Monday, June 30, 2008

Riding the Rapids

Let it load first! And turn up the sound.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sacrifices to the Canyon Goddess

Grand Canyon Rafting Expedition 6/22-6/27

  • One pair Teva sandals, vintage 2001. Past destinations include Australia, Uganda, and the entire world on (These are the ones in the frequently seen Marie cartoon.) Fate: Split soles. Left one repaired by Elk the trip leader, who bore a hole through the sole and threaded it together with a zip-strip. Ingenious. I surrender my MacGyver title. Right sole still a'flappin.'

  • One compression bag, vintage 2007. First and only use was fleece compression. Currently split and in trash at world's largest Super 8 in Las Vegas.

  • Two Ziploc bags, torn asunder by a moisturizer bottle a little too large for the bags.

  • One zipper on black "Go" brand duffel bag, vintage November, 2003. Purchased to store excess luggage in Heathrow Airport. Past destinations include Uganda and Colombia.

  • One long-sleeve shirt from Pay/Half in Newport Mall, 2007. Never worn prior to this trip, now worn five days straight. Fate: trash.

  • My ego. The first morning, I nearly missed the shuttle to the plane when my taxi didn't show. Then I lost my boarding pass in the airport. (Sue, another rafting passenger, found it.) My hat flew off and landed in the Colorado (Elk and Chelsea the "swamper" retrieved it—floatable as advertised). Last, while wearing my bargain-basement purple raingear, I was addressed as Barney.

  • My modesty. I learned to undress or dress without shelter, walk away to poo in a metal box with everyone knowing exactly where I was going, wade into the river hip-deep in front of the group to pee through my bathing suit (the park service instructs rafters to pee in the river to avoid wrecking the land ecosystem), and wore a life jacket as a diaper to slide down a natural water slide at the Little Colorado.

  • And last, I lost a lot of skin on my face, which flaked off in the dry heat. I also got a dehydration headache on Day One and a strange rash on both upper arms, but these are added value rather than losses.
  • Saturday, June 28, 2008

    But It Looks Like Home

    I'll be home soon. I just have to go through the five bucks burning a hole in my pocket first.

    Friday, June 27, 2008

    A Metaphor for Life

    "There's no turning back up river
    There's no use to even try

    Whatever lies before you
    You've got to see it through
    You can't stop half way
    And back off and start anew

    Its just things aren't as easy
    As they look to those outside
    It's more than jumping in a boat
    And going for a ride"

    *excerpt from Boatman's Prayer by Vaughn Short

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    On Vacation

    This blog is on vacation until Friday!

    If you want to see what I am doing, check out the 6-Day Grand Canyon rafting trip here.

    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    The Joys of Travel

    Travel is a bitch.

    I don't mean that glorious, heart-warming travel thing you do where you're gobsmacked by the wonders of the world, the similarities or differences between cultures, or the incredible serendipitous moments that create memories that we hold separate from our everyday memories.

    I mean the act of getting on a plane in the US. Getting from A to B. Yuck.

    I was ambitious yesterday, first canoeing in the Meadowlands, then flying to Vegas so that I could start my Grand Canyon rafting trip this morning.

    Canoeing worked out. I had just enough time to drop off my car, take a super-fast shower, and get a taxi to Newark Airport.

    My flight to Dulles was delayed an hour, so I sat on a plane on the runway worrying about my connecting flight (and luggage, which I'd checked after growling about the liquid rules for a while). Then my connecting flight ran late, so I got a manicure in the terminal before again sitting on the runway for more than an hour.

    By the time I crawled into the "world's largest Super 8" in Vegas, I was shattered. Sitting next door at the greasy spoon restaurant at Ellis Island Casino, I reflected that eating next door to the karaoke bar would normally be amusing.

    It was not.

    But somehow, it all worked out. And if I'm lucky, in the next fifteen minutes, I'll store a bag, get a taxi, and arrive at the meeting point on time. If I'm luckier, I'll buy a water bottle and deodorant. How could I forget these things? I'm guessing I don't want to go out into the heat without deodorant. But then again, no one on the raft will know me or ever see me again...

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Canoeing the Meadowlands

    Here are some photos from this morning's expedition to the Meadowlands.

