Palma de Mallorca
Inspiration, Thoughts

The Happiness Paradox: Guilt vs Inspiration

I have so many things that I want to do that they get bottlenecked, and instead of dedicating myself to one or two in a reasonable way, I do a little of everything, get overwhelmed, and finish nothing. On the other hand, I often dedicate myself to something completely for an intense, short period of time – and then feel incredibly discouraged when I don’t make as much progress as I think I should have.

I’m struggling to learn a balance between the things I need to put a lot of effort into for a short period of time – like step-oriented projects with feasible, time-specific goals – and things I have to do only a little bit, but every single day – like yoga, or learning another language. 

Getting these two categories mixed is what fuels all my self-doubt, insecurity, discouragement, and occasionally crippling anxiety. Getting it right, though, has yielded some wonderful results. Took me 30 minutes of yoga a day, carefully holding my enthusiasm back and forcing myself to put in the time by turns, for months, to finally be able to easily walk my feet to my toes from a Downward Dog without bending my legs. Trumpets should have sounded to match my glee – instead, my confidence in myself just grew a little. When I finished my book after five months, during four of which I woke up at 5 before work and wrote 2,000 words, every single day, and during one of which I wrote nothing and struggled to pull my self out of intense writer’s block – fireworks should’ve gone off. Instead I just saved for the umpteenth time and sort of looked around and wondered, Well, now what?

Most of the time that doesn’t happen though. Most of the time I have a huge mound of ideas, and I find excuses for why it isn’t the right time, or I take something I am really inspired and passionate about, and I put something I don’t want to do in front of it. Work before play. You want to write another novel, this time a sci-fi narco psychological thriller? Well, you’re going to have to wait until after you’ve graduated, because there just isn’t that much time in a day and homework is your priority. You want to make up a dance routine to this song, right now, because it’s just so damn awesome? Clean the room first, and go buy groceries, and put in some laundry, and then you can do it.

And all those things I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing get done – but the things I really want, the things that both make me feel the most accomplished and others see as the largest accomplishments, don’t get touched.

It’s been a full year and a half since I wrote the first 10,000 words to that sci-fi narco story, and it hasn’t been touched since. I have a drum set packed away ‘until I find a better place for it,’ even though I think about playing every single day. I have a list of books I want to read and a list of photography adventures I want to go on, but I have responsibilities instead. And there’ll be time when I’m done. Except, there never is.

The thing holding me back, that always stomps on my inspiration and confidence, is guilt. Reading for pleasure makes me feel guilty, if my room isn’t clean. Making up a dance routine makes me feel guilty, if I’m not doing it to perform for something. Writing another book makes me feel guilty, because it is such a huge commitment of time and effort, and imagine how good your German would be if you spent that time and effort trying to do that instead?

And you know what ends up happening? I don’t learn that much German because I’m forcing myself to. I keep the room clean and I feel like there’s an itch somewhere deep that never gets scratched, all the time. The restlessness never abates. Now there is new guilt – guilt from not beginning all these projects I think about and talk about all the time. Somewhere deep, my confidence shrinks. And the restlessness begins to turn to listlessness and resignation, and the clock keeps ticking, ticking, ticking.

I’m about to start a 9-6 job, with an hour lunch break. I am leasing my time, which I never have enough of as it is, to someone else. In return, I get independence. Oh, the horrible irony. I have the luxury of having a job during which I get to do things I enjoy and want to do anyway, but I can understand a little now about why people have mid-life crises. Or why I’ve so often heard things like, “I didn’t think my life would turn out this way.” I always thought, If you don’t like your life, then why don’t you change it? But now I’m beginning to understand it isn’t that easy.

tumblr_mrpm8bdWh51rr6og1o1_500

The thing with working for someone, or working for yourself, is that it gives you an excuse to do whatever you’re doing. It rids you of guilt. Getting paid for what you do is enough justification, in anyone’s eyes (except in extreme cases like hit men, though they could probably use the ‘just trying to feed the family’ argument too), to alleviate all guilt. And fun things, things that you want to do, are never things that you should do, and they require either an excuse or an acknowledgement of guilt simply because you want to do them.

But what if… you give yourself permission to do what you want to do?

Creating this blog was sort of a step in that direction. A blog is one of those small, constant things, and it gives me an excuse to create. ‘Oh, I have to do this for my blog.’ ‘Yeah, it’s for my blog.’ Now my little ideas and projects have purpose, permission, and are, mostly, guilt free. Sometimes the boyfriend calls this ‘my expensive toy’ – and suddenly all of this needs an excuse, suddenly I am guilty of wasting my time.

I am the one imposing these limits on myself. I am the one making excuses not to begin. I am the one that needs to change my priorities from doing what I think I should, to doing what makes me happy, settled, content. I am the one that needs to learn to live without guilt.

I think this is especially important when there isn’t so much time in the day, because it forces me to acknowledge that there isn’t much time in life, and if I want to have what I want to have, then I need to start working for it now.

And if I want to be happy, then I need to start working towards what makes me happy now. 

And maybe this fear, this bottlenecking, this inability to get anything done, let alone the things you want to do, will start to solve itself. I’d be much happier cleaning and grocery shopping and doing laundry if I did it after I’ve fed my soul a little, indulged in my creativity a little – if I wasn’t doing it as an obligation to free me from guilt. Maybe then, nothing will feel like an obligation any more. And maybe I won’t ever feel like I’ve wasted time.

Play before work because happiness is always the priority. After happiness, all else follows. And I don’t meant play as a disguise for procrastination – the of-the-moment impulsive wants that lead to Netflix binges and hours on Buzzfeed. I mean the kind of play that means waking up at 5am and going for a run, or cleaning your room so you don’t have that cloud hanging over your head, or writing 2000 words a day, or actually going to see your friends and playing volleyball at the park.

Give yourself permission to play. We only have one life.

And maybe I’ll actually be able to retain some German. Ich habe in Deutschland für fast zwei Jahren zusammen gewohnt und ich bin immer noch verwirrt!

James McAvoy in one of the best movies ever made, 'Atonement.'

James McAvoy in one of the best movies ever made, ‘Atonement.’

Standard
IMG_8534
Family, Russia, Thoughts

Happy Birthday Viktor, 75 Year-Old Russian Warrior-Poet

I’ve been in Russia for the last week meeting my boyfriend’s family, and his grandfather is super cool. He just turned 75, but he is as spry and sassy as anyone half his age. He works all day as an engineer at factory of some kind, where he has worked for the last 50 years at least, straight on through the collapse of the USSR. He graduated from the most prestigious engineering program in Russia and was appointed to his position by the Soviet government. He’s kept his job this long by both being the best and purposely not telling anyone else how to do it.

His whole face crinkles around his eyes when he smiles and he has the most dramatic, eloquent, dignified gestures. He drank vodka like a champ from shot glasses that held at least five normal-sized shots in the most theatrical way possible, and revealed he makes his own vodka but couldn’t give us a “vodka making machine” because he “only has one left.”

