Monday, February 28, 2005

Happy 1986!

(New Year's Picture, 1986: Dewey's under the sheet, Nick's on the fireplace, I'm in the moon boots)

I was born into a long line of eccentrics. Maybe everyone is, really--but, from an early age, I had a sense that maybe my family was just a little stranger than most. I mean, I didn't know any other kids who went on picnics at the cemetary, or who had old guys showing up with bags full of toys they'd found at the salvage yard, or who had railroad crossing signs nailed up on the trees in the driveway. Maybe it wasn't so much that we were more eccentric--maybe we just didn't hide it as much as other people did. We lived out in the country, and neither of my parents have ever been particularly image-conscious people, so maybe we just had an environment more fostering of nuttiness than others.

As evidence, I present one of my family's "New Year's Babies" pictures. (Oh, there are more. Many more. haha) Every year, right around Christmas, my mom would get out some paper, make us each a banner with the next year on it, tell us to put on whatever we wanted, and posed us on the fireplace. We were traditionally accompanied by assorted holiday trim, a bevy of stuffed animals, ninja weaponry, and the ubiquitous "Santa Bears" that my Aunt Judy was always giving us.

The thing is, until I was in junior high or so, I kind of thought everybody did this. I mean, I knew my cousins didn't, and I'd never seen my friends posed in pictures like that, but I guess I kind of assumed the tradition that must've come from somewhere, right? As far as I know, my mom just made it up one day as a way to vent some of her creativity, and to keep her three hellion children occupied for a few minutes.

The New Year's picture tradition didn't last forever--eventually my older brother rebelled and refused to cooperate, and it wasn't destined to last long after that, I guess. But looking back at the pictures, I get such a sense of how happy my childhood was--how insulated we were, in some ways, from other people shooting us down all the time, from worrying what the neighbors would think. Sure, those concerns weren't completely absent--it's not like we were isolated from society or anything--but when I think back to that time, I get an overwhelming sense of freedom, of having my own space in which to be as weird as I wanted to be. Our house and our ten acres were our domain, and what might've been kind of weird to the other kids was totally normal to us, and although we wouldn't have phrased it this way at the time, those kids who didn't like it could kiss our asses. :+)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

I'm the rocket girl.

When I took one of those Myers-Briggs personality profiles a few years ago, it told me that I'm the type of person who lives in the present moment. That I don't tend to prepare or plan any more than is absolutely necessary. That I'm a good short-range planner, but maybe a little too relaxed about getting things done because I'm too caught up in the current moment/experience and don't want to rush on to the next thing.

At first, I was a little put off by that description. I mean, I've always been a pretty responsible person--I don't think anyone would describe me as the type who would blow something off, or as someone who doesn't internalize a lot, think things through pretty extensively. But the more I let that statement sink in, the more I realized how true it is. There's definitely a pattern to how I live my life, and yes, it's a lot like a human cannonball.

Like a human cannonball, I spend a lot of time in preparation. I make lists, I do research, I spend a lot of time putting sequins on leotards and painting flames on my helmet. There's a lot of worrying about the "what-ifs" associated with what I'm about to do. Pretty phenomenal amounts of worrying, actually. So much worrying that sometimes I question whether I'll ever actually go through with any of it. I wonder if there's going to be a net there when I land, I wonder if my helmet'll work if there isn't, I worry that I'll get blown off-course somehow and that not even the cosmic ringmaster will be able to find me.

But then, in a sudden burst of courage, or frustration, or something, when the stagnation or the mere possibility of stagnation finally gets to me, I march over and I light the fuse, jump into the cannon, and blast myself off into the unknown. I still may not know whether there's a net there at the end, but once I'm in the air, I really don't give a crap.

What I've realized is that it's in those moments that I feel the most whole, the most joyful--those are the moments when every cylinder is firing, when everything around me sparkles in its own singular way, when I'm not denying any part of myself and I let myself trust in whatever fates are stuck watching over me in this life. It's those moments, when I have faith in myself, the wind currents around me, the sequins and the helmet and the ringmaster, that I'm the most alive.
The last time I jumped into the cannon was the summer of 2001, when after a few months of consideration (and despite the consternation of my family & friends), I followed my gut, joined AmeriCorps, and moved to Montana.

(Seattle, 4.6.2002)
This picture illustrates some of the evidence of the transformation that resulted from that rocket ride.

1. Until I moved to Montana, with the exception of high school band bus trips to Orlando and Chicago, I had never been out of the tri-state area in which I grew up (WI, MN, and the U.P. of MI). Since I moved to Montana, I've been from coast to coast--with a lot of holes in-between still, to be sure, but it's light-years more than what I had seen before this. And look, there I am in Seattle--the farthest west that any member of my immediate family has ever been (with the possible exception of my father's time in Vietnam, but I'm not sure if it counts if it's due to compulsory service).

