When you go, can I go with you?

[Note: This was written a few days ago, but I didn’t get a chance to add the pictures until today. We’re currently home and enjoying our Memorial Day weekend in Denver.]

Today is the last day of another surrounding-state sojourn.
Our first stop was North Platte, Nebraska. To be honest, I was mostly going along on this trip because I didn’t want to be stuck in Denver alone for two weeks again, not because I thought I’d find Nebraska all that cool. I was wrong, though! North Platte was a good time, thanks mostly to the good weather that allowed me to enjoy their various parks. (Most of them were in some way named after Buffalo Bill Cody… Apparently he lived in North Platte at one point.) Green grass, blue sky, riverbanks, fields… The Midwest makes me happy. I spent one afternoon driving around just to enjoy the scenery, and another one sitting at a picnic table, barefoot and reading in the sun. Driving into Nebraska, the sign welcoming you over the state line reads: Nebraska …The Good Life. That pretty much sums it up.

Our next and longest stay was Rapid City, South Dakota. On our way down there we made a stop to check out the Badlands. I kind of wish I had been more into taking pictures, but we’d planned to go back (and then didn’t end up doing it; we hiked in the Black Hills instead).
Before I went on this trip, a friend at work told me, “The Badlands are cool. They’re not, like, beautiful– they’re interesting.” Umm, I think we have different concepts of beauty. The Badlands are otherworldy. Parts of it felt like a fantastical castle-city. Other parts were stunning because of how far you could see, the huge openness. Plus we saw mountain goats (including baby ones!), prairie dogs, a buffalo, and an appropriately ominous gathering of buzzards.

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Dusk in the Badlands

Rapid City itself is more of a small but busy town, kind of touristy because of its proximity to Mount Rushmore. There were some more “local” spots, like the super chill coffee house I basically lived at (they recognized me after the second day). But honestly, when you’re traveling through random towns, you come to appreciate the comforts of tourism. Like the fact that there’s more places to eat than just fast food (or this place called Runza?? Like, there are at least three of them on every main street in Nebraska. What is this place? Why the obsession?). Plus, I had a lot of fun with Patrick taking silly pictures with all the statues of presidents they have on the corners of Rapid City’s downtown.

We spent the weekend checking out Mount Rushmore. Well, actually, we first hit up a beer tasting festival in town.

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We tried going to Mount Rushmore later (after a long nap…) but it was too foggy to see the mountain, so we spent some time in the forest instead. The strong scent of pine permeated everything… Sooo good.

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The next day was sunny and warm, perfect to finally see the monument. Patrick got lots of compliments on his shorts, and some guys high-fived him as they passed us on the trail. Mount Rushmore was kind of more impressive than I’d imagined, and I’m glad I got the chance to see it.

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I thought it was funny seeing everyone take the same picture…

 

But the Black Hills were my favorite part. They’re so expansive and beautiful, and it restored me to be out in real woods. Hearing frogs, seeing birds and animal tracks, climbing on rocks and fallen logs. I’m a little jealous of Rapid City residents who get to live in the lap of those hills.

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Hiking trail in Black Elk Wilderness area

Now, for the past few days, we’ve been in Scottsbluff, Nebraska… On our way here we stopped at a gas station where I locked the keys in the car and we had to get help from some locals (and found out the gas station clerk girl was a fellow Denverite, just in NE for the summer). I’ve been kind of under the weather, so this last bit has been mostly me lingering too long in this coffee shop and reading My Antonia (a friend lent it to me, saying I should read it on this trip since it’s set in Nebraska. I just finished it last night).

Patrick has some more traveling to do this summer, and I’ve decided to go along. We’re also planning a just-for-fun trip together. For me, traveling makes me want to travel more– and whether we visit a national monument, a different city, or a small town, it’s always worth going.

