checking the mailbox // a story + playlist.

Tonight, I had my first writing class of a series. We did some free writing. Get a prompt. Write for five minutes. Share.

The third prompt was “I remember…”

For unclear reasons lately, I’ve been thinking about mailboxes. What they mean for homes. What they mean for love. What they mean for communication. And in the instant the of the prompt, I remembered a mailbox. Here’s what I wrote…

I remember the mailbox. The mailbox so empty, every time. My heart so broken. Every time. I had no way of knowing it could feel this bad. I was 17. I was in love. And after two years together, he went off to spend a summer as a camp counselor. I was so sad… but we wrote each other all the time. I had to get my wisdom teeth out that summer. The feeling wasn’t pain. The feeling was life underwater. Slower because of the drugs. My head was light, but my mouth was heavy, full of gauze. He just so happened to be visiting home the day after my procedure. He looked at me. Me with my chipmunk cheeks. And he told me we were over. “Whaaad?” I asked, muffled and swollen and crumbling into the pain now. I don’t remember much after that. I just remember the weeks to come. Checking the mailbox every day. Feeling inside the empty tin. So hot. So empty. I wondered if I could climb in, shut the door, and be in that darkness instead.

I assured my classmates that I am happily married now.

Checking the mailbox. It means something different to me now—thank god. It means something, though. I’ve put together some of the songs—old and new—then and now—full and empty—in a playlist for sharing. I hope you enjoy the tunes.

checking_the_mailbox[click me.]

[hoping the hot tin burns.]

I accept.

During a welcome beat of my new-found stride, I went on a hike with some badass ladies tonight. We hike fast up the “M” in Bozeman. It’s like the “M” in Missoula… same same, but different. Montanans love putting letters on mountains.

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Afterwards, we hung out on a bench and talked and watched in horror as Cree [Rebekah’s dog] hunted a grouse and drank my new favorite beer and toasted a new [awesome] job [for Chelsi] and basked in this Bozeman life.

When we got back to the trailhead, we said our goodbyes and I got into my car. When I turned the key, I immediately recognized the voice on the radio and was excited that I was tuning in right in time for Hillary Clinton’s speech.

I decided I wanted to drive and listen to it. So I drove to a popular lookout for sunset. A few other cars were there, awaiting the fiery sunset. I cranked the speech, cracked another beer, and watched the sunset.

I couldn’t help but think of the journey that led us to here. Me to here. I sat contemplating the person I was with—myself. I drank a beer with a coozie from Luckenbach, Texas on it. Texas. Where I was born and raised. But now I’m in Bozeman, watching the sunset over this beautiful mountain town. How I got here is quite the journey. I moved here to work in advertising. That sentence alone makes me shake my head and smile.

I’m listening to a woman I’ve grown to admire. I’ve listened to so many speeches, debates, addresses. I’ve read so much about this election in the New Yorker—who am I?? But I have a subscription now, thanks to my mother-in-law. Yes! I am married. I have a husband—how did that happen? When did I let this grown-up world become me?

I thought back to my early jobs, my early hobbies, my early boyfriends, my early voting habits [sorry about that, America], my early goals, my early dreams—all while watching this sunset and listening to this incredible speech.

drankingsunset

Clinton’s words, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit” rang over and over in my ears as I watched this beautiful sky. I half-smiled, because “The Sky’s the Limit” is the name of the latest tourism campaign my company executed. From dabbling in Photoshop at an office job when I was 18 to Art Director now. From women not being able to even vote to Hillary Clinton. We’re here now. I’m here now. A woman is running for president. This place, this life, this country accepts and encourages and applauds powerful women. My heart swelled, my eyes teared up, I took stock in this life and timeline and felt proud.

The sun made its final bow and the cars cleared the overlook, but Hillary was still speaking, still making history. I thought about how far we’ve come, how much I’ve grown up, as Hillary’s voice faded quieter and quieter… until silence. I was extremely confused. Was NPR fading out to start a new program??

And then there was the click of everything dying.

My car battery died. Of course. Oh, how quickly I felt not very adult at all. My husband was working and was not picking up his phone. Of course. Of course I am a child who doesn’t understand how cars or radios work. I called a friend. She was on her way.

I found the jumper cables in the back and waited. In the dark. With the opposite of Hillary’s encouraging words to listen to. All I had was the laughter of my own thoughts as they mocked how “far” I’ve made it in life. Dammit.

