Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Riverfloat

Thirty-one years ago, my parents, newly married, decided to see if they could get a bunch of their friends together to camp in a cow pasture with no shade and float down the river a couple times that weekend. I don’t know how many people came to that first Riverfloat, but apparently enough, because they decided to do it again the next year.
Over the years more and more people came, bringing friends and tents and roasting in the lack of shade next to a bunch of munching cows on a friend’s property. Steve Creed brought a silk screen, and for a couple bucks you could have the year’s logo screened onto just about anything you owned. My memory of these years is a distinct feeling of abandonment; kids weren’t allowed and I was farmed out to friends so my parents could relax in peace.
On “Lucky 13” kids were finally allowed to come, and suddenly not so many other people showed up. I can’t say I blame them, now. At the time, I was too excited paddling much too ferociously to notice that there were fewer people than normal. The Riverfloat was new to me, and I was determined to be as far away from the rocks as possible.
There was one year when only nine people came to the Riverfloat. That was when I was about 13, I think. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure it was my family, Amanda (Fenton) Zuluaga, Scotty Byquist, Laurie Davidson, and maybe Jerry and Kyle Jaynes. That was the year that the current ebbed, and the next year the tide started coming in again.
This year – tomorrow – I’m expecting about 100 people. It amazes me that it has morphed into something of this size, on some level, but on another level I can’t really be surprised. Most people come to the Riverfloat not knowing what to expect and are flabbergasted when they realize how fun it is. There are a ton of people, all smelling of campfire and river water, all swimming off their hangovers in the river in the morning, all in the 60+ boats beside you as you spend all day in the sun on a raft. There’s cliff-jumping, water fights, rapids, slow spots, drinking, eating, and so many memories that it’s hard to keep track of all of them anymore.
One year, Kyle and I floated on a Friday by ourselves and decided it would be a great idea to steal chairs off someone’s property on the way down. After a puny set of rapids, we realized that the chairs had torn the bottom out of the boat and we were in our own little swimming pool with really deep deep end. We ended up having to hitchhike back to camp. Another year, Casey Lewis was singing about how hot his friend was and skipping to the bathroom when he ran smack into a tree. Yet another time, Jim Simpson rode the entire length of the float on a pirate raft in a lawn chair with his pants around his ankles, while Brandon Peters steered for him.
It’s a little different from when it first started. We’re now at a different location, with shade, a screened in commercial kitchen, and a better swimming hole. There’s now a website, a Facebook group, kegs provided and T-shirts to buy. These things may be different, but the fundamental part of the Riverfloat hasn’t changed.
If there’s anything you can expect at the Riverfloat, it’s to have some fun. The new group of hardcore floaters talk about it all year round, planning their potluck dishes months in advance and starting the countdown the Monday after it ends. The great part is that the build-up is never anti-climatic; since the Riverfloat is always about fun and relaxation, you’re going to get exactly what you came for.

Love and floating kisses,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When PMS is a Laughing Matter

WARNING: If you only read the first part of this blog, you will never want to go near me again. If you’re going to start it, please just indulge me and read all the way to the end.

She wandered quietly through the forest, humming to herself. Every now and then she skipped merrily with joy and laughed out loud for no good reason at all, just because she could. Little did Little Red Riding Hood know, someone was watching who was not so amused.
An hour later, when she emerged from the woods, her hood in tatters and deep scratches across her face that barely missed her eyes, the poor girl swore she had seen a wolf. Why, asked the kindly pudgy official? Why, because there were fangs, and teeth, and growling, and a very large – water filled, almost like it was bloated – body.
The official – we will call him Mr. Man – looked at the girl for a moment, then glanced at the calendar. [Camera focuses in on the date. It is circled in red and there is a full moon. Suddenly those really cliché three notes present in every horror movie are played: DUM DUM DUUUUUUUM.]
Mr. Man takes the little girl by the hand and leads her to another room, where he dresses her wounds and gives her a lollipop. He assigns one of his deputies to take her to her grandmother’s house, and on their merrily way they go.
Then Mr. Man picks up the phone and calls his own house. The phone rings and rings and rings…until suddenly something picks it up, snarls, and there is the sound of glass breaking as the phone is hurled across the room, through the window with the lace curtains, and out into the street. There is the sound of a truck braking, then a dial tone. Mr. Man replaces the receiver, mops his forehead, swallows numerous times, and tries not to cry. It’s true: PMS is back.
Mr. Man picks up the phone and dials a different number.
“Hello, Chinese takeout? I’d like to order one of all of your combos for delivery…yes, all 20…no, just leave them at the front door…don’t knock.”

