Top Tips for #Sundance Survival

If you’re coming to the Sundance Film Festival this year, Park City welcomes you! Each year it seems that more and more people join in the 10-day celebration of indie films and the creative process. There are movies, of course, along with panels, live music, cooking demonstrations, celebrity sightings, and high stakes deal-making.

But there are also winter conditions, long lines, large crowds, and limited parking. If you want to focus on the fun stuff and leave the frustration behind, then here are my top tips for doing just that.

Leave the heels at home

Trust me, now is not the time to choose fashion over function. Chances are you’ll be doing more walking than you typically do, dodging black ice, and skirting snow banks. Bring the boots and commit to wearing them. By boots, I mean the warm kind with some serious tread on the bottom, not those cute ankle ones with the leather soles you picked up at a sample sale. When you’re running down Park Avenue to catch the next bus to Prospector Square, you’ll be happy you did.

And speaking of the bus…

Unless you’ve secured a private driver for the duration of the event (and plenty of people do), you should plan on using a combination of public transportation and your feet. Do not rent a car or bring your own. Parking is severely limited (even the paid parking), and the snow will not dissuade the tow trucks. The good news is that taking the bus is easy, you’ll meet other festival goers, and it’s FREE. Park City provides year-round free bus service, and during Sundance they augment that service with an additional brigade of buses, so one is typically never waiting for long. If you want to learn more, visit the official transportation website, pick up a transit map when you get to town, or even download the myStop mobile app for schedules and trip-planning. We do have taxis, and Uber operates during the festival, but be prepared for longer than average waits and higher than average prices.

I know I’m not your mother, but…

Park City is a mountain town with an elevation over 6500 feet, depending where you are. Unless you already live at high altitude, your body may balk at the sudden change. Be prepared to drink more water than you normally do, particularly in the first few days. Most theatre venues have water available for those long waits in line, so bring a water bottle and take advantage of refilling when you can. You may also want to limit your alcohol intake, since alcohol not only has the effect of dehydrating you, but also its general effects will be accentuated by the altitude.

So, you really want a drink, huh?

Should you decide to ignore the alcohol advice above, or perhaps you ignored the bus advice, so now you’re so amped up and frustrated that you’re body will only respond to vodka, then here’s what you need to know. Wine and liquor are not available in grocery stores in Utah. You can purchase beer in the grocery store, but beware that it has a lower volume of alcohol than what can be bought at the liquor store. All the good stuff is available at any of the three state-run liquor stores, which sounds fantastic, but note that they aren’t open on Sundays or the wee hours of the night, so plan ahead. At a restaurant, you may be required to order some food along with your drink. Just go with it. Everyone’s just doing their job, not trying to cheat you out of your well-earned adult beverage. Promise.

 

 

Putting Down Roots: A Twenty Year Journey

Roots and Wings I achieved a milestone recently. It may not seem like much to many, but to me, living in the same town for twenty years is something I never really thought I would achieve, or perhaps wasn’t sure if I even wanted to. I grew up in a military family, which meant lots of beginnings, lots of tries at fitting in, making new friends, and finding the concept of home in people, rather than place. Overall, that type of childhood worked for me. I never knew any different, so I didn’t have much reason to question it until I got older, was out on my own, and knew I could (at least conceptually) pick anywhere on the map and make it mine, even if just for awhile.

I have to admit, my ‘plan’ to move to Park City was not wildly complex or thought out. I only knew a few things for certain – 1) I was ready to leave North Carolina; 2) I wanted to move west (which wasn’t hard since east of North Carolina lies miles of ocean); and 3) I already knew some people in Park City and it seemed prudent to start with at least a bit of a network. I told myself that my real objective was to get to San Francisco or Seattle, but Park City would be a good place for me to get my feet under me before continuing the rest of the journey to the coast. This is the kind of logic that makes absolute sense in your 20s. Suffice it to say, it made less sense to my supportive but cautiously suspect parents.

Before I moved, I’d only visited Park City two or three times during the summer. I’d never been during the winter. I only knew how to water ski not snow ski. And I moved without a job. I did have a place to live though, and a roommate who was a good friend who setup all our living arrangements before I had my last bag packed.

