Network of Love

I can’t believe how quickly I have reached the point of juggling too much. Between Paperhand, writing meet ups, regular video chats with Dave, and coordinating with my several hosts and the work I’m doing to earn my keep with them, I have already achieved what feels like maximum demand on my time.

I tried to orchestrate a social gathering for the other interns while I still have this beautiful secluded oasis at my disposal, and between the parade commandeering my original date and accidentally double-booking the follow-up plan, it just simply didn’t happen.

Ironically, after all that, I found myself Sunday abruptly empty after a cocktail-and-calendaring hour with Jenny fell through. I was in the mood for company, but not just general socialization. At home drinks with a friend was the specific itch I was looking to scratch. I thought I was simply gonna have none of those things and do some chores at home.

Dave would have none of it. He specifically insisted I should go purchase an alcohol on him, bring it home, and he would video-chat me through starting a fire. I have always felt I should know how to start a fire without accelerant, so I was excited at this prospect.

I picked out a beer (forgetting that Summer can be difficult on us dark beer lovers, had to get a case to find a decent dark option) and got to it.

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Yeah perspective’s a thing….but Milla really isn’t that much bigger than a beer bottle

Dave coached me through fire building via video chat to great success. It felt so good not only to learn something new, but feel like we had achieved something together across a thousand miles of distance.

I didn’t realize how much his video company made a difference until my phone ran out of battery and I was left sitting by the fire we had made together. I felt such a lurch from the sudden absence of his company, I was off kilter for the rest of the night.

I sat under the stars, watching the fire ebb and roar. A fire pit has always seemed to me like a social activity. Yet, it was just me. Halfway through the second beer, the chorus of “fiddler’s green” started circling in my head, and soon I was going through all the old nostalgic songs from my childhood. “Red is the Rose”, “Black and Tans”, and of course “Waltzing with Bears” and “Galway Shawl”. It was weird, singing them alone in a stranger’s backyard.

I felt such deep love for the people who taught me those songs, who I have been away from for much longer than just this Summer. I remember my first St. Patrick’s day away from home, when my mom left me a recording of John playing “waltzing with bears” on my voicemail and I cried as I walked between classes. There was also the year that I was in the so-called capital of St. Patrick’s day in Rolla, and by the end of the first beer I already realized I would be driving back up to St. Louis the next morning for the real deal.

I have been doing long-distance relationships for a long time, when I think about it. My dearest friends and family have been connected to me by phone calls and texts and emails across various distances, nearly continually since I left for college.

My network of love and support is cast wide, and I am endlessly impressed by it’s tenacity and security. It feels so easy to fly as far as I want, when no matter where I might fall, I know I will be caught.

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Destinations Blues

I tried going exploring with Milla again, this time driving out a ways to some destinations that interested me. Mary had promised she was a good traveler, and I will say for her many high-maintenance issues, she does do car trips very nicely. I only had to push her away from the gear shift a few times, and it wasn’t until the last couple stops that she got too lazy to get in and out of the car herself.

We started by driving down to “The Devil’s Tramping Ground”. I had heard about this place in several spooky posts online, as well as locally word-of-mouth. It’s supposedly a spot in the woods that looks like a pacing circle where nothing will grow and anyone who attempts to camp there wakes up to find themselves outside the ring.

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Utterly Unremarkable. Also that chair is still in the center so….

I didn’t try to camp, so maybe I missed some of the experience, but it was pretty lame. It’s right off the road, for one thing, no significant hike to reach it, so it hardly feels cut off from society. Likewise, other visitors have burned fires and left trash in the circle to the point that if I hadn’t known the story, I never would have thought there was anything particularly odd about the clearing. I would have just assumed it was some douchey kids’ place to drink and makes a mess when there was nowhere else to go.

Disheartened, I decided to stop in Pittsboro and see what the town had to offer. Milla was a bit overwhelmed by a busy space like the main strip of Pittsboro, and is spoiled by the quiet gravel roads around Mary’s house. She consistently wanted to walk in the middle of the road instead of shoulder-side of me.

After nudging and dragging Milla around the block, I decided to get a beverage for the ride home and stopped at the local coffee shop. I’ve been kicking myself for getting caffeine late into the day, so I opted for the chalkboard-sign-recommended smoothie….which turned out to be ice blended with some kind of juice concentrate rather than something made with whole fruit. Another let down,

Finally, we stopped at a small trail at one of the Haw River crossings. This is the same river that flows behind the Paperhand Studio. This section is just beyond a low dam wall, currently letting a steady waterfall flow through. The trail was small, and involved parking sketchily in front of some houses, nearly in their yard, but the river was beautiful.

