Saturday, December 27, 2003

I want to thank all of you who wrote to tell me you liked my costume. I will be adding more pictures and will also put up a permanent link to the entry on the sidebar so it will be easily accessible. I understand some of the pics weren't opening at first, but they are all fixed now. I appreciate the emails letting me know, but wanted to share this one from Singapore that sent me off my chair with laughter. Name and email address removed.

dear anne,

i can't view lecherous legolas no matter whose computer i use!
is there somewhere else you could put the pictures? i saw could access the rest, except for the bow and quiver, which had the same problem.

i'm all bothered because I WANT TO SEE LECHEROUS LEGOLAS!


Man, I love you people out there in blog land. You kill me.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

So this is Christmas...

And so it is. I spent it with family, including my stepbrother Dan, whom I hadn't seen in at least a couple of years, and my sister and nephew Alec who is six. I get so tired in the winter, and after present opening and breakfast this morning, had to go home and take a nap before dinner. Luckily, I live two blocks from my mom and stepdad, so that was possible without disrupting anyone else's schedule. Plus, there were other people who were in dire need of a daily nap. After two days with my six year old nephew, Dan seemed to be waning in energy and patience as well. Dan has a hotshot job as a executive news producer, and I never cease to be amazed at his driven attitude toward his work.

I wasn't ready for the holidays this year. Last year, it felt like Christmas. This year, it crept up on me like a crafty fox and I just wasn't ready for it. Sure, I bought gifts for everyone, but I wasn't emotionally ready for such intense family contact.

I've never been a fan of New Year's Eve, so I don't fret over that one. But Christmas always harbors so many expectations. Not for me, but I worry if I will meet them for someone else. Those worries come during awkward stances in the hallway as you say goodbye to relatives because all you want to do after the constant activity is go home and sleep. Feeling guilty for not having more energy, but on the walk home realizing that those around you were just as tired and that the conversation that would ensue were you to stay, has already been had.

Alec my nephew, was rambunctious and talkative as always, demanding attention and energy I just didn't have that day. I could do spurts with Alec, but it's always more, more, and I just didn't have more. My energy peaks later, just as most people are winding down, and getting up at 8:00am and enduring a cold walk to their house in the morning had assured me the need for a nap in the afternoon. I bought Alec the Pirates of the Caribbean DVD for Christmas, and we all watched and laughed again. Unfortunately, my mom's DVD player kept freezing, so Dan only got to see half of it before we gave up. Johnny Depp's delivery just can't be appreciated to its fullest when the movie freezes for a few seconds every three minutes. We tried the second DVD of Pirates, that I'd bought for my mom, and it had the same problems. Too bad, because we were all enjoying it.

Speaking of the holidays and family brings me to this past Thanksgiving. I went to visit my grandmother at her assisted living home here in Baltimore. She moved to Baltimore to be closer to my mom and Jack, and to my uncle Robin, her son who lives in Salisbury. It's a nice place with a nice decor, private rooms, and the inhabitants are well taken care of. It should be, as it's one of the pricier ones.

When I entered the lobby, she was sitting in one of the chairs and craned her neck around to see me. She'd been waiting there for awhile, the staff told me, very excited that I was coming to visit. So, when the automatic doors swung open and I walked in, she was so happy that she could hardly contain herself in her chair. Upon seeing her, I realized how my mere presence could mean so much to another person. She's incredibly frail, and can't feel the bottoms of her feet, so she has to walk with a walker and take a minute after she stands up to gain her balance. I'm a teaser, so I tease her and it's funny to see her laugh. This dainty, proper, southern little old lady, gripping my arm as she feels out the floor beneath her and opening up to me with laughter when I dare to go there about her being wobbly.

So, there me and my 87-year-old grandmother were, sitting at our table in the dining room and talking about books, my height, my cats, and occasionally she leaned into me to quietly mention the "bitchy" people that she didn't want to sit with when offered their table.

Beside us, a family sat around a larger round table. They were an elderly couple who were obviously residents, a married couple in their late forties, early fifties, and their two kids, a boy and a girl who were college age. It reminded me of when I was in college, and how important it was to me that everyone knew that I was on my way to greatness. The holidays were a time for me to assure everyone that I was far exceeding expectations. Not in my studies, but in my social status. Part of my time spent with family was to make sure they knew how great I was so they could tell all their friends, then it was hurry back to get to my life that I felt was so important at the time. I was going to go back and create the artistic masterpiece, or back to American Ballet Theatre and mingle with Baryshnikov, Twyla Tharp, Mark Morris, the ABT dancers, Agnes DeMille, (when she was still living), and you name it as far as celebrities and socialites at the parties and galas. I had art galleries to go to and museums to visit. Places to be seen and places to see. Like I said, I was on my way to greatness and time was of the essence. I didn't know then, that I was going about it the wrong way. I was looking toward the company of other's greatness to make me great, casting aside time that should have been spent cultivating and getting to know the gifts that were special to me.

I saw that in these two kids, talking about their college and people in their classes who were yes, like themselves, on their way to greatness. Their tales were different from mine, but looking at them and listening to the way they told it, prompted by parents, reminded me of the same. From what I could tell, they were going to local colleges, but I didn't get the names of the universities. I could tell they were smart kids who wanted to please their parents and like me, let them know that life was "going on" for them. During pauses in my grandmother's and my conversation, I'd listen to them and reflect on myself at that age, going through the college experience where everything seemed so crucial. Like these kids, I was a fountain of information about myself and my goings on, and everything seemed so within grasp. That was because, I was willing to reach out and grab it. However, when it came to trusting myself that I could create it, I was timid.

And now, I'm not timid to create it. And doing so is a much more quiet and personal process. Now, at family gatherings, I don't know what to talk to people about. I can't explain to them what I'm going through, so my life has become about my regression from my career to work in a bookstore, and my battles with depression. People ask, "So, are you okay? Really, are you ok?" and I'm not sure what to tell them. Am I? I ask myself that every morning when I wake up, walking naked into the bathroom and throwing on a robe, pouring cereal into my bowl at a time of day when most people are eating lunch, and taking a shower when most are an hour or two from getting off work. I ask that every night when I go to bed, studying my surroundings and asking how I got here. How this former Victorian mansion in Baltimore came to be my home. An apartment within it that is happy to wrap its arms around me while I try to figure everything out. To house me and my thoughts within its giant rooms and 14-foot-ceilings. I think it's appropriate that the place is so open and loft-like, because right now I take up a lot of "space" and my thoughts and energy need room to swirl. When holidays come around, that happens more, because I'm given a stark reflection in the mirror by those who have known me my whole life and are shown a drastic change. Particularly when my energy fades or I'm not full of stories like I once was. In fact, I'm reluctant to talk about myself. I'm going through something very personal and can't really explain it, so I remain silent for the most part.

Especially when I'm asked if I'm doing okay.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

In honor of the last installment of Lord of the Rings opening this Wednesday, I've picked this time to post the pictures of my Halloween costume.

So, how does a normal looking girl turn... into an elf?

legolas costume

Like I said in my original post, I can't remember the day where I stood up and proclaimed, "That's it! I'll be Legolas for Halloween!" In fact, the first time I saw the movie, I was annoyed by the elf, always the worrier and just kind of a pretty boy type. Not that I mind pretty boys, but I wasn't sure why he was there and that elves were supposed to be fair. The movie had been in theaters for a long time, and I was driving home one night. I figured I might as well see it in the theater and pulled into Westwood where it was playing. It was around 7pm, and I took a chance that the movie was starting about this time. I'd read The Hobbit when I was about twelve, so when the ticket guy told me that the movie was five minutes into the start, I asked if I would understand having missed it. After he assured me I would, I bought a ticket. Luckily, they were still in the description parts about the ring, so I wasn't entirely lost. I was very taken by the incredible story and incredible filmmaking. However, I didn't know a thing about the characters, and when I learned more about Tolkien's elves and that they were not just pretty pushovers, Legolas grew on me. Especially in the second one where he flipped over that horse. Very cool. I have since read the Hobbit again, as well as Fellowship and Two Towers.

I think I was also going through a time where I wanted to transform myself into something larger than life, fierce, but elegant. I thought of being one of the girl elves, but I was drawn more to the challenge of transforming myself into a male character and lets face it, they are a lot more fun than just wearing frilly dresses. I also wanted to be something that was recognizable and well, cool. And it paid off, because I had a hell of a good time.

But first, MAJOR props to these people who so carefully documented their own creations for the rest of us to benefit from. I'd have been lost without their careful documentation of their own creations. You guys rock. Please visit their sites and see for yourself.

Alleycatscratch The end all be all to LOTR costume research. Painstaking documentation and great tips for construction.
Jedi Elf Queen. Incredible artist, her tips were extremely helpful in building the bow.
Megan Helped immensely with breaking down the elements of the top. Great documentation and a very talented woman.

Okay, now that the proper people have been credited, I can go on.

