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Rabbit Greens Part Deux: My new home, a tour

13 Mar

I might have mentioned I bought a house. And that  it might have been an all consuming project.

I have been working hard on the house for quite some time. As I was going along, I thought that  it might be nice to take pictures as I went along, talk about my daily struggles, and let people into the process.

But I realized, I am just not a DIY home renovation blogger. I don’t want to spend hours pulling up floorboards and then another day uploading the pictures of my efforts. I applaud people who do, they gave me lots of inspiration and a map of how to do all the things I was dreaming of. For me, I want to collapse on the couch with my dog and eat a cookie and close my eyes, not write a blog entry. I am much more likely to decide to spend an extra three hours painting a room just to get it done than I am to do it half way and tell you about why I am too tired to paint the ceiling. It’s tiring, fixing up a house. And frankly, I don’t want to talk about it every inch of the way.

So instead, I watched episode after episode of Monk and Psych and The Only Way is Essex and did project after project. It felt endless, but also amazing to spend every single weekend and most weeknights scraping and painting and hammering and tiling. My apologies to Dave who I woke up once, at 6 am on a Sunday morning, when the mood struck me to build an 8 x 4 foot frame for some homemade art out of left over moulding. A hand saw was employed in that process….

I will admit, my house is still not “done”, but I get the distinct impression that you are never “done” when you own a house. I still want to re-tile the kitchen floor, rip up all the carpets upstairs and put wood laminate floors down (Sorry wood fanatics: I have a dog, she would ruin real wood and we live in a townhouse, so we’d never get that money back when we sell), put nicer molding around the house…you know, all the nice things. But in all honesty, I’m a happy gal. My needs are simple: My house feels warm and inviting, I have a huge butcher block on which to make pies, and my dog can crawl over anything she wants and I know she won’t break it.

As I was taking pictures of my house, I realized I’m not a photographer of any skill, so I apologize…I think my home looks better in person! Anyway, it’s a very photo heavy post so please, click on through if you want to, or skip to something else and save your download speeds :)

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Wasting Words

7 Sep

I really don’t seem to post much anymore. This is probably a mistake. Not because anyone really wants to read anything I say, but because it makes my facebook friends have to read a lot of status updates in lieu of my writing out fully thought out ideas. But a lot of changes have been happening as well, which are exciting and weird, and I have no idea how to use words to fully explain them. Which is sad.

 

 

I was watching the BBC documentary, the 1940’s House (which is fun and interesting and despite the food shortages and lack of soap, does make me miss London terribly), and one of the women at the end shows that as she has returned to “modernity”, she has kept some of her new found habits—one of which is writing letters to her friends. She says, and this is me paraphrasing, that she had been forgetting things and feeling that her vocabulary was dwindling before she went on the show and she had attributed that to the fact she was getting older. But now that she writes each and every day, she feels her mind is getting sharper and that she has a more solid sense of what she is feeling and can express herself, her wants and needs, better. And it made me realize, that every day I silently curse how far away I am from the days of constantly having someone berate my grammar and sentence structure and how I feel inexplicably dumber for it. I look at my old blog posts from *highschool* and I think my grasp of language and wit was far superior. How sad is that? Today, I cannot even really express the mass of emotions I have raging about in my head about what I am doing with my life. So sad.

So let us try, shall we?

I live in Portland.

Whew. Just writing that out was hard. I live here. I live in a city, on a street, and I have my clothes hung up in a real closet. I have a dog. I have a job. I have a car. I have friends. I have a boyfriend. I have a tea kettle.

And now I am buying a house. Yes, the nomadic writery-wandery me is buying a house. With a yard, so my dog can run around like a crazy person. I don’t quite know what that means, exactly, fully, but I think I can write about it to figure it out. It’s not a pretty pretty all finished house, it’s a giant mess that needs to be gutted and renovated and have the floors torn out and things painted and repaired. And I’m going to do it alone. I am buying a house, just me, and I am fixing it up, yes, with the assistance of friends and family that will wander in and out of the scene, but mostly, I am on my own for this.

And it’s going to be a project. A project bigger then rehabbing a nutty rescue dog. Or taking care of a bookstore. But smaller, I would imagine, then the act of writing a novel. I love the hands on work, I love tearing away at rubble to stretch out the structure and rebuilding a life exactly the way I want it. I am going to plant a garden and bake bread in my kitchen. I am going to take inspiration from that BBC documentary and I am going to do everything by hand, with love, and by myself. I cannot wait to reupholster the wingback chair I found for a steal on Craigslist or put back together the upstairs bathroom, which, at this point, looks like something out of a horror movie. There’s something really enlivening about building something, really getting your hands into it, that I don’t think that mere decorating with throw pillows and curtains can do for you. I suddenly get home renovation blogs. I get why people want to document this process because it is creative and intense.

I am hoping to get a lot out of this experience. Of course, I am hoping to get a home, where Ava (the dog) and I can feel safe and secure. I am hoping to have a comfortable place where my friends from all over the world can feel free to crash (three bedrooms! So much space!). I am dreaming about having the kitchen up to code so I can bake pies and share my favorite hobby with others. And most of all, I am hoping it sparks inspiration in me to create in every part of my life. I feel like my will to write has felt so defined: if I am not working on my novel, then I should not be writing. No words should be wasted.

Where did I get that? How can you waste a word? Putting a word down on paper does not make it unusable for later. I’ve started writing short stories, I write about an imaginary lead singer of the band the National, because I don’t like the idea that he is really a blonde man. It doesn’t ring true for me, which really hammers in that old saying, Truth is Stranger Than Fiction. Although, this might be possibly untrue for these stories, which are incredibly strange, even by my standards. But strange or not, I am not wasting words. I have to repeat to myself this over and over again.

