Building Steam

As we fill out the puppets and the roles they play, other things are taking off as well. Particularly the birds who have been nesting in the lantern-fox puppet’s snout. Shortly after Dave left, they hatched and fledged, peeping and hopping all over the studio. The entire crew stopped when they dropped out of the nest for the first time and gathered to coo and watch as they made their first floppy attempts at takeoff.

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hey, I’m fledging here!

We also had a return of our other visitor. The other night, the black rat snake came to rehearsal, this time crawling out into our actual work space. As if it were nothing, Chris simply picked it up and gently carried it back outside. I hope those birds had moved on by then.

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So chill

We interns have been taking off as well, as Donovan and Jan become increasingly absorbed in other details, and we are forced to use our own discretion on how to move forward with projects.

After Dave and my’s great success with the Lyrebird, I have been feeling bolstered in my own abilities. More and more, I find that I can get further, or start stronger, without needing to stop and consult. It helps that Jan and Donovan are getting less picky as well, of course.

I’ve been particularly proud of my improvement on my painting skills! As we reached the final stages, the paint jobs are growing, and I’m glad for it because I’ve actually been very successful and had a lot of fun. Particularly on a pair of puppets that were being transformed from tadpoles to fish, where my direction for the look was “done”. So I got to basically do whatever I wanted.

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The toughest part is matching previous work, but even then I’ve started to get a grip on it. After painting an extra hillside to match a set, Meghan even teased me that I had no more excuses for avoiding paint jobs. I’m not afraid to admit it’s been a huge ego boost.

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Still, for as much progress as we make it feels like every rehearsal something comes up that we need to tweak or fix or just plain forgot until now. I foresee a lot of scrambled last-minute work during tech week.

 

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Unfamiliar Familiarity

Dave’s visit was perfectly timed, because since he’s been gone the schedule has been getting progressively more intense. Each week there are additional rehearsals, and the studio days are unofficially extending as we push to get projects fully finished before calling it a day. Even my few days partially free get jam packed with playing catch up on mundane activities.

Going back to breakfast video chatting with Dave felt strange, in that “was it all a dream” way. It’s still less familiar than actually being with him, but it has it’s own routine, especially for me here in NC. I’d never prefer it, but I’m glad there was a precedent to fall back on.

*

Friday morning after Dave went home, I visited Sarah Howe to help out with getting some rehearsal videos onto the shared google folder. This happened to be the first morning of the second half of my time here in NC. It is incredible to think I officially have less time left here than I’ve had already when there is so much left to do.

I was able to get to Sarah’s house from Jenny’s without any gps, and because she was busy with her day camp kids, made myself at home at her bedroom desk and easily found what I needed with minimum location clues. It was weird to be back, seeing it overflowing with summer life, and remembering the quiet, unexpectedly chilly May weeks that I had spent there.

The shift in my relationship to this area was boggling. I know routes between and through the cities, and personal connections to stops all along those routes. I have a preferred grocery store and gas station. I have not just friends, but multiple social groups. I know enough coffee shops and bars to need to put an effort into trying a new place.

I remembered how on my first morning in Durham, I had tried to stop for gas only to find the station closed and I wondered just how small this town was. I know now that was just a weird anomaly, but still, that is definitely not my preferred gas station.

When I arrived, I wished I had brought more warm clothes, as I was constantly too cold with only my light hoodie. That Friday was the first day in weeks that I didn’t wind up pouring sweat at some point, which, is usually my entire day.

I’ve come a long way from my lonely introduction to this place. It’s amazing how fast novelty fades. But I am no less enamored for it.

I think it helps that Dave has seen it now. It makes everything feel more real now that I’ve shared it with him. It’s nice to know when I say a name or talk about a place, he has a clear idea of it in mind. It makes it feel less like it’s own world, and is instead just yet another node on my personal map.

Anyway, I finished my little tech support session, and then I headed back into Chapel Hill. And later, I tried a new coffee shop.

Through the Wringer

Dave’s visit passed in a whirlwind. I had a whole list of things ready to pull out to fill free time, but I think we got around to maybe half of one of them.

We intended to spend more time with Matto and Lily after they had us over for dinner, but besides one quick happy hour with the writing group to celebrate Matto’s second book coming out, the week completely got away from us.

