Niord and Skadi


There is a Norse myth about the marriage of Njord, the god of the sea, and Skadi, the goddess of the mountains.

They each lived in different homes, and decided to do it part-time at each, so they spent nine nights at Skadi’s mountain home Thrymheim, where Njord protested at the ugliness of the howling of the wolves, then nine nights at Njord’s shipyard home, Noatun, where Skadi could not sleep on account of the horrible screeching of the gulls. At this point, they could not agree on where to live, so they parted.

* * *

I wasn’t in the market for a boyfriend. 

A life in the theatre involves solving a number of problems and keeping them solved. The foremost is how to make a living while writing, generative art-ing, fending off adulthood, defending the lack of objects like mortgages or children, and generally getting all worked up over something that should have been over in high school.

There are various points of burnout, various gizmos and markers that indicate longevity in the arts, but — aside from the making of art itself -- very much it is one’s friends and the “scene" that is both self-referential and self-sustaining. “Doing theatre”: a mass of activity that IS and is a holy calling and costs an insane amount of time and a moderate amount of money that should be put into real stuff but isn't. I have done it for decades, stepped away when life got interesting elsewhere, stepped back, dealt with events, and am now scratching my head and wondering, Where is my life?

In the early aughties, I was at a high point, and chatting with someone who had done theatre for many years. He looked at me and said, “Some people just can’t sell out and get away with it. It works for others, but it doesn’t work for me.”

I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. He was probably putting me on notice for what he predicted was coming based on how it goes. My Uncle Fred used to look at me with my straight A’s and my big plans and say, “Honey, you’re ready for hairy legs and a guitar. That is always how it is with the nice girls.”

And so it was, and after a decade partly out of the swim for various reasons, I just needed to be stable and on my own, and that involved me in the search for a series of good arts jobs.

The warehouse at Amazon hurt my back, babysitting is about being young and pretty, and I don’t like driving for Uber all day. Just no.  

I didn’t bond to arts administration. It is good for directors, who get paid to direct in the middle of it all, but not for writers. It is sixty hours a week of administration for $25K and no time to write. I can’t create when I am worried where my next meal is coming from and paperworking everyone else’s creativity. I need a place outside of the BUSYness of theatre to be quiet and weird.

I also need other art forms, evidently. Like this one, and the one that is coming in, fiction. 

I had wanted to work health care because of a dilatory interest in science and had tried in various ways, but the lowest rungs of the nursing field that I bumbled into upon returning to Seattle had a weltanshauung and a lifestyle that worked for me.

It is a physical job. My playwriting teacher Edward Albee had advised us to do day labor. The corporate scene eats up the mental energy of creativity. He used to deliver telegrams. He said it got him out into the air and enabled him to move around.

As luck would have it, a year and a half into my new vocation, as I was trying to augment my baseline DOH license with additional certifications and experience, the Act of God called Covid-19 descended.

There was no way I was going to allow myself to slide into an easy and secure unemployment check, but the pandemic put my field into a battle zone where it was already very challenging.

Even in a nursing home, nursing is a sport, and, in my late fifties, my reflexes are a few seconds slower and my learning curve just a tad longer. This is why I always get hired for the shifts nobody else wants, mostly weekend nights. 

Covid has made the job market really hard, so we end up with a lower quality of hire than usual, and we just have to lump it. Some shifts resemble nothing so much as a game of Roller Derby.

So at the end of my multiple double shifts and working days on end on four hours’ sleep, all I really want to do is collapse on the sofa and start chugging wine from a sippy cup. I don’t have it in me to tend a fancy boyfriend.

As luck would have it, David had just lost a family member to Covid, and was not above being low-key with a nurse’s aid. Our house was full of the nursing profession. Health care workers tend to clump up in housing, especially if everyone works the graveyard shift. It is just easier to all sleep during the day, go out to work at night, and have our extravagant and impractical hobbies. Play in a band. Fix up a boat. Entertain a pile of cats. It’s all good.  

When the new person was due to move in, the landlord let us know that he was in his mid-forties and in the middle of a divorce, so be kind was the implication.

I was not planning to be unkind, but I was not interested in pampering a Hurt Boy. Men get so much leeway in this world. If it had been a woman, the general attitude would have been, Stupid Girl Gets Divorce.

But David was not really wearing his heart on his sleeve. He was generally knowledgeable about houses, being a builder, quiet, clean, and called upon for things. He was soon indispensable, and even I was warming to him. 

I remember one day in particular we were in the kitchen. He turned and opened his entire body to me and said, “Need anything from the store?" The inner actor kicked in. Hmmm, this is a structure in the bodymind called “Honey, do,” this fellow has a nice, clean, high energy of it, and is okay. I did what actors do, and that is make a gut call. I’ll play. “I need some bread and milk.” David returned triumphantly in half an hour carrying a brown paper shopping bag like the ones of our childhood, and laid the bread and milk on the table, locked up the house, and made us safe.

The roomie conversations turned into flirtation, the flirtation began to heat up, and the inevitable happened.

I know, I know, I can hear cries of sexual harrassment. But it wasn’t. It was more like a natural relaxation of inhibitions here at the End of the World. We were fine with it and are fine with the memory of it.