About five minutes later, in the absolute dark, a car pulled up. Not my friend’s car. It parked noticeably far away from my car. This car was either here to murder someone or round the bases with their high school crush. Considering my options—hero, victim, or buzzkill—I made my way towards the car.

I got too close to the car before anyone saw me for it not to be the most awkward thing in the world. I got close enough to obviously see this was the latter of my choices and I was about to be the biggest buzzkill. I startled the couple and motioned to roll down the window. I did this in the way that children born in 1999 or 2000 have no idea what I’m pantomiming—the big wooshing roll of the manual windows.

– My car battery is dead. Can I get a jump?

– Uh, sure. Do you have jumper cables?

– Yeah.

I called my friend and told her I found a jump. The car pulled up to mine, but not close enough. I had to tell the boy [the driver] to get closer. He quickly told me

– I’ve never done this before. I don’t know how to do this.

– We’re gonna be okay. Thanks so much.

I felt old again. I felt the familiarity of where he was, where the girl in the passenger seat who never left the car nor would hardly look at me… I knew where she was. I knew the uncertainty of jumping a car. I knew the freedom of being out in the middle of nowhere in a shitty car. I felt old in this way. Old in the knowing way.

I popped the hood and connected the cables. As I was connecting them to my car, I paused and stood up

– I’m Rachel, by the way.

– I’m Max.

I told Max to start his car. We waited. I started my car. It started.

I high-fived Max and thanked him over and over. Then, in par-for-the-course fashion, I said

– Sorry if I interrupted anything fun or important.

He awkwardly laughed at this stranded lady who must’ve seemed 100-years-old. We parted ways and I turned on the radio to hear just the recaps of Hillary’s speech.

It was perspective at it’s best. Humbling. Comical. Triumphant. Reflective.

I interrupted some frisky teenagers so that I could help them help me out. All so I could listen to our first woman presidential nominee speak and drink beer.

[god bless america.]

uh-oh.

I read (heard?) somewhere recently that couples who don’t post gushing stories/photos of their significant others are way more successful in love… actually a lot happier.

Well… we’re screwed.

Last night, I put up a new profile picture on Facebook. The fact that I wrote that last sentence down kind of hurts my heart in a weird way. I’m not even exactly sure why.

But the photo—the photo—makes my heart so happy.

RachelEvan_profile_pic

Somehow we don’t look tired from everything. Somehow I look shorter. Somehow our love shines through, purely. You don’t see the stress of finances. You don’t see the clothes all over the floor. You don’t see the ships-passing-in-the-night schedules. You don’t see the actual ugly arguments over card games. You see the kitchen dance moves. You see the late night laughs. You see the morning walks. You see the genuine gratitude for this love.

Because we find that gratitude constantly. It is hiding sometimes. It hides under piles of clothes, usually. They’re not in the hamper, because they’re not actually dirty.

So let me gush a little more. Because I’m in a sunbeam of this lovely gratitude for my husband and if I’m not usually one to half-ass something, so if social media says we’re already in trouble, let’s go balls to the wall.

———

The last year has been comically packed. And within it all, I convinced Evan to participate in something crazy:

And he did it. And I thought he might drown. But then he didn’t. And he somehow still loves me. And he wrote this story about it all: http://www.visitmt.com/campaign/montana-tv/the-picnic/favorite-playground.html

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I love it.

———

Through all of this craziness and all of this moving and movement, one of the brightest moments of happiness and love came right before August.

We moved to Bozeman. I convinced Evan we needed to move to Bozeman for this amazing job opportunity for me. He was pursing a nursing degree and getting into the Bozeman program was close to impossible. Only 16 applicants get in. We knew that we would probably have to part again, but we tried not to think about it. We moved to Bozeman. We forged on through uncertainty.

Evan was working late this night. I was screening a film of a friend’s. Watching. Taking notes.

Evan came home. We tiredly greeted each other as he made some food and sat at the table, tuning into his phone while I continued watching my computer. All of the sudden Evan stood up…

– Turn that movie off. Pause it.

– But this is the really good part!

– Pause it. You have to read this.

