Well Earned Rewards

On my second Friday off, I figured it was time to mow my host’s lawn, trying to keep things nice for her return. My morning dragged a little, but I figured, sure, I’m new to this chore, and that’s a big yard, but how long could it really take?

FIVE. HOURS. It took five hours to cut that grass. I made the catastrophic error of putting the front yard last, even though it and the side yard were the only ones she had said really needed to be kept tidy. So not only did I have to keep going after three and a half hours and realizing I had bit off waaaay more than I thought, it also turned out to be most difficult part of the yard logistically, with thicker blade-choking grass and short but not insignificant incline.

When that ordeal was over, I was sorely regretting the lack of beer in the house. Despite the deep pull for a nap, I made the enormous effort to get re-dressed and fed and then decided to check out one of the breweries whose beers I had tasted at the event I worked with Donovan (the smokey saison one). I brought the book I’ve been reading since I left home, the last in a series I had meant to finish before I left.

The brewery was half a bar and half a beer shop, and despite the length of the lawn mowing, I made it when it was still more shop than bar, and had my pick of seating. I wound up occupying the nice leather couches, thought I only sat in one corner, I guess no one thought I looked to friendly. To be fair, I wasn’t feeling particularly social, besides those characters in my book.

The bar lights turned down, the music up, and the space filled up—besides the couches. The bartender opened the garage-door windows, and I got to watch a short rain storm blow through. It was delightfully relaxing.

Eventually, one person came to join me. A sweet little kid (2 or 3?) was enamored by the fake, not-hot fireplace beside me. He wandered in and out of the couch space, dragging his mom and dad over in turns. His name was Max. During one of his later visits his dad had a piece of cake in hand. I asked if they were celebrating something, and he said it was his brother’s book-launching party, as he had just published his first novel in a series.

I was introduced to his brother, Matto, the uncle of little Max, and he gladly loaded me up with his book-swag, and some suggestions for writing groups he works with in town. I haven’t had great luck with writing groups in the past, but I need motivation and I need friends, so it seems like the right time!

Ahh the magic of sitting alone and intimidating adults while enamoring children.

Taking Time

Dave and I have been video chatting as much as possible, mostly over breakfast. The first morning that we didn’t video chat (he had been up late the night before and needed to do chores with what morning he was gonna have) I was thrown off by how much free time it gave me. I hadn’t figured talking to him was taking so much time, since I was usually cooking and eating as we did. But come 8:00 I was fed, the kitchen clean, and there was still an hour til I had to leave.

It really brought in to perspective the amount of work it will take to keep the relationship strong across the distance. And really, how much time it takes when we’re together too. It’s easy not to see it when it happens organically, or in snippets throughout the day, but there is real time and energy invested there.

It’s tough, when I’m struggling to find time to write my larger writing projects, and I feel like I haven’t done enough to spruce up the house before my host’s return, not to ponder how else I could use that time. But I tossed that thought aside, because there are soooo many things I would sooner sacrifice before this relationship. Talking to Dave gets me through the tougher days, brightens even the better ones, and reminds me constantly of the loving support that got me here.

The other day, when I made the bed, I put the pillows next to each other before remembering only one person sleeps there, and stacking them up instead. It was a weird moment, uncomfortable and frustrating.

It is starting to feel like the new normal. Seeing him on a screen, pixelating in and out of focus. Hanging up is getting easier, the hollow feeling that immediately follows from the abrupt disconnection has softened. I’ve only called him back after ending the call once so far. It doesn’t really take away the missing him, but the consistency of contact, and especially video chat, does help me feel closer to him.

He told me the spider plants died. I had over-attended them before leaving, and failed to research any distinct care instructions for him, and the roots rotted out. So. I guess I’ve decided I don’t believe in metaphors.

