Friday, August 31, 2012


It should come as no surprise to you that I am a total pansy. Not only am I terrified of spiders, heights, and all things serpentine, but I am just as afraid of the dark now as I was as a child. My siblings may fondly remember me pounding up the stairs at night as fast as my feet could carry me, arriving totally out of breath and shaking, while one of them remarked "Oh, that's just Jenni, running from the dark again." Yes. The dark is a horrible place, okay? And all basements are portals to hell. Anyway, I think we've established pansy-ness.

Mr. Awesome and I spent a full day of our stay in Orkney on a small island called Rousay which is known (at least to the three people who live there) as "the Egypt of the north," or in other words: tombs. Lots and lots of tombs.

Getting to the island was actually one of freakiest things Mr. Awesome and I have done together, because that ferry ride? NUTS! Even Mr Awesome admitted to have been terrified. He was shocked at how calm I had been, until I explained to him that my stillness was not me being calm. It was me vacating my body entirely.

When we arrived on the island, shaken but not stirred, we had what basically amounted to a treasure map with little Xs marking the spots of the tombs. Blackhammer Cairn was the first one we managed to locate, and finding it took some doing, I tell you. First of all, it was very cold, a little rainy, and super muddy. Since that kind of described our whole trip, it was sort of par for the course. But this was also a bit of a hike, in the cold, wet mud, along a steep sheep-trail, against the wind. And when we got there, we saw....nothing. Just a sort of hill with a big metal door over it. Mr. Awesome, never put-out or annoyed by anything, cheerily clicked a few photos of the grass and the view back down the hill, and turned around to leave asking "So which way next, sweetie?"

Wait, what? I just hauled my big butt up this slippery FREEZING hill against homicidal winds, after narrowly escaping death by ferry-travel, and all I get to see is this oversized lump of sod? Oh HELL no.

I walked up to that iron door and without saying a word, yanked with all my might until it slid to the side enough for me to pass. Then, without even pausing for breath, I did one of the most badass things I've ever done in my life: I climbed right down into the subterranean gloom of a prehistoric tomb BY MYSELF and when I got there, you know what I said?

Pass me the camera, Pansy.

Those nightmares I had for the next few days were totally worth this moment.

This is Yarso, a two storied cairn, looking down into the lower level just before I climbed down that ladder.

Don't be fooled by the light on this one, that's the flash from the camera. Otherwise the pool of light at the bottom of the ladder is the only light down there.

Midhowe Cairn, aka The Giant Ship of Death. It's the biggest and most recent tomb we saw, and since it's above ground and covered by an aircraft hanger, it would seem less scary. Archaeologists did find the remains of 25 people in this thing, though.
I'd like this story to have some sort of moral to it, something about being brave or taking risks or something. But in reality, it's just a story about this one time when I surprised everyone, including myself, by climbing down into a tomb alone. Then again, I was also completely aware that Mr. Awesome had my back, and that he would immediately follow me into the dark. Isn't there a song about that?

Thursday, August 30, 2012


There is this causeway off the northwestern coast of mainland Orkney that only appears when the tide is out. Twice a day it rises out of the ocean and you can walk along its slippery path to Birsay, where there are some viking ruins and occasionally puffins. This is looking back toward mainland.
I'm pretty much in love with this picture.

Do you see right there a little to the right of center, that turquoise seaweed stuff? Yeah. And closer in the foreground, the white spots against the rocks? Tiny, perfect seashells. And way back in the distance, the cliffs of mainland and the endless clouds? Exactly.

I've been thinking a bit about what I want out of life. I have always been afraid of plan B, because you only get just this one chance and if you don't go with what you really want to do well...then you've given up, haven't you? I've never wanted to be just okay with my life, to be merely content.

I went to Ornkey only a few weeks after I closed the door on what I had always thought was plan A, a little broken inside and a whole lot of numb. On our second day there, I sat across the table from Mr. Awesome in the little cafe near Skarra Brae, drinking hot soup and dripping seawater onto the floor. He was still raving about the viking ruins we had seen that morning at Birsay, and the crazy picture we took of him straddling a crack in the massive cliffs. My fingers were frozen from picking seashells out of the icy water and my hair was a windblown mess not even a mother could love. I was so much more than content.

