Sunday, July 11, 2010

Certified: The Slacker, the Rat, & Other Friends

(Mario read this and said the experience sounded horrible. I hope everyone realizes upon reading this that I'm not criticizing anyone I met; I am writing about how I experienced the day. I'm sure as time goes on, my views will soften. I do not do well when I'm hot.

I actually believe this course will be amazing! For those of you who've regularly read my blog, you know that I'm sometimes very frank about what I'm feeling about myself and the situations I get myself into. I write about this because I'm interested in processes and how we get from here to there.)

I drove to Seattle for my first residency during a heat wave. A roadside sign in Vancouver flashed a smog alert. "Please reduce driving," it said. Damn. Here I was learning more about sustainability and permaculture, and I was driving during a smog alert.

I couldn't reasonably go back home. That would mean I'd have to quit my classes, so I kept driving. I sang out the Celtic fath fith, to protect me, the car, and everyone else and I headed north.

Like me, the AC in our car doesn't do well on really hot days, and today was no exception. It was a long four and a half hour drive. Traffic was slow off and on, and I was hot and sweaty and crossing my fingers the car didn't overheat.

I got to Seattle around 3:30. Headed into the university district. I was desperate to get inside someplace cool.

I parked the car in the sunny lot by the three story house. I had made arrangements to stay in the apartment of a religious organization. They kept reasonably priced rooms all over the country for travelers as part of their community service. I wasn't religious, and they didn't care.

I got out of my hot car and stepped into stifling heat. City heat is different from country heat, it seems to me. At least in the country you can find a tree or at least a spot of ground to cool your soles. Or so I romanticized as I hurried to the entrance to my new abode. I looked for the key where the hostess told me it would be.

It wasn't there.

I looked again even though I couldn't have missed it. I knocked on the door. No one answered.

What was I going to do now? I had food in the car that needed refrigeration. I needed refrigeration. Where could I go? I didn't know this city.

As I've said before, I have no real sense of Seattle. I had only been to the city a few times. Maybe ten times altogether? I never got a good sense of it. We didn't go more often because the traffic was notoriously awful. It could take four hours to go two hundred miles or it could take six, seven, eight.

Now I couldn't sit out here in the sun waiting to see if the hostess ever came home.

Then the door opened and a woman leaned out. I told her who I was, said the key wasn't there.

"It's been a crazy day," she said. "Come on in."


I stepped into cool darkness. Ahhh. She led me down a very short hall.

"Someone just left," she said. "I haven't had time to change the sheets or clean."

"No hurry," I said. "I can make my own bed."

The door was open to a tiny room. It looked more like a big closet than a room. She handed me the keys and then made my bed. I went out to the car and began bringing stuff in. A few minutes later, the hostess rushed out of the room and I was able to squeeze in.

I wasn't certain what I was expecting, but this wasn't it. I was thinking more apartment or more hotel room. This was like a kid's bedroom. A small kid's bedroom with two very small single beds arranged in a kind of "L" shape. In a couple of places near the window, the walls were streaked with something brown.

I sat on the bed and looked around. It wasn't so bad. If the room stayed cool and I was able to sleep, I could do this. I wished I could smell; the room was in the basement and I wondered if it was moldy or mildewy.

I took my cooler of food to the tiny fridge. I'd made a bunch of food for the potluck on Friday. I needed to store some and freeze some. I opened the door. The fridge didn't feel very cool, and there wasn't a freezer. I crossed my fingers the fridge worked, and I put my food away.

Then I went back to my room and tried the internet. It wasn't working. I wouldn't be able to get some of my work done.

I closed the door to the room, stripped down to my skivvies to cool down, and sat on the bed. I felt alone and isolated. I wanted to engage my beginner's mind about all of this but I just felt miserable and out of place. Why was I doing this? Where did I come up with these ideas, these hair-brained schemes? I felt so tense, teary- and bleary-eyed.

I finally opened up the computer and put in a disk. I'd brought a couple of movies and some comedy shows. I ate a little bit of Mario's steamed veggies and my quinoa.

After a while I got restless and decided to go to a vegetarian café which wasn't far away. I could sit in the air conditioning, order good food, and use their wi-fi.

