a portrait of mountains (and such) as you move across the United States

You would think that, having grown up in the mountains, I would know what a mountain looks like. But one thing this journey has taught me is that mountains, while they are all recognizable for being the same land formation, have more forms and shapes and constructs than should be described by a single word.

The mountains in my hometown are small and rounded, and they are closely grouped together. The foothills of the Appalachians are almost more reminiscent of tight-knit, smoothed-over hills than mountains, though they do rise out of the ground with a certain sense of majesty that you might expect from a mountain. Still, the valleys have never quite felt like a “valley” to me – more like a dip in the landscape than a basin to collect the rain and the roads and the people. But those are the mountains I grew up with.

As you travel through New Mexico, the closest thing to a mountain is a plateau – short hills with the top sheared off like a man aiming for that vintage flat-top look. On the other hand, there is a more distinct sense of what a valley is – a deep and long depression in the land, cut through by a distant river. The sides of the plateaus are composed of a hundred thousand colors, all yellows and reds and blues and purples and whites.

The air in the plateaus has a strange quality which many of us wouldn’t recognize at first: it is clean. There is no smog, of course, because the cities are few and far between. But there is also no humidity or fog, and thus little moisture to thicken the air. Because of the clear air, the colors are deep and rich, especially at sunset, and the details pop out in vivid clarity, even at great distances. I understand why so many artists, especially painters, move to this incredible state. Taking National Geographic-worthy photos is all too easy in New Mexico.

As you get further west into Arizona and even California, the mountains change again. It’s as if a heavy piece of cloth has been draped over a series of incongruous objects, so that the folds of the cloth swoop down and into the ground, leaving the driver to navigate his or her way through the valleys, in-between the unknown objects. I keep waiting for a magician to pull up the cloth and yell, “surprise! It’s actually a ceramic donkey!”

These mountains are odd because they seem to rise out of nothing – the plains are flat, but somehow, there is a mountain in front of you. The valleys feel like a continuation of the flat plateau you’ve been driving since Texas, with a growth of mountains now looming overhead. I drove a hundred miles, and the elevation stayed at 5000 ft (there were signs!), and when it changed, the elevation even dropped – but still, somehow, I was driving through the mountains.

In California, as I drove north, the Mountains snuck up on me; at first, it just seemed like there was a gray haze on the horizon, but suddenly they were distinct shapes, with peaks and valleys and clouds sitting on top.

Still, the terrain was composed of gently rolling hills (I’ve never understood that phrase until now), spotted with the numerous cows and the occasional barn. The colors were so bright and intense and varied that I’m not sure artists will ever be able to fully capture or name the individual colors in those hills. Some fields were the bright yellow-green which happens to photographs when you increase the contrast too high on computers; other fields were almost teal or aqua-blue in color, subtly muted by shadow. And the shadows themselves were a deep blue or purple, standing out starkly against the bright colors of the hills. Finally, the hills were dotted with trees which only grew on the very top of the hill, as if a child who didn’t yet understand perspective had drawn them into existence. It was all surreal.

As I approached the mountains near Angels Camp, they never seemed to get closer, but the rolling hills gradually increased in size, until suddenly the roads were curving around the steep mountainsides. In Angels Camp, the houses are built into the sides of mountains in such a way that reminds me a little of the way hobbits live in the hills in Lord of the Rings – as if the land is supported by the house, and the house is supported by the land, and to take either away would cause the other to collapse.

In Angels Camp, the houses and town are situated between tightly-packed mountains, but the town lacks the feeling of being situated in a valley, similar to the valley-less feel of the mountains of North Georgia. However, it is not to be confused with the tightly-packed mountains of North Georgia, for these California mountains are steep and winding, whereas the southern Appalachians are nearly smooth and rounded. Instead, it is more like the valleys are far below us, and we are perched between the shoulder blades of tightly-packed mountains, in the cracks and crevices between the peaks.

I could write pages and pages on my impressions of the mountains (and hills and plateaus) as they change across the southern stretch of the United States – but I would have as many impressions as there are individual mountains, and I’m honestly not quite sure what the word “mountain” means anymore.

A man-made reservoir a few miles from my new home.

A man-made reservoir a few miles from my new home.

