Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Week 19: Clam Lake, Wisconsin

We are settling into a quiet routine on Clam Lake. I put myself on a writing schedule and we even set the alarm for seven in the morning. We get up, do some morning meditation and readings; I roll out my yoga mat so stretch while Larry tends to the cats, Little Guy, Darby, and Jill and then goes out to fill the bird feeders. After breakfast, I go up to the desk in the loft, and write five pages of a project I'm working on. I enrolled in a class through Mediabistro on memoir writing that just happened to be scheduled for the ten weeks we are staying here. Besides the assignments for that class, I take suggestions from my editor, and continue to just write scene after scene of things I remember that fit into the arc and theme of my book. Writing is an intense process, and I rarely leave breakfast bounding up the stairs, eager to write. It's always fine once I start and have a few sentences down. But I have to remember, a writing practice is like exercising, and the more I'll do it, the more I'll want to suit up and show up every day. At 11:30 or so, I might walk to the post office or go snow shoeing with Larry on the lake, anything to get out of my head, my memories and into my body.


Little Guy

Lovely Jill

Our second day in Clam Lake and the day before Lea and Jerry left, they helped us put on their snow shoes, which they are generous enough to let us use while we are here. Snow shoeing is a lot more work than walking, but it's a wonderful way to get through the eighteen inches that have consistently been on the ground since we've been here. It's the walking poles and moving them that make me sore between my shoulder blades.

I'm still trying to figure out what combination of clothes to wear. Snow shoeing is a lot of work and the down jacket was too warm. However, I still can't find the right layers for my hands to keep them warm enough. Yesterday, my fingers grew numb while we were out on the lake and I got scared and hurried back to the house, after having large ambitions of walking the whole perimeter of the lake. Still, I was out for thirty minutes. Once I was back in the house and my fingers started to warm up, they actually started to hurt. But that passed. Today, it was only 0 degrees outside, though the sun was shining, so we decided  not to snow shoe. I got cold enough walking to the post office to mail some postcards and letters. If anyone wants a letter or postcard, please let me know. I'm happy to write.

Wednesday, after Lea and Jerry left, and we were suddenly given the gift of this beautiful home with beautiful plants, a gorgeous lake view, deer feeding in the afternoons, a cleared off desk with a nice note wishing me well on my writing projects, we had breakfast and then drove into Hayward to do some grocery shopping. Having lived in a remote town in Texas for four years, I wasn't too hopeful about the produce selection, but we were pleasantly surprised. They even had plenty of organic produce and we've been able to continue our habit of lots of fresh vegetables at every meal. Though Clam Lake only has about 40 houses on it and the majority of them are closed up for the winter, Hayward is a cute little town with a nice coffee shop, plenty of gift stores, the Freshwater Fishing Museum which has an outside area with a fish as big as a two story house that you can walk up into (though it's closed this summer). It's a winter tourism destination and many people visit to snowshoe and cross country ski. For a town of about two thousand, there's a lot more in it than we expected. Cable, too, is a super cute town, with a Natural History Museum, library, coffee shop, plenty of cafes and gift shops--and the population there is only about 700. I don't have photos of the towns yet, but will post them next week.

On Saturday, there was an ice fishing tournament on Clam Lake, and we snow shoed over to the small village of ice shacks that had popped up on the lake.

Even though Clam Lake is remote, we are a ten minute walk from the post office, couple of restaurant/bars (which, during lunch hour, have about thirty snowmobiles parked in front of them), and a gas station/store that has plenty of basic provisions and Clam Lake tourist gear, so we definitely don't feel out of touch with civilization. The good news is that our cell phone provider is the one that works here, Verizon, so we can take calls, if you are so inclined.

We're still leaning into the quiet and space that our days offer us. I found that six hours a day to write was way too much time to be in my brain and that I have trouble switching between the memoir, Sweetie Pie projects, and poetry/short story revisions. So today, I took a nap before getting on the exercycle and doing sit ups. I'm working to combine time in my head and time in my body. And nothing reminds one of the body as much as weather that one isn't accustomed to. I'm grateful to be able to go outside and feel my skin and be reminded that I'm in a body and that it's glorious to be alive.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Week 18: Snowbound in Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee Motel. . .

Our 18th week on the road was pretty restful. We were going to leave Chicago on Sunday January 5th, but a weather advisory kept us from traveling. Lots of snow and -15 degrees ("feels like -45). You know it's cold when two days later, it's 5 degrees and you think it feels rather warm outside.