Jenny and family were on their own whirlwind. July 4th we got home just after the kids finished shooting off fireworks, and everyone was crashing. Shortly after that the kids were back with Ben and we barely managed to get Jenny and Cara to sit down for dinner Friday night. Thankfully, Dave knocked his house red sauce over pasta so far out of the park they simply couldn’t resists.

After that Jenny took off for the beach with the kids, while Cara stuck around for another couple days before going to join them.

Saturday, after the wild volunteer day, we got home and decided to dig through the fridge to cobble together a round of our favorite game, Magic Kitchen. We still wound up with a short grocery trip, more to be prepared for the rest of the week and the Sunday rehearsal potluck than for dinner, but with what was available we cooked up some pretty mean meatball subs and invited Cara to join us.

The conversation took a philosophical turn early in the evening, and next thing we knew it hard turned into a long night of introspection about religion, partnership, and a whole host of other subjects. Finally going to bed was more like hitting pause, as the next morning we picked it up again.

By the time we were actually taking off for Sunday rehearsal, Dave and I were both feeling mentally exhausted and emotionally wrung out. Not just from the deep conversation, but the amount of team and community building we had done as well.

Sunday was the last night Dave was in town, and after coming home with the hope of a quiet, intimate evening, we discovered that my computer had died. No attempt to turn on, no indicator lights of any kind. I checked my warranty and discovered that there was five hours left. When I called tech support they claimed my warranty had ended and I had to direct them to the details, where it clearly said “11:59pm” was the official cut off.

So about two hours of the evening went to that. Hardly ideal. Since we had been dragged into logistics-headache land anyway, we also set up Dave’s August visit. That was much more pleasant.

It took a little bourbon and staying up a bit later than we had intended, but we got the night back on track.

Monday morning hit with a jolt. The visit had been so packed, and so many things were left undone, I could hardly believe it was already time to part again.

We did our best to ignore it. We went on a walk through the trails near Jenny’s house. On the way we were accosted by a very friendly neighbor cat. Dave finds cats everywhere. Anyway, we walked until the day’s heat really sunk in, and then came back. Again, we were so exhausted, and so invested in just being together, that staying in seemed like the best possible use of time.

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Cat’s name was Jake

We cooked together, just a quick pan of bean-and-peppers tacos. The kind of busy day, scrape-together dinner we frequently make at home. Dave packed his one bag, always one to travel light, and I was grateful for the minimal time spent on it.

Then I drove him to the airport. Still sort of stunned it was all over. As we were saying goodbye curbside—suddenly unhappy about traveling light and how quickly that meant he could leave—it felt like I kept remembering how long it would be and I’d grab him for another squeeze.

I had rehearsal to go to immediately after dropping him off. I was very grateful for the distraction. It made me feel like I could just as easily have dropped him off for another field trip and would see him when it was done.

I mean really, that’s not so far off. It will only be about a month until I see him again, half as long as we were apart to start. This is just another temporary separation. It’s all pretty manageable. Except for going to sleep, and, sometimes even worse, waking up alone.

I will say though, after the joy and accomplishments we achieved in his short visit, I am feeling stronger than ever about getting through this Summer. It’s not easy, but we’re in it together, even as we’re apart.

Teamwork is Dreamwork

After the festivities on the 4th, it was back to regular studio work. I’m super grateful to have work that is not only fun and fulfilling, but able to be shared. Dave put in volunteer hours every workday he was in town, including recording rehearsals.

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Happy to be in the studio together! (I am not barefoot when we’re building, only rehearsals!)

Wednesday, first day in the shop together, we were huddled around “The Big List” which was erected to keep track of all the projects left to be constructed. Donovan and Jan went over things, roughly in order of priority. Near the top, was the Lyrebird, aka dusty-deathtrap puppet. I was clearly still shackled to the project, as Donovan addressed most of the notes about it in my direction, despite claims I didn’t have to be the one to do it. However, I was ready to ignore it for another week in favor of picking something a little easier, and more fun to work on with Dave.

As they were asking who wanted which project, Dave turned to me and said, “We’ve got to get that bird done.”

I was so mad. He was right. I love that he is the kind of man who sees a need and tackles a challenge, but in that moment all I could think was that he had signed himself up to hate this studio by the end of the day. Plus they assigned Jake to the other project I wanted so I didn’t have anything else of high enough priority to attend to.

So we dragged the lyrebird out. To his credit, Dave only showed a little disdain when he saw the broken, twisted form we were trying to wrestle back into shape.

You see what you signed us up for?” I said.