    If you look closely, you can see the Empire State Building in the top photo, the one with Roberta and Tom.

    The bottom one is me in my goofy hat that I bought at Woolworth's in Cape Town in 2001. I managed to find time to drop it off at home (and have a quick shower to get all the sunscreen off me) before running off to the airport for my Grand Canyon trip.

    My former neighbor Helen was my canoeing partner. Neither of us knew what the heck we were doing, but we pulled it off with relative grace.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Baby Steps

    The Goal: Reassimilation into my home society after too many fits and starts abroad, after too many years of alienation and a listless attitude towards reintegration. I'm just leaving soon, why bother?

    I have to get back into the groove here, to commit to staying home and seizing back the life I lost over the past 8 years of bouncing around the globe. This much we know. This much we've discussed here.

    I made some goals. I am, after all, first and foremost a problem-solver who has little patience with results that are not immediate.

    1) Go to yoga and the gym more often. This temporarily wards off any uncertainty that creeps in.

    2) Go to anything I am invited to. Go alone to interesting public events if I'm not invited to anything. Talk to strangers when I am at events. (Grade: Needs improvement. Seldom being home for 8 years does not result in large numbers of social invites.)

    3) Stop dressing to be invisible. It's okay if I'm noticed here. I'm not trying to melt into the background as I would on the streets of Cairo or Nairobi.

    I've made progress on all of these over the last few weeks. #3 has been relentless, though, as I have to reinvent my wardrobe every morning.

    I used to relish this, back in the early 90s at Marvel. I loved to wake up in the morning and put together red Elvis-print leggings and a purple shirt. It probably looked as awful as it sounds, now that I think about it. Especially since I had flat pointy black shoes with bat-buckles. (Yeesh!) But I felt good making up something new each day, and this gave me a positive attitude.

    Here's how I did this week. But Thursday, I was pretty sick of it. But I persevered.

    Maybe next time, I'll advance to shorter skirts.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    From the Archives: Rafting 1993

    So I'm rafting the Grand Canyon for a week starting Sunday. But have I been rafting before?

    Sure. There have been trips in Costa Rica, Victoria Falls, and in Uganda.

    But those were half-day trips. The real thing was in 1993 on the Colorado River.

    I went rafting out west with David Wohl, Paula, Steve Buccellato, and the Other Marie. I think it was a 3-night camping/rafting trip, but I don't remember exactly where we went. It might have been Westwater Canyon. We were close to Moab, and went to Arches National Park there the day after the trip ended.

    We all meant to do outdoorsy holidays together again, over and over. But it never happened.

    I finally realized that if I waited for someone to go with me to raft the Grand Canyon, I'd never go.

    I put up some photos from the 1993 rafting trip here on Facebook.

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Do Something Nice for Yourself

    Ask any advice columnist. What should a girl do when she is overwhelmed by work, creative dead-ends, romance problems, and her step-dog died?

    Do something nice for yourself.

    Okay. I can follow instructions real good.

    So what's it going to be? Pedicure? New dress? Haircut?

    Sort of.

    I'm rafting the Grand Canyon for 6 days/5 nights.

    Starting Sunday.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    RIP Murphy

    Today I mourn the passing of Murphy. Though she spent her last few years in San Francisco, her spirit roams the apartment I live in as well as the large park in front of my 150-year-old Victorian brownstone apartment building.

    Murphy seemed to fall prey to a sudden virus, but then the vet discovered that she had a large tumor on an internal organ, which had caused all kinds of problems that are simply not possible to heal.

    Because of Murphy and her need for walking, Yancey insisted on buying a condo on Hamilton Park back in the mid-90s when he'd started looking for an NYC-area home. This paid off in spades first for Murphy, then for Yancey as property values skyrocketed, then for Yancey's new wife who was surprised and amazed at the short commute to her SoHo office, and ultimately for me, who could never normally afford to rent a large apartment in such a fantastic location.

    Murphy was, it has to be said, kind of a punk. When Yancey first saw her as a puppy at the animal shelter, she bit him.