One day I just started building the bow, thinking that the rest of costume would be a pretty easy one. I must have been insane. I won't lie and say it was a breeze. It wasn't, but because I started early, I was able to prioritize. A few things I didn't get to finish, like the leg things, some of the detail work on the costume, and the vambraces (arm guards) but I was able to throw them together to look pretty good.

legolas costume
I took this picture at 3:00AM and had to digitally remove some splatter (made when I was applying the costume before work) from the mirror. However, it gives a good idea of the costume. I used my real hairline by flipping my hair over the wig, spraying white hair effect on it, then blonde effect which also helped hold it in place. I DID have to chemically lighten it substantially to work, but it was only the front under parts and it's just hair. I braided the side braids by using my own lightened hair and working it into the wig hair, to give it a seamless natural look. The rest stayed my natural dark brown. The blue eyes and dark eyebrows are all mine. ;) Click the image to see a larger version.

Heavy metal meets Middle Earth. This picture was taken at work in our music department on Halloween night. Roger, on the left, and his brother Eric on the right dressed up as AC/DC. Don't they look great? I'm in the center as Legolas. When I asked my grandmother (whose eyesight isn't the best) to pick me out of the group, she picked Eric. Okay, I know I�m dressed up as a dude, but c'mon grandma. Click the image to see a larger version.

This is me and my coworker Rebecca in the music department in a really funny shot. She is dressed as a fairy, also with pointy ears, and looked absolutely adorable. When we were posing, I was in the middle of saying something and Roger saw the photo opportunity and went click! The result, a photo where it looks like I'm looking right at Rebecca's chest and exclaiming something like, "You fairy chicks are HOT!" I call this the Lecherous Legolas photo, and yes, I know that will send me some weird Google referrals. Rebecca and I lost it when we saw this, and it was just too good not to post.

I didn't bother digitally removing the splatter here. Too much work on the first one where I removed the lovely mirror crack as well. This is the back of the costume, showing how the quiver hung. It is a mirror shot, so it is reversed from how it really was. The arrows and quiver tilted toward my right shoulder whereas this one looks like they go to the left. I made the arrows and quiver from scratch, and drew the design on the back. Click the image to see a larger version.

This is the bow and quiver from above taken in my apartment. Like the moody setting I set up? And yes, that's an original Victorian marble fireplace behind it. Thought that made it a little more authentic. As you can see, I still have detailing to do on the bow and work inside the quiver to finish it off. The arrows stay in there through Velcro attached to the inside of the quiver, so as not to fall out when I move around or bend down. I ran a belt through the quiver that goes over my shoulder and connects in front.

This is the quiver from the side, showing how thin it is.

lothlorien bow detailThis is a close up of the Lothlorien bow detailing. I used a wood epoxy putty and sculpting tools to get this look. Once I painted the bow I started with this detail work that I have yet to finish. Tricky, because it dries fast but great because it is an epoxy that sticks to the surface and is moldable, then dries hard as a rock. Great effect for that wood carved look.

This is the detail of the middle of the bow, with lots more work to be done. This is the most detailed part of the bow and I was only able to make a dent in the design application.

Sometimes you say YES to WIRE HANGERS. This is the humble beginning of the bow. Wire hangers taped together and bent into shape using pliers. I cut the hook part of the hangers off. After that, I wrapped the hangers in tin foil to give it depth, then and shaped it. If you've ever eaten at a restaurant that gives your to go food in the shape of tin foil animals, you know that tin foil is great for sculpting. After that, a couple of layers of masking tape to hold everything in place and finish off the shape. Then, the next step.

This is the bow and quiver in progress. The bow is still bendable in this stage. The strips of newspaper are applied using decoupage (a fancier papier mache technique). I added a layer, let dry, added another layer, let dry. After that, I used wood filler, NOT the epoxy putty, but filler to give it that wood look. Then, I sanded it down using a medium grade sand paper, then finishing touches with a fine sand paper. Again, a several step several application process. After I was happy with the shape, I painted it, then applied decoupage glue to seal it. You can see here that I used the tape measure to make sure the bow was even throughout.

The beginning of the Fellowship Brooch. I sculpted this from sculpty clay and didn't have the sense to place it on a more suitable surface to photograph it. This is on a baking sheet, just before putting it in the oven. At the time of the costume deadline, I didn't have time to paint it, so did a very rudimentary job.

This is the painted Fellowship Brooch. It could use some glaze and fine tuning, but I'm happy with it for now. I bought a strong clasp and glued it to the back of the brooch. Strong, so it could withstand the weight of my cape.

I will update this post later, but wanted to post these pics for now. Stay tuned for more pictures, as I'll be adding them over time.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I've found myself in a writing frenzy lately.

I kept hearing about this National Novel Writing Month that took place in November, and of course never being one to follow the crowd, I am taking the philosophy of it into December. Okay, I just didn't hear about it until it was well underway, so I started in December. Plus, reading Francesa's success with the method got me inspired. Based on their goals, it bases your progress by a set goal of words written per day in order to reach the 50,000 mark by the end of the month. I did the math for December, and I think that puts me at around 1800 words per day. Sometimes I make it, other times I pass it, and sometimes I don't. I always have the number in mind of where I'm supposed to be.

Surprisingly, this method sets you free in a way, as you're concentrating on that goal of so many words. As a result, your writing really loosens up and gets wonderfully creative. And that's when it happens, the words on your screen blur because you are not beating your head against your desk to think of a story, but watching it unfold in front of you. The hole in your screen appears into the world of your story, and your fingers work like mad to type down what you see. From people's smiles, needs, past, their hair color, cadence, fears, houses, conversations, and most importantly, the story in which they participate. The story that's been floating around in your head as you drive to work, shower, shelve books, walk around naked in your apartment, ring up customers, walk to your mother's to watch Queer Eye, sip your mocha inside starbucks. The story that has you reciting the conversations of your characters just inaudible enough to not be accused at the grocery store of talking to yourself as you grab the sheep's milk feta cheese off the shelve in the refrigerated section. That story. The one that won't leave you alone and taps your shoulder every now and then because like Glenn Close in the movie Fatal Attraction, it will not be ignored.

I used to concentrate on pages as goals, and that always left me frustrated. For some reason, a word goal gets to the heart of the matter. After all, writing is about words and getting them down on the paper. Or in my case, the screen. Anne Lamott has a book about writing called Bird by Bird, and has a chapter called Shitty First Draft. So this is my shitty first draft, meaning that this time it's about the words, and letting them fill the pages without the worry of the criticizing editor standing over my shoulder.

I've let my characters show me the way this time. I type, because I'm following their lead. Yes, it's all coming from my head, but what's amazing is that it doesn't feel that way. All of a sudden, I've let go of all restraints, and have let my story walk 1800 steps a day while I tag along with it. And suddenly, writing feels so light and easy. I don't care if I'm the only one who ever reads it or if the story just plain sucks. It's my creation, and the important thing is that I'm letting it happen in its pure, untainted beauty. I'm letting it out of my head to explore, and like building my Halloween costume, even though I'm wandering into unfamiliar territory with some of the subject matter, I know exactly what I'm doing.

I guess I've stumbled upon that next project that I was needing.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

I had a nightmare last night.

I dreamed that I'd gone back into time and found myself on the morning of September 11th, 2001. It was early in the morning before the planes hit and I was in New York. I looked up at the two towers and realized where I was and what was about to happen. I ran into the lobby of one of the towers and told the person at the information desk that he had to evacuate the building and why. He asked me how I knew this was going to happen, and I certainly wasn't going to tell him it was because I'd traveled back in time. It was New York, and to him I'd just be another nut off the street. I said because I'd heard it through someone who had warned me, and he said that he wasn't going to evacuate the entire World Trade Center just because a friend had told me that someone was going to crash planes into the buildings. "Never will happen," he said, "No one is going to fly a plane into this building, and they surely aren't going to collapse."

"But they will," I said, "you have to warn these people to get out." I thought of all the lives I could save, the families that I'd keep intact. The ones that wouldn't have to jump. I pleaded with him to at least get the top floors out, but he refused. Being a dream, I found myself holding a bullhorn and started yelling at people in the lobby to evacuate the building and to tell the people on the top floors to come down. Some looked at me like I was crazy, while others pondered what I was saying, that "a plane was going to crash into the building."

The dream was spent running up the stairs and telling people to get out, having them either look at me and shut their doors in annoyance, or take heed, but too slowly. They weren't sure if I was with security and whether they should follow my directions.

Then, the building shook as the first plane hit, and I knew everyone inside had only an hour. Some of the people that I encountered reasoned with me that they couldn't leave their desks because their bosses would object, and I said, "Don't you understand? There is going to be nothing left. This is all going to collapse and turn to dust!"

Again, they said, "It will never happen. These buildings will be here forever. Besides, it's safer inside than out there." Out there, the bodies had started to fall, and more debris. They then smiled at me apologetically and politely shut the doors to their glass enclosed offices in my face.

So, I ran into the other building among a mob of people who were fleeing the lobby, shouting at them to look up and not get hit by the falling bodies. "Spot," I yelled at people blindly running out, "spot them to see where they are going to land, then run!"

When I reached the lobby of the other building, I warned them that another plane was coming. The desk attendant refused to evacuate because of the debris that was falling down outside. "They're safer in here, and no way is another plane going to hit."

I tried to convince him it wasn't an accident, that he needed to save the tenants in the building. Again, he refused, so up I went again with my bullhorn yelling at people to get out. As I trounced up the stairs, knowing that I was putting myself in danger, I thought of all the people that I could save, and that I could change the results of this day. My own safety was the furthest thing from my mind.

The second plane hit, and I was running back and forth between buildings, screaming at people not to get hit by the falling bodies and hearing the horrible sounds they made as they hit the pavement.

