Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Going Deep in New Territory

The beauty I saw this weekend nearly made my head explode. Man, I am feeling SO SMART for moving to Colorado right about now, truly verging on smug.

I met up with Jim and Barbara, two total strangers, on Friday morning and by evening’s end, we were a family - specifically, a polygamist man with his two wives. Barbara had lived in Utah with Mormons so we decided to role play, convincing our happy hour waitress, at the very least. (I was Wife #2.) We dipped our bodies in the mineral baths of Glenwood Springs and downed margaritas before camping at Escalante, alongside the railroad tracks and a few hundred ant hills.

The four-day trip along the Gunnison River in Western Colorado (just south of Grand Junction) was precisely what I needed to kick off my ‘Summer of Exploration’ here in the Centennial State. There were 21 of us in all – most from my ‘Up The Creek’ gang plus three guides and eleven canoes. The agenda: paddling, camping, eating, drinking, hiking and laughing – total bliss.

Beyond the salmon, ribs and strawberry shortcake, I’m sure I also ate a ton of bugs because my jaw basically dropped on Friday and stayed that way through Monday. Massive canyon walls in deep old reds and lively oranges, all dusted with a thin black desert varnish, made me feel so small, so young, so temporary. The banks were lush with pesky purple Tamarisk, Buffalo grass, Russian olive trees and Cottonwoods. Little white tailed bunny rabbits hopped around and I felt like passing out from joy. “This place is truly touched by the gods,” said Barb.

Turns out, it’s been waaaay too long since I’d been camping – Burning Man 2001. As a result, I was so excited that the idea of sleeping seemed intrusive. The incredible moonlight and star-filled sky certainly didn’t help. Neither did the mighty locomotive that came storming through the canyon several times a day hauling coal. I friggin’ LOVE trains, they make me kinda bonkers with glee.

Late one night, while chewing the fat with our river guide, Jim, I noticed a dim white shadow on the canyon walls. It grew brighter and bigger and then, the delightful old world sound of moving steel. I lept off the overturned canoe and nearly pissed myself with anticipation. In that massive canyon cathedral, alongside the Gunnison River glistening in the moonlight, came that long Union Pacific train. What an unforgettable sight. I put my filthy feet in the sleeping bag that night and finally passed out with a huge grin on my face like an over-sugared toddler finally hitting a wall.

Come breakfast, I was the first one up – completely out of character for a lazy bones night owl like myself. Our afternoon hike revealed more Sergio Leone scenery, waterfall-laden grottos, ancient petroglyphs and yellow-and-blue neon lizards. We climbed rocks, gave ourselves river mud facials and drank rum and beer. We told stories, juggled and wore funny glasses. We showered under waterfalls and stretched out to dry on giant, warm boulders. Meanwhile, the guides marveled at our collective low-maintenance joy. According to them, some folks venture out on the river bringing their freaky demons with them while we’d managed to luck out with a nearly perfect group dynamic.

On the last night, some choice Robert Service poetry was read aloud by the fire. Jim read his classic “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and I read “The Men That Don’t Fit”, which pretty much describes every man I’ve ever loved.

As we launched our canoes for the final paddle home on Monday morning, Jim again took out the Service collection, “The Songs of Sourdough” and asked us to pick a spot in the canyon to contemplate while he read “The Call of the Wild” which left more than a few of us misty-eyed:

Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there's nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God's sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert's little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o'er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.

Have you known the Great White Silence, not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map's void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is, can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild -- it's wanting you.

Have you suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
"Done things" just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders?
(You'll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things --
Then listen to the Wild -- it's calling you.

They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you're a credit to their teaching --
But can't you hear the Wild? -- it's calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind, there's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.

Friday, May 25, 2007

A New Challenge

I leave in about three minutes for a four-day trip on the Gunnison River. Last time, I was on a river it was a Level 5 on the Zambezi in Africa. Some Kiwi yelled, "Let's have us a flipping competition!" and we did. I think we won though I did have to be resuscitated but the very same Kiwi. There's a great photo of my legs in the air - I'll have to dig that up.

