The City I Don’t See

Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash

It’s funny and strange how a city changes
through someone else’s eyes.
I scroll through my phone one day
and am struck by a familiar scene
a convenience store I pass every day
to the office or home or somewhere
hurrying by and never noticing
the carved angels atop the building,
misplaced among offices and cafes.
I scroll further and see my subway stop
a crowded and sweaty hell
that I erase from my memory as soon as I escape
has become a collage of textures and colors and shapes,
a harmony of the contrasting lives.

I pass by the store the next morning
and see the owner, who promptly at 8
hoses down the sidewalk and whistles Canon in D
and I wonder which city he sees
Is it the same hazy blur
of employees and passerby’s and no ones?
Or does he wash the canvas blank every day
to make room for the next self-portrait?

~i’M nOt LiKe OtHeR gIrLs~

I just finished watching Tiffany Ferguson’s video “I’m Not Like Other Girls” and it brought such strong feelings that I have to interrupt my highly prolific Alaska series that I’m definitely still working on and write about my experiences with individualism and internalized misogyny.

Image result for i'm not like other girlsWe have all seen posts like this scattered across Facebook, Twitter, and if you’re extra not like other girls, good old Tumblr. The nerdy, quirky girl who doesn’t wear makeup or care about fashion but is still somehow flawless and beautiful without much effort. She drinks beer and jokes around with the guys and doesn’t really fit in with Sorority Sarah because other girls are so vapid and dramatic! She doesn’t need flowers or chocolate, just buy her pizza and touch her butt.

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People actually posted this. Will future archaeologists study this as a mating call of earlier primitive humans?

I was guilty of being not like other girls. I read books and carried them around in the crook of my arm so my middle school peers could see that I didn’t care about Forever 21 (not just because I didn’t fit their clothes), I wore my brothers’ band t-shirts and played video games. My interests and hobbies during my early teenage years bordered between genuine interest and a feeling that I had to enjoy things apart from what typical girls enjoyed. Because to take part in those rituals of makeup and shopping and accessories would bring the risk of subjecting myself to the typical ideas of femininity and womanhood. And who would want that? Nay, I was a quirky snowflake who rejected girly things because girly meant not what men like. And to not be what men like is bad. 

Looking back now at my thoughts and feelings as a tomboyish teenager, I wonder if my snowflake syndrome was the direct result of internalized misogyny or of a fear that trying to be attractive and pretty would simply highlight the fact that I was not either of those things. It was probably both. If you read my earlier post on my relationship with my appearance and makeup, you’ll know that I spent a good third of my teenage years looking like an actual boy. I guess I took the ~i’M nOt LiKe OtHeR gIrLs~ thing too far and teetered off the edge of looking like a girl at all.

In case you haven’t read the post and don’t care to, this is what I looked like:

middleschool

And if you had read my post and are sick of seeing this picture, too bad. It is here to haunt you forever just as it haunts me.

Whether my snowflake syndrome stemmed from either hatred or fear of my fellow women, it does boil down to the fact that it was influenced by a system we all know and love to mention in our feminist slam poetry:

~The Patriarchy~

The oldest and most generic definition of the word is:

a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line.

What does this have to do with my life in 2019 and why do these dang feminists always want to smash it, you say? Well, the idea of male lineage has constructed a social dynamic in which men and the typical traits that we ascribe to men are the default. Men are typically strong, aggressive, stoic, bearded and burly and eat flapjacks aside their trusty blue ox, Babe.

Wait, no, that’s Paul Bunyan.

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Because of these internalized prejudices that we have towards typically masculine behaviors like stoicism, pragmatism, and wearing flannel shirts, we almost automatically denounce the attributes that are typically feminine. Putting effort into looking pretty means that you are frivolous and don’t care about the real issues at hand, like how to out-argue someone in a debate or how to chop down trees. Wearing false eyelashes and curling your hair means you hate democracy and don’t care about the Amazon burning to the ground.

And god forbid you like to take selfies. How can someone be so vapid and self-centered that they fill precious phone space with pictures of their own faces??!

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It seems as though as soon as a personality trait or hobby or interest is connected to the female population, it is deemed stupid or unnecessary. Teenage girls get the worst of it. From the dawn of man it seems that anything that young girls or women take interest in is considered foolish. Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House was constantly ridiculed and belittled by her husband because of her spending habits and because she liked eating sweets. The entire conflict is based on her husband’s inability to fathom that his little songbird was capable of getting the family out of financial ruin. Because isn’t it automatically the devil’s work if a woman does anything worthwhile?

Young girls are constantly ridiculed and chastised for everything they do. From pumpkin spice lattes to pop music to makeup to genuine nihilistic dread about the fact that life is a meaningless void, whatever girls come up with is just stupid.

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Now we have the VSCO girl. I get it, making fun of trends is funny and not at all a cheap joke. But if reusable water bottles and comfy clothes are becoming trendy then I’m all here for it.

VSCO girls are a new internet phenomenon that I’m particularly interested in because it entails an intriguingly meta self-study of teenage girls reacting and dissecting their own trends. It seems like a self-parody of the ~i’M nOt LiKe OtHeR gIrLs~ trope and a possible light at the end of the tunnel that is internalized misogynistic hate we’ve instilled into our societies.

