The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Tag: ohio (page 2 of 2)

The USA Whirlwind

I’ve been back to the United States for over two weeks. Not only did I update my blog once (ONCE) in June, I also failed to mention the Great Return Via Steel Bird To Native Homeland. Nor did I adequately expand upon the Period Of Mutual Genius that transpired when Jill and I spent a month in Chile together.

Here are some excuses for my poor blogging behavior, mostly in an effort to rationalize away my personal guilt:

1. I’ve been busy. This is a lame excuse, but seriously, it’s been a whirlwind since I got back to the States. Not only that, I’ve been really busy enjoying myself! Living in the moment, and all that jazz! My USA schedule is pretty packed — I gave myself 6 weeks here, thinking that it would be “plenty of time” to do “everything I wanted to do”. What I’m finding is that 3 months is a better figure. Next summer I shall aim for this time frame. In my two weeks back, I’ve visited my hometown, seen a variety of friends and family, visited Cedar Point twice (more on this later…), experienced a healthy amount of thunderstorms, went to a burner festival in Michigan, spent a week in Chicago, passed the 4th of July holiday amongst fireworks and revelry, shopped at Kroger, and had a doctor’s appointment. Also, work.

2. My computer broke. AGAIN. It broke the day I got back to the USA when it was just 7 months old. This incident was timely and fortuitous for a number of reasons. Not only did it mean that I could repair my laptop without exorbitant continent-spanning mail charges (and the terror that accompanies leaving expensive equipment in the hands of foreign mail carriers), it also happened while under warranty. The non-timely and non-fortuitous aspects to the situation were that it broke in the first place, and that Sony ended up NOT repairing it due to the fact that it would be “uneconomical”. I’m still working on getting a new one. Now I’m paralyzed with indecision facing the surplus of options that I have.

3. I forgot about my blog. What??? No really, I did for a little bit. I think it had something to do with Item #1.

Now that I’ve expanded upon reasons for Blogging Laziness, I would like to recuperate my street cred with another list!

Things I Forgot About Home:

1. So much English! I can understand barely audible conversations in my periphery, I get the gist of a half-muffled discussion, and no word escapes my ears un-understood. This is normal for us English speakers, but reminds me of the fact that I’ve been living in something of a quiet language bubble for 9 months. Sure, I hear sounds around me in Chile, but I don’t tune in because it’s Spanish, and it doesn’t zip through my blood vessels on a subconscious level like English does.
2. Free coffee refills. Sure it’s the gut-rot variety that they serve in diners and restaurants, but my god they refill the cup before I’ve even made a dent. Sure beats having to fork over almost $5 for each meager sip of espresso in Chile!
3. Starbucks on every corner. This is not an exaggeration, and especially not in Chicago.
4. Too many options. This is both good and bad. While I’m happy that the majority of America, especially in larger cities, caters to every type of lifestyle imaginable and consistently surprises me with vegetarian and vegan goodies galore, this same principle makes other activities, such as buying contact solution, relatively hellish.
5. Things are easier? This may have something to do with the fact that I and everyone I know has a personal car, which makes trips to the store less of a feet-dragging, ugh-where’s-the-change-for-the-bus, its-gonna-take-two-hours-just-to-get-soymilk-do-I-really-feel-like-doing-this type experience.

Some days I feel totally re-acclimated, and other days I’m struggling to remember the phrasing of a particular idiom that seems to have been replaced by Spanish vocabulary. Furthermore, my automatic response in restaurants and stores still tries to come out in Spanish. When I’m in a Mexican restaurant, this is acceptable. In most other places, it’s not really appreciated.

Reflections On An Important Anniversary

I’m not good at remembering birthdays, maiden names, anniversaries of any sort, and sometimes what I ate yesterday. Even things I feel I could never forget, not in a million years, tend to slip my mind.

I write today to confess that I have forgotten an important anniversary in my own life, a date that I swore to honor every year for as long as I had breath in my lungs.

For those readers who are not familiar with my journey, on May 29th, 2007 I had major back surgery to remove a benign tumor that had been growing for possibly a decade inside my spinal cord. The surgery to remove it was successful, but it left me paralyzed for an amount of time that my neurosurgeon said could possibly last the rest of my life.