Speaking of photos, I face a bigger challenge than staying above water. Today, I debuted as BlogHer's new Photography Contributing Editor. Not sure they have completely thought through that decision but I'm perfectly thrilled by the idea. This comes at an ideal time - a new season, a new state, a new camera. I was planning to educate myself in private but it looks like no chance for that. I blame Trillwing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Tradition Grows: Chick Cabin Weekend

The exact date? We’re not really sure. All we know is, DD mumbled an epiphany while sunbathing by the pool at Sharon’s first bachelorette party back in 199-something. There we were, blissfully ignorant of skin cancer, all greased up and recalling punch lines and misadventures from Kim’s baby shower the previous year, held at my family’s cabin in the Angeles National Forest.

Eyes closed, DD put her right check down on the towel and sighed: “Why can’t we do that every year? Why do we have to wait for someone to get married?” Somehow, amidst all the busy tanning, I heard her. Quite soon, we were scribbling names on a Self magazine subscription card and expanding upon our idea.

There are but three main rules for Chick Cabin Weekend:

No kids
No men
No work

After nearly a decade, we have developed a philosophy of sorts:

Do What You Want Because Right Now Is Very Good

This past weekend was Chick Cabin VIIII, the annual meeting of some of my best girlfriends. Nearly every era of my life is represented here by brilliant, hilarious and beautiful ladies. Finding these precious gals is always a matter of mutual recognition and somewhat immediate love and respect, not to mention luck. I always apply the same formula: I start talking and whoever laughs is my friend. It’s like a trick outing.

There’s McShmoinkles and Miss Liberty from the Macromedia Dot Com Fun Bus; Susie P. from the early 90s LA (mis)adventures; Magical Heidi the poetess from my college days and Airman Fraser who I met in Pop Warner Cheerleading – Rebels ’79, I think.

There’s old-timeys like DD who goes back to second grade and My Dear Friend Lisa who I can recall in first grade Sunday school at the wonderfully generic, Lakewood Village Community Church. (Ironically, everyone we know who got married there eventually divorced.) Let’s not forget the indomitable Deputy Six Gun, a firearms aficionado, mother of two and former stoner/surfer/ska chick who just keeps evolving. She used to tease me in high school about being a cheerleader, “F**ckin rah-rah!” We still cackle at this.

This was the ninth year of CCW and it held a profundity that has been building for some time. The gang is getting older now, ranging in age from 35 to 48, and the topics are shifting a bit. This is an intense collection of wives, mothers, daughters, sisters and, when are together, girls.

We each lay bare the joys and disappointments in our lives. Family relationships, maternal concerns and, of course, men are the topics of the day. Not to mention career struggles, sex jokes and the recently unavoidable, political issues. It is usually me and Heidi ranting about the dark stupidity of the current administration, which is getting easier for them to see every year.

Mostly, we sit around and watch Kim tell stories and be hilarious in general. This year, she created the perfect man who had a hinged spine and a boob on each knee. “You could just put him in the closet and he could entertain himself for hours,” she reasoned over Pina Coladas under a pine tree. The laughter gets so high and loud that I picture a Google map view and a circle of frightened wildlife running in all directions. As it is the same weekend every year – between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day Weekend – it’s probably on the town agenda to warn the locals.

Though we have made another side rule, no cell phone conversations in the cabin, technology has creeped in nonetheless. Miss Liberty brought along her laptop to show and take photos and lo and behold, WiFi! Not sure how we fell so far, so fast but here we are – in the photo – trying to understand why we can see Britney Spears shaved snatch. How does one not know? I mean, isn’t it drafty? And where was her mother, we wanted to know. Even Paris tried to clamp those idiot legs shut and when Paris Hilton is your good taste compass, you can stick a fork in yourself – you’re done.

Yes, big, big issues of the day are shared, depicted, debated and accepted. There is beer, weed, hummus, hiking, hair-do’ing, smoking, photo-shooting and 10,000 laughs late into the night. It is a golden collection of memories made. Saturday evening, a perfect example - seven women stretched out on boulders in the moonlight, staring at the stars and enjoying the rare silence, alone in our thoughts but together, always.

