advice

I Am an Artist

I am an artist.

I can’t tell you how many other artists just cringed at reading that.

Not because they deem it false or have questions as to my membership in the club. In fact, not because of anything to do with me at all. It is, in my experience, because they are wrestling with their own membership in this club or remembering the first time they announced their arrival.

This may not be true for every artist. I dare not declare it universal, lest the unicorn artists who knew they were just that from birth come and correct my wrong statement. I will say, after spending a weekend with artists that it seemed a nearly universally hard statement to conjure up for the first time for everyone. Some, even those on panels, were still choking on it.

Yet, I’ve said it.

You see, last weekend I attended the Alaska State Council on the Arts biennial conference in Fairbanks.

 

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Rainbow hills. Rainbow leaves.

 

I first heard about the conference a few months ago when a friend, who’s helped me more in writing this year than I can explain, mentioned that it was coming up. I looked at her and said something along the lines of “Oh, that will be fun!” She looked at me as if to say “Yeah…that’s why I’m telling you about it.”

A few minutes of her explaining it later and I still didn’t get it.

Finally, she put it in terms I could hear:

“Julia, it’s an artist’s conference. You’re an artist. You should sign-up.”

Oh!

Oh?

Oh…

I’m an artist?

 

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Artists: Enter Here.

 

When I first started this blog, it unleashed in me the well-kept secret from myself that I, in fact, do want to be an artist. Yet I wasn’t ready to call myself one. As a youngster, I knew I was an artist, as kids simply know themselves without ego or fear. I was a singer and a writer and I knew it down to the depths of my little lady being that an artist was what I wanted to be.

How?

Because I felt alive.

Alive when I sang.

Alive when I wrote.

Yet, as I grew and grades and prestige and stability became a focus, I let that knowledge go and I covered it up with the “shoulds” of existence which placed more emphasis on succeeding than feeling alive.

And soon, I felt deadened.

Moving here allowed me to step outside of myself. It allowed me to bring with me not only that which was useful from my old life but to re-invite those aspects of myself I had lost. It felt like I was traveling. I was free to be whomever I deemed myself to be. And without thought, I suddenly found myself in a band, singing again. I had invited art back in and it had entered my life with a warmth I hadn’t felt in decades.

That first Winter, writing invited herself in. She opened the door, kicked off the snow and asked not why she’d been sequestered for so long but if I was, in fact, ready to begin.

I was.

I am.

I am an artist.

It may not be easy to say, but once you do, it’s like walking through the closet door into Narnia. The world feels a little more magical. It’s exciting and important and alive.

You don’t have to be a full-time artist to be called an artist. You don’t have to be in a gallery or be published or be the director of a Broadway hit. Art can lie in the simple act of taking the time to study a flower that strikes you, in letting your mind play. It can be as small as decorating a salad you make or as big as a complex canvas painting you’ve spent hours on end creating. It can be the notes you scribbled on a piece of paper towel 30 years ago that become your book 30 years later. It can be a photo that inspired reflection.

 

 

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Urban mirrors.

 

There are no entry fees, merely the self-realization that you cannot be anything else.

Do what makes you feel alive.

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

 

La Mama: Part 1

One week was not enough.

It was plenty long to learn that next time we will need longer and to learn what to do differently next time. They never say “first time’s the charm!”, right?

For one, I’ll have to learn how to transition between Mom Is Coming and Mom Is Here (a.k.a CHILL-OUT). I was in such a hurry, such a manic mayhem whirlwind of preparations and planning that by the time she actually got here it took me days to pull myself out of my head and onto the ground where she stood right next to me.

It seems akin to the wedding warning: plan too much and you’ll plan yourself right out of enjoying your day.

 

It didn’t help that the week I was supposed to have off got confused with the week I was supposed to have on and my online work needed me to go “full-bore”. We found a good middle ground but the hustle-paced, blinders on to the finish line of a real Break and Mom-Time Goal was quickly re-directed to a working vacation.

So needless to say, my head wasn’t quite in the right place, or even any one place at all really.

 

 

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Driving into town…straight into the storm

 

 

My Mom, on the other hand, was in full-blown I’m In Alaska On Vacation Mode and I strove to live vicariously through her.

