Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Man, Revealed

The handsome man in this photo is known in this space as "Kirk", which is not his real name. He has been my boyfriend, partner, best friend, spirit guide, roommate and head cheerleader (a term he might reject as "un-manly") for nearly four years now. This post (written with his express permission) is to celebrate his amazingness but first, let me explain the two big reasons why I use a fake name and why I rarely mention him online.

Kirk and I, working at Grant Farms.
Reason #1:
Kirk works in an industry that requires the utmost discretion. Not only does his position demand that he respect the privacy of his employers but it also requires him to keep a low profile, both online and in Real Life. In the world of Google searches and SEO tag words, it's best that his cyber footprint be kept to a bare minimum. This could be a problem is your gal is a mouthy blogger who puts your name in print without much thought.

Let's put it this way, when one of his employers found out he was dating a blogger, the man's face went white. Despite Kirk's assurances that there were no risks, he could tell the very idea made his boss nervous. Truth is, when his current (or future) employers Google Kirk's real name, very little should surface.

Thanksgiving at Mama Iva's.
Reason #2: 
As some may recall, my landing here in Colorado was fraught with romantic turbulence. I had no local friends yet and no real outlet for venting (I was too embarrassed to call most of my friends), so I let it all hang out on my blog. Sure, I felt better but after the dust had settled, I realized that it would likely be one of the last times I would publicly write about my love life online, especially the dramatic parts. 

I've been to enough blogging conferences and seminars to know that oversharing this part of one's life is an unhealthy policy. My personal life is more important to me than the urge to share it; it is something better left to real world margaritas, old friends and phone calls with Mama Iva. Out of respect for the person I am dating, I choose to keep the relationship mostly private. Of course, if there are big headlines, such as an impending marriage, I would certainly celebrate that here but anything other than that, is kept backstage.

But back to Kirk. Although it means I am not going to be in his day-to-day life (and may not see him until fall), his endless love and support for my organic farming project is blowing my mind. I am slowly starting to understand what true love really is because I am seeing it in action when he helps me pack up my stuff, when he goes with me to rent the U-Haul, when he offers up his own new address knowing that I have yet to get a NoDak PO Box.

He truly gets what I am trying to do in North Dakota and fully understands why it is somewhat urgent. Kirk is the only non-Clisby person in my life to have seen our family's land in North Dakota, so he knows everything about this vision for SCRANCH. In fact, it was he who thought up the project name, a shortened acronym for Second Chance Ranch. Sheer genius!

When I first met him at My Brother's Bar, Kirk was having tough times - end of a job, end of a marriage, a new President he didn't like. When I first asked him how things were going, he responded, "Shitty!" The raw honesty made me laugh. 'This man,' I thought to myself, 'will never lie to me.'

With Murry, my canine boyfriend.
I'd overheard him talk about a Mile-Hi Church, a place I was quite curious about. He said he'd just started going and he could pick me up next week, if I didn't want to go alone.

And that was that.

Together, we'd listen to the weekly message of spiritual awareness and self-improvement and then we'd get some coffee and tea and discuss the teachings. In this way, we became spiritual partners, a place to check in and monitor our own progress.

Along the way we became a couple and it was he who got a hilarious front row seat to my house-wifey domestication makeover when we moved into Hearthstone, our beloved co-housing community. (Before Kirk, I had never lived with a beau before - true story.)

Other than sharing a home and experiencing co-housing together, our domestic goal was an exchange of important life skills: He was going to teach me about sharing my daily life and being more emotionally connected to another person while I was going to teach Kirk - a man much too used to being on alert and serving others - to become a selfish motherfucker and chill the fuck out. While I had to be herbally medicated to buy new curtains at JC Penney, he only needed more vintage bowling shirts and porkpie hats to get the drift.

Kirk certainly accomplished his goal because he has taught me more than I can ever say about the amazing depths of selfless love and unconditional friendship. I think I finally understand what "we" means in the truest sense. And I have to confess to (ultimately) really digging the domestic thing, especially the cooking part. I really got into making dinner every night and once, I even brought him a beer while he was watching football and I was wearing an apron. The most amazing part? I LOVED IT!

Meanwhile, I have only been half successful. He tucks his shirts in less and less and is more apt to just relax and read on the couch then when I first found him. He tells me stories about his legendary anger and rage but I have only seen the guy that smiles all the time, laughs easily and is nice to everyone. The only Kirk I know is the one that is kind to animals, buys champagne for anything ("It's Conan's first night on TBS!") and is the father of two beautiful people who love him, J and M.

I love these people.
But Kirk will never be a selfish person who only thinks of himself, it's just not his nature. He is the guy that can fix anything and is happy to do so. He's the guy who will offer you the bigger piece first, the one that offers to lend money, the one that will help you move. There was that one time that Kirk attempted asshole behavior - his strategy? He willfully opted to NOT come home with fresh cut flowers. (I failed to notice, rendering his attempt unsuccessful.)