So I guess you think finishing this puppet before I leave is an ambitious goal?”

I thought back to the days I had spent wrestling with this puppet with that same lofty goal in mind, only to huck it back into storage, barely progressed.

Uh. A bit.”

First order of business was attaching the fabric neck to the head-mask. My acidic mood at being back on this monster was still fizzing as we struggled to align the mis-matched fabric and head shape. Dave’s first idea devolved into a mess of it’s own with the thread from his sewing getting tangled beyond belief in the spring of the mouth-mechanism. I moment of anger, Dave snapped the scissors recklessly, and gouged himself in the flesh of his hand, just above his thumb.

I’m not glad he hurt himself, but it was a much-needed reset point for both our attitudes. By the time he returned from the first-aid station, I had decided that I absolutely could not continue forward with a mindset that was setting us up for anger and injury. Dave, likewise, seemed to have to taken dressing his wound as a turning point, and when he returned to the puppet was in surprisingly high spirits. True, he also needed the work to distract himself from a throbbing hand, but not everyone can do so with such a good attitude.

While Dave was dressing his wound, Donovan had come over and showed me what he had been thinking for the neck—which wasn’t what we had been attempting at all anyway. The sting to my pride of that, coupled with the new determination to get back to positivity, had me and Dave enacting decisive action on that bird.

With whatever negativity had started our day shaken loose, I was amazed by what we achieved. Where I struggled with some technical aspect, Dave identified efficient solutions. When feathering over the transition from paper mache to fabric, he followed my lead on the aesthetics.

The head was attached and feathered by lunchtime. That afternoon we had set up rigging for the puppeteer and repaired the worst of the framing damage. Just having a partner that I felt confident asserting my ideas with, and whose input I likewise felt I could trust, made a world of difference.

By midway through our second day working in the shop, we had the Lyrebird in a state that could easily go onstage, lacking only a few finishing touches. Additionally we knocked out some last touches on several other puppets before breaking for lunch.

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VICTORY

After the lunch break, I sent Dave to Chris Carter’s shop for a field trip. Chris handles all the metal work and any serious engineering that needs to get done for Paperhand. A couple weeks ago I had toured his shop and homestead, which is entirely off grid thanks to a solar and wind set up he created himself, and knew I had to send Dave over when he was in town. I knew he would have questions I didn’t know enough to ask, and be doubly inspired by the self-sufficiency and pure gall of Chris’ lifestyle.

It turned out to be a good division of labor anyway, since we spent that afternoon mostly shooting promotional photos with our newly finished puppets, including the lyrebird! Watching these puppets come together in their full glory was amazing and made the show feel so much realer…and closer. Their are still far more puppets not yet ready for their close up.

It was very endearing when, as we were assembling for the afternoon’s work, Donovan asked “where’s the new guy?” and then scoffed in disdain when I said I had sent Dave off. Dave’s ability to claim his own space in the shop makes me so proud—not that I had any doubts.

It wasn’t just Donovan who appreciated his company either. After rehearsal that night, Dave and Chris set up another work session for the following afternoon, so that Dave could actually put some work in. While I was a little put out to lose a chunk of what limited free time we had together, I couldn’t deny the unique opportunity Dave had in his hands. Plus, it was an opportunity to finish out one of the most exciting elements of the Summer show….but I’ll be keeping that quiet at least til opening weekend is through.

Finally, on Saturday, Dave and I grabbed two fairly small-scale (no pun intended, but I was building fish…) projects and tackled them on the same work table as the volunteer hubbub swarmed through the studio.

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I  made these fish fins!

With the Lyrebird victory still buoying us, we were feeling confident. We may have slightly underestimated the level of franticness that this last month of build time is descending into. I was building fish fins and Dave was creating magical star-wands. Both of us were pulled back and forth as we received directly contradictory instruction from the two artistic directions. At one point Donovan had me move a fin’s placement, and then watched from up a ladder across the room as Jan moved it back to exactly where it had been before. He laughed, shrugged and told me to go with that then.

To their credit, they both know it’s happening, and never hold us laborers accountable for their conflicting instruction. Usually, it’s accompanied with a good laugh….and then one of the acquiesces. Or the project stalls for a bit. But there’s less option for that as time goes on.

I was really glad Dave got some quieter build time in the shop. Volunteer workdays frequently get out of hand, and Donovan and Jan rarely have time to invest in individuals or their projects. I am so grateful they actually got to get know Dave, and that he could feel truly integrated and welcome in the community there.

