Into the wild

Egon is going camping for his 16th birthday anniversary celebration.

I wonder aloud the sensibleness of sending eight 16-year-olds into the woods with only two 18-year-olds as oversight (Shara & Aubrey).

“Six,” says Egon.

“Oh, who are you inviting?” I ask.

“Vaclav, Asher, Oscar, Paige, Jack.”

Paige’s father is notoriously Victorian in his attitude toward his daughters and boys.  Paige slept over after prom, but only because she was technically spending the night with Shara.

I mention to Egon that perhaps Paige’s father would not be keen on allowing her to camp out with a bunch of teenage boys.

“But Paige has to come – she’s bringing the machetes!”

Oh yeah, this is gonna go great.



There are these people.

There are these people at critical moments in time in your personal journey that influence you, shape you, help you form yourself.  They may be positive influences, they may provide challenges that, by working through, build your character.  It may be that their real impact is not dealt until years later, with reflection and internalization.

It may be that your intersection with them was only fleeting in the scope of life, but powerful.  Or it may be that their presence and effect is constant and ongoing.

How do I characterize these people?  In my head and heart I call them my dearest, bestest friends – though in day to day life I may never talk with them, or in the span of decades see them only rarely.

That critical moment when you are neck deep in personal growth, with its two steps forward, five steps back, with a sideways lurch off the path followed by a rapid ascent, and you are surrounded constantly by these people, these oh-so-important people, every waking minute.  When their impact is imprinted in your gray matter in a way that makes them part of you indelibly.

Even after lives move us apart and keep us “too busy” to stay in touch, reverberations of our youthful bonds still act on our psyches.

I miss them fiercely, love them dearly and am forever indebted to them for their impact on me.  I regret the choices that took me away from them, and the time that has gone by since we were enmeshed in each other’s every day existences.

I miss dancing all night in bare feet on a floor covered in beer and cigarette butts, taking breaks to talk about psychology or art, and knowing I was surrounded and supported by a web of youthful love and optimism.

Mr. Suave

Egon charms people.  All of them.  The nutritionist.  His (poor, beleaguered) teachers.  Shara.  Us.  He is funny and thoughtful and empathetic.

And sometimes he quivers with moral outrage.

I was forwarded a job posting for “Youth Tobacco Compliance Inspectors”  These are the 15-17 year old teens who go into convenience stores and try to buy cigarettes. I thought maybe this would appeal to Egon’s sense of adventure and role-playing (this is the kid who dresses as Walter White and drops off paper bags on friends’ porches).  So I brought home the flyer.

Egon was disgusted and appalled.  “That is a TERRIBLE job.  That is a bad job!  Everyone would hate me!” he threw back as he marched upstairs.  Then he paused half-way up the flight, and added over his shoulder, “That would really mess with people’s trust issues.”

Later, eating dinner, he dribbled half of a mouthful back into his bowl.  In response to our astonished expressions, he said, “Something healthy got in my mouth by accident.”

I was just brought to tears by a gospel choir singing at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday celebration.

I am not religious.  I don’t believe in any higher power, I am a strict adherent of the tenets of science.  I am an all-American mutt – though my origins are largely northern/eastern European (pale, blonde, protestant).  So I don’t have a cultural well-spring, a source of rituals or philosophies that provides a thread back through my genealogy.  In fact, my personal history is one of avoiding repetition and tradition as much as possible (much to the kids’ annoyance).  I hate taking the same route between two points twice.  I can’t conceive of the idea of every Friday being spaghetti night, or joining a bowling league that meets regularly.  My mantra is spontaneity. The closest I come to participating in tradition or pattern is that our Thanksgiving meal is always centered on a timpano – and that is only because the kids have insisted on it.

Today, listening to the gospel choir singing gorgeously in praise of their god, or watching and hearing the Ho-Chunk Nation dancers moving to the drumbeat of their ancestors, I felt a sense of bereftness, that there is a hole in my life where pageantry and cultural connectivity should be.  My people are individualists, lone rangers, stoic self-contained workaholics.  I’ve never experienced being one of many, seeing myself as a part of a whole rather than whole unto myself.

