Notes from the Mountaintop

Saturday, August 21, 2010 4:58pm MST

It’s beautiful up here, but my iPad’s 3G seems a bit challenged. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to post anything “live” for the next several days. Which is probably a good thing.

I’m supposed to be on vacation, but I’m feeling so stressed. I don’t think it was really the drive up here, but I suppose it could be. Maybe it was the program we were listening to in the car. I really hate David Sedaris, but it’s probably because I’m jealous. How come he gets to make his boring, everyday life so interesting, while I’m sitting here, spirit central, not able to think of anything to say? Okay, so let’s face it. It’s been a stressful last couple of months. Last couple of years. Whatever. I’m still angry, still battling my Balrog, still liable to find myself trapped in the dark, anxious and terrified, with nothing to do but go on.

We’ve been watching “Soap” on Netflix a lot this past week or so. You know the episode where Jessica tries to convince her sister Mary that their family is cursed? Jessica’s husband Chester is cheating on her, although it’s unclear whether Jessica knows this; Jessica has been having an affair with what turns out to be Mary’s second husband Bert’s son; Mary’s son Danny is wanted by the mob, while her son Jody wants to have a sex change. And these are just some of the things that Jessica and Mary know about.

Well, my family is not quite as colorful as the Tates and the Campbells, but we do have what sometimes feels like more than our fair share of secrets. For the most part, ours are somewhat open secrets, the kind everyone talks about in hushed voices and worried tones, like illnesses and alcoholism and problems at work, but there are some secrets that only a few of us have shared with each other. There are probably others that nobody in the family knows, but perhaps should. I am privy to some of these secrets, while keeping a few of my own.

And you know what? I’m sick of it. Sick of the secrets and lies and confidences and “Don’t tells.” Sick of feeling like everyone knows what everyone else is thinking but nobody will talk about it. Sick of feeling poisoned by the need to pretend that I don’t know things that I do. Sick of knowing that there are things going on that I wish weren’t but can’t say anything about. I know, I know. Par for the course. All families have problems like these. But I can still fantasize about having a family for whom infidelities and addictions and feuds are just something that families have on television, right?

If only I were David Sedaris and could make humor out of it.

6:01pm MST

According to those who live down on the High Plains, groceries up here in the mountains are expensive. Just as expensive, in fact, as groceries in our neighborhood in Chicago. Good thing we didn’t worry about shopping before we left.

6:15pm MST

Vacation To Do
1. Keep running blog.
2. Take long walks on the mountain with the Dragon Baby.
3. Play Mahjong Solitaire (iPad version).
4. Read mystery novels.
5. Plan syllabus for autumn course (“Animals in the Middle Ages”).
6. Cook.
7. Go to Chimayo and get more holy dirt.
8. Make love to my husband.
9. Practice shooting arrows at the archery butt.
10. Watch movie videos on the laptop.
11. Redo my manicure.
12. Do yoga on the deck.

Sunday, August 22, 2010 7:02am MST

There’s a sort of competition in my family for enjoying the mountains here in New Mexico. My father was the worst: “Look at them! Aren’t they beautiful? Oh, you kids don’t appreciate them. Not really. You can’t. You just don’t understand.”

“Oh, yes,” we would try to reassure him. “We love them! We love being here!” But he never seemed to believe us. The mountains, he would seem to be saying, spoke to him in a way that none of us could possibly grasp. Their mystery. Their magnificence. The sheer power of their land.

My siblings and I are the same, each mostly convinced the others just don’t get it. I always loved coming here to New Mexico when we were growing up. We lived in Albuquerque from the time I was six months old. Despite the fact that I was not, like my siblings, born here, there is something of this landscape in my blood. And yet, my father was right, in a way: I don’t really want to live here.

I realize I already wrote this post—or a version of this post—last summer, when we were staying in Santa Fe. I didn’t have my Magic Puppy then to help me appreciate being outdoors, but my sister was there with her dog and we took a number of walks. Now what I miss is doing the meditation that I was practicing last summer. I have the music timer on my BlackBerry now. I think maybe I need to do some practice.

Monday, August 23, 2010 6:58am MST

HTSS: Day 15, Aches & Pains

My wrist has starting hurting again from when I fell last November retreating too quickly in an epee tournament, so I can’t do my yoga, which means I’m all stiff.