I loaded up my Chevy Cavalier with whatever wasn’t loaded on the moving van. I added one very confused cat, an equally confused mother, and we left North Carolina in early January. Because isn’t the middle of winter when everyone thinks it’s a great idea to drive a couple thousand miles to snow country? I don’t recall the exact date we left, but I do know that it coincided with the Blizzard of 1996, a storm so significant that it has an entry in Wikipedia.

We diverted ourselves south through Chattanooga to try to avoid the ice and snow. About three days later, we rolled in to town and set about waiting for the moving van to arrive. My mother stayed for several days to help out, leaving on a day of another huge Utah snow storm. I don’t think she’s visited me in January since.

In some ways, I don’t know where twenty years went, but of course, if I stop and put some thought in to it, the details materialize. The job that started a career, the friends that became family, and the houses that became homes.

It’s all right here, in my little mountain town.

 

My Top Reads of 2015

Like most avid readers, I never quite feel like I have enough time to read, which makes it all the more special when I come across a book I really enjoy. In 2015, I had four notable reads, books that really stayed with me after the last page was read, books that I mentioned to friends in casual conversation. For what it’s worth, here they are:

  1. pointofdir   “Point of Direction”, Rachel Weaver – This is the only book of fiction that made my list this year. About 60% of what I read is fiction, but there’s so much good nonfiction around that I find that percentage declining over time. “Point of Direction” was not to be missed though. This is Rachel Weaver’s debut novel, and if it’s indicative of what’s to come, I can’t wait to see what’s next. Billed as a psychological thriller, the story follows the lives of a young couple, Anna and Kyle, both of whom carry old secrets in to their fledgling relationship. Set in the Alaskan landscape, the couple signs a nine-month lease to be live-in caretakers for a lighthouse on Hibler Rock, miles off the Alaskan coastline. The previous caretaker disappeared two decades ago under mysterious circumstances, and while this mystery helps drive some of the action, the real story is, of course, the relationship between Anna and Kyle and how they each grow and change as individuals. The language in this novel is simply beautiful without being too aware of itself. The descriptions of the remote landscape are evocative and support the plot in every way necessary. If you appreciate round characters and tight plots delivered in sophisticated, well-crafted language, this book should be on your list.
  2. 13hours  “13 Hours”, Mitchell Zuckoff – The first book I read by Zuckoff was “Lost in Shangri-La”, a nonfiction account of a US military plane downed in New Guinea during the WWII. I loved that book, so felt I was in good hands with his most recent offering. If I had any trepidation about “13 Hours”, it was that there hadn’t been much time between the events and the telling of the events. With nonfiction, I think there’s something to be said for time, although perhaps it can work equally against the story as it does for it. Zuckoff makes it clear early that the purpose of the book isn’t to discuss, debate, or otherwise engage in the political questions surrounding what happened, but rather to detail the events from the perspective of the six American security operators who fought to protect not only their own lives, but the lives of the other Americans stationed in Benghazi. It is absolutely riveting. More than riveting though, it is educational. It really painted the picture of what day-to-day conditions are like in areas that, if it hadn’t been for the terrible raid, we wouldn’t acknowledge are an integral part of our global efforts. “13 Hours” was recently released as a movie too. There’s no doubt I’ll see it, but do yourself a favor and read the book first. As with most adaptations, there’s just so much more that can be conveyed in hundreds of written pages that won’t make it to the screen.
  3. 500days  “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars”, Kurt Eichenwald – I’ve been a big fan of Kurt Eichenwald since I devoured his book about the Enron debacle, “Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story”. His latest offering, “500 Days” chronicles the eighteen months following 9/11, and attempts to show how decisions and policies established during the early days helped pave the way for all that came after. Eichenwald seems to have a point of view in this book, something that didn’t seem so evident in his other books; however, his research is second to none. Whether you agree or not with what he says, you have to acknowledge he’s done his homework and then some. “500 Days” is over 600 pages, but don’t let the length of it dissuade you. Much of what comes at the end is reference information in support of claims, conversations, or events detailed in the narrative. It such a compelling page turner, that I was only aware of the length in the moments before turning the first page.
  4. yesplease “Yes Please”, Amy Poehler – Who doesn’t love a good funny lady? More specifically, who doesn’t love Amy Poehler? I loved her before reading her book, but found new aspects of her personality that made me love her even more by the time I finished. The thing is, Amy Poehler isn’t just funny. What comes through quite clearly in the book is that Amy Poehler is smart.  I was prepared to read a memoir that was quite predictable in its trajectory from childhood to college to struggling artist to breakout moment. Sure, some of that is there, but much of that seems to be a bit of a sidebar as Poehler entertains us with vignettes or essays that have a decidedly more insightful bent while also informing the reader about her past. She’s careful to skirt the details of her relationship with ex-husband Will Arnett, and fair enough. Truth be told, I’m a bit fatigued with overshares of celebrities’ personal lives.