As hard as all this is, there is a tense-jawed certainty I feel that assures me it will not break us (or rot us, to continue the imagery). It hurts, and is lonely, but we’re in it together. I can let him be mad at me because this is a hard thing I asked our team to do. I’m a little mad at me a lot of the time. It’s not that we’re so strong the negative feelings don’t happen, it’s just that we know how to give those bad feelings breathing room. To respect them, sit with them, and then invite them to leave when their time is up.

We passed the two-week mark on the 18th, this is officially the longest we’ve ever been apart. Whatever the new record winds up being, I don’t think I’m gonna have any interest in challenging it again.

Worthwhile Frustration

The middle of the second week I had a really frustrating day in the workshop. This is gonna start like I’m bitching but I promise it’s not just one long whiny post.

My co-intern Nyssa and I were working on what will eventually be baby-bird hand puppets. We were trying to engineer what their head would look like, and how to make the mechanics translate to cardboard. With no clear vision, except some general google image searching, we were floundering with a lot miscommunication.

We would both start cutting a piece, then look at each other’s work and realize we weren’t working towards the same thing at all. I would describe my vision for an element, and then Nyssa would do something different from what I thought I’d said. Vice Versa too. There was a lot of talking in circles. A few times I saw things I was almost certain wouldn’t work, but didn’t want to speak up because we had been stepping on each other’s toes all morning, only to have Jan come over and confirm we should change it, and therefore making the last hour of work meaningless.

All over stupid gag hand puppets. Not even something of significant scale. Who knows how they’ll even go in the show.

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The puppet expresses my internal screaming

So, I’m sitting on my stool fuming silently, cutting out yet another new idea that will eventually get pitched, and feeling like Nyssa is just refusing to work with me. I’m trying to think of way I can tactfully extract myself from this project together. I’m wondering if I should work on projects alone from now on.

Then Nyssa says. “It’s a definitely a different challenge learning to work with another person, instead of just figuring things out on your own.” She says it like she’s just observing the weather. No venom, no pointed-ness, just putting it out there.

Dave and I have three distilled rules for how to be in a relationship. 1) Same Team. 2) Communicate. 3) Try Hard. Sometimes I forget that these rules don’t only work for our partnership. But when it comes up, it’s an easy rubric to snap back to, to get my head on straight. What Nyssa had just done was essentially tap me on the shoulder and remind me “hey. We’re on the same team.”

Instantly, I deflate from my self-righteous huff. “Yeah.” I say. And then, remembering rule number 2: “It’s definitely a struggle. I’m having a tough time.”

Nyssa is still looking at her cardboard as she twists it into place. “I think a struggle can be good sometimes.”

I nod, already feeling better. “Definitely. We’re gonna come out the other side way stronger.” For a second, I hesitate, self-concious, before adding. “Thanks for working through the struggle with me.” I hope she knows I don’t just mean these particular damn baby birds.

She finally looks up, wearing a big smile. She has the most adorable smile. “Thank you for doing it too!” She says.

Shortly after that, we finally have a breakthrough, and we now have a working design for some baby heads. I’m not saying it magically became the most fun project ever, I’ll definitely be ready to do something else tomorrow, but we made it through. I’m so glad I’m on this team for the summer. And so thankful for the team work from my number one team that set me up for success facing these new challenges.

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We have beaks!!

 

Time to Shine

I got my first chance to really pick up some puppets on the first day of my second week, just as things began to pick up steam.

Donovan was working a artist’s showcase-type event, and needed volunteers to help out. All the other interns had work or other obligations to fill, and the lack of connections that had made me so wistful and lonely this past weekend left me totally free to help out. The silver linings are shining a little brighter!

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Shameless selfie in my puppeteer’s blacks!

I got to man one hand of a big parade sun goddess puppet, and spend some time roving as a big-headed french waiter. As the hand, large swaths of fabric blocked most of my view of the audience, so I really had no idea of the reactions, but heard lots of excited buzz as I hung around later on in the evening. The waiter was a real treat, as people constantly took pictures and got excited to see me running through the crowd. (not literally running….the vision in those masks wouldn’t allow for that!) It was also nice to see how easily the characterization comes, as well as people’s willingness to read body language responses, easier not to break character when I don’t have to pick a voice, ha!