I drove there without getting lost and found a parking spot, which was no easy feat in that area, and then I went into the cafe. They either had no AC or it was broken. It was stifling. I stood in the middle of the restaurant looking around. I couldn't stay there.

I took my computer and went back out and sat at one of the tables along the building. I opened my computer. I needed directions to a few places. I googled those and saved them. Then I sent a few emails.

Suddenly I heard a young man say, "I don't understand why people just can't be honest. I'm honest."

I looked up and saw a tall young man walking by. Next to him was a shorter blond girl clutching books to her chest.

I looked back down at my computer.

"Why can't people be honest?" he asked. He was talking loudly. "I've had really bad blow jobs. I have had some really bad blow jobs."

I think he said it three times. I laughed. Really, dude? You're about two years old. How many have you actually had?

I watched him and the young woman walk across the street. I wondered what she thought about their public conversation. I couldn't hear a word she was saying.

If she was saying anything at all.

It was too hot to stay outside. I walked across the street to the Wal-Greens. It felt so nice and cool in there.

I couldn't believe I wanted to hang out in a Wal-Greens.

I drove to Whole Foods. I felt proud of myself that I found it. I still didn't have a sense of the city. When I was younger, I was able to find my way almost anywhere. I had an amazing sense of direction. I wondered if all my google.maping was helping to erode my sense of confidence, my sense of place. I needed to get a map of Seattle and figure it out.

Yep. That was the answer.


I returned to my little room. I turned the fan on. Ate some dinner. Talked to Mario. I still felt uncomfortable. I felt hot, fat, ugly. I had gotten my hair cut really short before I left home. I hated it. I looked at myself in the mirror in the bathroom in my little religious house and I thought, "What a pig."

I was so shocked. How could I think such a thing? How could I say such a thing out loud?

I immediately apologized to myself and the woman in the mirror.

When I was a girl, my mother had told me that you should look in the mirror and tell yourself that you're beautiful because you can't count on anyone else to do it.

I had started out so cocky. Smart. Capable. Cute. Now I was unsure of myself, felt awkward and ugly, felt stupid and unaccomplished. Was I going through the teenage years again? Only I hadn't felt ugly then, or stupid or unaccomplished.

Too many years of intermittent depression had warped my brain?

I went back to my room and decided it was normal to feel like a stranger in a strange land. I was a stranger in a strange land.

I tried to sleep. Couldn't. Finally put the movie Pride and Prejudice in the computer and fell to sleep to that.

I dreamed I was in the bathroom hugging Anderson Cooper and telling him he needed to get some rest.

Dreamed some mad man was trying to kill me.

Woke up every half 'n hour or so to pee.

After a while I stopped getting dressed when I had to get up to pee. Figured if I ran into anyone on the way to the bathroom, I'd just tell them it was all a bad dream.

In the morning as I was talking to Mario on the phone, I raised my blinds and looked out the half window to the back of the house. Across the tiny alley was a fence. Various bushes or trees grew here and there amongst some rocks. That sweet light of early morning fell in the alley way. A tiny wren jumped from rock to rock. She stopped and looked at me.

Wrens always reminded me of my friend Linda. She told me she might come back as a wren.

I watched the wren until I saw a rat just under the fence. He walked from rock to rock, too.

I said to Mario, "There's a rat."

"In your room!"

"No," I said. "I'd already be packing my bags. No, it's about five feet away, outside the window. What's the difference between a rat and a mouse?"

"Pretty much size," he said.

"This is a rat then," I said. "Its tail is about a foot long. And you should see the balls on him. They're huge!"

"That's why there's so many of them," he said.

I laughed.

The rat went out of my sight.

I said good bye to my sweetie.

It was time to start this thing.

I drove downtown to the university campus. I parked in shade and hoped it would last. Then I hauled myself and my food inside the campus building and up the stairs. The building felt stuffy and hot.

I found a tiny student lounge with a refrigerator. A woman was in the lounge. She looked past me, like she didn't want to see me. I thought, well this is a good beginning. I put my food away and looked for the permaculture classroom.

It was hot and stuffy inside that room, too, and the woman I'd seen in the lounge was there. She didn't look up when I came in. The only other person in the room, another woman, looked up and we said hello to one another.

