It’s day four of a week-long trip to Miami Beach and I stayed up till one in the morning reading a novel about the end of civilization, and then a thread on reddit that made me wonder (again) about my daughter; something about how to grow a durable inner confidence, teaching her that she can say no, can defend herself. Thinking about the one and then the other — book, reddit, book, reddit — I’m waffling between preparing for the end of the world and wondering what it will be like if civilization ever actually does happen in the future because, for real, has it even started yet?
It’s a vacation when you can mull over the problems of the distant future.
We also watched The Godfather for the first time last night.
Maybe I do need to get a gun after all, or at least learn how to win in a fight when it comes to that. How can I ask my daughter to learn how to win in a fight and have any kind of credibility? I’ve never had to stand up to anyone. How long can that last? I’m an anomaly in history; in my own time, even.
Somehow I managed to plan a badly needed/frivolous trip to Miami Beach over the same weekend as the largest writer’s conference in North America comes to my town. I’m not going to say it happened for a reason but there’s a poetic kind of bumbling to my literary aspirations. A couple years ago, I would have agonized about going until Jess pushed me out the door; I would have showed up hoping for something good to happen and left without talking to anyone about anything. As it was, from the beach I tuned in to a Periscope broadcast from a talk about overcoming “imposter’s syndrome” and it held my attention for about eight seconds because I felt like I was right there in the lecture hall with everyone listening to the guy read a motivational quote from Flaubert, and it made me uncomfortable in a woolen-pants-on-Easter kind of way. Easter service is one of those itchy, tedious things that gives us a good excuse to enjoy each other’s company, and writer’s conferences are no different, including the fact that if you only attend service on Easter it’s even less enjoyable. Easter totally slipped my mind this year, and here I am rubbing aloe into my sunburnt shoulders and daydreaming about becoming a bishop or a cardinal — when life will look exactly as it does right at this moment (beach, sunshine) except it will last as long as I want it to instead of just a week. And I really never will have to fight anyone or gut a deer, even though my daughter probably will still have to do both.
But the end, or maybe the beginning of civilization is coming, and the important thing, if you do have the rare distinction of genuinely wanting to produce art without the tedium of networking or schmoozing, is not to do it in a way that can be preserved through the apocalypse but to produce it as fast as it comes to you, leaving nothing out, infecting as many people as possible before something else comes along or the internet ends or really gets going.
As the centerpiece of our date night, Jess and I visited Garrison Keillor’s bookstore Common Goods Books on Thursday. In the hour and a half we spent there, I found many interesting books, but only two I would have liked to buy.
One was a children’s book called This Is Not My Hat. I won’t tell you about the book’s contents; you should make it your minor mission to turn one up for yourself somehow. But I will say: it brought back, in a cathartic, humourous way, that vague, exhilarating twinge of guilt-induced fear that tainted so much of my childhood, and which I thought I had forgotten. We will probably buy it before too long (when Sylvia is old enough to understand words).
The second was a nice paperback edition of Isaiah Berlin’s Freedom and Its Betrayal. I confess I had not heard of him before and don’t know if I’m supposed to like him or despise him (based on my personal alignments and affiliations &c.). But, standing there in the store, I read several pages of it and found it quite engaging. The only thing that put me off buying it was the $27 price tag.
Ponder the life of a single tree over the course of an autumn.
The tree on September 24
I had just had my coffee when it was six thirty in the morning. The arm of my jacket sticking out from the closet, pinched in the door, no longer signified anything. It was just the arm of my jacket.
The headlights of cars leaving for work played around our kitchen and dining room walls like theatre spotlights during a shipwreck scene, and then the sun was up. The Christmas tree stood upright at the end of the driveway, waiting to be picked up by the garbage man. My scarf very nearly saved my life that morning.
There are two interesting things about the birth of our baby girl last Sunday morning.1
When labor started early Saturday evening, we were up at the cabin, three and a half hours from home. Jessica started having laborish something-or-others every now and again, the kind of thing that often (we’ve been told) doesn’t really lead to anything. But we decided to come home anyway; if it was nothing, we would be home in time to get a normal sleep; if it was not nothing, well, we would actually be near our birth center, which would represent an enormous boon, as they say.
We left the cabin at 5:30, called the midwife on the way, and contractions and vomiting steadily increased in frequency as we drove. They were about seven minutes apart, and we were still about an hour from home, when we got a flat tire.
