Museum Security Guard: What I Learned

After my momentous art viewing experiences at MassMOCA last spring, I decided to volunteer at the local art museum.

Here are a few things that I learned volunteering at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

I learned that a woman wearing a badge that says "Security" is an irresistible target for remarks from some types of people. Usually that remark is "Security!?" said in a tone of mocking disbelief. Ha ha.

I learned that abstract artist Debra Ramsay took walks on a forest trail in spring, summer, fall, and winter, and took a photo every 18 feet. She then selected a color from each photo and created the work "Painting Time." Above and below are features of the installation.

I learned that people don't really read signs, as they would come into this room and wonder aloud what they were looking at. Although I had read the sign, I did not fill them in because I figured the discovery, if any, is part of their personal viewing experience.

I learned that glass artist Robert DuGrenier had a historic barn full of beloved animals that was destroyed by fire in 2015. All that remained after the fire were the metal parts of the tools and implements that had been in the barn.

I learned that Robert DuGrenier used these tools in a body of work called "Handle with Care." I swear I could feel the pain of the animals and of his loss emanating out of the metal in this room.

I also learned that glass-handled tools are irresistible to some people who feel they HAVE to touch them to believe them. My job as Security was to stop them before this happened (which is difficult).

There will be new exhibits when I volunteer again at the end of next week. I can't wait to learn what else people might find irresistible!

Do you volunteer? Is there a local museum where you live?

1 Year Alcohol Free: 20 Reasons I Like Not Drinking

In the sober community they say that once you know you should not drink any more, you can't "unknow" it again. Once you've gone from cucumber to pickle, you can't go back to cucumber (thanks Mary Karr for that analogy).

I found this to be true for me. Ever since my 2012 paleo diet experience, where I quit drinking for 30 days, I knew that I needed a good, long LONG break from alcohol to sort myself out. It is an addictive substance after all, and a depressant, and I was consuming it every week and sometimes every single day. I knew that it did not feel good, and I could not unknow that.

Here's what happened the day that I stopped. I had a slight hangover from the night before, because the night before was a Sunday, which is a prime day to have a couple glasses of wine to close out the weekend. I was also planning to start another "dry August," which I had tried the year before and really liked. So the morning of Monday, July 31, 2017, I downloaded a sobriety counter app to my phone, just to track my planned 31 days for the month of August.

In that moment I was deeply miserable, frustrated with myself for the zillionth time, and headachey. As I opened up the timer app and set my start time to 7:30 AM, I thought... I never have to drink again. I don't have to stop for 31 days, I can just STOP. I CAN BE DONE.

This realization of not gritting it out, not white-knuckling it, not "having" to pick it up again later, but just being DONE, was such a relief. It was a huge relief. It turned out to be a life-changing relief.

Observation: Nobody really cares what's in your glass.

That first day, I poked around the app's forum quite a bit and found someone had written: "I'd rather have another day won than another Day One." YES.

That's still how I feel today, over one year later. I'd rather have another day won than another Day One. I've been doing lots of reading and learning to bolster that original feeling of relief and to keep piling more weight and information behind that original decision. The book This Naked Mind and the author's youtube videos have been very helpful. (One thing I learned from Annie Grace is that your unconscious mind needs to agree with your conscious decision to stop drinking, because the unconscious is the needy, illogical place where cravings come from. Reading and watching her stuff helped me flip that switch and lose interest in alcohol. Think about that--I'm not even interested in drinking.)

Here are some things I've appreciated in the past year of not drinking.