I jerked awake in the middle of it sweating so heavily that my sheets were soaked. Sweat was dripping down my sides and in every nook and cranny of my body. I remember thinking that I needed to get back to that dream and tell those people running not to get hit by the bodies, and to run as far away from the buildings as they could.

And then I realized I had to get to work. First to shower, then feed the cats who were meowing at me impatiently. After that, to try and salvage something to wear as I stumbled around in a stupor somewhere between reality and the dream from which I'd just woken up. I think when the cold air hit me as I walked out the door it helped place me firmly in the present, but when I arrived to work I found the crowds, colorful merchandise, and noise too much for me to bear at times. I fought off a headache, maneuvered around people, worked at the cash register with a pleasant demeanor and helped people find the books they were looking for. But inside, I just wanted to be somewhere quiet.

I'm trying to figure out that dream. I have a good idea what it was trying to tell me, but I'm going to let it sink in for awhile. I've been thinking of a lot of things lately, as my mind never stops racing and analyzing. Like this morning, I'm stuck somewhere between two places and don't know which one is more true to me. Not physical places, but psychological ones. I'm revisiting a lot of things and dealing with them up close and personally. Things that I thought were long put away and folded neatly in a closed drawer. However, when I opened that drawer, I saw that there were a lot of creases and that those things had not been put away as neatly as I thought. And now, I'm not sure who that makes me and if I like it or not. Was I better before realizing this, or better off now even though it makes me feel like not as nice of a person? But, a much stronger person. Am I better prepared to push myself further or am I more fragile than I've ever been? It's been an intricate, frustrating dance.

However, I feel more real than I have in a long time.

And at least I'm dancing.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

For Thanksgiving, I give thanks...

For my health, my laughter, and my sadness. For my perseverance, and times of stillness. For my mom and Jack, who have through their actions, showed me that I matter, and for not being afraid to know me. For my sister, who decided that her strange sister is worth having around after all. For my beloved cats, my love of music and art, my travels, and passing moments with strangers. For the smell of autumn leaves, the glimmering oranges of sunset bouncing off rippled clouds, for a deep orange harvest moon. For my incredible apartment for which I pay a low price. For those who encourage, as well as those who criticize and give me pause. For my metabolism, and my althletic ability. For my artistic talent and sensitivity to other's art. For my competence at working with my hands, and coordination. For friends who somehow put up with me and make me laugh with their incredible wit. For this blog, and what it has become. For the sound of rain fall, and distant thunder, the whisper of wind through the trees. For warm showers with an endless supply of hot water. For understanding, for courage, for desire.

For Hope.

It is not wasted on me.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

I've had two successes in the past week.

The first one was that I got secret shopped and scored our store 100%. Secret shopping is when a customer comes in as an "undercover agent" for Barnes and Noble corporate to test us on our customer service. They have a check off list of things that we must hit in order to score 100%, and also observe our interaction with customers. One of our managers was kind enough to tell me that I was the person who scored us that 100% on our quarterly shop. That's cool, because I try to be as helpful as possible and it's nice to be recognized for that. The secret shopper was so kind to say that I was extremely helpful, courteous, and extended the same treatment to all the customers that he/she observed me helping. He/she also called the store organized and knowlegable.

So in short, I rock. Go me!

The 2nd and much bigger success was my Halloween costume. I was scheduled from 4pm to close on Halloween and therefore got to wear it to work. No one recognized me, not even when I tapped my car key on the glass of the cafe window and waved to my coworkers who see me every day. Why? Because I was dressed as Legolas the elf, from Lord of the Rings, blonde coif and all. I made the entire costume, from constructing the bow, arrows, and quiver, to sculpting the Fellowship brooch out of clay.

Right: Orlando Bloom as Legolas.

The effort was worth it. To say that I had a blast that night was an understatement, and people just absolutely loved the costume. I was even kidnapped by a guy who wanted to show me off at the role playing game store a couple of doors down where it was a big hit. Now if that isn't a compliment, I don't know what is. The guy kept calling it amazing, incredible, as did my coworkers and customers. When I was working, other coworkers who weren't working that night stopped by with their friends and called it a "10." Complete strangers weren't afraid to approach me and tell me how much they loved the costume, or congregate around me just to look at it. I'd smile and wave at them, and it was all in all a very friendly and positive night. I also won best costume at a party full of theater people.

So, Legolas was a hit. I can't believe I pulled it off. Really, I can NOT believe it. There was a brief moment of despair just before work when I didn't think I could pull everything together in time, but I guess that happens with every creative endeavor. My mom came over in the middle of of my crisis, then had to leave for her hair appointment. I wasn't in full costume yet, and was sorry that she didn't get to see me in full regalia as she had helped me when I needed an extra pair of hands for fitting and pinning. I called work and asked to come in an hour later, and they were very accomodating as it was still slow there. The extra hour was all I needed, perhaps just mentally, but it made all the difference.

On the way to work, guys would check out the platinum blonde in the car next to them and then when they'd get a closer look, or I'd make eye contact, they'd look away hastily. That cracked me up. I don't think they were sure what they were looking at. Male? Female? Human?

I really enjoyed seeing my coworkers' costumes. Everyone looked great and it was fun to see the creativity in everyone surface in so many different ways. We had a lady bug, AC/DC, a fairy, a Capone style gangster (a girl who was the other gender switch costume), vampires, a cat, and many more. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, just for this reason. Some of our customers came in with great getups as well.

Around 8:00PM, my mom and Jack stopped by to see me in costume and as my mom said, to see if I made it through my "low moment." I had, and was smiling and having fun. They said I looked great. I sent them an e-mail after I got home from a coworker's party and let them know that it really meant a lot to me that they'd driven all the way out to see me. And, it did. There is nothing quite like moral support from parents like that. They knew I'd worked hard, and they were supporting that by coming to see me. Meaning, they were interested in what I had created, which really meant that they were interested in me and showed that I was important to them. And, that means the world.

I can't even remember when I decided on Legolas as this year's theme, but it just sort of manifested in me starting to work on building a bow. And looking back, I can't even believe that I decided to embark such a project, knowing that I'm a perfectionist with whatever I undertake. I mean, was I insane? Luckily, I'm not so much of a perfectionist that it's all or nothing, but it better be as close to all as I can get.

I think what I'm proud of the most on the costume was how organized I was in building it. I started with plenty of time, around two months before Halloween, though I didn't work on it every day. How I was even thinking of Halloween then, again, no idea. I needed a project, I guess. A challenging one. And boy, that's what I got. Also, once again I needed a vacation from my skin.

And yes, pictures are soon to come.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

I got my Blogger hoodie today.

Blogger, now dripping with cash due to the Google acquisition, showed appreciation to those of us who subscribed to Blogger Pro when it was a start-up. Now that the company is flush, Pro features are free, and Blogger wanted to thank us customers who kept them running with a gift of a hoodie with the Blogger logo on it. How cool is that? It's also nice to think that I was a part of supporting a revolution of sorts that is a growing important trend, and is changing the way that people get their news. The word "blog" is coming up more and more in news items and I've been interviewed or mentioned in a couple of articles on the subject already. Celebrities are catching on to us pioneers, and many of them have their own blogs now.

I had been blogging for a few months before as a way to deal with Rob's suicide, but fully recognized its impact when September 11th happened, scouring the Internet for news that wasn't filtered by the big conglomerates. I was living in Los Angeles, far away from the chaos, but felt the effects no less. Still in disbelief, and unable to tear myself away from trying to understand what happened, I discovered the true power of blogging. Personal blogs took me underneath the mainstream news and into the hearts and eyes of the regular person. Different perspectives, different views from their cameras, and stories unheard but no less heartwrenching. Blogs took me from Los Angeles into the streets of New York and Washington, DC, where people who were the little man, just like me, documented their experiences. It was blogs and the blogging network that truly helped me cope with September 11th.

So Blogger, congrats to you, and thanks for the cool hoodie. Yay Blogger!

On other fronts, it was trick or treat day at the mall where I work, and kids in costume came in throngs to get their candy. It was absolutely adorable, and Spiderman was our first trick or treater. There were some really great costumes, including a gregarious five or six year old kid who was dressed as Morpheus from "The Matrix." "Look," I said, "Mini-Morpheus!" That one got a laugh from employees and parents alike. A girl who looked to be about ten years old came in dressed as Jack Sparrow, from Pirates of the Caribbean, and boy was it a great costume. She not only looked like Johnny Depp, but had the whole outfit down, including shells in her hair and a painted on goatee. It was really great. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, simply because you see such creativity surface and the kids rule the day. And, a ten year old girl gets to be a swashbuckling pirate.

There has been a certain feeling of peace within me lately. I can't describe where it's coming from, but I feel like there will be some changes in the near future. Working on my Halloween costume has opened something within me that has relaxed me and once again sat me down in front of my talents where I can observe them closely. I had no intention to work this hard on it. However, it's become a work of art that I'm carefully crafting. I feel like after this Halloween passes, I'm going to be able to let go of a lot of things and have a clearer idea of steps I need to take. I think I'm almost done with this Barnes and Noble, not to mention Baltimore. I will probably be here another year, maybe a little longer, but not much more.

