Take a Hike

When the pressures of life start smooshing your head like a vise, when outside forces conspire to turn your stomach into an ulcer factory, hold your head high, take a deep breath and run like hell. That’s what Amadeus and I do, and I swear, it works like a Harry Potter spell.

Where you run is important– obviously, a crack house is not a good destination for stress-relief. Bars are smoky and can be quite expensive. Retail therapy is good if you have money, but if bills are a cause of your distress, it’s not a realistic solution. This is true of Caribbean cruises as well. And hookers.

Our cure for the blues, and our escape from the daily grind is hiking. We literally head for the hills. We throw on our jeans, pack a few sammiches, grab some bottled water and take off.

When the weather’s warm, we fish and camp out. When a chill hits the air, when the leaves turn to fire and start pirouetting  from trees, we hit the trails.

I love doing this. I love the fact that my husband grew up here and knows these hills and valleys like he knows his phone number. We discover new places, and revisit ones that he’s seen and wants to share with me. Seeing the world with him– even these small patches of the world– is one of my greatest pleasures.

Yesterday, we traveled about two hours away, to a fantastic trail head along the Buffalo River, deep in the Ozark Mountains. We took our cameras and clicked over 500 shots between us. What’s funny to me is that, when we get home and unload our SD cards, we discover that a lot of the same things have caught our eye– we often take the same shots at identical angles, at different times. A million things to see on the trail, but the same stuff grabs us. We’re spooky that way.

I wish I’d done this with my children. I wish I could have instilled in them a love of the Great Outdoors, but I never did. I was too busy trying to keep us afloat at the time, and a big backyard or football practice field was as close as we got to nature. I take comfort in the fact that I was raised a big city girl. When I first arrived in the Ozarks, twenty-something years ago, I had to inquire as to whether sheep bit. I couldn’t identify a robin and I thought eggs grew in styrofoam boxes. I was a new bride, and my new groom moved us to a God-forsaken trailer in a God-forsaken pasture, where goats frolicked on the hood of my Volvo, chickens laid eggs in our living room and snakes occasionally greeted me on the porch. For some reason, the marriage didn’t last, and those years didn’t attune me to nature. That came later, when my son and daughter grew up and I had time to consider the things that made me happy. I fell in love with bicycling and bike trails, which led to walking trails which led to hiking and camping and fishing and tree-kissing.  When I met Amadeus, I found someone who loved being outdoors as much as I do, and it’s an integral part of our lives. Maybe there’s hope for my kids yet. Maybe one day, they’ll find solace in nature. I know that at their ages, I’d rather have listened to the Sex Pistols and chugged tequila. As my daughter points out, at this stage of the game, packing a bunch of crap into a car, wrestling with fish and sleeping on the hard ground is not her idea of relaxation.

The beauty of the woods is overwhelming. The shapes and textures of the trees tell us stories. There are boulders as big as A-frames and plants so stubborn they could grow through steel. Every leaf is a masterpiece. Animals are standing around, peeking at us through the brush, though we seldom see them.* Water bubbles up from deep inside the Earth and trickles over silk smooth rocks.  Emerald green moss clings, fungi sprout like lace. Below is the river, as ancient as the world, winding like ribbon around bends and turns. I stop often as we walk the path, breathing the pure air, listening to the sounds of the rushing water and the wind pushing through the leaves. I’m in the moment. I can’t think about anything but the woods. At the same time, my ADD does double time, because everywhere I turn, there are a million treasures– it’s impossible to take it all in.

It’s the most glorious art form. We joke about taking so many photos, but really, I understand why we do it. We’re attempting to capture the thing that’s making our hearts sing. We’re trying to preserve it and take it home with us. Though it’s impossible to recreate through a lens, we try. We sit in our living room and transfer the mementos of the day to our computers. We’re tired and happy, our legs ache in a nice way. As we study each shot, we talk about what we were thinking when we took it– why a particular tree spoke to us, what a cutie the little snail-shell was, how impossible it was to capture the altitude of the trail or the gargantuan size of a rock.

When we hike, we’re enveloped in a soft cloud of serenity and beauty. It rides home with us at the end of the day, and we float on it as we fall asleep at night. We wake up Monday morning, and our worries are greeting us at the door again, but somehow, they just don’t seem as bad.

*One bear sighting and I’ll be simultaneously crying, running, screaming and peeing in my pants.

Publishing Hell and a Padded Cell

Oh my gosh, it’s so great to see you! It’s been a long time. I’m writing this from my chicly decorated padded cell at the VanLandingham State Hospital. It’s beautiful here– peaceful and quiet, and we get to wear these swell canvas jackets. They’ve even untied my sleeves a couple of times since I’ve arrived. The food’s not great, and they refuse to entrust me with forks, but I’ve been needing to drop a few pounds anyway. Before they bring me my white paper cup of pretty little pills, I thought I’d give you a little update on what’s been happening in the Land of Moonbeam.