We spent most of Sunday and Monday enjoying some serious downtime. When I was a child growing up in San Diego, it always felt wrong in my body that there weren't real seasons. It seemed unnatural for my body to keep going all the time; in fact, my body has internal hibernation periods that don't necessarily match seasons, since I've never lived where there's much in the way of seasonal weather. So it's usually hurry up and go-go-go and then collapse. I'm grateful for the chance to have natural downtime worked into my schedule. I looked at some old short stories and revised a piece called "Aprons." This story's about a newly married baker who's moved from Texas to California's Central Valley with her husband. She's lost a sense of her purpose and doesn't really know why she does what she does, whether it's getting married, having an affair, or running away from her goals. I wrote the piece years before I'd end up in California's Central Valley, strangely enough. Like much of my writing, it now reads like prophecy. It seems that I end up writing my future, even when I think I'm inventing lives.
Thanks, Kendra, Kapil, and Chester! 
We also had a great time visiting with Kendra and Kapil, eating dinners with them, having our first viewing of Downton Abbey with them, and listening to a few of their one thousand record albums. Or maybe it's two thousand.

Goodbye, Chicago! 
Tuesday, we packed up, ran some errands, said our goodbyes to Kendra, Kapil, and Chester, and left after rush hour on Wednesday morning. We had friends to visit in Indianapolis. Also, the Matisse collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art was on tour when we visited Baltimore in October and it happened to be in Indianapolis for one more week.

The roads still weren't great and it took us hours to travel from Chicago to Indianapolis, which should've been maybe a three hour maximum trip.

We arrived, used the fitness center in the motel, went to dinner, and had an early night.

The next day, we visited friends of Larry's who'd moved from San Francisco to a town about thirty minutes from Indianapolis. They made us a lovely lunch and we spent the afternoon catching up. They live in a semi-rural area and it was simply gorgeous with the fresh snowfall resting on bare trees.

In the late afternoon, we made our way to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which happens to be open late on Thursdays.

Indianapolis Museum of Art
The two highlights of the exhibit were the original prints and cut-outs from Matisse's "Jazz" book and the poems by local school children based on Matisse's paintings. I sat and read poem after poem by the kids ages four to seventeen. They were amazing.

Matisse is one of my three favorite painters (Chagall and Kandinsky are the other two), so the exhibit was a real treat. Super moving and inspirational.

The rest of the museum was amazing. We didn't have time to see all of it, but what we saw was enlightening. We especially loved the Thorton Dial exhibit, a Southern African-American artist who makes powerful unusual sculptural paintings.

Thornton Dial
Thorton Dial
Mardsen Hartley

Georgia O'Keefe
Driving back to the motel was an experience; the roads were lousy, a wintry mix of snow/freezing rain was coming down and it was downright scary. But Larry's a great winter driver and we arrived back at the motel safely.

We have this weakness of Hampton Inns--nothing fancy, but a little out of our daily price range. We love the comfy beds and the clean newness, the jacuzzis and fitness centers and the pot of oatmeal served at breakfast. They were super nice at the Indianapolis airport Hampton Inn. Of course, people in the Midwest are generally just plain nice.

We had a pretty good trip to Milwaukee the next day. We had ideas about going to downtown Milwaukee on Saturday. We planned to go to Discovery World to see a presentation on the science of the marshmallow for Sweetie Pie research, but it was sold out. We ended up staying close to the motel, went to see a matinee (I saw "her" and Larry saw "Lone Survivor") and watched another movie on our laptop in the evening, Jeff Daniels' "Answer Man."

The next day, Sunday, the weather and roads were better and clear, and we made the drive to our temporary home (until April 1st), Clam Lake, Wisconsin. We spent the evening with the wonderful couple we are housesitting for, Lea and Jerry, started getting their three sweet cats used to us, and had an amazing home-cooked meal that Lea labored over, which included pork tenderloin, the most delicious portobello mushrooms I've ever had, green beans, and hearts of palm salad. Yum. We are settling in for the next two and a half months. I will write once a week or so about our experiences on Clam Lake and in the closest towns, Cable and Hayward (17 miles and 35 miles away, respectively). Thanks for reading.

View of Clam Lake out our bedroom window

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Still in Chicago. . .

As I write this we are still in Chicago. We were going to leave today to visit Indianapolis and Ohio, but a severe weather advisory has kept us from traveling. We're waiting for the weather to clear up before we leave, and we are thankful to our gracious and kind hosts who said, "Be safe, just stay here."