I was nearly in tears as I took this picture. When I got my hands on him afterward, I didn't know whether to hug him or nut him. I think I tried both at once.

"...sweat, tears, or the sea."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Conversations with 12 year old boys

Oh my dears, I So Do Not Care About Sports! Except, as we sat there in that small windowless space with chalkdust in the air and mop-headed boys leaning their chairs back and expounding on the awesomeness of baseball, I did care. Oh yes, I did. With their eyes huge and their words almost slurring in the need to express just how amazing bobsledding is and can-you-believe-Michael-Phelps-has-like-a-bagillion-gold-metals!!! I was mezmerized. I don't know why. I never even bother to tell them not to lean their chairs back like that. Instead I bring a bag of starburst and we talk about football.

I was deeply annoyed when we were first assigned to teach the twelve-year old's Sunday School class. How is it possible that this is now the best calling I've ever had in my life? Everyone says nursery is where you really fall in love with the kids because they're just so little and cute. Well, nursery nearly did me in. Twelve year old boys are much more fun to talk to. Excuse me, thirteen-year old boys! Let us not forget, three of them had a birthday and are now, officially, teenagers. It's important, dudes. As important as Usain Bolt's shoes.

The fetch?

Friday, August 3, 2012

I'll be funny again tomorrow, promise.

"Don't you think it's so funny how you're life is turning out?"

No. No I do not. And as she sat there at my kitchen table, grinning and laughing about "how my life has turned out", I felt like throwing up. I don't accuse her of maliciousness, as I think she was genuinely amused for me and not at me. But I am not amused. Not at all.

I don't remember when I decided to get a PhD, or how long it's been since I've seen myself as a professor. Seems like that's always been the plan, though I know it hasn't (didn't I once harbor faint ambition to be a singer? for like....a week in high school maybe?). And then there was this fantastic grad program that fit my interests and credentials like a glove. And I applied and got some great feedback from them and some unofficial "we want you, are you still interested?" emails.

But I also had some friends and coworkers who had run that grad-school gamut already, who told me it was a blast...and they didn't quite but almost sort of regretted it because it didn't end up landing them a job, like, at all. And some of them are not giving up just yet. And others have taken that PhD and accepted jobs not at all in their field of study. And none of them said not to go for it, but you know, it's not a fairytale here. Really.

And that PhD program? It's not around these parts. Which would be great since "these parts" have some of the highest costs of living in the country. Except, I don't harbor any ambition to move to a dying old city in the middle of nowhere and, as much as DC summer kicks my butt, I'm even worse at long, ugly winters (I think). And the closer we came to leaving this city, the more I realized how much I love it here. And then the cherry blossoms came out again.

I started to think about my own sense of entitlement, too. Quite deeply. For me to go on and get that degree in religious studies, someone else (likely various someone elses) would have to fork over the cash so I could become an expert in goddess worship. I see no reason why I should not be an expert in the worship of female deities, only that I'm not sure why it would be worthwhile to anyone else. That is to say, I think learning and knowledge are vital to the continuation and improvement of the human race and condition, but I was never really sure that my own contribution would be all that helpful. And then it seemed that the world is flooded with people who study what they want to study, but do all of them really pay back to the academic community what their education cost them? I don't mean financially, but intellectually and philosophically? Can I ask someone else to pay for me to study and write about this? Do I honestly believe it will be worthwhile to them? I don't know. (Please don't get me wrong. I think foodstamps are great. This is about my own sense of entitlement and not some overarching political statement. I'm not interested in judging others here, merely myself.)