I had a birthday recently, and it was fantastic. My husband, Amadeus, bought me a huge set of acrylic paints, which means I no longer have to step on the old tubes I had to get some color onto a canvas. We went to dinner and hung out and it was all very soft and sweet. I love that man with every cell in my shell, and since there are something like 100 trillion cells in the human body, you can sort of get a picture of the depth of my feeling for him.

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It seems that during my toughest times, magical things start to occur. I’m probably being a little cryptic here, but I want to thank my beautiful blog friends for the little miracles that you make happen in my life. Thank you for every time you push the PayPal button, which always seems to happen at the most fortuitous times. Thanks for every blog award you bestow upon me. Thank you for the gifts that appear in my mailbox, and for the beautiful words that appear in my inbox. These things mean so much in my life, and I can’t tell you how they brighten my world. You folks are the keenest people on the planet.

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We just commemorated our first anniversary. It took us by surprise– this year has zinged by, which we figure is a good thing. How horrible it would have been if we’d turned to each other and asked, “Gosh- it’s only been a year? It feels like thirty,” though in a lot of ways it seems as though we’ve always been together.

We celebrated by going for a hike near the Buffalo River. There are few sights quite so beautiful as the Ozark Mountains in the fall. I’m not kidding, if you ever get a chance, swing by. The drive was as fabulous as the hike, so gorgeously breathtaking that it made me cry. The roads around here twist and climb and curve and bend; the trees are glowing with fire and glitter, their leaves splashed with a thousand shades of yellow, orange, green and red. You drive up a steep road, and it feels as though you’re about to plow into a gorgeous oil painting. Walking the trails around here fills my heart to the bursting point. There are no troubles in the woods. We have no bills or worries or family matters to tend to. There’s no technology pulling at us, no political nastiness, no war or sadness. Methuselah old trees and ancient boulders remind me of what’s real and important– nature is the quiet foundation of a sometimes troubling world, and it’s this foundation that heals and soothes us. I told Amadeus that it was like we were filling our souls’ fuel tanks, and he agreed. I can’t think of a better way that we could have celebrated our first year as man and wife.

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So, you may be wondering: with all of this happy-happy joy-joy going on, how did I end up at VanLandingham? Well, it’s like this. A few months ago, I decided to try my hand at self-publishing. I wrote a little book of light verse, and was excited at the prospect of learning to convert it into an e-book. It sounds like a simple undertaking, but let me tell you something– I could have grown trees, chainsawed them down, ground them into pulp, made my own paper, squeezed ten million berries to make ink, painstakingly applied calligraphy to every page, spun my own thread and hand-bound eight thousand copies and it would have taken less time. I read tutorials, watched YouTube videos, visited forums, studied manuals and formatted and reformatted that little tome about twenty-five times. I finally got it onto Smashwords, which is a site that supposedly distributes written works to all the Important Places, and makes them available to view on Kindles and Nooks and iPhones and laptops. The trick is to publish it in such a way that it’s readable on any device. Days and weeks passed. My hair turned white, my eyes sunk into their sockets, but I finally got it done.

“Yay!! I finally got it done!” I told Amadeus, only to find that I’d screwed something up and had to start again.

“Yay!! I finally got it done!” I told Amadeus, only to find that (although it had made it into the Premium Catalog) it wasn’t being distributed anywhere at all.

“Yay!! I finally got it done!” I told Amadeus, who was no longer listening to a damned thing I had to say on the subject.

But finally, I did do it. I finished the project. I formatted the hell out of that little sucker, and it looks better than a lot of e-books out there. But was that good enough for me? Noooo….I decided to do an audio version. Because, you know, not everyone owns a Kindle or an iPhone or an Android. Sure, they live in caves and drive horses and buggies, but I wanted to make this accessible even to Amish people and those whose technological advances ended with the Sony Walkman. Besides, I have friends who are audio book fanatics, and I wanted to ensure that I could push my stupid little book of rhymes on them.

If I could ever offer an aspiring author one helpful little piece of advice, it would be this: get rich. Get rich so that you never, ever have to deal with any of this yourself. Hire people to format your book. Schedule time at a recording studio and hire Quincy Jones to engineer your work. Get in touch with Meryl Streep and offer her big bucks to narrate your story, even it’s just a retelling of The Three Bears. Step away from the computer.