Perhaps while budgeting money, while watching what I eat, what I wear, what I spend on nearly everything, it has made me worried to be wasteful with every commodity, even my own creativity. As though it is a finite source, as though I may run out the moment that I really need a metaphor. I don’t want to end up sitting dumbly, blankly, when I have a conversation, I want to make sure I have something of value to say. And then I tumble into the nightmare, of what is valuable? What is a valuable word or sentence? Is it okay to want to feel valuable or is that a need that cannot be adequately met because it is dependent on another person’s perception? And then we tumble into the firey hell that is fear based writer’s block. And how does one get around that?

I suppose they buy a house.

Of Pit Bulls and Posies

18 May

I’m going to tell you a secret.

 

Everyone in my real life knows this secret about me; even all of my co-workers even are fully aware. But I still get nervous when I meet new people and trying to figure out how to tell them. And sometimes I get angry, like when I am on the bus and people are talking about “those kind of people” and I get a nudge from an old woman that tells me that she expects me to agree with her, maybe because I look so polite and so sweet and so, “not one of those kind of people.”

 

Except I am.

 

For the last two years, I have owned a Pitbull. Tucked away, next to my front door, beside my hand-woven snood from a little shop on Queen’s Street in Edinburgh and my green velvet coat with the hand-embroidered flowers all over the sleeves from Harvey Nicks, is a pincher collar and a leather, police issue, lead. It’s burgundy, not black, because I thought the color was nicer and as it ages, its starting to have a lovely soft patina.

 

I was not the sort of person who is a breed advocate, or particularly political with animal rights, but my little ginger Pit has started to turn me into that sort of person. I grew up in Upstate NY, as I am oft heard saying, and that meant that hunting and farming were the norm and, part and parcel of Upstate is that Pits are also normal. Blissfully so.

 

High school and college friends alike adopted dogs, many of them pit puppies. Others got Dobermen or Rotties. Big dogs that you took in the back of pick up trucks. My college boyfriend’s sister had two kids and an adopted Pitbull female. A homeless man had asked her to take his dog (she works as an advocate) and she obliged. A few years later she got a second. I remember sitting in her living room, petting that big goofy head, and watching her play nicely with the kids. No one, absolutely no one that I knew of had a problem with Pitbulls. We all read in horror what Michael Vicks had done and wrote that off as a twisted man, not as an issue with dogs. To us, saying it was the dog’s fault was a cop out that lazy people made. We wrote off Pitbull haters as an issue bred in cities where people had no idea how to hunt or fish or do a keg stand. In other words, what we called “assholes.” In the UK, at least in Scotland, people have pits left and right, and maybe they wore muzzles, and maybe they didn’t, but the familiar wide head and goofy smile was easily spotted all over Leith, which is where I made my home for most of my time there, although there was a man who walked his pits around The Links where I lived as well. The rest of Europe had wild packs of dogs that were shaggy and wolf like; those scared me, the way they would run loose through the streets at night, howling.

 

When I came “home” from Europe two years ago, I was breaking down. I had left what I had hoped would be my home for life, Scotland, to making my way through London, and surviving my way through Eastern Europe and Greece and then back again. It wasn’t a physical hardship as much as it was a complete shift for my mind. Being Upstate, I think, had made me crave a home, stability, to see familiar faces. And then the nomadic, military brat in me was pushing away those edges and making me restless. I didn’t know where I belonged or what I was going to do. I could write, yes, and I could make friends, and try out things, but I was also mostly stuck in my hometown with just a few suitcases, unpacked into my grandmother’s dresser in my parent’s spare room, my own childhood bedroom a quilting/computer room.

 

The whole time I lived overseas, and even before then, I had been day dreaming about a dog. I thought I wanted a little dog, when I lived in a tiny apartment, but as I walked across Europe, I saw big, fuzzy, fluffy dogs, especially in Oia, where everyone had a beautiful dog. We rescued puppies at the book store, and my Ukrainian friends took a set of golden puppies that had the same marking as my future dog would have. I dreamed of a Shepard or a Husky, or what my father had had when he was fresh out of the military, a Malamute. I dreamed of hiking and swimming and camping with a dog. I was tired of doing these things alone.

 

Nearly in tears every day, as girls who don’t know what the fuck they want to do with their lives once everything around them has been shuffled around irrevocably, my parents agreed to take me to the animal shelter. I think they were desperate to give me something to focus on. Like a five year old set free in a toy store, I only thought about the getting, not about the later. I was a nervous, wide eyed, whippet of a person when I got to the Humane Society.

 

I don’t know why they gave me the dog, I don’t know why the shelter let me walk out with her and her big floppy bunny ears. Maybe they trusted my parents; that my big, 350 pound, 6’7”, ex-AirForce father could handle whatever was given to us. Maybe they just didn’t know what else to do with her. Her tag read “Ruby” and the guy who lived around the corner from my parents, the guy who bred Red-Nosed Pits himself, told me I had saved her from certain death. He said that people will pay for puppies, but if they can’t control them, if they can’t train them the way they want and give them up, and no one will take an adolescent pit, especially not one built like a brick shit house, like “Ruby” was.

 

When I was walking down the aisle in the “Big Dog Room” (no terrier for this girl, I wanted a monster sized dog to keep me safe and warm) I was drawn to a pit/great Dan mix named King, that at 8 months, already weighed 80 pounds. I was sure, and still am, that he was a gentle giant. But from the end, my mother was squealing, “This one has bunny ears!”

 

And so she did. While most Pitbulls are short, stocky, and even, dare I say, on the small side, “Ruby” was tall, with a greyhound body, and the most gloriously tall rabbit ears that cocked this way and that way. She was underfed and looked sorrowful, her spirit was super still when we met, but she tilted her golden eyes at me. She is not pure Pit: she is Red-Nosed Pit and Pharaoh Hound, which may be the most fucked up mix to ever exist. I instantly fell in love. She was a creature drawn straight from the dark crevices of the mind of Hunter S Thompson: “Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” I felt instantly connected with her and I wanted us to start again. I named her Ava, for Ava Gardener, an idol of mine, and a woman I think who was also, a rare bird, revered for her beauty, but with a toughness that could pack a wallop (there are tales about a frying pan and her then husband, Frank Sinatra’s head).