IMG_8530

Russian shot glass.

He saw me writing in my journal and immediately began quizzing me on my credentials – what was my grade in English in school? How many Russian poets can I quote? When he found out I couldn’t quote any, he gave me a solid lecture on how great Pushkin was and how I need to study him to be a good writer, and then sang me a song.

Then I found out he writes poetry himself, and has even had his poetry published multiple times. He’s written beautiful poems about his whole family, about each of his daughters and his wife. He told me a bunch of Russian fairy tales and terribly dirty jokes. He took any sharp thing anyone said to him or to each other and turned it into a little song. He asked for the specifics of Naz’s job with, “What is your rank?”

He is a proud Russian, and a great example of the warmth, humor, and depth of the Russian people. He opened his home to me and made me feel included and welcome, even though we had to translate everything either of us said through my boyfriend and I represent a long-time adversary of Russia. He’s a great man and deserves a hearty happy birthday, or С днем рождения! in Russian, from wherever you are.

(I read this to my boyfriend’s mom and aunt before publishing, and they said that everyone likes America now, and also that they noticed I didn’t say anything about them opening their homes and making me feel welcome. I said that of course I feel that way about them too, and I was just being specific to Viktor because it was about him and it was his birthday, and they said that they forgive me, “but they will never forget it.” So let me take this moment to state, once and for all, that the whole family made me feel exceedingly welcome, the food was new and delicious, I felt pampered and included the whole time, and I can’t wait to visit again.)

Here is one of Viktor’s poems written about his granddaughter. Unfortunately much of the eloquence and lyricism is lost in translation, but it is sweet and beautiful nonetheless:

Our Nastyulya (cute form of the name Anastasia) is already 20
How fast the time goes ahead
Mother should start worrying
Daughter is going to university 

And it would be fine if she’d just go to one
Then you could understand
I can say certainly – accounting is the force
What else would you desire? 

But that’s not enough for her – in addition
She wants to become a lawyer
Let me clear my ears
Not sure I will still be able to understand though

To go into two universities
Accounting and law, learn everything
Is like a clever joke in a local commercial [tuta]
Is the trying to become a professor? 

Though still difficult with math
Changing different measurements may be hard
Will you say it is a bit scary?
Then come to our summerhouse! 

There you can compare debit and credit
Fix the handle for the shovel
And hear birds singing
And find right ways 

And here coo-coo bird will help you
Count the mounds where the plants are
In which you as an exercise
Planted dill – going to wait for it 

Big successes in universities [I wish you]
Big harvests in summerhouse [I wish you]
Which you will help us gather
As long as you remember the way there 

Just hope you have enough health
And just enough sleep at night
There will not be too little time during the day
For everything – studying and coming to us!

IMG_8533

Standard
IMG_7867
Germany, Photography, Thoughts

The Drunkfest-Contradiction that is Germany’s Karneval

I’ve just lived through my first Karneval as an honorary Kölner, and nothing else I have seen thus far so perfectly exemplifies the strange contradictions that make up German culture.

IMG_7859

Germans are known to be efficient, direct, and somewhat humourless. They are known for their powerhouse economy, a bunch of scientific and artistic achievements, trying to take over the world twice, and beer. Less well known, but equally valid, is their intense eye contact, innate need to explain jokes after the fact, and a propensity for Jack Wolfskin outerwear.

Now that I’ve lived here for two years the German view of the world, and how it affects every aspect of their lives, is beginning to slowly make sense, and I will attempt to explain it here:

Germans never show up late and always follow the rules of a party. Meaning if the entire city is invited to a giant costume party where everyone is supposed to sing the same songs and get drunk in the streets, they show up promptly, in their costumes, already hammered.

Brolove

There were about five more of them, all equally fabulous.

Germans do everything with a single-minded intensity, which means they work hard, and play equally hard. Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, other dressing up and drinking holidays in the States – one day. Karneval? THREE MONTHS, ending in one WEEK of constant madness.

One tiny segment of the late-night drunk parade.

One tiny segment of the late-night drunk parade, day three.

Germans have very serious faces. They just have resting intense-face. Which makes it particularly fun when they wear clown noses and/or dress like a giant banana.

Serious

Dejected bananas.

Dejected bananas.

Germans answer questions honestly. Respected adults can (and do) answer questions like, “What did you do last night?” with “I drank twelve beers and threw up in a plant outside the bar,” if that’s what they actually did last night.

Mr_Smooth

Mr. Smooth

Patches

Mr. Patches

Germans do not feel cold, as exemplified by all these people outside, because it was super damn cold.

Costumes

People in costumes – and also George R. R. Martin.

Germans don’t mind trashing the streets. They are totes fine with waking up super damn early and cleaning it all up again by 9am.

IMG_7807

Police barricade? Pfffft.

Germans are unfazed – unless you start singing Kölle Alaaf, in which case everyone will immediately stop what they’re doing and sing. (This works similarly with a certain specific kind of hooting – my theory is that this is the secret German mating call.)

Unfazed

Germans view drinking like child birth and grocery shopping – it’s just another part of life. The aforementioned respected adults have no problem talking about their drunken exploits, or dressing up in costume and drinking madly in the streets. The whole American drinking culture is wrapped up in shame and prejudice – either you’re a ‘cool’ young kid drinking irresponsibly, you’re a slightly more responsible young person still drinking to be ‘cool’ or to find someone to have sex with, or you’re middle-aged and drinking is reserved for family gatherings or alone at home. German drinking culture is consistent whether you are 17 or 77 – they go to bars, they go out on the streets, they sing songs and yell and laugh, then stagger home.

Aged_Mohawk Boyfriend_Angler Captain_America Fun_Topgun Wizard_of_Oz

I couldn’t get over how serious everyone was followed by such reckless abandon – but watching them, I began to realise. The beauty of the contradiction between the dignified, hard-working German and the masses of costumed fiends in the streets is that it is not a contradiction at all. We as Americans have a tendency to prioritize appearance over substance, form over function. Germans are the opposite of that in every way. Germans say what they mean and mean what they say. They do with a similar bluntness and lack of shame. They cut straight to the truth, and if the truth is that you are good to your family or good at your job, whether it be as a janitor, student, account executive, or politician, it doesn’t matter how you look or how drunk you get in your free time.

Is it not the appearance that matters, it is the truth – which makes the Karneval tradition of silly disguise a much deeper, more interesting topic than the drunkfest it first appears to be.

Perfectly_Reasonable_Statue

Standard
0,,17507726_401,00
Evil Schemes, Germany, Thoughts

How I Dealt With My Crazy A-Hole Neighbor

Last night was cray. Good news – the police in Germany are courteous, prompt, and super chill.