Mama pulled into town a little over a week ago with energy that even I rarely feel and at 40 years my senior, she moved through the evening with grace and enthusiasm despite the two days of straight travel.

She glided through endless introductions and laughed along with me at the insanity and mayhem we entered into.

 

 

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Can you identify this beauty? 

 

 

From the very beginning it was a push, and roll right along with it she did. From a day of travel, straight into an 8-hour drive (after 4 hours of grocery and odds and ends shopping) she kept pace. For someone with even a slight fear of heights, the drive from Anchorage starts quickly with endlessly gorgeous but still heart squeezing drops.

But still she did fine.

We went up and down and around and over, all through the mountains and cliffs and straightaways and still, she smiled. We went straight from 6 hours on the road with views that would normally make her knees go weak to the next challenge: the bridge.

It’s funny the things you forget, the things that on your first trip in took your breath away, gave you pause, made you question: “where in the hell am I going?” The things that now are just part of the drive.

Despite her fear of heights, I was hell-bent on getting her out on that bridge. I knew the feeling of pride it gave me when I chucked my first rock over (since I too suffer from the fear o’ heights affliction) and wanted the same for her.

We drove across the over 100-year-old bridge and she looked at me…

“We aren’t getting out, are we?”

I smiled and she knew she would at least have to get out of the car but she was certain she wouldn’t go farther.

But she did.

Step by step I got her out to the middle of the bridge where I chucked our rocks off, listening for their plunge all those many, many feet below.

 

 

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Just a wee drop…

 

 

Her first tradition.

The week was full of tradition and customs and how-to’s…mainly how-to’s.

 

 

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How to ride a 4-wheeler…in the rain…

 

 

It’s funny how life out here becomes second-hat and suddenly, explaining it to someone else reminds you of all that goes into simply leaving the house. What to bring? What to wear to keep warm? I don’t need my wallet but I do need a rain jacket? But it’s not raining…

Well, no, not yet.

Together we marveled at this place I’ve grown accustomed to and it renewed my awe for it, at least in the spaces I’d grown used to it. The little quirks of daily life found themselves unearthed by a new face in awe of it all.

And it helped me to reconnect with that initial awe.

I think that’s one of the best parts about a visitor out here: you see it all again through fresh eyes.

Of course, those eyes happened to fall upon the busiest weekend the town will see this Summer other than the 4th of July (hold onto your hats y’all, she’s coming) and the Packrafting Festival later this month. From Solstice on, every night was a rager and yes, we do live in Adult SummerCamp 2017 but we don’t always participate. Most nights we return to the solace of our little cabin in the woods to recharge for the next day.

But when your Mom comes in on Open Mic night and jumps right in?

You go for it.

Our first night there and my Mom was outpacing me – she was adorable and hanging damn tough if I do say so myself.

We retired around 2:00am and even though she thought she was reeling me in, well, she was wrong. I probably wouldn’t have even made it to Town, much less the bar after a trip in from Anchorage. Little miss early to bed had surprised even herself, and me.

She had warned me: “Julia, just remember that I go to bed around 8 or 9pm every night.”

Mmmmhmmmm.

Alaska: it’ll disrupt even the most well-worn paths.

The rest of the weekend followed suit with music every night and not the normal music we see here. It was rougher, rock-er, stuff you don’t see all the time. It was a Not To Miss weekend but it was mayhem. I was already tired on Thursday and here she was thinking she was slowing me down.

Nope.

By Sunday we had bowed out of late-night festivities and spent the day hiking. She saw what it meant to make plans and watch them change as our Late Start Plan got later and later and we found ourselves finally making it up the hill to our hiking location by 4pm and off for our hike by 5pm…just in time for the rain.

She took it all in stride.

 

 

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Glacier ice.

 

 

The next day was our last before we again braved the uproar of Anchorage and we decided to spend it at The Lake. Of course, I still had to work and of course it ended up taking longer than I had hoped but by mid-afternoon, we were doing it:

I was relaxing with my Mom.

And then Chore Reality set in.

We were leaving for Anchorage in the morning.

For the first time since she had been there, I actually let my Mom jump in and I put her to work (her request, I am not that much of a tyrannical daughter, thank you very much).