I’ve worked on the audio portion of this project for five six seven weeks now. At first, it seemed like such a simple thing. Amadeus has a twelve-track recorder, and a big upright bass. We recorded some spiffy intro and outro music, and I narrated the book. But there was a glitch in getting the damned thing from the recorder to the computer. I finally got my son to do it for me, but the output was too low– you couldn’t hear a word of the audio, it was so muffled. When it became clear that it couldn’t be repaired, we had to re-record the entire thing. I discovered Audacity, an editing site, and went about learning how to use it, which was like going to medical school to learn to apply a Band-Aid. Audacity required one type of formatting; the site I was uploading to required another. I had to install yet another program to reformat it. While all of this was going on, I became more and more aware of the flaws in the recording; I worked on adjusting the sound quality, and getting rid of some bumps and thumps and clicks. Worst of all, I began to hear the sound of my own breathing in the mic (although I’d turned away between poems). I sounded like my Great-Aunt Ida, the one with the drinking problem and the four pack a day cigarette habit, whom I just invented here for illustrative purposes. I listened to that ridiculous little book so many times that at one point, I considered snipping my vocal chords, just so I’d never have to hear to the sound of my own voice again. Little by little, I began to lose the tiny smattering of sanity that I’d retained after my unfortunate childhood and misspent youth.

One night, after another 10 hours of fruitless attempts at getting this thing done, I told Amadeus, “I think we need to re-record my audio book again.” He looked at me as though he might rip out my vocal cords himself, so I quickly dropped the subject. I just kept struggling through–I put the audio book on one site, only to find that it wasn’t going to work there. I tried to place it on another site, only to discover that they’d only accept audio versions of books that were on Amazon. For some reason, my book hadn’t appeared there yet, so I had to go back to the e-book itself, reformat it specifically for Kindle and hope that Amazon would take it. They did. I excitedly went to upload my recording, then learned that the way we recorded the audio book wouldn’t work for the new site after all. It had to be divvied up into tracks. It had to be perfect. I asked for advice from musician friends, but all of their suggestions involved buying editing programs that cost about eleventy kajillion dollars, which just isn’t feasible for us.

Finally, I swallowed my pride, shed my dignity and invited myself to a friend’s man cave. He lives out in the sticks, and has a recording studio down in his basement. I’d been sick for two weeks with some sort of stress-induced bronchial/ walking pneumonia/ near-death thing, but I didn’t care– I just wanted to get this thing DONE. Amadeus brought his bass, recorded his bits, and he and our friend shot the breeze for four point five hours while I hacked and sneezed my way through the narration (I think I introduce myself on it as “Boodbeab BQueeb”). Finally, it was DONE! FINISHED! PERFECT! It sounded clean and semi-professional, and at 3:00 a.m. we had it in the can (well, on the flash drive), and headed home. I hugged my new producer five times before we left, and Amadeus ten more before we fell into bed, exhausted at the end of our horrific ordeal.

I woke up several hours later, chugged some coffee and listened to the final version. I would love to tell you how beautiful it sounded, with its lovely bass solos and the lilting, satin tones of my voice. Sadly, the whole thing sounded as though I’d slowly fallen into a deep well, or an echo chamber from hell. It was horrible. In our host’s sleepy state, he’d mixed it wrong, and sent us home with an audio so un-listenable that only dogs and maybe my mom could tolerate it. I started to laugh. I laughed and laughed and laughed, and then Amadeus made a few phone calls.

And here I am, at VanLandingham’s. Did I tell you how peaceful it is here? And about the spoons?

My Friend, My Confidant, My Cell Phone

My Grandpea Ty, contemplating her navel and the solution to the BP Oil Spill.

Judging from the rousing number of comments on my last post, I’ve decided to rethink my career as a country music songwriter. I guess fans of country aren’t quite as forgiving of bad music as I’d initially thought. I do love Little Dead Squirrel with all my heart though. Maybe you have to hear the tune– an upbeat,  Beverly Hillbillies on LSD kind of thing– to appreciate it. Anyway, I’m starting to think that my road kill theme has run its course. This thought occurred to me yesterday when I saw a dead armadillo in the middle of the street and started singing:

Dead armadillo on the avenue

Hit by a yellow Subaru

Whatever will become of you?

Will a redneck cook you in a stew?

Will hungry buzzards feast on you?

Do armadillos reincarnate too?

I think you catch my drift. The roadkill songs are just not cutting it.

I do like this weird writing phase I’m in though. It sort of helps me process whatever’s in my tee tiny brain. I sometimes type words into the notes section of my cell phone, or if a tune is going on in my head, I’ll just record it as I’m driving down the road. Later, I’ll reread or re-listen, and almost immediately erase those thoughts, due to my fear that I will die suddenly and my loved ones will find what I’ve left on my phone and think bad things of me for all eternity.

