Monday, May 19, 2014

Z-Arts Annual Writing Contest Winning Entry

While traveling to Norway earlier this month, I received an email saying that I won 1st place in the adult non-fiction category for the annual Z-Arts writing contest. Z-Arts is the local arts and humanities organization serving the Zion Canyon communities of Springdale, Rockville, and Virgin, Utah.

The Nefarious Passport of Bliss

               International travel is one of those things which can easily take a person from her comfort zone to something far from it in an instant. It is a crucible of intense growth and understanding of personal capacity, especially when one is actively involved in the process. In the moment a situation may be the worst thing imaginable, but as time passes one may be able to realize the humor in the situation. Moreover, based on the individuals involved in a situation, the same event could be viewed as great or just plain awful.
               Many times during my time traveling abroad and living abroad, I cursed my situation and often holding an American passport because of the ideas people held about Americans based largely on whatever American TV show was currently being dubbed and played there. Sadly, many of these shows are from TLC, which shows perhaps the worst of what America has to offer. However, many times my passport got me to the front of a border crossing, especially on days when it was so humid that it would start to suck any remnant of life from you.
               For two years I lived in a post-Soviet country where my marital status, or I should say lack there-of, was a constant source of concern and distress for people. I was in my early thirties –gasp!- not married. Having lived in Utah for most of the 11 years prior I was accustom to this, but I was not accustom to serious offers of men or potential engagements minutes (literally) after meeting someone.
               For the first few weeks this concern held a sort of endearing quality, but quickly it became downright obnoxious. Soon I learned all the proper responses in the local language, and played along. It was hard to articulate, however, that 1) I know they felt I was a failure because I wasn’t married and 2) that I would never marry a man from that country because I knew how men there treated women.
               My time abroad also introduced me to many new and exciting forms of “transportation,” a term I use loosely. Most modes were levels of hell that not even Dante could have conceived of. Being American, trains are a mode of transport most people have not experienced much beyond the commuter realm. Moreover, my idea of train travel had been highly influenced by Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, which conjured images of train travel in its heyday. (Adrian Brody was an added bonus.) Sadly, trains in a post-Soviet country are leftovers from the past and held together with something intangible like hopes and dreams. Consequently, the prospect of travel within the country lost a lot of  appeal quickly based on simply getting there. The lesser of two evils didn’t exist.
               Considering my increasing displeasure over the constant discussion of getting me married off to a “kai bitchi” (a nice local man), and the fact I grew to loathe in-country travel, it is ironic that one of my favorite memories eventually came out of a combination of the two. Years later I smile when I reminisce about it, but in the moment I did anything but.
               One cold February, my host brother, a government official, and I both had business trips to attend to in the capital at the same time. I was meeting with the Minister of Education who became mesmerized when I said I lived in a little mountain village outside of Las Vegas, which is true in a sense, but mainly I said it that way because I actually knew those words in the local language. For reasons I never fully understood, Las Vegas holds some mystical power over the local population. Our return trip involved the infamous night train. Because our employers were footing the bill for the transportation, we were able to stay in a cabin. Most of the other passengers could only afford the seats that only imperceptibly reclined for a long 9 hour train ride to the coast.
               For several days my host brother could think of only one thing, and discussed it excitedly, perhaps too excitedly, to the point where I was becoming concerned.
               “Chemi da (My sister)…I hope that our cabin mate on the train is a hot woman…that would be great.”
               My host brother was 38.
I looked at him with a considerable amount of skepticism, and slowly replied, “Really? That is all you want?” I had half expected him to say he wanted our cabin mate to be a guy that I could marry as that answer would have not been unusual in the least.
As our 10 p.m. departure time grew closer Zviadi became increasingly giddy at the prospect of the fourth person in our cabin, with the third being his work colleague. The stars did not align for Zviadi that night. Perhaps things would have worked out better if he had lit some candles at one of the Orthodox churches before our departure.
Instead, we got Marcel.
Marcel spoke no English, which made conversing with him difficult, as my language abilities were limited and I spoke with the coastal region accent. Marcel had two notable qualities. First, he was single and looking…hard. Two, he was from Dmanisi. Dmanisi is the site where one of the oldest humanoid skeletons has been unearthed. Judging from his size and stature, I would venture a guess that Marcel was a direct descendent of that man.
We quickly learned that Marcel was going on vacation to the coast, though later admitted to be moving there. Within minutes he was entranced by me, despite the fact I felt I could not look any worse than I did right then. Hair askew. Dark circles under my eyes. Old work shirt made to look even worse by poor local washing powders and washing machines. Zviadi would translate Marcel’s earnest inquires about me. He went from “Would she like to go get dinner?” to “Would she like to get married?” with a furious speed that I was even unaccustomed to and I was from Utah the move quick to marriage capital of the United States! Apparently, answering affirmatively to whether I liked certain local cuisine made me a more than sufficient prospect for marriage. My host brother and his colleague reveled at my situation. At one point, I realized he said he was going to live on Chavchavadze Street, which meant down the street from my host brother and me.
“Do not tell him where we live,” I said through almost clenched teeth while wearing a smile so as not to arouse suspicion on Marcel’s part. As we disembarked from the train I fervently prayed not to run into Marcel. I didn’t want the family to know I had turned down a serious marriage proposal from someone who might provide my children with very ancient DNA. They would be crushed, and I would bring them a great shame.