It started with a note, scrawled with orange and black marker in all-caps, determinedly scotch-taped to our box by the cellar door. We’d finished moving all our stuff up the stairs at midnight and had left a giant Ikea box leaning unobtrusively against the wall to be cut up and thrown away in the morning. We weren’t planning on leaving it there that long, but were helping the people who helped us move to move, so we’d left it there while we were moving furniture and boxes into another apartment uptown.

We returned at 3am. We read the note as best we could and took the offending box upstairs. It said something like:

YOU CAN’T JUST LEAVE BOXES HERE!! THE GARBAGE MAN WILL NOT TAKE IT UNTIL IT IS CUT INTO LITTLE PIECES AND PUT IN THE PAPER GARBAGE CAN!!! THAT’S THE BLUE ONE!!

Whoever had written the note had emerged from their apartment some time between midnight and 3am and looked around long enough to find the relatively-hidden box by the cellar door. We had tried to be as quiet as possible, but there was a chance we had awakened them, so them being awake at all wasn’t notable – what disturbed me was the determination with which they set out to discover as much as they could about the source of the noise after the noise had ceased. I imagined them lying awake in bed, waiting until the distant hum of our van’s motor had disappeared, then getting up from bed, finding some sort of clothing and shoes, wandering around the empty stairwell, finding the box, returning to their apartment, finding not just a black marker but also an orange one, writing the note with enough force to wrinkle the paper with ink, finding tape, going back out into the stairwell to tape the note onto the box, then going back to bed — all sometime between 1am and 3am!

I began to imagine who our friendly neighbor downstairs could be. We live on the second floor – the first floor apartment is home to a sweet 90 year-old German woman, and the apartment above us was empty at the time. I couldn’t imagine either of them writing such a note. We’d never seen the person who lived in the ground floor apartment, but we walked passed their windows every day and we’d never seen the heavy metal shutters Germans roll down over their windows at night open. The shutters were also covered in a century worth of dirt, so it was unlikely they were often opened when we weren’t looking.

We faintly heard the distant bark of a dog emanating from the ground floor apartment. It wasn’t annoying and what we could see of the dog itself from our balcony seemed friendly in a hyper way.

Then the next note appeared.

IMG_6317

It was a note perhaps for the garbage man, perhaps for whoever else it was who was taking out their garbage incorrectly. It basically says:

Apparently it doesn’t work without a note. So PLEASE LOOK AT THIS NOTE!!! The door to the garbage must be closed properly! You have to make sure it is LATCHED. Otherwise there is COLD AND VERMIN AND BURGLARS! The LATCH must be turned this direction!

The tone and general vehemence was perhaps a little much, but maybe they were particularly paranoid about burglars despite the extremely low crime rate in the city, and maybe they’d already asked the garbage man to please shut the door all the way multiple times and they’d just had enough at that point. Still – odd enough to take a picture and carefully Google translate every word.

I decided the person in the ground floor apartment was male, old, and full of hate for the world. He loved his dog (so he had that going for him), but he never left his apartment and lived in a musty world without sunlight. He hated everyone who made noise, or smiled, or took out their trash.

1166079

Basically this guy.

Then the music began.

It had actually been going on for some time, but it took a few weeks for the boyfriend and I to realize there was a pattern. A couple times a week bass with enough force and ferocity to rattle us out of our deepest dreams would boom at us from the walls and floor. It was hard to identify the source of the sound. It played most often (and loudest) on Tuesdays, starting after midnight and ending around 8am.

Strangest of all – we became sure it was the same song played over and over for eight hours. The repetition of the bass line was too clear to ignore. We started humming to it and dancing to it in an effort to make it our own, and thus rid it of its power.

One night we passed a party in an apartment a building away from ours. We were shocked their bass could reach us in our apartment, but they must’ve had almighty subwoofers and were probably some sort of fraternity with a very odd and specific party-schedule. We closed the case on the loud music.

Basically these guys.

Basically these guys.

Then the third note appeared. It had replaced the first and the thickness and orange-ness of the letters clearly showed the growing ferocity.

IMG_6323

It was accompanied by a second note, this one taped directly to the garbage can.

IMG_6478

They’re super upset that the garbage man (or whoever) isn’t closing the door to the tiny garbage-courtyard thing properly. They’re also unhappy about the distribution of garbage per-can.

Aaaaaand another one:

IMG_20141012_115404

In this one they’re still upset about all the usual things, but they also ask if the offending garbage-handlers are retarded or not, and if the retarded garbage handlers had any further questions that they should contact the landlord.

Then we contacted the landlord.

He came over to help us with a small mold problem. We asked, as nonchalantly as possible, about the other tenants in the building. He was immediately alert. We told him we were asking because of a slew of aggressive, exclamation-mark-filled letters. Our landlord might possibly be the best landlord of all time. He is super excited about everything and immediately answers our questions regardless of the time of day – as in, we’ll send him an email, and four minutes later our phone rings. His English is great, but in trying to describe the ground floor tenant he was reduced to gestures.

“It is a woman. She can be nice. But she’s sick. She has…” Here he made his hand flat and ridged and placed it along the bridge of his nose. “… zwei Gesichtsstörung.”

“She has… two faces? She’s two-faced?”

“Yes. It is a disease. She is two people, different sides. But she can be nice.”

Then the boyfriend met her.

He was coming home one day the same time she was. And she wasn’t old or miserly or obviously full of malice. She was extremely nice. Offered to help us out if there was anything we needed. He offered the same back. They introduced themselves and shook hands. She was young, early thirties at the latest, with tightly curled red hair and an open face.

We were both excited and terrified. What did having a disease that made you two-faced, two people, mean exactly? Did she actually have split personality disorder? Did she know she had split personality disorder? Had the boyfriend met the nice one, and did the mean one only come out when garbage or sunlight was involved? Should we talk to her? Should we avoid her? Should we try to find out more things about her?

Then one sunny Wednesday morning the usual Tuesday night bass continued a bit longer, and as we headed down the stairs and out the front door to work, we realized:

It was her. The music had been her’s the whole time.

Now that we were closer, we could clearly understand the words that had only been hinted at in the groggy dark of 4am. It was rap, hard and full of pop-capping violence, and was playing so loudly the perpetually closed shutters rattled with each measured pound of the bass.

Now, last night.

The boyfriend and I arrived late after our trip from Belgium. Because of the Christmas holiday and a broken train it’d taken us five hours to travel a distance that usually took one and a half, and we were exhausted. We got home, threw our luggage all over the floor, and crawled into bed.

At 12:20, the music started.

We realized it was Tuesday night and thus in for a long one.

Unlike most nights, we were not awakened from a very deep sleep. We’d only just gone to bed. Also unlike most nights, we were simultaneously exhausted and oddly wired. Our cheeks were still cold from the wind outside. We could not fall asleep with that music.

I got dressed and went downstairs, determined to solve this like an adult but terrified her Mr. Hyde, violent gangsta rapper personality would be in control and she would pop a cap in my ass. I rang the doorbell over and over and knocked on the door, becoming more confident the longer there was no response. After a few minutes I went back upstairs.