That’s the scoop from 2015. I’m only just starting my reading in 2016, but fingers crossed it yields some gems like these!

Let’s Make it Official!

The end of the year was an interesting and different one for me. You know how life often goes in waves? A wave of graduations, a wave of weddings, a wave of baby showers, and so on. Well, my wave of weddings is well behind me at this point. I’m invited to one perhaps every five years or so.

So imagine my surprise when two friends scheduled weddings for the last week of the year. Both of these women have been good friends of mine for many years, and as forty-somethings these are first marriages for each. I was beyond excited at ending 2015 on such a high. How often does that happen?

Things got even more interesting when, at the end of October, one of the couples asked if I was willing to get ordained so that I could perform their ceremony. I admit to a bit of confusion at first. I’m not a particularly religious person. I’ve never expressed interest in entering the ministry. And most importantly, I don’t look good in robes. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of couples finding one another and choosing to build a life together. We do it so frequently that perhaps we’ve forgotten how much bravery is involved in coupling.

I agreed to officiate the ceremony for my friends and promptly got ordained online the following day. It is shockingly easy. There’s no fee. The form has fewer than ten fields, and apparently you only have to be over 13 years old to hit submit. All too easy.

It was only a few weeks later, after hearing that I was newly-ordained, that the other couple approached me and asked if I would be willing to perform their ceremony too. What an unexpected turn of events. It truly is nice to know that people have entrusted me with such an important moment in their lives. I don’t know if I’ll ever perform another ceremony, but it was sure great to be involved in these two. And no robes were required!

 

 

 

Parenting Tips from the Childless

There’s nothing that hard-working, well-intentioned parents love more than listening to unsolicited parenting advice from the childless. Am I right, or am I right?

And yet, sometimes, certain things must be said.

While it’s true that I don’t have children, I was one for many years. Some might argue I still am, but that wrinkle aside, you learn a few things by walking around the block once or twice. I also had the great fortune (although I would’ve been reluctant to admit it at the time) of being raised by a pair of darn good parents. Come to find out, they were making it up as they went along much of the time – as most of us do throughout life – but they sure got it right far more often than they got it wrong.

Here are three quick tips. Do with them what you will.

  1. Exercise Boredom

    As a parent, you are neither court jester nor circus entertainer. Boredom isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your child. Not by a long shot. Boredom’s often the pathway to creativity, a pathway that gets cut off all too soon with the digital distractions and strange expectation that our entertainment and edification needs to be pushed to us these days, rather than growing organically from our own brains. Do you remember as a child staring at clouds and imagining what they were, or being stuck in a car with a sibling and making up silly games to play? I remember those moments and more quite fondly. They were energizing and fun. I’m pretty sure we can all use more of that.

  2. Exercise Responsibility

    Teaching a child responsibility seems like a no-brainer, and yet, we live in a time where the line between parent and friend is freakishly blurred. Sometimes we seem so focused on reducing any stress or hurt our child might feel, that we don’t give them a chance to grow. If we’re too quick to bail them out every time, we subtly send the message that they’re incapable of being resourceful or responsible – incapable of figuring things out on their own. Be the backup plan, not the first responder.