I never ran into Marcel after alighting from the train. I’m okay with not knowing what bliss might have come of that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

496 Things in 31 Days: A Possession Purge

496 Things in 31 Days: A Possession Purge

For some time I've been following a couple of guys and their website. The Minimalists, to put it simply, promote living with less to live more, an idea that seems almost un-American in today’s society. Fortunately, an increasing number of people are realizing that less can truly be more.

On March 1st they posted a challenge to their readers to get rid of things in their lives. It didn't matter how (whether trash, recycling, donations, etc.), it just mattered to get rid of things that were weighing you down. The caveat to this was how to go about getting rid of things. On March 1st it was 1 thing. On March 2nd it was two things. You get the idea, so that by March 31st you would get rid of 31 things on that day. In total you would get rid of 496 things in 31 days.

I found this challenge intriguing to say the least. I've always thought that I had so little compared to others, a fact I took pride in. I was a little concerned that I had dropped a significant amount of stuff at DI (the Utah equivalent of Goodwill) just the week prior, and initially I thought that would negatively impact my ability to get rid of close to 500 things in 31 days. (Spoiler alert: it didn't).

Living in a national park makes any living situation different. I live in a 15’ x 15’ dorm room with small attached closet/dressing area and a much coveted private bathroom. As I began to go through my things, it shocked me. I had way more than I thought I did. I kept questioning why I had initially thought keeping something would be a good idea or why I even got it in the first place. During the process I felt like such a hypocrite. I thought I lived simply, but I really didn’t.

With the project I was rather ambitious, and finished on March 22nd. Every day I looked forward to spending some time getting rid of things. Moreover, some things that I still valued at the beginning of the month I did not value the same by the end of the month. Moreover, there were several times I had to get creative with what I was getting rid of, like with the emails. Even though they are intangible, holding on to them for no good reason was just as much a burden as something physical.

On day 2, I began keeping a list of everything I got rid of for this project.

March 1st
● 1 bag of recycling

March 2nd
● 1 bag of plastic bags ● 1 non-BPA free Camelbak waterbottle

March 3rd
● 1 empty metal Carmex container ● 1 nearly empty Tommy Bahama perfume I stopped using ● 1 thing I absolutely cannot remember

March 4th
● 2 Shape magazines ● 1 empty plastic container ● 1 crappy pedometer

March 5th
● 2 necklace chains ● 2 dish towels ● 1 spatula

March 6th
● 2 necklaces ● 2 pairs of pants ● 2 blouses

March 7th
● 1 hideous matted picture of Zion ● 1 miniature whisk ● 1 knife sharpener ● 4 knives

March 8th
● 2 books ● 1 lavender sachet that no longer smells ● 1 black camisole ● 1 package of chopsticks from Hong Kong ● 1 pair of old glasses ● 1 glasses case

March 9th
● 1 HP computer media player remote for my old laptop ● 1 Old Navy jean jacket ● 6 crappy plastic hangars ● 1 used battery

March 10th
● 1 mostly empty bottle of red puffy paint ● 5 old Aleve pills ● 1 stretched out hair elastic ● 1 old eyeglass lens cleaning cloth ● 1 old pair of glasses with clip-on sunglasses ● 1 empty shampoo bottle