I  rely on my little cell phone a lot. It’s my phone book, my social organizer, my camera, and now it’s my portable writing journal. It’s not an especially fancy phone, but it’s become my everything. My new (to me) vehicle is dead in the driveway, and I find myself wistfully thinking that if my Samsung would sprout wheels and blinkers, my life would be complete.

Because I have nothing to really write about today, I thought I’d share with you some of the stuff on my little cellular lifeline.  I’ve divided it into the various folders on my phone. If you’ve read this far, I truly hope that your Sunday becomes a lot more exciting soon.

Alarms

This reminds me to arise every day and drag my butt to work. It also reminds me of appointments, which are on my

Calendar

Most of this has to do with my client, Victor. I have his life much more organized than mine.  So, all of his appointments are in here, as well as his special accomplishments. Example: June 17th, 2010 enthusiastically commemorates: Victor cooked bratwurst, which these days I’m afraid is much more exciting than anything I’ve got going on.

Phone Book

If I ever lose my phone, I’m simply doomed. I try to keep a written list of all of my contacts, but I haven’t updated it in a long time.  I guess I’m only partially doomed.

Timer

I time my cooking with this thing, as well as when Victor needs to check his blood sugar.

Stopwatch

This comes in handy for clocking the amount of time some of the clients at work can hold their breaths, a new after- lunch pastime. Todd holds the current record at 2 minutes and 47 seconds, but I think he was cheating.

Calculator

Invaluable for letting me know how much the payroll people have shorted me each payday.

Notes

This is that weird section I was telling you about. Here are some things that are currently on it:

~books I want to check out, such as Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern, Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle, and Magnificent Bastards by Rich Hall.

~music I plan to give a listen to, like John Prine’s Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, Transference by Spoon, the Reverend Smokie Norful, Street Songs of Love by Alejandro Escovedo and some song called The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which I’ve never heard and has never been famous, but was rated as one of the top 100 songs of all times in some book I read.

~films I want to see, including Fish Tank, Crazy Heart (no, I haven’t seen it yet) and An Education

~subjects of paintings I want to paint, which will probably look like dooky on canvas, but are certainly beautiful in my head.

~people I want to read about, such as the photographers Misfarmer and Muybridge and guys named Colin Bateman, Jack Watkins, Jack Slade and wild west vampire Skinner Sweet.

~funny things I talk with people about like human taxidermy and a character that my roommate and I came up with. It’s this guy who, no matter what horrible obstacles are thrown at him, just goes on and on. We call him Continuing Ed.

~ideas for stories, blog posts  and names of characters I haven’t invented yet.

~payments I’ve made, and the dates.

As previously mentioned, there are the bad songs and poetry that I jot down while driving– er, um, not that I type on my phone while driving. That would be bad.

Anyway, I’m going to erase some of these soon, because they are really depressing and sort of bitter. Here’s an example.

After the Date

I’m so sorry for whatever’s happened

I’m so sorry that you’ve been hurt,

I feel awful for what you’ve been through,

Your pain and your heartache- well they hurt me too.

Life can make your heart feel hollow

Pain can squeeze you out like a rag

Every day you have to start over,

Act engaged when the day’s just a drag.

What you’ve been through

I didn’t do it,

Who you’ve been with

She’s not me,

I’m not here to cause you harm dear,

I am not your enemy.

The last one in line is the one who gets nothing,

The last one to dance gets a worn out waltz,

I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through

but it’s not my fucking fault.

Makes you want to skip rope doesn’t it? I’ve written happier ones, but they involve dead squirrels, and I know you don’t want to read about those.

Okay, finally, the last and best feature of my phone:

Camera

Of course, I use this the most.  It’s like the K-Mart of cell phones, quality-wise, but that doesn’t deter my determination to snap photos of almost everything I see.

There are pictures of Theo the Wonderdog®, doing what he does best- sleeping, peeing and riding in the basket on my bike.

I take pictures at work. Here are some of the clients I work with.

There are photos of the fish tank at work. It’s gorgeous, and the maintenance on it costs more per month than my rent. Here’s a happy, well-housed starfish.

I take pictures on my hikes. Here’s one at a place called Hobbs State Park.  It has big trees, and lots of ticks.

I take pictures of interesting people at Wal-Mart.

I take photos of fungi. I’m obsessed with fungi.

And of course, there are a million pics of my grandpea, Tyler Josephine. The image quality on these is poor (she’s wiggly!), but I think the subject matter is quite wonderful. This was taken yesterday.

Well, that’s about it. Now you know almost everything there is to know about my cell phone. I’m curious- what’s on yours?