Luckily, it didn’t last the rest of my life — ya’ll have seen me using two legs — but the window of time that included paralysis from my chest down was life-altering. The months spent in the hospital and the ensuing years of rehabilitative efforts were similarly life-changing. It was a transformative experience that not only reminded me to be grateful every day for the gift of mobility and independence, but one that reinvigorated the passion of living life to the fullest. I promised myself then that I would no longer limit myself based on fears, social norms, or any other form of perceived physical or societal limitation.

This is why I do what I do. We’re all familiar with the stories of mid-life crises that involve a high-powered exec or other mid-life professional dropping the cash and career in favor of extended travel, or starting their own business, or enacting that personal goal that had lain dormant for decades. What I took away from my experience is that life is meant to be lived now.

I do not want to nor will I wait until I am 40-something with too many years of unfulfilling income-earning behind me, with a host of material possessions to prove an ambiguous degree of “success in life”.

As homage to the neurosurgeon who saved my life — he resolved the excruciating pain of my daily existence, a pain that I’m embarrassed to say would have led to me taking things into my own hands down the road — and also reinvigorated my life, I bring him photos from my travels whenever we have a follow-up appointment. I tell him, “This is possible because of you.” I’m not sure I can ever thank him enough.

I believe we are all capable of living our dreams, and choosing our dreams. What I strive to avoid is falling into the trap of living a life that I haven’t chosen. Following a path that someone else decided was right for “someone my age”, “someone like me”, or “a successful twenty-something”.

I consider myself lucky and blessed in too many ways to count. And one of the best experiences of my life was going through the agony, trauma, pain and challenge of back surgery, losing my ability to walk, and then fighting to get that back. Not just the ability to use my own two legs, but the ability to live my life as I imagine it. 

This is why I am here. This is why I have embarked on many trips, why I do things differently than maybe what parental figures might suggest for their children, why I won’t stop doing this until I absolutely cannot continue any longer.

In 2009, during the climb up the 
Steps of Repentance on Mount Sinai

During a 2010 trip to Tikal in Guatemala…
Sweaty, humid pyramid climbing!

Cavorting around Cedar Point in 2012,
definitely a physical feat as mentioned in my previous post

My legs (and some planes) have carried me down south
as of 2012 to continue the explorations…

What inspires me most is the wide variety of goals and dreams in this life. It is a deeply personal decision, and nobody can tell you if you’re right or wrong. For some, living life to the fullest might mean studying in an ashram in India, or raising three children in a safe neighborhood, or twisting culinary conventions in a hip restaurant in NYC, or writing books about science-fiction robots, or perfecting their color-coordinated living space, or starting an e-Bay business that sells doorknobs. It doesn’t matter what it is…all that matters is that it comes from the pulsating, wrenching pits of your gut; that it forms the unseen lining of your blood vessels and internal organs and can only be felt, understood and enacted by you.

Life is meant to be lived now. Look around and ask yourself if where you are and what you’re doing is truly what you want to be doing. If so, congratulations, and keep doing it! And if not, the first step of an exciting new journey can begin at exactly this moment. 

Why Growing Up Near an Amusement Park Might Permanently Taint My Career

We all know that the best writers take moments, experiences and relationships from real life and inject them into their writing with a finely-disguised syringe, sending a therapeutic jolt of relate-able life zipping through the blood stream of their prose.

I try to do this as well. Really, it’s the natural byproduct of what happens from living life — writers observe people, the ebb and flow of relationships, striking life moments, dull life moments, and these all collect into a Pool of Usable Material at the fingertips of a writer. Or in the tip of their Bic pen, or under the keys of their typewriters.

Jill and I have been talking a lot lately about our craft, why our stable middle-class childhoods both helped and hurt our art form, and why it might not be a bad idea to take a quick dip into the pools of Suffering and Addiction — just momentarily, for the sake of the craft. But scheduling heroin cycles and past domestic abuse isn’t something you can just decide to weave into the tapestry of your existence. Actually, hold on — I suppose I could start with the heroin or instigate some highly unhealthy domestic habits and make my life go south, but I’m not going to do that.

That being said, I’m stuck with my middle-class stability…my relatively non-traumatic childhood, my degree, my job(s), my good health, and my loving, supportive family. SHEESH, GUYS!

Although this is just a sampling of Those That 
Constitute My Genes, I am so blessed to have the 
family that I do. 