  1. The internal quarrels between the DRINK voice in my head and the DON'T DRINK voice in my head have gone quiet. Drinking made me obsessively question drinking, which made me crazy. So not drinking keeps me much more sane.
  2. I am hangover free. If I feel bad, I know it's because I'm actually sick or tired or overwhelmed, not because I drank. (Actually, I've discovered that I can get a hangover from too much anxiety the day before--is anxiety a toxin?)
  3. I no longer feel guilty about my habit. Simple, but the guilt was toxic too.
  4. I no longer worry (so much) how alcohol is affecting my health (brain, liver, heart).
  5. I no longer worry how alcohol is affecting my skin and appearance. (dry skin, puffy face, hella tired)
  6. My sleep has significantly improved. That alone is so compelling that I can't imagine going back. I used to wake up at 3AM pretty regularly to berate myself and make promises that I then didn't keep. Ugh.
  7. I'm learning how to handle feelings and all kinds of occasions. I'm learning how to show up for my own life. Some say that the age when you start drinking to cope is the age where you freeze your emotional development. I'm unfreezing now and actively working on things.
  8. I'm learning not to hide behind a wine glass. Either I go to a gathering and participate, or I say no.
  9. I have much more brain clarity. I used to feel like I was losing the ability to even find words (which is my job, so that's a problem).
  10. I'm reconnecting with my past selves, with my girlhood self. She didn't drink either, and had strong, good beliefs about many things. I am still that person deep inside, and I am giving her space to unfurl.
  11. I'm leaving behind my 20-something self for good. (I hung onto her a little too long.) Part of this is forgiving myself for not making great decisions sometimes. My 20s are part of who I am, and I don't regret myself. But I'm different now.
  12. I can get up at 5:15 am with much less reluctance. I still don't love it, but it's POSSIBLE. (I usually do this to go exercise.)
  13. I feel better about how my children are seeing alcohol in their home (which is minimal), particularly as their teen years are coming right up.
  14. I have genuine moments of happiness OFTEN. I used to notice feeling happy about 1-2 times a year. Now I have such moments several times a week. I've figured out that the trick is happiness is a subtle feeling that comes from little things. It is not a big parade full of fireworks and dancing girls. I need to be still and let happiness come to me, like meeting a strange cat that pauses to sniff... then flops down so you can pet it. When I relied on my wine I didn't even see those cats.
  15. I have more belly laughs. It feels great.
  16. I can drive any time of day or night.
  17. I can remember more and access more of my own memories, both short-term and long-term.
  18. I choose my pleasures, and as a result I have some pleasure in my life. When pleasure was an automatic glass of wine at the end of the day, it wasn't really a choice anymore, and it also didn't "work." Now, when I get to pick what will make me feel good or happy or quiet or whatever, and do it with intention, it tends to work. It helps to have options too, not just the one damn thing that I keep trying whether it works or not (usually not).
  19. I'm trying new things. I don't know about others, but I didn't get a lot DONE when I was in "relaxation mode" with my glass of wine. And if I'd had a stressful day (which seemed to be most days), then relaxation mode was a priority. Since quitting, I've been able to plan more family outings, participate in Cub Scouts with my child (that NEVER would have happened before), and volunteer.
  20. I say no to things more. I wrote about this in my New Year's post--I just don't need to prove myself to myself anymore. When I was drinking I'd think: "Well yes I drank that bottle of wine, but I will also do this and this and and that so I don't really have a problem! All good!" It was exhausting. Now that the obstacle I was pushing against has been removed, I can focus on making honest decisions about what I actually want to do. During this first year a lot of those decisions have been to take it easy on myself whenever I can. As Annie Grace puts it, think of that 12+ months as long-term healing from an injury.

So that was the first year. The next year might be about taking some baby steps forward. What new connections will I make? What new passions and projects will arise? What new forging in the smithies of my soul will occur?

I've had a few people reach out about not drinking. It is thrilling to hear from them! I believe that lots of people use alcohol as an ineffective stress-reliever, and if we can share our experiences, maybe we can find better ways to take care of ourselves.

At this early stage in not drinking, my main advice is: If you know and can't unknow that quitting would help you feel better, try quitting. Just to see if it's true. YOU DON'T HAVE TO KEEP DRINKING IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL BAD.

The Hungry Diner in Walpole, NH

My family is on an ongoing quest to find great burgers.

We were originally inspired by Shake Shack in NYC, where we shared a single, revelatory burger, eaten standing on the sidewalk on a cold February afternoon. It exploded with beef-salt-cheese umami, and we passed it around until it was gone much too soon.

For a while, Brattle Burger in our hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, was a decent stand-in for our Shake Shack needs. And the fries at Brattle Burger were far superior. But then... they closed.

Recently we headed north to the Hungry Diner, about 20 minutes away in Walpole, New Hampshire, to try out their burgers.

The Hungry Diner takes farm-to-table very seriously, being founded and owned by a farming couple in the Walpole area. All of the beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs served at the diner come from their farm. Produce is also sourced locally as much as possible. The owners both happened to be there on the Friday night we stopped by, so we got to chat a little bit. 

Inside, the diner is a lovely, bright space with blond reclaimed wood and plenty of tables. You order at the counter and go find a seat, then your food is brought to you when ready.

There's also outdoor seating for nice weather, so we picked a picnic table. Cornhole toss and swingsets add to the family-friendly atmosphere.