Inhabitant

Now that Patrick and I are back from our excursion through New Mexico, I have settled back into my Denver routine. I didn’t really realize I had one until I went about my normal activities and it seemed almost strange to have Patrick back at home again. Now I have a job and a daily set of things to do, plus the odd errand and/or fun evening. At last I could say I’m content. (…..Except for how excited I am to go back to Cleveland for Easter!!!)

Speaking of going back to Cleveland… we’re visiting for Easter but also later this spring for Patrick’s work. His work will pay for him to have a place to stay downtown, and when we were discussing this I said, “But how will I get around?”
Patrick (joking): “Use the amazing local transit system.”
Me: “No, seriously! I don’t wanna be holed up downtown without a car.”
Patrick: “Um…. What?”
Me:
Me:
Me: “….Ohhhhhhhhh. Oh… I live almost downtown here. I can just… walk to places… Just like I do here….”
Patrick: “Thank god, you figured it out. I actually started to wonder if you got hit in the head.”
But as I explained to him, when I picture downtown Cleveland I picture almost nothing! Having spent little actual time down there out and about (instead I was always in a car or only walking a few blocks), I can only picture certain streets or buildings and I have no concept at all of the general layout or the nearness of coffee shops to hotels.
The other crazy thing was, thinking about walking around downtown Cleveland made me a little nervous. I don’t know my way, there might be sketchy characters, etc… And yet again it dawned on me that I deal with those same things right where I live now.

Apparently, I have become a city girl. I did choose our neighborhood for its proximity to downtown/stuff, but for the most part I have to say I was unwittingly transformed.

This past Saturday was fairly nice out (unlike today, when both Patrick and I are home thanks to a snowstorm shutting down our places of work… Not that I’m complaining because DOUBLE SNOW DAYYYYY!!!) so I went to get myself a cup of coffee in the late morning. Walking back with the sun shining, hot cup in hand, and people out around me, I felt a sense that this was kind of, a little bit, maybe, my neighborhood.

The reason I went out to get coffee that day was more my craving for a little walk than it was for caffeine (okay, but caffeine did play a huge role). And more than geography or getting out, even my personality has become more “city-fied”– when I first moved here I found the constant brushing with strangers exhausting. But now I chat with strangers in line. I recognize people I’ve seen around the neighborhood and say hello. I’ve gotten better at making new friends. I give directions to people who ask me (and they must ask me because I look like I know?!!?). I’ve also learned the art of when and how to ignore the world, for example, wearing my headphones on the walk home from work.

All of this makes me want to inhabit Cleveland just as fully as I inhabit this neighborhood. To always make an effort, explore, and meet people. It sounds pretty cliche, like pictures of girls with blonde ponytails standing on a rock, the background for some quote about “adventure” underscored with an arrow. But actually trying to live beyond one’s comfort zone is a worthwhile challenge, and one which I am determined to undertake even in familiar places.

do now cheer me on

The other day I drove my first solo road trip, to meet up in Albuquerque with Patrick. It was a pretty easy ride– the route was somewhat familiar to the one we took to El Paso (I think I even stopped at one of the same gas stations, heh). I over-caffeinated in the beginning and got really jumpy so every passing road sign made me feel like I was on the verge of a heart attack, and a piece of the chocolate bar I ate melted on the seat/my pants, but besides that, no trouble.

Lately it seems a lot of my friends (and semi-related friends, i.e. cousins-in-law) are traveling as well… People are heading out to the West Coast for internships, one friend of ours moved to Denver too, another friend applied for a job that requires moving. One of my cousins-in-law is working with AmeriCorps out here in the West (I think she’s headed to Texas soon), one lives in DC, my brother-in-law lived in Ireland for a few months, others have taken trips overseas. I know everyone says that posting about trips on social media is fake or trying to make your life seem cool or whatever, but… I guess I’m glad they’re all posting about it everywhere. I feel like we’re all in a sort of club, spreading out and exploring the country. It inspires me to not miss home too much.

