I'm Back, And Ready To Over-Analyze
“I think I've missed a big part of what makes them (humans) wonderful. Sometimes all you guys think about is how you can have the most fun.” - The Good Place, created by Mike Schur
There's a kid with a snow globe, a really full snow globe, like the snow globe maker that made this snow globe is notoriously liberal with their snow to other stuff ratio. The kid got the snow globe from a cool aunt. He's never seen snow in real life, only in Home Alone, the Weather Channel, and in his cool aunt's après-ski themed holiday cards.
He holds the snow globe behind his back as he leans out his bedroom door to say goodnight to his parents. As he slides into bed he grabs the flashlight from the top of his nightstand and pulls the covers up over his head. He shakes up the snow globe and places it on his pajama-ed belly, putting the flashlight up to the curve of the glass. Snow swirls in the LED beam, careening all directions but down, indifferent to gravity. Eventually the white flecks settle among miniature trees, but before they finds real stillness, the little boy moves his flashlight to the side, shakes the globe and lights up the blizzard again.
In another reality, I had to wake up at four a.m., dress like an arctic explorer, pack enough food and coffee for twelve hours, and clock in at work, all while mentally preparing myself to ski in the pitch dark with a head lamp in a blizzard; a blizzard that can only be described as being inside the ever shaking, artificially lit snow globe of a six year old insomniac that is relentlessly obsessed with snow.
I'm skiing inside the snow globe that the kid is shaking, you get it, right? Like that's what it looked like while I was skiing at the butt crack of dawn... you're smart, you get it, and if you don't get it, don't admit it to anyone.
Hi readers! It’s been a while! I've struggled on deciding what to write about because this whole blog is about my time living in Taos, and over the last few months I haven't been in town a ton. I went to Philly for a sort of bummer reason, and then I went to Mexico and had a fucking blast. But I’m back now and forming new routines, all while continuing to syphon meaning out of my hometown and heartbreak. I also haven't written for a while because I'm scared, but who cares, because this whole thing is an exercise is courage. Right? RIGHT?!
So what's with the dramatic opening? Why the fuck do I have to ski in a blizzard in the dark?I have started working as a chair lift operator for the ski resort up the road! Any local reading this is probably thinking, "okay drama king, we've all been a lift operator," but the reality is that most folks don't live in the mountains. The main feedback I got about my master's thesis was that I cannot assume most readers have the desire to live a life outdoors. Since I grew up here, I sort of take that for granted. And so to my more rugged readers, bear with me as I over explain what a chair lift is.
Working as a lift op is definitely not where I thought I would be at twenty-seven, but I am trying to reframe my ideas about success and linear time. I have a lot of internalized, capitalist, ideas about which jobs should warrant my pride.
I’ve written before about how moving away from New York can feel like a failure. Getting recognized by childhood friends and coaches while working feels bad sometimes. People seem surprised to see me back in Taos, shoveling snow in Ski Valley uniform. I was a precocious child with clear goals that involved Broadway, celebrity friends, Forbes 30 under 30 and prodigy-like success. I was young for my grade and I skipped senior year of high school: it's hard to not assign a specific narrative to folks like that. It’s not a better or worse narrative, it’s just not often applicable or true. There are like a TON of TikToks about the "socially gifted child" to "lost and confused adult" pipeline. It holds water.
Most mornings are not like being in a snow globe. Most mornings, I walk outside, the sky is lavender and it's seven a.m. That particular morning was day three of what would be a week-long storm, which meant that ski patrol and lift operations had to be up on the mountain two hours early. Patrol goes up and does avalanche bombing (they make avalanches happen in a controlled way so they don't happen while there are skiers and riders on the mountain) and lift ops shovel snow for hours and it sucks ass.
But, most mornings, as the sun rises I drive through a snowy pass along a river to the employee parking lot. Other cold, tired people stand lined up behind their muddy cars waiting to be picked up by a shuttle to our locker room. A blue truck pulls up and other lift ops, ski patrol and most importantly search and rescue dogs climb into its wooden trailer. The humans on board throw out gentle hellos, while the dogs excitedly walk around greeting everyone with infectious, unbridled joy.
