Vermont and Back Again: what I did with myself over the last six months

So much happened this summer! Much of which fell somewhere on the scale of marvelous to mind-blowing. A quick recap (with multimedia!):

I finished the Intensive Training Program at NECCA. It was brutal and sweet and the final show was a blast- I can’t believe how lucky I was to work with such supportive, committed, completely-out-of-their-minds athletes. There was mucho glitter and a sink-or-swim introduction to the concept of bodystockings and rhinestone application. I learned how to choreograph, how to mangle my way through GarageBand, how to turn a plain gray leotard into a costume, and exactly how weird my voice sounds when recorded. The show was drive-in movie themed because we needed a thread to connect 20-odd acts that had absolutely nothing to do with each other. We had a ‘Jaws’ interlude, a miniature staircase for ‘Rocky.’ I did a thigh stand on my even smaller friend Naomi while wearing a plastic heart-shaped rhinestone keychain (‘class of 2015’ removed via nail file) the size of a crab apple around my neck and cried “Jack, I’m flying!” Backstage, everyone dramatically lipsynched along with the iconic ‘Dirty Dancing’ scene in a way that suggested we were, in fact, having the time of our lives.

In the program, everyone creates one major act (usually solo), and one minor act (with a group and subject to which you are assigned). While both acts are very much first steps for me, I’m pleased with how they turned out, and my group was a blast to work with. For the curious, video of both acts can be found here (special thanks to coaches Megan Gendell and Jamie Hodgson):

Then the program ended and I got slammed with the worst bout of depression I can recall in my adult life. Subsequently, what I’d hoped would be a productive, creative summer was largely spent sobbing in various bathrooms, cars, and stairwells. The bright spot was going to work every day at Sidehill Farm with my friend Eleanor (getting her hired=one of my top ten decisions of 2013). We are basically like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory, but think jam and no floppy hats.

WHOOSH! The end of July came and I flew back to Utah where my folks live, borrowed my dad’s car (his only safety advice being “I’m selling it as soon as you get back. So if you crash, make sure you total it,”), got a surprise drop-in from Nick, who drove with me (by ‘drove’ I mean ‘made use of his iphone’s GPS and helpfully reminded me not to panic whenever I missed an exit’) from northern Utah to Los Angeles, CA, via one night of terrible food and far too much sensory input in Las Vegas, NV. As payment, I introduced him to RadioLab. Then, like my handcart-pushing ancestors before me, collecting buffalo dung and multiple wives as they went,  I arrived in the promised land: the 2014 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer’s Retreat (thank you again to everyone who donated to my fellowship fund!).

I could employ a lot of words here, to describe the retreat- how everyone was frighteningly smart, devastatingly clever yet approachable, elbows-deep in the current workings of literature, social justice, and passionate about cheap whiskey- but none of it would capture the magick. Just...go there, if it is within your grasp to do so. Also, Eduardo C. Corral was the poetry workshop leader, and if you get a chance to work with him, take it. A more kind-hearted, open-eyed language lover you may never meet. Bloody fantastic poet, too.

I met so. many. good poets. No, I will not get over it.

To get a sense of the work that was flying around this place, visit the the website and listen to the readings. Wowza. (It’s worth noting that immediately following the Thursday reading, a small group of us launched an impromptu open mic, which we dubbed “Haikootch.” Speeches were given, imaginary awards received; words were slurred into the microphone, and one poet in a polka dot dress slung a half-empty wine bottle over her head like a lasso. Success!) This was my first real reading, so there was a certain amount of public-speaking terror and panic sweat stains, but the atmosphere was encouraging- I was surrounded by comrades in queerness. In this case, my first time may be my best time. Or, at least, far from the worst time.

Please watch all of the videos- there are some people who know how to arrange words on a page and then say those words out loud in an astonishing and wonderful way. My own reading can be viewed here (in which I learned a valuable lesson about not reading the poem that makes you super-emotional first in the lineup. No judgement.):

 

Tragically, inevitably, the retreat ended. Somehow, my summer remained awesome. I car-camped my way through Big Sur and Santa Cruz (caught a poetry open mic at The Art Bar) to Oakland where I visited two of my favorite people, Germaine and Jericha, saw high school friend Betty for the first time in forever, and made new friends Maria and Tori. We went tango dancing, stalked a mysterious hot tub, sang to the moon on a hillside at night, visited bookstores Pegasus, Diesel, and Green Apple, and learned that the phrase “gentle star uterus” exists in the world. I wore a sash and a dildo on my head for a Miss Misandry- themed lingere party, attended a pop-up opera taking place all over San Francisco (courtesy of The Museum of Joy), and wound up at a bondage/kink performance with free champagne and oil paintings of consensual torture done in the style of 18th century English portraiture (obscure sub-genre of art nouveau: Tortriture?). I actually had circus school flashbacks- I had no idea how, uh, familiar it would feel to stand in a crowded room while a burly man with a thick accent forced nubile performance artists into impossibly contorted shapes against a background of groans and screams that impress upon one the flimsiness of the line between pain and pleasure. Tooooo close to home.

