam with one of my climbing partners and good lord, he is a wealth of information.  R is a one of the kindest people I know, and one of the strongest, and he was very sweet about all the things I was doing wrong.  Bending at the knees, popping my head up like a turtle, not tightening my core, not moving my arms close enough to my head… the list is pretty long.  He had me laughing enough to avoid tears, but I’m frustrated.  My body does not know what to do or how to do it, beyond—don’t drown.  But so much of swimming feels, right now, like nearly drowning. I have to learn to ride that closeness, without panic, and breathe. Simple. Sort of.

I’ll get there. Right now, I’m nowhere close.

Does everyone relentlessly try to improve themselves like this? My rest day today consists of swimming in the morning, pretending to clean (but writing this) during the early afternoon, meeting another friend to boulder this afternoon and then games and dinner with family.  Tomorrow morning, early rise to get to the mountain before lift lines become too insane and ski until I can’t anymore or my ride wants to head home.  I’m not good at any of the things I’m doing this weekend.  But I’m stubborn. And I’ll get there.

Nakedness and Jewelry

Forrest Glade

There are many forms of nakedness—sometimes it’s emotional vulnerability, sometimes it’s a physical disrobement. I think it varies person to person and I know that physical nudity isn’t the same as nakedness, for me. I’ve simply done too many figure drawing classes, from both sides of the canvas, to see an unclothed body as a naked one. It can be, sure. But for me, the two don’t go hand in hand.

I never feel more naked than when I’m without my jewelry.  It’s funny—I don’t think of myself as particularly feminine, but I am almost always adorned. These days I’m wearing six rings, earrings and a bracelet. This is my starting point—I routinely add necklaces, additional rings and additional earrings when the mood suits me.  At my barest, I wear two rings, stacked onto one finger, and a bracelet.  This is my base and come off only to climb and are returned as soon as I take my harness and shoes off.  While I like the physical weight of jewelry, it’s the significance of these three pieces that keep them close to me at all times.

The stacked rings are for my grandparents.  The lower is the engagement ring my grandfather gave to my grandmother, bought in the South Pacific during World War II.  The diamond is barely more than a chip, set into a flat square, and the band is thin gold. It’s a little loose on my finger, which is why it’s stacked below the second ring.  The second ring is a simple band of white gold that coils around and overlaps, each end joined with a wrap of yellow gold.  The rectangle of overlap is slightly larger than the square the diamond below is set in.  The ring is from a store that’s no long around, Beautiful Things.  My grandfather paid for the ring when I turned 16 but sent my aunt out with me to pick it out, and I’m pretty sure my father picked the store, as it was one of his standard places to buy things for the women he loved.  I don’t remember why I picked it, but I do remember that it was resized for me and for a long time it was the most expensive thing I owned.

The bracelet is my forest.  It’s a band of silver, also sized to fit me.  The clasp is the focus—a piece of glass with green and gold fused behind it.  The glass is set in a silver drizzle and when I saw it I immediately thought of a deep forest glade with golden sun streaming through branches.  It came from a woman who was a man at the time, selling jewelry at a craft fair I worked with my mother.  I can’t remember if we bought our bracelets or bartered for them, but I do remember the artist being very tall and that the artist had a thick French accent, dark streaming hair and eyes rimmed with black liner. I also remember not being surprised when my mom told me she ran into her next year and that she’d transitioned into a woman.  I’ve worn the bracelet every single day since that craft fair, which must have been when I was seventeen or so. I’ve lost it twice– once found in my own bed, having knocked it off in sleep, and once misplaced on a night of adventure that took me all over Seattle and had me devastated until my roommate found it on the parking strip outside our house.  Thinking of all the places it could have been and then where it was, right there, still gives me hope that lost things return when they are important enough.

It’s strange to realize I’ve worn something for over a decade, let alone a few things. Jewelry can be baubles, but it can also be something so much more. I’ve been thinking about the pieces I wear mostly because of my friend Olivia.  I’ve known Olivia since high school, when we ran together on the cross country team. Olivia now makes beautiful jewelry and I strongly suspect her pieces are the kind of pieces that become part of your life.  I recently bought a necklace that I’m sure I’ll wear often, and it’s really only a matter of time until I buy a ring to add to my base layer.  I love that she’s making art that feels so essential—I think it’s a hard thing to do and something I can only aspire towards.

So this is kind of a long way to say, look at Olivia’s work and support her. You can find out more about her process here.

Twig rings, by Olivia Ewing