Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Blanco Lavender Festival

Last weekend, we went to the Blanco Lavendar festival. I generally hate festivals. Too many people. Too much cute, crappy art with vendors looking at you like you're a hot glazed doughnut and they've been dieting for a month...then turning hostile when you just want to look. Not this festival. The air had that barbecue, funnel cake smell mixed with lavender. The vendors seemed well fed and friendly and the art....well some of the art was breathtaking. Check out the incredible glass beads by Kathy Littlefield, owner of A Little Field of Beads. Gorgeous and only around $20.And the art nouveau, fantasy jewelry by Austin's Connie Colten
I don't know who made the fabulous toilet float birdhouses. But the photographs are by Kistner Photography. And the glowing young woman owns the area's oldest lavender farm, Hill Country Lavender. All photos by Lillian Gerrity

Monday, June 6, 2011

Embracing the Waterfall

Two guys were kayaking down the river. Suddenly it dawned on them that the water was getting faster and foamier and there was a lot of noise up ahead. The first guy tensed up and tried paddling backward, to no avail. The second guy stayed relaxed but became very alert, and a little adrenaline charged. They hit the rapids and the water raced them toward what they now realized was a little waterfall. Just as they arrived at the crest, the first guy yelled "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" as he went over. But the other guy yelled "YEEEESSSSS!"
Both guys went over the waterfall. But the second guy embraced it.
I wanna be the second guy. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Transformation of a Blog

I haven't posted for a long time because I've been rethinking this blog. It was called Baggage. But baggage is the crap you carry around with you from the past. I'm done with baggage. This blog is about adventure. Adventures are exciting and scary. They involve mosquitoes, cliffs, missed paychecks, love and facing your own crazy thoughts. Everybody can be on adventure. So here's my new blog. It has changed and may again, because I'm opening myself to change. And I want this to be a communal thing so I ask you to comment, Tweet and share your moments of bravery.

Whenever I interview someone who has done something brave, I ask them: "Where did you find the courage?" 
They usually say something like: "I don't know, I just really wanted to do this."
No, I say. I lean in. I bore into them with intense brown eyes. I ask them with all the urgency I  feel: When the idea came to you to start that business or take that trip or expose your soul with that artistic idea...when you realized that you were risking your security or your reputation or your life, where were you? What were you doing? Why was it THAT MOMENT and how did you feel? Cold and clammy? Did you sweat? Was your heart racing? Did you cry?
And what did you DO when you felt like that, all adrenaline charged and clammy? What made you, in the face of all that risk, step over the fear, cross the threshold, and do it anyway?
This is my big question. Why do some people do scary things and others don't?
Some rare people have always just done what they wanted to do. Some were broke or desperate and some bigger fear swallowed the fear of failure. Some hit a fork in the road and knew that this was one of those moments when you either go for it or you don't. And then there's me, for whom it's a daily 10-rounder against the inner voices telling me to keep my head down...don't make waves.
As a freelance writer, I've written about almost everything. That's an exaggeration of course, but that's what it feels like. I've been told to find a niche, which is hard for me because I'm fascinated by so many things. So I've decided this is my niche: The stories of those compelled to step outside the comfort zone to start a business, create art, travel, switch careers or in some way risk to pursue a dream.
So that's what this blog is about now. The pueblo native who quit his job at Intel to make peace pipes for a living. The Dutch designer, simultaneously growing famous and learning to handle brutal criticism. The traveler, the entrepreneur, the spiritual seeker, the parent, the lover. And me, confronting a revolution in the treatment of the written word. If you see yourself in any of that, please come along and please share your experience. Let's all be brave together.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Let's Be Brave

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
It was such a cliché in the 1970s. It’s a cultural burr stuck in the folds of my cranium along with the chorus of “It’s a Small World” and the iconic, suburban Madonna image of the Kool Aid Mom.
But it’s true. So here goes. I’ve spent the last seven years trying to compensate for decades of fear. I was scared to be told no;  scared someone would get mad at me or stop loving me;  scared someone would laugh at me or send me a rejection letter or comment on my housekeeping.
All of this has kept me from the life I wanted to live. You can’t try for things if your priority is keeping your head down. So, for the last seven years, I’ve steeled my nerve from time to time and done something that seemed really scary. Like moving with my kids to a one-room Hogan with an outhouse outside of Taos, NM. Or taking the kids on a month long tour of Europe. Or moving us all to Austin.  Or writing a book. Or starting to actually query the publications I’ve always wanted to write for.
Each time it requires an enormous effort to push myself forward. But each time, it gets a little easier. I wanted, in this blog, to present myself as someone who has already arrived at bravery. After all, when I tell people about the house near Taos, they say “You’re so brave.” And I feel very brave. For a few seconds. But I still get scared.
I want to get to the place where trying new things, going after my dreams and living to the fullest is normal for me. Where I’m not afraid to try for a goal and I don’t see failure as a reason to return to the foxhole. So here is my declaration, and I’ll let you know how it’s going.
I’m a competent, experienced writer and reporter.  There are magazines I’ve tried once or twice to sell stories to but when they sent the rejection letter back I curdled. I don’t want to curdle any more. I want to finish revamping my book as a novel before the Texas Book Fair. I want to learn to speak both French and Italian fluently.  I want to learn to speak my truth gently instead of swallowing it for fear someone will be mad and then blurting it out in a volcano of emotional bile.
I want to do everything I can to make my kids’ lives good, including helping them confront their issues (and yes, as their mother, I am the source of some of their issues) so they get their emotional crap cleaned up before they start choosing careers and spouses. 
I want to be financially secure.
And when they’re out of the house, I don’t want to sit around being sad. I want to move, for a little while, to some exotic country. Maybe Italy.
 That’s all I got for now. For now, this blog is a chronicle of one woman nearing 50 deciding to go for broke and hoping that if anybody else has a similar list, this will be like a little shot of encouragement and camaraderie.  Let’s be brave.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Luca Spaghetti Would Like Austin Texas