The big toenail that one of my opponents stepped on at Summer Nationals is hanging by an edge, about to fall off.

My crotch is itching worse than it ever has, despite the ointment, which makes other activities a little anxious-making.

I haven’t had a cigarette in over two weeks, but I’m drinking coffee to help with the altitude and eating meat to help with the insulin jags.

I thought stopping smoking was supposed to make me feel better, so why do I feel worse?

3:21pm MST

The trackball on my BlackBerry is broken, so I’m having trouble even checking my email. It’s good to be here, up in the mountains, out of touch with the rest of the world. How often does that happen these days? Not that I think being in touch is generally a bad thing. It’s just that it can get so relentless, worrying about whether one is caught up. There is no catching up, only staying in touch, which is hard all by itself. What would it be like to live in a world with no writing or telecommunications, sharing one’s thoughts only with those with whom one came into contact in person?

3:24pm MST

I have no idea what to eat anymore.

This diet says that onions, garlic and mushrooms are bad for me, but that one cites their curative properties. Here I am told it is a bad thing to eat meat; there it is claimed I can’t possibly be healthy without it. Dairy, good or bad? Eggs, good or bad? Alcohol, good or bad? Most of the books that I’ve read in the past few years seem to agree that sugars, above all high-fructose corn syrup, are bad; likewise, partially hydrogenated fats. But what about wheat? Or potatoes? Or cashews? Or fruit juices? Can I eat cake? What about ice cream? And don’t even get me started on chocolate.

Every diet seems to have its miracle foods; likewise, every diet has its demons. I rather suspect Michael Pollen’s advice is closest to the mark: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. But Isabel De Los Rios is strong on animal proteins, particularly for those like me who tend to get a big insulin rush off of sugars, even fruits. It can’t be a bad thing to cut down on the sweets, but one of the 7 Secrets of Slim People is “Eat what you want most,” and sometimes what I really want most (or seem to) is sweets. And so on.

In the past five years, since I started gaining back the weight I lost when I first started fencing, I’ve tried to make myself think like a French woman (and a French cat), vamp up my metabolism, eat only foods with lots of prana, shop like a Skinny Bitch, eat like a Slim Person, and cook according to the Diet Solution. I’ve snacked on trail mix (French woman) and cookies (Slim Person), cooked lentils (Yoga Cookbook) and steak (Diet Solution). I’ve kept diaries about what I eat when (Slim Person) and how it makes me feel; counted calories (Diet Solution), not counted calories (most everything else, including the Diet Solution ideally); weighed myself daily (long habit), and thrown away my scales (Slim Person). I’ve eaten what I want when I want (Slim Person), followed diet plans (Ultrametabolism, Diet Solution), shopped for fresh fruits and veggies (Michael Pollen, French woman, Diet Solution), cut out breads and other baked goods (all of the above, except Slim Person), eaten them anyway (Slim Person).

At no point have I actually managed to cut calories (much), which is probably a good thing, as the current wisdom would seem to be that diets (in the sense of giving your body significantly less food than it needs to function) don’t work, indeed, typically make things much worse, but neither have I graduated into the ranks of slim people who don’t worry about their weight because they eat only what their bodies need. Not that I am--I now appreciate--anything close to being actually fat: my clothing size hovers around a medium 10 and I rather suspect I am in somewhat better shape muscle-mass-wise than I realize. But here I am, still worrying about it, which is a problem in itself.

How I want to be slim! To feel my legs fold over one another when I cross them! To look in the mirror and see only muscle rippling over my stomach! To be able to stand straight without feeling my thighs! And yet, none of these things seem to matter late at night when the craving for ice cream hits or after practice when I am just so hungry or when we are out to eat and the food is simply so good. Except then the indigestion hits. I feel sluggish or compelled to eat more and more sweets (this is the insulin rush). I feel heavy from eating too much meat or cranky and worry that it is the aggression of eating an animal. Here it seems normal to want coffee; there it feels like yet another addiction. Are the aches and pains that I’m feeling a result of eating meat these past few weeks? Or would I be feeling even worse if I hadn’t managed to cut down on the sugars?