We then texted our landlord a lengthy message about how we didn’t want to disturb him so late, but there was some really loud music coming from the bottom apartment and we weren’t sure what to do about it.

Forty seconds later, he called back.

“Call the police. I’ve texted you the number.” He said. “Let me know how it goes – don’t worry about waking me up.”

So I called the police. I was now imagining the consequences of the police showing up. What if she turned off the music before they arrived? What if she got angry and blew open our door and murdered us in our sleep? What if she started posting angry notes all over the place?

The police dispatcher was the single most cheerful person I have ever heard, minus the man who sold me ham this afternoon. She let out a chiming, “Good morning!” and asked what I needed and what my address was, then transferred me to the noise-complaint office.

(I’ve since learned 1 in 2 Germans have called the police at some point with a noise complaint. The police department may have actually had a noise-complaint office.)

The guy I talked to was super chill. He couldn’t speak English and my German was sloppy at best but he charged on like poor communication wasn’t ain’t nothin’ but a thang. He got my name and address and told me an officer should arrive soon to go up to our apartment, listen to the music, determine whether or not it was loud enough to justify a complaint, then deal with it accordingly. He didn’t make me feel like I was wasting his time, like I had something to hide, or like my complaint was a stupid one. At the end he said, “Yo! Ciao!” which only super hip trendy Germans do.

I hung up and waited. I was nervous but feeling like I’d done the right thing.

I woke up two hours later to the most almighty terrifying racket of my life.

Someone was screaming at the top of their lungs, not with fear, but with rage. The music was still blasting and I could easily distinguish her words above it, the shrieking was so loud.

She was screaming noooooooo noooooo and a bunch of curse words in English. She was also slamming her door open and shut as hard as she could.

It was this crazy crashing that startled me out of sleep with such force.

The lights were on and I was fully dressed. The police had never come, or if they had, they hadn’t tried to ring our doorbell or come up to our apartment.

The banging started again, echoing across the whole block – the whole damn city. The boyfriend locked the front door and we prepared for war. BAM BAM BAM BAM.

I called the police again. Was greeted with another glorious, “Good morning! Köln police!” Announced I was the one with bad German who had a loud neighbor. Was transferred. The super chill guy answered and recognized me immediately. I asked him if the police had come and he was surprised. Said not only had the police come, but they had determined the music was loud enough to justify a complaint from the street and had already spoken to the tenant at length. I said the music was going again loud and strong and now there was also screaming and terrifyingly aggressive door-slamming. He said he would send them again right away.

“Yo! Night! Ciao!”

I didn’t hear the police come, but I’m guessing they must’ve because when I woke up around 6am, confused as to why I had so many clothes on and why all the lights were on, the apartment was silent.

I have no idea what might happen next. It could be nothing – it could be anything. I’m a little relieved we’ll be in Berlin next Tuesday. But the Tuesday after that and all Tuesdays thereafter? Who knows.

The garbage man came this morning. When I went downstairs, I saw that he had not only left the door open, but had drug the stinkiest of the many garbage cans into the hallway and left it there, just a few feet from the ground floor apartment’s front door.

Standard
DCF 1.0
Family, Film, Inspiration, Thoughts

The Lacy Klan – The Pecos Wilderness

For those of you who haven’t read my past post (http://wp.me/p4WLbG-1u), the Lacy Klan is the term I use to describe the sprawling, varied, and extraordinarily enthusiastic mass of madness that is my extended family. My grandparents on my mom’s side had eight children – six boys and two girls. They’ve since grown and many have had children of their own, and some of their children have children now as well. The Klan grows, but despite the large cast of characters, we have made an effort to stay close and connected.

There are two main phases to Lacy Klan festivities – summer and winter. If you remember our winter traditions of blowing up zombie and/or Sasquatch effigies and sliding down the pristine dunes of White Sands National Park, and you think you understand, to some degree, our general fun-level, you might be wrong. Because for Summer we are more likely to go outside and we aren’t constrained by the more ridged and well-established rituals of Christmas and Thanksgiving. During the Summer, we just do whatever we want.

Thus, the Lacy Klan backpacking trips were born.

Nearly every Summer a great troupe of the Klan saddles themselves with heavy backpacks and charges off into the wilderness of northern New Mexico. Most years our goal is the Gila Hot Springs, a magic place of cliffs and serpentine rivers and clear pools of naturally hot water set into the bedrock. 

One of the first serious stories I ever wrote was about the first of these trips that involved the kids, who at that time only consisted of myself and my two cousins. It was called Keeping Up With Uncle Steve, and it detailed the entire adventure there and back again, including that one time we almost got caught in a flash flood, and the time my Uncle Richard told his son Zach to not move with such ferocity that Zach bolted into the woods and nearly got a fish hook stuck in him, and that one time a huge boulder cracked and fell off of the cliff we were camped below and we all ran screaming into the woods, in the middle of the night.

Needless to say it was a great time, a true Lacy Klan legend and a particularly strong memory of my childhood, and there is a long-forgotten (but hopefully not lost!) video made of that trip as well. It’s 40 minutes long, and my first real attempt at editing.

Since those days the ‘kid’ bracket of the Lacy Klan has grown considerably, and our Summer Backpacking Trip has become something of a rite of passage. There’s a lot of talk about whether the kids are ‘tough enough’ or ‘strong enough’ to handle the strenuous hike. This is done mostly in front of them, so when it comes time to prove themselves the kids all understand the grave nature of the tradition they are entering into. I’m proud to say that the kids have shown an enormous amount of maturity and determination, and most are old hands at hiking already.

In the Summer of 2012 the Klan embarked on a new journey. We couldn’t go through the Gila as we’d always done because it was literally on fire. Instead we decided to go to the Pecos Wilderness, which is much higher and colder, and hike to a secret mountain lake. No one had ever been there before but we were confident we could handle it.

It was considerably more difficult than we anticipated. It wasn’t very far, but it was way more vertical than we’d expected it to be. The youngest member of the Klan for this trip was little Hannah, who I am proud to say walked the whole way on her own, carried her own backpack for most of the hike, and was not the first to have a total emotional meltdown.

The saga of that particular trip is told with pretty music and pretty pictures in the video at the bottom of the page.

I’ve only missed one trip, and I hope to never miss one again. I was in Germany at the time and thus missed the first trip for a good handful of the kids.

It was strange for me to imagine them, a small group of almost-teens, walking the same path with the same people I had when I was their age – while I walked alone through the cobbled streets of some German town, thousands of miles away.

Today is Thanksgiving. I write this on my lunch break at my desk at work, surrounded by people who have heard of Thanksgiving but don’t really know it’s today and don’t really understand what it means. To me, it means the beginning of the best part of the year is finally here, because the Lacy Klan is coming together again. To me, it means green chile enchiladas and pecan pie. It means a whole day spent wandering from the front yard, to the back yard, to the hammock, to the trampoline. It means laughter from all sides and the well-known, friendly faces of family at every turn.