When the instructor came in, he rearranged the tables so we were sitting more in an octagon than in a large rectangle. People began arriving. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. It hadn't occurred to me that they were probably all going through the same program together, to get their Master's degrees. Since I already had two Master's degrees, I had decided to get a graduate certificate. No one else was doing that.

I was doing my own lonesome thing. A class of one.

He started the class with introductions. We went around the room and introduced ourselves. Everyone seemed so young. And bouncy. Or something. Excited about their schooling and potential new careers?

I had trouble settling down. I felt like such an outsider. They kept using all these acronyms. "I'm in the C3PO program." "I'm in the ED&X program." I'm making those up but what they were saying sounded just like that.

I remembered when I first started library school many years ago, and everyone talked in these acronyms or abbreviations. It drove me crazy. It felt like a way to keep outsiders from getting access to some kind of secret knowledge.

I wanted to set all the abbreviations free and let them live up to their full potential: by becoming whole words.

Anyway, part of the introductions I didn't understand because of this.

But then we started talking about permaculture.

I first heard about permaculture over a decade ago. The word means permanent agriculture and/or permanent culture. When I first looked over the information about it back then, I was intrigued by the idea of mimicking nature.

I was not so thrilled about the idea of having to use farm animals in order to make your gardens work. I was not interested in keeping rabbits in cages so I could use their poop. (How could anyone put a rabbit in a cage after seeing them run free in nature?) I had grown up a farmer's granddaughter and I knew how difficult farm work was—and how tedious the work and lousy the pay.

I loved gardening. But the part I loved was being with the plants and eating their bounty. I hated pulling weeds. It was like Sisyphus pushing that rock up the hill. And I never liked tilling. I worried about the damage I was doing to the soil and the creatures beneath.

I didn't like the constant, repetitive and back-breaking work of gardening.

Permaculture offered relief from that.

This time when I started exploring permaculture again, I saw that permaculture was not a dogmatic set of rules or ideas that I had to "obey" in order to be successful. If I didn't want to cage rabbits or use goat manure or whatever, I didn't need to.

The idea was to design with nature. Mimic nature. Design sustainable and efficient food systems and gardening systems that were beautiful and abundant.

Permaculture is all about relationships. It's about humans being part of the ecological landscapes. It's about our human landscapes being part of nature.

Permaculture is about social change. It's about visioning and envisioning. About observation. About joy.

I was thrilled when we started talking about permaculture. I was almost able to ignore the heat.

The instructor said every design has two clients: the people and the land itself. Permaculture is about turning bad news into good news. All permaculture is different. We learn from mistakes. It's about thinking about what you're doing. Showing up. "It's a reflective process born of observation," he said. "Remember this. Social change takes time. Social change takes no time. Social change is timeless."

We watched a movie with Bill Mollison, one of the fathers of permaculture. He showed his land where he'd practiced the principles of permaculture. It went from nearly hardpan to tropical forest. He said he worked 30 days over 3 years. After that he could leave for months or more and come back and everything would be fine.

You can't do that with a regular garden. That's one of the differences. The perma in permaculture doesn't mean permanent fields of corn or wheat or soybeans. It's about a permanent, edible forest, filled with perennials. We can eat from it the way animals eat from forests.

With permaculture, the gardens serve multifunctions: they're habitat, they're full of edibles for us and the other creatures, they're beautiful, serene, playful; they build the soil and clean the air.

In permaculture you can learn as much from your failures as your successes.

In the movie, Bill Mollison showed us a garden in India where it was hardpan. Within a couple of years, it was a tropical garden.

After the movie, we talked about relationships in the garden. In nature, plants don't do one thing. This plant fixes nitrogen and provides shade and is edible. This one is beautiful and draws insects to pollinate and make honey. This one provides ground cover, repels insects, and is medicinal.

These kind of partnerships where the plants provide mutual aid to each other and the "garden" are called plant guilds. Toby Hemenway describes these guilds as a "group of plants...harmoniously interwoven into a pattern of mutual support, often centered around one major species, that benefits humans while creating habitat."