    She loved me and Roberta, but she would growl at Michael Kraiger. She once snapped at the owner of the coffee shop down the street. Yancey once nearly came to blows when an off-leash dog ran up and Murphy jumped at her. (That is, Yancey had an argument with the dog's owner, not the actual dog.) But Murphy's adoration of me (which might have been tied to foods, walks, and the fact that I'd get up in the middle of the night to cover her with a blanket when I dog-sat) seemed unconditional. And when I was sad—which went on for a long, long time—Murphy was attentive in that empathic way that only dogs can be. There were times when she was the only one able to make me smile, back between Uganda and Kuwait in late 2005.

    When Murphy moved to San Francisco, she was already about 13 years old, and I knew then she'd never come home. I'm not surprised that we lost Murphy. But it's still sad. Viva la Murph.

    Monday, June 16, 2008

    Water, Water Everywhere...

    ...and I'm not even in Iowa!

    On Saturday, Helen and I were hanging out in Hamilton Park, enjoying the annual festival along with a couple of smoothies. I went back down later after she left, had a gyro, and chatted with Jon R, who lives around the corner and often brings his kid to the park. (And if I have the story straight, he was comic artist Jim Lee's roommate at Princeton. I remember running into Jim in a Japanese restaurant near Marvel—1990 or so, I think—and he said "Hey, I heard you know Jon R!" Back then, Jon would come to JC to see Andy, who lived around the corner and later provided the historical record of the Giant Cat. Jon later married Andy's then-roommate. Sometimes she's in the park too.)

    I went over to my garage and got Henry the Ford Taurus, so that I could run a few errands. He sat patiently on the street, parked and waiting for my return when I went into the apartment.

    And the skies opened up. First there was torrential rain, then thunder and lightning, then more rain.

    "Oh no," I thought. "Henry hates rain. He won't even start in the rain."

    Then I remembered the alligator clip that Mike the Mechanic had given me. He'd marked two solenoids with Wite-Out and told me to test the starter using the alligator clip and the solenoids the next time the rain knocked out Henry's ability to turn on.

    "Maybe I'll have the chance to do that tomorrow," I thought. "No way am I going out in this to put Henry back in the garage. It's dangerous out there with all that lightning."

    BOOM CRACK. The lighting was right on top of me. Scary.

    Then I heard a different kind of crack. I looked out of the bathroom window to see a large piece of a tree had been lightninged right off and was hanging perilously by a few strips of bark. Yikes.

    And that wasn't it for the water. In the morning, Henry surprised me by starting, but he surprised me further by sloshing.

    Eh? Sloshing?

    When I opened the driver's side door, Henry sloshed.

    There's water in the door. Only in that one door. Somehow—the angle of the rain, maybe?—Henry's driver's side door was flooded.

    We drove to the supermarket, then the laundromat. While my clothes were spinning, I sat in the parking lot and swung Henry's door open and shut as water dripped out with each swoosh.

    The laundry didn't work out. Water was my enemy there too. The machine I chose didn't take my money, but then a stranger convinced the finicky machine to take it anyway. All this machine did is fill up with soap and spin my clothes. I assume someone had put in soap before, tried the machine, and given up, so there was way too much soap in the machine now. I had to hand-rinse my clothes in the sink (before switching laundromats to finish the job.)

    At home, while I was putting away groceries, the skies opened up again. No! No more water in the door! I grabbed an umbrella, ran outside, and took Henry home to his house.

    There's still water in his door. I hope it drips out instead of rusting.

    I'm not in much better shape than my loyal car. Every morning, in the shower, giant clumps of hair are coming out. What's that about? Maybe it's my seasonal shedding.

    Sunday, June 15, 2008


    I've been working a bit at a time on my book proposal.

    Then, I finally realized last night that the reason I've been so unproductive in general is that I am stuck on the book proposal, and so long as I am staring at it trying to make it work, I am not doing other work. Other work that could be easier to accomplish. Shorter work. Articles. Completion. Little rewards that I need, the Scooby Snacks that charge me up and give me the power to complete the more ambitious projects.

    In pop psych terms, I finally gave myself "permission" to quit agonizing and move on to work on other things.

    Which felt great.