I’ve never had a flat tire before in my life. I get my first one when my wife is in labor. That’s the first interesting thing.
After swapping out the tire, we were on our way again, and we made it home without further complications. Jessica had a bath, was able to keep a bit of food down, and then got in bed. Contractions promptly slowed to the point where, for a couple of hours, she was even able to catch a bit of sleep in between them.
Then, at 2:00 AM, she started having much, much stronger contractions. Shortly after 3:00 AM I called the midwife back again, and she said it was time to come in to the birth center. It took us fifteen minutes to get Jessica downstairs, into the car, and for me to get the frozen berries, phone chargers and clothing all ready to go. At 3:20 we were on the road, Jessica kneeling on the rear passenger seat, facing the back of the car.
Just five minutes away from the birth center, Jessica finished a contraction and informed me in a tone of mild surprise that the baby’s head had emerged. I reached around back with my right arm, while driving, and sure enough, through Jessica’s robe I felt a little head, hanging down and waiting patiently.
One minute later, the baby slid out onto the seat of the car and made a single little squawk up at us. It was 3:35 AM. We were doing 65 miles per hour.
Our occupations and positions kept us from holding hands, but I said, “Oh, Jess,” and she said she was doing fine and sounded relieved. And that was the second interesting thing.
Everyone was OK and is doing great. Thank you for asking. ↩
My parents’ dinner table has grown large out of necessity. Even the not un-large table we used when I was a boy has been replaced and is now only the kitchen table. The current model can seat four people comfortably on the sides, and, if need be, two on the ends, which is the configuration for Tuesday and Saturday nights. On most occasions, anywhere from a third to half of the people around the table are “adopted” family, people who are staying at the Place or drop in out of habit. When everyone is home, which is about once every two years, we mash four people on the ends as well as the sides, and others either stand by the walls or sit in extra odd chairs that spill into the living room.
Our table at Swaledale is a modest satellite of this prodigious commons. This last summer we were able to replace the original thrift-store model with a small mahogany piece, purchased at a discount from a kind neighbor. While my parents’ table can magically sustain as many simultaneous conversations as there are pairs, trios and quartets of people gathered around, ours can sustain only one. But it has the advantage of quiet — you never need to ‘steel yourself’ for a dinner at Swaledale, which is sometimes necessary at the Place. For the few of us who alternate between the two, each seems to give a lively balance to the other.
But the interesting thing is that, to date, both tables have only ever grown in size, with the addition of spouses and grandchildren. I was reminded of this line from A Christmas Carol:
“‘But however and whenever we part from one another, I am sure we shall none of us forget poor tiny Tim — shall we — or this first parting that there was among us?’”
Substitute any of our names for Tim’s, and the line becomes a very sobering one, and yet as sure as prophecy. We’ve never yet had that kind of parting within our immediate families. It seems impossible when you think about it, almost a statistic miracle. And yet the longer the winning streak goes on, the easier it is to take it for granted. That “first parting” is in the cards for us at some point, and the season of the large tables will end before it begins again. These days, right now, are the “good old days.” Let us be thankful for this time while we have it.
“When you walk, walk; when you eat, eat; and when you sit, sit.” I am still learning how to do this. It seems whenever I do something, my mind is often elsewhere. I am still learning to be fully present in this moment.
Our souls want to be fully present, to only focus on the now. The irony is that we always look forward to a time when we can do this. We never just do it.
This is how I define beauty: beauty is what makes me forget everything else and just want to live in the now. When I look at this photo, I think, If only I were there, I would rest and enjoy it and not think about the past or the future. There is enough there to look at and enjoy.
The problem is, when I was there, I did not fully rest and enjoy it. Instead, I took this photo. I was thinking about the future and other peoples’ possible responses to it, or about other past and future things.
If you wait until your surroundings are beautiful before you will stop and enjoy them, you might never enjoy even the beautiful surroundings.
I was looking specifically for a summer photo. In order to find this one, I had to go back to the time before I started working on my house, more than three years ago. Now, I am getting closer and closer to finishing the house, and more and more I have let my mind be occupied with getting it done and moving in, and putting all the hard work behind me.
This is a very subtle trap.
Jessica and I just returned from our honeymoon, and from a trip to Indiana. Life together is still in its formative stages. We’re still learning what to buy at the grocery store, how to breathe and sleep together at night. Not that any of it is difficult; the hardest adjustment has probably been how to be apart during the day, now that I actually have to go back to my day job. But it is all very new. We love that.
