29 July 2011


First of all, my dear friend R. Parisi has released his long-awaited album CRISIS, which is now available on iTunes through his website: http://ronaldparisi.com. Check out the website for free samples, ringtones, and merchandise as well. (The shirts are a goddamn treasure.)

And now, I'm going to unleash some serious self-doubt and wibbling about my future and my present and the apparent imbalances between the two. Be warned, and close this window if you don't want that.

I am on vacation this week, which is much-appreciated and much-needed. The problem is that, by the nature of the summer season, I can't stay on the boat for my vacation time. It simply would not work. So I have to go someplace else for these nine days, which is great because all I really want to do is go home, curl up with a book, a boom box, some tea, and a series of beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and chill. I want to finish Moby-Dick and listen to Crisis a lot. I want to just relax in my own space, on a couch, with nothing and no one to bother me.

But I don't have a home.

I live on a boat with eight other people, for a contracted period of time. My parents' house isn't my home anymore, for all that I love the people who live there. Baltimore isn't home. Pittsburgh is sort of home. Seattle still feels like home, even though the winters try to kill me. But I don't have anywhere I live that's mine.

I long for my little apartment in Capitol Hill. I just spent two hours looking through real estate listings on or near the Hill, breaking my own heart looking at the listing prices.

And that's what it comes down to: I want to buy a house. That babylust that some women get in their thirties, where they just NEED to have a baby, I have now as homelust. I just NEED a home. I can't take the psychic stress of packing all my worldly belongings into a duffel bag anymore. I want plants, and windows, and sunlight, and couches, and knicknacks, and bright paint on the walls, and tilework, and a big fluffy comfy bed, and a fireplace -- I want my own fucking HOME, and not having it is driving me slowly insane.

But I have $2000 to my name, and all the jobs I want to do for hourly wage or salary are all extremely low-paying. (My current job is the highest pay grade I've ever had, and I'm a seacook on a tall ship. Not glamorous or profitable.) So -- and I've known this is true for awhile now -- I need to quit working for other people. I need to start my own fucking business already. It's not going to be a bookshop, although I did love that idea when I had it. I'm thinking about a few other ideas right now. But there's no guarantee that any business I start will succeed, so I don't want to just jump in.

Maybe what I need is to force myself to make it succeed. Raise the stakes. Earn a downpayment and put it on my dreamhouse, then do whatever it takes to pay for it. Maybe that would work. I know myself, and that eustress is damn good for me. I think I could make it work, although the idea makes me sweat bullets. Sweating bullets isn't a bad thing.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. I've had a wonderful visit with the Hubers and now it's time for some rest.

11 June 2011

Mary's Effing Hot Land

(I cheated on this post. It was originally an email to my parents, and I decided to repost it here.)

I've been cook on Lady Maryland for about three weeks now, and it's going beautifully. Stressful, amazing, back aches, sunburn, wind on my face (on good days), getting into the swing of things, mastering new skills, feeling inadequate, feeling totally up to the task, an emotional roller coaster. The crew likes my food and Michael, our captain, says I'm doing a good job. (YAY!) And this is my first day off since Memorial Day, so I'm really wringing all the relaxation I can out of it. I'm going to take a nap and see a movie. It's crazy awesome. I have determined that for my next boat job I'd rather not live aboard, because it's hard to turn my brain off of work mode, since I live at work and it's very hard to get private time. (Nearly impossible to get private time with air conditioning.)

Speaking of air conditioning: The heat in Baltimore is fucking ridiculous. There is no need for this much humidity unless it is actively raining -- and we've had two really awesome rainstorms the last two nights that did little to drop the humidity, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The South is weird.* The last couple of days were just crazy hot -- around 100 degrees -- and we actually took all the kids out of lifejackets on the water, because they were in more danger of heatstroke wearing the jackets than they were of falling off the boat without them. A girl threw up, and we took to misting the kids with cold water at regular intervals, like house plants. (I also learned how to douse the jib, but that's not really related.)

I have spent my entire life disparaging air conditioning and preferring a strategy of opening windows and encouraging circulation. I now understand air conditioning. I've become an A/C rat, scurrying from one air conditioned building to the next as soon as I get off work. I slept in the lighthouse last night because it was air conditioned, even though I was the only one left on the boat for the weekend. I understand how so many people have died in heat waves in cooler regions because they don't habitually have air conditioning. The South understands air conditioning. I'd like to find historical statistics for the number of deaths in the South from heatstroke and other diseases in which your body just fucking broils to death. Why do people live here? My excuse is that I'm only here another couple of weeks before we head north, to normal summer heat, where 80 is never considered "normal" or fucking "cool."

Crazy fucking temperatures. Crazy fucking Southerners. Beautiful fucking pink schooner.