 

When I take Ava out these days, well fed, and bright eyed, people stop and tell me that she is built like a race horse, with long running legs, defined by muscle on top of muscle, but slender with the curving chest of a Pharaoh Hound. And she can run; she gallops like a horse, stomping across the ground at a speed that is terrifying if you do not know that she means no harm once she reaches you. My father and I would take her to the abandoned air field by our house and let her run the length of the tarmac. She was in-fatiguable. We go on hikes that last for hours, up hills and through the woods and at the end she is ready to run more.

 

Who bred her and why, we’ll never know. Maybe as a hunting dog? She is fast, she is focused, and yes, she is prey driven. Where we live now, she can not run free, it’s not the same here. In Syracuse, people have their dogs in yards and they run with them on trails, safely leashed. There are wide open spaces where there is no one and no other dogs. People have farms and yes, abandoned airbases where dogs can roam and run and be dogs. I think she was very happy there.

 

But life changes and there is not any work in Syracuse, not for someone like me, and so, after more journeys and more hunting of my own, I found work and a home in Portland. I am also prey driven, and when I set something in my sights, I can’t be still until I have it. A home for us, a job I loved, I wanted this for us, no matter where it was. When I found my little cottage near the woods, I felt satisfied that I could stop running. My parents drove across country to bring me Ava. But she was not instantly happy here. She had left a big house and a good sized yard and daily runs on the base to come live in a studio apartment in the NW of Portland. I lucked out with where we live, because it is ground floor and we have a little yard, but nothing like she had. She was sad, crying, whining, barking incessantly. When we walked, she tried to drag me along. She was uncontrollable, inconsolable. I felt like we had never been friends and that, like a child of divorce, she blamed me for everything terrible that was happening to her. We had to start all over again.

 

And so I have to work with her. While my parents let her run free, hardly ever using a leash, here she had to learn manners and to not pull my arms out. She did not like that one bit; I am too slow for her and she dreams of racing. I sneak out of the house early to take her to the tennis courts by our house, which have a locking gate, so she can run and run and run, but it’s only in circles and I don’t think it’s enough for her. 5:30 in the morning we leave the house and walk and run and circle the woods we live near for at least an hour. Then we have breakfast together: I have eggs and she has raw turkey and veggies. And then I have to leave her while I go to work, from which I hurry home every day, never going to happy hour with my co-workers or having dinner with friends.

 

On weekends we have lessons with an amazing team who knows how to handle my hell-hound, and Ava is now working on agility lessons, like jumping over picnic tables. We practice with other dogs, so she can learn to be calm and obey me no matter what else may come: she is learning to trust me above even her own instinct to bolt, to freak out, or to attack to protect herself from strange creatures that run up to her. I think she had a bad experience as a puppy, but we’ll never know, so all we can do is train her and work with what she is now. She has dog friends, and if you are slow and introduce your dog to her sweetly and with patience, she will be extremely friendly. But I am the first to admit: she shocks easily and a dog running up to her, off leash and yapping, looks like something she wants to tear into. I have to be ever vigilante.

 

Like me, she has a short attention span, easily amused and totally enraptured by everything and anything,distracted by the wind blowing an interesting scent across her nose, or a leaf dancing fantastically to her right. We have walks together where she and I become lost in looking at the leaves and birds. She is anxious when left alone, terrified I won’t come back for her. Her favorite thing to eat is vanilla ice cream and bananas, same as me, but she won’t turn down strawberries either. When I am sad or scared or lonely, or in pain, she lays with me in my bed, protective and calming. She stays awake most of the night, keeping her ear cocked to the door and windows, murmuring her growls at the people who walk by at 3 am. We are both nervous creatures who often do the wrong thing based on our fears and mis-perceptions. Cesar Milan once said that you “get the dog you need, not the dog you want.” And some days, when I sink down onto my couch, crying and freaking out that I cannot take one more day of Ava and her behavior, I have to repeat that as a mantra to myself. My trainers tell me that if I choose to not keep Ava, the kind thing to do would be to euthanize her because she could not be re-homed again with her separation anxiety and who else would take the time I take with her? They are good trainers, who have themselves adopted and trained dog-aggressive dogs, Pits and other breeds, but they know how different life is for a Pitbull in Portland than it is in NY.

 

I know I am doing something right, that what was once a high energy wind up hell-hound psycho dog, can now walk down a busy street, go into dress shops with me, and be told, by elderly couples, by men playing softball, by construction workers, and by little girls who love her ears, that I have a “beautiful dog.” That when she automatically sits when I stop walking or lays down when I say, “Plotz!”, people marvel out loud at how well mannered she is. She smiles, her goofy, lolling smile, and waits, not patiently, to be petted, loved, and fed treats (which the shop keepers kindly do).

 

But I am still told, at times, that my dog is the devil, that her jaw locks and that she will someday devour me in my sleep. Mostly I read these thing online, where people don’t have to show me their faces when they say these words. Worse than people who might come up to me and be cruel are the cowards that hide behind websites and forums and comment boxes. In real life, no one would come up to me and say anything nasty, partially I am sure because Ava’s exact breed confounds them and most people, people who do not know and love Red Nosed Pits, do not know what she is. But also, I think an owner dressed in a floral dress and a cardigan go a long way in making a dog look friendly. But still, I brace myself, ready myself to pull out the angry NY Italian that resides in my heart, ready to fight, to defend my dog’s honor.

 

My friends tell me that no dog should take up so much time. People on the street do walk away from me. Sometimes she does get into dog fights, because unleashed dogs run up to her, their owners shouting from 500 feet away, “Don’t worry, she’s friendly!”…well, mine isn’t and you should have asked…although luckily she is a shaker, not a biter, so she’s only ever been the one injured. Sometimes, it’s just enough that she sneaks into the grocery bags and eats all the turkey I bought for the week in one sitting. Sometimes I am tired from running 4 miles a day with her, rain or shine, and I just break down. She is not the dog for the weak of heart.