This Thanksgiving I will stay at this desk until the sun goes down, until the wind and bitter cold entrench themselves. Then I will walk to the train, ride the train for awhile, then walk over cobble-stoned streets to the front door of my apartment building. Then I will have some delicious soup the boyfriend has made for me, and I will Skype a segment of the far-away Lacy Klan. I cannot find the words to describe what this, and all of that, means to me. That I can be so far and still be so close. I have been blessed, and I am so, so grateful.

To the Lacy Klan: I can’t wait to be with you again, and I am especially excited for the next chapter of our Backpacking Trip adventures. I will do all I can to make that possible.

Also: COME VISIT ME. During the Summer the days are fifteen hours long, and you can drink the best beer in the world, in the streets, any time you want, legally. (I’m looking at you Mike.) (Well, and Steve.) (And Richard, and Doug.) (Hell, the whole lot of you. The beer here is as good as they say. Easily worth the price of a plane ticket.)

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwmIk7kl-mM]

Standard
Them German Signs
Evil Schemes, Photography, Thoughts, Urban

How I Dealt With My Crazy A-Hole Roommate

German dogs are extraordinarily well trained and are allowed to go pretty much anywhere – restaurants, shopping malls, trains, even movie theaters. No one is ever being yanked by their dog down the street screaming at them “NO PULL! NO PULL!” Most dogs I see are off-leash in the middle of the city, cheerfully sniffing and peeing on everything they can right next to busy streets.

One thing Germans do not do well is pick up their dog’s poo. I have become something of an expert poo-dodger, because not only do Germans not pick up their dog’s poo, they also seem to have no problem with their dog squatting and taking a huge dump right in the middle of a sidewalk. Sidewalks are almost certainly German dogs’ preferred place for dumping. Which means when you’re walking cheerfully along, enjoying the beautiful, fresh-smelling day, you’re rather likely to step in a nice juicy one if you haven’t yet developed your expert poo-dodging skills. (It’s all about the peripheral vision, guys. Just gotta hone those periphs.)

There are still signs around like in the States asking people to please DON’T LET YOUR DOG CRAP ON THE SIDEWALK OR IF YOU DO, PICK IT UP FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. But, being German, they are way more explicit. Instead of a nice vectorized vague form of poo with an X over it or something like that, they have this:

German literalism at its best.

German literalism at its best.

My original plan with the Roommate was to collect some juicy sidewalk poo and then get imaginative.

The whole put-it-in-a-bag-set-it-on-fire-on-the-porch-ring-doorbell-run trick doesn’t work here, because we live on the top floor in a building full of apartments and Roommate would never go all the way down the stairs just to see why someone wouldn’t stop ringing the buzzer. I had to think of other options. I literally spent a good hour or two gleefully outlining all the devilish things I could do with this poo. I could just leave it in the bag and hide it under his bed, so it both attracted vermin and made everything smell. I could find a blender, blend it so it was nice and liquified, then pour it into the delicate inner workings of his Playstation. I could also do less destructive things, like take his collection of DVDs, put them on a spool so they’d be safe, and then pour the liquified dog poo into the empty cases. It would both smell awful with seemingly no origin, and the next time he wanted to watch one of his DVDs he’d open the case and instead of the Matrix there’d be POO!

I’m still rather proud of that one. Thinking about it induces instant maniacal giggles.

As soon as I found out I’d be moving out in a month 90% of my rage melted away. Really the things he had done weren’t so bad. Wasn’t I supposed to be the bigger person? The Boyfriend also urged me to step back and view his life from a larger perspective, trying to convince me there was nothing I could do to him that he hadn’t already done to himself.

(Except replace his German copy of Dude Where’s My Car? with dog crap, he probably hadn’t done that).

But it didn’t really work, because I wasn’t after vengeance – I was after justice. Justice, for the time we asked him to please wash the pan on the stove full of his old food because we needed to use it to cook ourselves, as there are five people in the apartment sharing two pans, and he tried to get us kicked out (Thankfully the other roommates responded with, ‘Um, hell-to-the-no.’). Justice, for the times he told me I needed to take out the paper trash because it was attracting flies, when a square yard of the kitchen floor was covered in his half-empty beer bottles that were literally full of flies and I took out the paper trash once a month anyway

Justice, for the time he skipped his cleaning week and didn’t clean for two months, then tried to criticize me for my cleaning ability. Justice, for drinking all our expensive liquor with his friends without asking for permission, and then when I confronted him about it, leaving a 10e bill on the table without apologizing – when he knew the bottle cost 30e! 

The worst was when I decided to play a game called ‘Let’s See How Long it Takes Roommate to Take Out the Trash’ (because in addition to never taking out the trash or put back the dishes from the dish washer, he also never bought household items like toilet paper, soap, trash bags, washing detergent, sugar, cleaning spray, etc.) and nine days later he moved the trash from our kitchen to the apartment stairwell so the whole building smelled like ass, then three days later he finally took it out to the garbage can in the courtyard outside, and then he never put in a new trash liner. Boyfriend and I were keeping our trash in little tied bags in our room and then taking it out every morning. Have no idea what Roommate was doing. Eventually the good roommates returned and put a new trash liner in and bought all the other household things. But Asshole Roommate still never bought anything or took out the trash

And justice most of all for being super nice about it, for taking deep breaths and walking away when I most wanted to shriek and punch the wall, for never confronting him until he confronted me or the Boyfriend. I even tried just cleaning after him, in the hopes that if he saw that everything was always super clean he would start feeling guilty, and we would build a sense of goodwill and mutual understanding and help maintain a clean kitchen where everyone could cook when they needed without having to wash other people’s dirty dishes.

Did I mention he tried to get us kicked out of the apartment because we were dirty?

As you can tell, I’m still a little upset about it.

So, in an effort to stem the utterly psychotic, mass-murdering rampage rage building inside me, I decided to take the thing that most ruined my day – Roommate being an asshole and feeling like I am living with a giant spoiled toddler I can’t discipline and who slams doors and blasts music and is generally rude – and turn it into an art project.

This photography series is called Demon, Thy Name is Hypocrisy, and was gathered over the past week and a half. I only ever take pictures in the morning, giving him 12 – 24 hours to clean before grabbing my camera.

After deciding to turn Roommate’s messes into photographs, my attitude completely changed – I was almost excited for a particularly glorious mess, because it meant more photography opportunities. Forcing myself to find the beauty in something that so infuriated me sucked out the anger in a weird sort of way. It was hard, obviously – these photographs aren’t my best work, for sure – but it helped me let go of my anger. Now instead of determinedly imaging all the ways I could use dog poop to make Roommate’s life miserable, I began to view things with a sort of smugness – he thought he was just pissing me off, when it reality, he was helping me. And he was probably more upset about me than I was about him. Eventually the smugness wore off, and now I’m more at the just-shake-your-head-and-go-get-your-camera stage — which is a healthier place to be I think.