So our last scheduled week in Chicago, we hurried up and did a few things we wanted to do. There's so much to do here that we feel that we barely scratched the surface of this unique city. On Monday, I went to the Art Institute, which is pretty much impossible to see completely in one visit. I love art but I hit a wall after about two and a half hours. I chose to tour the contemporary art, modern art, and impressionists.

I also visited the special exhibit--designed just for Sweetie Pie, "The Art of the Appetite." The Art of the Appetite displayed a history of food and eating in American art. No photographs were allowed in that exhibit, but here's the link that shows many of the works displayed: http://www.artic.edu/exhibitions/art-and-appetite-american-painting-culture-and-cuisine

A European piece that reminded me of Art of the Appetite
Probably the most powerful piece I saw was by Felix Gonzalez-Torress. There was a pile of hard candy in the corner of the gallery. The guard invited us to take a piece. And then he explained the piece to us. The amount of candy of in the pile is 175 pounds--the weight that the artist's now-dead lover's healthy weight would be. The candy is continually replenished to stay at that weight. His lover died of AIDS-related illnesses.

Our time in the evenings this week was largely breaking into the Christmas game-gifts. We played several rounds of Bananagrams and In a Pickle, and started up on Gin Rummy.

Happy New Year! 

Tuesday was New Year's Eve--we went to the gym and then went out to a dance at an art gallery in the Haymarket District. The snow was pouring down, the plows hadn't come out, and the traffic on the freeway wasn't crowded but moving along very slowly to stay safe. I'm grateful to my Michigan-bred partner who can drive in the snow safely.

But we're usually asleep about an hour before midnight and we kind of were ready to head home before ten o'clock. I know, it sounds lame, but we got our dance on for awhile--were the first couple on the dance floor--and were ready for a quiet New Year's eve at home. I also don't know how to dress to go out dancing when you have to go out in the snow, so I had leggings and a thermal shirt on under my dress and quickly became too warm to keep dancing at the pace I prefer. Later, I saw women changing into their outfits in the coatroom, so I'll know for next time! So, we threw in the towel, got home before people were back on the roads, and played some cards. I was so tired at 11:15 that I started crying over some confusion about the rules of the card game and decided I needed to go to bed. We were asleep by 11:30. I woke up at midnight to the firecrackers going off, but Larry slept through it all.

Our street New Year's Eve coming home
New Year's Day we'd wanted to go ice skating as we'd skated in Yosemite last New Year's Day and thought it would be a nice tradition. However, it was just so cold out and we didn't feel like trudging the 20 minutes to the L train and then being cold on the ice, so we stayed in. We lasted about ten minutes on the Rose Parade, but Larry did watch football. He was happy to to see Michigan State University win the Rose bowl. Go Spartans!  I'm not even sure what I did. I might have napped all afternoon. . .

After we went to the gym on Thursday, we mostly did housecleaning. Our friends were coming home Friday, so Thursday we spent a good amount of the day cleaning and clearing our belongings out of the living areas of the house.  It felt kind of good just to be engaging in normal human routines.

View of the skyline from our gym parking lot
However, Thursday night, we had tickets for Steppenwolf Theater's "Tribes." I have had an idea bout taking the summer intensive at Steppenwolf for several years. My original plan was probably cooked up ten years ago, so I was super excited to go. The play grew on us. A comedy about a family obsessed with words, "Tribes" starts with a lot of aggressive banter which was a little too much for me to take, but slowly it unfolds to be about family dynamics. They have a son who is deaf who they won't teach sign language or learn sign language for, who they teach to speak and lipread to they can protect him from the disability. The play revolves around him meeting a woman who was raised by deaf parents and who is slowly going deaf. It has to do with family dysfunction, disability and ability, and it was pretty powerful and moving in the end. It didn't really stick with us the way "The Normal Heart" did, but it was still a well-written and beautifully acted play.
Downtown Chicago outside the Art Institute

Friday, we were back to normal time, cleaning, cooking, working out, and greeting Kendra and Kapil when they arrived home in the afternoon. We were happy to hear about their honeymoon in India and Paris.

The next day Kendra and I talked about our time together in Marfa and discussed education. I was excited to be introduced to Khan Academy, an online learning tool that is potentially revolutionizing learning. It affirms a lot of what I've been feeling about my work at the university, that the model of teacher in front of the classroom has to change. It helped inspire me as I consider going back to teaching after this trip. http://www.khanacademy.org

Now we lay in wait. We don't know where we will be traveling to next. Larry is out shoveling the truck out of the snow and we are thinking that Tuesday, the weather might open up and allow us to hit the open road again.