I'm ready to surface again, and those steps I'm going to take will lead me there. I'm planning on spending a year to resurface, to swim under the water and look up at the distorted view of the sky above. I used to do that when I was younger, I'd lay on the bottom of the deep end of the pool and look up at the sky, a kaleidoscope of blue, white, and grey sloshing above me. The world was silent and I was cradled by the gently rocking water. When I was about six years old I was swimming in a hotel pool and got saved by a lifeguard who thought I was drowning. I was face up, relaxing on the pool floor, when a large hand wrapped around my arm and pulled me with superhuman strength off the bottom. Certainly no older than highschool age, he pulled me to the surface and screamed into my face, "are you okay, little girl!?" My legs were wrapped around his waist and my arms around his neck, and when the shock wore off from being jolted out of my peaceful underwater refuge, I said, "yes, I was just playing underwater."

I can see how that must have looked to him. He had no idea that I was a really good swimmer with an incredible capacity to hold my breath. I know that's how it must look to those on the outside as well. Wondering why I'm not living up to my potential and why I'm working in the place that I am that can frustrate me so much at times. Many have tried to jerk me back upward for fear that I am drowning.

But really, I'm just enjoying the quiet view from below, interrupted by the occasional intrusion of someone's cannonball dive, and waiting for the right moment to surface.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Halloween is less than two weeks away, and I've been working away on my costume.

I'm not going to say what it is, one not to jinx my progress, and two, just in case I'm not able to pull it all together. The good part is, I've been wanting a project for some while, and Halloween always provides exactly that. The part I love about Halloween costuming, is the treasure hunt that it sends you on. And like elusive gold that was buried years ago, when you uncover what you are looking for the rush is intoxicating. Depending on your costume, that treasure can be anything, and the search sends you into the basements of the most eccentric vintage shops, walking among stuffed mongooses holding cobras in their mouths, coffins, young employees clad in black 60's style mod suits excitedly tinkering away at the turntable they just acquired from an estate, fine tuning the speed to match the RPM listed. Hearing the sounds of the Beatles Hard Day's Night warping from too slow to too fast, as if the notes and sounds were on a rubberband. All objects that were never supposed to sit next to each other, like samurai swords, modern Danish bowls, vinyl miniskirts, rosary beads, crosses, and opium pipes. Feather boas, ivory cigarette lighters, kimonos, Levi's jeans, wedding dresses, pill box hats, and switch blades with ivory handles.

Their origins, times and backgrounds as jumbled as the people we come across. Because of modern travel, our chances of crossing paths are increased but no less bizarre. And so here we all are, together. Along with the possessions we bring with us and eventually leave behind for whatever reason.

Along with the treasure hunt, I've enjoyed the hands on work. I had no idea what a large project it was, but it's certainly taken over my apartment and free time. Not out of task, but out of enjoyment. I don't even remember how I chose this subject as this year's costume, but now I'm in the middle of it. I look forward to working on it when I get home, and seeing what creation emerges from my hands. My mind works so much better when they are in use. Thoughts run more clearly, my intelligence surfaces much more frequently, and any cloaks of insecurity I wear are shed and left in a rumpled pile on the ground. I am Queen of the Costume, and though I've never attempted anything like this, I know exactly what I'm doing.

It also reminds me that I am doing exactly what I set out to do when I chose to come to Baltimore. As I wait out the sagging economy, I am exploring and testing skills that have sat in the corner of a dusty attic. Much like that employee who pateintly worked to bring the turntable back to its glory, I'm in the process of polishing those skills and testing out the moving parts. By doing this, I have enabled myself to think about career tracks that I once thought were beyond my reach, or for "other people." I'm not saying that I'll go down a particular road, but this process has certainly enlarged my thought space, giving me a little more room to move around.

Yesterday, I went into the store again to show my mom around. We went into the basement, and the turntable was operating flawlessly, playing music that filled the room with the warm, rich sounds from vinyl that only it could bring to life. Though facing a daunting task, the employee had not given up on that old dusty machine.

And nor will I when it comes to restoring my own treasures.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

I was one cranky girl tonight.

Perhaps it was the cloud of doom that blew in the cold weather today, or the pervasive stupidity of the corporate people at Barnes and Noble whose "on a whim" changes to the store affect my job. Perhaps it's because no one speaks up to these people, because they see a great divide between corporate and the store. And corporate is at fault as well, not listening to the suggestions from people who are on the front lines and yes, do know better.

The latest brain fart to come from the corporate side is to remove the stanchions from our line at the registers and replace them with merchandise tables. I was told that when this person was told that the people wouldn't line up correctly, that we were assured, "oh yes they will."

Well, no they fucking didn't. Sure, come in on a whim and change stuff because you think it's a good idea. Ignore the obvious stuff that needs changing, but please, fuck with our line. Then, bluster out in a gust of bags and hair, and as you drive back to your office, pat yourself on the back for your ingenuity and knowledge that were it not for you, the store just wouldn't survive. And certainly, don't listen to anyone's suggestions who works there on a daily basis, because we certainly have never witnessed our common-sense-challenged customers having enough trouble with our line as it is, butting in front of each other because they assume that the four people who are standing still behind the "please wait here" sign, holding merchandise and looking bored are just doing it because they are participating in a piece of performance art called, "Retail Hell."

Then, defend this move even though one in every three customers are certain to bitch and moan at whomever is unlucky enough to be on register, saying that we should "make it clearer," or "put a sign" because they are too much of an imbecile to figure out that just like in kindergarten, it's "single file, children." And that just like the teacher would, little Jimmy or little Jane, we'll send your fat ass to the back of the line no matter how you well contorted it to get through the two tables of merchandise to stand behind the person we're ringing up. No "cutsies," you troll-mannered, infantile, overgrown half-wit.

To put the intelligence of most of our clientele in perspective, these are people that come up to me and ask if they can pay with cash.

God, I miss the Calabassas store so much at times.

Actually, there are positive and negative things happening for me at the store. One, I've kind of relaxed about the place and just go in every day to do my job, then leave. The time goes by super fast, and I have plenty of breathing space afterward. Despite my entries here, I really don't take work home with me. This makes me both happy and nervous. Happy, because I've noticed that my artistic skills have a really strong voice now. Instead of being wilted and starved, they are robust and becoming more comfortable inside my skin every day. Not to mention, more confident.

The negative, is that there are a lot of weird politics happening there that I'd rather stay out of. However, because of the scale of them, it's made a weird working environment, and one can't help being affected by it. The store, once again on direction from those cerebral corporate types, is also cracking down on employee freedoms that are just common respect, and that makes for a more constricting work environment. In fact, some of the things that they've instituted are downright insulting. Yet, other egregious problems are ignored. In short, some people, male people, get away with murder while those of us who work hard are nitpicked, asked things like, "did you get that drink on the clock?" And where there aren't problems, they are stirred up and created, making trouble for mostly female people. I'm being vague, because I have to and because of the pending article from the Sun. Anyway, it's been hard to watch, and depressing that stuff like this still goes on. I also feel helpless to make a difference.

Also, some real goons have been hired recently. You know who you are.

Number two negative, is that I don't want to get too comfortable there, or shuck any other options because of the freedoms that working a non-corporate job has allowed me. I've developed a corporate-phobia, and the thought of working in a constrained environment like an office depresses me to no end. The people here are dull, dry, and depressing enough, and the thought of working with "office people" from this area is frightening. Even working at a cool job. It becomes very easy to disappear in places like that. And once you have disappeared on the outside, "the nothing" feeds on your insides, eating away all that carefully cultured, ripe artistic growth with a rapacious vigor.

Number three negative, is that some cool people are leaving the store. And along with their absence, that leaves openings for more goons.

So, I'm stuck between these positives and negatives. I just got another raise to $9.00 an hour, which isn't bad for a retail job. However, I miss having money. Not enough to sacrifice what I've worked to gain in its absence, but I miss it. I miss shopping regularly on Rodeo Drive and hobnobbing with the locals there. I miss the cute boys I hung out with at the coffee shop.

Somewhere, there has to be a happy medium.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

One minute, you are at your mom's house, having just checked in on the cat and finishing up your laundry. You realize that you still have your comforter, your big, fluffy down comforter that you took to her house to wash in her jumbo sized machine and hung over the railing on the third floor for three days to let it dry. It's early in the morning, no, not dawn early, early as in the dark hours of the morning. You have your big duffel bag, and stuff the comforter into the duffel bag. It's huge, big enough for a body if you were so inclined to stuff one in there. Instead, it's your comforter. Your now clean, fresh, and very light comforter.

You begin your walk down three flights of stairs, one duffel bag over your shoulder, the big one dragging behind you. You hit your knee on the wooden railing.

You curse.

You step down to continue, and feel nothing but air.

And then you're tumbling.

As you land on the second floor landing, having rounded a corner in your fall, you pause.

From one second to the next, is how fast your life could have terribly changed, had that fall gone the worst possible route.

Tonight, for me it went the best route. Perhaps it's because I let my body crumple. Or, the fact that I had two duffel bags full of laundry to cushion my fall. My head narrowly missed the wooden threshold of the door leading into the second floor living room. Had it hit, it would have been hard. I had momentum. But like the crumpled clothing, my body had taken on the form of a rag doll. Boneless, without fight, and thankfully without injury.

I will be sore tomorrow, but thank God, only that.