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It was such a joy to be a puppeteer again, and I can’t wait to do more of it over this coming Summer!

In addition to our little performances, we were also invited to simply enjoy the event, so I was able try samples of some incredible local brews (including a smokey saison from Starpoint that was extraordinary), and have a totally decadent meal. The best part of the evening was the venue, though. A stunning barn house, lodge and gazebo, all connected by walk ways, linking all the way over the pond for the gazebo. There were strands of lights over the dining and band area, and I realized it’s finally been long enough since I hung a strand of bulbs that I can actually just enjoy how pretty they are.

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As the night was fading, I walked to the edge of the pond, where the building’s lights weren’t so stark, and I could see the swathes of twinkling fire flies that filled the trees. As I walked the edge, I got to listen to the last few songs from the band (Big Fat Gap, excellent bluegrassy trio), accompanied by the throaty croaks and sometimes utter screeches of the frogs.

The night dropped the temperature just enough that the still-warm surface of the pond began to give of wisps of evaporation.

At one point, a heron flew over head, more noticeable from the sound of its wings and sway of the branch it landed on that anything else. In the darkness, it was merely a gray suggestion of a bird.

I felt so grateful to be here, living an amazing artistic experience in a beautiful place, where I can actually see fireflies again and have room to breath and create. Still, walking back to the bright beacon of the venue, I felt the “wish you were here” sentiment. But I felt it not as a weight, to dampen the beautiful moment, but as an actual wish, that I could send out across the nearly-1000 miles between me and Dave, and remember that even so far apart, we are together.

Long Weekend

The first weekend, the internship was still getting rolling and the usual Saturday community workday didn’t happen. This left me with four long days to fill, knowing just about no one in the area and no pressing demands on my time.

The first priority, was getting the writing rolling. I always forget how time consuming just keeping a journal of everything is, nevermind trying to keep and format a public blog. I also had some grandiose dreams about how getting into a different city would magically give me the time and motivation to work on long neglected creative projects….as if most of my important friendships aren’t held together with phone calls and social media anyway.

So, the weekend was slipping away from me, as basic logistics took me for a loop, and much of the rest of the time was sucked up with self-pity and watching netflix to make me feel less lonely. No matter how many times I take off, I’m never brace for a bumpy landing.

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Picture unrelated. Just wanted to break up the wall of text with a picture of this friendly visitor admiring his pollen pants

I did venture out on Friday night, wanting a drink and trying to shake off the fog of homesickness. The chilly, wet evening and the difficulty of finding the entrance to my intended location, only to find there was a dance party happening and I was not really up for that, did not do a lot to improve my mood.

So, instead, when I finally found a bar that, while you couldn’t call it quiet, at least had a corner seat at the bar where I could perch, I just leaned hard into the gloomy mood. I took out my little notebook and wrote maudlin musings until it got too ridiculous for me to take myself seriously. It is, in some ways, far more satisfying to be lonely in public. And as soon as loneliness becomes satisfying, it has already lost it’s sting.

There was some worthwhile experience in that, but I was still damp and cold and wishing I had my cuddle buddy.

Come Sunday, I was determined to make better use of my time.

I went to some local hiking trails—still shocked by how quickly you can get out of town here—and enjoyed a lovely, hilly hike through the forest of occoneechee mountain (which is a big of an exaggerated title so close to a real mountain range).

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At a lookout point, where I could admire the rolling green sea of the NC hills, I took a group photo for a nice family, as the parents struggled to wrangle two excitable teenagers and an overwhelmed lab dog for one pose. The dad wished me happy mother’s day, which, given that I was hiking alone and I like to believe I don’t yet seem like the kind of person you can safely assume is at least mom-aged, seemed a little odd to me. So I returned the well wishes to the more-deserving mom of their family, and figured I’d just pass on the misplaced love to my own, most excellent mom.