While I drove yesterday, telephone wires spooling along beside me, rocks rising out of the horizon, strange plants bristling across empty fields, I imagined myself years from now gliding on some other open road somewhere. And why not? Life is short and gas is cheap. (Uh… right now, anyway. *has horror flashback to 2008* *horror flashback switches from gas prices to my fashion* Yeah guys, forget the past!!! Seize the day!!)

Albuquerque is familiar in a weird way… They have a parkway across from their zoo, which is reminiscent of Old Brooklyn; even the signs for the zoo looked the same. Of course, the parkway went through a forest with signs warning of fire dangers, and all the trees were pale and dry. The path through the woods was just dust. You could walk without making a sound– or hearing a sound. I sat still for a while, though, and saw some small birds and one woodpecker.

Tonight, Patrick and I are driving to some other town in northern New Mexico… As I’m really growing to like this state, I’m looking forward to seeing more. Plus, it’s really spring here! Besides that park, there are many trees budding and blooming. Imagine new, bright green and a clear blue sky against all the subdued shades of brown (which is pretty too). Add in the ~~power of the sun~~ and it’s hard not to feel alive even on an ordinary Thursday.

The title of this post is from “Erin” by Joanna Newsom… A song I think about on just about every road trip. Erin, Erin, Erin across America! Some people say it’s also a mondegreen for “Erring” which I like too.

Yours from the road,
Pen

Spring’s a girl in the street at night

Lately I can’t stop mentally singing “Dirty Old Town” even though until I looked it up, I knew only one verse. But anyway, that’s where the title of this post is from… Fitting for the moment as I continue to further– I don’t want to say explore, more like interact with— Denver as the weather jilts toward springlike. Although Denver isn’t dirty in the same way. It would be “slightly littered old town” or something.

I’m also interested in the song because it makes me think of how I am always trying to describe things, but I always try to describe them in this super deep way and I want to get it exactly right. It ends up sounding like Ray Bradbury on a nostalgia tangent. (We all know I love him but some of his stuff can get to be a bit much for me– Dandelion Wine? Like, cool it, man.) But when it comes to “Dirty Old Town”, I realize that you can actually write something very simple and people will overlay their own experiences onto it, and it will come out all right. Of course this is a simple concept that I knew on a conscious level, but have yet to grasp in my writing.

When I was younger, it was easier. I didn’t try as hard to convey exactly because I didn’t really understand how different others’ experiences were from mine. I thought, you can just write about the woods, describe the smell and maybe the tree bark and leave it at that. And you can! But now that I’ve been more places and met more people I feel this weird need to be like, “THIS IS THE EXACT WAY IT IS OKAY”. Basically, I need to relax.

I can write something as simple as, “I smelled the spring on the smoky air” and it doesn’t have to  be complicated.

Writers are all only one person with one set of senses. Which is why it’s important to be as observant, open, and deep-digging as we can; and in writing, to leave enough space around our narrow experience for a reader to stand in and see not only what we see but what they’ve seen and what we can both imagine.

Well, that ended up kind of philosophical… All from some Irish folk song that Patrick and I started to sing in a jokey way when we walked to Chipotle one night, striding past lampposts and construction signs and a fancy restaurant where a guy smoking outside looked up in surprise.

Then it got stuck in my head and I was left alone with my thoughts… and a blog. Oh dear.

-Pen

 

A road too long to mention

Well, there are only a couple more days left of our time in El Paso, and then it’s the trek back to Denver. In preparation, I’ve been reading On the Road. I’m glad I waited until now to read it, actually, because his journey in the beginning of the book, from New York to Denver, is very similar to the way Patrick and I drove with our U-Haul when we moved. I can really picture it: I also traveled through Illinois, took a quick stop in North Platte, felt the excitement of getting close when we hit Cheyenne.

Then, when he’s actually in Denver, I could imagine him running around Colfax; I could relate to his friend’s basement apartment and poems about those Denver pigeons.

Of course, there’s still parts I don’t understand at all– like when he casually mentions walking five miles to a friend’s place. I’m just like… How??? Wouldn’t that take a long time?? Was this a normal thing, to walk five miles to meet up with someone? Did they just sit around waiting for however long it takes you? EXPLAIN PLEASE.

