Seaweed farming, radical homemaking, and about that book I wrote…

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 10.14.23 AM

I recently wrote a piece for To Market magazine about seaweed farming in New England. It was a real pleasure to research and write this feature—even though it did involve going out on the water off the coast of midcoast Maine in the middle of December on a day so cold that my phone turned itself off and my hands stopped working—mainly because it focused on a topic I think it incredibly important: food sustainability.

I’m reading a book right now called Radical Homemakers and I can’t stop thinking about it. The author, a PhD who lives on a farm in rural New York, makes the argument that the best way we can save our planet is through turning our households from consumer spaces to production spaces. When we grow our own food, mend our own clothes, build our own barns, we free ourselves from needing as much money (and from buying as much junk that’s designed to fail). It’s an obvious argument, yet I am still so caught up in the make-money-buy-things cycle that I occasionally feel defensive when I’m reading it. Which is probably a good thing—it’s shaking me up. That’s good.

Anyway, this does relate to seaweed, and to my book, Handcrafted Maine (due out this summer!) because these are all ways of approaching sustainability through creative means. Homemaking is a creative act. Seaweed farming is creative, innovative, and totally fascinating. And every person profiled in Handcrafted Maine is contributing to our state economy in intentional, beautiful, small-scale ways.

I really believe that intentional, small living is the way forward for our planet. I believe small farms are the future, homemakers are onto something, and the things we do with our hands are just as important as the things we do with our heads.

Pre-order Handcrafted Maine here. 

See more images by photographer Greta Rybus (who shot both the book and the To Market seaweed feature) here.

Buy Radical Homemakers directly from the author here. 

Advertisements

Jetlagged in Zurich & where I’m headed next.

rhythmic-landscape-on-lake-geneva-1908On the plane ride from Boston to Zurich I met a girl named Desiree who was flying home to Bern. She had been visiting her boyfriend (a Mexican-American serving in the US Air Force). She missed him already, and I told her I missed my guy, too, even though we had only been apart for a few hours.

When we got off the plane, she helped me find the shuttle train, those quiet and sleek trains that seem to have been installed in every major airport. I was asking her about Switzerland—do you like living in Bern? what is the best thing to eat while I’m here? what’s cool about Zurich?—and when we got on the train, she pointed up with one finger. Her eyes were the kind of pristine china blue that inspires men to write longwinded rock ballads. “Listen,” she told me. “They play cows and the sound of birds and that big instrument that you blow? That big one that is shaped like a…” here she used her hands to draw a large swoop in the air. “That’s Switzerland,” she said as the sound of mooing started playing over the intercom. She laughed.

Earlier in our conversation, I asked her what she liked about America. She said a lot of things, but my favorite was this: She said it was just like the movies. She wanted to go to a house party, having seen so many on screen. “Those red plastic cups!” she exclaimed. “Solo cups,” I provided. “I love them, too.” I asked if she got to play beer pong, and she said yes, and even though this sounds silly—your country has cows, mine has house parties and drunk college students—it made me feel infinitely better about America. We’re the country of flip cup and Hollywood and boyfriends in the Air Force and lots and lots of land.maggia-delta-before-sunrise-1893

I’m in a Holiday Inn in Zurich now. It’s a 24-hour layover before I fly to Oslo. I can’t sleep, because my body hasn’t figured out which knob to pull to reset and rewind its inner watch. I spend the day wandering around the city. I spent hours in an art museum (more on that another time) before walking aimlessly around the streets until my feet hurt from the cobblestones and my mind felt foggy. It’s a Sunday, so all the shops are closed, but it was 50-something degrees out and it seemed like the entire population had come out to celebrate. I walked across bridges, back and forth crossing one side to the next, like I was lacing up a shoe. On each bridge, I stopped to look south, out to Lake Zurich, out to the Alps. I’m always looking toward mountains.

Tomorrow I fly to Oslo. From there, I go further north. It’s as though I harbor a compass inside my ribcage, an iron needle that hums and worries when it’s being ignored. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always fantasized about the far north, the arctic, the cold, the clear truth of ice.