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(Mother’s Day flowers in abundance)

I then stopped in Hillsborough for lunch, and enjoyed a nice stroll through their quaint main street district and riverwalk. I hesitated from the BBQ for lunch, but I had been assured NC BBQ can hold up to Texas, so I gave it shot. It was pretty good, but I still didn’t venture the brisket, even in Texas only a few have measured up to expectations.

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Branch sculpture art, fairly certain I’ve seen this sculptor’s work in houston.

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The source of my cover art too

I took another short hike at Falls Lake (which I could not quite find the reason for it’s namesake, maybe I was in the wrong place), and wished I had brought a swim suit, as it had gotten plenty hot and it seemed to be the primary form of activity at their recreation areas. Still, there was some good short hikes, crawling with leafy-colored toads and a skink or two.

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Awww yeah, blue and yellow

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I spy!

The day out had done it’s trick. Sun shine and exercise and not just holing up alone with a screen in an unfamiliar house lifted my spirits significantly, and I felt charged for the next week of puppets. On monday, I even successfully got some writing done!

Really, everything seems to be a rolling a little more. There was a short stall where the road trip ended and the long stretch of the internship seemed to loom over me, but now I’m back to days flashing past me and weeks barreling along. It’s tough to balance counting the weeks til reunion and trying to pause and take in this experience, but sometimes, I don’t think I’m in control of the pace anyway.

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From the Riverwalk

Starting Line

I finally started my internship on May 9th. We began with a tour of the studio, including the larger-than-life faces (human and animal both) that line the walls, to be preserved and perhaps reused.

The studio space is an old gym, I’m not sure originally what it was for, maybe a school. The space is organized chaos, with storage overflowing, a paint room that is clean but permanently stained and cluttered, and tool drawers that may as well be labeled “ish” after their contents. Oh and finicky sink handles and temperamental pipes. The usual things.

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It feels a lot like coming home. I know spaces like this, but I haven’t been in one in a while, not without feeling like I was just visiting. Many, if not most, of the things I’m learning are new to me, but the basic foundation of artistry is well-worn. I hadn’t fully grasped how stifled I’d felt until I was nearly knocked over by the sense of relief at being in a studio again. Of being in a learning environment.

And I love the way they teach. The two men who run the show, Jan (pronounced yahn) and Donovan, are both encouraging and excited (Donovan moreso on that last one, Jan is far more reserved). I keep forgetting I was expected to arrive not knowing how to do the work yet, and every time I am reminded that it’s ok, and no one expects me to have this down yet, I feel like I just took off too-tight shoes. Throbbing relief, and a slight tingling as my pulse returns to places I hadn’t even realized were cut off.

That’s not to say I don’t get caught up in my own expectations. Working with new mediums is fun and refreshing—when I remember to let go of my own intense perfectionism and competitiveness. I spent so long forming the eyes of a mask out of clay, and I was so wrapped up in my own world of “why can’t I get this right? Why am I so bad at this? Why is it taking me SO long to do ONE thing?” that it took Jan gently reminded me to come up for air, and step back to look at what I’d gotten done, for me to remember it was my FIRST DAY and it was ok to be learning. No one else was working much faster. And even without comparing myself to the others, far more importantly, I was doing well just, in general.

By the end of the day, I had made a mask mold of a giant pigeon head, large enough to engulf a human’s head, out of newspaper, masking tape, and clay, and it didn’t look half bad. Maybe only like, one third bad!

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(Not pictured above, ironically, is the middle stage of adding clay)

Being around working artists again is interesting as well. I had forgotten the subtle difference in the way artists carry themselves, the shift of priorities and way they express….everything. I’m reacquainting myself with personality archetypes I had forgotten but had once been surrounded by. It’s an active exercise not to let myself just box my new colleagues into the roles I expect of people with their traits. They are all unique people that I have only spent a total of about 20 hours with so far, to decide I already understand them would be ridiculous. But the instinct is definitely there.

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Another project from week one!