To Do:

  1. Find Cinda’s “City Clothes” (a.k.a. collar and leash)
  2. Divide the recycling into: tin cans, aluminum cans, bottles (without tops), plastic 1’s, plastic 2’s
  3. Collect trash and organize into bags
  4. Pack for Anchorage
  5. Haul water
  6. Take out slop bucket
  7. Take out compost
  8. Use anything up that The Chief wouldn’t eat that would go bad in the day and a half that I was gone (see: salad, not always but this time I had a funny feeling that mac n’ cheese was the only offering of Chef Bachelor)
  9. Book a hotel
  10. Clean out the truck and put Cinda’s bed into it
  11. Check fuel levels (since we weren’t able to pump from our diesel barrel due to a locked pump with no clue of a key

And so we started in. It was a long list but with so many of them short To Dos, we would be back to relaxing and then on to making a quick dinner to take to The Lake in no time.

Right?

Wrong.

A few hours later, grubby as all get out from sorting through recycling dating back to April amongst the mosquitos and other delights and we had 30 minutes before we needed to start making dinner so that we could leave for The Lake right when The Chief got home.

30 minutes where I could cross a few more things off the list. I was in Go-Mode, a mode that had apparently been locked into overdrive for the past two months.

My Mom looked at me and said: “Sit down. All day, all you’ve said you wanted to do was read. Read, daughter.”

And so I did.

And then I fell asleep.

About 10 minutes before The Chief got home I put dinner prep into full-speed and an hour or so later (behind schedule of course) we left for The Lake.

It was a beautiful evening filled with lakeside gardens and a sunset to make you stop in your tracks, filled with good friends and food and a Cinda vs. Mao the Cat interaction that still leaves me giggling.

Finally, it was midnight and a big day lay before us: Anchortown Trip.

We drove home, stopping for an amazing sunset and then I walked my Mom to her Girlshack 30 paces down the way and said “goodnight”. We made a plan to rendezvous at 9am and leave by 10am.

 

 

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Oh plans. So cute, aren’t we?

By 10am I had crossed almost all the pre-leaving projects off my list and I was doubled over almost retching from pain after jumping off the back of the truck straight down onto the tow hitch.

Covered head-to-toe in grease and gas and garbage yumminess from loading the truck, I finally got back to somewhat normal and faced the next task: tie-downs.

You know how everyone has their expertise and as a couple you develop habits as to who does what and when in order to maintain the forward momentum of the well-oiled machine that is your coupledom?

Me too.

And, in our well-oiled machine, The Chief does the driving when it comes to tie-downs. I always mean to step in to get better at them (because as a lefty watching a righty do them, I always end up somewhat backwards) but then something else screams for attention and in the mayhem or leaving for Town or leaving for Home, I always get stolen away or play helper.

But not this time. My Mom looked at me as if to say “It’s all you, kiddo”.

Shit.

It’s not that they are hard but they certainly are infuriating to pull apart and without patience, well, they just don’t work.

A few tries later and a few missed communications in my role as leader in the straps and we finally had secured the load. There was trash on there that I’d wanted out for the three Summers I’ve been here and now, it was all packed up and ready to go and fingers crossed it didn’t blow away.

The trip out was uneventful in the best of ways.

We made it back to The Bridge and my arms didn’t suffer nearly as tight of an anaconda grip from my Mama as the first time we crossed.

The mountains were high and so were our spirits, even with the ever-increasing complaints of the truck. She was shifting like a drunk, clanging into gear with a thud and then slowing back into it. It had my brow knitting a sweater but we were on our way to the doctor, both for the Lou and the truck. It would be fine.

By 9pm we arrived. 3 hours later than planned after a serious stop at the halfway mark to register the truck (whoops!) and make two trips to the auto parts store to borrow their tools to get the old license plate off (it was a sort of do-it-yourselfer type job with roofing screws because why not? I guess…)

We arrived and headed up to the room in the elevator that Cinda was pretty sure was possessed. She panted and circled me until we reached our floor and walked into…

The most amazing hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.

In the notes for special requests I mentioned that it was my Mom’s first time in Alaska and that if they had a room with a view that would be awesome.

And awesome was an understatement.

The view, maybe not but the view in the room was on point.