I’ll be there soon. Zurich was lovely, and I miss America already, but I’m excited for Finnmark. I hope to write more on this blog while I’m there, so whoever is reading this… I’ll see you again soon.

Images by Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler, who may just be my new favorite artist. He believed in something called “parallelism,” a system of symmetry and rhythm that connected people to the landscape and created world harmony. (I think? I’m not sure I fully understand.) His work reminds me of the Viennese Secessionists (my fave) and I spent a very long time in a room with his paintings today, just staring. Today was a good day. 

Pecking away at some bigger idea.

henn_kim_we-have-nothing

I moved to a house that is far from things, tucked away down a road that starts as pavement and turns to dirt, surrounded by farmland and woodland and land, land, land. In the evening, my bedroom turns pink as the golden hour sun sinks down behind the wall of sugar maples, leaves gone tomato red from the autumn cold. At night, I can see stars from my skylights. I don’t know their names, but they are brighter than the red glow from my cellphone charger, more beautiful than the things I can watch on my screens.

And yet there are days when I feel disconnected, lost in the woods, far away from everything. Sometimes, this makes me feel a savage happiness, almost like defiance. But not always.

For the past few days, a woodpecker has been pumping away at the logs outside my bedroom. I sit at my computer and try to work, my fingers thrumming away on a keyboard, knocking down one word after another, and I hear it again. It beats a rhythm into the dark dead wood of my little Maine home.
henn_kim-2
I use my fingers to type questions into a search bar. Within seconds, I’ve learned that the bird is a downy woodpecker, most likely a juvenile male, and that he could be confused. The house, I read, just looks like a big, oddly shaped tree. He could be digging for carpenter bees or practicing his hunting skills. He could be looking for a place to borrow in and hide from the cold. He could be practicing his mating behavior, bumping and grinding away on my roof.

I see him fly away one morning, and I’m startled by how beautiful he is—black and white with intricate patterns on his sharp-edged wings. He is lovely and fierce (and exceptionally annoying).

Today it is quiet, save for the sound of wind blowing through dead leaves. I miss his rattle and his swagger. I miss being irritated by something so wild. For the sake of my house, I hope he stays away (we can’t have birds digging holes in our log cabin, nor can we pay for exterminators for those possible carpenter bees). But I also hope he comes back, at least to visit.henn-kim-fly-away

Images by Korean surrealist illustrator Henn Kim. Buy her prints here. See her website here. 

Summer goals.

Heres_to_best_friendsHere are my goals for this summer:

Spend more time with my best friend. Spend an afternoon lying in the sun and eating pizza and talking until we have nothing left to say, like we used to do as teenagers. (I’ll allow myself one cigarette, but only one, since smoking is much less pleasurable after watching Garrett march through cancer.)

Swim as often as possible. Never turn down an opportunity to swim because I am worried about how much I ate and how my stomach looks in a bikini. Never turn down an opportunity to swim because it’s raining or because I’m lazy or because I don’t have a swim suit. Just swim anyway.

Finish my book. Be happy with it. Remember that this book has been years in the making. Be proud of what I’ve done.

Sleep late.

Eat pie. Particularly pies made of berries and cherries.

Go camping. See more of Maine. Climb mountains. Ride a bike through the woods and be afraid, but do it anyway. Nap in a canoe. Pee behind trees because there are no bathrooms way out here. Eat s’mores. Make dandelion wine. Read magazines on the beach. Smell tree bark. Get drunk and swim in the ocean. Be too cold. Be too hot. Build a fort. Watch the stars.

Image: Illustration by Adams Carvalho, who makes being young look so fucking fun. 

 

A three-step plan for getting over most problems.

fiona apple

1. Tell everyone who you deem worthy the exact truth about what’s bothering you.

2. Straighten your spine and look toward the sky. Somewhere between the top of the nearest building and higher than the tallest man’s hair is best. (If you can see the horizon line, then just look a good 60 feet above that).

3. Walk away. Don’t look back. Take the next object a person offers to you for free. Say, “Yes, thank you.” BearFriend

4. Everything will be fine in the end or, worst case scenario, it will become something else entirely, most likely some monster you didn’t know to fear until it was there. So, no need to fear it. It’s too far away.