 

And so, I repeat the mantra, you get the dog you need. Because maybe I was too weak-hearted before I met Ava. I didn’t know where I belonged. I fell for men who were unkind. I had the sort of friends who slept with those unkind men. I allowed emotional and physical abuse into my life. I took advice from people to heart, as though they always knew best, not always thinking for myself. And now, I am purposeful, even if my only purpose is to take care of this ginger furred, golden eyed, rabbit eared, horse dog. I write on this blog, this rabbit-hearted, self imposed title of weak willed woman-hood, and yet I know that this isn’t entirely true anymore.

 

I am now the sort of person who takes great, purposeful strides across the pavement as I handle a 65 pound dog who is pure muscle and teeth, and I know she will obey me. She is not perfect, but I have the inner strength, matched by the physical strength, to correct her, to be loud, and un-apologetic about who is in charge here. I do these things with a smile on my face and a dress on my body, but I do these things forcefully and with great strength. I am re-habbing a wounded, emotionally scarred throw-away who laid homeless on hard floors while people said she was not worth rescuing and I am doing this with the help of an incredibly beautiful and graceful dog who happens to be a Pitbull.

Of Spiders and Things…

19 Sep

“Experience is never limited and it is never complete: it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue”.
~Henry James

Friday at my job, as it is at many offices, is “casual Friday.” To me, that meant that I would wear leggings under a skirt with a sweater. It felt casual. To me.  I guess not to my co-worker and friend, L.  She came up to me as I was typing away and asked, “Have you always been so…prissy?” And it sort of took me aback. Me, prissy?

Do I wear dresses? All the time? Yes. Absolutely. Except when I am wearing a skirt. But since I have worn dresses while hiking, while breaking the neck off a turkey carcass and pulling his little turkey guts out, while on my hands and knees scrubbing a rooftop clean, while carrying a bleeding child home from the park, and a zillion other situations, I didn’t really think that this made me “prissy”. I thought it made me the type of girl who could eat 5 plates at the Chinese buffet without have to worry about my jeans digging into my stomach. I looked at my co-worker with a quizzical eye and wondered why this was a question. Didn’t she know me?

It sort of reminds me of my favorite bit of Christmas. You see, my mother is German and our tree was always very staunchly “German”. When we had lived in Germany, my mother had collected many beautiful things that you simply could not find in America, things like a gorgeous wax angel with luminous skin  and bright eyes, delicate candle holders, and most importantly, the tale of the Christmas Spider.

You’ve never heard of the Christmas Spider? Well, that is the whole reason you have tinsel on your tree. Yes, my mother, who is not a tacky woman, let me start off by saying, would delicately swath our tree in tinsel as the final touch before we set the angel atop. And she would always tell me the story of the spider as she did so. You see, when all the other creatures came to see the baby Jesus in that manger, they all brought what they had to share. Wool to keep him warm, milk to keep him fed, you know the tale. And when the spider came, the animals did not know what she could share. And so she spun. She spun her delicate web here and there and made intricate patterns that she hung from the plain wooden rafters. As the northern star shone down, light reflected off her beautiful webbing and caused the whole manager to glow and shimmer and look much more beautiful than it had been before.

I thought of this story as I walked to work today because I saw spider’s web, strung up in a strange alcove of a building where the spotlights were set up. One spot light was just right underneath this web, where the spider sat in the center, causing the whole web to look golden. It really stood out to me and made me remember the story and how much I do love spiders just because of that childhood memory. And yes, that is sort of the point. Because my mother told me that tale over and over again, because we have delicate spider ornaments tucked away on our tree right beside Santa’s and snowflake encrusted bulbs, whenever I see a spider, I smile. It’s changed my whole outlook on how I view them. I think to myself, pretty web and thanks for eating the icky bugs that try to crawl in my house. And sometimes I have to sweep them outside, but I never squish them with a shoe or a book.

I think that when people do kill spiders it’s because they don’t really know them and every time I hear someone make a statement about me and my dresses, good or bad, I feel like they don’t really know me. It’s true, sometimes people are extra kind to me because of my dresses.  And sometimes they are less than kind, acting as though I am offering up an excuse of incapability to anyone looking at me.

I think it’s both. I glamorize the spider and her lovely little web, but I am fully aware and incredibly thankful that she’s also using that web to trap the bugs that I do not like and keeping them away from my house. I like that she’s strong and willful and protective and that she did not build an ugly little weapon to do it all with, she did it with a flair for design that could not be learned in a decade at Parson’s.

Read this, Save the World

1 Sep

I have written about my love of London on here and I think it’s pretty clear about my romantic feelings towards Scotland. But today, I want to take a minute to really hone in on what is the best part, for not only me, but for hundreds, thousands of other people in Edinburgh: The Forest Café.

I came to Scotland after a terrible a breakup. There I said it. It’s on paper.  So, let’s imagine that, shall we? Broken hearted, 24, in one of the coldest, darkest cities in the world, struggling with the idea that there is no Mexican food or insulation, I wandered around the cobblestoned streets for a few weeks before my classes started. I felt overwhelmed: what had I been thinking, to sign up for a year of this place? No matter how much Scotland had touched my heart on my first trip there, no matter how in love I had fallen with the wet fields, the moody grey sky, and the fairy tales that twisted their way through the air like Fourth of July sparks, it still struck me as insane to have moved away from my whole life. It’s important to remember that even though I have traveled through a lot of countries in my life, until I came to Scotland I had barely even left the town I had grown up in.

I was born in Germany and then my Air Force dad moved my family (which is only my parents and me and whatever animals we collected on the way) to Cornwall and then to New Mexico and then to New York. And there we stayed, in my mother’s hometown of Syracuse. I went to a college only 40 minutes away. I dated boys who were from Syracuse, even all through college. My first trip to Scotland, I had my hand held by my Syracuse boyfriend of three years.  Was I scared? Or had I just not thought to do anything else? I’m not sure. But I do know that the first time I ever stepped into Edinburgh I planned on never leaving and it lit a fire in my heart.