July 4th Fun

It was good we rested Monday, because Tuesday, July 4th, was hot, heavy and high-energy!

We joined Paperhand at the Festival for the Eno, an annual festival at a local park to raise funds to protect the Eno River and associated nature preserves and parks. We would be performing another parade, this one even bigger and badder than the Greensboro festival, based on the amount of puppets overflowing from the two vehicles.

We went through the puppet-hand-out scramble, some people needing coaxing just to carry a banner, while other kids needs to be convinced they should take a smaller, hand-puppet over a big, sweaty full-body one. I was hoping for a slightly more puppety experience than the previous parade, but the priority was still putting puppets in the hands of those who wanted to participate. Right at the last minute, as Dave and I handed off our sunflowers to a couple curious lurkers, a solo volunteer popped up, and I had him join the two of us to hoist up the last remaining towering three-man puppet.

I took the head, feeling that as senior puppeteer in our little trio I should burden that responsibility, but even having carried and swung these puppets around the studio, I was not fully prepared for the effort of parading with it! Plus, this parade was considerably longer.

I have no regrets though, and would gladly do it again. Gotta build up those puppeteering muscles somehow! The real struggle was dodging low-hanging trees, while I had a face full of fabric. Thankfully, I had my navigator riding right-hand duty, and Dave got us around every obstacle with style.

After the parade, with my arms searing, we were ready for some breathing room. We wandered some of the woodsy trails that led away from the festival proper. After seeing the crowds at the festival grounds and down at the river, I couldn’t believe how quite it was just a few steps away. It felt wonderful to break away from the crowd for a moment, and celebrate an excellent collaboration. Soon though, the effort caught up to us and we had to hit up the hospitality tent for some food and hydration.

We didn’t stay too long after that, just long enough to take in a little music and grab a poster. But we had dinner plans with Matto and Lily and after that parade were in no state for cleaner company.

After the run home and back, we joined Matto, Lily and DASH at their home where they made us a wonderful hot-pot dinner. It is a perfect communal meal, much sharing and messiness (well, maybe that was mostly me…) and they had actual legit Daifuku Mochi for desert. Five years before, I had eaten decidedly American food while in Japan. I love when life circles itself.

Despite still being in recovery, from both ailment and parade exhaustion, we lingered long after dinner. The company was excellent and the meal replenishing. We could not have wanted for more.

Crashing before Liftoff

The day after Dave arrived, we both woke up feeling less than our best. Dave often doesn’t travel, doubly so when he’s already been busy and overworked. I was still feeling the effects of severe dehydration and maybe a cold.

We were staying at Ben, Jenny’s ex’s house, since he didn’t have the kids and was also staying with his girlfriend, so we had the place to ourselves. It was a wonderful chance to sleep in, something I haven’t done in weeks, since even on days off I’ve been getting up early enough to video chat with Dave over breakfast.

However, it did mean not feeling comfortable using the kitchen, especially since it was left in a sort of half-cleaned way (nothing gross, I just didn’t feel like spending time finding out where things were supposed to go if I needed space). So we went out to breakfast, way past our usual breakfast time, and lingered over coffee.

After breakfast, we debated going for a hike, but since the coffee had only loosened the cobwebs and not truly shaken them off, we opted for just going to local park instead. Halfway around the loop of trails, we stopped at a bench, both tuckered out far beyond reason for such light exertion. It was time to accept what we both knew was best.

You wanna just take a nap?”

We went back to Ben’s and crashed hard for several hours. To be perfectly honest, I’ve had lots of activity, and talking is the one thing we’re still able to do when apart, so an extended session of just being close to each other was pretty perfect. I miss him the most when I’m tired, after all.

We did get back out for the writing meet up, which Dave used for programming time, and to get a beer with Matto afterwards, but the energy levels stayed decidedly low.

In retrospect, I can safely say that this was the best possible way to use the day. Things ramped up big time from there and we set ourselves up for better energy and health with which to accept it.

Making the Effort

Sunday, after rehearsal, it was finally, FINALLY time to pick up Dave for his first visit!

Actually, I had to kill some time between rehearsal and pickup. I had a great chat with Jenny, Kara and their Aunt Sarah, which involved discussing the frustrations of being powerful women who take charge and the inevitable “bitch” label. It was a lovely moment of sisterhood….but I just really wanted that flight to arrive already!