We have a blending of artistic identities to manage as well, as pretentious as that may sound. We both love art and literature and music, and creativity, and we enjoy expressing it. So there will be some changes around here as the site begins to reflect the new jointness-of-residence. I lucked out in that we both have the same first initial, so the site’s address will be the same, but everything else is wonderfully up for grabs. We get to pick a new name and probably a new header doodle. You’ll start seeing paintings as well as reading words.
Yesterday…I went into the room across the hall at eight o’clock in the morning. Dave was already up, huffing around in place and laughing. Peter was still in bed, but his bare arm and open hand snaked out from under the covers, and his plaintive voice: “Would you please hand me a bowl of Special K?”
My goodness, the poem on yesterday’s Writer’s Almanac was morbid, but powerful. When we get to heaven, will we remember pain? Looking back can be helpful – if I was to try and preserve the pain of this life for remembrance in the painless hereafter, I would bring this poem with me to heaven. “__One day, you’ll see. These stings / Are nothing. Nothing at all.__” – in another sense, this is more true than perhaps even the author guessed.
This summer as I was walking in the woods, alone, a lovely bird landed in front of me, gold and green – I’d only ever seen it once before, wondered if I’d ever see it again, and here it was.
Of course I just froze. It wasn’t the stealthy, calculated silence of a lifelong woodsman who knows how to approach; it was pure indecision and fear, and fixation. I desperately wanted to learn more, to coax her a little closer. But I knew if I gave any clear sign of just how much I wanted to it to come near, it would fly. If I even took out my camera for a picture it would be gone. I’m like a little kid that way, too jumpy and unable to be patient when certain things catch my attention. That my motives are the best and brightest there is no question, not in my mind. But sweet motives are not enough to coax an oriole or a goldfinch onto your shoulder – there needs, too, a high-wire finesse, a balance-trick of easy patience and persistent desire – that I don’t have, and wish very much that I could learn.
Maybe all it needs is, you know, time. I hear they like popcorn and bright feathers too.
“I am wearied almost to death by the retrograde motions of things.”
— George Washington in a letter to his brother, 1776
I just finished a Letterpress course at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and enjoyed it very much. It would have been better if I hadn’t been sent out of town on business for the last two weeks of it but I was able to catch up to some extent.
Being a fan of continuous, small changes, I don’t do New Years’ resolutions; besides, the dead of winter is a terrible time to try switching behaviours (Fall is the best time for that, when you have a change in the weather at your back). But in order to keep the goal hunter at bay, here are some things I will achieve this year, God willing.
- Get involved with a local ministry, with a focus on meeting people’s practical needs
- Firearm safety class
- Letterpress I (registered this morning!)
- Get health insurance somehow
- Take a crack at revising my novel for a serious effort at publication
- Finish the process of buying the house across the street, tear it down, and start building a new one
- Make new friends
- Keep the old
- Play more hockey
Just a summary of my experience of the recent events, in re the I-35W bridge collapse yesterday evening. The whole thing is unbelievable. As I write this the death toll stands at 4, which is incredibly low for this long after the accident, although recovery operations have been temporarily suspended at least twice due to unsafe conditions. The count will rise once they have a chance to recover the bodies remaining in submerged vehicles.
Last night there were a lot of people standing around, although contrary to what I heard on the radio there were no “ashen, stricken faces” or people standing around in shock. A lot of people were walking around the area of the collapse, joking around and goofing off. That was surreal.
When I walked up to Red Cross headquarters on West River Parkway, they told people they didn’t need any help. After awhile I walked back to the Washington Avenue exit and found some guys from Bobby and Steve’s Auto World trucking a bunch of ice and water out to the rescue workers and the Red Cross. Bobby & Steve’s basically donated almost their entire stock of sports drink and bottled water. I helped them carry a couple of pallets of drinks up from the basement and load them up on the trucks. A couple of times we made trips out to the bridge to bring drinks to the rescue workers. They wouldn’t let us drive on the still-standing portions of the bridge, so we walked the crates out to the near edge of the staging area. Our self-appointed liason with the rescue workers was an EMT named Joe M—.
Eventually we started looking for food to bring out to the workers, but there wasn’t much to bring at that point. The Red Cross had a ton of materials for sandwiches but they weren’t coming out terribly fast. There were plenty of water-carriers by that point so I went inside to start helping make sandwiches, half of which were fed to police officers and rescue workers who found their way to the center. After an hour or so of cranking out sandwiches, food started to roll in from Panera’s, Caribou, Baker’s Square, Target, and everywhere.