2. I shaved my head. It was something I'd wanted to do for years, just out of curiosity. Finally, I had one bad Great Clips haircut too many, and on the spur of the moment, asked Emily to buzz it off. Sure, some stages of the regrowth looked a little goofy--but hey, now I know what my head feels like with half an inch of hair on it. (It feels like a cat, for the record.) And I'd do it again in a heartbeat, because it wouldn't be scary anymore.

3. I got more comfortable in my own skin. I stopped wearing black t-shirts as a piece of every single ensemble, I stopped caring if I had a loony look on my face in pictures, got over being quite so self-conscious and realized that hey, if I dye my hair red and it looks stupid, who cares? Hair grows back. Time doesn't.

4. I realized that just because you're out on the road, it doesn't mean that every godawful worst-case scenario you can dream up will actually happen. Chances are, you won't run out of gas, your tires won't explode, a deer probably isn't going to jump out, and you most likely won't get run off the road by a semi-trailer. And if you do, well, worry about it when it happens. Don't let it keep you from going, or you're never going to get anywhere.
Maybe it's obvious from all this that I'm ready for another cannon ride...I just need to keep reminding myself of how much I'm going to like the feeling of soaring on the wind when that moment comes, and stop letting myself get too caught up in the "what-ifs" and worrying if my head looks big in the helmet.

Ordinary moments in an ordinary life.

I've been digging around on some old photo back-up discs over the past few days, and thought it might be kind of entertaining to post some older pics, with some of the stories behind them. Considering the immense backlog of photos I've got from the nearly four years since I moved to Montana, there's practically an endless supply of material...which could be a good thing, or a bad thing. We'll just have to see how that turns out, I guess.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mucus, mucus, everywhere...

(Me and Flannery the other day, when I was messing around with the camera. Precious!)

I've been sick the past couple of days. Without going into grody detail, it was kind of a headcold/influenza/ear infection-style troika of nastiness that pretty much knocked me on my butt, and it's apparently making the rounds throughout Helena at the moment in various forms. So if you're in out!

It's weird, I almost never get sick anymore--but when I do, it's rarely a garden-variety headcold. My body takes illness...TO THE EXTREME! C'mon, immune system, let's give in to the monster flu for a few days! Ooh, and then let's see if we can get my ears to swell shut! ROCK!!! (I guess I should be grateful that I don't get the bizarro fainting spells I had in college anymore, though. Now those were worrisome.)

The irony of me getting sick is that I've actually been treating myself better lately. Eating better (for the most part), trying to get plenty of fruits & veggies, taking vitamins, getting more exercise, having a more normal sleeping pattern...and this is the thanks I get. I guess it's back to bingeing & boozing for me! (I kid.)

Monday, February 21, 2005

The end of an era.

But maybe the dawn of a new one? I suppose time'll tell.

When I first started up my website back in the winter of 2002 (shortly before New Year's), I had three reasons for doing so:
1. Posting pictures up for far-flung family members & friends to check out in a central location, to better illustrate what was going on with me out here in Montanny (which was still pretty exotic at the time) and to stop beating their e-mail boxes so hard.
2. I'd just gotten my first digital camera.
3. I actually had a lot going on in my life, so there was no shortage of material.

Eventually, due to the site exceeding its allotment of data transfer that came with a free geocities site, I decided to upgrade the ol' girl. Got a fancy domain name, lots more room, and it was super. And it was a fun way to learn some stuff about web publishing & all that crap.

But after some reflection, I've come to some realizations:
1. There's so little going on in my life at the moment, especially in terms of adventures that are ripe with photo-ops, that I hardly ever have anything to put up on there anymore.
2. For some reason, I can't get the yahoo pagebuilding software to function from home--so updating means going in to the office off-hours on the weekends, which is sorta inappropriate. And a pain in the butt.
3. Quite frankly, I wonder if I'm interesting enough to merit owning my own domain name. Right now...not so much. And honestly, if I'm bored with it, chances are everybody else is, too. ;+)

So--there you have it. The blog's more fun than the other site's been lately, and so I'll be sticking with this, even though I don't delude myself into thinking this is necessarily that much more interesting than the other website was. :+) But it's free, I can post some photos, and I like that it's more verbally-based. If things ever liven up again, and I'm out on the road more, taking more pictures...who knows? I might make the webpage a regular thing again. But for now, this is it...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Verbal spam (not the meat stuff)

Actual spam in my e-mail this evening:
Subject: Joshua Losh
deceiving, married dames (deprived of thirty males)

-It is nóthing very fórmidable he said taking a lóng cigar- shaped róll fróm his
pócket au-dessóus de la surface des eaux ? Quel est l órganisme de ces animaux

Am I nuts, or is the word "mandrake" really in there?