I’m not going to tell you to stop saying it, because you should have stopped after graduating middle school, if you did say it at all. But I will tell you, because it is still an annoying trope that persists when people want cheap laughs without taking the time to think of actual jokes, to stop relying on teenage girls for your humor. It’s old, overused, and frankly a little weird how society seems to be so obsessed with young women’s interests. Drink your Starbucks (with a reusable straw, of course) and wear that scrunchie on your wrist, or wear a flannel and frolic through the woods. Girls are awesome and strong and spunky, and I’m proud to be like other girls!

Sunny Nights in Alaska Part 1: Juneau and McCarthy

Juneau

My first glimpse of Alaska was through the airplane window as we touched down in Juneau, just in time for the 10:30pm sunset. I had expected and looked forward to these late night sunsets and the feeling of basking in sun for a majority of the day, but I didn’t realize how jarring it would be to see the sun peaking out in the dead of night. Alaska was peeking her eye at me, daring more than welcoming the weary traveler to explore.

Our first activity was a guided eight-hour hike to Mendenhall Glacier, with Above & Beyond Alaska. They picked us up at our hotel near the airport and drove us straight to the trailhead, where we had a short orientation and gear-up session. We had brought our own backpacks and jackets but our two tour guides advised that it would be a muddy day with a good amount of gear, so we opted to switch to their provided hiking backpacks and windbreakers. Inside each person’s backpack was a helmet, crampons, hiking poles, some intimidating ropey-looking climbing gear, and a bag of snacks! Yay snacks. 

Our group was quite large and while most of us were fairly young, there was also a mom and her ten-year-old daughter. There were some gaps as we hiked along the trail but our guides were attentive in making sure there was one in the front and one in the back to make sure the group stayed together. It was about four miles of hiking through the woods and moraines to get to the actual ice. While it was beautiful and lush, the mosquitos and flies were also enjoying the warm weather. Bring bugspray! Being the totally prepared and savvy hiker that I am, I forgot mine in my luggage. Luckily our guides had some on hand but the general rule I learned on this first activity was to just always have bugspray on my person at all times. 

Cheesin’ in front of Mendenhall Glacier

After the beautiful buggy hike we came upon the grandeur that is Mendenhall Glacier. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s blue, and it’s receding at faster rates every year. There are sign posts every few hundred meters to mark the year in which the glacier had been in that exact same spot. Sadly but not surprisingly the sign posts drew closer as the years crept towards the present. 

We were very excited to explore some ice caves but unfortunately due to the extremely hot weather, there were none accessible enough that the guides felt comfortable bringing tourists to. This was a big disappointment but it was just another reminder that 1) Nature is not a theme park and if it were, one must get in line with the expectation and acceptance that the ride may or may not be functioning that day, and 2) the earth is dying at a rapid rate at the hands of capitalist industrialization and tourists not being able to see some ice caves is but a minor inconvenience in the grand tragedy that is human-influenced climate change. Although to be fair, someone in my group was really looking forward to the ice caves and had to rearrange his plans due to their inaccessibility (more on this later….)

Despite this minor disappointment, we had a great time on top of the ice. Our scary climbing gear and helmets were mostly safety precautions in the event that anyone slipped and needed help getting back up, and also set up for some really cool photo ops:

Definitely not peeing my pants here

I had just finished Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which takes place on a planet called winter and in which the main character goes on a trek across hundreds of miles of glaciers and icefields. Having read this right before the trip was incredibly meta, as I gazed upon that gigantic block of blue and blinding white and wondered at its cold beauty and indifference to my puny human life. 

Anywho, besides the day-long hike, we also wandered around downtown Juneau and went back to Mendenhall Visitor Center to check out Nugget Falls. A word of advice on this: when calling for a taxi, ask before booking if you will need to purchase the Glacier Pass from the driver. Our first driver claimed this was a mandatory $25 per person that we would have to pay in the taxi prior to entering the visitor center, otherwise he would have to drop us off two miles outside. We called another taxi company and they said that was some baloney–they dropped us off about 10 minutes outside of the visitor center. 

From Mendenhall Visitor Center it was an easy 1-mile walk  to Nugget Falls. The waterfall came upon a small beach from which we had a beautiful view of the glacier from across the lake. There was an adorable dog and baby playing in the water and Ratik, Jennylee, and I skipped some rocks. It was a serene, yet sobering place because while the glacier, lake, and waterfall were breathtaking, one could not enjoy the view without worrying about its rapid decline, and whether it will even be here for our grandchildren to enjoy.

The Last Frontier Friends! In front of Mendenhall Glacier and Nugget Falls

And on that chipper note, we headed back to Juneau airport and flew to Anchorage. 

Anchorage is a huge city, especially compared to Juneau. We didn’t do much here except sleep in between driving to our other destinations and walk around the shops downtown, but it was a relief of convenience with big supermarkets and gas stations galore to fill up on roadtrip snacks before we headed to each destination.