By this time it was midnight, and Joe the EMT rounded up some medics and requisitioned an ERV from the Red Cross to deliver ice, food and drinks to the rescue sites on either side of the river. Unfortunately, the rescue work had been largely suspended by that point and there was no need for either food or medical assistance anymore, so I sat uselessly in the back of the ERV while we drove from point to point looking for the one or two police officers left in Minneapolis who had somehow managed to avoid being offered food (we did eventually find a couple). Joe had us continue drive around the collapse site even when it became apparent that there was no use for us there, which was silly. It kind of became apparent at that point that Joe was out here on his own, not really as part of any rescue team, despite his EMT shirt and highway vest.
I finally arrived home at 2:30am this morning. As of right now I’m still trying to get information on what might be done to help, whether that’s site-related work or some other kind of assistance. I’m kind of frustrated by the fact that there is no information anywhere about what specific needs there are that might be met by volunteers. It was plain last night that, even though there was no one asking for help, there was work to do if you kept your eyes open and jumped in where there was a need. However, I don’t know whether that would be the case as things stretch out here into the recovery phase. We’ll see.
If I had seen him, I would have known him · if I had heard him I would have lain him down flat · if I had believed him I would have kept him next to me ·
If my brother had known him, I would have heard him · if I had not lain him down flat he would have drifted out to sea · if I had not kept him next to me I would not have seen him · if I had never heard him I would not have believed him.
What man is he
that desires life —
that loves patiently for many days
That he may see good?
Let him keep his tongue from evil
And his lips from speaking guile.
But the meek shall inherit the earth.
They shall have delight
in the abundance
— Psalm 37
O young man,
rejoice in thy youth:
Walk in the ways of thine heart,
Walk in the sight of thine eyes:
but know that in all these things
God will be your judge.
Therefore (young man)
remove sorrow and provocation from thy heart
and put away evil from thy flesh,
for your childhood is gone
and your youth will also soon vanish.
— Ecclesiastes 11
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it ? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”
“Now shalt thou see what I will do…”
‘Now thou shalt see what I will do’
I heard Him say it in my ear —
I do not say he spoke to you
If you could hear (perhaps it cannot be),
Then you would hear Him say of me
‘Now he shall see what I will do to him – through you.’
my stomach hurts
I have been told that my offer on the house across the street has been accepted! Now to tear it down.
This is probably one of those days I’ll look back on twenty years from now and think, man, if only I’d known. It still looks like a pretty good idea from here, though.
I have learned the hard way, never to put footnotes on a poem.
Early this month, Opa died, one week after having a major stroke (his second). He is survived by fifty-one direct descendants and their spouses, and most of them gathered here at our home to honor his memory. We have not had this many of us together in a long time.
As people began arriving in Minneapolis, temperatures dropped into their lowest for the winter. For more than sixty hours the air was not warmer than 0° Fahrenheit, and the day of the funeral the windchill was -40°.
Friday evening after the funeral, we gathered at the Mennonite church he built here in New Hope, and a lot of us had a hard time keeping it together as we shared stories of Opa and the wild wonderful life he had that left such a such an incredible huge stamp on our family.
It will not happen soon. But spring can come now.
The way it worked out, if your name started with a J or an O, you won a prize.
This information is guaranteed to be somewhat inaccurate. If you see an exclamation point next to your name, it means your total of wins & losses did not add up to 12 (the number of rounds we played). Insofar as anyone cares, corrections are welcome.
1 Those with Google accounts can see the live spreadsheet.
As I was writing, my ten year old brother Steve just walked up to my desk and said “Non sequitur.” He then left the room.
If abnormal means “not normal,” then…
(I think, anyway)
…aboriginal should mean, “not original.”
“Howdy, I am a former Brimson resident, born and raised. What is this all about ? Are you broadcasting from Howell’s corner or in the vicinity ? I lived in the big white house adjacent to George Lake near the boy and girls camp formerly known as Camp House.
“Later, Chuck Juntunen”
I hope you don’t mind if I publish this email. For two Brimson natives to make contact online is astounding. In the early eighties, my father built a house just down the road, right across from the Camp House entrance.