Soon David, who worked a mere forty-hour week via Zoom, was laundering my scrubs, bringing me coffee, and carrying my books to school. 

The world was quiet.

There was no traffic on the highway and it took me half the time to get to Issaquah. I would work all afternoon and night, sack out for a few hours in the Fred Meyer parking lot, shower with wet wipes because I had not yet solved the problem of the shower, then work another double. Weekdays I worked locally.

Covid took its toll on the incompetent elderly.

So much about the life of the elderly in facilities is socializing. During their time of stress, they take comfort in each other. We could not control everything the elderly did at every moment, nor could we control the families.

The inevitable happened and they began to die. 

Our number began to sicken, and those of us who remained were called upon to work more.

I lived in the Fred Meyer parking lot when I wasn’t drunk on the sofa, and David saved himself by getting out in the fresh air after breathing up a sink of health care exhalations.

The stimulus funds came in, and I began looking for ways to improve my chances while not taking anyone down with me, shopping for camp showers and extra tent toppers for my station wagon. I had already shut my floor vents down and opened the windows in my expansive, airy, upstairs room. I was planning to live in the car or maybe a tent. Those who worked in the hospitals had the benefit of ventilation designed for anti-infection standards, whereas the nursing home staff did not. We were living in an old Victorian house with nine other people and had decided not to be there if I got sick. Victorian ventilation did not impress me. 

That is how the concept of Boat 2.0 arranged itself in my mind. It was not just fun digs, but a sick room.

And I knew who was going to carry my slops, heat up my chicken soup, and call the paramedics if things got too bad.

And maybe fix the place up a bit.

That is where we were. 

* * *

I spent five years working for an architect, wrote five plays on architecture, and read about fifty books on the subject. This is in addition to the light construction training that is part of every theatre major. There is no sexism in the techniques required of a theatre artist. The males learn to sew costumes, and the females learn to build sets, because we can’t afford the delusions of gender roles. We need to get the job done, and it isn’t personal. I have worked with power tools since I was seventeen. The Tool Library is something I understand as a normal user of tools who is still a woman. 

What I thought I was getting with David was the architecture — and that is part of him -- and no doubt he thought he was getting the artist, but all we really did was THE HIKING and THE NURSING home SQUAD. 

Fifty weekends a year David was out walking six miles a day on those gorgeous all-encompassing trails and fifty weekends a year I was walking six miles a day through the corridors of my lifestyle hospital. There was, no doubt, some ideation in the air — and I perhaps encouraged it as a way to keep my young hottie — that if I would just get another disposable day job I could be free on those precious weekends for some hiking and certainly some theatre, as well as ideation about WHY HIKE EVERY WEEKEND ALL THE TIME? It was the most polite and delicate negotiation that took place during the entire year-long lockdown in the form of I AM DOING THIS, not that.

At nearly fifty-eight, my neurology is not what it was, but it does function, and, in the end, deep knowledge about my facility makes it  worth it to management to have us older workers around. I know what is going on with a resident without having to check. That bit of confusion is no doubt a Urinary Tract Infection; whereas when that one is surly, it is about time for a change of the Depends; and when that one is walking the halls at 3 a.m., I need to go unlock their door and usher them home, because they have mixed up day and night and have forgotten exactly what to do. 

I love these old geezers, and I do grieve, after a fashion, when they go down for good. Just last month, they were playing bridge with their friends, having cocktails in someone’s room, sitting out on the patio enjoying a bit of sun. Then the breath gets shaky, the chest gets pointy, there is just the right fall, then the call to the paramedics because the actual end is usually in the hospital. That is how Americans die. We do have hospice in the lockdown wing, and those of us who cared for them in life may be the ones to waltz them down that aisle, and it is wonderful. But it takes something, and I don’t want to miss it.

There is some of the builder in the hiker, I concede. What does it take to mange the construction of a four-story building? This is something, as a student of architecture, I have a real sense of. David is a gem, because he started his work life in the trades and knows it from the hammer up, then got a college degree toward Building Construction Management and an interest in green building and historic restoration — he was a dream for me. 

He must have felt those buildings in his body and thereby expanded his sense of reasonable proportion. Not everyone is suited for hiking. Civilization is keyed to rooms related to the human dimension. We look at ceilings just above our heads. We walk through doors that we can touch. We see lots and lots of people everywhere and we talk to them. The shapes, the colors, the smells. It is all a certain way, and that way is the built environment. It is how we streamline our existence, and get to the business of living without worrying if that crinkling in the bush is a chipmunk or a bear. It is a sense of the body that is in a building, and I would imagine that a lot of people get out in the wilderness and their senses scream out with the unfamiliarity of how everything is in the outdoors. The mountains — that are right there — are much bigger than buildings and not shaped like a skyscraper. Those are not stairs built to the Universal Building Code standard but a hillside with wet ground, no easy means of passability, and often no safe way to stop a slide. The air may be colder or hotter than you like, with no switch to make it change. The water is wherever it is, and if it isn’t, you had better be carrying it. 