I was completely won over (by the city, not the porn). I found a craigslist ad for a bi-racial lesbian couple with two dogs seeking a housemate to share their gorgeous home and backyard for a stupidly reasonable monthly sum. I almost moved to Oakland on the spot and will probably kick myself forever for not.

I followed Cali up with an afternoon rush ticket to The Tempest (rocked. my socks.), courtesy of the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, and proceeded up the coast to Portland. When I arrived, I thought I must have pulled onto the set of Portlandia- you cannot swing a cat without hitting a hipster sporting full sleeve tattoos riding a fixie with a macbook in their messenger bag. That show is not fucking around with its representation of Stumptown.

But my sweet bicuspid, the food! Apparently, any eatery with a name consisting of two alliterative words separated by an ampersand is guaranteed to please your face-hole. Two examples that leap to mind are Grain & Gristle (bonkers hot mustard though, beware) and Salt & Straw. Regarding the latter, never have I ever loved ice cream with such unholy fervor. A few of my favorite flavors, if I may indulge: olive oil. Pear and bleu cheese. Freckled woodblock chocolate. Watermelon carrot sorbet. Bone marrow and bourbon-smoked cherries. Yes, you heard me. I ate ice cream flavored with the insides of bones and it was like someone lit a wood-burning stove full of black-and-white photographs of French-Canadian fur traders, moonshine, and smokey miracles inside my mouth. Yeah, I had seconds. 

Between culinary adventures, I went camping with Nick near Mt. Hood- we waded into Frog Lake, hiked to Ramona Falls, and built a badass campfuego. I took a yoga class for $8 and bought kimchi at New Seasons to feel like a local. I saw my friend Kerri's circus show in the woods with Lacy and a bunch of goofy micro-brew aficionados. I spent half a day wandering in blissful daze through Powell’s City of Books, and the other half reading and writing at a tea shop. I took myself to a $4 screening of Obvious Child (which I loved because it is pretty fucking flawless) at the Laurelhurst and feasted on homemade kombucha and local-cheese pizza from the concessions stand. I even reconnected with one of the poets from the Lambda retreat.

It’s comforting to know that, if Oakland turns out to be just too much city for this little pasture-raised poet, I can flee to the smaller, rainier arms of Portland.

But, onward. I drove to Olympic National Park and met up with Rachel, who I met while traveling in Honduras in 2011 and haven’t seen since, and camped with her and her new partner. The real reason to go camping with others is not safety- you need friends to share in the bewilderment: Forks, Washington might qualify as a town by only the barest legal definition, but what it lacks in actual human populace is made up for by the tourists no doubt attracted to the deluge of Twilight-themed tours, shops, and signs. No abusive mythical disco-ball boyfriends for me, thanks. 

Though one very helpful, understated sign kindly informed me, when crossing an apparent town boundary, that I was “Entering Sappho.” I immediately pulled over to text this information to five of my queerest friends. 

We rode the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC, where I spent a week visiting bookstores like Russell Books and Munro's, tea shops, a Viking exhibit at the Royal BC Museum, and babysitting the world’s most insecure dog, Etta, re-christened Thunder Dingo. Rachel cooked a lot of salmon and dyed my hair. I left a more stylish, well-fed, and absurdly polite version of myself (the excessive politeness of Canadians is no joke). Whenever I miss Canada I read harkavagrant and practice smiling really aggressively as though to get the attention of a surly bartender without condemning myself to a saliva-garnished cocktail.    

I jettisoned across the border and into Northern Idaho to visit my dad’s family for a couple of days (heard some bagpipes, played with some nieces and some dogs, listened to a lot of Marilyn Horne, and ate an astonishing number of breakfasts), before dropping all the way down to Utah again. I stopped over for a night somewhere near Dillon, Montana, and slept in my car in the parking lot of a Motel 6, and woke up to a fully frosted window. Cold nights take all the fun out of peeing in poorly-trimmed hedges.

I spent a little time in Salt Lake City for some family events, and I realized that SLC is turning into the Portland of the Desert. Charming boulangeries are popping up all over downtown, vintage stores grow wild (hello big wool coat from Decades!), all the cool kids have tattoos by artists visiting from San Francisco and Brooklyn, and the city is re-painting the bike lanes to make them wider. I even got major flirty eye from a waitress who looked like a Hannah Heart/Clea Duvall genetic mashup. I’m just waiting for a sketch comedy called “Mormonlandia” to go viral.