    Until I woke up this morning and realized that in my book proposal as it stands, I completely forgot to include the most important theme. The entire point of the book! My intention was for it to be about uncertainty in mid-life, about the reality of looking down the fortieth decade without a partner, a plan, or kids. About the harsher side of living a glamorous, globetrotting life of adventure. About what happens once you stand still for a few minutes. About the "Um, now what" moment, where the easiest answer is to just keep moving, to fill every waking hour to avoid the harder questions about identity and displacement. If I'm busy, I won't notice that I'm glossing over the tough issues. Nothing hurts if you hurry. Questions aren't answered, much less asked when there's no time to dwell or wallow.

    If only real life were a bit more like Indiana Jones. He woke up one day and discovered he had NOT overlooked the important things in life.

    But I'm guessing I'd have noticed if I had spawned a teenager.

    I'll need to go back to the book proposal and start over. How could I have forgotten the entire point of the book?

    It's harder than it looks, this writing thing.

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    So Long and Thanks for All the Goofiness

    Isn't this great? It's a sketch that Sergio Aragones did on the letter he sent me on the final Epic (Marvel) issue of Groo the Wanderer in 1994.

    Sergio sketched on everything he sent in. Backs of pages, notes, envelopes. I'm not sure what happened to all of the sketches. At one point, I had hundreds. Now I only have this one. And of course, his cow.

    If you click on it, you can read the note that came in with the final issue.

    And with that, I'm off to enjoy a bit of sunshine in the festival in front of my apartment building. Convenient until you get sick of the distorted outdoor music.

    Friday, June 13, 2008


    Last night C kindly (or maybe because I boldly asked outright and didn't give him much of a choice, er, sorry but many thanks, C.) let me be his +1 to his reserved seats at his friend's interview of Emmylou Harris at the Union Square Barnes & Noble.

    Emmylou Harris is one of my musical heroes. Though I did not buy my first EH CD until 1995 (the groundbreaking Daniel Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball), I've known of her peripherally my entire life. She's a local girl, a year younger than my mother, and because she played down the street from my elementary school and around the DC suburbs ever since I learned to read, I knew her name long before I'd heard of Gram Parsons, or the other songwriters whose songs she sometimes sings.

    Listening to her talk about her life was inspirational. She doesn't just sing and then sing some more. She reinvents herself frequently. I'd like to be like that now. Even better if I could pull it off when I'm 19 years older, as she does.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Toss 'Em?

    I was going to get some photos of Guatemala to scan in and post here, when I stumbled over this:

    An autographed photo, signed by John Waters and Divine. It was opening night of the movie Hairspray. And there they were in the lobby. Well, all right.

    I guess I could put it on eBay. But what about the autographed photo signed by Cooter from Dukes of Hazzard? What am I supposed to do with that one?

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    You Know You're Been Out of the East Village Too Long When...

    Along the same lines as yesterday's post, I am wearing a voodoo print dress to work today. I bought it in the early 90s and it never quite fit before. It fits beautifully now so I guess it needed 42-year-old Marie instead of 24-year-old Marie.

    I feel awkward as hell in it.

    But I'm gonna wear it anyway. No way around reassimilation. The only way out is through. And if that means voodoo print dresses, so be it.

    Beats the flower print on the other dress, anyway.

    Update: Sven called me as I was almost to the PATH. "The a/c is still out AND the elevators are broken. Just work from home." Off goes the voodoo print dress. So much for my bold attempt at regaining my more comfortable, assimilated self.

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    You Know You Were in the Middle East Too Long When...

    Last week, New York had a few kinda chilly days.

    Then, wham!

    We were hammered. WNYC was predicting 97 degree weather today, though I'm not sure what the thermometers topped out at. The humidity was, of course, dreadful.

    Last weekend—in an attempt to push myself along in my planned reassimiliation, or was I just trying to impress someone??—I bought clothes. Lots of clothes. Clothing without sleeves. Skirts, the kind that didn't go all the way to my ankles. A skimpy summer dress. Clothes I could not afford.

    This morning, I cut the labels off and tried them on.

    I felt improper. Near-naked. Like I couldn't go out of the house.

    The heat won and I made it to work in a frilly little short-sleeved blouse and a knee-length skirt. All I need is a little practice to get over the lessons I have ingrained in myself from living in other cultures, and from my daily culturally appropriate comic-book-costume policing.