Top image: Fiona Apple, because she’s good at feeling uncomfortable.
Bottom image: I don’t know. A girl and a bear. 

Things with wings and grief like fire.

At_Night_Achile_CasanovaI’ve been thinking a lot about bats lately, which is due in part to working at Islandport Press (I’m a contributing editor, one of my many part-time positions). Islandport is a small Maine publishing house that has produced many great books, including  a very charming board book written by my co-worker, Melissa Kim. This particular book, published in a partnership with the Maine Audubon Society, is about the daily life of a little brown bat. It is cute and funny and full of science and I really adore it.

But it doesn’t sell quite as well as other picture books—sweeter picture books, ones with earth-bound animals like cats and horses. And I’m not sure why. Is it because bats aren’t as cute? Because bats are scary and gross? Don’t kids want to read about the only mammal capable of true flight? Haven’t they heard of Stellaluna? I was a girl who loved bats—I can’t be the only one of my kind.

And now that I’m thinking about them, bats seem to be everywhere, including in my memory. Several years ago, I was visiting a friend in Austin following a horrible heartbreak. I was devastated—filled with a kind of grief and desperation that I hadn’t known before, the kind that climbs from your stomach to your heart and back again, trailing hot fingers of pain through my torso, up and down and up and down. Few things brought me joy, but the bat bridge did.

In Austin, there is a bridge that connects the two sides of the city. The walkway below the bridge smells earthy and strange from the guano, so much of it. Bats roost below, clinging to the bottom of the man-made cavern. Every night at twilight, bats stream out from under their hanging spaces. Hundreds, thousands of creatures, wings spread, chirping, devouring the night. bats_austinI was so taken by the bats that I went back the next evening, and again the next. The sight soothed me with its strangeness, its utter unfamiliarity. I felt better, watching those bats. Less lonely somehow.

Now, years later, I am married to the man who once broke my heart. I’m as far from Austin as one can be and still be in America. I wonder if I will ever see those bats again—if I will ever need them, like I once did, to heal an aching heart.

[Top image: At Night by Achille Casanova (1861-1948) medium unknown.]

Two Nice Things: Joy Kichi’s glass botanicals & I’m going to Colorado!

Joy Kichi Glass Art Cactuses
Joy Kichi Glass Art

Today I stumbled across Joy Kichi’s instagram account, where the artist shares her amazing glass cactuses and botanicals. Check ’em out! 

I’m really feeling the southwestern vibe this morning, which makes perfect sense because I leave for Colorado tomorrow. Garrett and I are going on our (belated) honeymoon to the mountains. I’m looking forward to…

What I read at the Portland Museum of Art.

Scott_kelley_selfie

I was recently asked to write a short reply to a work of art in the “Masterworks on Paper” exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art and read it aloud during a one-night event. There were cocktails inspired by art and readings by local authors. I was one of the writers and I although I’m new to reading in public (and thus pretty nervous!), it was still a great evening. Above is the work I chose to write about. Below is what I wrote.

Thanks for being on my website, and thanks to everyone who came out.

Skin and Bones

In response to: Self-Portrait as Ishmael’s Arm, Scott Kelley, 2011. Watercolor and ink on paper, 18″ x 18″

When I was twelve years old, my forehead erupted into miniature mountain range, a mess of red bumps. Sometimes, little pieces of skin would slough off, like ice calving from a glacier.

I hated this change, the disruption to my facial topography. I hated every change imposed on my body by puberty. My body, this thing I had lived with for years, had become, suddenly and irreversibly, outside my control.

My skin cleared up after a few months—I consider myself lucky for that. But I never lost the feeling that puberty brought—that my body was something that needed to be tamed, changed, and conquered. As I grew taller, the thirty-three bones that make up my spine curved, first to the right, then to the left. It was subtle, my scoliosis, but it compressed my torso, bringing my height down from five-foot-nine to five-foot-eight.