McCarthy

Our first destination was about a 7-hour drive from Anchorage, to the remote town of McCarthy. The last leg of the road from Anchorage to McCarthy is an unpaved, dirt road on which one drives for a few hours, eyes peeled for sharp rocks or ancient nails leftover from retired train tracks that crept along the road. If you decide to drive around Alaska, I highly recommend renting high-clearance and 4-wheel drive. It can be a little more expensive and not as environmentally friendly as a cute Prius, but you will thank yourself when you make it through a winding dirt road with no amenities leading into a town in the middle of the wild, Final Frontier.

I have a friend, Matt, who had grown up here and I remember him once telling me that his hometown didn’t have internet or phone lines until 2008. I never really understood this until we stayed in John Adams’s (yes that’s his real name) lovely bed and breakfast on the edge of town. The property resembles a summer camp with detached cabins of varying room sizes and each with their own bathrooms, and a common breakfast cabin with a full kitchen. Despite the heat, our cabin was quite comfortable and John even upgraded us to a 2-bedroom instead of a 2-bed single room. Breakfast was the star of the show, featuring regular Costco comforts like oatmeal, hard-boiled eggs, cereal, milk, and fresh fruit, as well as homemade banana bread that John’s wife had just made the day previous. One thing I would like to note about this place is to be ready to lug your stuff from the front parking lot to your cabin. There is a platform connecting them that makes it easy for rolling luggage, but you will still have to pull them through a short dirt patch to get to the platform. It’s not backpacking up Denali, but it’s good to know ahead of time, especially if you are a crazy overpacker and have 90 pounds of just-in-case underwear and Walmart-sized hair products.

Getting into the actual town of McCarthy is easy, but it does take a bit of planning. There is a footbridge that goes over the river, before which is a parking lot ($10 a day). If you want to opt out on paying, you could park about a half-mile before that parking lot at a small visitor center and walk across the bridge. From the footbridge you could either walk a mile into town or wait for the shuttle. 

There are things I should note about getting into McCarthy:

1) The shuttle is not so much a shuttle, rather a large van with a cracked windshield, driven by one of the locals. They will warn you about bumpy parts on the road (and there are many) and are completely nice and accommodating, but don’t expect an air-conditioned bus where you can put your feet up and relax before and/or after your glacier hike. Most likely you will be cramped amongst sweaty bodies and backpacks, consciously grooving your body against the movements of the van so as not to smash your head into the window/your neighbor/their muddy hiking poles poking out of their backpacks. That being said, cracked windshields and muddy hiking poles mean adventure, and that’s what you’re here for! Here’s the website with times and pricing. 

2) The walk from the footbridge into McCarthy is short but beautiful, passing through a swimming hole and different spots along the river for skipping rocks or dipping your feet for a while. It’s quite dusty, but at this point in your Alaska trip I trust that you’re wearing clothes that you don’t mind dirtying up a bit. 

This area is part of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the country’s largest national park and home to a large historic mine town and Kennicott glacier. We rode the shuttle from McCarthy’s town center to the visitor center in front of the mine town; from there visitors can explore the abandoned buildings (which still hold the mining and processing equipment) and hike a 4-mile round trip to Root Glacier. 

Kennicott Mining Town

Cheesin’ in front of Root Glacier

Crevice Hole Thing on Root Glacier (Yes that is the scientific term)

Ratik, Jennylee, and I brought our own crampons and hiking poles so we opted to hike this on our own (props to our fearless leader Ratik for thinking of buying our own gear and avoiding inflated tourist prices to rent them). The hike itself to the mouth of the glacier was fairly easy, although the very end does involve some rocky slopes. We spent about a few hours here, exploring the icy surface. The surface of the glacier extends for miles towards the mountains; I think this was the best place to really understand the physical enormity of glaciers and how they really are rivers of ice. 

Jennylee, Robert, and I hanging out in their underground ice box, y’know, like everyone has

On our way out of McCarthy we stopped by my friend’s family cabins at Currant Ridge. Matt is currently living the dream in Hamburg, Germany, but we did get to meet his brother, Robert, and hang out while our fearless leader figured out our lodging for the night (we had planned on driving to a remote town called Whittier but their tunnel would have been inaccessible at our late ETA). Robert was a great temporary host and gave us a tour of their house and the cabins on the property. He had just come in from a hike to some ice caves, and we all bonded over fantasy novels and actuary science, which he’s studying in school. Thanks again for the water and the tour, Robert, and good luck with school!

McCarthy was definitely one of my favorite places in Alaska, not only because of the remote, wild beauty that made me feel like Bear Grylls, awesome glacier hike, and fascinating mining town, but because of the relaxed chill and nonchalant hospitality I saw in the people who lived there. Matt is an incredibly cool dude but he’s also genuine and kind, and now that I’ve explored his hometown I can see why and how he’s turned out that way. I may be overromanticizing my vacation because I’m writing this whilst eating an overpriced salad in my cubicle in the middle of the Financial District, but it seems like most of the Alaskans I’ve met are exceedingly chill and are always up for adventure and friends. 

I’m currently working on remembering and journaling the rest of my trip, so stay tuned for more cheesy and overly sentimental recollections of the Last Frontier!