Getting There -3- Hints of Warmth

When Audrey originally suggested going to a concert in Asheville, I thought it might be a shame to cut into my one day in Knoxville. However, and I’m not meaning to trash her fair city, but a single morning was totally satisfactory to hit the highlights. In fact, I drove clear across town twice, wandering and running errands, and didn’t spend more time in my car than it took to get to work most mornings in Houston.

So anyway, we drove to Asheville that evening. The gray drizzly weather loomed over us, with an occasional tease of clear, dry skies, as we wove through the roads that pass through the smoky mountains.

Audrey said I was one of the only drivers who doesn’t make her nervous, as she watched the wet, surprising curves of the road. I was proud to hear it, just another reminder of how much my identity is based behind the wheel. An unreasonable amount really, since I actually don’t have the best skills. Just the love.

The concert was bumped up to try to catch better weather, so it was already rolling when we finally arrived, and the mist continued falling, not bothering to wait, even though they’d rushed to dodge it. Maybe I was just in too good of mood on my wanderlust-quenching-road-trip high, but I thought the gray atmosphere only helped create a magical experience.

I could hear the band as we collected out wrist bands and made our way into the venue. What had captured my interest in seeing this band to start with was that years ago, when I was working as a barista, they had been recommended to me. I was pleasantly surprised to head a distinct bayou bent to their sound, something I wouldn’t have appreciated if I had heard them before my time living in the swampy armpit of the USA.

Also, when I finally saw the singer, who managed to be both soulful and falsetto at the same time, he reminded me of a friend of Dave’s and I never would have expected that. Sort of a doughy-yet-athletic-but-still-nerdy conglomerate.

The stage was nestled atop a forested hill, next to a brewery, and just perhaps half a mile down the road from an industrial park. But it felt like we had wandered far into the green wilds, insulated from the city, as we squelched our way to the beer shack and performance space. The clouds pressed low, the rain felt more like the bottoms of them resting on us than truly falling. With every belt, the singer’s breath materialized in fog that merged with the rain and stage-fog and built further into our gray cocoon. It felt beautiful.

The band concurred, staying for a four-song encore, despite trying to wrap up early, because they didn’t think anyone would stay in the gloom. The front man seemed genuinely touched.

We rode the concert-love high to another bar where a friend of Audrey’s was playing in a Talking Heads cover band. By then, the damp was less lovely and more just cold and uncomfortable, so we happily squished into the front of the warehouse-style venue, where better shelter and dancing bodies generated welcome warmth.

I was surprised to find they served Mead, so I had a glass to honor Dave. But mostly because it was served warm.

Getting There -4- Onward from Asheville

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From our breakfast stop, reminiscent of Dave and my’s favorite “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” gag

The next morning, there was biscuits, and coffee, and a brief stroll through downtown Asheville. In the used bookstore, we laughed to see a poster for Creed Bratton, of Office fame (and, apparently, the Grass Roots), who was apparently on tour. We had just been discussing The Office and the fact that he was a previous rockstar the day before.

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Asheville is actually a blackhole. We are all being sucked in and I never actually left. ….or someone punched a hole in this sign.

I decided I wanted to arrive to my host house in daylight, and so drove straight there from Asheville, despite considering meeting my hostess at the local music and arts festival. I had a pass for the next day, so I figured settling in properly would be better.IMG_20170506_152040353.jpg

I did also have time to stop at this covered bridge

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Arriving at her house was surreal. I let myself in with the previously-disclosed secret key. I had the place to myself to set my stuff and my self down. Just as I was feeling a bit like an intruder, I turned towards the fridge, and found it plastered with familiar faces. This is the childhood home of a dear friend, and her image and her art—or maybe not hers? But certainly the source of it—is everywhere. It took a great deal of tension away to see it. Still, I picked a distinct seat on the couch that was piled with blankets and pillows—presumably for my use, and mostly pinned myself there as I waited for my hostess to arrive home.