Once, in college, I spent an entire walk home from class thinking about how exactly to warn my roommates that I was likely to tear their heads off if they so much as sneezed in my presence. In my note on the white board, I imagined, I would write something like, “Dearest Friends: I am not feeling my best today. Should I rip your head off just to watch the blood spurt from your neck, please just pick it up silently and back away slowly. Sincerely, your loving roommate.”

I had a boyfriend who told me that his ex was capable of tearing bumpers off of cars when she was under the dreaded influence of the PMS Monster. At the time I thought this was very unfair and insensitive of him…until about two weeks later when I, too, found myself ripping the bumpers off of cars in the dead of night just so I could cut my teeth on the metal.

I was at a comedy show in New York where a comic admitted that he knew when his girlfriend was under the influence of PMS because he would find her feeding on a deer carcass in the corner like a Velociraptor.

We can say that this is the stuff of legends, and that women don’t actually suffer from the symptoms of PMS. We can insist that it is a myth, like so many other myths, like the centaur or the biological clock or whatever. Say what you wish, but I am here to tell you that some of us – some women that you know – sometimes want to fucking kill you.

I am not aiming that statement at men, because it is not just men that I want to kill. Sometimes, I want to kill anything that wants to make noise/emit odor, good or bad/exist in my presence. Sometimes an automated email with words of encouragement will set me off; sometimes the absence of correspondence from friends will do it. Sometimes, there’s no actual reason; I just want to tear something apart.

Much like Sirius in Harry Potter (cause hey, who doesn’t have Harry Potter on the brain this week?) I scurry to hide myself somewhere where I can’t hurt anyone when I feel PMS coming on. I wall myself up in a room filled with whatever my heart desires – sappy romance movies, the Terminator films, Scarface and stuffed animals – and take turns laughing maniacally or crying inconsolably over absolutely nothing at all.

I’m going to admit something here: I’m a feminist (as if anyone might have wondered, but there it is). I believe in equal rights for men and women. I believe that we are all created equal, but I do not believe that we are the same beasts as men. Men have their own set of issues that I frequently complain about, make fun of and generally demean. If you need a dose of that side of me, feel free to ask and I’ll come up with something funny and frightening for that subject, too. For now, though, I am going to turn the tables myself and let everyone know that PMS is not a myth, people, and it’s not something to treat lightly, either. At the same time, it’s part of anyone’s life – anyone who has to deal with women on a fairly regular basis, anyway – and therefore it should be made fun of. Contradiction in terms? Of course! Who isn’t? All I’m saying here is that sometimes the only release you can get from anger is laughter. And while I may have started this blog about to tear something apart, I am now reading back over it and chuckling to myself. Such is the power of laughter; it can be as healing as the power of prayer to a true believer.

I know a lot of people that are going through a lot more than I am at the moment. My life is blissfully simple, and exactly as I designed it: I write, I read about writing, I read to write better, I go swimming in a freezing cold river, and I weed the garden in the evenings to unwind. For some reason, even that perfection doesn’t always make me happy. Some days I wake up a little angry, or cranky, or restless. Somehow, though, if I can make myself laugh it makes me feel better. I realize that there are all sorts of scientific reasons for this, but for now I’m going to forgo all those and just say that it’s hard to laugh when you don’t think something’s funny. On the flip side, it’s hard to be angry when you’re laughing.

When I worked for a newspaper in Mexico, I used to send out funny emails to all my friends about all the stuff that was happening to me. At the same time, I sent serious reports where I poured my heart out to the director of the program back in the States. If you had only ever read those mass emails, you never would have known how unhappy I was working at the newspaper, something that the director himself pointed out to me, since he received both. The funny thing was that I never felt near as miserable after I wrote one of those emails, or read one back to myself. I think perhaps that should have been my clue that writing was my release and that I need it to feel better, whether it’s through making others laugh at my expense (or with me, if you prefer I state it that way) or by pouring my feelings into these strange characters laid down on a blank surface. The point is, writing has become a lot more to me than just a means to an end: it is simply the means to survive.

I have been reading a book on writing by one of my favorite authors, Margaret Atwood. In the introduction, she gives a page and a half of reasons that writers have given for writing, everything from putting shoes on their children’s feet to “showing the bastards,” whoever they may be. The one that holds truest for me, of all these reasons, as ridiculous as it sounds, is “Because I knew I had to keep writing or else I would die.” I’m not sure the writer who thought this meant it in the literal sense (pun intended here, I suppose) but I mean it in more of the symbolic or spiritual sense: without my writing, be it to myself or to someone else, my soul would wither into a crispy leaf that is found half rotten under the melted snow in spring.