I begrudgingly got off the couch and stumbled over to Ev to grab his phone. My eyes scanned an email from Montana State University School of Nursing:

“Dear Evan,

It is our distinct pleasure to inform you that you have been selected…”

I screamed. I screamed and jumped on Evan the way the adorable women do in movies. Running. Jumping. Hugging. Wrapping their legs around the receiver of the hug. As a six-foot-tall woman, I do not usually get to running-jump on people and wrap my legs around them. It seems like I would have to give someone much notice before I did that, to avoid disaster. But somehow, this night, it was okay. It was amazing. We hugged and kissed and laughed and screamed more and celebrated.

Evan said…

– I want some whisky!

I grabbed our nicest bottle of whisky and poured us a couple glasses. Then I excitedly played this song louder than I should’ve at midnight…

[minus that weird minute-long record scratch of a skit.]

And we danced. And smiled. And celebrated. It was a lot like this…

…except Evan’s a man. And we were celebrating being able to live in the same town.

We finally let ourselves think of what would’ve happened if he hadn’t got in. We would’ve had to have lived apart. Again. And then we let ourselves think about how hard this program is. ONE OUT OF SIXTEEN SPOTS… out of over 400 applicants.

So proud. The best feeling. It was a moment up there with the moment Evan proposed. Just perfect.

———

Filled with gratitude for things you didn’t know you’d always had been asking for. Always.

Gushing.

Uh-oh.

[always.]

 

 

You Can Be Here.

[this was mostly written on tuesday evening. it took me a while.]

I wouldn’t know how else to write this. To be half-disappointed in myself because I had three drinks with a friend/coworker at our local haunt. But then to know that if I told my friend Dale about my disappointment he would slyly smile and tell me to Ah, fuck off. You’re great. That’s wonderful.

A year ago today, Evan and I were laying on our carpet in our living room, drinking whisky. Trying to sum up the courage to listen to a piece of art. A piece of sound. It was a dedication to our friend Dale. He was on his deathbed. His literal deathbed.

Deathbed. I cannot believe how jovially I used that term before I knew someone—loved someone—who laid their head on a pillow that lived on a deathbed.

We wept. I don’t know if Evan and I said a word to each other that whole night. We just listened. Deeply.

Dale was a friend, mentor, inspiration to both of us. He was a professor of mine. He was one of those people who meant so much to me, but I only filled a small slot in the multi-paged dance card of admirers he had.

We had a few conversations circled around my intense insecurity about being an artist. Or—rather—not being an artist at all. Being a complete imposter. Crying about it as he told me that most people call themselves artists and never make anything. He told me that I was making so much and not calling myself an artist, which wasn’t fair to anyone.

Dale was a huge part of “20/Nothing.” He had mentored us through the project and his hand in everything meant so much to us. We picked him up from his house in the craziest blizzard Missoula had ever seen. We slide all around the roads as we drove to the university. We sat in terrified silence in the studio as we screened “20/Nothing” for him. It finished. We sat in silence. He stared at the blank/finished screen and then said…

– One more time.

We pushed play again.

It finished. He looked at us and said…

– Well, hell. You kids have something here.

All of our insides smiled warmly as they collapsed together in an ecstatic faint.

He was the first person I texted when we won the PBS POV Award.

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In his own way, he got in that positive jab. Did he invent that? Making fun of someone whilst simultaneously complimenting them to the core?

During all our talk about being an artist or not, I told Dale about how much I wanted to do an art installation one day. He encouraged me, telling me he was always—especially—excited to help with those kinds of projects.

The last day I saw Dale, we did not speak. I just saw him briefly and he nodded at me and I knew something was wrong. He did not look well.

I found out that day he was sick. He was going to die.

I couldn’t stop thinking about our last conversation. I had seen him in the hallway and asked if I could talk with him about something I couldn’t shake. I was in the car with a producer, working on a film, and the producer hit a puppy and it was horrible and it was a nightmare and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Dale told me that I couldn’t shake it because I was a caring person and we should never feel bad for caring. He so readily comforted the fact that we were human and stood up for the goodness in all of us and acknowledged the fucked-up-ness in all of it.

We walked together out to the parking lot and the conversation turned to his frustrations with some parts of his job. His last words to me were paired with a very Dale curtsey,

– They don’t even pay for my parking, Rachel.

Those were the last words. And then he was gone.

Then we were laying on the floor, listening to this piece of sound. This piece of art. Dale’s dance card of loved ones saying goodbye.

 

 

 

………

 

A week later, it was time to name my thesis project for my master’s program. I adamantly insisted on an art installation.