With my godson, Jack.
I must also point out how much laughter we shared. There was a tremendous amount of giggling that went on and I appreciated what a grateful audience he was, not only for my random life stories (that I'm sure I repeated) but also when I insisted that his life was incomplete without a viewing of, for example, all nine episodes of the live action version of The Tick. What a trooper.

I wanted to write this post because all too often, the nice guys of this world are not celebrated. I wanted to make it very clear - and deliberately public - how very lucky I am to have my life intersect with such a quality person. Kirk created a fertile atmosphere where my dreams could grow and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hotel California

Lately, I'd say in the last 46 or so years, I've been feeling incredibly held, as if carried around in the palm of a mostly-loving King Kong. There are glaring voids but for the most part, I feel like my life is just one crowd surfing scenario after another. Case in point: Saturday evening.

At this time every year, I head to my home state, California, to celebrate Mother's Day with Mama Iva and celebrate Chick Cabin Weekend. Kirk, who is somehow managing to be even more amazing during all this change, gives me a no-muss, no-fuss ride to the airport. I make my way to the gate, where I am greeted by my pal, Gins, a friend from San Francisco who just so happens to be on the same flight. This we discovered earlier by a random, "How r u?" text session that morning. What are the odds?

Despite our fellow row mate being super hot, Gins and I mostly ignored him and chatted our heads off on the flight - sharing recent adventures, updating on mutual friends and family and tackling Big Life Questions while munching on snack size peanuts. (I took a photo of her at LAX but alas, it was not approved for publication.)

Less than a minute after hugging Gins' parental units at the curb, my longtime pal, Susie, whisks me away into the madness of LA. We reunite back at her place with Zen Lisa, who is waiting for us in her car, which doubles as a backstage changing room and urban tank. We head to WitzEnd in Venice, where we scarf down an embarrassing amount of food (hey, it was free with the Groupon) and enjoy three awesome musical acts - The Novelists, Bo The Girl and Tyler Conti - a man with a voice, a guitar and enough sex appeal to kill an elephant. (His mom was there too, so we thanked her for his existence.)

Susie had to get up early the next morning, so we left early-ish, and headed back to her place. There were more indulgences, conversation and laughter. Then, Lisa takes me to a 24-hour spa in Koreatown because...hey, it's a Groupon! Called WiSpa, as described by Racked LA, "Wi Spa is not for novices. It's for die-hard spa-goers that know their way around a traditional Korean bathhouse and aren't afraid of a little nudity. Okay, a lot of nudity." 

As far as I was concerned, there wasn't enough nudity but then again, I was born with a lack of modesty. In fact, I sometimes forget that nudity is still not accepted as normal behavior; it's the same as me constantly forgetting that pot it still illegal. (Ridiculous.)

Wiltern Theater, one my favorite old haunts.
Most of the signs are in Korean and English but we still needed additional explanations. There's a women-only floor (nudity, yay!), men-only floor (the same, I assume) a co-ed floor (spa-issued shorts and t-shirt only) and a rooftop lounge. Did I mention this spa is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week? I guess they also offer salt scrubs, massages and other services but we were there just to explore the general spa facilities.

Walking out to the general area with heated floor tiles, we see men, women and children relaxing all over the place in that beautiful unselfconscious way that only non-Midwesterners can. WiSpa has a series of special sauna rooms and the first we tried was the Salt Sauna Room, which is filled entirely with smooth, hot salt chunks, although I thought it was Rose Quartz. It is incredibly beautiful, like a wee pink church where everyone lays down to pray.

"The respiratory system is purified, circulation improves, the immune system is strengthened, and muscles are relaxed. In addition, halotherapy (salt therapy) is healing for skin conditions."  
Honestly, I didn't want to leave this room but your body can only handle so much heat. They recommend only 10-20 in each room. So, we took a break and next, we tried the Jade Room:  " The powerfully hot JADE ROOM eases muscle tension, helps with arthritis, and is known to lower the cerebral temperature. The sodium and minerals within the walls of Jade Spa also help in the balancing of hormones. In Asian culture, Jade has long been revered for its healing properties and in aiding stress relief."
This photo doesn't do the beauty of these rocks justice. I could have stared at them for hours.
Next, we jumped into the mysterious-looking Bulgama, "made mostly out of oak wood, sits at an impressive 231 degrees for intense thermotherapy. As guests lie on the floor, heat helps to loosen muscles, remove toxins and bacteria in the body, and reduce blood pressure -- for an overall cleansing effect."
Holy shit, this place was hot.
Seriously, I could only stay in there less than 5 minutes - I never even moved away from the door. It was scary hot. Lisa took to it more than I did. We took a break after this before heading in to the Clay Sauna, another favorite of mine:

"This natural mud stimulates the lymphatic system and assists in the heavy metal detoxification process."
This photo doesn't explain what this room really is, which is a super hot room filled with billions of tiny red clay balls. Since you can't walk on them very well, there are wooden planks so you can access different areas. Also, there are wooden curved neck supporters and helpfully, a flat screen TV on the wall showing (what else?) a Korean cooking show, which gave me a deep craving for noodles I have yet to address.