The instructor told us how he used permaculture concepts to help a group in Jamaica learn to work together after a longstanding bitterness. I kept thinking about work situations where people held onto long-held beliefs. Could permaculture practices help loosen those kinds of damaging beliefs to reinvigorate work life?

At the lunch break, I offered to drive several people over to the apartment where we were meeting for lunch. As I drove, I looked around and wondered where the trees were. Things looked barren in spots, almost like California--as though we were in a hotter more desert-like climate.

My classmates in the car with me hadn't brought any food. We stopped at a Thai restaurant so they could get lunch. They went in and I stayed outside to watch the car.

I was hot and uncomfortable. The air was extremely polluted and I was coughing. I again wondered what the hell I was doing. We were supposed to spend the afternoon out of doors. I didn't think that was smart on 95 degree days when the air was brown.

Eventually we ended up at the place where we were all meeting for lunch. I was so uncomfortable. I didn't feel well. The heat often makes my heart race. I felt dizzy and a bit nauseated. I had gotten heat exhaustion once when I lived in Tucson and ever since then, my little body just screamed with horror when it got hot.

The lunch house in West Seattle was tiny with no air conditioning.

I wanted to leave. No one talked to me. I didn't talk to anyone. I had to haul all my food up and down stairs. It was all in glass jars so it was heavy. I couldn't keep it in the car because it was so hot and I needed it for the potluck.

We finally drove to the instructors house, a short distance away. It was 1:30. I had barely eaten or drank anything. I felt dizzy and sick. And freaking hot.

I opened the trunk of the car before we went into the house to get my inhaler. I dropped by keys in my purse in the trunk.

And then I shut the trunk.

I was four and a half hours from home and I had just locked my keys in the trunk of my car.

I couldn't believe it.

By now, the stress of the heat, of being away from home while I was hungry and dehydrated, took over. I went into the house--which was not air-conditioned--and I felt panicked. What was I going to do?

Fortunately the instructor's parents were visiting from Arizona. They gave me their triple A card. We called them and they promised to send out a locksmith in an hour or two.

I went out to the deck where everyone else sat listening to the instructor. I didn't have anything to write with. Everything was all in my trunk. I didn't have any water. It was in my trunk too.

Class started.

I don't remember anything.

I only remember when I got up someone had taken my seat. I didn't have anywhere to sit or stand. It was too hot and sunny.

I just wanted to go home.

We were instructed to break up into groups of four and look at the permaculture design and the various systems around the instructor's house. The three people in my group apparently knew one another. They huddled around one another and pointed out things to each other. When I drew near, they walked away. When I said something, they never acknowledged me.

Was this high school?

No, in high school, I was popular.

And not in a bad way. I was friendly with all the different groups.

As we wandered around for an hour, this ostracizing happened again and again.

OK. So I was the new kid. Why try to include me? Why try to make a relationship with me? But wasn't the entire philosophy of this university to build relationships?

Maybe it was me. Maybe I stank. Maybe I seemed aloof.

Maybe they didn't want to be around someone who had so foolishly locked her keys in the trunk.

Maybe they were hot and miserable and only wanted to talk to each other.

Eventually someone came and got me and said the locksmith had arrived. By the time I got up to where the car was, I saw a young man standing next to my car with the trunk open.

I laughed and shouted, "You are my hero!"

He grinned.

He asked for my keys. I fetched them from the trunk and gave them to him. Then he leaned over and did some more fiddling. I saw part of a tattoo on his back, near his waist. I was so tempted to lift up his shirt so I could see the rest of it.

"Yep," he said. "When it comes to locks, I'm the magic man. I know I may look like a slacker, but I can do the work."

I said, "Honey, I don't judge people that way. Look at me, I've got white hair and everyone thinks I'm seventy."

He laughed. "Yeah, everyone thinks I'm fifteen but I'm thirty-two."

He stood up. I smiled and held out my hand. He shook it, firmly.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Mike," he said.

"Thanks a lot, Mike," I said.

We let go of each other's hands, and he went back to his truck. I waved.

Then I went into the house and hugged the parents of the instructor. What a kind thing they had done for me.

I went back down to the bottom of the property to where everyone else was. I had forgotten to get my notebook, so I still couldn't take notes. It was too hot to climb the four stories back to the car. I sat on the grass and tried to listen.

