Category Archives: Dispatches From the Front

Happenings from my real life. Newsworthy and noteworthy.

Night brain

Nighttime is not when I’m at my writerly best. I’m too sleepy, or too distracted, too prone to the maudlin or ponderous navel-gazing–not good news for readers. I work in fits and starts, each fit and each start more stuttering-slow than the one that came before. It’s as if my brain picks up road-dust and trail-dirt all day long, and needs some quiet, powered-down time before bed to knock it all off. Too much day-residue in my synapses to get anything worth reading written. Night brain is a crippling condition for the writer.

So, while I wanted to tell you about this incredible film, or share a few more thoughts about this surreal state of unemployment-limbo, or tell you about my first homemade carne adovada, all of that will have to wait for morning brain. Night brain says, enjoy the Perseids, and have another moving song instead:

Old, schmold

I’m not old.

Really, I’m not. Okay, so I’m a veritable crone by paleolithic standards, but in this lifetime, I’ve barely shaken off my zygote goo and begun to figure out this whole adulthood thing. So it seems a little unfair that my body is already starting to nudge me in the direction of decrepitude.

I hurt myself bowling. Bowling! The sport of The Dude, undertaken by children and adults alike, frequently under a haze of black light and 80’s music.


It’s a simple exercise in physics, with an entertaining finish and a side of chili cheese fries and cheap beer. It isn’t exactly BASE jumping. I didn’t expect I’d need a medical team on standby.

We went to spend some quality time with our friends and their awesome kid (side note: Have you ever watched someone track stand at a red light with 40+ pounds of smiling toddler and pack strapped to his back? It is a sight to behold.) As usual, I attempted the lunge / leg sweep / graceful ball delivery thing that looks so easy when other people do it. And, as usual, my ball sounded like it had cratered the lane every time it left my hand, and only sheer dumb luck put it in contact with pins.

It’s something about that damn lunge. More than ten days later, I was still doing my best old man impersonation (“Argh, my hip!”) and wondering how a lunge could go so wrong. Then–for added fun discomfort and because we sometimes forget the meaning of the word moderation–we set out on a joint-torturing little adventure, one of the last Fun Things before life becomes nothing but pack pack pack.

As it turns out, sore hip + 25 pound pack + 3,100 feet elevation gain in 7 miles over shifting, knife-edged limestone scree = more old man impersonations, but with four-letter words now for color.

It’s official: I’m no longer allowed to plunge headlong into the escapades of my youth, not if I want to be able to walk without pain the next day.

Mostly this aging stuff has been amusing to me, because it hasn’t really altered how I live my life. Grey hairs and face creases never changed how my body worked or limited the things it could do. The aesthetics of aging aren’t really a concern.

But this business about bowling hurting and trails hurting? None too happy about it. My body is still plenty capable; it’s my mind that needs a little adjustment. The lesson?

Bite off a little less; chew more.
Savor just the same.

And did I forget to mention…

…the unemployed also go off-grid during transition periods. We’re completing what I call our Farewell Tour of New Mexico before we have to get down to packing. Back in a few days, grimy, trail-weary, and happy.

Unemployment: The First 20 Hours

It was only yesterday evening that I clocked out for the last time, and already I’ve learned a few things:

The unemployed are a weepy lot. When emptying one’s locker and saying goodbye to coworkers, it’s not the thousand daily infuriations (neology, baby!) that come to mind. One does not enact that recurring fantasy about flipping tables and fingers, nor does one set fire to the place and roast marshmallows, as always seemed a good idea on those baddest of the bad days.

No, one melts into a gooey pile of butterflies and kewpie dolls. Saccharinely, nauseatingly fond of everything about one’s job and workplace. It’s surprising, and mildly embarrassing.

The unemployed haven’t fully accepted that they’re not going back to work. I found myself last night emptying the dirty laundry out of my pannier and the dirty tupperware out of my lunch bag, and then resetting it all, as if I’d be packing a fresh uniform and fresh food for the next shift. My subconscious still expects a steady paycheck, apparently.

The unemployed sleep like the dead, for ten hours straight. It’s shockingly true. I missed one of the few yoga classes I have left with my favorite teacher this morning because my bed ate me. The mattress opened up like a giant mouth last night and treated me like Jonah. It didn’t spit me out until damn near lunch time today, as I discovered once I’d pried the pillow off the side of my head and made sense of the hieroglyphics on my silent alarm clock.

But apparently my body was making up for the chronic sleep deprivation so familiar to those working long, strange shifts. EMSers, as I’ve mentioned in passing, maintain a convoluted and frequently contentious relationship with sleep (really, if this were any other relationship, you, as our friend, would tell us to DTMFA. And you’d be right.). So it’s significant that, after such a sleep binge, I don’t feel like something you’d find on the bottom of your shoe after venturing, out of sheer desperation, into a sketchy gas station bathroom. Oversleeping usually renders me useless the next day–useless, cranky, and gross-feeling. Sleep-hungover, if you will. And sleep hangovers are just as bad as the regular kind of hangover, just without the extra bottles in the recycling. But today I didn’t have one. I must have needed that sleep more than I knew.