Right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks, across from a stranger who is also on a laptop. It’s crowded, needless to say. I just tried to move my foot and I accidentally nudged theirs and I died for a second.

Another thing about On the Road is the way he hops from city to city, job to job. He gives his shirt away to a fellow traveler (and later, gets it back). It reminds me of what I love about movie hit-men: if they lose their coat or their gun, they just find another one laying around and use that. Goals, man. If I could go with the flow even half as much as movie hit-men and Sal Paradise…

Oh, the stranger got up for a second. Time to stretch my legs… Oh lord. Well, at least I’m not the guy who got stuck with just an armchair in a corner.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the road trip, and to getting home and having my own pillow back, and doing some projects. (One of which, I keep joking to Patrick, is going to be the opening credits of an indie film with the song “Rights of Man” playing in the background for absolutely no reason.)

I’ll miss this city, though. El Paso makes me feel so refreshed (*one hundred sun emojis*).

Also, I slept for twelve and a half hours last night… Which I guess might have something to do with it.

Sun City

So this is getting into my second week in El Paso, Texas. And THIS PLACE FREAKIN RULES. First of all, everything is pretty. The sun, the palm and cypress trees, the washed-out colors. Secondly, this city is huge and looks even bigger because you can see right into Juarez from the highway. (And the highway– it’s raised up so you can sweep fast over the city and feel like you’re on Coruscant.)

The only downside is that I’m apparently allergic to the desert (thanks, mountain juniper), so my eyes were red and burning for the first week. I think it might finally be subsiding, though. If I’ve finally found the magic combination of allergy medicine, I’m going to start looking for a tiny house on the outskirts of town, with a little metal fence around the yard and a tall, skinny cypress tree beside it. Seriously, though. If I don’t end up coming back here or somewhere near to visit frequently in the future, be warned: I am not actually me, I am a clone of myself and I am probably plotting destruction.

I really loved the drive down here, too. It was a little over nine hours from Denver; I drove most of the way, but the time seemed to go quickly. Instead of passing cow field after cow field, there were mountains and open spaces and forgotten towns. We also took historic Route 66 for a little while.

 

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Sunset desert in New Mexico

I’ve been spending my time here working on stuff for a writing workshop I’m taking online through my Denver writers’ group by day, and trying to improve my billiards skills by night. Also, Patrick and I went to a scenic view place one evening to climb on rocks and look out at the huge metro area.

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Our first scenic lookout spot
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Nighttime city

We spent Saturday afternoon half walking half sliding hiking down a mountain.

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Patrick kept putting the camera on rocks and setting the timer

Also, there’s bonus hype because Pope Francis is going to visit Juarez in a couple of weeks (right after we leave, actually) and, if that wasn’t already close enough, people say he might briefly visit El Paso too.

Although I’d say a brief visit won’t be enough– I’m glad I have several more days to enjoy being here.

 

I’m getting rushed back on a whim

Spotify made one of those end-of-the-year things where it shows you what songs, artists, etc you listened to the most… Apparently my top song was “Bluish” by Animal Collective. Which is kind of funny because when I listen to it, it pulls my mind right back to around this time last year. “Bluish” is the sound of getting ready to go out in the cold; smoking a cigar at New Year’s; standing on a balcony downtown; spinning around and around in a kitchen chair.

Looking over my Top of 2015 list now, other moments from the past year pop up fresh in my mind.