    And from my deliberate anonymity. On the road, I don't want to be noticed. I strive for plainness to avoid confrontations. Like say, men exposing themselves to me or making inappropriate remarks about what activities they have planned for me.

    Hard to believe I used to wear pretty much anything. Go to Maxwell's in a slip? Is it a nice slip? No problem! And now the mere thought of a strapless top makes me go pale.

    Sunday, June 08, 2008

    Go Fly A Kite

    In '98 or '99, I scored *big* on American Airlines bump vouchers. I'd gone to see some UK friends in July, and airfares had been quite high, so I'd flown as a courier. Even that wasn't cheap in summer—I remember it being $550 roundtrip, but that seems too high, so maybe I'm wrong.

    On the way home, American asked for volunteers in exchange for a $1,000 voucher. My hand shot up. They gave me my voucher and a seat on the next flight.

    When I checked in at the next flight, the same thing happened. This time, I received a room and a meal as well as another $1,000 voucher. Score! (I tried to volunteer again in the morning, but the flight had plenty of seats.)

    I don't remember where all I went over the next year, but I used the credits carefully. I went back to the UK once or twice, to that bike ride in Death Valley and also to Guatemala, where I spent a week in Antigua learning Spanish at La Union.

    I timed the trip to coincide with the Day of the Dead Kite Festival in the cemetery in Santiago Sacatepequez. The language school ran a bus to it, and after about 20 minutes, I realized that the woman following me around speaking Spanish was my language tutor. It was a learning field trip! Who knew? I thought I was just going check out some kites.

    Saturday, June 07, 2008

    Will the Cat Come Back?

    The Giant Cat is M.I.A. C'est terrible! Whatever shall we do without JC's Giant Cat?

    Word on the street is that JC's Giant Cat has gone to a repair shop. What kind of place repairs giant fiberglass parade floats? How do you move a 500-pound cat?

    The quintessential expose on the Giant Cat was written in the Jersey City Reporter weekly newspaper on December 13, 1992, by Andy Newman who is now at the NY Times.

    The cat's owner said (to Andy, who relished the story but had no way to verify it) that a friend of his was doing demolition on a Macy's float warehouse when the storage was being moved from Manhattan to Hoboken. All the old floats were being thrown out. The friend grabbed some, and moved them to the Greene Street Boat Basin where he was squatting. Eventually, the boat basin was shut down. The friend was running a truck stop called Joe's on Tonnelle Avenue on the Jersey side, so he moved it there, where it sat on Joe's for 10 years. In the mid-70s, the truck stop was closed. "Will you hold my cat?" "Sure, for a while."

    Supposedly the cat, which was moved by crane, dumptruck, and flatbed boat trailer, took down a few overhead wires during transport.

    The friend was supposed to come back for the Giant Cat. But he never did.

    Friday, June 06, 2008

    The City Across the River

    A few weeks ago, I finished reading Leap Days, writer Katherine Lanpher's ponderings on a mid-life move to New York.

    It's insightful, honest, beautiful, and gutsy. One chapter made me cry on the PATH train. If you read it and you know my history, you'll know why. If you don't—if you're not altogether sure what was going on between the paragraphs of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik's first chapter—well, you'll know why by the time my next book gets written.

    In Leap Days, Katherine does something that I have forgotten to do for many years.

    As a newcomer, she loves New York City. She reflects on it and appreciates it. Her sense of wonder made me envious. When was the last time I marveled at the skyline of Manhattan? Thrilled to the rush of people on the subway? Watched the police fan out to keep the peace below Houston on a weekend night? When was the last time that I had a four a.m. slice on St. Mark's and Avenue A?

    It's been a while.

    Yesterday, I announced that I'm here for the long haul this time. Fate handed me an ironic twist, hollowing out my reasons for hanging around right after it was too late to turn back. I have commitments to classes and teaching, so here I'll sit from September to June.

    I moved here in January of 1988. (Riverdale, initially, up in the Bronx.) That's 20 years, sort of. 19 if you don't count 2001 while I was traipsing around the world by ship and bus. Probably 17 if you subtract all my time abroad. A little more if you include my first foray, where I lived first in Brooklyn and later on Staten Island in 1985. I was horrified at the city, its poverty and inconvenience. That was it for me and New York. I wasn't going to come back.