Mostly, I hung out with my mom and her family and friends- we went to Moab and rode horses through canyon, scouting for petroglyphs, visited my cousin Abby and her bicycle-building German boyfriend, and scored some cheap fun shit at WabiSabi thrift store. Back on my mom’s farm, it was mostly hanging out, horses, chickens, one extremely naughty dog, and relocating various kinds of animal feces with a pitchfork. I went to a crafts market where I ran into my dear friend Jenna-Boo and found a Really Good Gift for my ex girlfriend's birthday. I fired a gun for the first time and was disconcerted to find I'm a crack shot with a semi-automatic rifle. I voyaged to the Heber Valley's only remaining bookseller, ReBook, where I bought and traded for more used books, then read those books in a hammock (I know, my life is clearly awful). We went to a horse exhibit at the Natural History Museum. My mom got really into The Blacklist (because any woman who was at her sexual peak when either Sex, Lies, and Videotape or Secretary was released will, always and forever, have a thing for James Spader), so we ate a lot of popcorn and did some late-night Netflix worship. I did exactly no pullups, pushups, or training of any kind. It was glorious.

I wondered whether this meant something, that it was so easy to leave my training behind; that I felt, for the first time in far too long, a general contentment with myself and my day-to-day existence.

My body started to return to a familiar, softer shape, yet I felt less self-conscious about my lack of defined muscle, about not being an 18-year old ex-gymnast/dancer with eight-pack abs; I didn’t worry about when and where and how many times I was going to cry on a given day; I had time to read and write and just lay the fuck around. And, perhaps best of all, if I was on my period, I didn’t have to do heavy ab work or go upside-down while wearing a diva cup (the worst). I remembered that there is stuff in the world that I, Theodosia Henney, am actually good at and enjoy; that there is so much I want to do with my life, things I’ve dreamed of since well before circus was a blip on my radar.

Sometimes I caught myself thinking about how this idea or that sequence might be cool to put in a piece, but not often. I missed my Vermont friends of course, and my trusty back-of-the-knee callouses. I did not miss feeling like a massive failure every time I was the slowest person to learn a new skill. Or feeling helpless and ashamed that I’m not more brave about applying speed and power to my movements. Or frustration that I don’t own fast-twitch muscles. Or exhaustion so deep I couldn’t feed myself properly. Or having zero time to write, read, or function as a human being.

Several of my friends from Intensive are doing ProTrack. They will each come out of the program in May with two professional-level acts: big tricks, exciting choreography, gorgeous costumes, ready to launch a career. I didn’t apply to ProTrack, because I was too broke, wasn’t sure the program would be right for me, and, frankly, I didn’t want to spend another year feeling like the most useless person on the planet because I could only do 9 pullups and can’t sit on my own head. Then, naturally, I panicked that I’d made a huge mistake and doomed myself to an unfulfilling life of doing absolutely nothing worthwhile and never figuring myself out while everyone I love speeds away into successful careers to make meaningful art.    

Then I went to the Best Coast and pulled my head out of my ass, where hopefully it will remain for the foreseeable future.

I’m back in Vermont for now, planning a move west in the Spring. Yes, one more New England Winter (whose idea were those, anyway?). I’ve started to ease back into training, so I’m sore and constantly faced with how much harder or impossible even simple skills have become (I know it’s shocking, but two months of meandering through bookstores and eating everything that came to hand did nothing to increase my aptitude as an athlete. But it sure as hell made me feel like a human again). But, demoralizing as those no-longer-unspotted tuck rocks are, I’m finding joy in training again. I mean, I’m not yet overflowing with enthusiasm at the prospect of mashing myself against a steel bar while dangling in the air, but I’m warming up to it. Being physically focused again feels good- like I’m rounding out a part of myself that delights in finding capability where it is not expected. Plus, this shit used to be fun- I think it can be again. I’d like it to be again.

So, I’m still trying to figure out how best to balance work, various passions, and being a decent person (how little changes). But, I did a hard thing for 10 months (or longer, depending on how attached you are to a linear representation of time), and I got a lot out of it. Now, I get to decide what to do with those experiences moving forward. So that’s a pretty good place to be as Fall marches inexorably toward the dreaded Polar Vortex: Part Deux. Plus, I have a packed bookshelf, vitamin D drops, a wood burning stove, and two pounds of turmeric from the bulk section of a discount food store (my section of the pantry is begging you to make a Dune joke). I’ve got this Winter business on lockdown. Bring it on, Northeast- I’m gonna parka the shit out of you.