Some part of me has to remember not to take life so seriously, and the easiest way for me to do so is to make fun of my most serious emotions. Every stage of life is fleeting; are emotions not the same? If we could simply laugh off all those really serious moments, would they cease to matter so much? I can’t say I’ve proven it yet, but that’s what I’m aiming for. So thank you for indulging me, dear reader, and letting me try to make you laugh as I ease myself off the ledge of self-importance.
And yes, maybe I am saying that the cure to PMS is laughter. Just be sure to deliver the joke from across the room, with an escape route in mind.

Love and PMS kisses

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Aunt, the 83-Year-Old Bride

I went to a wedding last weekend where the bride was 83 and the groom was 87.
The bride is my great-aunt, and she’s always been full of life and easy to laugh. When my dad told me that she was getting married, I assessed the 3-hour drive to Yakima, and decided that if I were to continue to call myself a romantic, I had to go.
Lev and Lorraine knew each other growing up in Cowiche. For anyone who doesn’t know – and that’s going to be nearly everyone -- Cowiche is a small farming community west of Yakima, with only a small grocery store, a high school and a gas station. It’s its own little valley full of orchards and a little bit of wheat, with mostly humble homes and at least two churches. On Saturday was more than 90 degrees and the sagebrush is snarled into the rocks in any area that hasn’t been cultivated for farming. It was dry and dusty, and small enough that I wasn’t sure if it could have been any smaller when my grandparents grew up there.
Despite all this, I was charmed as we drove into town. It could have been because I was recognizing a place where my grandparents grew up and that my grandfather hasn’t been back to for probably more than 20 years. It could have been that I recognized a lifestyle that I’ve come to appreciate more and more, and it could be because it was a beautiful sunny day and two people far past the age that many people live were pledging love to each other for the rest of their lives.
My grandmother and her sister both moved out of Cowiche and made their lives somewhere else. Lorraine has three children, all of whom made it to her third wedding. She became reacquainted with Lev five years ago at a Cowiche High School class reunion, and they’ve been dating ever since.
Lev’s wife had cancer and died in their 53rd year of marriage.ten years prior. Now he can say he’s been married three days. Lev’s children came, and many of his grandchildren made it with their children. I marveled at the idea that his great-grandchildren will have memories of their great-grandfather, and some of the oldest ones would remember being at his wedding.
Many people asked why someone would remarry this late in life, and I didn’t really have an answer until that day. For practical purposes, they married because they were “tired of living in sin,” as my aunt called it. But that isn’t the whole answer. No one whose face lit up as much as hers did could have had sin on the mind as she stood there. She pulled me into a hug when I arrived, then whispered, her eyes twinkling, “I can’t believe I got such a handsome man to marry me.” I knew I would see it and that’s why I went, but the wedding reminded me that it’s never too late for love, for a second or third chance, for the chance of a lifetime to be with someone you love.
Lorraine has made it full-circle: she started her life in a small farm town and had ended up there, 83 years later. She has lived, loved, and laughed. After a lifetime of seeing and doing so many things, she is still not ready to give up and sink into old age.
I think too often it’s easy to think that life ends at a certain point, or that you will figure everything out and live happily ever after. Part of me is glad this isn’t the case, because it would be mean that you just get to put on the cruise control and stop paying so much attention. Lorraine has reminded me that there’s never a reason to rely on the cruise control, and that the view is better with the top down and the wind blowing in your hair, even when that hair is gray.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Maybe It's Time to Face Reality