As I was getting ready to leave, Jenny asked if I’d be picking Dave up curb side or meeting him at the gate. Since it’s how we’ve always done it before, and Dave is notoriously practical, I said I was just planning on curbside.

Yeah, it is easier.” Jenny agreed. “The couple times Cara has picked me up she really surprised me by coming to the gate. It’s so old fashioned!”

Haha, yeah, that’s what my mom does! It’s so sweet.”

I was most of the way to airport before I realized that had been a friendly way of telling me it would be WAY nicer if I waited at the gate. Like, ‘not gonna tell you how to do your relationship but’….and I realized that no matter how practical we are, I would want Dave at the gate, so I should do the same for him.

I didn’t know if it’d make a difference to him, honestly I wondered if he’d think a shorter walk to the car was nicer, but I was giddy as I waited at the gate, hoping he’d like the surprise. He called me as he was walking down the exit hall, just before I saw him.

Where can I find you?”

Oh you’ll see me…”

Just as I was getting geared up to see his reaction to me being there, he stepped around the corner to reveal that he was totally dressed up, in his just-a-notch-below-full-formal attire. I was totally stunned. I mean hand-to-mouth gasp and trip I was so tickled. He looked so handsome, and I was so happy to see him walking towards me. It was 9pm and we had no plans for the night, which made it safe to assume we’d be stopping for quick food at the most. Still, he had made the effort.

I was really glad I came to the gate.

Doubly so as I finally got my arms around him, and didn’t have to worry about clearing the space. I mean, we probably could have not stood right in the middle of the hallway, but at least no curb-agents were there to rush us along.

Walking back to the car, I was giddy. I kept touching him, because I’ve been staring at him through a screen so long I couldn’t believe he was actually there. He said he was happy I came to the gate. I don’t know how I ever thought effort, however impractical, would go unappreciated.

Getting into the car, I started to pull out my phone, when I remembered I didn’t need it. Dave punched the address into his maps, I was able to throw everything into the back seat. It felt so good to have my navigator back in the car.

On the Fringes of Family

As well as welcoming me into her home, the first weekend I was staying with Jenny, her sister Kara (not Cara-with-a-C, Jenny’s girlfriend) and nephew, Connor, were also in town visiting. They weren’t just family, they were long-lost family, as Kara had been given up for adoption when she was born. It was only Jenny’s second time seeing Kara, and first time meeting Connor.

I was amazing how, by the end of Kara’s visit, I never would have guessed they hadn’t grown up together. Everyone was blown away by the ease of connection between the separated family members. Connor and the kids got along with an ease that left me totally boggled and a little jealous. Granted, he’s only eighteen, and therefore more of a peer to them, but I was still watching him for ideas about how I might make a better impression. I don’t think there’s an answer in there besides “go back to being an angsty young person just wishing you were on your own” which…yeah, I’ll take the trade off and keep my adulthood, thanks.

Jenny opened up that Friday’s itinerary to include me, and I joined them all plus some other friends, for a concert in Saxapahaw, at the ballroom that houses the coffeehouse where the Paperhand interns frequently take lunch.

We parked at the studio so I could give them a sneak peak of our puppets, and then headed up the hill to the concert.

It was an amazing double-header of excessively dance-able brazilian and Senegalese music. Two of the paperhand musicians were actually in the featured band, Kaira Ba as well, and it was great to inadvertently support them outside our collaboration. Donovan and a couple other saxapahaw faces were there as well. I felt a little jump of joy that I’m in the unconventional space of not being totally uncomfortable when I see my boss in a social setting. Still, I mostly dances on the other side of the hall.

In the other band, Caique Vidal & Batuque, there was a drummer who’s hat was emblazoned with “E. St. Louis”. I don’t know for sure that he was from there, but with the specificity of being EAST StL and not just StL generally, I have to imagine he is. Anyway, he appeared pleased to shake my hand and received my excited, garbled props for representing my conjoined-sibling city.

It seems no matter where I was last, I will always consider myself St. Louisan. I’m ok with that.

Jenny and Kara danced it up with me, occasionally popping outside to check on Connor, who had become enraptured in a political discussion with some like-minded bernie bros. Connor just barely missed the cut off for the last election, but it did not deter from being a political fanatic. I just hope there is a better turn out when he actually gets to cast a vote. I know that having my choice win the first two presidential elections laid a lot of foundation for me.