All I need to say was: there was a jacuzzi tub inside the room.

I think that explains it.

But, tuckered out after a day of checking the load vigilance and worrying after the truck and getting out to stretch Lou’s bones and stopping for gas and emptying garbage and this and that and the other…we were ready for bed.

Plus, my Mom had to wake up at 4am to see if she could get on an earlier flight since when she had called to check-in they told her she would likely miss her connection (why is that flight an option then, I ask?).

At 5:45am I awoke to her telling me “goodbye and see you soon.” and as I heard the door close behind me I realized that it was over.

The trip I had been planning for and building for and cleaning for and prepping for was over. I whispered “I love you Lou-Lou” over to Lou, probably more to comfort myself than her and then convinced myself to go back to bed. I had tossed and turned all night and had barely slept. The truck had an appointment at 8am so by my calculations I had a couple of hours to rest.

And rest I did.

And then I woke up to The Day When All Hell Broke Loose…

 

Next week.

 

Stay tuned.

 

 

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A Winter Tale: Falling on Ice Ain’t Twice as Nice

Some days, you just can’t quite catch up with the universe. You wake up “off” and stay “off” until a switch flips and suddenly you are right side up again.

Before I lived in the woods one of those days might look like this:

  1. My alarm failed to go off and thus I awoke in a state of stress and hurry, rushing to get to work on time.
  2. In my rush to caffeinate and avoid looking as if I haven’t showered (which I haven’t because I am late) I am simultaneously putting on mascara while making coffee when I stab myself in the eye with the mascara wand and in my reaction, I knock over the freshly brewed coffee.
  3. I remedy the eye situation but decide to forego a second round of coffee. I get into the car and get ready to go just as I remember I decided not to stop for gas last night. I guess I’ll be a little later to work.
  4. The gas station is packed.
  5. I get to work late and the storm continues and the day continues to hiccup me through it.
  6. Finally, I get home (after hitting every red light possible) to an empty fridge and a cold house. I turn on the heat and jump into a warm shower and from there on out, the stress of the day is gone and there’s nothing a good movie and a bachelorette style dinner of cereal can’t fix. Of course the remote is out of batteries but hey, I survived.

 

In the woods, one day in particular sums up that “off” feeling perfectly. There was no work to be late to or boss to impress (or not impress) or gas stations to wait at impatiently but still, the same sort of tumbling, bumbling mess of a day arose, even way out here in the woods.

It went a little like this:

 

It was late Winter, almost Spring and the last few weeks of good skiing were upon us. My girlfriend invited me over for some girl time and a ski which I eagerly agreed to, having woken up a little blue and a little “off” that day. And so, I prepared myself to leave for a visit.

It wouldn’t take long.

Wrong.

My plan was to drive (with my newly acquired stick-shift skills which were still pretty shaky, especially in snow) our Jack-in-the-Box of a vehicle to the Footbridge since we still hadn’t broken down and bought our ($300) bridge pass for the vehicle bridge (which would have meant enjoying the luxury of driving straight to her doorstep). From there I would ski to her house a few miles away.

Easy peasy.

I just had to get a few things done first.

Coffee: we were out. So I ground by hand enough for the week. Out of almond milk too but hey, black will do.

Next up: I went to make a fire to take off the chill of the night before and to keep the house from freezing while I was out (The Chief was at work until late that night, working construction on concrete floors in the freezing temperatures).

 

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Freezing temps the night before had made little ice covers on previously melting snow

 

Out of wood.

So I geared up to chop some and came back inside with a heaping armload.

Next up: water (we were out).

I again headed outside almost slipping down the ramp which had frozen a bit and came back up ten minutes later (after many a try to get the generator started) with 80 lbs. of water, stepping gingerly to avoid a catastrophic slip. Inside I managed to spill half of the contents of one bucket all over the cabin floor while trying to transfer it into the pot on the stove. As I stepped on the floor I could feel the water beneath the boards. I had also managed to put the fire out. Nice move.

I sopped up the water as best I could, chopped more wood, and got another fire going with the hopes of drying out the cabin floor.

Still, moving forward, determined to get to the comfort of my friend, I dressed myself for the still cold temperatures (it had gone way below zero the night before and the snow had turned to a slick sheet of ice with mush underneath, not exactly perfect conditions).