March 11th
● 1 old foot powder I never used ● 1 bottle of expired allergy medicine from Target ● 1 shoe box liner ● 4 formally white tank tops ● 3 exfoliating bath gloves ● 1 St. George area coupon book

March 12th
● 12 crappy panty liners

March 13th
● 2 turquoise hair clips ● 1 Self magazine ● 2 seasons of Psych on DVD ● 1 yoga mat holder ● 1 eyeglass case ● 1 cracked and failing Saturn windshield screen ● 1 old laundry bag ● 1 copy of The Lord of the Rings trilogy ● 1 pair of glasses ● 2 pairs of black Gap trousers

March 14th
● 2 pairs of jeans ● 2 soda bottle caps ● 2 plastic plates ● 1 plastic bowl ● 1 plastic toothbrush holder ● 1 empty Cheerwine glass soda bottle ● 2 purple plastic pocket-sized combs ● 1 big bag of shredding ● 1 Velvet & Vine blood orange and hibiscus body butter ● 1 empty Altoids container

March 15th
● 1 obsolete bent key ● 1 Michael Graves computer bag ● 1 Bath & Body Works hand sanitizer ● 1 less than accurate tire pressure gauge ● 1 envelope of St. George area coupons ● 1 Christmas card ● 1 map of France & the Benelux countries ● 1 wine cork ● 1 plastic allegedly unbreakable comb ● 1 Walgreens March 2014 coupon book ● 1 Walgreens vitamin supplement booklet ● 4 Zions Bank deposit slips

March 16th
● 8 Zions Bank deposit slips ● 1 expired AAA membership card ● 1 Women’s Health magazine ● 1 envelope of shredding ● 1 2012 work ID ● 4 books

March 17th
● 4 books ● 2 People magazines ● 4 PETA stickers ● 2 Protect Zion stickers ● 1 3M bubble mailer ● 1 2013 health insurance open enrollment brochure ● 1 metal tin ● 2 expire coupons

March 18th
● 2 expired coupons ● 1 Wells Fargo 401K re-enrollment letter ● 1 Happy 30th Birthday card I forgot to give 2 different people ● 1 Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance newsletter ● 1 wedding announcement for a wedding I didn’t attend ● 1 Minnesota DMV vehicle registration renewal letter ● 1 Wells Fargo 401K booklet ● 1 plastic sheet protector ● 2 Wells Fargo ATM cards ● 1 Walgreens Balance Rewards card ● 2 ticket stubs from The Hobbit Part I ● 1 brochure about Columbus, Indiana’s Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor ● 1 2011 NPS National Parks Pass ● 1 Barnes & Noble plastic bag ● 1 2013 calendar

March 19th
● 217 Zion Adventure Company business cards

March 20th
● 1 paper bag from the Springdale Candy Company ● 2 business cards ● 1 plastic bag ● 1 dicey adapter bought from a ghetto back-alley street market in Batumi, Republic of Georgia ● 1 dead travel alarm clock from Israel ● 2 pieces of glass from picture frames ● 1 pair of ripped tights ● 2 horrible bras ● 5 magnets ● 1 non-BPA free Nalgene water bottle ● 3 priority mail envelopes

March 21st
● 9 priority mail envelopes ● 1 pair of black leggings ● 2 healing balms for muscle pain ● 1 container of aspirin ● 1 Bath & Body Works face mask ● 1 foot spray ● 2 books ● 4 crappy hangers

March 22nd
● 2 hangers ● 1 cardboard box ● 1 box of pastel chalks ● 1 stack of Z-Arts paperwork ● 1 expired coupon ● 1 postcard ● 2 ugly pieces of cardstock ● 1 pair of broken earrings ● 1 Altoids container ● 1 empty Ziploc gallon size bag ● 1 dress ● 10 Crayola markers

March 23rd
● 8 Crayola markers ● 1 ball point pen ● 14 crappy pictures of Zion and Georgia

March 24th
●13 crappy pictures of Zion and Georgia ● 1 Christmas card from 2012 ● 1 Zion National Park Map and Guide ● 1 copy of my resume ● 1 empty Radisson Blu Batumi sugar packet ● 7 random paper scraps from my travel journal box

March 25th
● 6 sheets of tissue paper ● 1 cracked Ziploc plastic container ● 1 empty plastic bag from under the car seat ● 1 bin of recycling ● 1 pedometer fitness guide ● 1 stretched out hair elastic ● 1 Grand Circle postcard ● 12 gross caramels ● 1 almost empty bag of trail mix