I guess the only thing I can do is use my formative years to my advantage. Much to my chagrin/delight, the most resonate aspect of my childhood is Cedar Point. That’s right — America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast. Located in Sandusky, Ohio, this gem of a thrill-seeker’s oasis constituted the bulk of my introduction into Real Life. Summers were focused on obtaining season passes to Cedar Point, from my youngest memories until present day, and then abusing those passes to the fullest extent. Winters were spent pining for a variety of wood and steel-based experiences. Falls were spent being haunted by local ghosts and riding the last wave of available thrills, and springs were spent waiting desperately for the Opening Day.

It comes as no surprise, then, that my adult years are spent relating a majority of my life experiences to the cycles of Cedar Point. I didn’t realize this right off the bat — in fact, it took a good number of years before I realized how ingrained Cedar Point and its environs were in the fabric of my being….all the way to my artistic metaphors.

This came to my attention for the Nth time when Jill and I were caught in a rainstorm on our way to the Chilean version of Wal-Mart way across town. We had been dodging various gushes of water from the streets, multiple dripping gutters and a whole slew of rain-borne lakes when I mentioned (i.e. screamed over the downpour), somewhat offhandedly given the storm, “This is worse than Thunder Canyon!”

Any Cedar Point Aficionado will know exactly what I’m talking about — the desperate unknowing of when the next gush of frigid water will unexpectedly saturate, douse and completely chill you to the bone. Will the raft rotate enough for you to miss the waterfall, or will it place you directly in its torrential, unforgiving path? The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming…and apparently a life experience that resonated most strongly with me via Thunder Canyon.

This is not the first time Cedar Point and its rollercoasters have been the subject of my (select one: poorly-timed/lame/ambiguously creative/regionally-based/mildly interesting) metaphorsimiles. Once in Europe, Jill and I encountered a museum with a line so long it prompted me to shriek, “This is worse than when Raptor opened!”

See, Ohio-folks? You know exactly how long that line was. INSANEly long.

This emergence of a Cedar Point-focused understanding of the world around me has led me not only to seek an appropriate diagnosis in the new DSM-IV, the giant book of  disorders that was recently re-issued, but also to delve a bit deeper and find out what else, exactly, I understand in terms of roller coasters and amusements parks.

Childhood Amusement Park Coming of Age: A bit different than the classical coming of age later in puberty, this experience coincides with finally reaching the height requirement for the Big Kid rides. Any Sandusky native knows about waiting with desperate, nearly fatal excitement for the time when the height stick is the same level as the tippy top of your head (possibly with hair teased a bit higher by mom). This milestone of reaching the height requirement for all the cool rides inevitably forms the foundation around which Childhood Life is based. (“That summer we finally could ride the Magnum”, or “The day you finally made it onto the WildCat”) Boasting to your friends that you finally rode such-and-such roller coaster proves to be good fodder for street cred later in the halls of Perkins Schools once the end of summer hits.

The “Holy Shit What Did I Get Myself Into” Second Thoughts: A brand of roller coaster regret that, although short-lived, is soul-piercing and also nearly fatal. Occurs most often once boarding a new ride, or one you haven’t been on in a very long time, just after your window for changing your mind and getting off has passed and the car begins heading up the first hill. Usually accompanied by an intense urge to pee and or defecate. This is when you shouldn’t look down.

Coaster Second Thoughts tend to occur
at about this point in the ascent.

Amusement Park Exhaustion: A specific brand of exhaustion that occurs only after a special cocktail of elements are mixed, including mid-summer Ohio heat, twelve hours of walking/roller coaster riding/line waiting/greasy food ingesting/water-logged pants from the water rides you swore you wouldn’t go on in your clothes but you did anyway because it was so damn hot out/refusing to sit down and rest because we’re going to ride as much as we possibly can today/lines that reach the 2 hour mark or higher, and sun burns.This exhaustion is usually accompanied by the notable scents of sun screen, body odor, sweat, aforementioned fried food smell clinging to your clothes, and the lingering grit of countless metal hand rails.