Even with out exploring too far, I was already enamored with the house. It is crowded in the best way, artifacts from all kinds of projects and childhoods (going back multiple generations, it would seem), are lovingly preserved. There are piles of art on some tables, and other, seemingly small and silly things, hang in places of honor. There are posters from the previous years of the Paperhand performances, and it only builds my excitement to work with them.

It is clean and well-kept, but in a way that is like the opposite of that cringey overly-sterile hospital gloss clean. I don’t feel afraid to put something out or place or smudge a window. Signs of regular use and holding-on-just-in-case and get-to-it-someday projects are scattered throughout. The front room, where my designated seat is located, in living room that feels truly full of life. The seats, arranged in a circle that makes me crave conversation and maybe a song or two, are all mis-matched but well suited to each other. It begs for a gathering.

Despite how welcoming all this seating is, when my hostess, Sarah, finally arrived, weary from a long day with children at an ourdoor festival in this variable weather, we wound up in the only two kitchen seats. She, in a chair that is clearly a familiar favorite, and me perched on a tall stool.

Over the course of our re-introduction (I had only met her in passing when the family was in St. Louis) that evening and a brief tour of the backyard the following morning, Sarah told me most watered-down version of everything I need to know for tending the house while she is away. Still, it’s a lot of house and a lot of yard, and while the work is not unreasonable, the whole thing feels like “too much” for just me. This is a place meant to house a family, people who know its quirks well, and I am just passing through.

I got pretty thoroughly acquainted with it that Monday though, my first day home alone, as I broke down and hauled a huge portion of branches from a recently fallen tree. I had promised to do the work, and been granted permission to access whatever I needed to make it happen, so I had to move forward with confidence, taking gardening tools without asking official permission, and aggressively pulling broken limbs out of healthy trees. That definitely gave me a certain sense of ownership and pride.

Before that though, and the reason we split the work into two lonely batches instead of tackling it together, I went to the Shakori Hills festival. Because of my decision to get to the house in the daylight the day before, I was only there for the last day. So most of the festival goers were bleary from a long weekend of indulgence, and the general atmosphere was half-closed and groggy. That suited my own road-ragged self just fine, to be truly honest.

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I heard many excellent bands, one of whom got me to turn around on the road, as I intended to walk past. (They’re called Rivers, a bluegrass folksy type band, if you wanna check them out). I did a little yoga with free class, and managed to feed myself pretty well on the slim amount of cash I had, as I was still waiting on the replacement cards. I tried not to let the lost wallet sting stick around too much.

I also stumbled upon a boff-fighting ring, and though it was full of children, and technically Belegarth and not my own beloved Dagorhir, just seeing the familiar weapons made me smile.

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With the festival closing out, I headed back to town, and, on a whim, checked Creed Bratton’s tour schedule, and found he was in Carrboro that night. With the 20$ I had left until the banks opened the next day, I was able to get a ticket and a beer, and was treated to weird experience that was an almost uncomfortable mash of novelty and nostalgia. There are few shows that tug my heartstrings like The Office, as it’s run lasted through some seriously formative times in my life. Singing it’s theme in a new city, surrounded by strangers, was uplifting and destabilizing. It was awesome, and I’m so glad I went.

Getting There -2- Knoxville, in Passing

Waking up on Audrey’s couch the next morning was surreal. Sleep had come nearly instantaneously upon lying on her practically-a-twin-bed couch, and I had not yet truly taken in my new surroundings. Looking blearily around, a massive window showed me a verdant landscape of forested hills and a slow river. Everything a little gray and misty, but in a cozy way. My head was fuzzy with the struggle to grasp how far from home I had come in just one day. I’ve done this before, many times, and still it’s disorienting.

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The view from Audrey’s apartment. So much space, so little city.

Audrey more than makes up for the gray weather. She is sunshine all the time. We went out for breakfast, and to pick up coffee beans and wander Knoxville for a bit before she handled some last work for finals. Even in the gloomy basement of her department building that feels like a rearranged but otherwise exact copy of the geology building at Mizzou, she is cheerful and grateful for where she is. It is infectious in the best way.

