Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spouse Sign Language

I like to talk. And and I come from a family of mostly women that like to talk too. So, naturally, when Rand and I first met, I was a loud talker as that's what happens when 4 chatty females live together. Once we were married and on our own, Rand started to try to lower my max volume. It almost ended our marriage. (Well, not really, but it did seriously piss me off at first.)

I'd be relaying some story to him while in the car and he would suddenly tell me to lower my voice. Although this annoyed me, it was when he did it in public that really set me off. It was condescending and embarrassing in front of others (and generally made me inclined to raise my voice!) even if I did have an excessive appreciation for the decibel scale. Before having to resort to marriage counseling, however, we came up with a signal, something that he could do that only I would understand to let me know I was getting loud. He started gently tugging his ear, as if checking for an earring. It worked great! So great that even now, 15 years later, sometimes he'll scratch his ear and I think he's telling my volume is rising when, in fact, he's just got a scratchy ear.

In the last few years, this idea has morphed into a mini sign language between us. However, it is not for communicating privately in public; rather, it's for defusing the minor yet inevitable marital spat which usually involves one of us not listening to or agreeing with the other. It started with Concede. Rand and I are both assertive, say-when-we-think-we're-right type of people so when a topic comes up that we disagree about, we tend to discuss it, google it, and generally go on about it until one of us ultimately concedes the point. The thing is, often times, once the Convincer gets on a roll, he/she has a hard time stopping even when the Conceder agrees. So we came up with using the sign language 'C' (where you curve your fingers and thumb as if looking into an invisible glass.) to signal to the Convincer that the Conceder agrees and they may cease and desist all debate. Immediately.

Next came Don't Know, signaled with a 'D' (where you close your fingers in a small circle to meet your thumb but leave your index finger pointed straight up.) I tend to ask Rand about things and he'll respond "I don't know" when I know if he would just listen to the rest of what I have to tell him, the answer might actually be, "I do know." I get annoyed that he denies knowledge without hearing me out while he gets annoyed that I insist on giving him the Long Version. Amazingly, the nonverbal "Don't know" seems to short-circuit nearly all of the annoyance. (Score!)

The latest addition is 'B' (palm out, fingers up, thumb tucked in) for Believe Me. Increasingly, Rand has taken to questioning my factual knowledge as a force of habit. He will ask me a question anywhere from "What are the dates for the Renaissance Faire?" to "What street is Moonshine on?" and then immediately dismiss my answer on the premise that I don't know what I'm talking about. This is highly irritating for two reasons. First, why does he even ask me if he's going to discount my answer? And secondly, why is my informed opinion always in question? (Once I consciously realized what was happening, I brought it to Rand's attention; he sheepishly acknowledged that it's probably due to his job where he has to repeatedly confirm factual information given to him by coworkers. This made me feel better except for the fact that he still has a tendency to do it.) Now I forcefully flash him the 'B' in a very convincing imitation of Fran Drescher's Talk-to-the-Hand gesture. He usually believes me. Of course, that's because I'm usually right. (Or rather, when I don't know, I say I don't know.)

It occurred to me recently that all three of these, in essence, are saying the same two words simply with varied tones, hues, and flavors to disguise the essential meaning: Shut up.

Shut up, I said I agree.
Shut up, I said I don't know.
Shut up and just believe me.

It's nice to know after 15 years of marriage, even if we don't listen to one another as well as we'd like, we can still be polite to one another.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Adventures of a lifetime

My mother and I are hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in June. It's a 9-day hike. We've never done anything like this before. I mean, we both love to hike and are active people but we've never gone on a multi-day backpacking hike carrying 25+ pounds on our backs for 6 hours or more a day. It's going to be an adventure of a lifetime.