I know this strategy might not work for all situations, but when you’re really angry and you can’t do anything to change anything, that anger hurts yourself more than anyone else. Thinking of a way to repurpose the awful into something you enjoy, forcing yourself to be creative in finding ways to manipulate it to your own advantage, can help let go of those damaging emotions.

I’m happy to say that Boyfriend and I are moving into our own place this weekend, and I hope to never have roommates again. HAZAH!

And in case you were wondering, this is where the German government hopes people will put their dog poo instead of leaving it in the middle of the street. Look how friendly and perfectly unused it is.

poo bucket

Standard
header thingy
Uncategorized

How to Learn a Language in Three Months!*

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kQPepgW76Q]

Nothing beats having your boyfriend start passionately singing Disney songs in a tune you know very well, with completely different words. And instead of, “Mysterious as the dark side of the moon!” He thinks the chorus says, “No one is going to be able to deflect your punch!”

I am naturally good at a few things, like reading and multitasking and insta-movement mimicking (which is useful in dance class and learning magic tricks or rhythms, but not much else so far). I am also naturally bad at a whole bunch of things, most of them athletic, like throwing, catching, or riding on anything that involves wheels but no handles. Then there are other things that I started off bad at and worked determinedly to improve, like walking in heels, or making my hair look less like a ginger mop, or not blurting out everything that pops into my head.

Then there is one thing that I am so bad at, determined, diligent, disciplined practice doesn’t seem to make a dent in the giant pile of incompetence that is my ability. And that is learning foreign languages.

English flowed in with no real effort that I remember. My mom read to me every night when I was a kid, a Goosebumps chapter a night, and I would wait eagerly to find out what happened the next night. I remember reading Hank the Cowdog out loud, over and over again, a little later. Then I read Dragonflight, and it was all over. I used to look forward to the hour or so I spent before bed, alone in my room and reading until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, all day. My parents would find me ignoring my school work and hiding in pretty imaginative places, obsessively reading The Lord of the Rings for the sixth or seventh time. The worst thing that ever happened to me was getting my books taken away, and when I was in really big trouble, that’s what happened. I even read the entire Harry Potter series out loud, to my mom, on the way to and from school, because I really wanted her to read it and she didn’t have time – I was like a personal audiobook.

All that reading had another name, a secret sneaky name that made my time in high school and college much easier, and that name was practice. I’ve practiced English, reading, speaking, and writing, literally every single day for hours for as long as I can remember. But I never knew I was practicing, and my want never really exceeded my ability. I never learned the functions of speech, or the way language is built. I was awful at that in school, actually. English understanding grew in me naturally, and I could tell if something was right or wrong by the way it ‘sounded’, whatever that meant. It’s still that way.

Learning a new language is way, way harder.

I suck at remembering things like phone numbers and names and whether or not I turned off the straightening iron, and I’m pretty sure that section of the brain is directly linked to learning new vocabulary. I learn it just enough to know that I should know it, and thus maximize my frustration. Pronunciation I got down, but nothing else. Literally. Nothing. Else.

I’ve been trying to learn German for three solid years now, have actually lived IN GERMANY for more than one of those years, and I still can say maybe 10% of what I’d like to be able to say.

I am now dating a Ukrainian, as you may have heard, and his mom speaks as much English as I do Russian – meaning, next to none. And they’re visiting for Christmas, and I really want to be able to communicate. So I have to learn Russian (or at least infant Russian, lets not get crazy) by mid-December or die of shame and inadequacy.

Not-learning German for three years has given me some experience on the whole teaching-yourself-a-language thing. I’m full of 20/20 hindsight vision, and I have a plan. I’m going to monitor if it works, and check back in three months, hopefully past my basics and feeling good about my progress, instead of feeling like a big giant smelly poo.

I have been listening to Russian, both on Russian radio news programs and in person (I’ve learned a bunch of swear words, naturally, the most important part of any language). I’ve also learned the alphabet, which is not nearly as hard as it looks (my attempt at learning Elvish in middle school may have helped prepare me for the Cyrillic alphabet). I also tried a few months ago to start learning Russian in a passive way, so I’m not starting entirely from scratch. My boyfriend is also super supportive and patient and helpful and knows way more about language parts and whatnot than I do, so I’ve got that advantage too.

THE THREE MONTH PLAN

Step One: Do some lessons in a book!

The book: The New Penguin Russian Course.

Intimidating - and yet, with the genius placement of a Coca Cola ad, inviting.

Intimidating – and yet, with the genius placement of a Coca Cola ad, inviting.

This is by far the best at-home course book I’ve found (after starting and then giving up on three others). There aren’t nearly as many resources for Russian as there are for German, but this book sort of makes that okay. It is clearly written for adults, with concise examples that don’t make me feel talked-down-to.

It also has the Russian words written in the Cyrillic alphabet with syllable-by-syllable pronunciation beside it, and then the English translation. 

This is great because I am so bad at pronouncing Russian words it’s almost a skill. I even tried pronouncing it in what I thought was the wrong way, I was wrong so often. That didn’t work either. Apparently there are lots of ways for me to be wrong.

The plan is to do three lessons before I start adding other things, because I’m sure I’ll get impatient otherwise.

Step Two: Anki all over the place, all the time!

anki-logo

Anki is this super awesome, simple flash-card style virtual vocabulary learning tool. It has a fancy algorithm thing for spaced repetition backed by a whole bunch of neuroscience and whatnot, which basically means it really, really helps me memorize things. There’s also a large community of Anki-users who share deck they’ve created, meaning you can get cards that are color-coded by gender and have audible pronunciation. It’s an invaluable tool. I’ve got the mobile app, which marks the first time I’ve ever paid for an app, so I can practice a couple times a day instead of looking at Facebook.

Step Three: Combine the book and Anki with listening to Pimsleur!

Pimsleur is pretty awesome for speaking and getting comfortable with important phrases. It’s also really good at teaching vocabulary, just through audio. The plan is to do that during chores or something, because I have to respond for it to really work, and if I’m speaking random Russian phrases in a full German train everyone will think I’m insane.

Step Four: Start reading!

The vocabulary in language learning programs is pretty limited and random in my experience. I finished my first couple German language courses being able to say, “What are you doing here?” and “I have three fat green cats!” but not, “I think that’s really interesting.” In an attempt to prioritize my vocabulary to words and phrases I’ll actually use, I want to start reading short newspaper articles.

Newspaper articles have to be easily understood, they’ll teach me basic useful story-telling phrases by repeating who what when where, and they’re usually pretty repetitive, meaning I’m more likely to remember a word I learned new at the beginning of the article.

Step Five: Combine all the above with bugging the crap out of the boyfriend!

Case and point.

That’s basically all the details needed for this step. Once I’ve reached maybe lesson ten or fifteen of the Penguin book, am well on my way with the Pimsleur audio, and owning the vocabulary, I’ll just start babbling at Boyfriend in Russian as often as possible. Hopefully I’ll reach this point around the beginning of December so I’m relatively comfortable trying to speak in Russian by the time Christmas rolls around and I see his parents again.