Loss of a Beloved Coaster: Cedar Point deals with limited real estate (but really, can’t we extend the peninsula by now? COME ON) which means that certain rides and coasters get ousted in favor of the latest and greatest. Many of my childhood favorites have been heartlessly canned — such as the Pirate Ride and, more recently, Disaster Transport — but at the very least this teaches us an important lesson in the changing nature of life and love. Everything must come to an end. We all get dismantled and discarded eventually….which, I guess in human terms, would be dying. Even Disaster Transport, which, to be honest, I still haven’t dealt with that grief. (Roller coaster counseling, anyone?)

In reality I began detaching myself from 
Disaster Transport when they removed the
outer space theme and the all moving bits and bobs
in the repair bay.

New Coaster Excitement: This is a type of excitement that, for coaster enthusiasts like myself, penetrates deeper than most anything else in life. Let’s talk about Gatekeeper — I’ve been watching simulated video footage of this beast for over a year. I’m living in Chile but I’ll be damned if I don’t get a season pass for the four weeks I’m in Ohio just because I am positive I will go enough times to more than pay for the cost of the pass. This isn’t just excitement, this is dedication. Sure, the ride will be over in a matter of minutes, but that’ll be some damn thrilling couple hundred of seconds. Also including in this branch of excitement are people who track time in terms of number of days until Cedar Point opens.

The “One-Chance Shot” Letdown: This is a brand of disappointment that thankfully doesn’t strike often, but when it does, can be highly disruptive. The scenario usually goes as follows: you’ve either left the city or state for work or school or pursuing-life-goal purposes, and either don’t have it in your budget or priorities to purchase a season pass for Cedar Point. This means you visit once, and during your trip to Ohio you buy a day pass, probably from Meijer. You have one chance to go, and you plan to make the best of it and ride as much as possible, but the one day you’re able to go between park hours, family obligations and general vacation timetable is….the one day it rains. Or the one day all your favorite coasters are down for repairs. Or the one day the wind is so strong that Wind Seeker is closed due to weather and you still haven’t had a chance to ride it since it came out. So what do you do? Ride Calypso? Play Skee-ball? Oh, like that’s worth $50? This is the one-chance shot letdown. Better luck next year!

Other Cedar Point-Specific Phenomena: the Gray-Out that occurs after the first hill on Millennium Force, the specific emotional arc that accompanies Top-Thrill Dragster (anticipation–surprise–glee–one moment of heart-stopping beauty and adrenaline from the front seat at the top curve–glee–feeling like you’re dying/being born–the come down as the ride stops), the spine-jarring experience of the Mean Streak, and the dismay when you realize the Back Lot is full…

As evidenced by this excessively lengthy post, Cedar Point is near and dear not only to my heart, but to my understanding of the world around me. Though there are some life moments that are best understood in terms of roller coasters and amusement parks, I will make a sincere effort to wrangle this probable disorder so that it does not negatively affect my creative fiction. Unless, of course, I decide to get into Roller Coaster Fan Fiction writing…now that might be a real moneymaker that combines all my passions!

Extremely Tall Tales (and Other Ways To Explain Your Unexpected Pregnancy)

I first became enchanted by Chilean Folklore during my brief stint as a moderately ineffective tour guide in the south of Chile. Marcelo, the tour company operator who needed me to translate for his American customers, took me all around the Lakes Region with our clients (taking chairlifts up the volcano instead of hiking, visiting quaint colonial villages, etc) and one place that stood out was Chiloé.

Sure, Chiloe was quaint and colonial and precious and all that. But what I loved most about it was the tiny blue book of Myth and Folklore that I bought for a mere 1,000 pesos, something of a steal in the land of Ridiculous Patagonical Prices. It looked like it had been hand-made in the back room of the dilapidated German-style souvenir shop, and most certainly hadn’t been proofread at all or edited since 1971, but it was an invaluable resource that granted access to the mystical side of Chile. Not to mention some really great old-timey recipes I’m going to try that involve toasted wheat and witches breath. (Just kidding.) (Or am I?)

I was thinking about Chiloe and it’s rich history of myths and legends this morning when I woke up in Valparaiso to find a dense fog covering the city. My roommate Rodrigo – who is Chilean – casually remarked that there’s a legend about the fog in Valpo that grows ever-thicker and eventually begins to consume people.

Excellent. Perhaps it’s just another one of those dangers of a port city — transients, petty theft, prostitution and flesh-eating fogs. But I’m beginning to wonder if maybe there isn’t a kernel of truth in Rodrigo’s claim.

It seems likely that this fog has a rumbling belly and sharp teeth somewhere in the distance.