But that change I welcomed because, as anyone who has lived inside a young female body knows, there’s always someone on hand to critique its size and shape. I have struggled to change my body, to make it into something other than its grown shape. I wanted to make it smaller, and somewhat paradoxically—because the world likes small, delicate women—something more visible to others. Over the years, I’ve applied myself to a series of ridiculous diets, some funny (like the time I only drank milk and ate carrots for a week, which gave my skin an orange tinge and made my stomach rumble loudly) and some sad (like the time I proclaimed proudly to a group of friends, “I only ate three grapes today” while they looked on in undisguised horror). I’ve joined gyms and attended expensive spinning classes where everyone sits in a dark room and pumps their legs aggressively while the instructor barks out orders from her own stationary station, going nowhere fast to the tune of overproduced bumping and grinding.

I haven’t found a single way to effectively tame this wild thing, this thing that grows hair in unexpected places and kicks fitfully in its sleep. But I have discovered a way to mark it as my own, and it involves needles, ink, and a blank piece of human real estate.

I got my first tattoo when I was sixteen years old. I had begged my mother for months to let me get one, to sign a parental release and let me permanently brand my body. Finally, on a family vacation to Bridgton, Maine, she gave in. Under the light of a neon sign, a burly man holding a can of Coors Light inked a small, black butterfly on my left shoulder blade. It cost $20. My mom held my hand as I lay on the cheap plastic table. “Does it hurt?” she asked me. “No it feels good,” I lied.

Or maybe that was the truth. I’m honestly still not sure. I’ve been tattooed multiple times since then, including a cover-up piece that erased the sad, faded remains of my first little butterfly, and I’ve never quite figured out how it truly feels. It stings, sure. It bleeds and that hurts. But it doesn’t feel bad. It doesn’t feel good. It isn’t pleasurable. But it feels interesting. Compelling. It feels like a transformation, and I’m a junkie for change. So I keep doing it.

Of course, I’m not alone in my desire to mark up my skin. People have been getting tattooed since Neolithic times. Anyone who has seen a picture of the famous “Ice Man” knows how strange these mummified ancient corpses look, all leathery skin and short bones and dark ink, at once both alien and primal.

And this is how many still view tattoos in the western world. Exotic and somehow primitive, a visual marker of a volatile person, someone uncontrollable. This has been especially true for women. Tattooed men were sailors and soldiers; tattooed women were freakshow acts, painted ladies and hookers. Deviants, all of them.Maud_Stevens_Wagner.jpeg

When I look at Scott Kelly’s piece, his delicately painted watercolor arm, his beautiful tribute to my favorite novel, I feel something I don’t like: Jealousy. I feel jealous of that arm in the same way I once felt sick with jealousy reading Melville’s prose. Not because I aspired to be a writer like him (though I do—who doesn’t?) but because I wanted to enter that world so badly. Ishmael spoke my language, but he wasn’t speaking to me. He was hazy about the eyes, plagued by the dark November of his soul, and pulled like a magnet toward the water. I saw myself in him, a Narcissus-like reflection in a pool of literary beauty. And yet, I couldn’t enter that world. There was no place for me there. I was a girl. And that was a world for men.

The world has changed and moved in fantastic, spectacular ways. My tattoos do not mark me as a freak, but as person who values something a little left of the middle. I could be a sailor if I wanted to. I could hunt a white whale and harpoon my own beast.

When I see that whale spine, I have to remind myself. Do not be jealous. Do not envy the freedom of those who came before. Just straighten your own spine. Take those thirty-three bones and stretch them out to your full height. Bare your skin, and align your bones.

You own this body. You claimed it, and it is yours.

[Image of Maud Wagner, first female tattoo artist in the U.S., plus a circus performer, aerialist, and contortionist. Bad. Ass.]

Growing pains.

hugh turvey xrayIt has been a long winter. A hard winter. It was warm, so warm that even Confederate-flag waving rednecks began to grumble about climate change. It was muddy and gray and dark, but balmy in a way that felt disgusting. In German, there is a word, warmduscher, which translates to “warm-showers.” It refers to someone who prefers their water neither ice-cold nor scalding hot, but lukewarm. It means someone who is weak, milquetoast, unremarkable, smarmy, mild. (Or as one online translation puts it, a “candy-ass.”)