Step Six: Keep it up!

Hopefully if I’ve done all I plan and I’ve developed a habit for language learning, I just keep going, rotating with German till I can finally drag myself out of the seemingly endless land of intermediate and up to advanced! And get all my Russian basics down really well and try to avoid all the mistakes I’ve made with German.

I can’t wait until I can understand German and Russian well enough to read novels in them. I think if I make it to that point, it’ll be smooth sailing to fluency.

I’m posting my plan here to provide some kind of accountability. If you’re interested in my progress, and whether or not this whole thing will actually work, I’ll post updates once or twice a month until Christmas.

Learning a new language is a huge pain in the ass, but it is also the most rewarding, mind-blowing, amazingly transformative experience I’ve ever had. I can actually feel my brain doing crazy new things some times. It’s like slowly growing a super power.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YUQV_1oiic]

Standard
7
Animals, Germany, Photography

Photography: Kölner Zoo

I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with both monkeys and tigers. Monkeys, because I took a fantastic human origins course last semester of college that was 30% about people and 70% about the ruthless, sweet, disturbingly human lives of various kinds of monkeys and apes. Tigers, because the tiger is one of those amazing animals that is very close to extinction.

The Kölner Zoo is gorgeous with large enclosures, and the animals seem to have zero fear of humans, and the humans zero fear of animals – the cheetahs pacing restlessly around their gently shaded lawn could have easily jumped over the low plexiglass fence and eaten me, if they so desired. They didn’t, so instead it was just awesome.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to the Kölner Zoo, I highly recommend it. It’s been there longer than New Mexico has been a state and is worth a whole day.

What brought on this sudden awakening about a phrase I’d heard so often it had begun to take on that alien timbre of a word said too many times in a row – hovering on the brink of extinction – was that I read somewhere that for a species to be doomed, it does not have to be dead; it just has to have a certain low number of individuals able to breed with each other who are too genetically similar to maintain a varied population. This is the worst sort of death, because it is seen from miles away, and it is utterly implacable. Two animals, regardless of how often they breed and how often their children breed, cannot re-create a species.

The tiger is almost there. As are many other species, but (apologies to all other slowly-dying species) the tiger takes priority with me.

There are plans to help wild tigers reach each other through man-made ‘pathways’ – narrow swatches of untouched forest connecting isolated populations. This way tigers have the opportunity to breed across a wider gene pool. It takes a great deal of effort and governments working together to both keep those stretches of forest untouched and to keep poachers away.

I have no idea what I could possibly do to help, but at the very least, knowing about it stresses me out.

Seeing a giant, beautiful tiger playing super cute in the water was the absolute best! I still can’t believe I managed to get this sequence, all in focus. He would jump, swim around to the edge, half-jump up the wall and make all the kids squeal, paddle back to the grass, shake himself off, and do it all over again.

Standard
Donbas Battalion Flag
Thoughts, Ukraine, War

The Tragedy of the Donbas Battalion

Last November, I went to the Netherlands to visit a good friend of mine who then became my boyfriend, and who just happened to be Ukrainian. He introduced me to a whole new world and a whole new kind of people, and I was delighted to be largely embraced by them. Within that two week trip, I went from knowing one Ukrainian to knowing at least twenty, went to a Ukrainian wedding where I communicated to the non-English speaking family members of the bride and groom through Anna Kendrick’s “Cup Song” (it was just as strange and awesome as you might imagine, and afterwards they drank Scotch and toasted to America), and watched the protest on Independence Square in Ukraine begin.

I won’t reiterate what happened here. If you don’t know, Vice News has a great summing up of the protests, why they began, and how they ended. All I will say is that, despite rampant disorganization and some trying, and nearly succeeding, to take advantage of the confusion, it was a glorious example of a people coming together to rise up against an oppressive government, and successfully overthrowing the figurehead of that government, at the least. (It’s my belief that the true master of Ukraine’s previous regime was Russia, and the war in the East is only a natural progression of what started last November – first the puppet, now the puppet master. But that’s just my opinion.)

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7e6B64Iqqg]

I was first introduced to the Donbas Battalion by Vice News three or four months ago. I was perhaps a little too excited to see what I thought of as the beginning of the unspoken-resistance. In my mind, the war in Ukraine was still something to be discussed over dinner, analyzed, and argued about, and doing so had not taken on the dark, iron-in-the-back-of-my-throat tinge that it does today. The Donbas Battalion was one of the first pro-Ukrainian militias formed in a part of the country where the only news was about pro-Russian militias, whose media-presence sounded a bit like,

“By the people, for the people – your friendly neighborhood pro-Russian militia!”

The Donbas Battalion was formed out of a few angry Ukrainian patriots and led by a man named Semen Semenchenko. They took down Russian flags and put up Ukrainian ones at the local government offices. They went to the local police station and shamed the police, screaming, “There are 300,000 police in this country and no one is protecting Ukrainian speaking people! Who is the guest here – us or you?” They were one of the first civilian-organized volunteer militias, stepping up where the Ukrainian regular military couldn’t. I was elated.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KFGgKPrWfY]

The Donbas Battalion continued to grow, both in numbers and popularity. They were in many of the eastern fights, sometimes critical in the success of battles over crucial territory. They were in Sloviansk, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They, and battalions like them, were the only fighting force in the east against the ‘rebels’ for months, and continue to bare the brunt of much of the fighting going on now.

A few months ago, 55 year-old American investment banker and West Point graduate named Mark Gregory Paslawsky went all the way to Ukraine from Manhattan to join the Donbas Battalion.

His story sounds a little like mine, taken to a whole new level – frustrated and helpless just watching people cry out for help, compelled to try to do what he could.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/21/world/europe/an-american-voice-on-ukraines-front-lines-goes-silent.html?_r=4&referrer=

He’s dead now. As are the vast majority of the Donbas Battalion.

I’ve been obsessively following #Ukraine on Twitter for months now, and the ‘news before it’s news’ thing never hit home until week before last, when I read live Tweets from civilians and journalists crying out about the besieged city of Ilovaisk. The Donbas Battalion was there for a month or more, desperately holding out against increasingly superior opposing forces and begging the Ukrainian government for reinforcements.

Paslawksy was killed on August 19th. Reinforcements never came.

http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/abandoned-donbas-battalion-fights-on-361886.html

Then, a proposal – the remaining fighting men in Ilovaisk would surrender, as long as they were given a safety corridor on which to retreat.

It was agreed. The Ukrainian men surrendered Ilovaisk to either Russian-military-backed rebels, or the Russian military itself depending on who you ask, and left down the safety corridor, where they were ambushed with vastly superior fire power and brutally killed nearly to the man.

