then we fall.

This Fall. This year.

It does feel like falling. Or jumping. Or closing. Or opening.

This weekend, I went with Evan to our plot in the community garden—a last-ditch effort for half-assed farmers. We harvested. It was a mess. A muddy, sad, overgrown, viney mess… with much to harvest, but another much to grieve.

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As I plucked off tomatillo after tomatillo, I asked Evan…

– Oh, man… is this garden a metaphor for our life?

– You mean, a lot of work in at the beginning and then we let it all go to shit?

We chuckled, but winced at the fear of the truth.

He was the first sunflower. I was the second.

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– Wait. Is that what’s happening?

– Probably not.

No. It’s not. Right?

Fall is just the time of finding things falling down. There’s this garden that you’ve made and it has incredible yields, but you’ve neglected and forgotten and avoided some the gems for so long.

But we won’t let that sadness take away from the juiciness of the newness, the fruits ripe for the picking. Vegetation—life—falling away from us, to reveal the brightness. The change. The breath of cool air that wakes us up. The beauty in finishing. The completeness of picking. It’s beautiful.

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I—after months and months—finally finished this book this weekend. I wept. I curled up on the couch and ugly cried—unabashedly wiping my nose on my sweatshirt. Completing. Done. This story—start to finish—a life—start to finish—cover to cover—done. Beautiful.

It was more than an article. More than an Instagram post. More than a film. More than a short story. A behemoth of a book—perfect to completion.

Things are finishing. Falling. Perfectly and imperfectly.

To toast to this, a playlist. Not a song. Not one video. [though, if it were one, it would be this one over and over.]

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From beginning to end. Then fall to begin.

[fall to begin.]

my favorite laugh.

When Evan finished his first semester of—official—nursing school, I did a little celebratory dance for the occasion.

And—of course—I watched the video over and over, because I’m addicted to that laugh. The beginning of this journey feels like so. long. ago. Because it’s been a really long journey—this whole Evan-in-Nursing-School thing. He has worked nights at a local restaurant to make it all work financially. He has pulled multiple all-nighter to study, write, and make it all work academically. He has been there for me as a husband, friend, and teammate. I’m amazed and impressed. And SO PROUD.

So for the end of his LAST semester in nursing school, I had an idea. On a trip with Allison, I told her about my idea to lip-synch a mutually beloved Drake song for Evan. Her response: “Well, obviously, I should do the Nicki Minaj part.” [this—and many more reasons—is why I love her so.] So we proceeded to have a weekend in Jackson where I relived my best middle school sleepovers and recorded MANY music videos. [the best. the funniest.]

So we went for it. And then we thought, “Maybe this would be even MORE fun if we asked some of Evan’s friends to participate.”

Evan was officially done with classes on Thursday and we were both just so ecstatic. Ev had to work Friday night, so I set it all up. I wrote on our chalkboard, “YOU DID IT!” I left him a card…

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…with a bottle of whisky. The card included the reference, “I want some whisky!” which was from the night Evan found out he was accepted to Montana State University’s accelerated nursing program. A bookend bottle of whisky. [note: that post ALSO includes a strong Drake reference.]

I tried to stay up and wait for Evan, surprise him with all this love and then surprise him with this video I had waiting.

But I fell asleep on the couch. And could not be awoken. It was a long day!

So the next morning, I was shakey and excited and nervous and just wanted to show Evan this video. This ah-mazing video that our friends made so incredible.

So we were drinking coffee and I said to Evan, “Ohhh noooo… shit! I just got some bad feedback on a video I’ve been working on for FIB.” [lies.] [also, FIB = First Interstate Bank… a regular client.]

He was bummed for me. [gotta love him.] I asked if he’d watch the video with me and tell me what he thought of it. He stopped working on bikes to gladly watch. I set up my computer to secretly record on the coffee table [black tape over the Photobooth light, brightness turned alllll the way down so the screen is black… you’re welcome].

Oh my goodness. That laugh. So much of that laugh. Worth all the late nights. All the hard weeks. All the shitty months. All the alone togetherness. All the tears. Worth it.

I love it. I love him. I love this laugh. I love this video. Don’t even try to make me stop watching it thousands of times over.

[and all I can say is…]

things that gave me life this week…

This episode of This American Life:

But—moreso—the in-credible photos of Ira Glass as a child magician

• The new Arcade Fire songs, but mostly this one…

Some of the lyrics are a little too real, but I’ll let it slide…

“God, make me famous… If you can’t, just make it painless.”

“It goes on and on, I don’t know what I want. On and on, I don’t know if I want it.”

The Standups on Netflix.

Okay, mostly the Nate Bargatze one [would/will watch this episode a hundred times in a row].

Okay, also the Fortune Feimster’s episode [already watched it twice.]

Also recommended:

• Writing workshops with Thunderhead Collective.

Though you might end up crying on the floor… on purpose… and love it.

• A casual two and a half hour phone conversation with your best friend.

NBD.

[that’s all I got for this here blahg.]

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.

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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.]

 

 

some much needed alicia keys.

It’s been a weird few weeks. That is being generous to the last month. A lot of it came to the saddest apex yesterday with layoffs at my job. I survived this first round. Some of my closest Bozeman friends did not survive the layoffs.

The tone today at work was sad/confused/dazed/sad/overwhelmed/dazed/sad.

I saw this video and immediately felt SO MUCH YES. I know that blahg posts like these are incredible irrelevant these days, because most of you will say, “yeah, I saw that on Facebook hours ago, wtf, this is useless.”

But I don’t care. THIS. This is exactly how I feel. About going forward. About the last month. About life. About dancing. About my friends. About love.

I watched it five times today.

I sent it to a friend who was laid-off yesterday and told her I was going to come to her house and do this. All of this. Now.

I sent it to my best friend in the world and she told me he reminded her of Evan and me dancing at our Wyoming wedding celebration. I smiled so big.

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I loved it. I love it.

[that is all.]

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.

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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.

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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.