Telling Stories About Myself
There's another side to me, a side that doesn't come through in the rest of my pages. It's the part of me that lives from day to day.
A Rare Skill
A few years back, my best friend and I were spending a leisurely Saturday together. It was one of those wonderful warm days early in spring, when you can feel life returning to the world. We'd taken a walk on a nature trail--which, as it happens, was at the visitor's center for the local nuclear power plant.
We found a clearing off the trail, and sat down for a long talk. At one point, after I had stretched out on the ground to soak up the sun, she saw a patch of moss that seemed especially interesting to her. Since I was between her and the patch of moss, she leaned across me to get a better look.
"Are you hiding behind me, kind of like being in a duck blind?" I asked.
"I don't think it's going anywhere very soon," she said.
"See? I'm very good at this!"
Ever since, I've been her favorite moss blind.
I've had a rare opportunity in life, the chance to start over, to change so many things. One of those changes was to pick a new name.
People ask, "Why did you choose 'Diane?'"
A person named Diann was my first girlfriend. Throughout junior and senior high school, I spent a couple of weeks every summer at a music camp at the University of Arkansas. That's where I did my first dating. Diann and I found each other early on one summer, and spent every free moment together.
Elsewhere in these web pages, you'll find harsher descriptions of my early years. Diann was special; she was the first person I ever knew to accept me and love me for who I am. She was neither critical nor demanding. Although I appreciated this very much at the time, it wasn't until years later that I really understood how special these traits are.
The last I heard of Diann was that she'd gone back to a former boyfriend and had gotten married. Her life must have taken a hard turn at that point; getting married--in the eighth grade, in Arkansas, in the mid-1960's--could not have been easy. I lived a few hundred miles away with my parents; there was really no way to stay in touch.
I've always remembered Diann as a special person, warm, funny, spontaneous, and open. Although I've opted for the more traditional spelling, I named myself after her.
Destined for High Places
Perhaps because I grew up in the Ozarks, I've always enjoyed climbing things. I never got serious about it--no special equipment, no caving or rappelling--but for many years, if I saw a trail that went up, I took it as an invitation. Even now, if I see a trail, I feel that pull. Even if the trail is little more than a gully washing its way down a hillside, like this one which I used to take at a dead run. (Back when I could still do those things!)
One of the more memorable hikes occurred on vacation from college, one time when I'd brought a roommate home with me. We'd dropped acid one evening, and later that night found ourselves climbing up and over a hill near Beaver Lake. We spent an hour or two sitting on the edge of a cliff, letting our brains melt away. (Hey, I was young then, OK?)
I saw it as a wall of color in front of me, much more vivid and real than the real landscape that I knew was out there. Paul saw it as a plain that stretched out in front of him. He had to throw rocks out onto that plain to convince himself that it wasn't real. The reality was that it was fifty feet or more down to the water of the lake.
When I was on Guam, Ellen taught at a Catholic high school on the southern end of the island. The school was part-way up a very large slope. We'd heard about the caves that were farther up the hill, caves that had primitive paintings from the first residents of the island. Of course, we had to go see them for ourselves.
The paintings were small and crude, nothing like the wonders found in France and Spain, left by the early Cro-Magnons. But all the same, these were real, and they were older than any human thing we'd ever seen, and they were right in front of us--in a cave, not in any museum or collection. On the way down the hill, we saw an iguana, the only one we saw on Guam in two and a half years.
The last major hike I did was a few years ago, climbing a mountain in Oregon with my brother and sister. It was the only time I've ever been above the timberline, and the trees were fascinating. We saw ancient trees, perhaps a couple of hundred years old, two feet thick at the base and no more than fifteen or twenty feet tall. Even higher up, it was a natural Bonsai garden, with small, twisted trees growing naturally into small sculptures. My brother, who is very serious about his gardening, snuck up on several spectacular specimens, and screamed, "Bonsai!" before describing the special features and probable age of the tree.
Robert Frost was right; taking the road less traveled does make all the difference.
Because her house is newer (it's "Prairie style," dating from the early 1900's), she decided to decorate for a "Roaring Twenties" party in place of the more traditional decor of the tour. She'd wanted to have a full party in progress during the tour, but given that she needed eight to ten volunteers for each of four shifts just to keep the visitors moving along, that proved to be impossible.
When she first told me that she was doing the tour again, I naturally volunteered to help. But she wanted people to be in period costumes, and neither one of us could quite see me in a flapper dress. After thinking about it, she decided that I could be "that weird cousin who'd just come back from several years in Europe, and no one was quite sure just what he'd done over there." We also talked about the fact that it was something of a scandal in those days when women crossdressed as men. I was to wear a tux, full makeup, and generally push the androgyny line as hard as I could.
As it turned out, my role was to be the greeter inside the front door. As each group entered, I welcomed them to the 1920's, and described the special features of the foyer.
The 1920's indeed! Opulence, tinged with decadence--me. I wore a tux, all right, with tails, and didn't bother to hide the fact that I have breasts. I wore a jeweled brooch in place of the traditional black tie, along with a strand of pearls. For shoes, I wore a pair of flats. My hair was pulled back, loosely, in a black and silver Art Deco barrette, and I wore diamond earrings (all right, they were "finest cubic zirconia"). My nails were screaming red, to match my lipstick. Add to this the fact that I'm tall (six foot one, or 185 cm), broad-shouldered even by male standards, and yes, I'd say that I pushed the androgyny line very hard. I kept my voice feminine and my behavior very correct, but even so I got some hard looks that I always pretended not to notice.
As visitors left through the back of the house, some were heard to ask, "Was that a man or a woman in the front?"
Although my father and I never really knew each other, I think that he was probably a decent person, simply one who was unprepared to be human. His gift to me for my high school graduation was flying lessons. He asked no questions about whether this or anything else might be what I wanted. He was a pilot, and owned an airplane at the time, so we had flown together and he knew that I enjoyed it. On the other hand, I don't think there was a minute's thought given to what I might do with a pilot's license once I was living on my own. (In hindsight, I've done all I could with it, which is nothing. I flew twice after getting my license, and haven't sat in the pilot's seat for twenty-five years. Flying is a luxury, and my life has taken different turns.)
But it was fun; I have to admit to that. There is nothing quite like it, seeing the world in miniature below you (although I suspect that a sailplane might be even better, with just the wind instead of the loud drone of an engine).
The high point for me was learning to be weightless. I knew basically what NASA did with its "vomit comet," which is to fly high, pull up until the plane nearly stalls, then to nose over and let the plane "fall." The clipboard for recording rental hours in the plane was always in the seat next to me, and I quickly learned to control free-fall by suspending that clipboard about a foot above the seat cushion. (No, this was not part of the course of instruction.)
It only lasted a few seconds, and I always had to keep one eye on the airspeed so that I could pull out before I got too close to the red line, but it was a weird and wonderful feeling to be released from gravity.
I have this much in common with astronauts.
Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Diane Wilson. All rights reserved.