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Milla Sized Beach

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Haw river beauty

For an overall lackluster adventure, I’m not in the least disappointed in how I spent the day. It was a beautiful day to drive around North Carolina. The country roads curve elegantly and the trees are full and green.

Besides, you know me and the road.

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Very Faint rainbow, since I couldn’t get a picture of any silver linings

Offering Play

As well as rehearsing, we (Me, Sally, Hannah and Jake) also got some hands on experience by working at the Greensboro Solstice festival helping Donovan run a puppet parade!

I got to ride with Donovan to and from the festival, and it was really nice to spend some time getting to know him a little better and hear how he views the Paperhand community. He also reminded me that father’s day was the following day. I did not forget to call my Dad.

The drive out was strange, as we passed through exceptionally brief, but torrential spots of rain. There was some anxiety about if we would be able to bring the puppets out after all, but by the time we reached Greensboro, there was plenty of sun to cook any rain back into plain old humidity.

The point of it was more to get other people involved, so I was actually mostly handing out puppets and talking people through how to hold and manipulate them. It was fun to get groups involved together, or pull the one person who shows hesitant interested into the fray. Right as we were taking off, I picked up the last un-manned puppet—really a prop? It was a giant tambourine. Anyway, I started to tail the parade with it when I noticed a little girl kind of half-hopping towards us, like she had just missed the puppet hand out. I offered her the tambourine, and she not only took it with enthusiasm, but also grabbed my hand to help me anchor the parade. Totally heart-melting.

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Setting up for pageantry

After the puppets had been loaded back into the truck, we took some time to enjoy the hospitality tent and the rest of the festival. There was decent beer, cheap snacks and some really great musicians. There was also an incredible tie-dye artist who I never would have fully appreciated if Jake had not stopped me at her tent to swoon over her technique and walk me through the challenge behind it. Artists are so cool.

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Wishing I were as cool as that tie-dye artist

It’s interesting to see how Donovan can both have an exceptional passion for his art, and treat it like another day at work. The practiced lack of care he uses when loading and unloading puppets, being exactly as rough as necessary for efficacy while being gentle enough to spare them from damage, is inspiring. He is clearly very particular in choosing which aspects of running a puppet troupe he needs to give his full heart to and which can be relegated to work-a-day trudge.

It seems odd to say that watching someone be careless with their art is inspiring, but it truly is. Respecting and valuing your craft doesn’t always have to mean grandiosity and putting it on a pedestal. It can just mean being very real and honest about what you can offer, both to your community and to yourself.

I am taking in so much. I only hope to grow what I am offering the world, and share some small part of everything I have received.

Starting rehearsals!

We started rehearsal this past week! And it came at a perfect time. Just as the building threatened to begin to lose momentum, and my enthusiasm paled in the face of struggle, rehearsals reminded me of the beautiful thing we’re striving towards.

The cast is fantastic. Full of open-hearted people looking to play and learn and grow together. Playing theater games and warm ups again was so fun, and I happily fell right back into it. Especially seeing the range of ages, professions, and histories that filled the room, it was a reassurance that this is not something I ever have to grow out of or away from.

Since our show is particularly full of birds, in these first rehearsals we’ve been playing with a lot of flocking exercises. We’ve spent a lot of time following each other around the studio in sweeping groups,

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A FLAMBOYANCE OF FLAMINGOS!

It’s so satisfying to see the puppets we’ve been working on come to life. To hear the non-building cast’s reactions to the puppets and notice how all the little flaws and inconsistencies disappear in the artful hold of a dedicated puppeteer.

I want to be every puppet. There is not a single role I would be unhappy to play (though I can see the physical strain some of these could cause!). There are one or two that I am really pining for, but I’m not setting any expectations.

So far, any expectations I set for this Summer have been blown away anyhow.

Echoes of the Road

(A Love Letter to My Car)

Driving back to Mary’s house at dusk, the fireflies are like running lights.

My car is approaching 200k miles. I do the math in my head hoping for the roll over to happen at a significant moment. On my way home would be a storytelling dream, but it seems like a stretch, with how far I drive around here. And my penchant for volunteering as driver whenever possible.

I got this car at fairly high mileage, but I’m still immensely proud of every mile I’ve put on it. I’ve covered a lot of ground in this little red machine. It’s the only car I’ve driven in a foreign country, following road signs in French as best we could. It’s been to the borders of Canada and Mexico. It’s made it through high water and rugged roads that never should have let this low-clearance plastic box pass.

This is the first car that was entirely mine. Not shared with or paid for by anyone else. After college, I dumped nearly all of my money into buying this car and going to Japan. I have never regretted either expense for a moment.