Of course, walking the streets alone, exploring without a map, still left me feel fearful. And then classes started. And I met Ryan. Now, don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of lovely, wonderful people. Obviously, because it’s the people that glue you to a place and I am well stuck on the city. But Ryan was and is different. Ryan is a friend who will visit you in Greece, spend Christmas Eve with you, drinking port, bring you spinakopata for breakfast, let you crash at his house when you miss your train back to London, introduce you to amazing people like Deborah, and read your stories and tell you they are good. Ryan is, above all else, good.

But he is also more than just a friend to me, he’s a great friend to Edinburgh. He helped create and run The Forest Café. It’s beautiful there and it’s a home away from home for not just me, but for everyone who enters the place. It’s a feeling of pure comfort when you wander into the dimly lit rooms.

Free computers and internet, because everyone deserves to be able to access information. Amazing vegetarian food, (including burritos!), free space to do yoga or Spanish lessons or to build your own robot, gallery space, a free dark room, community projects, fund raising, books published, music heard, lectures given, people met. Oh yeah, and you can bring your dogs.

When Ryan brought me to the Forest, I was scared. Really scared. It’s a huge space and there are so many people who always seem to know everyone else. They are bustling in the kitchen, getting food out, and they are stomping around, dragging furniture or amps upstairs and downstairs and people are taking pictures and making music and dishes are clattering and art is being made and laptops are being used and books are being read and there will be people getting hair cuts or massages in the tiny “shops” set up in the hallway.

And I didn’t know if I would ever fit in.

In NY, I was a big fish in a small pond. And even if I didn’t exactly feel like an “adult”, I didn’t feel like a child and I felt like I was very in control of my life. I knew everyone around me and there were few unfamiliar faces. I felt confident about the persona I had built for myself: perfect student with lots of extra-curricular activities, including being in student films and writing on the school’s literary magazine. I had my own apartment off campus, which I loved. I ran at least 5 miles a day and I had plans on going to grad school and then working at a magazine, hopefully Martha Stewart. I worked a few jobs, one of which where I was a manager and worked on all aspects of the business. I felt completely together.

I got to Scotland and BAM! I was a kid again. I lived with flatmates, all of whom had real grown-up jobs, while I was in school, going to class all day and working part-time at a retail shop on the weekends. I drank and wrote and slept and ate heavy cream based foods and danced until late at night and got myself a boyfriend who promised not to break my heart and I felt so young that whenever I entered a room I felt small and insignificant and like I had no experience in comparison to everyone else in the world. Everyone had traveled and written published things and some people were making music while others were starting hip, underground bars where you could drink gin out of tea cups. It was all very amazing.

Possibly the most amazing thing was that people liked me and were willing to talk to me. When I was asked to help decorate for a party at the Forest, I felt like I had just won something fantastic. When Ryan asked me to help him publish books and then it turned into me getting to talk to local bookstores and do readings myself, it started to make me feel like I could do all sorts of magical things. Magical things like move to London or live in a bookstore in Greece.

It’s hard to fully explain the Forest, except to say that it is magical. It gives people permission and space to be themselves and to be creative. It also, even more importantly, gives a lot of people resources to use to be creative.

I have written about my amazing friend Deborah before. She is a playwright and an excellent cook and a good travel companion. And she also is in charge of the Forest Fringe, something that has been called, by a newspaper man at the Guardian, “an ongoing miracle.” But as she says, it’s not a miracle, it’s a product of how amazing the Forest Café is. The Forest gives Deborah the space to put on amazing, free shows that stimulate the growth of art that is so important in Edinburgh. You may have heard of the Edinburgh Festival, which takes place every year in August. And that is a very cool thing indeed. But what makes the Forest Fringe even better than the regular festival is that it is FREE. It is art for anyone, anyone at all, and it is art that anyone can make.

And that is the joy of the Forest Café. It is a beautiful wonderful jumbled up mess of an existence that can and will change your life, if only it gets the chance.

And right now, it might not get the chance.

Developers in Edinburgh want to take the building away and today, yes, today September 1st, every part of the home I remember, has been dismantled and put into boxes. Despite the best efforts of SNP politician Marco Biagi and all of my hundreds of Edin-burgers, enough funds were not raised in time to buy the building before the lease is up.

But all hope is not yet lost! The good news is: The building is historic. Changes cannot be made to the structure, so it makes people not want to buy the building! There is still time for US, for you, for me, to buy this building and continue the co-op. I implore you, to make the Forest Café your home. Because this place does not exist elsewhere, it really doesn’t. I have traveled the world and this sort of thing, at this size, with this many volunteers working seamlessly to make it run, simply does not exist anywhere else. Save the Forest and Save the World! Dramatic? Yes. But please, it’s amazing. And it needs your help.

You can help by going here: http://www.wefund.com/project/help-forest-cafe-buy-bristo-place

 

Eternal Sunshine

26 Jan

Recently, I made enemies with a girl I barely knew. I didn’t know I was making enemies with her, I thought I was being friendly. I complimented her clothes, bit my tongue and smiled when she told me she only wore vintage (in a tone which implies that she was the first person to have ever worn vintage and also, that everyone else was quite possibly doomed to having their soul sucked out by Walmart if they were wearing anything but vintage), made her cookies, drove her home in a snow storm, refused to speak ill of her when others did, and just was generally nice to her. After all, it’s nice to be nice.

Turns out, as a matter of fact, according to her, it is *not* nice to be nice. In fact, it is down right bitchy! It took me a little while to figure this out. I was confused at how being kind could be looked upon not simply as a stupid thing to do, but also a cruel and “insane” thing to do. And then I realized something.