My Home

The view from my new home. The home is a little…down-trodden. But the view makes up for it all!

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california, here I come

If you know me in “real life” or if you’ve been paying the remotest amount of attention to Facebook, then you know that in a few short days, I will be moving to California.

To answer a few of the most basic questions: Yes, I am excited. I will be moving to Angels Camp, which is a very small town in Eastern Central California, a couple hours almost directly inland from San Francisco. I will be working for the whitewater rafting company called OARS, where I will be part of the reservations team and marketing department – in the most exciting development, I’m going to actually get paid to blog for them.

Once my seasonal position at OARS is complete, I will hopefully be attending Graduate School, location TBD. If Grad School does not happen this year, for whatever reason (cost, rejection, meteors), then I will be taking some supplemental classes, volunteering for the nearest Environmental organization I can find, and working full-time so as to not die under a mountain of high-cost living.

Also on the FAQ list:

  • Yes, I will be able to go on all the outdoor adventure and rafting trips I want. You are welcome to be jealous, but you’re also welcome to come visit, and I’ll see what I can do.
  • There is not a lot of dancing where I’m going – but I have a plan! More on that in the next couple of weeks over at the Lindy Affair.
  • Packing sucks. I’m trying to sell everything. Would you like to buy a bed stand for $10? It has a lamp attached!
  • I am driving out. First I will drive to NOLA, where I will stay with the lovely Kerry. Then I will drive to Houston, where I am working for the stellar event known as Lindy Fest, which is hosting the Lone Star Championships this year. From there, I will be proceeding to San Francisco – anyone have a place for me to stay between Texas and California?
  • I do not know the exact location where I will be living yet, though I am having a couple conversations with potential roommates and landlords. I will let you know when I know, and you are all welcome to send me “WELCOME TO YOUR NEW HOME” cards and care packages.

The most difficult thing I find, at the moment, is saying goodbye to all the amazing friends I have here in Atlanta. At Hot Jam, I was blessed to be individually approached by three newer members in our dance community and told of the impact I made in their dance. One lead told me, “Dancing with you makes me a better dancer.” I nearly cried. The bottom line is that I have taught a bunch of beginner’s classes at Hot Jam, and I’ve really enjoyed contributing to the Atlanta community; I will miss it. I’ve also worked hard as a volunteer and formed some pretty spectacular friendships with some pretty amazing people.

My official going away party will be Sunday the 10th, and if anyone needs the location or time, please let me know! In that vein, my last day in Atlanta is Monday the 11th, where I will be attending Hot Jam for the last time as a regular. I hope that everyone comes out – because honestly, you guys have made me into a better person.

I am sad to leave the community which has taught me to dance and supported me through life over the last few years. However, I am beyond excited to start the next phase of my life – one which will be full of learning, new friends, and adventure. Such great adventure.

California is soon to be my new home. So here’s some Joni Mitchell for you, ‘cause it’s on my playlist on my phone, and it makes me excited every time I hear it.

the reluctant feminist

I have never really been a feminist, and I don’t think I ever will be one as it is commonly defined. I believe in women’s rights: I am pro-choice, I believe in equality in the workforce, and I think rape is a real thing. But I do not loudly fight for these rights, as I prefer a peaceful life for myself. All the other feminists probably scoff at me, and I don’t blame them. I do not educate myself on the challenges women face in life, and I choose not to get angry at potential injustices that even I face on a daily basis.

It could be that I just have a bad perception of feminism. I see so many feminists loudly rail against perceived injustices,* which I don’t see as a big issue. For example, I don’t think it’s a big deal in swing dance when teachers use the terms “guys” and “girls” for leads and follows. In fact, I absolutely love leading, and I often take a class as a female lead – but I have no need for the teachers to change how they speak. When they say, “Guys, rock step on your left foot,” I know they’re including me, and that’s fine.

I don’t want to be a loud, abrasive, ball-breaking feminist. I don’t want to have to fight for my rights in the working world. I don’t want to fight over wage inequality, because in reality, we all make more than we need anyway. I don’t want to have to become ruthless, argumentative, or easily offended for my gender to get forward in the working world. In all honesty, I would love being a part-time housewife.** But I do understand why other women get angry. And this week, I have been tempted to change my ways and begin railing against the injustices of sexist discrimination in the workplace.