Saturday morning, after the dog park, D & I hit up Mickey’s Tavern for a brunch feed.  Sitting at the bar, wedged amongst the obvious regulars, I felt the need for both ritual and group — for a gang with whom I spend every Saturday at Mickey’s, drinking screwdrivers and bloody marys and noshing on waffles.  I wanted desperately to be a Mickey’s regular, known by name and favorite beverage to the staff and patrons.  This is my culture, these are my people.  (OK, admittedly sad that I relate best to morning drinking bar culture, but I have lived in Wisconsin the majority of my life…)

I swayed and clapped and stomped my feet today, feeling like a goofy, unrhythmic white girl, but doing it just the same.  For an hour, I felt like I belonged.  Maybe belonging isn’t so bad, maybe traditions and habits are ok to cultivate.  Maybe I’ll be at Mickey’s on Saturday morning, greeting the bartender and smiling at the other patrons, starting to feel at home.

Madtown Blues

We just spent a weekend in Chicago.  I spend a lot of time saying how awesome Madison is, how it’s the greatest city to live in, blah blah blah.  I lie.  Chicago is better.  Here’s a breakdown:



1 comic book shop – total

On Clark Street alone, there are 2 comic shops within 8 blocks of each other

public transportation – laughable bus system w/”transfer points” placed in out-of-the-way, hard to get to places

The El

diners open 24 hours?  IHOP.

diners open 24 hours?  Most street corners.

2 art museums; one can be seen in its entirety in 45 minutes (bonus points to Madison: both are free)

the Art Institute…plus dozens of other museums and galleries

2 independently owned used bookstores

5 independently owned used bookstores within walking distance of the University of Chicago

army surplus store?  torn down to build the Overture Center for suburbanites

army surplus store? Chitown’s got both hipster versions AND the real deal run by vets

Asian tapas?  Nope.

Asian tapas?  You betcha!!

most of the decent music venues here burned down decades ago (moment of silence for the Club de Wash, O’Cayz and the Regent St. Retreat)

Cabaret Metro.

Madison dog parks are superior, though.

coming off injured reserve

Tonight was the WLCV holiday party.  I stopped by after my CSN meeting got out.  Anne in a little purple dress, beer, hugs from Matt D.?  Couldn’t miss out.

For a long time, from 1997 through the first half of this year, I was dedicated to the conservation of natural stuff in and around Wisconsin, through working at the Nature Conservancy, volunteering with WLCV, consulting with land trusts around the state, participating in collaborations and partnerships, and giving of my meager charitable dollars.  Along the way I became enmeshed in this web of amazing people working amazingly hard to protect amazing places.  I was a piece of a larger whole, my Venn diagram overlapping with so many others.  A roster of familiar faces would mix and merge in multitudes of combinations.  I found a community and a cohort of friends. 

I’ve since moved apart from that group, into a new realm that focuses on developing opportunities for people of few means, of creating a community from disparate parts.  I use the same skills I always have in my new job: facilitation, planning, organizing, coaching, pushing and prodding, just with different goals in mind.

Tonight’s half-hour spent at the holiday party brought home for me just how much I loved being a part of that larger effort, and what I miss about it.  I had little to talk about other than “oh holy cow it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you!”  I gotta get back in the game.

Scene:  Willalby’s diner, mid-day Sunday.  Participants:  Egon, Shara, me, waiter (sole front of house staff).

We are discussing various bodily alterations, the necessity thereof and payment therefor.  Shara is planning her third tattoo (she has one, but the second is being handed over to our tattooist, for him to do whatever he wants).

Egon:  You’re paying for this, right mom?

Me:  No.  I’ll pay for necessities, like food and underwear, but body alterations are a personal lifestyle choice and thus paid for by you.

Shara:  I do need new bras.

Me:  OK, I’ll buy you those.

Waiter:  Wearing underwear is a personal lifestyle choice. I’m not wearing any.

Me:  Good point.  OK, I won’t pay for underwear.  Just food and shelter.  

Waiter:  I am wearing longjohns.

Shara:  That’s a lifestyle choice!

Waiter & Me, nearly simultaneously:  Not in Wisconsin in December – it’s a necessity!