After all this, I need an antidote to all that heat, which is why they have the Ice Sauna:

Ahhhhhh! They could have hung sides of beef in here and I would have punched them out of sheer gratitude.

So, after all this, we (finally!) got nekked and explored the womens' floor - hot HOT jacuzzis, cold dip pools, dry saunas, steam room and long rows of grooming stations - showers hoses, bowls, little plastic chairs and shampoo/conditioner/shower gel dispensers. We watched the Korean women all line up and busily groom their feet, their heads and their privates. Applying the when-in-Rome philosophy, I sat down and did the same. Lisa joined me, with some hesitance.

Ultimately, we left the spa around 1:30 a.m., more cleansed, detoxed and purified than I've ever been. We get in to the organized madness of Lisa's car and she puts on the very slow, very live version of 'Hotel California' as we head through downtown LA and off toward Long Beach.

Listening to this classic Golden State anthem, I count the palm trees, note the many helicopters and screaming cop cars and ponder the personal bonds of my home state. Mr. Henley is correct - I can never really leave, no matter where I go.

And again, I feel held.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Launch of Second Chance Ranch

At 46, I’ve learned a few crucial things about myself. Evidently, I’m fond of thrusting my person into super scary scenarios, just to see if I can survive them, either physically or socially. And since I’m not yet dead or ostracized, this habit repeats itself.

Which brings us to the next Big Life Challenge - the creation of Second Chance Ranch, also known as SCRANCH.

After at least 15 years of dragging my heels and daring myself to take me seriously, I’m going to spend a summer living on my family’s land in North Dakota. (That’s North, not South. No, not the one with Mt. Rushmore, the one above it.) I will still be making my living online, as I do now, as a writer, editor and communications contractor. In late October, I will head to less wintry parts of the nation, get a well-earned massage and plot the 2013 crop.

The goal is to see if/how I can grow organic food while trying to understand the Big Ag all around me. I don’t expect to be wildly successful this first year, especially with such a late start, but I do expect to learn a lot while providing endless entertainment for the locals. I may try to sell food at the local Farmers Markets or in the western half of the state, which is going through a freakish population growth due to the oil boom. (Many hair-raising stories to come on that situation....)

Honestly, I’ll be happy if I can just feed myself this first year.

Truth is, there’s only so much you can learn from books, blogs and Michael Pollan articles, especially when reading them from the comfort of one’s urban couch. I want to understand the day-to-day, season-to-season challenges of the farmer, both organic and non. The only way to do that is be there in the thick of it and get really, really dirty. (On this recent trip, I learned the hands-on practice of automated cultivation and the windy politics of pesticide spraying - each one deserving of its own post.)

So, come June, I will pack up my worldly belongings (mostly photos, books, CDs and old concert t-shirts) and haul it all straight north. I’ll put everything in one of the many empty buildings we have and buy an affordable trailer in Grand Forks. There are a few houses on the property (including the house my mother grew up in) but they are quite unlivable, unless you are a raccoon.

To clarify my insanity, I’ll be leaving behind my wonderful best friend and partner, Kirk, our huge, luxurious home, my favorite animals - Boudreaux (cat) and Matisse (dog), numerous friends, our beloved Hearthstone cohousing community and the stunningly beautiful state of Colorado to live in a remote trailer to battle heat, dirt, bugs, pesticides and loneliness. It’s a no-brainer, right?

Lazy Apathetic Heather would not actively seek such discomforts but Crazy Impassioned Heather won the argument with a few key points:

Family: I’m related to gobs of people up there, all quite likable and supportive.
Food: I have deep concerns and need some real-world answers.
Land: Lookie here, I got some!
Animals: Horses would be back in my life, big time. Also, chickens, goats, dogs and barn cats.
Technology: This would be impossible without the Internet. Let us give thanks.
Mission: Everyone needs a legacy and this could be mine.
Creative Goals: I will blog the hell out of this, write a book, and ultimately build a recording studio and outdoor cinema spot.
Financial: Since I would not be paying for rent, storage spaces, street sweeping tickets, Wall Street Journal deliveries, massages or concert tickets, money might be saved.
Emotional: I have always felt a pull to this place for reasons I'm not yet able to articulate.

Fears? I have a massive, stinkin’ heap of those as well. And I’ll battle those bastards, one at a time.