All of things things, and a few others besides, contributed to the fact that I'm not going to graduate school. And it breaks my heart right in two. It is not a joke for me. It is not some funny giggly, who'd-a-thunk moment in my life. It's terribly sad. It will affect everything I do from now on. I now doubt I'll be able to be a mother, because I'm afraid I'll either push my kids to follow the road I didn't take so I can live vicariously through them, or base my entire self worth on my children until they fall apart under the pressure. And when I meet someone new, I don't like to talk about what I am doing with my life anymore, in casual get-to-know-you style. I've started to hate having people ask me "So, what's going on in your life?" and I've kind of stopped answering with anything of substance. Ask me that, and I'm more likely to talk about the weather than anything else. But it comes down to this: I have decided to give up on graduate school, and as a result, I don't really know who I am anymore.

I've been offered a couple of new positions at my current company. Technically I work for two companies right now, one owned by the other. They each asked me to come over full-time to their side and were both super flattering about it. Eventually I chose one and will be transitioning over to a new set of responsibilities and opportunities. I've also stared taking some graphic design courses at a local arts college. I'll be enrolling this fall in a certificate program, so that in a year I'll have not only the credentials but the real life experience of a graphic designer, since my new position is basically full-time graphic design. I harbor no illusions that this will make me an actual graphic designer, but it will be fun and marketable. Something I can do full time, or part-time, or even from home if I get over my fear of being destructo-mom and decide to start gestating. More than anything, it's a chance to try something very challenging for me, and hopefully something very rewarding. It's an outlet for some creativity, but it will also require me to be relentlessly creative, which is daunting and new. I don't pretend to be a creative genius, or even anything out of the ordinary. But I want to try, because there is something I need to find out about myself: Am I more than a mocking-bird?

I've always excelled in academia, and underneath it all I've wondered if it's because I am nothing more than a good student--capable of giving a professor exactly what they want, but nothing further. Is my strength limited to the assignments I am given? I can rock a standardized test like you would not believe, but am I capable of making something of my own? My mother would assure me (and you) that I am very capable of it. I hope she's right. I'm about to find out.

But honestly, truthfully, I don't want to talk to you about it. To you, or anyone else. Giving up grad-school has torn a little hole in my soul, and I can't drag that out and let you poke at it in casual conversation. As much as you might want to. As curious as you might be. As funny as you may find it.

This was my final project from a photoshop class I took a couple of weeks ago. We were supposed to choose a quote and make a poster illustrating it. Everyone else chose inspirational quotes from famous people. Mine is a line from the weather forecast.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


(I wrote this months ago, but never posted it. I wanted to include lots of pictures etc, but editing the 900+ photos we took seemed overwhelming so I kept putting it off.)

Back from Scotland once again, and oh my loverlies. This one was nothing like the first trip, actually. It had a whole new feel to it. Last time we were swimming through life in a haze of honeymoon bliss. There were castles and kilts and lochs and churches. It was romantic and kitschy and absolutely perfect. This was....better.

This time there were tombs. Ancient, cold, moss covered cairns which we climbed into and around and through. Hauling our stretching forms up the windblown hills through the sheep and mud and heather to the old un-hills that once housed rituals and bones, we pulled back the solid trapdoors and descended down rickety ladders into sacred darkness. Here the decaying walls and half formed domes spoke not of yesterdays gone by but of the very beginning of time. We stood next to stones three times the height of modern giants and raised our arms to a sky as unforgivingly gray as it was when our ancestors raised the stones in circles and left behind a secret we are only beginning to unravel. We handled tools made by a race who perished among the winds and cliffs of this land long before any nation claimed it, who lay buried here with eagle talons and the skulls of dogs. These first islanders who were not English or Scottish or Viking or Celt or Pict but something older even than the legends of fairies and elves.

We passed through doors weighing ten tonnes but swinging on hinges so perfectly made they can still be opened by a ten year old girl five thousand years later, down tunnels positioned to catch the rays of a solstice sun and spray them over a clay covered chamber of bones. We stood outside the foundations of homes where children fought and spouses embraced some seven thousand years before we took our first breaths, where bowls still stood on stone shelves and cold hearths. We crouched down and pulled ourselves through passageways leading to spaces from before the world was born where mothers wore necklaces of bones and shells and rocked their children to the sound of waves and gulls.

As you can tell, it kind of got to me.

More pictures here