There is an artistic set of posters of people's complaints to the National Park Service, All I saw was a lake, mountains, and some trees. The hiking cadre makes terrible fun of people who don’t have the neurology that drives them to become these people. 

I planned to eventually get some writing done on my off time. There was possibly the sense that I was “done” in the arts because I wasn’t into it and wasn’t talking about it, but no. David was not averse to my work, but he just never saw it happening. I don’t blame him for not knowing any more about me than the recumbent wine fiend that I had to be in lockdown while facing my mid-life and tooling up for a new career in health care manual labor at a mere sixty hours a week of it. At the same time, my secret review of hiking is, A hiking tent is a dark tube filled with cold, no desk, and you call this coffee?

So naturally when he started campaigning for a big hike around the Grand Canyon, my first thought was, I have to invest in this relationship by being more available for his wilderness exploring.

I can tell when I am in the presence of a Great Passion. It is a monomania that is not unknown in my life, but I also know that within a Great Passion is a MONSTER that converts all things to itself. No doubt in five years David Schingeck will be a go-to guy for Washington Trails. That will be an awesome public service. Getting people out in the wilderness is a great way to conserve it.

In my brief time with him, I have watched him take the same hike in all seasons. I went with him for a couple of them, and he is not what I would have expected from the easygoing fellow around the house. It is a serious and focused sport, in some ways quite dangerous, and to be able to teach and guide people in how to do it is a big responsibility. Those trails are basically carved out of a mountain side with, in some cases, hundreds of feet of drop. The wrong footing and down you go, with no cell service. I did it with a background in dance theatre and a job that had me in quite good physical condition, but not everyone has that going for them. Getting the right match with trail and person is probably an art. David is amassing a great internal database of trail and hiking knowledge, and it all it costs is to do nothing else all the time.

Like something else I know called the arts.

Every job has its destructions on the body. Secretaries get carpal-tunnel with all the keyboarding. Warehouse workers blow out their backs. What writers do is make language for hours every day, and, in the end, we lose our verbal inhibitors, especially under stress. We walk through the world writing aloud, softly mouthing the sentences that later appear in publication. I sat there writing aloud by mumbling nonstop while David praticed his hiking weekday nights with hours and hours of watching people’s YouTube home movies on the very trails he was about to assay. It was a time I called THE SNOW TELEVISION. He might have called it SHUT UP PLEASE. 

For many reasons, I kept deciding that I should let this person go, and kept rattling his cage THIS IS OUR LOCKDOWN PLAY, REMEMBER? and probably he, as well — and then I kept walking into the room and kissing him.

That is how Covid lockdown was — it was a lockdown full of kisses.

Perhaps on both sides, we came to the conclusion that being reasonable could wait. For now, we would we would do what we needed to.

But long it could not be.

I arranged a fun vacation that would enable me to write and us to get in some hiking. At the very last minute, I did a tally of everything, and the fact is I had allowed it to morph into two days of writing and ten days of hiking, and in an inchoate way, pitched a fit. I kept telling him, Find someone who deserves that Grand Canyon hike. I can wing it with six miles over a day and a night, because I walk ten miles miles a day through the facility. I cannot really wing it to my satisfaction with ten, four days straight, and nowhere to hide. I was planning to devote a considerable amount of time to training — writing time. And I’m not worthy of that hike anyway. You should feel a hike like that in every cell of your body. It should nourish you. It should be becoming a part of who you are, not just a dutiful slog next to “A hole, a very very very large hole." 

Covid was receding and, with it, the bunker mentality. The thoughts of THE WORLD returned in this great era of liberty in mate selection where two people can have A GREAT PASSION in common and not just childcare. 

Even the Vikings knew it a thousand years ago. When, like Njord and Skadi, two people have very different passions, it really is better to split up.

I cancelled the vacation and threw that terrible hiking under the bus. Then the hiking rared up and threw me into the Friend Zone, where, now secure in my new vocation as a health care artist, and with THE WORLD returning, I immediately jumped up and finished five chapters of the novel before I really noticed David was gone. I don’t want to sound like a stupid whining art martyr, and it’s not his fault — I could have gotten up anytime I wanted and written on that novel. I just didn’t. I hadn’t been on a date in five years, and there it was, sofa time at last with my sweetie. We had so little time together. It was so fun to feign an interest in his gizmos and postpone the eventual reckoning of WHERE ARE YOU I AM ALONE AND BORED. Writing. Writing is mostly about other people being not here. 

I will miss David, but I will not miss his monster THE HIKING any more than he will miss hearing the novel as it develops in the air over the dinner table and WAS THERE A HUMAN HERE? Not really.

The writing boat project goes on, with David’s blessing and with some generous and gallant assistance. And who knows? Maybe someday my great outdoors THE SAILING will come in. I have lived a mile from the ocean for twenty years. It is time to glide into it. At the very least, I will be able to relax into a marine restfulness that is native to the devotees of Niord and not the horrible howling of the hounds.

So here’s to my boy.

Freed at last from the terrible screeching of the gulls.

UPDATE: David and his hiking maven fiancée Casey are expecting baby boy Rainn in May. Best wishes to this lovely new family. David will surely hit it out of the ballpark as a father. 

© Joann L. Farias 2023