Thursday, March 7, 2013

Living with Mr. Goodbar - an unhealthy love story

Typical Oregon Day

I got home to Oregon on Sunday, and do you know what was there? The sun.

Yes, my husband and my son were there too, but the surprising member of the 'Welcome back from the Grand Canyon party' was the big guy in the sky. Sun. Sunshine. Warmth and all its perks: scents of spring, daffodils, crocuses and daphne all in bloom. And frogs. The frogs were ribbiting away in the pond, so that was cool too, because I absolutely love the sound of frogs. Tree frogs, bird song and thunder, my three favorite sounds on planet earth. And I thought, okay, this is good. I can deal with this. It's not desert. It's not stone. Still, it has its charm.

But, of course, within 24 hours the big guy was gone.

In his place was regular old Western Oregon. Rain. Gray. People with their shoulders hunched toward their sternums. Chiropractors must make a killing in this state. All these people bent into commas.

At the Grand Canyon - no one hunched.

It could be zero degrees out. Hell, it was minus 13 degrees one morning, and still people walked with their backbones perpendicular to the ground. Why? Because it's dry. Dry makes all the difference. Forty degrees and rain in Oregon makes my bones feel like they've been hollowed out and filled with Slurpee.

And I'm not the only one. Today I spent the day in Portland. My dad was not feeling great so I took him to the doctor's office, and it ended up being a long sit-around-the-doctor-office kind of day, and every once in a while I would leave the office and step outside and be surprised and disgusted by just how cold and ugly the weather was. And as I looked at the faces of the people walking by, all of them in various stages of hunkering, I could see they were just as surprised and disgusted as me. Not one of them smiled. Not even a little. And I thought...

Living in western Oregon is like living in an abusive relationship. 

We fall in love with the beauty of the place—the mountains, the valleys, the green green hills, the coast, the desert, and the food - God the food. The fish, the berries, the beer, the wine. But turn your back for ten minutes - just ten minutes and bam - here comes another Pacific front slapping us along side the head with its big gray sky, and its cold pelting rain. Its ice cold breath blowing right through our wool and fleece.

We've been fleeced, that's it. Come June when we are all still wearing long underwear and wool socks, remember that. This is not a healthy relationship. This is Mr. Goodbar. While everyone else in the country is wearing shorts and playing softball we are in our bookstores holding our tripple-shot Lattes with those fingerless gloves.

It's not normal. And it's not good.

Trust me. I used to think it was normal. In fact I used to get bummed out when that sun broke through and lit the sky so bright I would have to run to Rite Aid to buy a new pair of sunglasses, cause who knows where I put my last pair—it was so long ago....

That's how you know you really have dived off the deep end—when those soggy Oregon clouds become your friend. I think it's called Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages begin to have sympathy, sometimes even love for their captors. That's us. Oregonians. Bound at the hip to our soggy world, we say oh - it's okay. You get used to it. It's not that bad. In fact, I kind of like it.....

Next time your see an 'I ❤ Oregon' bumper sticker, think Patty Hearst.....

-Naseem Rakha 3/6/13

Monday, March 4, 2013

For the People Who Love Kaitlin Kenney

Kaitlin Kenney prior to running Hermit on her birthday, January 6, 2013.
© Sophie Danison 2013
The night before I hiked into the Grand Canyon I was contacted by a friend of Kaitlin Kenney's. He had read an essay I had written about Kaitlin entitled The Way We Die. Kaitlin had gone missing while camped on the banks of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. She had just turned 21. The young man found me though Facebook and we chatted. He told me Kaitlin was his first love. They had been together for three years, and that even after their romance had ended their friendship remained strong. He said he was having a very difficult time since Kaitlin's disappearance. He described her as "a magic maker, an unconditional lover to all and a bright shining light in a weary world."

This young man was not the first to contact me since writing the essay about a young woman I have never met. Since it was first posted, I have heard from other friends and relatives of Kaitlin's. All of them struggling to reconcile themselves with the loss of this young, smart, and clearly vivacious woman. And with each contact I feel touched by and pulled into Kaitlin's story.