From what I can gather from speaking to Opa and Oma (Abe & Agatha Dueck) your family must have been the ones that lived in that big white house before they did. Since I lived next door, I spent many days in that house, and in the big fields and pine forests around it. Opa pastored a small church that met there, and ran a campground — I don’t recall whether those cottages might have been there in your day.
Howell Creek Radio, unfortunately, is no longer operating, since they sold the equipment to Carl Snellman, who is trying (unsuccessfully so far) to become an affilliate of WELY in (you guessed it) Ely.
I love Minnesota. I hate the cities, thoroughly, with both sides of my brain.
I live and have lived, for many years, near the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Twin Cities do not represent anything uniquely Minnesotan, only another iteration of the homogenized American strip-mall culture.
The real joke with these two particular cities is the big pretend that they are vastly different from each other. Yes, Minneapols has “night life,” which I’m told St. Paul doesn’t, and it has this old brewery-turned-office-space where I used to work (pictured above), and it has the cherry and the spoon. And then St. Paul has more trees and trails and almost no tall buildings, and it’s on the other side of the big line-in-the-sand we call the Mississippi River, so it must be really different from Minneapolis, right?
But both cities are the same as each other, and as every other city, from Boston to Dallas to Portland. The scenery is the same. They are an arm of the national franchises and a forum for the same national talking points.
But Minnesota does have some nice areas. They are wide and beautiful. They thaw and make music in summer; and in the winter, when there is no wind and the snow is falling hard, there is total and absolute silence.
“Many a man has fallen in love with a girl in a light
so dim he would not have chosen a suit by it.”
— Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972)
This, for me, was something new:
“Pet peeve: While many people think a steep learning curve means something is difficult to learn, what the term actually means is that the rate of learning is quick, which ought to mean that it is easier, not harder, to learn. Steep is good. Tell a friend.”
That makes sense.
This last Monday, I was working on a deck. My nail gun double-fired, and somehow I managed to fasten two of my fingers together with a three-inch ringshank nail.
My only regret now is that I didn’t take a picture. But, then, I haven’t yet got the bill for the emergency room.
I always wondered what it would feel like. There was no blood, just a long nail going right through the middle of my fingers and a dull pain in my bones. The worst part of it was the thought of what it would take to get it out. I imagined the doctor putting his foot on my hand and reefing back on the nail with a pliers, and that I’d be able to feel that ribbed nail grating against my bones.
What eventually happened was that the doctor inflated my digits with some kind of numbing agent, till they were about double their normal size. Then he jerked the nail out and let my fingers bleed for awhile, medieval-style.
An hour north of here, there is a log home that needs a lot of work. I guess I’m doing the work. I don’t have a lot of time for other things right now.
There is a hymn by Jas. Russel Lowell, that says “New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth.” I take that to mean, every new job requires learning new skills and buying new tools; and what were once perfectly good kitchen cabinets now have to be replaced.
Hopefully I will be done with the project before winter hits, and then maybe I can hibernate in the office while the snow flies.
As of yesterday I have coined the phrase “gnat’s toejam”.
“It doesn’t make a gnat’s toejam of difference.”
It has phonetic tang and poetic tuck. It conveys the snappily minute.
I think it will prove to be a popular expression.
A cloudy day with not a hint of rain. After much wrangling last night I assented to getting up at 6am to go on a ten-mile run with my sister. I don’t mean to make that sound too casual. I haven’t run that far in maybe four years. A couple of months ago I signed up for the half-marathon in Duluth on a whim and now I’m paying the price. My training method consists of nothing more than “just make sure you’re able to run thirteen miles by race day.”
So now I get up and drive with Paige over to the five-mile loop in Arden Hills and we run twice around it.
I have heard people bandy about some idea of a running “high,” some endorphin-induced euphoria supposedly felt by long-distance runners. The longest run I ever did was 16.3 miles and I did not feel a high. If it takes running more than sixteen miles to get a high than in my opinion it won’t be worth it when it comes.
I am, though, intimately familiar with a running “low,” a storm of roaring stomach pain, which visits me anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour after the run is over. Such was the case this morning, and after driving home and trying to eat some breakfast, I crashed on the couch and slept for three hours while my body rode out the worst of it.
I like to think that after this life and after Armageddon and just after the last judgment, all the souls in heaven will hit the sack for a few days; you know, to sleep off the effects of the whole long history of the world. Not a defensible idea maybe, but a pleasant thought. After all that terror and hardship and effort, it would be good to recover a bit before the big dinner.