I just wanted to get out of the heat.

Went inside and watched a movie about permaculture in California.

I slipped on the stairs and nearly fell but I saved myself.


We all ate potluck.

I put out my quinoa and black beans.

There was plenty of food. I shouldn't have hauled all that food all the way from home. Why had I done it? Was I trying to impress them? Make friends? Be part of the group?

No one cared one way or another.

None of the students talked to me. The instructor asked me a question or two, probably out of politeness.

I talked to his parents.

I've always gotten along with people older than I am.

I wondered if no one wanted to talk to me because they thought I was old.

But old people are the most interesting!

I've always thought so.

Probably their not talking to me didn't have anything to do with me.

They just wanted to talk to each other.

See, I was always the one at any party or gathering who made sure no one felt left out.

Right then, I was too tired to take care of myself or make friends or do anything.

I just wanted to go home.

Right now my home was on the other side of the bridge on the other side of the freeway in the basement of an old house, a few feet from a rat with huge testicles.

I asked someone for directions to get back. I listened vaguely. I didn't really care.

I grabbed my stuff, said good bye to the parents, and left. Got in the car and drove. Figured out a way to get out of this part of town and get onto that free way.

Was relieved to be on my own.

Glad to get home to my little basement room.

But first I drove to Whole Foods. I got a couple of frozen dinners and a box of gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

Went back to the room. Microwaved the dinner. Went into my room and closed the door. Sat in my skivvies cooling off again and eating.

I watched the part of Pride and Prejudice I hadn't seen last night. The part where he is walking across the field at sunrise toward her. I love that scene. He's beautiful and vulnerable. It feels so romantic.

I thought about why I liked this movie. It always perplexed me. And I suddenly knew why.

I liked it because the man showed up. When he figured out the problem and what he could do about it, he just did it.

That's always been my definition of romantic. I've never liked presents or flowers or candies or any of that stuff. I liked men who truly showed up.

That's what my dad did. He worked at his job and when he was home, he was home for us. He helped us with our homework. He taught us how to do things. He took us places. He was there with us. He showed up.

My husband is the same way. Whenever I see this movie, I think of Mario. Think of how he has shown up every day of our marriage. He isn't a juvenile kind of man and neither is my father. They don't sit around drinking with their friends and whining about their wives like all the men in movies do. Or they don't sit around watching TV and not participating in the functioning of the household like so many men in real life do.

Mario shows up. After thirty years, his eyes still light up when he sees me. He still laughs the hardest when I'm funny. And he thinks I'm hysterical. His breath still catches in his throat when he sees me naked. He makes spring rolls for me when I've been away. Once when I was gone for a week, he left a half-eaten apple on the table because it reminded him of me (because I was on the one who had eaten it). He even wrote a poem about it!

I love people who show up. I'm tired of people who have dropped out. Tired of people who want to stay in adolescence.

That was why I liked that movie. They remained true to who they were and they showed up for one another.

I watched the movie to the end and thought of my husband so far away.

I wondered why I was here, alone, instead of at home in bed with him.

Because I was trying to learn to show up better.

To be more effective.

To build better relationships.

Some thing.

It's tough being around other people and feeling alone.

I had trouble sleeping.

I ate the box of cookies.

Yep, I truly showed up for those cookies. They were my best friends in the world.


Anonymous said...

Oh, so much in your little blog entry! I do hope the class gets better for you. What you said about showing up was good for me to hear. Bud always shows up and takes care of things--sometimes I want something other than that, but you have helped to remind me how very special and loving that really is.

VQ said...

Did you check out this option on your way to the sustainability program in Seattle? The course didn't attract enough participants to make it go in the Gorge, but seems like a simpler route. Just trying to look out for you. The lovable creature that you are.

VQ said...

I forgot this part-

Kim Antieau said...

You mean they tried to do it in the gorge? I missed that. There is a sustainable building certificate program at the community college in Portland. I'm not going to go for the whole program (too much stuff I already know--not interested in redundancy just for the sake of a certificate) but I am going to take some of the courses, if they're better than the one I tried earlier in the summer.

Thanks for looking out for me! xoxo

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