I chose all of my favorite layers, trying to cozy myself up and treat myself kindly in this already frustrating gloomy day. Long johns, thick socks, snow pants, flannel, sweatshirt, jacket, hat, gloves, face buff.

I was ready. Just then I looked at the impressive fire I had built and started to worry. Should I leave such a raging fire going unwatched? I’d heard about chimney fires and with the way things were going that day I figured it best not to take chances. I sat in my layers, starting to sweat, watching the fire, imagining coming home to a pile of smoldering wood (our house). I decided to check outside to make sure everything was ready to head out while the fire died down a bit.

I gathered my skis and walked over to the car. It was completely iced in.

 

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The driver’s door doesn’t open so I went to the passenger’s side and just as I pulled the latch I started to slip on the ever so slick ice surrounding the vehicle. Haha, not so fast, universe. I caught myself, jumped in the car and popped open the driver’s side door. My first triumph of the day, at last!

I walked carefully around the car. As I was about to step into the driver’s seat to check the gas level I felt my foot break through ice as I fell backwards. The ice around the car was fresh from the night before. Apparently I had overestimated its strength. I was suddenly lying in an ice puddle, my skis and poles and ski boots scattered everywhere. I felt the water seep into my boots and down the back of my pants.

Wonderful!

I slipped a few more times until I finally got myself up and out of the ice pit and into the house where I stripped down, rung out my clothes, hung them to dry and dressed myself all over again. Luckily I had just been given a pair of snow boots so I didn’t have to wait until they dried and the ski boots which had fallen when I fell were still somewhat dry. Since I had been wearing my backpack when I fell I thankfully hadn’t hit my head on the ice but the backpack too had gotten wet so I unpacked, hung up wet contents and repacked it as well.

O.K. back in gear. The fire was no longer reminiscent of a fire-breathing dragon, it had a steady flame and I felt comfortable leaving it. I again walked outside, slow and steady. The driver’s side door had shut in all the commotion so again I walked to the other side, crawled in and opened it. I slid through the car to the other side and checked the gas level.

It was full.

No, of course it wasn’t.

I carefully got out the other side and placed my skis and poles and boots and backpack into the car and then headed for the gas can which was also full.

No, of course it wasn’t.

I pumped gas quickly. Too quickly. The gas came spewing out the top and all over my newly adorned outfit. I’m used to a little gas so I just went with it. I tried to add gas to the car but couldn’t find the funnel so I just went for it. It got everywhere. It was even too much for me to handle. I was like a walking match. I finished filling the tank and went back inside for yet another clothing change (though despite new clothes I still stunk of gasoline).

Alright! Fueled up and ready to go.

I made my way slip sliding to the bridge, carefully exited the car and got out my skis, changed into my ski boots, bungee corded my snow boots (the second pair of the day) around my backpack and off I went. The ice was slick and within moments I had almost landed on my back twice but no, not again universe. I was determined to stay upright.

I started to get the hang of the slick ice so much so that I called a good girlfriend while skiing (a first for me). I was feeling pretty impressed by myself and better and better as I listened to her words of wisdom when suddenly, I heard a helicopter almost directly overhead.

The T.V. show.

They were filming the area. I immediately thought to myself, “ugh, I don’t want to be in their shot, I didn’t agree to this!” And as I took one look up, deciding to ski away quickly to shelter under a nearby tree what happened? I fell completely backwards on an uphill that was at such an angle that even wearing my backpack with boots strapped to the back I still hit my head.

Hard.

I picked up my phone and the last remnants of my pride and sanity and told my girlfriend what had just happened when suddenly, the fog lifted.

 

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I started laughing, giggling at first and then it morphed into a roar. Maybe I was concussed or maybe the fall just knocked it out of me. She was laughing on the other end and our sudden shift just kept egging one another on. I started moving again, phone in one hand, ski poles in the other, trying not to fall again but at the same time suddenly being O.K. with all of it.