Home builder wanted to run new residential construction company. Framing carpentry experience on at least twenty houses. Must have at least working knowledge of siding, roofing, concrete, insulation, plumbing, electrical, heating. Must have a well-developed sense of aesthetics and be in tune with national and local trends in color selections, new materials, and other home design details. Competent trim carpentry skills a plus. Must have a solid grasp of all local building codes. Must be an able accountant and bookkeeper to keep the business from going under. Coordinate and schedule construction of new homes and service requests on existing homes. Must be willing to fill out reams of paperwork when it is nice out, as well as get out there and swing a hammer when it is nasty hot or bite-your-head-off cold. Other required areas of expertise: written communications; people skills and negotiations; a good head for numbers; ability to make snap decisions in unexpected circumstances; teaching and training new employees; safety regulations compliance; assist in insurance audits; participate in local government hearings related to zoning and employment laws; human resources management; analyse job cost and sales reports; and repair of power tools.
Today, I am twenty-three years old.
“Barnes & Noble turns reading into a commodified experience, w/focus on volume selling. It makes me itchy in their stores, and with all they have, they still never have what I want, nor do they have things that I didn’t know I wanted but turn out to want. It is a serendipity-proof book chain.”
Upon reflection I realized that this reflects my own experience as well. I like the feel of the stores and would love to sit down with some coffee and a good book and listen to some kind of weird twelve-tone progressive music, but every time I try, I end up wandering around for hours looking for a book that interests me. None of them ever do.
My opinions remain unchanged.
Topic of conversation at the Dueck dinner table the other night: how to simultaneously become elected President of the United States and Prime Minister of Canada. It would be the ultimate prank. No ultimate conclusions were drawn, but the plan involved falsified records, incredible personal charisma, money (American dollars, thanks), radio & satellite interference, and off-hour elections.
When winter really hits, we are on a different planet. The landscape changes completely. Traveling and outside motion involves a new set of equations. With no clouds in the sky, every last bit of warmth vaporizes into outer space. It is usually dark outside.
This is our planet with the veneer pried off. Look at all those stars, distant furnaces blasting away into the night. By the time their light reaches us, it is only an icy gasp, a breath of death. On nights like this, many a deer out in those woods will lay down and give up the ghost. (Not us. Down in the basement, the zone valves are stuck open again, sending scalding hot water coursing through the radiators, heedless of the thermostat’s guidance.)
- Coca Cola’s polar bear
- Shackleton and the voyage of the Endurance
- The woods, the wolves, and the wide view
Minneapolis and St. Paul now have their own unique font, Twin. The typeface contains over 300 characters and is intended to vary with weather conditions in the twin cities area, becoming more formal as the temperature drops, or more whimsical as temperatures rise. It would be nice to see this typeface used in some real-world applications here in the cities, but realistically, I doubt whether it will ever be more than an online curiosity.
As I was writing a letter recently, it occurred to me that I have been working for the local Amoco for the past two weeks. I brought my car in there on Thursday evening. The shocks are so bad that the car sails in continual sine wave of undulation at every bump and turn. The automatic windows do not work, which leaves me free to harassment by the wind and the rain, and with winter coming on, this is a necessary repair. Furthermore, the exhaust system is in need of replacement. So there go two weeks’ wages.
But I figured, as long as I’m spending money, I may as well catch up. I spring for some new Red Wing work boots, wool socks, insulated leather gloves and a new Nextel phone. Bring it on, I say.
Related to the topic of spending money, I recommend this essay by Paul Ford.
I had five measly walls to frame inside a basement today, three energy walls in an addition and two partition walls for a laundry room. Somehow, in eight hours, Barnabas and I only managed to finish four, and it turned out I made mistakes in two of them. Yes, the lighting was bad, and yes, we had to spend time moving things around because space was tight; but when my stressed-out boss arrived late in the day, I could see the disappointment in his face, and I hated myself more than I have in a long time. Where does time go? Why can’t I do better than this? I can’t figure it out and I can’t stop thinking about it. Whether roofing, trimming, framing, or siding, it’s all the same story: I can never get as much done as I think I ought.
A year ago in Michigan, Mr. N. informed me that in his opinion I would never be a framer. At the time I admitted to myself he was probably right. So why have I spent the past year trying to prove him wrong? And my back muscles screaming bloody murder at me every night—is that normal too? I know I must be missing something. Maybe I’m one of those gifted people who fails at everything he tries.