She suggested I go to the Art museum while she handled some finals business. It is only five minutes walking from campus and is free but she has never visited it. Maybe it’s one of those things that locals just don’t do. But I was in full tourist mode so I took a loop through the Knoxville World’s Fair park, past the giant gold disco ball, and headed in.

 

 

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Ok so there was a peak or two of blue sky

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Why is this sign behind a tree? It the tree trying to go swimming?

Even on this short stroll, it became more real that I am far from Texas. For one thing, I wished I had brought a hat to fight the chill. But mostly it was the hills. The unaccustomed muscles in my legs are stinging from all the hills since I left Houston. I’m honestly so pleased. It’s a reminder why I wanted to get away for a bit.

The Museum is small but lovely. Dedicated to regional art and artists, mostly. The docents hover not out of mistrust but with the sense that they’re just hoping you’ll give them something to do. Over friendly, but not fussy.

I spent the most time with the light exhibit, where mottled projections and panels decorated with densely organized LED nodes filled the walls. While it was interesting, and I enjoyed the art itself, what kept me stuck there was my inability to process it alone. Unlike sculpture or painting, there is something about this kind of art that I instinctively want to discuss and share with Dave. His technical background always brings so much to it. It felt like I was missing something, but didn’t even know what to ask. I probably could have talked more with those poor, bored docents though.

 

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I also stopped at the lake at a Civil War memorial. At Least it was a yankee post, maybe I did finally get far enough North….

Getting There -1- Long Haul

I always tell myself, this time, I will take my time on the road. I will make nice stops, and take time to really walk about and refresh myself. I always end up driving hard anyway. I just schedule too ambitiously.

I took one longish break for an early lunch. I walked the grounds of the Louisiana State Capital in Baton Rouge, wondered how long it would be til I stopped seeing confederate flags (never. I drove so far from Texas and so far North and somehow it is still the South….).

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No Option for the high-angle selfie with a building like this!

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I’m not sure what was happening here, but it stayed civil as far as I saw

In Arsenal Park, down hill from the state building, I saw a single sunflower, still short, but from the down hill angle it looked taller than the towering capital building.

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I wandered the downtown blocks for lunch, confused by the indoor market’s set up, and the dead-ness of the streets. Not every capital city is this way, but there is a distinct quality that some have shared when I was there. This sense that there is so much room for those streets to be busier, the stores livelier, but instead there is only a lackluster shuffle of movement. Even with heels clacking on the sidewalk and ties whipping over shoulders, there is a pungent essence of hollowness. I guess that’s government for you.

Already the break was longer than I hoped, and I watched my estimated arrival at my friend Audrey’s apartment in Knoxville tick later. I abandoned any idea of stopping at parks or roadside attractions. I only needed to fill my tank twice to get to Knoxville (though by the time I pulled into Audrey’s apartment complex, the gas light flipped on), and that plus a quick dinner stop in Birmingham took the rest of the day. Technically one hour of the next day too, since I forgot about the time change and my midnight arrival became a 1am arrival.

The dinner stop was deceptive. It happened just as dusk was falling, giving me the empty confidence of remaining daytime meaning I had plenty of time.

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My Favorite Statue in Kelly Ingram Park

I briefly walked the park outside the civil rights museum (closed by then, a real indicator of the time of day that I should have heeded) and puzzled over the bible read-a-thon happening in front of a row of empty chairs at the park’s far end. I don’t know if the chairs are usually empty or if the unseasonable wet chill scared them off.

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After a quick, hearty, dinner, inside a building whose exterior cheerfully proclaimed “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham!” it was full dark, and I felt weariness settling over me. Four hours left, driving in the kind of murky night darkness that can give you that trippy scrolling-backdrop feel, and I was beginning to think I finally was testing the edges of my road comfort level. But after a brief drowsiness, I was back in driver mode, the slightly eye-strained, sore shouldered version of it, but still something I can endure more or less as long as necessary.