Five years ago, I was living in upstate NY. I was not born there, but I grew up there and spent most of my life there. It snows a lot in upstate NY. There aren’t really any fun things to do. You mainly only know people that you already know. And if you are even just a little bit unhappy, then it snowballs into a gut crushing depression that there seems to be no digging yourself out of. Of course, I know plenty of people from my hometown who are generally happy, who run marathons or volunteer or have wine night with their friends and just generally work hard to socialize. But I can safely say that when I was living there, from the ages of 15-22, I was terrifyingly miserable.

It wasn’t until I moved away and created a huge gap between me and all of the people I had once known that I was finally able to really reflect on my life. And what I saw was that I had always been sort of a bitch. No, wait, that isn’t quite right. I had always known I was a bitch, but I had worn that moniker with pride. I didn’t take any shit from anyone, I would pick a fight with anyone, and I was catty. Frankly, when you stick a bunch of very different human beings in a small town and make them spend 20 years together, they are going to start to claw at each other because personalities conflict. You’re bored and suddenly, any drama starts to seem like a good idea. You want to hate people because it validates your life choices better. You need to be mean in order to set yourself apart from others and protect yourself from thinking too hard about your day to day life.

But these days, I have mainly super positive friends. Friends who aren’t naturally happy necessarily, but people who have really made a point to strive for happiness. I have friends suffering from MS, or maybe with husbands that are recovering alcoholics, suffering from debt and bankruptcy, cancer, deaths in the family, disabled children, memories of horrific child abuse and so much more. And yet…these people are happy. They look out there window and they see a tree with the sunlight on it and they smile. They get a free coffee at Starbucks randomly and they giggle. Or maybe, like my friend Rhea, she finds an envelope with $10 in it, left by another person committed to finding their bliss and sharing it, and her whole day is made.  Yup, a found $10 makes us gleeful, because we know it’s not the amount but the thought.

So, I know that I have been insulated from “the real world.” Rhea reminded me the other day that although we, and our similar friends, are happy, the rest of the world treats us like crazies. It’s a shame that being grateful and hopeful every day makes us into insane people, but I suppose I would rather be crazy happy than crazy suicidal or even just a tad angsty any day.

I sort of hate positivity blogs because they often seem so sappy and false, and I never want this to be like  that. But I know that recently I have had to deal with several extremely negative people and, instead of wanting to comfort them, they are starting to make me want to stop speaking to them. You can only rub someone’s back and tell them they are beautiful wonderful souls so many times until you just want to scream: change something! When people choose to be self-destructive and sad, there isn’t much you can do. And I can feel them zapping my energy from me whenever we are in the same room.

And I know that I don’t want to be like that. I like walking into a room, or hiking along a trail, and smiling at strangers. I like when they smile back. I like when we start talking. I like making friends. And I don’t feel like I have acquaintances, I feel like I have friends. The other day I was informed that when you randomly meet people, they aren’t friends. But I don’t believe that at all! I met my friend Katie for 1 week while we hiked around Scotland together last Christmas, and then 6 months later she was letting me crash at her house in Budapest and meeting all of her college friends. She’s amazing and I would never ever call her simply an “acquaintance.” She’s my friend, even though she’s logged in less than two weeks of face time with me.

So my quick, no frills advice to you on how to be happier, right now? Here ya go:

Lower your expectations. I don’t mean forever or for your life goals. I mean, today. Today is not going to blow your mind. You aren’t going to be made President or save a drowning baby from a well. I mean, maybe this will happen, but it seems really unlikely. Go into today thinking: If I don’t die or get mauled by a tiger, it’s going to be awesome. Then, when the guy at the coffee shop gets your order right, smiles at you, and then you find a table by the window, you are going to be thrilled. You are going to love how amazing the coffee smells and you are going to think it’s cute the way the kid outside the window is prancing in her fairy costume on the way  to school. Later on, at work, when you are wading through a stack of papers you hate, you will smile when you see someone used a star shaped paper clip. The ride home, you are smiling, and so the middle aged guy gets up off his seat on the train and offers it to you. Instead of collapsing into it and looking down, you feel thankful you got a seat. For dinner, you don’t feel like cooking, so instead you have a big bowl of fruity pebbles and sorry, that’s awesome.

Is that an AMAZING day? No. In fact, it could very well have been a crap day. But you aren’t dead and you weren’t mauled and so you met all your expectations and got some nice surprises. Every day isn’t going to be a winner, but it doesn’t have to suck either.

Join a Group. Or just make friends with someone in a group. All my friends out here are in a kickball league. I don’t want to play kickball, I suck at sports. But I tag along to the after game drinking events and trust me, no one is like, why are you here? They just buy me a beer and we hang out and chat. Every single positivity blog says to widen your circle of friends and the reason you should do it is because it works.

Watch Glee. Go on Hulu and watch Glee. Even my totally serious friends love watching Glee. It’s silly, it’s funny, it numbs your brain, and you can sing along. Watch it alone, tell no one, and enjoy yourself for an hour.

Eat some Italian food. I always feel better when I have a bowl of pasta, some salad, and a cannoli. You should always be eating dessert because it makes you feel like a kid, being rewarded for eating all your veggies. And how can feeling like a kid again not make you happy? Kids don’t have jobs!

Write Letters to Your Best Friends. Every Christmas, I write all my best friends letters telling them how much I love them and why. I hope it makes them feel amazing, and I think it does, from their feedback. But more than that,it helps to remind me why I am so lucky to have them in my life. It makes me feel grateful. And a lot less selfish than just writing a gratitude list.

Reclaiming Your Music

13 Oct

I   mentioned previously, ahem, how much I love my friend Deborah. Today, she once again made me feel love for her by posting this blog. It’s all about how relationships ruin your favorite music, but how you can reclaim your songs with her simple step by step process. And it’s true, isn’t it? I have music that was ruined by exes simply because every time I hear the artist, I see their face and it makes me sad or angry or a little annoyed with myself that I no longer fit into that stunning orange dress that I used to wear when we went to Burlesque nights out during the Edinburgh Festival…that might have been a tangent. Sorry. I was, erm, inspired?