Famous” was playing pool on a wintry Sunday afternoon with Patrick. I remember wearing his shoes because my feet were too cold on the basement floor and both of us throwing ping-pong balls at each other.
True Affection” was after getting engaged and wondering how to become a better person.
Useful Chamber” was all the hours spent alone in the warehouse at work unpacking boxes. (My work moved in the spring, I moved out of my parent’s house in the summer, a couple weeks ago I moved across the country… I am done)
As Lucerne/The Low” was Poncho’s confirmation week and springtime. Cleaning the house, driving barefoot with the windows down in a hurry.
Lonely Town” was painting the house at Lawnwood. Sometimes it was not-so-lonely, with Dad and Patrick and Luke helping me. (I also think of painting the house whenever I hear the band Cake, because the radio station had a Cake marathon one night when Dad and Patrick and I stayed really late working and then listening to Dad’s crazy stories. “All the Cake you can take until 1 a.m.”)
Baby Just Break” was trying to squeeze all the juice out of summer, enjoying car rides and the feeling of impending freedom.
Downtown” was showing off my one true talent: Memorizing All the Words And Delivering Them With Gusto.
Magnets” was this fall, dancing alone in the living room with the bass turned up and decorating for our epic Halloween party.

There could be so many more. It’s cool to look back at my music and see the different phases I went through, and the way my habits changed with circumstances and the seasons. Also, I like that you never know at the time what music is going to become the soundtrack of this blip of your life. It’s not something you can force, it’s just whatever music is playing in the speakers or in your head when the moments happen.

And I think that my song-phases are the reason I remember the moments, actually. Some people take a lot of pictures. Some people say that smells can conjure scenes with clarity. For me, the same rush back in time can happen with first breathy sigh of “Bluish“.

What a year. Here’s to the last few weeks of 2015.
-Pen

it’s the stone of a home you know

Yesterday was the perfect almost-fall day. Warm but not hot, sunny but not blazing, and just enough people out and about in the late afternoon and evening to make the neighborhood seem alive as Patrick and I took a walk through the parkway. At night it was perfect sitting-out weather, so we sat on the front stoop listening to crickets, frogs, and passing trains.

It feels good to finally be settled in after all the crazy previous weeks. Wedding, honeymoon, getting home and trying to get a working sink and a fridge and stuff like that (all of which Patrick fixed… Speaking of which, he also power-washed the back patio so it’s now usable.
Me: “You’re covered with dirt. You have little flecks all over your face.”
Patrick: “Hmm.”
Me: *goes inside*
A few minutes later…
Patrick: *walks into the kitchen* “Hey. So did you know. If you power-wash the dirt off your legs… It kinda hurts.”).

But now everything is becoming the new normal, finally. It’s even normal to refer to Patrick as my husband, which is funny because it was so hard for me to call him anything when we were engaged. I think it’s because the word fiance sounds dumb, but “husband” (and wife!) sound super cool and legit. This is just a theory, but I mean. It’s obviously true.

I have to say, one thing that is kind of weird about living in my own house is having all my stuff out in the main rooms. I haven’t had other people go through my things this much since I was a kid and had friends over to play with stuffed animals. My books are stacked in the dining room, and a few friends have come over and hunched down, cocked their head sideways to read the spines, and asked me: “Did you actually read all of these?”
I’ve also had my record collection (or lack thereof– I’m working on it) analyzed by one of my friends, which went like this: “…This one looks sad, this one looks– just terrible… Ew, the Beatles… More Beatles?!? Man, I hate the Beatles… Oh, some Rush… Who is this? Nah, too sad… WHAT is it with you and the Beatles?”
However, the Chieftains records I bought for five cents at the library were the unexpected crowd-pleasers, so there you go.

Also we are kind of starting to meet our neighbors. Or, my dad met one and Patrick met one. I think they are too scared to talk to me… or maybe it’s the fact that I always seem to be running out the side door. But not today. This weekend, I am content to chill here mostly, enjoying the sunlight and the sounds and the fact that I’m at home.

the other side of takeout is mildew on rice

I’ve debated whether I should abandon this blog, abandon blogging (um, kinda did… but you know, officially), start a new blog, start a new blog with one specific theme in mind, or…. I don’t even know. I still don’t know. But lately I’ve been super nostalgic for a time before tumblr and pinterest, when my internet experience was so much less image and so much more discussion, or at least reading. To me it seems like now everything is just an endless scroll of pretty things. Aesthetics, inspiration! My poor weary eyes. I don’t even know anymore whether I like something or if it just looks good, you know?