I’ll keep the story short. An male acquaintance of mine has terrible work ethic, is too lazy to network, and refuses to job hunt as long as he is able to scrape along and pay his bills; however, he has been handed two – not one, but two – jobs without any effort. He did not network, he did not apply for the jobs, and he did not even have to interview. He is now paid more working part time for twenty hours a week than I make working full time.

On the other hand, I have been struggling as a temp while actively job hunting for two years, both in low-skill jobs at a basic wage, and in moderately-well-paying, entry-level jobs for which I am actually qualified through my major in college. Even my goal in graduate school is to advance my degree to a place where I am more than qualified for the environmental science jobs to which I will apply, so that I will actually get the job and not be poor all my life. Only recently have I had a modicum of success, but only for a seasonal position (which is actually convenient, but that’s not the point), and only through some incredible family networking. My job search has been the opposite of his, and the only moderately satisfying explanation I can find is sexism.

I’m honestly happy for my acquaintance, who is excited about the new job he is working. But I am upset that I have had such a difficult time finding work, while he has been handed two jobs. His work ethic includes a lot of Facebook and TV on Hulu, and I honestly think that his terrible work ethic is looked over at least in part due to his gender. At the same time, he has been handed jobs with no effort on his part – and again, the only thing I can see is gender. It is true that I probably don’t know the whole situation – but it stands that gender has likely played a role in both his and my job hunt.

Here’s the bottom line: believing that men have such an advantage in the work place makes me upset. I don’t want to depend in a sexist explanation, because it takes away my personal culpability and capability in my job search, and I believe both of those facets are important for success, both inside and outside the working world.

In the realm of culpability, I know that sometimes, I slack off – I go through phases where I don’t submit as many applications, and I haven’t tried to advance my environmental resume since I graduated. I avoid serious networking because I am an introvert, and it makes me uncomfortable. In those areas, I could improve, and blaming a lack of personal competency on men’s advantage through gender is avoiding the acknowledgement of my own very real flaws.

As for capability, blaming workplace inequalities on discrimination against women takes away my ability to rise above those inequalities by the simple reality of hard work, extreme competency, and good work relationships. I am qualified, and I generally believe I can get the job if I try hard enough (where legitimate networking will always give someone else the leg up, regardless of qualifications). But to assume that a man will get the position before me nine times out of ten is to give up my dreams of getting the job before submitting my application. This becomes a defeatist, self-fulfilling prophecy which I can forever blame on men, despite a lack of faith that I can even be equal in the eyes of my interviewer.

Strangely, the most upsetting part of this story is the reaction I received when I idiotically posted my feelings on Facebook. I posted a brief and vague feminist status expressing my frustration, along the lines of “I have never believed in being a raging feminist against perceived injustices, but today I am considering changing my mind.” The reactions I received ranged from those who were angrier than I felt to those who were dismissive of the possible discrimination I have seen in my personal job hunt. I was shocked: both reactions were so extreme that I felt uncomfortable expressing my moderate feminist feelings. I was told that I was either underreacting or overreacting, and that’s absurd – I feel how I feel, and that should be the end of the discussion.

So here’s the conclusion: I don’t think that sexism in the workplace is okay. But I do have faith that this person will one day get his ass handed to him when he has a boss that sees straight, and that will be a good day for the rest of the world. I also have to believe that I will one day succeed in the working world, no matter my age, gender, or beliefs – because I don’t want to live in a world where working hard and being awesome isn’t enough. I might be naive, but I am only a reluctant feminist.

***

*“Perceived injustices”: I believe that many loud feminists rail against acts which can potentially be explained as coincidence or misinterpretation – or even a poor choice of words in the heat of the moment. I do not believe that all men are out to get us, and I believe that constantly acting like they are will only serve to hurt us in the long run.

**Part-time because I believe in productivity, and I would find a way to contribute, no matter what. Anyways, a housewife has one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and I’d be awesome at it. My mom was a part-time housewife, and my brother and I have always appreciated the love and effort and support she put into our lives.

my parents are pretty bad-ass

For no particular reason, I would just like to take a moment to appreciate my parents.