To add insult to a near miss injury, an almost empty can of soda I was carrying spilled on the comforter. It was diet soda, so I said, "Fuck it," and stuffed the comforter back into the bag where it had peeked out. It was a tiny bit on the corner. I could live with that.

I've always been a good faller. I don't fight it, and instinctively I know how to fall to prevent injury. As a result, I've never broken a bone in my life, and I had many chances. I was the kid who climbed everything that there was to be climbed and got into everything there was to get into.

When I was six, I once hung off a second story balcony over a perilous rock cliff because the other kids told me that there was an invisible trampoline that would catch my fall.

I believed them.

We were all too young to contemplate serious injury. To them, my fall would be like that of Wile E. Coyote, where I flatten myself but get back up unhurt, all good for a laugh. I gripped that metal railing, my legs kicking, staring at the red flat rocks far beneath me. We were at a friend of our parents house whose property, like ours was on sharp hillside in a woodsy area. Our parents were in the front yard enjoying their barbecue, thinking we were all playing nice in the woods. Instead, one of their daughters was hanging off the side of their house with the firm belief that an invisible trampoline would break her fall, as the other kids cheered her on to let go. I remember loosening my fingers, then tightening them back up. Letting my hands slip from a palm grip to one where my thumbs were released and top two digits were the only things holding me to the railing.

"C'mon Anne!" the kids yelled, "let go! It will catch you!"

I looked down again as they promised me it was there, then had a thought. It wasn't disbelief that there was an invisible trampoline that finally hit me, but I wondered how I would know where to land on it if I couldn't see it. What if I missed? At that thought, I swung my body back and forth to gain momentum, then kicked my leg over the railing where my hands gripped. As the kids called me a chicken and groaned at their disappointment, I pulled myself back onto the balcony.

Then I challenged them, "Why don't you do it?"

There were no takers.

None that would even hang over the railing.

Though I didn't fall that time, there were many times that I did. Each time avoiding breaking bones. I don't know how I avoided that with the stunts I pulled over the years, but my body and I have always been good communicators when it comes to physical activity. And that includes falling.

Most times, when we think of falling, both figuratively and literally, the focus is on getting up, trying again. But we forget that the fall that took us to that point is the first part of that getting up process. Depending on how you fall, getting back up can be an easy, or an incredibly difficult task.

Tonight, thanks to luck and knowing how to fall, I was able to get up with ease and not difficulty.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Isabel has come and gone. As expected, on Thursday, the day that the hurricane blew in, I was called and told not to come to work. So I waited, for anything that looked like a hurricane. I napped periodically, waking up with the cats laying on my chest. By 2pm, the wind started picking up interspersed with rain, and I went outside to sit on my stoop to experience it. When I looked up toward the sky, I saw that the clouds were moving faster than I'd ever seen before, looking like they were captured on time lapse film then projected at normal speed. My neighbors across the street sat outside as well to watch nature's spectacle, and their kids played on the sidewalk in bright, colorful raincoats. They looked like a bunch of bouncing gumdrops against the backdrop of the grey day. Though windy, it wasn't dangerous yet.

Thursday late afternoon was filled with wind ripping through trees and bursts of rain spewing out of the clouds. I was able to keep my windows open and hear the high pitched howling, because they were parallel to the direction of the wind. The cats sat on the sill and watched, curious at this invisible, giant, and angry visitor that shook trees, then tossed branches and leaves around like a child throwing a tantrum. Both my fireplaces bellowed deep, throaty sounds as the wind was force fed down the chimneys.

There did come a time that I had to shut my windows, as the constant swooning, rocking trees and fast moving clouds accompanied by the whistling wind made me motion sick. Eventually I was able to open them again, but for awhile I couldn't look outside and had to absorb myself in indoor activities to ease the queasiness. Motionless, indoor activities like painting.

The winds, though strong and constant were just a prequel to the violent gusts that we would experience once darkness fell. That's when things took a much more severe turn. Isabel the bully was really flexing her muscles, and not just branches, but trees started to fall. I was at my computer and heard the big cracking sound, then looked outside to see the casualty across the street. A beautiful, old tree that couldn't withstand the forceful gale. Cars were buried under branches, but mine fared well since I parked it next to a young, small tree.

I was surprised that I didn't lose power at all, though millions of people did. It was hard to get online, but I managed to through the night. Finally, something had to give and my cable went out. At that, I retired to my bedroom and kept one window open. My long white curtains looked like ship sails flapping in the moonlight. Every time a gust came it tossed them up toward the ceiling and the smell of fresh, rain soaked air blew over my face. The cats had followed me into bed, and watched the curtains with uncertainty. It was very surreal, and magical in a way, as if I'd been transformed into another world. One where the sky interacted with us much more and refused to be cast off as just a backdrop to us humans. It demanded attention, and let us know it was a force to be reckoned with and that it was feeling turbulent. I felt lucky to be experiencing it, as it does connect us to earth and sky, and though that may sound bewildering and intimidating, it was actually very comforting.

So I laid there, and I let it in. And beside me, on top of me, and around me. Isabel had traveled hundreds of miles and across an ocean, so I let her churn inside my room and explore, her wispy tendrils touching me, my cats, the walls, my bed, the ceiling. Reaching through my chimney and out my fireplace, then back up again. Inspecting my rumpled clothes on the floor and brushing over the perfume bottles on my vanity. Caressing the marble Victorian mantle over the fireplace and the top of my sleigh bed. Cruising through my foyer and out the living room window. Rattling my windows as she entered and exited, watching me rouse from a light sleep as if playing a joke. Observing me as I laid there silently and watched the dancing shadows from my curtains.

And then finally, she let me sleep.

The next day, I walked around the neighborhood to surmise the damage. Lots of people were walking around and I stopped in the local coffee place to get a frozen mocha. Life had returned to earth from the sky, and that smaller focus had me craving a blended.

A fallen tree in a yard in my neighborhood. This one crashed through the wrought iron fence and landed in this persons front yard. Many of the homes here date back to the middle 1800's and because they have been painstakingly renovated, withstood the winds pretty well.
Another tree casualty on Mt. Royal Avenue. This one toppled over a sidewalk and out into the street, also taking the top of a Bolton Hill street lamp with it, seen at right in this photo.

The fallen tree across the street from me taken in the daylight. My car was parked just across the street from this one.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

A still night before the storm.

You can literally hear a pin drop outside, and this is the first night that I haven't heard the cicadas singing.

Picture at right: Photo of hurricane Isabel taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Today was beautiful, crisp, sunny, and devoid of any evidence that a storm is headed our way. That is, until you try to find a parking place in the Rite-Aid lot, and the local hardware store is out of D batteries. Sneaky little twinkle toes that I am, I went to the local art supply store and scored the last two packages of D batteries. Or, until you go to the gas station and try to fill up your car with regular unleaded, and the sweet, sparsely-toothed attendant comes to tell you that the reason you're just getting air when you depress the handle is because they just ran of it. So, my car got a treat today of a tank full of the next grade up of gas. And, when you are driving to Starbucks, listening to all the school closings tomorrow in the city, and come home to see that the landlord has posted instructions on keeping an eye out for flooding in the building and to not park your car under large trees. Luckily, I'm on the second floor. My car will have to fend for itself, but I did heed the advice.

A hurricane is the one weather event that I haven't experienced yet. Once again, I think that Maryland is trying to make up for the lack of severe weather events that I experienced while living in California. Or, it's just trying to show off. Starting with the 28 inch snow storm from last winter that kept me housebound for four days, and the incredible thunderstorms we've had here this summer. No one knows how bad it's going to be, so we're all just waiting. And that has made it eerily quiet outside.

I'm supposed to work tomorrow at 4pm, but I have a feeling that will be called off. The storm is supposed to hit at 2pm, and I'm not going to risk my life driving to work. I have a feeling, if it gets bad, that the store will close early to allow people safe passage home. The people in Maryland have enough trouble driving when conditions are ideal.

My mom and Jack are in Europe, leaving me to care for EJ their cat and their house while they are gone. Since they live around the corner, it's in walking distance. On the way home, I passed a good looking kid who looked to be of college age. Though we didn't know each other, we said hello as we passed, and then he said, "You're really pretty." I was taken aback by such a forward compliment, and thanked him, giggling a little. We were both still walking away from each other and I didn't look back. Neither did he, I don't think. How nice and refreshing for a young man to feel confident enough to compliment a woman in a nonthreatening and genuine matter. And, it sure put a smile on my face as I walked the rest of the way home.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Yesterday, on my way home from Starbucks, I decided to drive around Baltimore. I passed my exit, and headed to the Inner Harbor. The sun was just starting to set and the day was crisp and clear. A beautiful, late summer day where the kiss of fall is flirting with summer. During that drive, I remembered how my friend Shannon and I would be out in bars in Los Angeles and get into laughing fits. Not because of the drink, but because one of us would say or observe something that just set it off. Shannon and I would always "go there" with our humor and it inevitably led to gut holding, bending over, tear producing laughter that took a while from which to recover. Take it from me, that the best ab exercise you can do is laughter. I won't describe the incident I was remembering, as laughter between two very close friends is near impossible to explain to someone else.

Shannon e-mailed me last night, perhaps he picked up that I was laughing with him across the continent. I was sitting at my computer and we chit chatted via e-mail, since it was late and I was about to go to bed.