Anyway.  Read her post.

30 Days of Inspiration

13 Oct

So, I sometimes meander over to Steve Pavlina’s blog because I find him to be an interesting person, even if I don’t always agree with him.  Yesterday, sort of looking for something completely different, I found this article, entitled 30 Days of Inspiration, in which he talks about how he decided that he was going to do only what he felt inspired do: “I’m not scheduling anything at all, unless the inspiration to schedule something hits me.” While he writes about how much fun it is and how productive he feels (in one bit he says how he came up with an idea to sell a consultation on ebay and then, instead of writing it down in his notebook and then filing it away to do later, he just did it right that second, and a few hours later, the bid was up to $1,000 and in almost no time, he was giving that session and collecting a large sum of money. If he had waited, he might have talked himself out of the idea and then denied himself all that money…I can see his point), he then writes about how fearful he is to act on impulse because “some things can’t be undone. By day 30 I’ll have probably done at least a few things that will make it impossible to restore my life to essentially where it was on day one.” And if you are only doing positive things that are bettering your life, like earning $1,000 and adding a new aspect of business to your life, great. If it means cutting old relationships from your life, randomly, quickly, I could see that in awhile, maybe even the next day, you might regret it. Or maybe that’s best for everyone. You don’t know and because you aren’t mulling it over, you just have to accept whatever the consequences. Which, of course, scares me as much as it seems to be scaring him.

I feel that I do live much of my life like this already…Steve has a business, a wife (now ex-wife), a girlfriend, and a child, so a lot of his life has to be mapped out in order to be reliable to himself and others that depend on him, so I think it is a bigger leap for him. For me, I already look at something that interests me and, usually pretty quickly, act on it. Sure, it took me a month to move from Edinburgh to London, and I did wiggle back and forth on whether it was the right thing for me, but ultimately I followed my original inspiration. What Steve is suggesting, or rather, what he did do for 30 days, is that you don’t spend the time rehashing the pros and cons. You just go with your intuition and you learn to trust yourself. Because, what is best for you in the long run might have some nasty short-term effects, but I have to say, maybe it is better to get a big lump of suffering out of the way, rather than prolonging your pain for a long time at a “manageable” level.

But I don’t really want to focus on the negative, because Steve, despite his fears that it will be a big, scary thing, seems to be having mostly positive results, where people are more generous, happier to help, and the universe seems to be smiling on him. Or maybe he, like me, just is hyper-aware of the good things and less aware of the annoying moments in life. He talks about when he gets hungry while shopping and is inspired to get a slice of pizza, then thinks, oh, wouldn’t a whole pizza be nice, but I don’t want to wait the 30 minutes for them to cook it, and BAM, at the counter the guy is bringing out an entire pizza, with the toppings he wants, from the oven. Maybe other people wouldn’t notice that, maybe everyone gets this sort of good luck, but I would notice it and be happy about it.

So…I am interested in giving this a try. I am starting today, but with a few caveats: I already have a really large event coming up that I planned for: a week in California for Halloween with friends. This involves planning out my Halloween costume, planning on going to some parties, planning on seeing certain friends. Of course, one could cheekily argue, I randomly bought the plane ticket on a whim after an invitation to stay with a friend.

Also, in a new spin on my very solitary, very, shall we say, self-centered life, I have a dog now. A really great dog who is loveable and cute and non-demanding dog, but a pet nonetheless that needs to be walked and fed regularly and on a routine. I suppose Steve doesn’t necessarily feel inspired to wake up at 3 am if his son is sick, anymore than I feel inspired to let my dog outside when she licks my face at 6 am, but I think I can cope. After all, when I get inspired to take a three-hour walk in the woods on a sunny day, she’ll have no reservations about joining me.

I actually already started because I felt inspired to write a post about this. And normally, I blog in a little program on my computer, leave it for a few hours at least, but usually much longer, while I think about whether I am happy with posting it. But I am just blogging straight from WordPress today after waking up feeling like this was a good way to start the day. So here we go, Day One. I kind of hope it does irrevocably change my life…

I have a definite feeling that she just had an inspirational moment...

What Your Favorite Horror Movie Says About You…

13 Apr

 

This week, all over London, Psycho is being played on the big screen. Being not only a Hitchcock fan, but also a lover of the morbidly frightening, this has certainly put a smile on my face. Which does actually surprise me, because as a child I found E.T. too frightening to watch and yet here I am, having to admit to myself that all of my favorite movies are horror movies.

I don’t understand how this happened, how the movies on my ipod, you know, the movies you like so much that you buy a second time on itunes so you can watch them on plane rides, long train journeys, or in a doctor’s waiting room, are all horror movies. Rosemary’s Baby, Sleepy Hollow, May, The Others, Silence of the Lambs (although of course, I think good old Hannibal may be more likely to be classified as suspense or a thriller, but Buffalo Bill gives me the shivers!) all keep me company in my loneliest and most bored moments. But why? I suspect that my other girlfriends, when having a down day, pick up Bridget Jones or 27 Dresses, or, if they are very literary girls, maybe Emma. I think my more whimsical friends have mentioned that they always watch Hello, Dolly! or The Wizard of Oz.

So why do I, why does any girl, like horror movies? Turns out, liking horror movies may actually be the most normal thing I’ve ever done. In M’s screenwriting class the teacher informed the students that the number one target audience for horror movies is teenage girls. Childhood memories of sleepovers in parents’ basements watching Amityville Horror  and Chucky come swirling back in my head. All the popcorn and cookie dough and giggling screams and sneaking into the kitchen to get candles and mess with the Ouija board and play light as feather stiff, as a board all the while, terrified of the darkened bathroom where we dared each other to taunt Bloody Mary into coming and killing us. Or later on, being 15 and home alone for the evening, watching Candy Man and shivering in fear, falling asleep on the couch with all the lights on and the dog at my feet. I was not unusual in my need to be scared by a movie instead of the real horrors of being a teenage girl. What with bitchy, backstabbing girlfriends, cruel, dopey, or sex crazed boyfriends, ignorant or worse, down right abusive parents, the fear of untrendy clothes, acne, weight gain, bad grades, terrifying teachers, SAT prep…who could blame a girl for wanting to watch someone get their head sliced off by a monster in a woods? Frankly, there were many a night when I wished someone would shred the flesh off my bones rather than having to  get up for another day and another math test.