The scene: a newly drywalled basement in a newly built home in a newly created development in upscale Woodbury. Outside, it is sunny, humid, and breezy. Neighborhood children play on the brand-new lawns. Here in the basement, it is cool and dark and quiet. Total silence; no ambient sound. Except for…
Brush, brush, brush.
I am staining oak trim, together with my two co-workers, who I will call Barnabas and Luigi. We have a lot to do before four o’clock.
Barnabas really seems to wish we had a radio on to break the silence. I am glad we do not. Luigi doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.
There is no time down here. It seems as though it is always two o’clock in the afternoon, no matter how many hundreds of feet of oak baseboard and casing we go through.
Brush, brush, brush.
Today, at noon I attended my sister’s friend’s wedding, along with the rest of my family. Although admittedly happy for the new couple, it was very noisy, I didn’t know most of the people, and I am always afraid some drastic and embarrasing error will be committed during the ceremony. Then, at seven-thirty, my sisters and I went out to see the play Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. I think have had more matrimony in one day than I can handle.
Things progress at a snail’s pace. Upon returning from Michigan, my first task was to finish the exterior of the Attic Addition as mentioned below. This has been done as of last Wednesday. I’ll be taking The Test sometime soon, but beyond that and a couple of other things still in the chute, things are very much in the air. It’s rather frustrating, in an “I wonder what will happen next” sort of way. All roads lie open. At times like this I wish I smoked a pipe.
In the words of a certain fictional fellow, “I must have an occupation, or I shall go mad.”
Four families of sparrows have moved into the roof of our second-story addition (one in each corner of the roof). This is owing to our negligence in putting up the soffit and stucco siding. I can’t let them stay there. I can’t just cover the nests; they’re full of baby sparrows. It falls to me to figure out what to do with them. And as of today, my attempts at being merciful and humane to the first two nests have failed.
I put the nests into a plastic bowl, trying to handle it as little as possible, and put it up under the eaves not far from the original location. Either the parents can’t find them or for some reason they won’t get near them, because in each case, the chicks are dead next morning.
The Calvinist will tell me, I suppose, that God is sovereign and knew whether those birds would have turned to a life of sin. Then, too, the Charismatic would say that I didn’t have enough faith, or the birds didn’t, or both; and the Catholic will tell me those birds are in hell because they were never baptised.
But joking aside, I can foresee myself getting tired of burying dead baby birds.
Today is M.C. Escher’s birthday.
We just spent a week at the cabin, near Longville, MN. We caught enough fish to serve for dinner thirteen people; by “we,” I mean a priviledged minority, and when I say “priviledged minority, I mean mainly people other than myself, by which I mean my sister’s fiancée John. Oh well.
Paige and I were able to play a few Irish tunes at a local coffee shop on Friday afternoon, which was a first.
Regarding chess and the writing of clever fiction: though not often combined, an enjoyable constellation of the two can be found in The Thompson Stories.
I am back in Minnesota. I will be here for a very long time. The order of events is:
- Go to the cabin for eight days’ vacation
- Obtain builder’s license
If or when I start “Joel’s Improved Business Website,” I’ll let you know.
I am in the interesting position of having a highly successful website that is never read by anyone I know. With the notable exception of one of my cousins, no one in my family has ever cared to look at it, and no one out here in Michigan even knows it exists.
This raises the possibility of writing candidly about people I know with relatively little fear of reprisal. Like a noble who goes about disguised as a mendicant, I can move freely in my circles of society without anyone being aware that my observations of their activities and personalities might one day be read by hundreds of attentive readers.
After a year and a half of living in West Michigan, I still feel like an anthropologist. It came back again last night; some of the folks at church invited me to a hymn-sing event at a friend’s house. Not a normal way to spend a Friday night, I suppose, but I enjoy unfamiliar & interesting situations. I walked in to the house and felt I had stepped back a hundred years. The women all wore old-style dresses and head coverings, and most of the men had beards and suspenders. The singing was good and loud, unrefined and unpretentious.
My friends informed me that while these were a rather conservative group of people, they were not Amish. I had some good long discussions with some of them afterwards, and left at about ten o’clock. I am enough like these people to be quite comfortable in their company, but I still felt like an outsider. I am told that the majority of Americans live in the cities, as do I when I’m at home in Minnesota. But here I am seeing a side of America that not many people are aware of, even those from the country: the side where people with beards and head coverings, and whose children know to sit still when they are told, gather in someone’s house to play piano and sing hymns until late in the evening. You’ll never meet people with clearer faces and firmer handshakes. “Behold, an American in whom there is no guile!”