The extent of the damage still isn’t known, at least not by me and my news sources. But it looks like hundreds dead, killed in out-right betrayal by a military no one acknowledges is even there. I can’t find out if Semen Semenchenko is alive or dead, but nothing has been heard from him for weeks.

Here’s a terrifying statistic from the Kiev Post article:

“On Aug. 21, the Interior Ministry reported that 25 percent of all those from special battalions killed since the anti-terrorist operation began had been killed in Ilovaisk.”

And here’s Vice New’s coverage of the remains of the ‘safety corridor’ itself. (Warning: extremely graphic.)

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r_Nf2VK5_4]

And here are interviews with some of the survivors.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/06/anatomy_of_a_bloodbath_ukraine_volunteer_battalions_ilovaisk_donetsk

And both a summing-up of the current situation in Eastern Ukraine and another explanation of the Battle for Iloviask from a German perspective.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/russia-expands-war-in-eastern-ukraine-amid-web-of-lies-a-989290-2.html

The struggles in Ukraine have affected me more deeply than I can describe. I have sat in front of my computer, reading or watching the latest news, with my hands over my mouth and tears on my cheeks more times than I can count. I watched the protestors in Euromaidan and their desperation to form a better country, a better life, and I saw my own face and those of my friends. I watched the men creating their own civilian-led battalions during the almighty panic and confusion after ousted-President Viktor Yanukovych fled and Crimea was invaded, and their faces were the faces of my boyfriend and his friends. I watched the shattered homes and starving, dying civilians in the now war-torn east, furious over the deaths of innocents that no one could explain, and I saw the faces of my boyfriend’s parents, who are still in Ukraine, and sometimes, the faces of my own family.

To say I am losing my faith in humanity would be incorrect. If anything, my understanding of our resilience and our capacity for hope grows by the day. I am realizing, however, how terrible a place the world can be in a way history books and the most heart-wrenching war movies never taught. The despicable pointlessness of all these deaths is what hits hardest – the knowledge that there will never be justice for most of the dead, and for the vast majority of the world, not even the faintest awareness of their sacrifice.

But I am also learning, more deeply every day, that some things are worth fighting for.

Some things are worth dying for, even if no one ever knows about your sacrifice.

Because that’s the only way the good things, the right things, can ever become reality. Through tenaciousness. Through sacrifice. And never, ever giving up hope.

Слава Україні! Героям слава!

Rust Cohle, from one of the best examples of film ever made, True Detective.

Rust Cohle, from one of the best examples of film ever made, True Detective.

Standard
DSC00038
Family, Film

The Lacy Klan

I grew up in a place of harsh, deadly beauty. It is the allure of the distant and forbidden – one glimpsed, but not studied; visited, but not lived in – except for a unique and often gleefully destructive breed of human, the desert-dweller. This includes my sprawling family, which was born in the desert and returns to it as often as possible, their visits brightening my life twice a year for as long as I can remember.

There is undoubtedly Viking blood in the Lacy Klan – the men are huge, with blonde shaggy manes and beards and a great fondness for fire and beer. The women raise hoards of monster-children, sacrifice chickens to the gods, and drink mead.

Well, not really. But we could. And we do raise chickens. And I don’t know how to make mead, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out one or two of my uncles do.

My matriarchal grandmother had six sons and two daughters. Most of them had children, and some of their children have had children. New Mexico is our personal Mecca, and once or twice a year we all gather together and have the most epic, adventurous party-time imaginable. We don’t fight with each other – we’re one of those families whose gatherings are always memorable and always too short.

What makes the LK so great above all is a collective open-mindedness to collaborate, create, and work hard in the pursuit of fun and supporting each other.

(I originally had a graphic made of the phases of the LK and their subsequent child-producing waves, but it got way too complex too fast. I’ll suffice it to say that there are a ton of them, not including family friends and fellow adventurers, and that we can’t fit a quarter of them in the house, which is why all our gatherings either happen outside, or in a Mexican restaurant.)

The cast of characters is vast and immensely interesting – and we all make an effort to stay connected and carry out our random traditions. One of the largest of these is the New Year’s Eve party, which has been happening in my parent’s backyard since Y2K. It was never meant to grow into what it did, but in an intense pot-luck way, it took life of its own. 

Everyone contributes something. One year my dad and an uncle got together and built a 20 foot tall trebuchet out of old tractor parts and painted it lime green. The kids and a selection of uncles film family space operas and westerns during the summer, and then premiere them at New Year’s, at which is a huge bonfire and a stage, on which my cousins and I have performed one way or another for as long as I can remember.

It’s all very complex fun.

Last year we decided to have a Sasquatch-themed party because, um, Sasquatch-themed party. One of my uncles, who both takes Sasquatch very seriously and also has serious wire-forming skills (he was very adamant about calling it a Neanderthal, as apposed to a Cro Magnon, and used a picture of an actual Neanderthal skull as a guide), created a 20 foot-tall Burning-Man style Sasquatch out of wire mesh, with details like toes and fingers and a spear, then filled it with fireworks and then covered it with pieces of bark and paper so it looked like it had hair and was wearing a loincloth.

It was, quite simply, redonk’.

If that wasn’t enough, in the days leading up to the party at one of our (also traditional) green chile slathered beer drinking Mexican restaurant evenings, someone said,

“How about… instead of just setting the Sasquatch on fire, we have a fire-ball-asteroid that flies over our heads and slams into it?”

So, yeah. That happened. 

The actual asteroid was on a zip line with fireworks placed like rockets at the back so, when lit, it would shoot down the zip line and slam into the Sasquatch. But the way it was hanging it was able to swivel, and instead of going forward it just spun furiously at 500000 mph, and my dad had to go into the sparks and poke it forward with a giant pole and try not to get set on fire.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S61kiP1-V80]

One of the many things we do is to go to White Sand’s, the 144,000 square-acre graveyard of a pre-historic sea, now endless shifting dunes of gypsum. We’re also a group of more-or-less talented photographers, ranging from a professional film maker and a master-level space photographer to a very excited dad who takes literally thousands of pictures with his Canon Rebel. Putting all these pictures together into something beautiful is my contribution to the growing body of LK heirlooms.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCfXpR3dx9g]

I’ve been thinking a lot about home, family, and the nature of wanderlust. Settling into a foreign country means daily adventures, diving into the complexities of a new kind of people, true autonomy and the fear and thrill of being 6000 miles away from the nearest support net – and it means being far, far away from family.

This is the second time my entire life I won’t be in New Mexico for New Year’s. I don’t know when I’ll be there for that again, not to mention Christmas and the Gila Hike. It’s sort of a deep, resigned sort of sadness. I chose this, and it’s the nature of growing up that you leave to create a new home of your own, but living through it is more difficult than I imagined. And it’s only September! I’m sure it’ll be way worse on Christmas Eve.

I guess my goal here isn’t to feel sorry for myself, but to celebrate the awesomeness that is my family on the other side of the world, and to say this:

Family is the only constant, and thus, of utmost importance. Treat it that way.

Standard