There’s a line in Eat, Pray, Love where the Italian Luca Spaghetti confronts the author about Americans’  idea of pleasure. To paraphrase: Italians revel in pleasure. But Americans confuse pleasure with collapsing in front of the television in their PJs on the weekend.
I recoiled at the horrible truth of that. And then I started getting to know Austin, Texas. Austin “gets” pleasure.
Every weekend when the weather is nice—which it almost always is—the parks are full of people: playing baseball, picnicking, lying on the grass. Lake Austin is swimming with kayaks, canoes and little stand up paddle rafts, all manned by people reveling in the cool water, the swimming turtles, the ducks and swans, the lush, green shores and the glistening pastel skyline of the city.
Nearly every restaurant has a patio and nearly every patio is full. Barton Springs Road in South Austin is framed by patio after vast patio of people who appear to have nothing better to do than enjoy the sunshine. On South Congress and First Street people collect in cheery little parking lots with crepes and cupcakes and Cajun pies served out of AirStream trailers. Texas sushi and Texas burgers and Texas tacos…Texas in this case being a synonym for “big.”  There are fancy restaurants, of course, like Chez Nous, run by expat Parisians and looking exactly like a French bistro and Vespaio Italian restaurant. But the point is that every nook and cranny of the city is blessed with some funny little spot, a house converted, its front yard spilling with tables and twinkling lights, where people spend hours eating, drinking, talking laughing.
And then of course there is the music. Music and dancing every weekend and most weekdays. Concerts and theater and film festivals.
When I first moved to Austin I assumed these were the pursuits of young, single people with plenty of disposable cash. The hipster elite who earned Austin its reputation for “cool.” But I was wrong. This is the culture of Austin. Get outside. Meet a friend. Breathe the warm, sweet, humid air under the crazy, low hanging, wide reaching Live Oak trees festooned with lights. Drink a beer. Eat a taco. Listen to music. Dance.
Or drink wine and eat veal. Either way.
 I think Luca Spaghetti would like Austin, Texas.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Headaches of the Mayor of Venice

I want to say, for the record, that I have great sympathy for the mayor of Venice.
Just being a mayor would be hard enough. What with infrastructure and constituencies and understanding governmental bonds and things. But Giorgio Orsoni presides over a town that is an international treasure. So when something goes awry in Venice, Orsoni doesn’t just have to answer to the gondoliers and the fruit vendors and the art collectors on the Grand Canal. He has to answer to the whole world.
Something like 100,000 tourists visit this city every day. And why wouldn’t they? You could spend a week just looking at the glass sculptures from the neighboring island of Murano and another week checking out the handmade masks that commemorate the period when dignitaries traveled to Venice for some anonymous debauchery.  You could spend a month eating. At least. Their version of a fast food is prosciutto and brie on Italian bread.  You can imagine the slow food: the seafood, pasta and Italian pastries.  There are funny little wine shops where you can pay two euros and siphon wine out of a giant jug and into your two-liter bottle. There are bakeries with rich, creamy Italian pastries.
They have art, history, the bones of a bona fide apostle, and city—the only city in the world—built on petrified stilts.  Venice is gilded and curly and sunny and ochre with flowers pouring out of the windows and indigo laundry hanging across ancient cobbled paths.  Venice is slimy, green, crab-filled canals passing under buildings once inhabited by Goethe. 
Venice is also sinking. They might have thought of that, when they built it on wooden stilts a thousand years ago.  But actually it stood quite well on its little legs until speedboats came along. The increased turbulence created by the engines and the aggressive wake behind the boats has exponentially speeded up the rate of erosion of the city’s pilings.
Keeping an ancient city and its treasures from sinking or being otherwise damaged by salty sea air is a feat for a deity, not a mayor. It requires a lot of money.
So Giorgio Orsoni decided that when one or another building was undergoing construction, he would allow the construction to be covered by giant billboards to bring in extra money. This decision has enraged the 100,000 tourists.
It is pretty shocking.
While in Venice a little more than a year ago, I was looking forward to seeing The Bridge of Sighs, a bridge between the royal palace and the dungeons. It was called the Bridge of Sighs because it was a little covered bridge with windows looking out over the bay and it was the prisoners’ last look at the blue sky and the water.  So my children and I passed through the Piazza San Marco and turned left to see the bridge and mama mia….the bridge and the buildings beside it were covered in giant tarplike billboards advertising clothes. Or perfume. I can’t remember.  I was indignant.
Lately I read that Orsoni refused having one billboard put up because it was a very sexy picture of Julianne Moore and he thought it inappropriate to be so close to St. Mark’s Cathedral. But as to the rest of the billboards, he has defended his decision. He even went so far as to say that if people wanted to see the ancient city of Venice they could just stay home and look in books.
This was a distinctly ungracious thing for someone to say who heads a city supported by tourism. But I don’t blame him. He knows people will come. They can’t stay away.