Actually, "Condescension Mandrake" might be a good name for some haughty experimental French band or something. Maybe I should write the spammer back with that suggestion...oh, we shall see how they like it when the tables are turned! mwahaha

Friday, February 11, 2005

Voodoo, pt. 2

One additional sign that there's voodoo in the air...tonight, driving up to my house after my trip to the laundromat, there was a strange person pacing the sidewalk in front of my house. When I parked the car, turned off the headlights, and started to unload, this person skittishly sped away from me...and darted into the mysterious 3rd apartment door on my house. Which means--IT WAS THE OLD LADY! THE OLD LADY WHO LIVES DOWNSTAIRS WHO I'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE*!!! Wish I'd gotten a better look at her, but suffice to say, she was wispy, wore a large wooly hat, and was very fast for someone so old.

It took a year and a half, but now that I've finally seen her, I feel as though I've been made privy to some deep, dark secret or something. Scandalous!

*It's not for a lack of trying--I went down to try & introduce myself a few times when I moved in, but she never answers the door.

There's some voodoo in the air...

Mostly good voodoo, though. (Especially since yay, my ears never swelled shut! So I got off with just having sore ears for a few days, instead of the intense, swelling agony I had anticipated. Pretty sweet!)

A lot of semi-strange things have happened in the past week...

1. I was flipping through the channels the other night, and came upon our local public access station--and what to my wondering eyes should appear but my old arch nemesis, CREEPY CLINT!!! (He was my superior when I worked for that Lewis & Clark fundraising campaign. And he was, obviously, creepy. And always yelling at me about budgets, even though he just sat around on his fat ass all day and going golfing on the taxpayers' dime. What an ass.) What are the chances of seeing that ugly mug on TV? Thankfully, not too great. So this was a surprise.

Turns out it was some coverage from earlier in the day, of a legislative committee hearing on a bill that would give all that Lewis & Clark shit a million bucks, if it gets passed. And that seemed slightly iffy, once I realized the session was over and they'd accidently left the mikes on up on the legislators' tables. Two of them were talking about how much they don't like Creepy Clint, and how they think this whole L&C thing is a "boondoggle." So not only did I have the joy of hearing people talk smack about Creepy Clint, I also had the joy of hearing someone else use the word "boondoggle."

2. Last weekend, I rediscovered a box of stuff my mom mailed out to me last fall that I hadn't gotten around to sorting out yet. As I was digging through the treasure trove, I came across an old picture from high school of me with my beloved set crew. We suffered many wounds in the name of theater--hammer bruises, coughing up smoke powder, having scenery fall on us...ah, nostalgia. :+) As I looked back through the time portal to a younger, slightly more innocent Mary, I got to wondering where some of the folks in the picture with me wound up. Some, I still keep in touch with--some, I don't. In particular, I was wondering where my old friend Lydia had wound up--last I'd heard, she had gone to France to further her accordian studies. That was around 1999 or so, I there'd been quite a lapse.

Lo & behold, via Friendster this week, I got a message from Lydia. She's back in the U.S., living in Chicago, going to art school, and is willing to sell me a used accordian if we can meet up in Duluth sometime later this year. So not only do I get to visit Lydia again, I'd also get to scratch "buy an accordian" off my List of Things To Do Before I'm 30. (Maybe I'll publish that list here sometime.)

3. As I was checking into Friendster after I got Lydia's message, I was perusing some of my old high school friends' profiles, just to see what they were up to. On one of those profiles (my friend Anne from marching band and, more dorkily, Academic Decathlon), I clicked on a random person's profile...and in their friends list was my VISTA chum, Seetha. Seetha was one of the first VISTAs I ever recruited (2nd only to Robin!), and she's over in India working at an orphanage now. But honestly--what are the chances of that? It's like six degrees of separation, only sans the Bacon. Or something.

4. The other night, I couldn't sleep. Hour after hour went by of me flipping over & over in bed...finally fell asleep around 3 or 4. I spoke with my mom that next evening...and it turns out neither she nor my grandmother could sleep that night, either. It's freaky voodoo, I'm telling you!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I'm headed to a place called Vertigo.