And because you boys are kind of cute when you’re optimistically stupid - yes, there is LOTS and LOTS of naked pillow fighting.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Eccentrics Among Us

Yesterday, I visited with my Dear Friend Lisa, a childhood friend that remains in my Inner Circle. (Colorado citizens be warned, as a Heather Friend, you may get dragged around for decades.) There's a gang of us who all grew up together in the same section of SoCal suburbia. Our parents all mostly still live in the same houses with the same phone numbers albeit, on their 20th area code.

Visiting Lisa's Parents House, a flood of childhood memories came back to me when Lisa said: "Would you like to visit The Dolls?" Lisa's family has always been this wonderful collection of folks who are creative, brilliant and quirky. There was the time that Lisa's Mom got tired of yelling at us kids and opted to tape her complaints. We came into the living room one day and heard the boom box on the kitchen table belt out: "Shut up! ..... Knock it off! .... Stop it! ... Be quiet!" Laugh? I thought I'd die. Then there was the other time her dad walked through the living room with a live crow on his head. It was always like visiting the cast of "You Can't Take It With You."

Here's an understatement: Lisa's Mom collects dolls. As a kid, I would rehearse my lines for various school productions to this perfectly still audience of plastic and lace. I still consider them my original fan base - they're not big on feedback but at least the population grows steadily. Lisa's Mom, the rescuer of creatures big and small, is widely known as Snow White, hence the lifelike replica in the family dining room.

This, however, is only the beginning. LM's doll collection has grown beyond my imagination, taking over three major rooms in the house. The living room has several large glass cabinets full of every doll you can imagine - old and new, adorable and creepy, bejeweled and plain. Thousands and thousands - it's overwhelming. One does not know where to look. I mentioned to Lisa's Dad that they could charge admission. "Well, we do charge $5 to get out!" he cracked.

It's really quite something. So many eyes, so many cherubic faces. This one on the left used to freak me out - still does. Playthings should not be so life-like, so happy, so ... so glistening. CREEPY.Mostly however, the collection is highly fascinating. Everyone is represented: Malcom X, Laura Bush, Richard Nixon, Justin Timberlake, not to mention entire casts of long forgotten TV shows.

Please note Paul Stanley, who appears very pouty for a doll with an impressive batch of fake chest hair.

Then there's Knocked Up Barbie, "She's got a real baby (doll) inside too!" LM assured me. There's the expected - Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe - and the unexpected - Spinal Tap, The Monkees and the Matrix cast. I kept thinking of Steve Carrell's character in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" when Seth Rogen says, "You have the 'Six Million Dollar Man's' boss?!?" and he replies, "Yeah, of course. Oscar Goldman."

It all came together when LM pulled up a big box and said: "Remember when Dennis Rodman married himself?" Actually, I had forgotten and maybe never knew to begin with but somebody somewhere made a doll to mark the occasion and LM couldn't wait to get her hands on it.

I was going to get to Lisa's Dad's model airplane/antique toy collection as well but I am exhausted by all this fancy HTML'ing and will present that some other day.

All I can say is, thank god for these people. Boring and predictable they're not. Folks like LM remind me of Dianne Wiest in "Edward Scissorhands" - they may live in neat suburban homes but they've got an appreciation for freaky, an indulgence for the odd. Now, if you will kindly send along $5, that'd be great - I need to find my way out of the living room.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Idle At Last

God knows what I've been doing lately but it hasn't left much time for posting here. Here's a shot of me trying to steal a military helicopter last week. I like to collect them, along with federal restraining orders.

Last week's Work assignment was crazy and I'm so glad/sad it is over. When family and friends ask what I do, I'm never sure what to say. I try to be generic: "I introduce important people to other important people and let the magic happen." This explanation often begs further details and when I oblige their eyes glaze over and they ask if I have any snacks in the house. I wish it could be simpler: "I write" or "I tell stories" would be my favorite answers to give but blogging and spinning yarns do not offer health insurance, last time I checked.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

200 in Paradise

Congratulations to me! Happy 200th Post. What does the blogosphere offer semi-continuity? Do I get a cool hat pin? A free tank of gas? A box of Krispy Kreme?