Many times when I'm in the store among the Trolls, Quasimodos, and Jabba the Huts, I think to myself what I would say to Shannon in passing. Or, what he would say to me. Same goes for some of the books we carry, the cheesy romance novels of which I must have shelved a couple hundred this evening. Just as I'd roll my eyes at the cover, a female Jabba would waddle up and peruse the titles, white, fleshy bruised legs jiggling close to me as I sat on the floor, her stubby fingers pulling the books out and bulging, bloodshot eyes examining the barechested men holding fainting large breasted women in their arms. Sometimes the Jabbas breathe in labored raspy breaths, other times they sweat profusely just from walking across the store. Jabbas come in many categories. There are the stealth Jabbas, appearing beside you like big puffy white clouds blown in by a gust of wind. The billowy pillow-like humans make no sound in their sweat pants and tennis shoes as they float around the store like balloons in the Macy's parade. And the cane Jabbas. There are lots of cane Jabbas, supporting their weight with the help of a third metal leg. I've seen many mother daughter teams of cane Jabbas, heading right for the romance section, breasts like bowling balls in potato sacks resting on each side of their ample stomachs. Shirts hosting stains from several varieties of food and drink.

If I see that they can't bend down I offer to help them, setting the titles on a higher shelf so they can browse without having to crunch their rolls like an accordion.

The chair Jabbas are the worst, putting their legs up on the table, or the men in shorts sitting with their legs apart, revealing way too much information. Books resting on their stomachs, rising and falling with every large breath. Many of them have breasts that would make Pamela Anderson envious. Sometimes I catch them picking their nose, and some of them remove their shoes, their beaten stretched out shoes from bearing so much weight. Their feet are white and hairy, and look like they haven't seen a bath in a few days. The other day I was assaulted by a Jabba ass crack while walking around a bookshelf. The Jabba was squatting, wearing way too tight acid wash shorts and a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. A good three inches of hairy ass crack was staring up at me saying, "peek a boo!" I stood and collected myself from the shock, then shelved the book, practically throwing it and then backed away. One should never, never turn their back on Jabba ass crack.

The Quasimodos are usually in the Sci-fi/Fantasy section, rarely interacting with the Jabbas. And the Quasimodos prefer the floor to our chairs. The same goes for the Trolls. While the Quasimodos like to tuck themselves away between two bookshelves, the Trolls assert a territory. Usually, in a place where is most inconvenient to anyone wanting to pass by, taking up half an aisle space with their bodies, their black sweatshirt hoodie that they eventually shed, their oversized backpack, scraggly notebooks, and many RPG novels that they've taken off the shelves and placed on the floor. The Trolls sometimes come in pairs, but the Quasimodos are always solo and usually male. While the Quasimodos usually put the books back that they have read, the Trolls are notorious for leaving books on the floor, along with trash, even though there is a trash can less than a foot away. Though the Quasimodos and the Trolls share the same section of the store, they usually steer clear of each other. There must be some unspoken agreement between the two species.

I think the Trolls, Quasimodos, and Jabbas see us booksellers as useful parasites. Most of us are much smaller than they are, and we are a necessary nuisance for their survival. They tolerate us infiltrating their territory to restock the bookshelves or bend down to where no Jabba has bent before. We roam freely from section to section maintaining here, shelving there, answering a question that they grunt at us. Kind of like clown fish in an anemone, we are immune to harm in the tentacles of bookshelves.

That is, except for the Trolls. We are always in danger of the Trolls. If they get ticked off, things can get ugly and they can turn on you with the slightest provocation.

And that is why I keep a full supply of Lysol, perfume, and a very bright flashlight in my arsenal at all times. Not to mention, I know where we stash the Martha Stewart books. If things get nasty, I can lob a couple of those at the Trolls and they scatter like roaches.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

I rode through the grassy fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania last Tuesday. There were seven of us, edging forward where the North and South had clashed, killing tens of thousands. Cannon booms, cries of battle, and musket shots had once filled the air, but today the only sounds were the soft hoof beats of my horse and fellow riders taking part in a guided horseback tour through the battlefields.

I'd found myself on the back of that horse in a rather odd way. A friend of my mom's from work is undergoing a mastectomy. This woman usually drives her husband Ed to Gettysburg where he is a guide. Ed is legally blind and can't drive himself, and when my mom asked her friend if there was anything she could do during her time in the hospital, she said, "Actually, there is."

And that led to my mom and I riding through Gettysburg on horseback, tromping through the fields, listening to Ed as he pointed out where rival generals had led their soldiers into one of the biggest battles in the Civil War.

Before the ride, we picked Ed up at his house in Hampden. Neither my mom nor me had ever met the man, and weren't quite sure what to expect. When she approached his door, he popped out in a "here I am," stance with his hands on his hips and chin raised to the air. He wore his official guide hat and shirt, light khaki pants, sported a red and grey beard, and was as spry as a fox. He was in his early sixties, and when my mom introduced me he proclaimed, "We're having historical weather today for our ride!" Meaning, that the battle took place in weather just like we were experiencing. Mid-eighties, humid, and partly cloudy.

At that, I knew we were in for a great time.

The drive to Gettysburg was about an hour, during which my mom and Ed talked about the history of the surrounding countryside and the war. My mom asked Ed what his background was, and he told us that he is a former mathematician, having quit when his eyesight started to fail to the point where he could no longer read the yearly mathematical journals. Twelve, intricate, very large journals that were essential if one wanted to be on the forefront of mathematics. Instead of letting his eyesight limit him, he became interested in the Civil War and found out by accident about horseback guided tours through Gettysburg. In order to pass the rigid guide test, he visited the battlefield several times to memorize by foot placement where the events took place, as well as where landmarks, both natural and manmade were located in order to give an accurate historical tour. When his test came, the day was foggy and visibility was low, but Ed pointed out the places of note with ease, down to where the last foot soldier may have fallen or where a cannonball rolled across the field to take the lower leg off an unsuspecting general. After he passed his test, one of the Gettysburg board members told him, "We really thought your eyesight was going to be a problem, but you could see things that we had a hard time seeing today!"

Truth be told, Ed had memorized the battlefield so well, that he didn't need his eyes to guide him anymore. He had no idea the day had been foggy.

As he spoke to us in the car, I marveled at his knowledge of the land through which we were driving and the history of the Civil War. It's one thing to know names and places, but to be able to point somewhere and say this general was standing here, and this one was there, and to tell the story as if he just experienced it yesterday was just amazing. I had a wonderful time just sitting in the back of the car and listening to Ed, imagining the people he was talking about and the events that had taken place. The people he described became three dimensional beings and I soaked it in. I could see the sweat dripping down their foreheads, hot and weary in their wool uniforms and brass buttons, their muskets slung over their shoulders and their hair blowing in the wind. I felt the fear and anticipation, and between the trees I expected to see soldiers lurking or sense an unnatural silence as we approached the enemy. By the time we arrived at Gettysburg, I was ready to get on a horse and ride, not drive through history.

Right: Me on the white horse on the left, and my mom on the brown horse on the right. This photo was taken by the horses' owner just after our ride.

I had taken English style horseback riding when I was in grade school that included some jumping, and had also ridden Western style through the Colorado Rockies at Estes Park a few times when I was nine through eleven years old. When I got on the horse, everything came back except one thing. I had always harbored some fear of horses when I was that age, being so small on top of such a big animal, but that didn't surface this time. I felt in unison with my horse, and her sudden movements beneath me didn't frighten me, but instead seemed natural. I felt in control and at ease, thinking, "If I fall, well, then I fall. If the horse becomes frightened, well, then the horse bucks and I hang on. It's all cool." I think my horse could sense that from me, and the two of us worked together seamlessly.

My horse was a spackled grey Arabian, just like the one that Legolas and Gimli ride in the movie The Two Towers, and as Ed told me from his encyclopedic mind, the kind that Napoleon preferred. Her name is Tania, pronounced Tah-ny-ah. She was such a beautiful horse, and I spoke to her and pet her before I got onto her. My mom's horse was a beautiful brown horse named JD, short for Jack Daniels.

Though we were on a battlefield, the ride was incredibly peaceful. The sounds of the horses' steps changed with the terrain, whether we were on gravel, dirt, grass, or a wood bridge. I felt Tania expand underneath me when she took a deep breath, and the twitches of her muscles when she warded off flies. I saw butterflies land on blades of grass and swarms of grasshoppers hop out of our way as we passed, causing a ripple effect in the tall grass. I heard the creaking of my leather saddle and the songbirds' varied tunes, the wind whispering through the grass and the rustle of the leaves in the trees.

I wondered sometimes if the ghosts of those who fought and died there were among us, looking at us with curiosity and listening to Ed as he pointed out from where regiments had attacked or the more intimate stories of lookout soldiers from opposing sides forming friendships on the fields they surveyed. Maybe they silently walked beside our horses, enjoying the same tranquility that we were and proud that we remembered their sacrifice. Perhaps they reached out and tried to touch us, feeling only air as we passed through them. And some of Tania's twitches were not the result of flies, but of ghostly fingers brushing against her skin.