If you’ll recall, the view from my patio tends to look like this most days:

No signs of low-hanging, flesh-eating stratus clouds here.

At any rate, my pending disappearance into the carnivorous weather phenomenon got me thinking about Chilean folklore in general. I remember thumbing through the Blue Book of Poorly-Edited Folklore back when I first bought it, intrigued by the quantity of legends and the rich mixture of the fantastical and the mundane that accompanies all legends: one’s immediate surroundings coupled with the unexplained mysteries of daily life.

One of the most famous legends of Chiloe involves La Pincoya, the resident water spirit of the Chilotan Seas. She is a friendly yet incredibly sensual lady who appears from time to time to dance near the water. Based on whether or not she is facing the sea, the sailors will either have a really great time finding seafood or a really hard time finding seafood. Also she’s married to her brother and sometimes they rescue shipwrecked sailors with their ghost boat, the Caleuche.

No one can really explain why she’s blonde. Perhaps she’s a former German settler who got roped into the underground ghost world of seafood decisions and shipwreck salvaging.

My personal favorite – an perhaps one of the most culturally necessary – is the legend of El Trauco and La Fiura. This is a humanoid and possibly-extremely-ugly couple that haunts the forests in Chiloe. Both El Trauco and his wife La Fiura possess a magnetism and sexuality that is inescapable, despite their dwarfish and aesthetically-appalling characteristics. Not only can El Trauco attract a woman even while she’s asleep – she will essentially sleepwalk into a helpless pile at his feet – he is pretty much the fallback answer for all single mothers – Unexpected pregnancies clearly are the result of a chance forest encounter with El Trauco. This legend effectively absolves the woman of any blame. (I mean, let’s be real, can she really be expected to resist or avoid the sexually potent forest gnome?) Societal discomfort: successfully avoided.

Did I mention that El Trauco’s wife, La Fiura, is also his daughter? Maybe this is why she similarly roams the forest attracting and seducing men. Psychological issues can effect anyone — all the way to the humanoid creatures of the Chilotan forests.

La Fiura: hideous but no man can resist her, making those casual forest walks something of a gamble.

While it’s still not certain whether or not this fog will give way to a pleasantly sunny day or a horrific fate in the belly of a Fog Beast, I am left with a particular sense of appreciation for the varied ways in which we as humans observe, process and then reform the physical phenomena of daily life into legends that eventually come to influence our everyday experiences.

Furthermore, it got me thinking about legends and folklore from my own country. I asked myself some questions, trying to get into the underbelly of American mythology (without the aid of Google) based on my own childhood and family memories, because my initial reaction was that we didn’t have such a rich spectrum of tales. Here’s what I came up with:

What hideous creatures do we watch out for in the dark wilderness? Bigfoot. What lurks in the foggy nights? Any assortment of ghosts, since American culture is big on colonial spirits that just can’t seem to leave their New England residences, as well as the Headless Horseman. What do we use to explain unexpected pregnancies? This is where American Folklore really drops the ball. I don’t think we have anything as effective (or widely accepted) as El Trauco….but someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Also we have Bloody Mary (the mirror ghost, not the well-loved alcoholic beverage), but I’m not sure what she does except scare the shit out of 9-year-old’s in unlit bathrooms.

The fog and the enchanting tales from the southern island of Chiloe have unwittingly inspired an appreciation for my own culture’s myths and legends, even though I’m not terribly well-versed in them. I would love to use local Ohioan myths in an effort to both terrify and manipulate my future children, so, Ohio readers, what stories do we have to tell from the fertile lands of the Midwest? It sounds a bit silly, but it took a total shift of hemisphere, country and dominant language to get me thinking about the tall tales of Home…and how us Ohio girls might be able to explain any surprise pregnancies.

UPDATE: In terms of investigating Ohio Legends, this is all I could really find:

Strange Tales from Ohio: True Stories of Remarkable People, Places, and Events in Ohio History. Still doesn’t seem like it might do a very good job of explaining unexpected pregnancies, though…

The Farmer’s Markets are winding down…
Last call to support a fledgling vagabond!

A snapshot of Ohio

This photo was taken on the day of my best friend’s wedding on September 8th, 2012. 
I am happy to experience a small slice of fall before I leave the area…
And go into a South American Summer!
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