This winter left me feeling like that—impotent. Lacking in potency. Lacking in strength, character, intensity.

I have never been so glad to see the signs of spring. And it’s finally a true spring, where greenery begins poking out of the earth, making its way back up through the muck. I feel myself coming back, too. It’s a physical thing, this new awareness of my body, this reawakening of my energies. I stretch and every joint in my limbs cracks and pops, a little aching chorus of movement.

I’m the kind of person who needs my showers hot or cold. I would rather cry until my eyes are raw than stare silently at a wall, quiet resentment settling like yeast in a glass of beer.

Goodbye, warm-winter. Good riddance.

[Image above by” x-ray artist” Hugh Turvey of hyacinths in bloom, taken from The Telegraph]

Lessons from a past life.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 9.58.23 PMI was a druid in a past life. I wore a big cloak that covered my face, but not in a threatening, Sith lord-kinda way. Rather, it shielded me. My black hood was a protective, ceremonial garment. I held a flame, a candle or a lamp, a little shard of fire that I carried with me, leading the worshippers over a mossy green expanse of hillside, toward something, something that spoke to death without words or sound.

Or so I’ve heard.

Recently, I visited a spiritual healer for the very first time. I was waiting the pharmacist to refill my prescriptions at CVS. I had just added a new medication to my cocktail of brain-changing pills, and she told me that it was going to take longer than usual. So to kill time, I walked next door to the local crystal-and-tarot-card New Agey snake-oil-or-not purveyor. I browsed the bookshelves and snapped Instagram-ready pictures of the three-foot-tall “Amethyst Cathedral.” I picked up some incense, sage, and Palo Santo sticks. (My house smells like dogs. It’s fine, but you know, sometimes people come over and whatever.) In the back of the store, two women in long dresses sat in a pair of armchairs, facing each other and talking in that tone that I’ve always mentally called the “therapist voice.” A poster above the counter advertised “Spiritual Healing, Energy Readings, and Reiki.”

Reiki has always seemed like a pointless exercise for me. Like, touch me, or don’t, you know? So I chose the other lady. (I also asked them about their rates. The spiritual healer was willing to do a 15-minute session, and that’s how long my medication was going to take. The Reiki lady required a half-hour commitment, which just felt like a lot.)

She walked with me to a room in the back of the store, a little cupboard-like nook with two chairs, a small table, and a floor lamp that cast a soft, yellow glow onto the India-printed curtain that served as a door. (Say what you will about healers, psychics, mystics, and the like, but they know how to properly light a room.) We sat down, and she began her reading.

She talked for 15 minutes straight, so I think I got my money’s worth. And, you know, I don’t really believe everything she said. I don’t know whether Maeve, the Celtic queen whose name means “intoxicated woman” is really my spiritual guide and I doubt that there is an angelic presence around me that appears as a ball of “clear, blue light.” It would be wonderful if I had a guardian angel, but that ship has very clearly sailed. I don’t know if I will have children or not (she says I will have three, twins and a single child). I don’t know if I was anything other this current iteration of me, I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation. I don’t even know if I like the idea.

But also… I don’t not believe.

And honestly, it felt weirdly good to sit there with her. Really weirdly good. Her focus was so intense. It’s not often that we spend such an extended amount of time directing all our faculties toward another person. And she seemed to do this with her whole body, her entire self was pushed toward me in an unsettling way. She stared at the space around my body, examining the air. She sniffled occasionally, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was trying to smell my secrets out. At one point, she reached across the table and held my hand. Hers were gentle, soft and dry, her grip felt like sinking my hand into a vat of flour, encompassing and forgiving. I know, logically, that I probably just paid someone to say nice things to me for 15 minutes, but I think that’s okay. I’ve spent money on far worse things. I left feeling satisfied, full and light, like I had just slurped down a plate of oysters. It was treat-yo’-self-behavior. A self-indulgent way to spend a portion of my workday.

But still. I don’t believe but I do hope. I hope she’s right. A world without even the possibility of magic isn’t one I want to live in.

Image: Painting by Martine Emdur