Yes, today I was clearly out of sync with the universe. I wasn’t jiving and oh freakin’ well. My girlfriend, after we had finally stopped laughing said “Wow, you’re dealing with this day really well” and I remember finally understanding that it wasn’t up to me. This day was a bit of a lion but my anger towards it wouldn’t do me any good and really, I had to just laugh at all that had happened: more wardrobe changes than a pop concert, bumps and bruises, turning our house into a lake, a splitting headache, falling while simply looking up in front of a whole crew of people I knew, stinking of gasoline and still, it could have been worse.

We got off the phone when I realized that I was suddenly lost. I had decided, in my new attitude towards the day, to try a shortcut I had heard of but had never tried, especially in Winter.

I called my girlfriend whom I was visiting and she, as per usual, didn’t answer. I had already made a few gut instinct turns while on the phone and couldn’t be totally sure of the path I had already taken and so, the only way to go was forward. I continued on with confidence and immediately hit another slick spot and down I went!

Again.

Third fall’s the charm?

I picked myself up and got the snow out of my pants and continued on. Eventually, the girlfriend called back and I described my surroundings in detail:

“Well, there are a lot of trees.”

“Did you pass the left turn to the Toe yet?”

“Sure!” (I had no idea)

“Just go straight, Julia. No turns.”

Okey dokey, I got this.

And I did. Eventually I found her (a couple hoots and hollers exchanged between us helped). She walked down from her cabin to greet me and after a quick once over and a lot of friendtuition (friend intuition) she asked:

“Woah, my dear what happened to you today?”

We went inside, me leaving my boots on because we had planned to go for a ski, that was the plan, right?

“What do you need?”

I love her.

What I needed was to slow the heck down for a minute. What I needed was to recognize that the comfort I had spent the whole day in discomfort to get to was suddenly in front of me. She didn’t care if we skied of just sat and talked and we ended doing the latter for quite a while. Suddenly, the day was almost gone (it had taken me almost four hours to get there from the time I had talked to her that morning when it should have taken one) and I was exhausted and in pain and emotionally drained but after telling her the story of my day which again ended in an uproar of laughter I felt even better. We decided to go for a quick ski in which I did the most epic slow motion fall either of us have ever seen, setting my headache right back in place.

Fourth fall’s the charm?

 

 

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We returned, still laughing about the fall  when she opened a cider and promptly hit herself in the neck with the cork, resulting in a bruise. We roared. I made pepper sculptures while we cooked dinner and we spent the rest of the night talking and laughing, a lot of laughing.

 

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The first part of that day may have been some of the most frustrating moments I’ve ever had. All I wanted was to get to my friend and it seemed the universe was hell-bent on making me work for it. Maybe that’s what it needed from me, a little gusto. Most everything that could have gone wrong did and things I didn’t even think could happen happened. Even in the woods (I might even say especially in the woods), those days happen just when you don’t need them the most, just when things are already hard. That’s when those days happen.

This whole week was kind of like that day but with its parts evenly dispersed through seven and it seemed to be that way for a lot of folks. It was like trudging through mud. But instead of suffer silently, people talked. I had people I love dearly and people I barely knew telling me how hard the week had been for them, that tears kept coming and frustrations kept jumping in the way of progress and they didn’t quite know why. Maybe it was the weather (it’s been raining and gloomy for weeks), maybe it’s the Summer coming to an end, maybe it’s a deep-seated issue, maybe it’s really nothing at all. Either way it was a weird one and I couldn’t stop thinking about that day last Winter where eventually all I could do was laugh.

 

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Even the sunsets were weird. Beautiful, but weird.

 

And so, I remind myself that no matter where I am, those days will happen, those weeks will happen. I will fall flat on my back (or more recently on my face, resulting in a beautiful black eye just in time to see my family last week where my nephew told me “Auntie Juju, you look like a zombie”. Thanks, kiddo). I will feel the buildup of pressure and frustration and I can decide to run from it (though it seems to run faster) or I can stop, look at it straight in the eye, see it’s not so bad and appreciate the ridiculousness of it all.

This week may not have been my shining moment of glory but hey, at least I was in good company and at least together we were finally able to laugh some good belly laughs. If you’re going to be out of sync with the universe, it’s at least nice to be there in good company.

Cheers to answering honestly when asked how you are and to finding some friends to wade through the muck with, it makes it a lot easier. And hey, at least after a weird week of rain (or three) the mushrooms, some as big as your head, come out to surprise you.