We're going as part of a 10-hiker expedition with 2 guides through an amazing Canadian company Sea to Sky Expeditions. Just check out their photo gallery and you'll be in awe. Even their About Us segment gave me chills. You hike in the rain forest as well as along the coast line, camping on the beach at night. I've had 2 handmade leather journals with hemp paper made by Iona Handcrafted Books for Mother and I to journal before and during our trip. They weigh 10 ounces a piece-- an important bit of information when you're carrying everything on your back! (and yes, Rand thinks it's a needless addition. He just doesn't get the journaling. The need to put your thoughts down on paper. Actually, that's not fair. Although he doesn't feel the need and desire to write about his experiences along the way, he does appreciate my desire to. However, he doesn't get the need to have these authentically handmade, all natural, little-works-of-art-put-to-vital-use which to me personify this trip. He thinks I should just take a little spiral notebook that would surely weigh less. I'd give up...well, I'm not sure yet, but I'll let you know once I research my gear more extensively as I'm sure I'd give up something important...but suffice it to say, there's no way I'd take this trip without my journal.

Usually you hear "The adventure of a lifetime" as if there can only be one. I was thinking, however, that really my goal in my life is to make as many things as possible qualify in the "Adventure of a Lifetime" category. The obvious ones are:

  • Our family trip to New Zealand and Australia 2 years ago this month. Rand and I fell in love with NZ while watching (& rewatching, & watching every single commentary on all 3 special edition DVDs & rewatching again) Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was truly heaven on Earth, to us, and lived up to our extremely well-developed imaginations. We drove across both the South and North Islands, seeing as much as we could along the way. I can't settle on any one place as my favorite as the entire trip was spectacular. My only regret? Journaling only our rough schedule of events and experiences. Traveling cross-country with 6 & 8-year old boys in a motorhome for 3 weeks, sleeping in the make-shift bed while 6 months pregnant made little time for reflection and documentation. It was either go-go-go and do-do-do or sleep-sleep-sleep! Unfortunately, we could only carve out 1 week to spend in Australia, focusing on the Southeast corner of the country from Sydney to Melbourne but what we saw was incredible. The 12 Apostles along the Great Ocean Road was the highlight.
  • Ice-climbing on the Mendenhall glacier in Alaska. Although this was only a one-day activity and we were novices, it was incredible-- the vivid turquoise blue of the melted ice, seeing the glacier from above as we helicoptered in, using cramp-ons for the first time.
  • Walking amongst/under the balloons at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. I love black and white (photography, films) but I feel like I dream in color. The Fiesta was a spectacular living dream.
  • Standing in front of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice as it snowed. (We were in Italy for New Year's while visiting my family in Ramstein, Germany. Ahh, my beloved Deutschland. Sadly, I was married by the time they were stationed in Europe. Still, I managed to pack three years' worth of love and attachment for the country in my three week visit over the holiday.
But what about everything else in life? Can't anything be an adventure? Your marriage. Renovating your house. Having kids certainly is. I think it's more about your perspective. If you aren't enthusiastic about something, I don't think it's worth doing. Of course, that's coming from me. So, here's a list of Adventures of my Lifetime that don't involve exotic locales and lengthy travel. They are of the day-to-day variety:

  • Our annual Halloween Party: I make all the food, much of which is ghoulish-- severed finger cookies, brain-molded jello, mummy cupcakes; extensive decorations of which I have more than I do for Christmas, including a full-sized coffin; elaborate costumes, which this year included the winning, life-sized Voodoo Doll and Voodoo Priestess. If you can't tell, I live and breathe Halloween for the 31 days of October. I think it's biological; I was born in October.
  • Pi-Rho Fest: This is almost a personal holiday. Our boys look forward to this almost as much as Christmas. A large group of our friends/family started celebrating Pi Day (3/14) years ago by having a weekend amateur rocket-launching event which also includes an extensive fireworks display courtesy of our good friend Rudy, a giant pot-luck, Christmas-tree-burning bonfire (you have no idea how fast or how hot a 3-month old fir or spruce tree goes up in flames until you've witnessed it first hand.), overnight camping, and the occasional additional highlight such as the year of Shiree's Propane Fireball Maker. (I know what you're thinking and trust me, it was as impressive as it sounds. Too bad it made an appearance only once.)
  • Movie openings: Made obvious by my many movie-related topics, I'm a movie fiend and what better way to add a little adventure and excitement to life than by psyching yourself up for an upcoming movie fav? For Joss Whedon's Serenity, we were there opening night, wearing Brown Coats and I can kill you with my brain t-shirts. Later this week, my sister is flying in from DC to join me in attending the Austin premiere of Twilight, where we'll view the screening at the IMAX theater, along with Q & A with director Catherine Hardwicke and then attend the VIP after party at the Bertram Gallery. (I like to think of myself as a VIP but, really, I just paid for the $50 VIP tickets that include the after party.)
  • Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Road Show presentation of Jaws. We took a party boat out on Lake Travis and floated in innertubes in the dark while watching Jaws on a giant blow-up movie screen in the middle of the water. It was awesome. The Alamo had a couple of divers, unbeknownst to us, swimming around bumping into legs and generally scaring the hell out of everyone. We unconsciously bunched together in a group but the shifting water caused you to eventually be on the outside edge and if you weren't careful you'd start to drift away, which of course, only heightened the scare factor. (Other killer Rolling RS events in Austin: Watching The Descent in local caves and Blair Witch Project out in the woods. Starting in 2005 Rolling Road Show hit the road and took RRS to the original locales for films, including Jaws at Martha's Vineyard. I don't care; it was still scary on Lake Travis even if it is land-locked.) The Alamo Drafthouse is a cinephile's dream come true.
  • Our yearly Christmas projects. Since 1995 Rand and I make it our annual sanity test to design and create a family ornament (about 60 now) along with handmade (rubber-stamped, dry-embossed, etc. etc.) Christmas cards (about 140), wrapping paper, and a brief, yet hopefully-entertaining family letter (often times it's a 1-page, play-like affair but we've also written A Haiku Christmas, A Pop-Up Christmas, and last year's masterpiece (courtesy of Rand 100%!) the Bamberg variation of Good King Wenceslaus, complete with every rhyme and timing, able to be sung to the original carol's tune. This all started because we're both creative and I wanted to have a yearly Christmas card, letter, and family photo; Rand thought all Christmas letters were boring and too long, hence our ongoing efforts to make our yearly letter entertaining, brief, and still informative. As the years have passed, our ornaments have become more ambitious. Some of my favorites are our wax-dipped snowflakes made from heavy wire mesh, FLLW-inspired stained-glass Christmas trees embossed on 2" x 3" microscope slides and then water-colored with Stazon brand solvent ink. Hmmm...this sounds like a possible future topic complete with photos and how-tos.
  • The Saxon Pub on a Monday night with Bob Schneider and Matt the Electrician performing. If I weren't a busy Mom-of-Three, I'd make this a weekly routine rather than a quarterly event. If you haven't been to this well-loved little dive, next time you are in Austin, check it out. But if you go to see Bob, expect to stand unless you arrive by 6pm!
  • Texas Renaissance Festival dressed in full costume and soaking in the faire atmosphere. Often times we drive up and camp overnight and then get up fresh to spend all Saturday at the Faire. Highlights: Beowulf performed in the mud pit, belly dances, bawdy comedy acts, the saucy wenches admiring Rand in his striped velvet tights, Scotch eggs, roasted corn, steak-on-a-stake. The only thing I can complain about-- The Flaming Idiots retired a number years back and every year I yearn for them, still expecting them to be there. Pyro, Gyro, and Walter we miss you!
Isn't life a journey and isn't an adventure just an exciting journey? That's what I want. An exciting journey. Little moments of excitement on a daily basis. Okay, and yes, to be completely honest, with the occasional big excitement thrown in for good measure.