My mom bought me these flowers. Aren’t they gorgeous? More importantly, though, she also bought me nearly $200 worth of groceries, including various medicines and a cinnamon broomstick which is making the house smell incredible. She is possibly the wisest person I’ve known in my life.

My dad taught me to love to read. Not just do it to expand my vocabulary, but do it to expand my brain. This reading has taught me to use my brain and be an intelligent person, and when I have great and intelligent conversations using literary references like I have today, and when I kick ass at trivia like I’ve had recently, I appreciate his passion for learning in ways I can’t quite actually explain.

I love my mom and dad dearly. It seemed worth sharing.

on my love for my new hair color

I do not know why I didn’t dye my hair this color years ago. I feel so much more natural with this dark brown hair than I ever have before; it’s surreal, actually, how comfortable I am with such a marked change.

In particular, I love how it changes what I’m able to wear: I can wear yellow without being washed out, and I can wear bright pink lipstick without fear of looking like a clown. And red lipstick? I can’t even tell you how sexy it is. This hair looks so natural with my skin tone, and I absolutely love it.

Also, pro-tip: if your hair is light and you’re thinking about going darker, you can use eye shadow to make the color of your eyebrows closer to your new hair color. It makes everything look more natural, and it’s a really easy, really cheap fix.

In short: if you need a hair stylist in Atlanta, look at Vivid Hair Salon; Grace was my stylist, and she was both skilled and affordable. Also, if you tell them I recommended you, we both get a $20 off coupon!

competing in solo jazz: i only have myself to blame

They make me sick to my stomach. I get in front, and my mind goes ”           .” While this is fresh on my mind, I want to share how I feel — not because I want the encouragement or techniques on how to get past the “deer in the headlights” effect, but because the more I understand how I feel, the more I will be able to combat that feeling in the future.

The setting: I am at the Jubilee Jazz Revival, and it’s been great; One Leg Up was playing, and I absolutely loved every song in their set. As such, I was having a great time, despite some wardrobe challenges and shoe issues.

I love solo dancing to good music, but comps are another thing. A little bit of goading, though, and I agreed to compete — if only for giggles and shits. Realistically, this is a small event, and it’s just for fun…but it still makes me nervous, and I wasn’t particularly confident or interested in competing. I planned a couple of easy entrances, thought up some of my favorite moves from the Tranky Doo, and I was done. Easy, right?

For the all-skate, I felt okay: I did some mostly-clean, moderately creative solo work. But when that first spot light came on, I completely forgot what I was doing. Tranky What? What’s Charleston? Am I supposed to look at the audience? WHY ARE YOU ALL LOOKING AT ME? MY SHOES ARE SO INTERESTING…

The worst part is that I knew the song. It’s by the New Orleans Racket Makers, and it’s actually one of my favorite songs to solo dance to. It’s a good, moderate tempo, with some great musicality and fun hits. But it wasn’t until the third spotlight that I was able to calm down enough to remember how the song went and dance with the music — and finally, that spotlight went mostly okay! But that was all I had, and the song was over, and I had no chance to sit in my groove and really enjoy the dancing.

I think the most frustrating part is how many people came up to me afterwards to tell me what a great job I’d done. Granted, most of those people were beginning and beginning-intermediate dancers who are just impressed that a few people had the balls to stand in the middle and pretend to know what they’re doing. Regardless, I knew I didn’t do a great job. The only remarkable thing I did, in fact, was actually get up there and try…but I wasn’t prepared, and I don’t feel like I gave it my all.

And there, folks, I think we have the bottom line: I didn’t give it my all. I half-ass competed because I was nervous and I know solo jazz isn’t my thing (yet), and so before the dancing even started, I gave myself a mental “pass” if I didn’t do well. I gave up before the competition started. And so to have so many people tell me how great a job I did is…well, it makes me embarrassed for myself. Maybe if I’d been in the right mind set, or if I’d planned on competing and I’d choreographed a couple of phrases — maybe then I would have been more confident and I would have put more into it. But I wasn’t feeling it, and I was nervous, and so I backed out of throwing myself into it. So much for that plan I’d made, right?

Now that I think about it, I don’t even think it’s that I drew a blank in those first few counts of my first spot light: instead, it’s almost like I didn’t even care to write something. I knew I wasn’t going to place, and so I didn’t even try. And that, my friends, is absolutely the worst thing you can do to yourself, whether dancing, competing, job hunting, working, or existing in day-to-day life.