I woke up this morning with that singular, peculiar, downright unpleasant feeling that I get in my ears when they're about to swell shut. This happens every so's completely unpredictable, apparently has no specific cause (at least, judging by the reactions I've gotten from doctors over the years, who always seem morbidly fascinated by it), and there's not much I can do to prevent it. Closest thing I can compare it to is swimmer's ear, I suppose, although there's some kind of infection involved...and a lot of dizziness.

I'm not the sort of person who likes to go to the doctor...which is a little ironic, since I work at the health department, recruit medical volunteers, and have spent a goodly chunk of my semi-professional years promoting prevention efforts. I can't pinpoint the exact reason why I dread it so much, but I think a lot of it has to do with what happened when I was a little kid. You see, I've had bad ears since I was born--had my first set of tubes at 6 months, and a variety of nasty little procedures after that--and so, I spent some of my formative years in a lot of pain, with a lot of doctors who didn't seem to know what they were doing was causing me more pain. Even as an adult, trying to look at it objectively, I still feel like I got kind of screwed over by the medical community, and I'm still resentful over that. (It's interesting to note that I knew several other kids growing up who'd had the same procedures done, by the same doctors in town, and who experienced the same problems later in life--most notably, my buddy the tuba player in the high school band. There must be something about bad ears and low-toned instruments... haha)

One thing I dread about getting sick (besides the getting sick part) is having to call in to work--I don't like leaving people high & dry, and for some reason, even when someone's legitimately sick, when you call in it always sounds like you're making it up. And it's always particularly hard to call in sick when this happens, for two reasons:

1. It sounds made-up.
2. When your ears are swollen shut, it's really hard to use the phone.

Last time it happened was Christmas of 2001--the "Christmas of Attrition," as it's become known in the Asbach lexicon. (The Christmas of Attrition directly led to my staying in Helena for the following Christmas, 2002's "Whiskey Christmas." Now which one sounds more fun, honestly?) That's when I got laid up on my parents' couch for most of my vacation, after having given up my bedroom to my relatives from out-of-town (it could be argued that I, too, was from out-of-town, but such is the family hierarchy, I guess) and sleeping down in the laundry room on a pile of rugs stacked on the concrete floor next to the freezer & the cat's litterbox for a few nights. (I'm not exaggerating. Suddenly, doesn't Whiskey Christmas sound even better?)

I hate this, because it leaves me helpless, powerless, and especially because a particular episode of this made me break my Seinfeld-ian non-vomiting streak in 2000. I had a 12-year streak going, people! TWELVE YEARS! And I didn't even have the satisfaction of enjoying a black & white cookie!

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I am SO not making this up.

Lately, I've been a little disturbed at how misanthropic I'm becoming. I don't know what it is that's put me in such a foul mood...winter doldrums? An exceptional number of idiots around? My almost complete lack of a social life? Maybe all three, and more? It's hard to say. But I find myself glaring at people openly, whereas before I would just sigh inwardly and wish nasty thoughts upon them. At busy four-way stops, my impatience is coming out verbal form...before, I would just laugh at stupid people who can't manage to operate turn signals. And when I get incomprehensible e-mails from the Feds at work every day, sometimes I catch myself berating the senders for the utter lack of communication skills...while I'm all alone in my office. All in all, I'm a little worried.

But was a little different. For today, I had a joyous spiritual experience in the most unlikely of places...Walmart. No, really. It was truly amazing, and I only post about it now in the hope that perhaps it helps give someone else a sense of wonder such as it gave me.

Walking out of Walmart after standing in a number of lines behind slack-jawed yokels, muttering things like "that ignorant sow" to myself while trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone on the way out, I looked up by the pay phones and laid my eyes on the vision of loveliness I've so crudely tried to capture below.

I literally stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this--it was so incredibly out-of-the-ordinary (especially in Helena!) and...I don't know. There was just something magical about seeing a balding male transvestite talking on his cell phone, his quilted capri pants gently wafting on the breeze as the store's doors opened & closed, his furry purple fur coat making him look like some kind of enchanted love child of Sasquatch and Barney, his make-up just a smidge smudged, the sequins on his big red shoes twinkling daintily in the afternoon sun. God, it was beautiful. And I really mean that.

My intention isn't to make fun of the transvestite guy here--I mean, to each their own, right? And damn, it must be hard to find clothes like that in his size! But I guess what I wanted to point out was just how much that little slice of the extraordinary meant to me. Maybe it's because my life is pretty tame lately, but I'm finding myself craving some kind of variety--whether it be variety in people, or experiences, or whatever. And just having that tiny taste of something a little different put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. I don't know what that says about my character (Am I too flighty? Spending too much time always looking ahead to something else, rather than enjoying the moment I'm in?), but damn, I think it's something I need to spend some more time indulging. :+)