I am obsessed with pickled foods right now, so had to order the "Pickle Jar" appetizer. This is a rotating assortment of seasonal pickled veggies & fruits. Look, we got pickled GRAPES! There was also that big jalapeno, red onions, beans, and cauliflower in the jar. Fabulous starter to get your digestive juices flowing.

As a teetotaller lately I got a botanical soda--yummy with a unique sweet-bitter taste. My partner's flight of craft beers is behind. The diner has 16 beers on tap.

Now to the burger. IT WAS DELICIOUS. It's 100% local beef, as mentioned, served with pickles, onions, special sauce, lettuce, and friiiiieeeees. The bun was also delightful, with nice substance but not bready. The burger, cheese & sauce made for that rich taste-bomb that I look for in a burger, with just the right balance of cooling pickle and lettuce. I definitely recommend this burger (I ordered the Hungry Burger, $15). They also have Lil Hungry Burgers for kids, that come with a juice box and local milk Soft Serve ice cream. These got thumbs-ups from our younger diners.

My partner ordered a Three Little Pigs, which is a pork burger with bacon and bacon-jam (all local). The ecstatic look on his face while eating told me this is also an excellent choice.

If for some reason you don't want a burger, The Hungry Diner serves mac & cheese, fish & chips (with fish from Maine), a chickenwich, pork or fish tacos, and Korean BBQ Beef Salad with housemade kimchi. I'll add that locally grown food, made from scratch with love and care, is not cheap--but it is SO worth it for a tasty, low-key outing. If you're ever near Walpole, check it out!

Cape Cod Vacation 2018

I once wrote on this blog that we had become the type of New England family that vacations regularly in Maine. We tried various summer spots, including Wells, Old Orchard Beach, and further north near Bath. 

But 3 years ago we switched to New England's OTHER favorite holiday destination: Cape Cod. A family member has access to a roomy house there and we all descend upon it for a week. Here are some snapshots of our time there this year.

"Cape Cod State Flag" framed postcard in the bathroom

Nautical needlepoint in our bedroom

I had my very first Buffalo Cauliflower (this being Cauliflower with Buffalo sauce on it, similar to the famous chicken wings).

I had my required lobster roll—this one is from Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar in Eastham. If you get a kid's meal there it is served on a frisbee.

Like last year, we hauled our bikes with us and biked part of the Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT).

We picked up the CCRT at Nickerson State Park in the town of Brewster, and took it east toward Orleans.

Brewster-Orleans line. It's very dry and pine-y in this area.

We stopped at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow for lunch, then pushed onto get a bit further than we did last year.

On another day I fell into a low-tide reverie. I went far out to where the ankle-deep water was, amongst seaweed and mussel shells and tiny submarine snails undulating slowly in the hypnotic sparkle and lap of the water. 

I got close up to a certain beach rock that, at high tide, was mostly submerged. At low tide it is an encrusted symphony of barnacles and snails.


Closer still. A white peony bed, a surplice riot, a drawer of folded ladies' gloves.

Imagine the gentle swish and sigh of the water around your ankles.

Suspended world of snails and sea vegetables, always in motion.

Back on land, the sun-baked roses perfume the afternoon of summer's first full day.

For those who know Cape Cod as the land of JAWS, we also saw this startling sign on the Atlantic side (we went there to take a look around, not to swim. Good plan.) Note that the sign doesn't say great white sharks feed near Cape Cod, or on this side of Cape Cod. It says great white sharks feed AT THIS BEACH. Shudder!

Have you been to Cape Cod? Ever fallen into a reverie contemplating nature close up... and closer still?

Race Report: 7 Sisters Trail Race

I'm here to tell you about the 7 Sisters Trail Race I did last month (May 5, 2018). Last year it felt like the hardest thing I'd ever done. It took me four and a half hours to run/climb 11 miles back and forth over the Holyoke Range in Massachusetts. This year I ran it again, and cut 15 minutes off my time.

I believe that running a hilly 50k as preparation worked really well. When I was slogging up rocky pitches I would think, "At least this race won't take 7 hours. It'll be over so quickly in only 4+ hours!" I had also added several "vert" training runs up and down local mountains, and these gave me confidence during the race.

May 5 was a gorgeous day for a trail race. It was 60˚ F, breezy and clear.

The trail runs along the tops of the hills in the Holyoke Range. This is just south of East Hadley in Massachusetts.

The race started at the far Eastern point, ran up and down over 400 hills (well, see elevation for actual profile), then turned around and did the whole thing in reverse. I swear it's steeper going back. (Those two long downhills at mile 1.5 and mile 4 are now UPhills on the return.)