  3. Just Exercise!

    Please, please, please, show your child what it means to be outside, to play, to appreciate nature, appreciate movement and all the life-long benefits of being active. Your children don’t have to be athletes or adrenaline junkies to enjoy being outside. Put down all those electronic devices you think you can’t live without, and just get out there! And, no, you cannot take the selfie stick with you to document every move. Your memory will do just fine.

And, on that note, I’m going to take my own advice, finalize this post and get outside for a bit. Happy Parenting!

Coming Apart at the Seams

I wrote this in the first hour of hearing about the events in San Bernardino, before we know what we know now, not that it would have changed what I wrote. Whether it’s San Bernardino, or Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or gang violence in your own hometown, here are my thoughts.

____________________________

one-eyed-ted-aka-aloysius-55

When we were little my sister had a small teddy bear she cuddled with when she took naps. She held on to that stuffed animal for years. His fur was worn in several places, he’d long since lost one of his plastic ebony eyes, one ear had fallen off only to be reattached with a safety pin. Seams were splitting, stuffing came loose.

That’s us right now. We’re coming apart at the seams. Our stuffing is escaping, our fur is patchy, and we’re holding on to parts with safety pins. It happened slowly, over many years of wear and tear, and then all at once. We pick up guns against one another. Against those we don’t know, sometimes those we do, often those we only think we know. Those who represent something that hurts us or offends us or angers us. Or maybe we’re just having a bad day.

We have so much pent up energy manifesting as anger that somehow we convince ourselves the best course of action, perhaps the only course, lies at the end of an assault rifle, that we acquired legally or otherwise, for a purpose I can’t possibly imagine. Except that perhaps this was the purpose all along. To annihilate some strangers in such a manner that would surely lead to our own annihilation.

I’m not sure what the answer is. In fact, I’m still struggling to come up with what the real question is. When something like this happens – which, I hope we can agree, is too damn often – our dialog becomes hyper-polarized.

  • Get rid of all the guns.
  • If someone had been carrying a gun, this wouldn’t have happened.
  • It’s mental illness.
  • It’s the media.

To and fro, back and forth, like children on a seesaw in an abandoned playground. It doesn’t go anywhere. We pray, hold vigils, pour our hearts out to the victims and their families, update our profile pictures on Facebook. And once we’ve expressed enough good will, as though somehow these kind, heartfelt gestures will return the world’s sense of goodness back to balance, we resume our lives, including our old conversations that are safe and comfortable.

We lack the attention span to focus on difficult problems like this one. We can only hold one idea in tension at a time. We can only have one problem, and that one problem can only have one solution.

It seems we’ve lost the ability to have reasonable, effective discourse anymore. Conversations are fraught with attacks and accusations that all but ensure no action, compromise, fundamental change or progress will take place. The more important the issue is, the less capable we seem.

We cling to old ideas and old ways, just like my sister did with her bear. She hung on for so long, perhaps imagining him in better times when his eyes were shiny, fur full and fluffy. But no amount of imagining was to make it so.

Gray Days and Heavy Hearts

IMG_0070 For the last few weeks in Milan, the days have been filled with perfect autumn weather. Perhaps seasonably warm a few days, but generally crisp, bright blue skies, no rain in sight. But the gray, foggy, dreariness of this photo from my apartment window is what we were met with this morning, which seemed apropos given the attacks last night in Paris.

The weather matches the mood. The streets were quiet today, everyone walking a little slower, talking a little lower. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it certainly matched my mood.

I first learned of the attacks last night on Twitter. I have to say, for breaking news, Twitter is second to none. The details were sparse, and it’s hard to convey much in 140 characters, but it was clear there was something tragic and deadly underway. It was hard to sleep knowing what was happening, the story still emerging, the edges soft and unformed.

I woke a few times throughout the night – higher numbers, lower numbers, revised information, things still solidifying. And then morning came, and things were over, and yet just beginning in so many ways.

It’s hard to make sense of what’s happening, in Paris, in the world at large. I’m still in my head about it, trying to access language that can explain the incomprehensible.

For now, my thoughts, my energy, all drive in a single direction; and while I hope tomorrow that I’ll be greeted with a morning sun, I’ll completely understand if I’m not. Sadly.