Maybe it’s time to face reality. Maybe it’s time to take a good, honest look at my life and come to some conclusions about myself. Maybe, based off of these conclusions, I should make some decisions and just go with it.
No, this does not mean that I am going to admit that maybe I’m not cut out to be a writer. It doesn’t mean that I am admitting that I have been irresponsible or wandered around in a bubble of bliss that will pop the minute I run out of money. It does not mean that I am perhaps not entirely human because I prefer ice-cold river water, wrinkled overworn clothes out of a backpack, and prefer a short bout of Monteczuma’s Revenge to having a mortgage. No, ladies and gentlemen, it means that perhaps it’s time for me to admit that I probably will never, ever, truly settle down.
Settling down means different things to do different people, so let me expand on the definition of this strange thing that I will never do. I will never say, “Gee, I haven’t had that much fun for like, 10 years.” I will never say, “I always wanted to go there, but it was never in the cards.” I will never refuse to go on a trip because there’s no running water. I will never refuse to eat something that looks even remotely tasty, even if I have no clue what it is. I will forgo doing something because I would have to do it by myself.
This settling down thing isn’t all bad, and to be honest, there are some things that I may never do on this path that I would kind of like to do. I will probably never own a new car, unless I win one. I will probably never be able to travel first class. I will probably never live more than a couple years in one place without it involving a super long hiatus to a foreign country. I will probably never have kids. I may never be able to find someone who wants to share all of this with me.
The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that my destiny is something I’ve been fighting for a long time. I keep expecting myself to get to the point where I want to live in one house with a mortgage and a job that would pay it; to wake up one day and hear my biological clock ticking; to want to commit myself to something and STAY committed to it. But what if I never do? What if I’m 45 years old and find that I am still single, still without a full-time (as opposed to a borrowed) pet of my own because I don’t know how long I’ll be here, still without children, and still planning long-ass trips all over the world?
As I said last week, I can’t guarantee that someday my feelings will be different. But today, right now, this moment, on 7/8/09, I can look that future straight on and be okay with it.
In the past I’ve tried to shape my future to something normal. I’ve tried to be in jobs that will get me on a career path with two weeks of vacation a year, that make me enough money I could potentially save for a house, looked for people to date in similar situations with similar goals. Where has this sort of searching gotten me? Back at the same place I always find myself: with money, a schedule, a social life, a boyfriend, and most likely completely miserable. One guy I dated said to me, “Well once we got married you would stop traveling, right?” I didn’t even think twice about it. I didn’t think about what he meant to me, how much I loved him, how this might actually be a normal idea. I just opened my mouth and said what my entire being was shouting: NO.
So maybe it’s time I try to shape my future to me. Maybe it’s time to let go of this idea that perhaps one day I’ll finally “grow up” and admit that “settling down” may not be in the cards for me. Maybe I need to be okay with the fact that I may be that cool aunt that brings back trinkets from foreign places; that some people will envy my freedom but would never actually want my solitude, and that maybe, just maybe, I like it that way.

Love and realistic kisses

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lake Chelan, the ex

When I tell people that I grew up in Lake Chelan, nine times out of ten they say, “Oh, really? I didn’t know people actually lived there year round.”
After this response, I am glad that I didn’t lead with “I’m from Manson,” because most of these people don’t know where that is – even if they’ve stayed at Wapato Point or been to the casino.
But it’s okay – these people are not, obviously, from the Chelan Valley. They do not know the best park to swim at with the least amount of people (and I’m not going to tell them), that there are actually houses way out in Manson past the single main street, and they have no idea how fun it is to drive along Rocky Point after Labor Day when you can go the speed limit.
It’s not their fault, any more than it’s my fault that I had to learn how to give directions by street names instead of landmarks. Telling someone to take a left at the house with the chickens just doesn’t seem to get you places in Seattle, strangely enough.
The Valley is very different from when I grew up there. I want to blame it on the tourists; the fully-fledged wine industry that was just hatching when I left; the people who pulled out their orchards to sell their land for more than they could make growing fruit. I want to blame it all on someone else, but I can’t. The truth is that every time I go back to Manson, I don’t quite feel like I fit, and it’s my own fault.
On Memorial Day Weekend I walked into Manson Bay Market and was told by a cashier that I didn’t know that I could buy a container larger than a quart of milk for the same price. I answered without thinking that something bigger than a quart of milk wouldn’t fit in my parents’ motor home refrigerator. I instantly wanted to take it back. I wanted to explain, in ever-growing detail with an ever-growing line of impatient people behind me, that my family had had a timeshare at the Mill Bay trailer park for years, and that we were locals but it had always been our affordable waterfront. I wanted to, but instead I sighed, paid for my quart of milk, and left. Yesterday I went to visit my aunt and uncle, who are staying on the south shore in a rented house for the Fourth of July weekend. The whole time I was there I felt like I had betrayed someone, like I was cheating on the Valley that I knew, hanging out at a tourist rental when I could have been at a public park or on someone’s lawn who lived there year-round. Instead, I have perhaps become a tourist in my hometown, because I no longer feel truly at home there.
Each time I go back to the Valley I feel like you would about an ex-boyfriend. You see him, he looks great, your stomach does a flip, and even though you remember all those great reasons you had for breaking up, you can only seem to focus on why you should have stayed together. The longer you’re in his presence, the better a time you have, the more nostalgic you feel for what you once had. You no longer take each moment for granted like you did when you were together, because you know it is going to end after this one chance encounter. That idea packs the moment with bittersweet memories, feelings, emotions, and you are wistful, because you know you can never have it again. It at once makes you feel like you want to stretch out the moment forever, or end it quickly to get past the pain.
I don’t want to say that I could never live in the Chelan Valley again, because I have learned that things change in ways that are unexpected and there’s no telling where I will be or what I’ll be doing in the future. Emotions pass with the seasons, and eventually Chelan may seem like a whole new person to me, with only traces of the good parts I liked about that first boyfriend. At the moment, however, the breakup is still too fresh for my liking. I can’t imagine making a new life in a place so infused with my past.

Love and nostalgic kisses