In the locker room there are walls of ski and snowboard boots sitting on mounted dryers, soles facing out. I take down my heavenly Lange RX ski boots (I'm not not trying to get a sponsor), and slide my pointed toes into what are essentially voluntary foot casts.
(No literally, once I broke my ankle at a ski racing summer training camp and the coach was like “try putting on a boot and you’ll be fine” and the only time I wasn’t in life-ruining pain was when I had my hard plastic boots holding it all together. True, the coach was technically right, but that man should probably not work with children, because I really should have gone to the hospital).
I plop on my helmet, pick the right goggles for the quality of light, grab leather gloves, skis and poles and head upstairs. In the Martini Tree Bar, fifty or so lifties stand circled around one of our two bosses, both of them named Eric. One of the Erics gives a talk on something safety related and then reads out our lift assignments for the day.
Those of us working lifts on the mountain head to the base of chairlift one, which will bring us to our various places like the beginning of some large, mountain-wide play. I clip on my 2022 K2 Mindbenders (no really, this is me actively trying to get a sponsor, I won't shut up about how great these skis are). In front of me a patrol dog hops on the lift with their owner and sits in a little red vest like the best GIRL OR BOY I have ever seen.
I am part of the first group people on the mountain for the day. The sun is newly in the sky, our breath puffs out in white clouds, and this is the moment when it hits me that I get to ski to my job. That’s the fucking dream. Well, I didn’t know it was the dream, but how else could I feel about the sight of untouched, snowy mountains that I am about to essentially fly through. For those who don't know, fresh morning snow looks like the type of icing that you have to actively resist sticking your finger into. Even if it didn't snow the night before, there is something called fresh corduroy, which is the pattern made by the grooming machines. Skiing through it feels like when you rip along a perforated edge, but through your whole body. It is a heavenly sensation, and a pinch-worthy way to start a work day.
(A picture from the base)
The lift ops are the employees with the most face time with the customers. I see hundreds of people that have come to experience my hometown via my favorite sport. The job is cold, it’s exhausting, the days are long, it's hard on the body, I have to piss in the snowy woods sometimes, but whenever anyone asks me how I like being a lifty I find myself responding: “honestly, it rocks.”
I have not been very open to leaning into good moments since the great dumping of 2022. I don’t want anyone to say “see, look the right thing happened!” because then it feels like somehow my pain was necessary, which I truly believe it wasn't. We all probably know that forcing a silver lining on pain, especially pain we didn't cause, feels infuriating. When I voiced this mental roadblock my dear, sweet friend Ashley, she knowingly nodded and replied with the following, invaluable wisdom: “you’re being asked to grow in a direction that you didn’t chose, but it’s still growth.” I repeat this to myself as a mantra every time I start to back pedal on letting happy moments be happy.
There's a certain type of job I seek out when I am having a hard time. During one summer in undergrad I was really struggling emotionally and went to work at the stock room at a bookstore. It felt like rehabilitation. I did the same thing for hours on end, scanning and sorting and shipping, but through a sort of robotic existence I essentially tricked myself into meditating.
That job made me feel fulfilled but not proud and even made me feel unwarranted, illogical shame. It didn't make me feel growth but maybe gave me peace. It was combination of being humbled, being needed, being reliable, and simplifying my days. This is how I am existing again.
The rest of my day on the mountain is running and maintaining the lifts with a group of three or four coworkers. We make sure that the lift gets stopped or slowed when necessary and that the folks skiing have a good and safe day (people do fall off of the lift). We communicate between the top and bottom shacks through various beeps on our machines. We catch chairs as they come around the bull wheel to slow them for the passengers— this is called "bumping" chairs. We rake and shovel and sweep to make sure that there aren’t ruts or any other weird topography on our parcel of hill. Also, a lot of my job is fist bumping smiling people as they load the lift. I'm really good at fist bumping now, so...
(Here is a sketch of the parts of a chair lift, in case you're a visual learner who has never gone skiing).