Cara was less of a dancer, but was an excellent conversationalist, and I would find her in a quiet space when I needed a beer break between all-out dancing sessions.

I was an incredibly fun night, but by the time it was pushing midnight, I couldn’t even pretend to be bummed when Jenny and company decided to cut out before the encore was finished. I was beyond bushed, and I can only imagine how sad my weak attempts to keep feeling the music appeared.

*

The morning after the concert, I was reminded that beer is not, in fact, hydrating, as I faced one of those atrocious I-didn’t-even-get-drunk hangovers that come more from forgetting water than the drinking of alcohol.

That day in the studio was brutal. Not only is it getting progressively hotter, I was painting our giant circus cart, which created a wall between me and the fans. I didn’t realize just how badly I was doing until after lunch when I finally started sweating and realized I had been too dried out to do so before then.

After studio work, we had a gallery to hang at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro (just down the street from where Jenny’s house is), and I was beginning to suspect I had more than simple physiological ailment to fight off. It was in the A/C and food and drink was provided, so I stuck it out, but when it was done, I sadly declined Matto’s invitation to a cook-out at his place with the intention to get home and sleep as long as possible.

However, when I got home, I found the house occupied only by the teenagers, who greeted me with the not-at-all concerning exclamation “Hey! YOU can drive!”.

Turned out they didn’t have a concrete idea of what they wanted to do with that fact, besides the general goal of going….somewhere. An itch I have been able to scratch on a whim for so long I had nearly forgotten how nudgy and agitating it feels to be stuck.

Despite my exhaustion, I told them if they had an actual plan when I got out of the shower, I would drive them somewhere.

I cleaned up, and came out of my room to find them nearly catching a piece of toast on fire by way of showing Connor their space-age super-toaster. After we had taken the smoldering charcoal outside, where Sadie actually DID nurture it into full flames, I then received the direction to go to the store for smores ingredients. Did it matter they didn’t know how they’d toast the marshmallows (definitely not in the toaster, I insisted)? Of course not. They could always burn more toast, I guess.

The car ride was the most talkative I’ve experienced with the kids so far. Naturally, it was primarily taboo subjects, as Connor got to flex his slightly-more-wordly-ness while paying lip service to not actually making the same choices as him. Mostly regarding intoxicants, though there was some discussion of strip clubs, as they (jokingly? I hope?) tried to re route me to the one they had just discovered was nearby. I tried to only speak up enough to offer factual corrections to conjecture, and not encourage any involvement with particular substances or activities (how about that vague language, huh?) but still wound up with a lot of “uhhh….nevermind” moments.

After a grocery trip that involved indoor skate boarding and some adorable attempts to bicker over who would pay, we were back home and again facing the issue of where to create fire. I did not offer any suggestions about making fire, but stuck around enough to shoot down the very worst of the ideas.

They were outside still forming a game plan when Dave called, so I left them to it for a bit. When I got off the phone I was exceptionally please to find them burning leaves and paper towels in a terra cotta pot. Not a horrible plan at all!

I joined them for a few s’mores, and showed them how to twist up paper towels so they burn slower that if you just crumple them up.

You sure know a lot of stuff.” Asa said, as they toasted marshmallows over a bundle of paper-towel-cigars.

I literally learned this this year.” I replied, and added, even knowing the dissatisfaction that hearing it would create, “I have ten years on you. That’s seriously all it is.”

I laughed to hear it come from my mouth. It came so naturally, whether from the truth or the cliché of it…both, probably.

Shortly after that, Jenny got home, and observed with her trademark remarkable calm; “Oh, yep, smells like something was burning.”

I relayed the story of the toast, and then took that as my cue to make good on my intended hard-crash. As fast as I fell asleep, I still heard plenty of the continuing chaos of the night, and was actually a little proud of my small role in it.

Final Landing

After my overnight in the Uwharrie forest, I finally moved into Jenny’s house, where I will be staying for the rest of the Summer. I’m definitely ready to just stay put and actually create a home base for a little while.

Living with Jenny is an exercise in humility and perspective. The three children are….well, they’re children. Two teenagers and one preteen all navigating a split yet loving family. There’s a lot of stuff happening there.

Jenny is an unreal model of patience and gentle authority. Even in the few days that I have been here, I have heard her hold the line on everything from big life plans to just how sugary breakfast can be, all while maintaining a calm demeanor and genuinely listening to her kids, both articulated and inarticulated communication. I mean, she also got called out as the good-example student at the yoga class we went to together, so like, not sure why I’m surprised. (Side note, she executed a perfect pike-to-headstand so elegantly my jaw dropped.)