*Yes, there is much debate about whether Maryland really counts as part of the South, and that debate is as hot as the recent record highs. I don't care. It's south of the Mason-Dixon and it topped 90 degrees before June 1st; I am a Yankee and that's South enough for me.

10 April 2011

Review: Sucker Punch

It's taken me nearly a week to figure out how to review Sucker Punch, because there's so much going on in it and my thoughts won't gel. I'm sorry in advance for any lack of eloquence or coherence in this review.

Let's start here: I loved it. I'm going to watch it at least once more in the theater and when it comes out I will pay full price for the DVD.

This is not a movie about girls in sailor outfits killing giant robots with katanas, or about baby prostitutes decked out with guns. It is also not about girls whose sole purpose in the movie is to titillate the male audience. It is not about sex, period. It is about fighting for control of one's own destiny. It is about escape from the system that has been built to enslave nice little girls and fetishize them. It is about reforming reality around one's own needs and desires, in order to cope with whatever it is that is too big for you to handle directly. When you need most desperately to escape being raped and lobotomized in a mental institution full of morally corrupt men, perhaps the most effective method is to re-envision the asylum as a bordello in which you and your comrades fight your way out every time you dance, because when you dance all of you become badass women warriors armed to the teeth, with air support and a series of inhuman enemies. Maybe no other way will get you through. Maybe without all those layers of self-deception and self-manipulation, you would just be a scared little girl waiting in a cell. Maybe they're just your way of getting in touch with yourself, with the strength you keep in the core of you body or the depth of your mind.

It's hard to be strong. It's hard to keep faith with yourself, to hold out hope, to put yourself out there instead of wilting. It's even harder when it's assumed that you can't maintain your strength, that no matter what eventually you will fail. It's damn hard work, being strong. It's hard work being a girl, every second of every day proving your strength. People like to talk about how hard it is proving yourself to the people around you. But that's no problem at all compared to proving yourself to yourself. Doubt is easy. Doubt is seductive. It's so simple just to give up and admit to the weakness that deep inside you fear is all you have. Proving over and over that that weakness is nothing compared to the depth of strength you possess -- well, that takes time. Time in which you must sustain yourself, must persist, must overcome each obstacle (every one of them bigger than the last), must keep that faith in yourself, must hold strong. Until it's enough. Until you believe yourself when you think, "I can do this." Until it doesn't matter what anybody else says.

And maybe it helps to think of yourself as a badass ninja in a sexy costume striking down dragons and zombies and robots -- invincible. Men are vulnerable to sexy costumes, and that makes sexy costumes empowering. (And in the context of this movie, renegotiating the power dynamic of a uniform the characters are forced to wear in the asylum really is winning a power struggle.)

Sucker Punch brings the fight to you. That's what this whole film is about: when any force threatens your soul, you must fight it or die. Haul out your arsenal, put on your lipstick, and kick some ass. As the films says right before the credits roll: "You already have all the weapons you need. Now fight."

For another Sucker Punch review I really like, go here.

03 April 2011

Line in the Sand

Thank God I went to college.

I'm not grateful primarily for the education I got (which was adequate) or the people I met (who were significantly more important) or for all the fun I had (which was a lot, amongst the stress). I am grateful for how fucking unbelievably miserable I was. Thank you for the nights I spent lying in bed unable to sleep because I couldn't see how it was possible to get all my work done. Thank you for my freshman year mantra, "I'll sleep when I'm dead." Thank you for Foster's horrible food, which made me physically nauseous by the end of my first year. Thank you for roommates I couldn't stand, for a study abroad that stressed me out every day, for never having a moment to breathe, for crying without knowing why, for an all-nighter, for D's, for late papers and academic guilt, for feeling less human because I couldn't get my shit together and turn in a damn thing on time that was of any quality, for books I pretended to read, for seasonal affected disorder, for a twenty-minute walk through the snow and ice and sludge uphill both ways. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

When I dropped out of college in my second semester, I went back because my parents scared me into it with the health insurance boogeyman. Now, I know that, whether I have insurance or not at any point, I will never let fear of "what might happen" scare me unthinking into a decision about insurance. I know that I can handle years of misery, in unchanging gray skies and a spirit-draining snow-slush-ice-snow-slush cycle, overworked, underfed, underslept, and certainly undersexed and undertraveled. I can endure anything.

But even better than that...I drew a line in the sand and swore to myself I would never do anything like that to myself again. No more school. No more compromises. No more deadlines. No more sludging through misery because it's what I'm supposed to do. Never. That was the moment (in my junior year, sometime in March or February) when everything great in my life that I have now became inevitable, the moment from which the rest of my life will lead triumphantly onward, knowing it has already won.