The unemployed get to read over breakfast, listen to lots of music, and get around to the laundry only when they feel like it.

The unemployed hang out with their dogs, blog without feeling like they’re on a deadline, and eat the steel-cut oats for breakfast instead of the rolled because they have plenty of time to cook them right.

The unemployed can ignore to-do lists for today.

The unemployed watch hummingbirds for twenty minutes solid, not doing anything else.

I could get used to this. You know, if I were independently wealthy or sugar baby to a distinguished and discerning older gentleman who didn’t mind the boyfriend and the fact that I’m too busy backpacking to spend time with him.

Today’s unemployment song:

The Long Goodbye

There are two main explanations for my being scarce around these pages recently. One, it’s been too hot to think. Do not discount the significance and the validity of this statement. The evaporative cooler is a beautiful thing when the desert behaves like a desert, hot and leather-dry. When it behaves more like a dusty swamp, those lovely west-facing windows and heat-absorbing adobe quickly turn your house into a sauna. Brains don’t work well in saunas–or mine doesn’t, at any rate. I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation for that somewhere.

And two, in these final weeks, we’ve been scrambling to tick items off our “things to do before we leave NM” list. It’s been a bittersweet exercise, each amusement reminding me we’re that much closer to leaving this place for good. This makes me rather terminally distracted (“This is your brain. This is your brain on moving. Any questions?”).

But the weather finally broke here in the high desert, and every living thing around is sighing at the reprieve. We rode our bikes in the rain on Thursday night, squinting against the drops and whooping like little kids. Today I turned the fans off for the first time in weeks, and the quiet in my house is downright expansive. Except for the occasional passing car, it’s strangely still. The cool, gray day adds to that stillness, and I feel more like I’m relaxing in my house, and less like I’m just hiding from the hot, mad city outside.

This is weather that calls for reflection, for sitting quietly. I haven’t even turned on music today, out of deference to this quiet. Today I’m thinking about leaving. The move date is now so close that we’re starting to notice all the little lasts that are accumulating–the last time we’ll eat at this restaurant, the last time we’ll see this band play, the last time we’ll hike this trail.

This goodbye is both a process and an event. I have, in many ways, been saying goodbye to this city all along. I never intended to live here for so long, and I never expected to love it like I do. Very little has gone according to plan over the last decade, but it’s somehow all turned out better than I’d imagined. A life philosophy, that: plan the best you can, but leave room for revision by someone or something bigger and wiser than you.

In the coming weeks, when the packing starts in earnest, I might be here less than I’d like. I’m trying to train myself to make writing another refuge–but usually I default to the hammock or a nap. Old habits, and all that.

In every goodbye, there is another hello. In this, a goodbye to the place that has shaped my adulthood, and a hello to what I plan to do with it. The words will be there once my brain gets un-addled by heat and by moving trucks, and my plans for them are desert-wide.

One more of those little goodbyes:

Status check

I started this blog with vague intent. It was about accountability–having an audience, however modest, who might expect a semi-regular output. It was about having an internet home for published work–an electronic sampler to offer any discriminating editor who might consider paying me to string words together. It was also about knocking the dust off my fingers and getting back into practice, in preparation for something bigger–a book, an actual freelance career, or just a larger and more meaningful role for writing in my own life.

Eight months into this venture now, it’s becoming evident that each of these goals requires that I do more work than just daydream elaborate fantasies about bylines and sunlight-filled home offices. There’s some re-prioritizing, some nose-to-the-grindstone-ing, some reconfiguring to be done. Pick the sports movie metaphor of your choosing–I’m Rocky, running those stairs, getting in shape for the big event, sweating in solitude to an earnest motivational soundtrack. Pick a tired cliché about how lonely and difficulty and thankless it is to be true to one’s art. Pick a fight about artistry versus craft. There’s all of that here, and more.

I’m working on ways to retool the blog here to better reflect its intent, but I don’t yet have a clue what will come of that effort. I’m actually studying now, treating my work here as work, and retiring any lingering quaint notions about writing only when blindingly, irresistibly, passionately possessed by the Muse. And perhaps hardest of all, I’m deciding what to lay aside so all this can be done.

I’m not good at letting things go. It’s not giving up, but it feels that way. Better to focus on what I’m saying yes to–this work that I’ve had in me for so long–rather than what has to take a back seat to that Yes.

This morning, I saw a bird building a nest inside a crosswalk signal, diligently threading its body through a small hole on the underside of the plastic housing, beak closed tightly around bits of dry grass. Likely work in an unlikely place. I don’t know what it means–likely nothing–but it made me smile.

Enter sleep mode

A timely little article in the most recent National Geographic sagely warns me that my work/sleep patterns over the last several days have had essentially the same effect on my brain that several shots of whiskey in rapid succession would have…

Not wishing to head down the dark and twisted path of drunk blogging just yet, I just wanted to let you know, gentle reader, that I’m working on sobering up–so to speak–and will return shortly.

Meantime, amuse yourself thusly. It’s an oldie, but a goody–and showcases why my little friend Tiger is one of the cutest muppets in the world.