Now and then there were beautiful prospects of New England in the springtime.

Look at these cool rocks! This is the trail, by the way. 

An exciting landmark of the race is the Summit House, which is in Skinner State Park. The race course goes right up the steps, across the deck, and down steps on the other side to plunge downhill for about a mile to the turnaround. 

View from Summit House, Skinner State Park
So how did it go though? I felt pretty good during the whole race. Strong. Persistent. I wasn't FAST, but I was proud of my accomplishment. I didn't have to just stop and breathe like I did last year. I kept moving as much as I could. 

Around mile 9 when I was toiling up another hill, a white-haired guy caught up and said "How's it going?" I said, "Well, I decided that SLOW is better than NO." He laughed. I asked, "And how about you?" "My son has probably already finished--he was way ahead of me. I'm getting by with the mantras people tell me, including yours." Then he trotted off ahead of me.

SLOW is better than NO. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving. 

And now I'm in search of the next hard thing. In my mind, this one has been tamed.

Parting shot—trailside object.

A visit to MASS MoCA: Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art

MASS MoCA is a treasure of post-industrial western Massachusetts. The brick factory buildings in North Adams were once a print works, then an electrical component manufacturer (1942-1985), and since 1986 they've become a complex of galleries devoted to contemporary art, some at large scale. MASS MoCA also has performing arts—Blondie will be playing this summer, for example.

How can I describe my recent visit to MASS MoCA? Let's imagine I had an undiagnosed nutrient deficiency. I harbored a deep inner lack that I was not aware needed filling. I dragged myself through my days, not knowing or caring as my life essence silently ebbed.

And let's say that the museum was a copious buffet of rich, nourishing, delicious food. In this metaphor, I came away from MASS MoCA with my face smeared in triple chocolate cake, my hands sticky with marmalade, my clothes stained by grilled meats rubbed with exotic spices, and my belly full of crisp greens & lemony dressing, stinky soft cheeses, a single yet exquisite daikon radish slice, crisp falafel with 5-alarm hot sauce, small-batch lactofermented pickles, all sluiced down with Lipton iced tea made from powder—the beverage of my childhood. I came away feeling deeply fulfilled, bodily intrigued, and even a little jealous that I had been missing this multi-sensory feast so close to home.

Each exhibit gets its own brochure

It had been a long time since I'd visited a proper museum. I experienced several realizations.

One of these realizations is that art depends on each person's unique interaction with the work. The quirks and interests and experiences that make up your self merge with the artist's expression to become the "art." It is important to be there and to experience it in person.... which is why it's hard to write a blog post about it. It reminds me of the perfume reviews that I sometimes watch on Youtube. You can hear about the notes of the scent and how much the reviewer likes it, but without the scent IN YOUR NOSE it's just an empty nod to the reality.

Cosmic Latte, Spencer Finch

Another realization I had is that contemporary art is SO COOL. It made me think, it made me uncomfortable, it made me happy, it made me feel alive.

It gave me new obsessions, like the artists Liz Glynn and Sam McKinniss, who I am now stalking on social and print media. Liz Glynn has some talks about her work on youtube, and is coming to MASS MoCA in person in August—I want to go! Sam McKinniss writes reviews in ArtForum—this one on Grant Wood is so good.

Sam McKinniss portrait of Lana del Rey, part of "The Lure of the Dark" exhibition

A view of Liz Glynn's 30,000 square foot installation called "The Archaeology of Another Possible Future." I LOVED THIS. We visited it twice.

Detail—this is an "analog cave" about smell. Each ceramic vessel contains a scent.

Detail of Liz Glynn installation, positioned near shipping containers envisioning global economy in transition

There was an interactive music exhibit. The late Gunnar Schonbeck was a remarkable music professor at Bennington College who essentially believed that any object can be an instrument, and anyone can pick up and play. The exhibit dedicated to his work contained instruments he and his students made from wood, boxes, metal and plastic pipes and tubes, barrels, racks, air-pumps, and lots more. It was hands-on so created a wonderful musical racket depending on how many people were in the room at a time.

No photos allowed in the James Turrell exhibition "Into the Light." He explores the nature of light and the limited yet flexible abilities of the human eye. Light-room installations played with perspective, dark, and the light spectrum in a confusing, illuminating way.Go to MASS MoCA if you can!! I still can't believe it's so close to my home (about an hour's drive).