As I looked across the landscape, right in the middle of where our country fought itself to gain freedom and opportunity for all, I resisted the urge to gallop across the fields, hanging on for dear life, wind through my hair and stinging my eyes, filling my lungs and caressing my forehead. The beating of hooves as fast as the beating of my heart, feeling the land underneath me instead of being separated from it by pavement and tires. Going off-road, in the way it was originally intended. Experiencing freedom in one of the very places that helped birth it and shredding boundaries. Being so alive that fear and doubt seem impossible, almost laughable. And having possibility within my grasp, riding alongside me and sharing my triumph, both of us gut laughing at the sheer wonder of life as we part through the vast fields of opportunity that seem to stretch forever.

Ironic that it took someone who is legally blind to enable me to see that so much more clearly. To see that even though you may have limitations, you can find a way around them. But you are the one that has to find the way and carve out that path that is custom made just for you. And then, it's just a matter of remembering your foot placement.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

It's been a long time since I've wanted to walk into a Hollywood producer's office, thrust my fists in the air and say, "YES!"

If I had such a chance to walk into a producers meeting for Sex and the City, that's exactly what I would do. "YES. Thank you! Thank you for being brilliant. And DIFFERENT."

I'm talking about casting Mikhail Baryshnikov as a soon to be love interest for Carrie. (Sarah Jessica Parker). Though I haven't been a religious watcher of the show, I'm excited about this for a lot of reasons.

One, it's taking a ballsy risk, and two it's bringing someone back into the public eye that I think has been missing for too long. Yes, he's been performing, but coccooned in his world of modern dance appearances which in the big picture is a very small pond.

Three, because the world needs Baryshnikov. Especially the younger crowd who are used to celebrities being made overnight and think that Brittany Spears qualifies as a good dancer. It's important to introduce to them this extraordinary talent who not only worked years to perfect his craft, but defected from his country so he could have freedom of artistic expression. Though he won't be showing off his dancing talent in the show, it will pique curiosity from those who have not heard of him before, or who have but because he is a performing artist, thought him a story that isn't of interest to them. Now, people will ask who he is, and possibly be moved to explore watching videos of when he was at his peak or delve into his story, which is a fascinating one. It will remind them that it wasn't so long ago that times were different, and the extents that someone will go to fully achieve their artistic, or any potential. Not to mention, to defeat the obstacles that attempt to thwart them no matter how impossible that seems.

Lastly, I worked for three years at American Ballet Theatre while Baryshnikov was artistic director. It is a time that I will treasure for the rest of my life, seeing the world of dance so up close and intimately and being allowed to roam freely within that world. I was also one of the first at the company to learn that Baryshnikov would resign from the position, but that is another story.

I was introduced to Baryshnikov early in life by the yearly showings of "The Nutcracker" or when my mom and I would fight over the television over my wanting to watch CHiPs and her wanting to watch a PBS special called Baryshnikov on Broadway. "Isn't he cute?" she say, and I'd recoil, "NO!" And I meant it. I'd sulk and wait for the commercials so we could switch to Ponch and Jon in their tight cop pants fighting crime via motorcycle on the California Highways. Now that was cute.

Several years later, as a teenager with maturing hormones and tastes, I saw a preview at a theater for the movie White Nights. Misha jumped across the screen and something stirred in my belly. I crossed my legs and leaned back as I concentrated on the screen. This was no boy, it was a man. But an expressive boyish man who had incredible control over his body. "Oh yeah," I thought. "Forgot about this guy."

Right: Misha in the movie White Nights. Photo courtesy of "Portrait of a Film." Photo by Terry O'Neill.

When I saw the movie, I was hooked. He had force, sexuality, and maturity behind his image, and that just curled my little teenage toes. I spent years pining over Misha, had posters on my walls and wore out the Public Library's VHS copies of his performances. The need to get out of Kansas to New York became even more urgent. I wanted to experience that world, those people, and that man. Luckily, my own artistic skills got me into Parsons School of Design in New York. Before I left, people in Kansas balked when I told them I wanted to be Baryshnikov's assistant at American Ballet Theatre in New York City. "Oh like you'd ever get to do that," they'd say.

But I did.

By the time I was nineteen, I was Misha's assistant at American Ballet Theatre.

I found my "in" during a summer job as a telemarketer for ABT's fundraising campaign. The office we used was uptown and being leased to us as a donation from a major company. It was fancy and plush, but it was nowhere near the action in the downtown studios. It was at that job that I learned about the volunteer program at ABT and applied. Through volunteering, I would get to be on site at the company studios which put me at Misha ground zero. From there, I was hired to work part-time in the development office.

Left: Misha during the time I was at American Ballet Theatre. Photo by Annie Leibowitz.

The first time I saw Misha at ABT was him walking toward me in the hall with shorts on and very white muscular legs. I was shy and averted his glance, but tried to be seen by him as much as possible when I was there. Not obnoxiously lingering, but just present. I had such a crush on him, and had a fantasy that Misha would see me and say, "come work for ME." It was silly, but that's exactly what happened.

It all started with a squeeze on the arm.

One day at work, I was pinched on my arm from behind, and thinking it was another coworker with whom I had a flirtatious relationship, almost punched the person behind me playfully. I balled my fist, then held it when I saw my boss's expression stiffen. I turned around, and there was Misha. Brilliant blue eyes, talking fast to me, pausing between every couple of words, "Can you... come get me... if the phone rings... for me?"
"Sure," I said, relaxing my fist, and he smiled widely. So did I.
"Thank you!" he said, and darted off down the hall to rehearsal.
My boss stood there stunned, then said, "you better stay here then," and indicated the desk by the artistic office.
"Yeah," I said, my stomach doing flip flops inside, "I guess so."

And there it was. I had made it. That little exchange led to me being the liason between Misha's life at ABT and the world. And Misha's world was big. I phoned him at his hotel in Rome to tell him that he'd been nominated for an Emmy. He called me from Valentino's yacht in the Mediterranian to catch up on messages. "How are you, Anne?" He would say over static sounding very happy to be on vacation. "Thank you Anne!" He'd say when we were finished talking.

Though I was harboring a severe crush on the man, I was always respectful of his privacy. I stayed within my boundaries to what the job was, and didn't cross the line. There was no groupie behavior on my part, no snooping or souvenir collecting. I was just thrilled to be a part of everything.

And then the time came when he made a pass at me. He had been trying to get closer to me all week, coming up from behind, rubbing me on the arm and greeting me. On that day, I was on the phone inquiring to a store about some bookshelves I'd ordered and he came out of his office. He stood there looking at me and I at him. We were in a different world; the woman on the other line from me couldn't have guessed what was happening to her customer at that moment and why I was taking a few seconds to answer her questions. He moved closer, brushed against my leg and touched my shoulder. I was sitting, he was standing, and both of us were quiet. I had finished my conversation and hung up the phone. My heart was a pounding drum in my head. I was sure he could hear it. I felt myself blush. I was sure he could see it. I wanted to appear mature and seasoned, and I was blowing it.

I had fantasized endlessly about this moment. I was trembling; he was calm as he stared into my eyes, inches away and getting closer. The sound around me silenced, my breathing tightened in my throat. He was now standing over me, and touched my arm, neck. "Go for it!" A voice screamed in my head, "put your hand...there!"

But I turned away.

At nineteen, he was too much man for me. And though he looked young and had the body of a teenager, he was more than twice my age. I was inexperienced; he was a legend for his conquests. And, he scared the shit out of me.

For years I chastised myself for "failing" in that moment, and that my Kansas upbringing surrounded by uncultured dopey boys had failed to prepare me for it. But eventually, I came to an understanding that I was simply protecting myself from what would have been an emotionally devastating experience for a very impressionable, sensitive, and naive young woman. I had become familiar with his womanizing ways, and though in fantasy it was ok, the reality felt so much different, and scary. Some nineteen-year-olds could have handled it. I wasn't one of them. In that regard, I triumphed in that moment and showed strength way beyond my years.

So why am I thrilled about his appearance on the show? I don't know fully, but I am. It brings back those memories of being impressionable and excited about something. Being introduced to a world that is so much bigger than you are, yet not getting lost in it. And having the strength to stand out in your unique way and realize how far you want to go. There is no way that you emerge from an experience like that the same person that you were when you entered.

I certainly didn't.

Perhaps, because having him back in the limelight, especially in this capacity, brings some of me back as well. It puts me back in touch with that adventurous, go for it personality who set an impossible, no ridiculous goal and achieved it. The romantic. The girl that believed in dreams coming true, even if they don't turn out to be what you thought. Because it is the belief in those dreams, not the achievement of them that is the most important. Success is merely the end result of never ceasing to believe.

When I lived in Los Angeles, Shannon, his sister and I went to see Baryshnikov dance at the Wiltern Theatre. It was the first time that I'd seen him in person since he walked off the stage at the Met after announcing his intentions to resign as artistic director. No one knew of my history, and I liked it that way. I liked seeing Misha not through the eyes of a star struck teenager who wanted to be swept off her feet and rescued, but as an adult who had her own life and successes. And presence. And someone who was content to appreciate his artistry from afar.

And I decided, that I like both him and me much better on those terms.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. :)

Friday, August 01, 2003

I opened up a can of worms yesterday. Or to put it more accurately, peeled the lid back.

I was cleaning my bedroom, and once again started picking at the cracked paint on one of the walls. This wasn't an ordinary peel, but a good foot by two foot crack that had buckled under years and layers of paint. I've been picking at it, trying to see the original wallpaper from the turn of the century, that is, the one before the turn of this last century. Finally, I gave in, and removed the plank of paint to expose a pretty sage colored wallpaper with white flowers.