When I was staying on an island, years ago, I realized that the ability to drive away is something I am constantly attuned to. Even if it’s months between taking advantage of it, being cut off from the open road is stifling. Driving has always been my expression of freedom.

I am my best self when I am on the road. I have done some of my favorite creative thinking while rolling down the pavement. I have been struck by revelation and made daunting life decisions as I follow the curve of the road. I have had some of my best, hardest cries while curled over wheel, white-knuckled.

Lately, the radio has been cutting in and out, unreliable and frustrating to the point that it’s better to just leave it off. I’ve been listening to a lot of Welcome to Nightvale on my phone, sometimes NPR podcasts. Sometimes I fill the silence by singing to myself, the old nostalgic tunes. Sometimes I have company, and it’s like a challenge; if the silence will be comfortable, or not, or nonexistent under steady conversations.

Sometimes, I just drive in silence. Hope it reaches the inside of my mind. It hasn’t yet.

Bouncing between other people’s houses, packing and unpacking, my car is the one familiar space I have this Summer. One small space where I hold dominion. I leave half of the things I brought with me in my car at all times. Ironically, it’s mostly my camping gear, yet another temporary living space.

I know it doesn’t have much life left in it. One more major malfunction and it will be put out to pasture. So I live in gratitude for every mile more I get out of it. And follow the fireflies as I count to 200.

Picking Scabs

The first few weeks apart from Dave were like being in shock. It feels ok. Just a little light headed. Something’s wrong, but it feels ok, I guess.

Slowly, it started to sting. Unexpected jolts when I fumbled to navigate and drive at the same time. When I reached over in bed. Losing myself in a days work only to come home and cook for one. Just how long it takes to finish that giant pot of soup if no one else is eating it.

I was braced for the sudden impact of reality. That the shock would fade and it would crush me. But it hasn’t. It just shifted from the foggy uncertainty of loneliness to the dull ache of separation. The too-big bed sucks but I’ve stopped forgetting he won’t be in it. Missing him is just status quo now.

It’s the emotional exhaustion of engaged interaction or no interaction. It’s the passive company that still can’t be simulated.

I like being an independent person. But I don’t think I was as disconnected from that feeling as I thought I might be. When I was in Japan, I remember the excitement of reconnecting with myself as my own person, apart from a relationship. Living that way now, really only illustrates that I have been all along.

There are good things here and there. It has been a worthwhile exercise to see the difference between actively making time for each other instead of passively getting what’s left by default. It’s a good chance to see what it takes to make the other partner truly feel heard when you’re fighting against technical problems and the inability to touch.

But I feel like I’ve basically got a grip on the lessons this experiment has to teach. Now it’s just hard, and gritty, and I’m ready to take a break but i’m barely a third of the way through our time apart not counting visits.

I can’t decide if it would make it easier or harder if I weren’t so incredibly happy here.

I don’t want it to hurt more, but I don’t want it to be comfortable either. That feels wrong. It’s like continuously picking at a scab, refusing to let the wound heal. But still cleaning it carefully to fight infection.

Dave always tells me not to pick my scabs. He’s very good at letting healing happen. His self-control is astounding.

Endless Exploration

Another nice thing about Mary’s place is the trails that run from her private road towards the university grounds and a small lake. On my Monday off, I explored them with actual-tribble-Milla, encouraging her to pick the path. We only got turned around once!

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I spy and follow the leader all in one

Having recently plucked my first North Carolina tick off my own back (another sick-of-living-alone moment), I was not playing around. When it comes to mosquitos, I try to hold off on bugspray unless I’m gonna have serious exposure. That day I straight drenched every potential bug-attracting spot.

I’ve been doing a lot more hiking and walking here than I did in Houston. That, combined with a more physically rigorous job, has all but replaced my old running regiment. I had forgotten that I had settled for running in the first place, after becoming disheartened by the flat, wide-open trails of bayou parks. Picking my way over rocks and roots, leaning into the uphill and bracing down slopes is far more invigorating to me.

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That said, nowadays when I find a flat stretch of trail, I am surprised by the itch to break out into a run. That’s new for me.

A few weeks ago, hiking at a place called Raven Rock park, I had wandered a side trail, only to be greeted by an endless gauntlet of unbroken spider webs. I grabbed the first walking-sized stick and used it to step ahead of me, and hopefully avoid any more webby face moments. Shortly there after, it snapped at a weak spot, and became about half-size. Ok, so I started just waving it in front of me instead. This made me notice it was about the length and heft of a one-handed foam sword from my foam-fighting league. Just for grins, I started practicing strikes by way of web clearing. It wasn’t long before I got carried away, striking a tree and snapping the stick yet again. For a while, I embraced the dual-stick style….but then, the one kept crumbling, and was left with only one, short stick in hand. By then I was back on the main trail, where earlier hikers and wider distances meant less webs, so I didn’t really need it anymore anyway.