So, while chatting with the young woman's dear friend, I offered to do something for him while down at the river.

It is not easy to get to the Colorado. It takes either a river trip or an 8 mile hike down, down and down. I was leaving to take that hike the next morning, so I offered to make a memorial for his friend: a simple stone cairn built on a point with a good vista of the river. I offered to put this young man's name beneath the stones, then he asked me to include another name, and then while hiking down, I thought it needed to be more inclusive still.

I hope I have not invaded anyone's privacy, but for what is worth, here are pictures of what I made for Kaitlin. Perhaps it is the kinship I feel for anyone who loves the Grand Canyon. Or the kinship I feel for those that raft the swift cold water that carved it. Perhaps it is me, my age, or that I am a mother and a sister and a daughter, or that I still clearly remember that deep locked in connection of first love. Whatever it is, this is for the people who love Kaitlin.

Rock cairn made from Vishnu Schist and Zoroaster Granate

The cairn is on river south, across from Bright Angel Camp near Phantom Ranch

This went under the cairn

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Future of the World - Bend, Oregon Muse Conference Changes Lives

Before you read a word, please watch the film above. It features one of the more exciting projects I have heard about in years.

Okay? Watched it? If you did, you saw the future—empowered women from around the world reaching out through the internet to tell their stories. We are talking women living in ghastly poverty, enslaved women, castrated women, refugees, prisoners, women who have had their breasts crushed by their own mothers under the mis-guided assumption that those deformed glands will make their child less likely to be raped. Women who are rarely seen, and never heard.

Jensine Larsen started World Pulse in 2004 so that everyone could hear these stories. But simply hearing was not good enough. In 2007, Jensine started Pulsewire - an interactive web site which links women and their stories to one another. For the first time ever, women from around the world have a way to be heard. Ordinary women have become citizen journalists, sitting in internet cafe's and reporting on their lives and realities. They are not stories you hear from the mouths of the well coiffed cuties on FOX/CNN. This is real, pure and empowering truth, and through it women have been able to find real, pure and empowering solutions. Jensine Larsen was just one of the remarkable women I had the honor to meet and listen to at the Muse Conference in Bend, Oregon yesterday.

The conference was the brainchild of Bend resident Amanda Stuermer, a yoga teacher and social activist who was so energized after attending the Women in the World Summit in New York City last year, that she came home and motivated her friends to create their own conference.

After Jensine, the woman Oprah Winfrey says is her, "favorite all time guest," took the stage. As a female child, Dr. Tererai Trent, a native of Zimbabwe, had the audacity to want an education—to simply sit at a desk, raise her hand and ask a question was her dream. But girls were not educated in her village. Why would they be? They would just be married off and leave the community. There was nothing to be gained for those left behind. And that is just what happened to Tererai. At age 11 she was married to an older, abusive man. By age 18 she had given birth to three children. An impossible situation to escape. Yet, Tererai does. She and her family end up in the United States where she raises her children in a trailer without electricity or running water. She works three jobs, and she earns her Bachelors, her Masters and her PhD in Interdisciplinary Evaluation. She is one of those women whose voice sounds like tumbling water, and as is flowed over me I felt cleansed of any notion of can't or shouldn't. Excuses, I understood, are cowardly things.

It was more than just an honor to be a keynote presenter among these women. It felt like I had been invited into a world where hope and vision are true flames, warming the cold air of apathy and indifference.

After the conference, the speakers attended a dinner. There, Tererai leaned into me and said the key to her achieving her dream was to refuse to be a victim. Instead, she said, "I swam to the other side of the river and became a 'conqueror'."

Today, through Oprah Winfrey and Tererai's work, a new school stands where the old "boys" school once stood. There are more teachers, and equipment, and most pleasing to Tererai, girls are sitting at those desks and asking questions. Many of them may one day be writing reports on Pulsewire, reaching out, finding community, defining answers. This is the future. And they, like all the women I met yesterday, are conquerors.

Dr. Tererai Trent and Naseem Rakha