But really, what does a love of horror say about you? Does the movie you love to watch explain a lot about you? I think maybe the horror movie test is the best sort of personality test. I say this because there are vast sub-genres involved in the horror genre and frankly, despite my initial feelings that I don’t like horror at all, I in fact love the sub-genre of spooky-supernatural thrillers. I love ghosts, demons, twisted fairy-tales, the whole idea of mythology brought to life in a normal world. Rosemary’s Baby, The Others, Sleepy Hollow, these all follow the form. These movies seem to me mostly about the plot, about the art of storytelling. They send shivers up your spine all the while making you love and care for the characters. I feel deeply invested in Mia Farrow and so when she hurts at the end it’s like a knife in my own back; I feel sick on her account. But, I still feel like these movies are dreamy. Nicole Kidman in The Others is a romantic heroine, with her soft hair, beautiful dresses, and quiet voice. Rebecca, one of the most deviously romantic books made into an ethereal ghost story where the ghost is not even an actual ghost, but the most real sort of dead person: the kind that hangs about in your head and haunts you even when the lights are on and you are surrounded by smiling people. What you cannot see is what stays with you; you are obviously imaginative and can create horror in your head that is far greater than anything a director could create on screen. After all, nobody knows your nightmares better than you do. I think you are a romantic at heart, easily swept up in the moment and you probably are interested in different religions and philosophies.

Then of course, there are the slasher flicks, like Saw, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street. I honestly would have assumed these would be mostly targeted towards boys, because when Saw came out I distinctly remember thinking, “Only a sick 15 year old boy would want to see that shit.” Turns out, that, although I have never and will never watch any of that series of films, an awful lot of girls I know have watched at least the first and second movie and even made the argument with me that they were “psychological thrillers.” I sort of doubt that. I think it’s sweet that they are trying to intellectualize a film to justify why they like it, but truth be told, there is no reason why a woman cannot just say, “I’ve had a stressful day and I want to know that someone else’s day is way worse than mine.”  It’s a fact that more horror movies are created during a time of economic problems and I’m sure that slasher flicks are the majority of these. After all, it makes perfect sense for a person who is so deeply entrenched in their own personal problems is not going to be able to amused or entertained by a slow moving film such as The Others. A movie with long stretches of eerie silence would just leave that sort of viewer with plenty of time to reflect and think about themselves. But what they need is a massive amount of stimulation, something that will keep their minds active, focused on what they would do in the hero’s place. So, not only is it entertaining the viewer with intense bursts of action, it’s also allowing them to notice what they could be doing better, to outwit the villian, to prove themselves brilliant and cunning. Even when a person dies, the viewer is left thinking, Ah but that wouldn’t have happened to me! I would have done this and that and made it home alive! The viewer is the ultimate winner because the bad guy will always die (ah, sweet, perfect justice!) and they, along with the hero they have been rooting for, survive, strengthened by their adventure.

Or what if you love zombie/monster movies? Even when they are humorous, like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, monster movies, from the traditional (King King, Godzilla) or more modern (Alien), are terrific for the person that has, or perceives to have, a specific enemy. While the slasher flick lover is terrified of the world around them generally and would love some order, the monster movie watcher is angry at or frightened of something very specific. A mean teacher, a lousy boyfriend, a wretched boss, or something darker. Having a clear cut enemy that you can tell from a distance is a bad guy with a single look (after all, even from 500 feet a way, you can see that a zombie is a zombie. You’d never let that guy take you out to dinner and he’d never be able to sleep with your best friend and you have every right to take a shotgun to his face and no one is going to tell you off for it) is a very reassuring feeling. Monster movie watchers want reassurance that the awful things in life are obvious and not sneaky and that everyone you know wants to fight them as well. After all, it wasn’t as though Godzilla attacked NYC and only one guy thought to stop him while the rest of the city walked about with their heads down, reading the paper.

Of course, there are strange crossover films that can fit into more than one category; Dracula springs to mind. After all, there is a romantic love story, mythology, supernatural beings, and a monster. Or movies that I am not sure what category they fit into, movies like The Shining, where there’s a pretty clear monster, but he isn’t what we thought. And there’s ghosts, but there is also an awful lot of blood that movies like The Others are lacking. I love movies like these, and so do most people I know that watch any sort of movies, even those who aren’t particularly inclined to love horror. I think when a movie blurs so many lines it increases its’ mass appeal, thereby making it a classic.

I think too often writers I know dismiss horror films as derivative, their scripts generic, created for the lowest common denominator in the room. Even if that were true, which I don’t think it is, I do have to quote Oscar Wilde and say that “All art is quite useless” and why not just make art for arts sake? But then, horror films, sitting right there, without shouting that they will make you think or change the way you feel about things, like so many ‘intellectual’ films do, actually do change the way you think and feel, even if it is just for the duration of the film. They distract you from the petty ramblings a mind can sometimes get into, the horrible way a person’s brain can repeat a bad thought over and over again like a mantra, making one ill just from their own personal ghost that is mind fucking them. A horror movie scares you into appreciating that real life ain’t so bad, because, as I always say, if you haven’t been raped by the devil or thrown down a hole in a basement and forced to ‘put the lotion on’ by a cross-dressing psycho-path, your day can’t be all  that terrible.

Just For Fun

13 Apr

I’ve been getting pretty deep lately…ai, me. This morning I watched Psych as I was waking up though and it made me smile because it heavily referenced Hitchcock and even Silence of the Lambs. You should totally watch it…

Psych, Episode 16, “Mr. Yin Presents”.

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