It was a crazy idea I pitched and Frontier Space accepted. They accepted it so much that they insisted it be a First Friday opening.

You_Can_Be_Here_for_web_double

My idea was to take out the timers in parking meters and change them to music boxes. I also wanted to recreate parking tickets, rewrite them. Change the things they say to be inviting, encouraging, raw, open. Inviting people in. Talking about all the people that I want to be here. And cover a wall with them. Pink tickets. That was the color they had on campus.

It was the craziest time of my life. Learning a new art form, moving to Bozeman [for a new job], commuting to and fro between Missoula and Bozeman [because of aforementioned new job], starting the new job, trying to keep up with a newly-minted fiancé, finishing my master’s work, and ordering a ton of parking meter and music box pieces from eBay and praying to god it all works out.

Evan Smith was a saint and the most clutch team-member you’d ever want on your squad. He was an incredible tinkerer.

I wrote. Evan tinkered. I helped tinker. Evan welded. My advisor gave constant and solid advice. I spent many a nights in a small, cold space, reflecting, installing.

“You Can Be Here” was born.

I reached out to Dale’s wife to seek her input/approval. She said she could only come by late the night before the show opened. I was terrified.

It was all set up, ready to go, but the meters weren’t placed in their final positions yet.

She walked in the small space at 10:15pm and I held my breath. She looked around and made frank observations and gave honest critiques and advice.

– The meters need to be all in one line, close to the tickets.

And then on…

– You need to get the title of the show and your name printed in vinyl and put up on the wall.

She kept saying things like…

– Dale must’ve warned you about me, right? How I don’t hold anything back with my critiques.

I assured her I loved every turn, twist, and scenic overlook of this feedback.

We talked about art. About installations. We talked about how art is such an important part of the grieving process. We talked about Dale.

Then she said…

– This is really good. Dale would’ve approved. This needs to travel.

And then my insides smiled warmly as they collapsed together in an ecstatic faint.

That moment. That late night approval. That love. That was one of my favorite moments ever. It was connected in all the ways you want to exist.

“You Can Be Here” existed.

you_can_be_here_rachelyou_can_be_here_rachel_night

The next evening was also up there. So many loved ones, so many strangers, gathered in an alley. They picked up coins. They discovered the meters. They listened to music. They read the tickets. They laughed. They cried.

I was a buzzing part of it all. Dale was a gentle part of it all. It all shined. It all pulsated. It was everything.

It was one of the best times of my life in the saddest and the most joyous and the most connected way.

Thank you.

You can be here.

Please.

 

let’s make up dances.

I’m into defining my years. Naming them. Calling them out.

I’ve had the bad year: circa 2009.

bad_year

sad sketches of me from a friend. and the appropriate end to 2009.

Then there were fours years in between that escaped official titling. I was feverishly tornado-ing through life and the west, looking for purpose, creativity, love, adventures, paychecks, and more purpose. I picked Evan up on the way and we kept on spinning.

Then there was the year of survival: 2013.

surviving_year

so much scar maintenance.

Then the year of thriving: 2014.

thriving_year

lots of smiling. lots of winning.

And then there was 2015. Well, January 21, 2015 through January 20, 2016. [I go by my accident anniversary to ring in the new year.] So we’re coming up on the time to call it.

Evan and I recently came home from our honeymoon in Maui. It was so many wonderful things, but—maybe mostly—it was a gentle, invigorating, beautiful time for reflection.

van_window_ev_2

a quick snap when I went back to the van to get the camera. it’s not the best photo, but I love so much about this moment. love.

Relaxingly sitting on the beach or in this van was the best place for some 2015 reflection, because even thinking about the last year is exhausting.

So much happened. We made so much happen. I’ve figured out, it wasn’t the worst year, it wasn’t the best year [though some incredibly good things happened].

It was the year of change. Things changed.

And a lot of that change began on January 13, 2015. Today—a year ago today—I was offered a job at MERCURYcsc. We had made many a sneaky trip to Bozeman to interview and expand on the opportunity and on January 13th, the conversation of picking up and moving ended with an exclamation point… and then a question mark… and then a period.

This job is—hands down—the best thing I’ve done for my head in a long-ass time. The people, the work, the laughs, the opportunities, the learning. But we had to leave Missoula. We had to leave so many of the amazing friendships we had made. It sucked. It sucks.

The move wasn’t all good, it wasn’t all bad. Change.