I have always prided myself on being a good organizer. I am frequently the friend that juggles peoples plans and calendars to find that one time we can all make work, at the one activity everyone at least somewhat enjoys. Jenny, however, blows me out of the water. She keeps track of the ex husband’s schedule, the kids’ schedule, Cara’s schedule and, almost seamlessly, my schedule as well, all while finding time to work at home and participate in her own favored activities. Not only does she navigate all these overlapping schedules, she somehow manages to take last minute adjustments in stride, yet also not let herself be taken advantage of, and asserting her limits (no she can’t rush breakfast to get you to camp early, you should have told her sooner).

Needless to say, I am totally in awe of her. To me, she has been a welcoming host, happy to socialize but respectful of giving space. The first morning I was there after Cara stayed over was a little tense, as she is typically a more private person, and I think the domestic intimacy of groggy breakfast threw her off. She apologized that evening, but there was nothing to be sorry for. It’s just human dynamics. Fascinating, frustrating dynamics.

I still don’t know how to hang with teenagers. When they don’t speak to me I’m not sure if I should go ahead and offer pleasantries, or leave them in their silence. I feel like it’s a test but I have no idea what the right answer is. Before this summer I would have told I’d just treat them with the same respect and attitude I would an adult….but that’s a joke. They absolutely need more room to have bad manners, or be unable to hide a crappy mood, or spazz out with waaaay more enthusiasm than necessary because there’s a super cute cat over there!

Sadie and I bonded over Steven Universe. We’ve gotten along up to know, but this was the first time I really felt like we clicked. She even suggested we could do a rewatch from the beginning together and let me tell you I just about cried I was so happy she would want to spend time with me. She has been such a hard read I have had zero feedback about whether or not she was cool with me. Finally, some validation that all that time spent letting her ignore me in the car was a good move!

I went to a writing meet up with Matto and he told me was trying to channel his inner 15-year-old for his current project….while wearing wrist braces to prevent carpal tunnel. Asa, actual 15-year-old boy, meanwhile, doesn’t even want his mom to get him proper wrist guards for skate boarding. Both of the boys are currently recovering from skate boarding falls. Noah, the youngest, has a full fracture, Asa has a sprain.

It’s been quite an experience, and all of this was within the first week!

Solitude pt 2

The next morning, my blissful isolation continued. Despite my late night, I woke at dawn, my suggestion-alarm at 6 only encouraging me as I was already pulled from sleep by creeping light and the discordant symphony of birds.

I packed camp in minutes, but still not as fast as it comes down with two, and drove down to the Badin Lake recreation area. I was the only car in the lot. I watched the continuing sunrise wash over the lake, sending up tendrils of morning fog, as I had my breakfast.

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I spy

Then I took off for a long hike. I only crossed paths with one other set of campers and a couple forestry teams throughout the morning, and each time I skirted the edge of the interaction as much as possible. I was deeply feeling this time alone, though I have only had Milla for company most nights, somehow this felt like my first time being truly by myself this Summer. Other than, of course, being on the road.

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Love these clay-packed trails

The trails were a little tricky, and I turn a few circles, but I got to where I was aiming. “Nifty Rocks” the map said, whether that was a place-name or just a description I don’t know, but they were definitely some nice rocks!

At the midpoint, I sat on a log, munching on an apple, and entertained the idea of extending my hike a few extra miles. Tallying them up it didn’t seem so much further, and I was making good time…. Then I remembered Dave and my’s disastrous first attempt at a hike when we moved to Houston, when we had thought we could go over twice as far as we wound up hiking. We trudged back along the main road, totally obliterated. I decided to stick to my original itinerary, and by halfway back, feet aching and somehow on yet another wrong trail, I was grateful for my prudence.

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Great Rocky Forms

In the very last leg, as the trail came back by the edge of the lake, I heard a shrill, melodic cry, and looked up for the source. Two hawks and a fledgling were roosting on a tree leaning out over the water. I watched them in awe, slowly making my way down the trail past their nest. One of the hawks took off and flew circles until I was safely far away again.

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When I arrived back at the recreation area there were a few more cars, and a jet ski had been buzzing across the lake for the last half mile. The spell of solitude was gently shaken away, as I got back in my car and headed out.