Guess I'll just pretend I won a free trip to La Costa Resort & Spa - the current Work assignment. Located in Carlsbad, CA., the place is SWANKY. Came in a couple of days ago with my brilliant sidekick, Maria, and we are living here until Saturday. It's a ridiculously gorgeous place with something like 10 pools and endless rolling golf courses. We've got a balcony room near the tennis courts and the spa building. Sadly, we've spent most of our time in the Deepak Chopra Conference Center - I shit you not. Deepak Chopra gives me the fucking creeps. For a guy who supposed to be relaxed and in touch with his mind/body self, he seem pretty rigid and uptight. Plus, I don't trust people that are either not funny or never laugh. The Dalai Lama is hilarious. I'm just sayin'.

Anyhoo, I'm surrounded by oodles of brilliant entrepreneurs from all over the world and here I am, in the middle of it, trying to con everyone into thinking that I know what I am doing. As usual, I've fooled them all. Except Maria, of course, who is very much on to me which is why I keep her close at all times.

Amidst all the endless sunshine and lush gardens, I'm also trying desperately to ignore the massive Unattainable Crush I am currently suffering. Of course, the victim has no idea as our only connection is professional and it should probably remain so. Plus, he lives in another state and as much as I love my new state, I am mighty gun-shy about mixing U-Hauls with my love life. Still, I'm amazed at my capacity to fantasize to ridiculous lengths. I thought I'd come so far since 8th grade but alas, no.

Perhaps this lovesickness (which has been percolating for quite a while now) will go away once I get a facial? Or maybe I can buy a spendy gift at the hotel's boutique store, Pinkalicious? Certainly it is nothing a day by the pool can't fix, right? Right?

sigh ...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Liberate Me

I'm trying to avoid the spectacle of the Republican debates - which cheerfully included the phrase "the Gates of Hell", a truer warning if ever there was one. Meanwhile, I'm slowly creeping back into Photoland and try not to ponder how and why I completely lost it today. But that's not working so it's full Ponder Ahead.

In the long list of things you are never supposed to say to a major client, somewhere near the top is, "You have GOT to be fucking kidding me!" And yet, these were the exact words I chose earlier today in response to a misguided directive and perceived insult. Snapped, yes I did, completely in two. Emotionally, I landed in a tree somewhere in Boulder and called Gins to talk me down, like a spastic kitten mewing for a volunteer fireman.

Poor guy. He gave me the wrong words at the wrong time and I wasted no time in biting his head off. I rarely work with this person but I'm sure I made a lasting impression. Especially with the swift double play of screaming "I can't even TALK to you right now!" and then hanging up on him. Yup. See, I'm hip to the whole 'transparency' trend. I saw that 'Office' lady on the cover of WIRED; I can see the future. Yup.

Therefore, I felt it was a good time to warble my displeasure at someone who has my exact job, albeit for the Mothership. I fired off an immediate apology - something about my specific rope and being at the end of it. He responded in kind, acknowledging that he knew of my frustration. With Gins guidance (for she is the Mistress of Good Logic) I wrote a snarky reply but did not send; I opted instead to smoke a bowl, practice some guitar and do yoga. Ostrich wisdom works for me in such situations - my head needs to be stuck in dirt to cool it down,

During my unraveling/raveling session, my cell phone rang. I did not recognize the number and instincts told me to ignore it. Later, I listened to the message and it was from the target of my earlier rage. He was outside on his cell phone and I could hear children playing in the background. His voice was gentle, relaxed - I did not recognize it at first. He talked about how sorry he was that we got off on the wrong foot. That after watching his son play Little League, he thought about the day and about how none of the corporate urgencies really mean anything at all. "Sometimes, we all lose site of what is really important," he said. He sounded way off, deep within himself, and mine just happened to be the voice mail to receive it.

He talked for a long time. There were no clipped words, no rush in his voice, only patience and fatique. It actually made a cry a little ... okay, a lot. This is a man I do not even know, have never met and he was talking to me like we were old friends, or maybe someone on the other end of a hot line. "I know how you feel," he said, "you can call me anytime."

Of course, I could get the axe tomorrow (see Par. 2) but it felt kinda good to a) be human and b) have a sporting soul receive my wrath and disseminate it without bitterness and a touch of unexpected class. I know it's not fixing worlds or anything but it's a start. If only we could bottle this and inject it into the political world.

P.S. I'm into photographing my bathroom these days - enjoy!