    Yeah, right.

    I'm so used to it all now that the marvels of NYC are just part of my background noise.

    I'm taking my inspiration from Leap Days and from the people who gently mock my apathy in my own blog's comments. I'll go out, see the world in my own backyard. I must, or I'll go crazy from routine and lack of new input.

    I'll get there.

    On my own terms, of course.

    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Professor Marie

    Yesterday, I agreed to teach Advanced Digital Coloring to SVA cartooning seniors for the 2008-2009 school year.

    When the department chairman initially contacted me last autumn, I'd said No. I expected to be sent back to Cairo within a few months.

    But my life evolved, and when my company asked me to go to Cairo, I refused. I was committed to staying here to work through the crap that I touch on here on this blog. I wrestle with creative freefall, mid-life disappointment, and emotional disconnect*—legitimately earned over years of self-reliance and independent living but once built, demolition comes slowly with no one but myself to ultimately deconstruct that which I've had help building—and usually solve it by searching out distraction overseas. I was determined to wait it out, to let the walls I've built slowly dissolve in order to regain my center. (Progress has occurred but been frustratingly slow. This is, I believe, quite normal.)

    And since I was going to be here anyway, I first committed to participating in the CUNY Graduate Center's Writers Institute. Do I need a class to help me get a book published? No, I'm currently working on my fifth book. (Yes, I really am now. After yesterday's blog post, I realized how ridiculous I was being and got right to work.) Could I use some discipline? Hell yeah. I sent them half the tuition up front.

    Then once I had financially committed to hanging around, it was a no-brainer to accept the teaching gig.

    I'm going to ask Matt and Steve to help me by letting me deconstruct a page each, so that I can have the students learn their techniques. These two men are excellent colorists but have completely different styles.

    I'll talk more about the curriculum later, but for now, the joke is on me. I don't know why I was so obsessed with readjusting and no longer feel the slightest need to pretend to be someone I absolutely am not. (I feel a twinge of panic at the idea of delaying my West Africa expedition for another year, like somehow I won't be capable of improvising on the road once I'm out of practice.) And yet here I am.

    And you know what?

    There are worse things than having to hang around New York for a year.

    * I know, small price to pay for the wonderful adventures I've had. It's been a harsher trade-off than I ever expected the day I quit Marvel to go around the world the first time, but the scales do ultimately balance.

    Wednesday, June 04, 2008

    Slippery Shortcuts

    Neglect is a funny thing. You don't even notice it's there, and then wham--suddenly, you're a shadow of your former self, casting about for inspiration, withdrawing further into a shell, unable to structure time because there are no clear goals.

    I've neglected myself for months. I've been confused and directionless, first because the day job took too many hours, and then I lost my sense of what I was trying to do. I fancy myself tough enough, but how tough can I be if I let my confidence and direction erode through neglect? It's a funny thing that I do...I am petrified by fears of cliches. Not the cliches themselves, but fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, fear of failure, all the sorts of catch phrases that really do exist and have no business controlling me.

    But they do. They sneak in when I'm fretting about something else. I wish I were one of those people who bluster with outrageous ego and ignore self-doubt. Instead I let neglect turn into fear, which destroys quickly once it takes hold. I end up lacking confidence, direction, and even ability, dominated by a self-fulfilling fear of loss.

    I am most effective when I have nothing to lose. When I am responsible to no one but myself, when I am not petrified by self-doubt. That's when I'm at my best.

    Talking about being a writer does not make someone a writer.

    I need to focus, to find a way forward to get my book written.

    My usual technique is to force myself into an unfamiliar situation where I rely on my quickness of wit to get by each day—somehow this accesses the creative part of my weird mind—but routine and neglect have dulled my brain. I need to find a way to focus and progress without my usual shortcut to inspiration.

    I guess, I mean. Or I could just split and do this the familiar way.

    Monday, June 02, 2008

    In the Shadow of Wall Street

    Maybe I can move into this place when Yancey comes back. It's a good location, just by the tip of the Morris Canal, near the river and Liberty State Park. Comes with a nice view of Manhattan. Short walk to the Wall Street ferry.