Lifties have a certain reputation for being "pothead slackers," which for some of them is true, but who cares. Whatever they are doing is working, because I have met some of the happiest people while working this job. The other day I was placed with this guy, James, who has been a lift op for nine years. He asked me excitedly while I was shoveling snow if he could excuse himself. He ran over to the edge of a trail to take a picture of the same mountains he had been seeing for almost a decade. He turned back, beaming, and said something about how we are so lucky to have this view. I imagine that his phone is filled with virtually the same picture, over and over.
Now, I don't think that I want to do this job for nine years. I don't think that I want to do this past one season, but I do feel inundated with lessons and wisdom from the people that I have encountered working on the mountain. And I don't mean any of this in a condescending way. I am not shocked that I am learning a lot from the people I work with, this is not some case of a big TV girl coming and slumming it in the country, all while learning that simple folk are surprisingly insightful, no no no. All of my coworkers have this job because they are uniquely qualified. They have different goals than me, different sources of pride, and overall perspectives that I would have never encountered in a city, especially my dream city. There is an issue of people coming to Taos and gawking with a gross, patronizing angle. Those folks are out looking for new places to validate their superiority, while I am returning to my small town with some complicated "city girl" hang ups. If you do feel like I am being gross though, email me, I'm always down to look inward. Anyway.
I told a coworker the other day that I just moved back here from Manhattan and he said “Congratulations, you got out!” with such genuine happiness for me that it rang in my head all day. I feel lucky that I met the qualifications for this job. It's dangerous and strange and a lot of people rely on me.
As I have been meeting more people around my age in Taos, I am encountering folks that have moved here not for an imagined, successful, career oriented life, but for nothing other than joy. I do not feel like a big fish in a small pond, but more like a medium fish with other medium fish that are in a pond so stunning that they aren't really worried about its size.
This is not to say that joy can only be found in a town that only uses PO boxes, but it is enlightening in this regard: I was once joyful in New York, and then at some point I was not. I never stopped loving New York, or wanting to be in New York, but it felt like New York was not very invested in loving and wanting me.
(These are paintings in progress. The one of the left is from a photo of me after an eight degree day, the one on the right is of my view from the office, so to speak. Also my iPad broke... I dropped it on a tile floor, who knew this would happen. For now I cannot deliver the same cutting-edge digital art as before. I am having to use watercolors like a serf).
There is a specific lift that I am hoping to work. It goes to the summit of the mountain at 12,481 feet above sea level. That’s over two and a third miles! Fuck you, Denver, "mile high city" my ass! You don’t know anything about anything! The terrain is "experts only" and has a view so halting that I have cried almost every time I have gone up there. And once I even saw a big horn sheep. Imagine getting paid to see that.
Should I get assigned to this lift, this is how I imagine it: I ride the three lifts that it takes to get to the base of the Kachina chair. I am assigned to the top shack. There are no clouds, and because of the thin air, the sky is somehow more vibrant than it has ever been before. I reach the top, drop my stuff in the top shack and creep towards the flags and cairns marking the peak. I want to say good morning to any big horn sheep before the sound of chatting skiers scares them into other, more private parts of the mountain.
As I stand just below the flags, I see four big horn sheep, horns as big as ever (they were named well). They all turn to look at me, and I wave, gently. They seem comfortable with my presence and as they turn away from me, I join them in taking in the view.
I scan the grand, snowy, mountainous panorama, holy in the early morning sun, and I start to cry.
"Jesus fucking christ, are you fucking crying?" Yells out one of the sheep. I didn't know that they were looking at me again.
"NO," I yell back through sniffles. The pack murmurs among themselves and starts back across a rocky trail.
"Wait, no you don't have to go!" They pause and stare at me, turn and then continue. They talk to each other and look back at me. They are not trying to be quiet:
"Motherfucker coming up here during OUR post breakfast walk, expecting like, what emotional support? Emotional labor?"
"It's entitled, and to be honest, sort of prejudice."
"What?!" I yell back, desperately trying to repair the moment. I am met with silence.They tut to each other and kick rocks, eventually picking up to a trot. My ego is wounded but despite this I smile. I will win them over in time.