If you're urging me to go back to school and finish my degree, then it's time you faced exactly what you're telling me you want me to do: you want me to quit pretending I'm God incarnate and act like everyone else, because that's just what people do. Put another way: you're asking me to betray the oath to myself that is the basis for all my self-respect.

And that is the one thing I will never do. I am God incarnate, and I have had enough of the things that other people like to do in order to go along to get along. I don't have any Joneses to keep up with.

All I have is me. Isn't that enough for you?

18 March 2011

Review: The Golden Compass (Spoilers for Movie and for All the Books)

So, I just got around to seeing the Golden Compass movie. And I'll just get it out of the way: the book was better. A lot better. You should read it instead of renting the movie. All that hyped furor from the religious quarter when this movie came out was justified; it certainly beats the viewer over the head with its big fat anti-Catholic Pope-crook. Unforgivably, in my opinion. The anti-Catholic rhetoric steals the helm of the story more than once, and not to the story's benefit. This theme was present in the book, but not nearly to the degree of shameless theme-stick beating that paints the entire movie. (That doesn't come until at least the second book, and it didn't bug me until the third, when Philip Pullman just gave up on common decency and good storytelling altogether.)

The movie is amazing for the acting -- especially the girl who plays Lyra, who is just perfect -- and a lovely use of color and sweeping crane shots. Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby were exactly as they should be.* The bears moved like humans on all fours, which bugged me. Lyra's alethiometer is by no means the only one, and yes, Father Coram has some idea of how to read one; Lyra's gift is the intuitive ability to understand the alethiometer, instead of requiring weeks of study and a huge reference book.

However, the storytelling choice that in many ways baffles me the most is the point in the story at which they chose to end the movie. (SPOILERS!) Immediately after the point at which credits roll, Lyra's father kills Roger in order to fuel the creation of a doorway to another world. Asriel murders her best friend, whom she has led to the slaughter, and Lyra's character is altered forever. Her parents are murderers, she helped kill her best friend, her shiny newly-found dad wants to give her everything she's ever wanted on a silver, blood-soaked platter. It's the most emotionally charged scene in the book (debatably) and a turning point for Lyra. And they cut it out of the movie. As it stands, the movie operates as a very nice introduction to a story that never gets told. Were they planning to do a Subtle Knife movie and just sneak in the killing-Roger-to-fuel-the-gate part? It doesn't fit into that story; you'd have to recap the first movie too much to make it worthwhile. Skipping it entirely just cuts out the guts of Lyra's hero's journey. And the movie they did make just ends...lamely. Flying off into the sunset, quest unfulfilled, character arc unfinished, the climax retrofitted not with personal tragedy but with a big, dumb fight at Bolvangar. This is an epic quest, people. You know because there's a big fat prophecy (also unfulfilled). Do it some fucking justice and go read the book instead.

*With the exception of a personal pet peeve of mine. I hate when people pronounce characters' names differently than I do in my head when I'm reading a book. To me, Serafina Pekkala is pronounced "seh-rah-FEE-nah peh-KAH-luh."

15 March 2011

Lady Maryland: To the Sea!

You know how I asked myself last December, "What will I do come April?!" The answer is:


From mid-June till Thanksgiving, I'll be the cook aboard the Lady Maryland, a lovely schooner based in Baltimore! Yaaaaay! It's going to be awesome, and I'm very, very glad to return to the sea. I don't know what I'll do after this, but it's become apparent to me that I need to learn Maghrebi Arabic. So we'll see. Maybe I will go to Fez, or Tunisia, or Cairo...or somewhere else entirely. Time to take my life into my own hands. :)

Lament of a 21st Century Traveler

As a traveler, an inveterate wanderer, I long to see many things that are gone now. I want to sleep on a roof terrace in Fez under the stars -- but there isn't a city in the world now from which the stars can still be seen at night. Not the stars I'm thinking of, where the Milky Way is as plain as the Big Dipper. I've seen those stars from a mountain in Hawaii, and from the open sea, and nowhere else. I miss them. I like modern conveniences, like plumbing and wifi and cookies, but to achieve them I must kiss goodbye the stars. Choices like these, if nothing else, will keep me wandering. I long to buy a house, but where? Where could I possibly choose to live for long enough to justify a mortgage? In which country, what climate, which degree of civilization? It's impossible. I'll be renting for a long time now, keeping my living places clean and walls eggshell-white for someone else, instead of painting them aqua-green and tiling the kitchen and refitting the cabinetry and putting up contact-paper fishes swimming in the painted sea. I long for my own space to do with as I choose, my own kingdom to tear down or build up or sell as I choose, and yet I have no idea where to put it. If only I could see the stars from the center of a city, I would stake my life there.