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Still, I held on to it, twirling and waving, until I got to Raven Rock itself (I never could figure out why it was named that…). I found a tree whose roots spilled over a slope, creating terraces of earth and stone between its webs of roots. I sat on one of the higher terraces, waiting for a troupe of scouts or something to clear out from the rock. I didn’t realize until I had made my own visit to the rock and climbed back up the steep wooden stairs up the eroded river walls, that I had left the final piece of stick among the roots.

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More recently, I took my car in for an oil change, and was left car-less in down town Durham for a few hours. I made my way to Duke Gardens, hauling a computer-weighted backpack and wearing worn out sandals. It was a gorgeous day, warm but breezy, not humid enough to make the air heavy, so those disadvantages were barely noticed. That said, I did just finish reading Wild, so no small part pretended that this less than ideal set up made me my own generation’s Cheryl Strayed.

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“Why’s it called the White garden?” I wondered….

I came in to the gardens through a side entrance, that I was more or less dumped into by a side-street off of Duke campus. Walking a campus in summer was it’s own kind of surreal fun, echoing back to staying at Mizzou one Summer, pondering over all the abandoned space.

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Not campus, still pretty

The gardens are beautiful. I took many breaks, to set down my pack, and let the few sweat-spots it created dry out, and to sit and enjoy the scenery. There were many chances to observe birds and turtles, which is good for getting in the spirit of the puppets. It feels like the last month or so has been an exercise in endless exploration. Despite sore feet, I am nowhere near ready to step back from it.

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BIRDS AND TURTS

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Another Patrick Dougherty statue! And Ice cream….nearly as much ice cream as hiking this summer

Discordance

Milla, the fluff-ball of a dog I’m currently looking after, has proven to be a figurative and literal handful. She’s not exactly hard to look after, but that seems to have only made her all the more entitled.

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Won’t even look at the camera….you can tell I’m fake smiling lol

She is a grazer, so there’s no set feeding time to accommodate, but if she runs out of water or food overnight, she will yap me awake no matter the time. She’s itty bitty, so it’s doesn’t take much to run out of energy, but she won’t go out unless I walk out with her. She can get up the stairs to hang out with me in the airbnb suite, but for whatever reason, not only can’t get back down the stairs, but won’t even go near the top step. She also seems to either want to be entirely in my face, or guitily exiling herself from the room entirely when I’m just trying to get her to calm down.

I have also been late for more things since I started watching her. All of this is to say, I’m clearly not cut out to be a dog owner. At least she’s pretty adorable.

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Staying at Mary’s has been interesting. The upstairs has that hollow-furnished hotel feel. Downstairs is overflowing with inherited family items waiting to be sorted. Her kitchen isn’t set up at all how I would have done it. For whatever reason, I’m having more trouble feeling like I can claim this place as home like I was able to at the Howe-Best home. It feels more like staying at a weird, do-it-yourself resort. If I were an airbnb guest, I’d be utterly charmed. But there’s something about being that half-step closer to permanent resident that just makes it feel unsettling.

The bed is too big. It must be a king-sized. I can sleep alone if the bed is small enough, but all this expansive mattress just invites the comparison to fuller beds.

That said, there is always a moment, as dusk is falling, where I stand on the porch and the surrounding grass and trees become thick with fireflies. I am isolated enough from the city to not even see or hear it. Outside of the house, with its quirks and unexpectedness, the forest feels familiar.

Seriously. There are so many fireflies.

Playing Co-op

It was, thankfully, a fairly chill volunteer day this week. Slightly less people, which is good as we’re running in short supply of easy/monotonous work to do. I didn’t do as much socialize/volunteer wrangling as I’ve done previously, but a good amount of that is that many of the volunteers are returnees becoming familiar with the works anyway.

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Just Cool Puppets

I worked more on painting the stinkin’ pigeon, and I was much happier with my work this time around. It reached a point where I started getting sloppy again, and frustrated, and I realized that maybe I just shouldn’t do new things tired.

I also had the pleasure of sitting with Jan all morning, working on rigging up masks so they can be worn for our first rehearsal on Sunday. Stapling elastic, adjusting eye-holes and then repairing the unintentional damage from said adjustments. He was happy to get his hands of something, instead of just directing, and I was happy for his company. I like his conversational pace. He takes his time. He makes me feel like I can take my time. He doesn’t always have a response for what I have to say, but he does always seem to really hear it.