Okay, now I'd done it. The urge to see this wall naked as it once was overcame me and I peeled piece after piece off the wall. The task was amazingly easy, and tore off like paper with little to no residue left. It was as if the room wanted to breathe, and was ready to shed its cumbersome layers.

The paint, which felt more like thin cardboard, could be removed by hand. This "paintboard" consisted of several layers of paint, and a couple different sheets of wallpaper, one that I could tell was an awful fifties design. Whomever decided to paper the walls in the past didn't bother removing the original. Same goes for the paint jobs.

After three hours, I was looking at over half the wall uncovered. I'd even walked downstairs to retrieve a ladder to get the high parts. I'm going to need an even taller one, with my ceilings being 14 feet high. But I was able to get high enough to see what this room could have looked like 100 years ago.

There was something about doing this task that felt right. I was giving this old grand room the respect and attention that it deserves. It was as if it wanted to be stripped, and with a cracked plank it beckoned a tenant that it knew was curious and liked to work with her hands.

The wallpaper warms the room up considerably, but unfortunately is in no condition to save. I am enjoying it now while I can, but the walls will need to have cracks repaired, sanded down, and painted. I'll probably have a professional eye the walls and paint the room. Then again, perhaps I'll do it. Paint, that is.

Again, I'm just a renter. The work I'm doing will in no way benefit me except for the cathartic exercise that it is providing. And cathartic it has been. I equate this task with the same one that I'm taking on with myself, peeling back the layers to reveal well, Anne. Whomever she is, the artist, writer, thinker, and even the girl who gets melancholy from time to time. The unique chemistry that makes up me.

I spent too many years putting on those layers, hoping that some astute and willing person would see behind them and do the work for me. To yank me out of my calcifying shell and say, "Hey, I know you really are so much more! Let me show you the way!" And like the careless workers who had papered and painted the room, I didn't bother to peel the old layers off either, I just slapped up a new one, as it was quicker and easier. For a while, it looked good and held up. But eventually, those layers got heavy and started to crack. So I'm peeling them off. And it takes work.

But I'm willing to walk naked.

To not be so serious, to roll with the blues, knowing they will pass. To write, to draw. To show off. To regain laughter. To move with the body that God gave to me. To stop focusing so much on time as if I'm racing against it. To be natural and at peace with who I am. When I can't sleep at night to know that eventually sleep will come. When I can't write to sit down and do it anyway. To use my hands more. To feel, touch, smell, and hear as much as I can. To express. To live. To allow others to be closer to me.

Most important, to stay visible. Even when I realize that I am naked.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Yes, a new picture. And a new look.

It's about time, as the photo that I took of myself on the can at The Plaza Hotel in New York City has been up there for almost a year. This photo was taken by my great friend Shannon, an amazingly talented photographer.

I will be playing around more with the look of this blog for a bit, as it hadn't really changed since I started it. Same picture, until now that is, and same colors, again, until now. I've grown tired of them. I've changed since then, so will the look of the blog. There are much better ways this site could be designed than the clunky logo and picture side by side, but I know just enough HTML to be dangerous. Dangerously bad. Same goes for Photoshop. One of these days, I've always said, I'll sit down and learn Photoshop and how to design Web pages. However, it obviously hasn't been that important to me or I would have done it by now. I get bored and ancy when sitting for too long at a desk in front of a computer screen. I concentrate much better when what I'm doing involves my hands or some sort of physicality along with my brain. I'm not complaining. It keeps me thin.

At some point, I also want to add a photo blog. That task should be easier. I think there exists some "ready made" McCode for photoblogs.

I haven't gotten to the archives yet, but will. For now, if you want to look at the old picture, especially now that you know the story behind the photo, go to the archives home page.

So alas, Straight from the hip is growing up a bit. Even if I haven't.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

I came across a neat thing yesterday.

I was reading an article on the sword work done in Pirates of the Caribbean, and a name jumped out at me on the page. I thought it sounded familiar, was puzzled for a moment, and then everything came whooshing back. Mark Ivie, swordmaster. Hmm, swords, Ivie, holy cow, it was Mark from Designworks! I worked at Designworks, a car design studio in Los Angeles, for about a year as a freelance researcher on a team designing concept BMW 7-series prototype.

Mark was a jack of all trades at the company, and I'd remembered that he had a second interesting career as a swordmaster. No, not the kind of swordmaster whose skills are filmed on video tape in the San Fernando Valley, but real sword fighting. Blades, fencing, knives, duels. Errol Flynn kind of stuff.

Only in Los Angeles.

Mark had worked on the movie The Mask of Zorro training Anthony Banderas and Anthony Hopkins and choreographing sword fighting scenes. I remember when he showed me pictures from his work on Zorro, which was filmed in Mexico. He had pictures of himself with Catherine Zeta Jones, Anthony Banderas, and Anthony Hopkins. It looked like a lot of fun, and a lot of hard, arduous work.

In the article, he was talking about coordinating the fights between Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, and the approaches that they took to each character's fighting style. Johnny Depp's was more casual and free, and Orlando Bloom's character was supposed to have been classically trained, so they instituted the difference in styles into the choreography of that fight scene. I wish I had known all this before seeing the movie, as I would have paid closer attention to the fighting styles.

Mark Ivie (left) on the set of "Pirates of the Caribbean" working with actor Trampas Thompson.

I liked Mark, as he was an odd man out in the company of mostly stick-up-the-ass car designers, as was I. I joked with him at one time that I'd like to take up sword fighting, and he was eager to teach. Perhaps I'll see if he's still game when, not if, I get back to Los Angeles.

That article was just another reminder of the interesting souls that I've known in my lifetime and how blessed I am to have come across them, eccentric beings that they are. I miss having coworkers who have such offbeat and cool lives or interests outside of work. I think that Mark has now dropped Designworks for a full-time job as a fencer/swordmaster. As they say, do what you love, the money will follow. And, you just may get to board a pirate ship and sword up some whoop ass on A-list Hollywood hunks in the meantime. What a trip.

Reading that article served as another tap on the shoulder for me to keep moving foward. And I am. Moving forward, that is. And fighting the good fight.

But I'm using my pen, as my sword.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean tonight with my mom and stepdad. I worked from 8:30-5:00, of course arriving my obligatory ten to fifteen minutes late for work, then met them for Thai food before we saw the movie.

I was nervous about seeing a "hyped" movie on opening weekend, wondering if the crowds would be too much. Especially, seeing a 7:30 show. However, all worked out well. The theatre was packed and moist inside since it had been raining outside, but we still managed an aisle seat. After the lights went down things cooled off and dried up considerably.

The movie was fun and enjoyable, and Johnny Depp just blew everyone away as the pirate Jack Sparrow. Talk about letting loose with a character. He must have had so much fun playing him down to the last finger movement. The movie is worthwhile just to see him vamping around like a drunken alley cat.

And, it's nice to see movies having fun again. Even from my old nemesis, Disney.

On the way home, I got promptly lost and ended up driving around suburban Baltimore. Two lane roads, twisty turns, fog sneaking across the roadway. An almost full moon lit the puffy clouds with a silver sheen and bore down on me like a watchful eye. I could have gotten angry, but I had nowhere else to be. Finally, after about fifteen minutes of guess work, one of the roads led to the last thing I expected. Two police cars blocked the way and several others blocked the road from the other side. Red, white and blue lights strobed in the darkness and a fire engine or ambulance was in the middle. Whatever it was, some major PO-lice activity was going on, and it looked serious. At the same time, I'd come to an end of my patience with being lost, and drove up to the roadblock. I got out of the car and asked the officer for directions to the beltway, and he pointed me back the way I had come before turning off.

Turned out that I had been heading in the right direction, and had I not run into the roadblock, would have found my way to the beltway without having to ask directions. However, it was a reminder of how I'm treating my time in Baltimore as temporary. I have no desire to learn my way around and am completely not interested in exploring the surrounding areas or learning anything about the city. It hasn't tapped my adventure nerve or pulled at me to get into the car and drive. I'm okay with being a tourist here, but at the same time it feels strange to hear the names of roads, restaurants, neighborhoods, and weekend spots that are completely foreign to me yet familiar to everyone else.

When I moved to Los Angeles, I was an exploring queen. I'd get out a city paper and a map and pick somewhere to visit. I'd ask the locals what sights I should see and then take off in my car to experience them. I'd drive through neighborhoods, visited practically every museum, and sought out different coffee shops to hang out in. Within a year, I knew Los Angeles very well, better than some people who had lived there much longer.

I've been in Baltimore almost a year, and know almost nothing about it. I haven't been moved enough by any area in town to make an effort to go back there. I cringe when I think that Starbucks is one of my few choices for coffee shops.

Starbucks. McCoffee house. The HORROR.

In protest, my inner explorer has hung up her compass and taken a hiatus. My mom even called Baltimore Magazine to ask one of the editors where the young, forward, and hip crowds hung out, and he said that honestly, there weren't any that he could think of. He named a sports bar, but knew that wasn't the atmosphere she was looking for and apologized. I thought that was very sweet of my mom to make the effort on my behalf.

I think what I miss having is options. It's so nice to know that so many different options are for the taking if you want them. And here, I just don't get that.

Or, they are just too far and in between to find.