And does any of this translate to real life? And does anyone think up their own stuff anymore? How can you even tell? Does it even matter?

Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy things like Pinterest myself. I’ve found it useful, for sure, to gather ideas and then get them all sorted and categorized and specified. But all the white space and prettiness and perfectly calibrated everything makes me feel like I must need reading glasses– like I’m squinting, or like I’ve been looking in the mirror too long.

Essentially, what I think I’m trying to say is, I’m bored.

And weirdly nostalgic for a time when I was running around blithely on the internet, encountering little difficulty in making up blog domains or usernames, reading everything I set eyes on, and writing and creating as if I was the only person to have thought of it. Now half the time I think of making a blog post about something, like, say, a recent album I’ve been listening to and the deep thoughts I’ve been having about it, I can’t. I’ll think, the only people reading this are people I know in real life who do not share said interests, and besides that, everyone who does care already wrote about it and I discover everything too late. And/or, whatever I’m going to say is just plain too long.

Now I sound like an old person– these newfangled blogs! Everything moves too fast! Well, I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe it’s partly what I’ve already been doing: keeping up with the newfangled things I like, and passively acknowledging the rest. But maybe it’s also finding a few internet spots where I actually interact, for once/again.

So, who knows what that means for this blog, if anything. Um. The End?

It’s not like Christmas at all…?

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. This year, I haven’t felt much in the spirit, oddly. It’s been way more busy than usual, and a scramble to get presents for everyone. I am 112% done with shopping forever. (Or until gift cards start burning holes in my pockets. Heh.) Even the Christmas lights I strung up around my bedroom burned out.

The house smells like a restaurant, because Dad’s new obsession is a deep fryer. It also smells a funeral home, because of some huge bouquets we have left over… So like a deep-fried wake.

I’m listening to Sufjan Stevens Christmas music, and I can’t decide if I like it, or if I want to punch a hipster, or if I want to punch a hipster on the shoulder in a friendly way? Either way, it’s not really getting me into the spirit, either.

Maybe it’s because I feel like everything is new this year, and different… A lot of our traditions aren’t the same anymore. And if they’ve changed, it’s because they’ve had to– we’re at different points in life, or at least I am. Working, having other people to see at other gatherings, being in charge of actually putting Christmas stuff together (and all the solo shopping that entails). There’s no snow yet, and not so many decorations this year either. No cookie baking from me. Mom hasn’t played what I consider her “traditional” Christmas music (read: Amy Grant) and I can’t seem to find the same versions of carols I remember from years ago, like the Coventry Carol or Do You Hear What I Hear. I haven’t even watched any Christmas movies! This whole Advent could be summarized with an image of me looking goggle-eyed at a pink candle like “wat”.

I don’t want to be depresso or anything. Actually, an hour ago I was sitting in the basement with Luke, talking and watching him play some kind of battle game on the computer. Every time he got killed in the game a border popped up saying “Season’s Greetings” and framing the dying shot in snowflakes.
Luke: “That was Christmasy.”

I guess I want to get into some new (possibly my own) traditions. But part of me also wants to revive the old ones that everyone left behind. Like Amy Grant music and cream cheese.

Or being forced to go to bed. We’re going to try going to midnight Mass this year, and Mom said, “What if we had all our presents when we got home from Mass?” and my internal monologue at that moment just went “WHAT IS HAPPENING we are supposed to go to bed and set our alarms and Luke will set 9 alarms on his Nintendo and we will try various methods of secretly messaging each other before we inevitably fall asleep MOM WHAT ARE YOU SUGGESTING”.

So next year I want to send Christmas cards (I keep swearing that I will) and maybe make– I don’t know– peppermint bark or something, to give away. And I obviously need to cultivate my own Christmas music collection.

Definitely starting with “Wonderful Christmastime”. The space noises!