*

After volunteer day, I met up with Matto and finally met his lady Lily, who is delightful. They took me on a cruise of Franklin Street, the main scene of Carrboro. They assured me it wasn’t usually so quiet and pleasant on a Saturday night, this being the exception because Carrboro’s population is greatly affected by the school year. With so many university students away, there’s room to breathe and enjoy some night life without crowds.

But if you move here,” they jokingly warned me, “Don’t expect to come here September through May”

I cannot tell you how delightful it is to know they are precisely my speed. Avoid the crowds, quality over quantity, head home by ten. Finding these two was such an amazing alignment of luck and I am so grateful.

From our starting point at a greek spot for wine and some snacking, we went to a place called the crunkleton. It is all warm wood and soft leather, apparently you need to be a member to be served (not that it’s particularly exclusive), and oh my soul, the whisk(e)y selection is simply stunning. Enough to make a grown woman cry. We went with cocktails, however, probably best to protect my wallet and my wits for now, and they made possibly the best old fashioned I’ve had.

After that, there was a energetic lull, but we weren’t quite ready to end the night. We walked the street, with Matto making occasional directional choices, and Lily and I just following along. I realized I was the tallest of the three of us. Much like being the oldest, I am not used to this at all. I was tickled, but didn’t mention it, seemed like it might be a little rude.

Matto led us to an arcade bar who’s name I forget. It was an awesome spot, big open floor, the walls completely lined with classic arcade and pinball machines. I got a beer and Matto got quarters, and we perused the gaming options before landing on Ninja Turtles through time, because it was one of the only ones that had room for three players at once. Four, technically.

I was player 2, to Matto’s 1 and Lily’s 3. Halfway through our quarters, Lily suggested we could use the extra support of a 4th turtle. Matto was a doubter, but he was all the way on the other end of the console so he didn’t get to spoil our fun. I took an extra joy stick, Lily took the attack buttons and the game descended into beautiful chaos. We defeated nearly two stages like that before getting wiped out! Most importantly, is was a great time.

I can still see part of the stamp from the door man. I admit, I haven’t been scrubbing very hard.

Lovely Lulls

It was a weird week at the internship, as our building has caught up with our planning, and left several of us casting about for a project a few times this week (while still trying to leave paper mache for volunteers!). This wound up with a lot of scenarios of teaming up on projects I might have otherwise handled alone, which is a good exercise in delegation and sharing.

We also had some visitors, including wrens nesting among the costumes (cute, but not good for the quality of storage….). I thought it might be a blessing on our bird-heavy show, but the veterans all only showed disdain for the voisy, messy studio-mates.

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Not actually one of the nesters as far as I know. Still cute.

Then, mid-afternoon Wednesday, Sally drew our attention to another visitor—a big Black Rat Snake climbing up the wall! All she did was wind along the pipes and puppets before slinking back out the crack in the wall she came through, probably perturbed to have drawn so much attention, but it was still an impressive sight!

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I’ve been doing better opening up to my fellow interns. I’ve started to lose the new-people filter as I feel out the group. It helps that Nyssa is always full of strange questions and general wonder. Compared to her I’ll never seem too far-out. Which I say entirely as a compliment.

I do miss the mark sometimes. After a conversation with Meghan about the catharsis of a good cry, which was a concept she simply could not get on board with, I turned to Nyssa and asked, “Don’t you just ever crave a good cry?”

Nyssa was likewise puzzled by this concept. Crying, sure. Actually wanting to cry? Apparently, total weirdo zone. She laughed about it for the rest of the day. Not meanly. Just like….what a thing to ask.

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Taking criticism from *this* girl??

We also pushed ahead to get started painting, and while base-coating is a breeze, I definitely had to curb my expectations for myself when it came to fleshing out shading and details. While my own, usual, impossibly high standards for myself didn’t help anything, I am also definitely not in any way a natural at this. Color-blending fast-drying acrylics is a nightmare also.

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Also painting tidily is literally impossible for me

I’m trying to look at it as a great opportunity to learn, but my ego is sore. I don’t know where the expectations that I’d just breeze through it came from, other than my usual high standards, but I fell way short. Thankfully, Meghan is a patient and kind teacher, and I really enjoy learning from her. In fact, I just plain enjoy her. We’ve been habitually lunching together, which is great because as she has experience, she’s not too shy to be the first to call lunch break, and I am always hungry early.

I wish I was hungrier for painting. But I feel glutted.