With my tongue in my proverbial cheek, I ask: Weren’t we told that Utopia was only to be found by casting off the shakles of religion?
It’s been a quiet month so far in Zeeland, Michigan. The main events of the past few weeks almost make for a surreal bit of verse:
One horse shot
One rogue possum slain
And one neighbors’ barn gone down in flames.
In Holland, Michigan, Irish paraphernelia is not to be had for love or money. Meijer’s and Walmart each have a little stand of green muffins, napkins with clovers on them, that kind of thing. No green body paint, no Irish flags, and very little in the way of public events. Of course it’s no fault of theirs; it’s simply that everyone here is Dutch and no one is Irish. You can’t seriously expect a large population of last names beginning with “Vander” to celebrate the heritage of all the O’Neals and O’Shaughnessys who are locally nonexistent.
But some of the locals have gone out of their way to accomodate me. At work I found a small vase of green daisies on my desk, which was (gasp; dare I, a macho man of twenty-two years, say it?) touching. Then after coming home from dinner with the Furhmans, I find that my kitchen has been penetrated by would-be Irish celebrants. A shamrock-adorned cake in my freezer and all my dairy products mysteriously modified with a charming hue of green that could only have been accomplished by an amateur user of food coloring. The buggers did leave a little in the way of identification, however, in the form of a couple of carefully crafted St. Patrick’s day cards and a short note.
Aw, shucks…sniffle…what are you lookin’ at, anyway?
If you had told me a month ago that I would actually rather starve than cook a meal for myself, I would not have believed you. But having been plunged into a life of bachelorly self-sufficiency, I find that it is not that hard to get from not liking cooking to simply skipping the meal altogether.
It goes like this. I come home from work and go upstairs. Now, I might like a nice meal, I say to myself. (If I were normal I would merely think it to myself, but more often than not I end up saying it aloud.) But, what should I eat? I immediately consider the path of reasoning that leads to the most desirable end: a hot, tasty meal. However, a number of obstacles immediately leap out from behind my visionary steaming casseroles and boiled vegetables. It takes too long; I’d rather not do that many dishes afterwards; I have hardly anything in the cupboard because I’m too cheap to buy things I know I’ll never cook anyway; and most of all, I hate cooking.
So much for that idea. But now, I’ve got to have something else. The only alternatives to cooking are cereal and sandwiches. But I’ve just had a sandwich for lunch, and I’m starting to get sick of having cereal. From this point it is only a trifling logical hop to thinking that, of course, the simplest thing would be to just not eat. I’m not that hungry anyway (it’s always either that or I’m more tired than I am hungry), and it would probably make the next meal taste better, and I would be saving money anyway. So after a few links in a simple line of reasoning, I have arrived at such an aberration of thought, that the Darwinians might despair of my genus being around for many more generations.
I sometimes wonder if my dogmatic distaste for chapstick is having a negative effect on my psyche. Every now and again during the winter months, someone will say something funny, and I find I have to force myself to smile, because my lips are cracking and it’s a bit painful. From December to March, I end up subconsciously repressing smiles, which is at least as bad, psychologically, as repressing a sneeze.
But the alternative, the nastifying, albeit admittedly short-term, frustration of having a smudgy layer of stuff on your lips all the time, that makes everything you eat taste funny: that is not even an option. You can’t win, I guess.
An explanation of the Attic Project: We have a very large house, probably one of the biggest in town. There are fourteen people living under our roof. To give some of us a litte more room, we’re adding an upper story bedroom in what used to be part of the attic. I’ve been working with a friend of the family, Mr. Joel V., to rip the old roof off, put in a stronger floor system, and build the new walls and roof. After we’re done, we’ll have seven bedrooms in our house, which means the ten children of the family will get to spread out from three bedrooms to four.
The Editor and his Redoubted Father today handed a sheaf of blueprints to the Robbinsdale building inspector, then confidently ordered more than three thousand dollars worth of lumber, to be delivered on Friday. So, the Attic Project has now officially begun. Will the Duecks finish adding the two dormers in a timely, efficient manner, and before the occurence of a natural disaster? Here’s hoping.