So, for all future comps, I resolve to not compete if I don’t think I can give it my all. And if I agree to compete, no matter my reservations? Well, then I will make a social contract with myself: to always smile, look at the audience, and (at the very least) do my best.

 

the (20)12 ways ILHC rocked my socks off

One: Pure Awesome.

This performance by Josh Welter and Mélanie Huot-Lavoie. Hands down my favorite performance for its musicality, technicality, and surprise-icality. It is so crisp, clean, well-timed, and creative – and every turn in the performance makes me rewind a few seconds just to watch it again. I love how it doesn’t just hit all the musicality, it adds to the musicality of the song. I swear to you, it took me almost twelve minutes to watch this performance once through the first time I watched it on youtube.

Two: There’s an Elephant in the Room…

You’ve probably already seen this performance by Todd Yannacone and Ramona Staffeld – but if you’re not really into Lindy Hop (yet), this might inspire you to join our ranks. Or if you’ve managed to miss all the buzz about this performance, you should probably catch up.

Three: Lindy Hopper’s Dozen (get it? It’s a pun)

The Lindy Hopper’s Dozen. This performance was the last of eleven teams, and the energy in the room was dead – we’d been cheering all weekend, and we just didn’t have a lot of energy. But HOLY COW, this team totally brought the energy back, and the whole crowd went wild. It is clean, creative, and inspiring. Just goes to show, you don’t need aerials to win.

Four: Laura Glaess’ arms

I love Laura’s arms. I really do. If you’re a dancer and you’re looking for something to work on, look at your arms. Now look at hers. Now look back at yours and be inspired. And if you’re looking for a specific example, the image of her at 1:31 has been stuck in my head for the last week.

Five: Creative Floor Use and Shapes

I also loved this team performance by Swinging Air Force. It has some great and creative aerial sequences, and I love how the team uses the space and makes shapes on the floor.

In fact, all the teams were amazing, and you should really check them out as soon as you get a minute (or when you’re procrastinating on packing, like I was).

Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine: Little Kids Swinging Out

Junior’s Division. Do I need to stay more? Links for your viewing pleasure:

First Place– Pontus Spelmans & Lena Magnusson
Second Place – Doriel Pryntz-Nadworny & Hannah Phillips
Third Place – Rafal Pustelny & Leith Conybeare
The Youngest Kids (OMG ADORABLE — just wait for the swingouts!)

Ten: Being Part of the Staff: I had the honor and pleasure to work as staff in the judges’ room with Tony, Aurelie, Patty, and Scott. I have never been so proud to be part of such an efficient, industrious, and excellent event; the people who work this event are truly dedicated to the Lindy Hop community. It was an incredible experience, no matter how long the hours were.

Next year, however, I think I’m going to get a lasso and some alcohol to make wrangling the judges easier… (Don’t worry; the alcohol will be a reward for after they’ve judged the comps.)

Eleven: Lindy Hop Hall of Fame Honorees: These people have given so much to a community which we all love and adore. To recognize their generosity and contributions is the least we can do, and I am so glad that I was able to meet and talk to a few of these incredible people.

Twelve: How the Pros Steal:

And just because it can’t be left out, you should watch how the pros do steal dances. It’s smooth, it’s creative, and it’s hilarious. Winning.

In Conclusion: A huge thanks go out to Tena, Nina, and Sylvia. ILHC was an incredible success, and I can’t wait to attend next year!

***

Honorable Mention: Meeting new people: This is standard for most events, but I feel like I haven’t met so many new people since I first started traveling. I was exceptionally lucky in that I was able to really get to know some people who I have known of or known only as an acquaintances – whether it was in the judges’ room, on the balcony, or on the elevator, I was always meeting and talking to some incredible people. In particular, I was able to meet a few people who blog, or who have read my blog – let me tell you, it was simultaneously flattering, exciting, and almost intimidating to meet so many people who knew me through this forum.

I am so incredibly inspired by watching everything at ILHC, dancing with all these amazing people, and talking to so many interesting and thoughtful Lindy Hoppers that I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop talking about dancing for a while. My poor, poor coworkers…