March 26th
● 2 expired containers of plan Greek yogurt ● 1 Trader Joe’s Creamy Peanut Butter that froze in the fridge ● 1 box of fridge baking soda ● 11 credit card receipts from the car ● 1 2003 Utah Driver Handbook ● 2 napkins ● 1 empty Carmex lip balm ● 1 damaged U2 cd ● 1 expired Utah vehicle registration ● 1 2011 Road Runner oil change document ● 3 expired Progressive insurance cards

March 27th
● 1 expired Minnesota vehicle registration document ● 3 more expired Progressive insurance cards ● 1 BYU Cougar cookbook ● 3 receipts ● 1 empty box ●18 more Zion Adventure Company business cards

March 28th
● 1 temporary Utah driver’s license ● 2 obsolete Wells Fargo account cards ● 7 random business cards ● 1 used Verizon Wireless rebate card ● 2 Walgreens receipts ● 2 plastic boxes ● 1 empty cardboard box ● 2 ticket stubs to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ● 1 Crayola marker ● 1 postcard from CafĂ© Diablo ● 1 Kierkegaard quote from a British Christmas cracker ● 2 sheets of paper with friends’ contact info ● 6 random scraps of paper from the travel journal box

March 29th
● 1 empty bottle of lotion ● 1 book ● 1 bath body brush ● 1 bottle of terrible apricot facial scrub ● 1 friend’s return address label ● 1 bottle of expire SPF30 sunscreen (girls from Minnesota need something much stronger) ● 1 old emery board ● 1 empty Springdale Candy Company bag ● 1 plastic plate ● 1 plastic bowl ● 1 nail clipper ● 12 email drafts ● 230 messages in my email inbox

March 30th
● 31 emails in my Gmail promotions box ● 6 gardenia-lotus fragrance packets that did not smell ● 1 ball point pen ● 7 earrings without a matching pair ● 1 nail buffer ● 2 random business cards ● 3 random CDs ● 3 crappy Jack Johnson CDs from my embarrassing Jack Johnson phase circa 2005 ● 2 expired Greek yogurts ● 3 sticks of butter left over from housesitting ● 1 broken necklace ● 1 coffee mug

March 31st
● 7 unusable wine corks ● 1 plastic food storage container ● 1 notepad ● 6 Starbucks Refreshers packets which were WAY too sweet ● 3 packets of sodium laden instant soup ● 1 random plastic lid ● 6 plastic combs ● 1 book ● 2 toe separators for pedicures ● 1 Turkish Airlines goody bag for economy class ● 1 obsolete day planner ● 1 unused journal ● 1 copy of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Looking back on the experience, it is curious to consider the item I got rid of that brought the greatest release. Getting rid of literally hundreds of my left over business cards from Zion Adventure Company removed this huge weight from me. I've not worked there in 4 years, yet I still had all these cards. Looking back I’m not sure why I kept them, perhaps as a tangible reminder that I was a part of that organization. But I have other, better reminders of that time such a as my Marmot fleece jacket that has been to 9 countries with me and international airports in 3 others. When I put those in the trash I finally was able to let go of whatever it was I still held on to. In all honesty, I did keep 2 which are in my journal.

Getting rid of so much was liberating. I've been in that situation before when I got rid of an immense amount of stuff before I went to Georgia. I’d forgotten what that can feel like. Now that I don’t have these things in my life I feel like I have the ability to do so much more because I’m not distracted by things of no significance. Some of the things I got rid of actually caused me anxiety because of their presence in my life; consequently, the feeling of being overwhelmed by these things is gone now. Moreover, it has helped me to rediscover the value of the old adage “you get what you pay for.” I’d rather pay more up front for something that will last then to buy the same thing 5 times. Also, initially I struggled with how to address things that had been gifts. Some of those gifts I cannot part with like the autographed copy actually dedicated to me of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle my brother got for me by the author, Avi. With other gifts I decided if it had served its purpose, such as the Tommy Bahama perfume from day 3, that I could easily get rid of it without feeling guilty. Finally, I believe getting rid of these things that were weighing me down is the first step to helping me get rid of the weight that I carry so needlessly. Unfortunately, my physically weight can’t be gotten rid of as easily as the other things can.

My next big project is to deal with that one specific thing.