Or perhaps I am simply chasing a will-o’-the-wisp, imagining that if only I could get my diet right, I would be in perfect health.

6:41pm MST

Everything in this cabin (actually more of a house) screams 1980s: the A-frame style main room with its pitched roof and great picture windows, the overstuffed sofa and chairs with their giant ottomans and light brown upholstery, the heavy “country-style” coffee table, the venetian blinds and pine-paneled walls, the pale linoleum and countertops, the electric stove and microwave, the state-of-the-art hi-fi with record player and double cassette decks, the wall-to-wall carpeting in all of the rooms. My grandfather had this house built for us after his wife, our grandmother, died. I don’t know quite what he hoped for us in building it; certainly, that we would come here more often than we typically do. I don’t know how often my uncles and cousins, that is, my mother’s brothers and their families, get over here, but we have only been once in the past five years. These five days will be the longest my husband and son have ever spent at the “cabin.”

Why is that? You’d think with a second home that the family could share we would be here every summer and winter, hiking when the mountains are green, skiing when they are white. But we haven’t been, and it makes me a little bit sad. In some ways, this cabin is more home to me than anywhere else, other than our actual home in Chicago. It’s been here through so many changes in my life. I was here with one of my boyfriends from college, then with my first husband, then with my love, now for only the second (or is it third?) with my son. The last time the three of us were here was for a family reunion—the Browns on my mother’s mother’s side—just after my father died. I spent the day making a giant genealogical chart, showing the descendents of my grandmother and her three sisters, many of whom were here. This cabin defines my family: who comes here, who has shared it over the years. Coming here is like going back in time.

There are so many things that have changed in the thirty years since this house was built: for starters, the laptop that I am typing these musings on, the genre in which I am writing, the mode of publication that I am using to share my thoughts with my family and friends. There are the phones that we can use to keep in touch with our family while we are up here and the DVDs that we are watching on the laptop instead of the TV. There are fashions in clothing and dog training, expectations about how we talk about one another, the relative age of our population. It is hard for me to imagine a world without the books that I have read that have been published over this time or the movies that I have seen. In so many ways, it seems our lives are so very much richer than they were then. The varieties of tea and chocolate that we now enjoy, the music (particularly the popularity of kirtan and Gregorian chant), the yoga classes in every health club, the internet: how could we possibly live without this plethora of choice?

And yet, here on the mountaintop, it is hard to feel that anything essential has actually changed. The trees are bigger, but the meadows are still the same. The thunder still rolls over the summits and valleys just as it did even before this house was here. There are cars and indoor toilets, electrical lights and central heating and air conditioning, refrigerators and stoves, just as there were in 1983. Perhaps the world feels itself to be more interconnected than it was then, but I rather suspect that this is an illusion of age. Of course, I love the Internet. I was surfing it just this afternoon looking for remedies for this week’s particular pain. And I love my iPad, being able to carry so much information in such a small device. It’s like the science fiction that I used to read. But I still spent much of today reading a book—and there have been books for thousands of years. Nor can all of this information, now so readily available, save me from the frustrations that I feel living in this bodily self.

Or perhaps it’s just this house, taking me back in time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 7:32pm MST

I was wrong. I actually like that our family’s cabin is three days’ drive from where my husband, son and I live. It is going to take us that many days to get back home, which is much more comforting than getting on a plane tomorrow and being back in Chicago by dinnertime.

8:15pm MST

Vacation Index

Walks in the woods, over-an-hour long, taken, with husband or son: 6
Mystery novels, read: 3
Trips to the grocery store: 2
Steak dinners, eaten by humans: 3
Steaks (raw), eaten by Dragon Baby: 1
Bottles of Vouvray, drunk, with orange juice: 1
Episodes of “House, M.D.,” season five, watched, on DVD: 24
Games of “Magic: The Gathering,” played, with son: 1
Top score in iPad Mahjong Solitaire, Columns layout, with son’s help: 99,637,722
Full moons seen rising over the mountains: 1
Space stations spotted: 1
Deer spotted: 1
Ground squirrels chased by Dragon Baby: Dozens
Good nights’ sleep: 4 1/2
Cathartic discussions: 1 (see Walks)
Syllabuses written: 0
Emails answered: Almost none


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