And things were so crazy [exciting! devastating. surreal.] changing in the last year, that I didn’t even look hard at a lot of them. So that’s what I’m doing now.

In an effort to jump-start some of my resolutions [drink less! write more!], I will recount some of those changes, these things, for better or worse, on this here blahg.

Here we go. Let’s look at this change. Reflect. Write some things. Connect some ways. Look 2016 in the eyes and dance with it… no matter what song it sings… there’s a dance for every note…

[thank you, ashely, for the heads-up on the kanye song. on the pulse, as always.]

[let’s make up dances.]

 

 

a moment determined.

We live very close to a locals-favorite hiking hill.

Last night, I walked home by aforementioned hill and could not help but giggle at the sounds of two men [boys? unclear.] having way too much fun sledding down the hill. On tubes. It was one of those clear, cold nights where sounds were louder and moments were clearer. I heard them oh, shit, oh no, oh oh, no, no, yeah!, wooooohoooo! all the way down the hill and then pant up. I heard them so clear, I felt like I was there with them. I was instantly transported back to times on Snow King in Jackson. Sledding with friends, laughing and drinking and hurting from fun. And as my smile widened, I was brought back to reality when a deer with a sizable rack crosses the street right in front of me. It is not the most uncommon sight, but all the sudden the scene was surreal.

This morning, Evan and I woke up insanely early to go out and shoot a bit of film for a project for my company. As we drove by the local hill, I told him about my walk the night before and how a deer passed right in front of me. He asked me how big its antlers were and I told him,

– Well, a little bit bigger than mine…

montana_trophy_wife

my halloween costume from this year.

He laughed and told me I had a great rack. [husband points.]

We drove out to another local trail system and set up for shooting. Four of my co-workers came and we drank coffee and ate cinnamon rolls and laughed and shot takes and high-fived and asked questions and trudged through snow and marked out cues and lost the feeling in our hands and smiled. It was what we needed.

dream team
We meaning husband and wife creative team. We meaning the team at work. We meaning beings.We meaning him. We meaning me.

An insanely talented co-worker/friend—Seth—took photos from this morning and I adore them. Looking through them, I saw one from me scouting out where we wanted to start one of the scenes. I’m freezing, excited, strong, ready. I look almost angry, but I like it.

scouting.
A moment working. A moment inspired. A moment thinking. A moment freezing. A moment determined.

Moments worth remembering and craving.

The coldness is here and bringing welcome surprises.

Here’s to more of all that.

[let’s do this.]

I know there’s gonna be good times.

If this here blahg is good for one thing, it’s to look back. And looking back is usually a bit embarrassing and demoralizing. Half of these links are broken! Why the hell can’t I listen to this playlist anymore?!

You had to be there. When we were there, things were unbroken in so many ways.

Life seems to find four year cycles with me. It’s easy to find similarities in where I am now to four years ago. Semi-new to a job I am over the moon over. A new mountain town that taps into a favorite part of myself. Finding friends all over again and missing the incredible ones only 3-4 hours away. Finding me again. Finding new step in my relationship with Evan. [we’re married now.] It’s all so familiar in such different ways.

I do still take photos of myself with computer cameras. Less, now. It used to be taking dozens upon dozens and posting them on this here blahg on the regular…

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From this post. Which was nothing! But something. Something that was acceptable for four years ago. Those posts were—honestly—grasps at something much lesser than relevance. Existence. It’s like I had to look into that Photobooth camera to make sure I was there. I exist. I’m here.

Now I take photos one at a time. Just one-offs. At my desk. Mainly to send text messages to Evan when I’m drinking at work…

success
Tonight, after driving to and fro Helena for a presentation and then many [many!] more hours in the office, I found myself texting Evan another photo taken from my computer. To describe where I was at. To show I was tired. To show I found work wine.

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And I could not get over how sad my eyes look! I sent it and immediately looked myself in the eyes. And as I was figuring out that I am not sad… I am tired… happy and tired… Evan texted me back…

– Your office is like a Highlights “Find These Objects” Illustration.

It made everything light. Happy and tired and smiling. Yes and yes. And then I put on so many Jimmy Fallon Lip Sync Battles and cranked out the rest of the work.

Playing this song on repeat helped as well:

Here we are. Four years later. Graduated from that time. Just in time for this time. These dance moves. These ridiculous computer-selfies.

Here we are.

[so there they were.]