Regular readers have surely already noticed, but it bears repeating: this blog is on indefinite hiatus.
Thanks to the support of some amazing folk artists, label representatives, and promoters, I am now blogging about cover songs of and from the folk community at Cover Lay Down. Feel free to stop by anytime.
Two years now on the last day of the school year I give my middle school classes a break from the brainbending work of figuring out non-linear writing and trying to make sense of their increasingly virtual world and instead show them how to make virtual snowflakes. The flash-based software is pretty cool, to be fair, allowing more precise cuts and more perfect folds than real paper, where folds turn thinness into mass so quickly by doubling rules.
What I like about this activity is that it reaches an unexpected set of kids. Normally, my teaching style hooks a specific type of kid, not necessarily the best and brightest by traditional standards, but those who can visualize and reimagine the world flexibly. Over a term, they build a relationship between real world and virtual which explands their views of rhetoric, of space and time as applied to communication and perception -- a tall task for the average fourteen year old.
Here, however, the kids who get stuff quickly are lost and too-quickly bored. Instead, it is those who need seasonal magic -- a few cuts turning into something delicate and lithe, hexagonally-speaking -- who brighten up. The sad kids who just needed a plaything, the different-brained kids who turn to games out of a lack of understanding of basic writing parameters; the kids who loved the hands-on work of elementary school and have lost their way in the new paperwork of middleschool -- here is the moment, the magic, the time to find them more than just a new medium for expression of the same old cumulative concepts.
It is no-stakes, in one sense, but it means everything for them. The room fills up my time with kids eager to share what their virtual scissors have wrought. For a change, the "lost boys" want me to see their work, instead of hiding its skimpiness from view as I pass by. I get to smile and praise students who have not been praised or smiled at for weeks. And I get to see their secret selves emerge, if they let me, if they try, if they let their newly jaded middleschool selves get hooked.
If I'm careful, the lesson can continue from there. I've got scissors and paper ready; I do not push, only mention that what can be true in cyberspace can be made real here, as always. Against the back wall counter, I show those who seem interested how to turn the online lesson into a tempate for real paper, real folding, a lesson hiding topology and imagination-to-real lessons which will hide in their brains until they need to use the virtual world to make the real world work to their advantage. By the end of class, while their peers play space invaders illicitly on the internet, those few and happy kids lag behind, finishing one last papercut before slogging off to math and the endless spate of sugarparties that inevitably characterize that last pre-holiday schoolday, lost to too much energy, curriculumless and chaotic.
But I am left with their temporarily recovered childhood of paper dolls and cheer, proudly pasted to windows and walls. It makes the heart sing as I close down the computers for the long break, to know that their last day was full of pride and youthful glee. Over break, the custodians will scour the paperscraps from the floor, hiding the activity; on the first day back, the sowflakes pinned there will come down and be filed away, or more likely fill the recycle bins. But one or two will stay, high in a corner where no one will notice much. It's enough, I think. Maybe, just maybe, they'll remember when they return.
Those who stop in from time to time may have noticed I'm not really here these days.
I'm fine. Happy, even. Just living life instead of blogging about it, mostly.
I'm also musicblogging. If you're interested in folk music covers -- both covers OF folk music, and folk music covers of popular songs from Cat Stevens to Britney Spears, head on over to Cover Lay Down!
A letter today from an old, old friend on the other coast just about to pop with firstborn child, and I'm thinking about California, especially after last night's chat with Dad. He always says how sane I seemed, there on the road and the highclass hotels, despite homelessness and joblessness. I guess I've come to love uncertainty, now that I've learned to trust the way my best self emerges in chaos, the more the merrier.
And then, I guess, too, I've learned that as long as everyone is safe we are whole together, there's nothing to fear. And here we are, the kids and wife and I growing every day: the spouse in the background making jam from wild concord grapes she harvested down the street, homemmade streetfair pretzels from downloaded recipes; the elderchild tapdancing out of rhythm and gleeful, learning to be okay with male authority as she learns to love kindergarten gym class; the wee one growing ever-less wee despite lingering linguistic quirkiness, doubling her plurals, refusing to use the letter s in combination, asking for more chippez while she sucks at an applesauce moon. Meanwhile, the larger family dissolves into diaspora; we walk on eggshells, recast our relationships, put each in its new place, safely.
Me? I've got that asthmatic bronchitis again, and the doctor says it's not quite pneumonia yet; the meds ream my system sickly, but I know I can take pain, and it's worth it. No cigarettes since I first awoke, just gum instead; it's hard to figure if the delirium is from the lack of nicotene or the illness or the meds, probably everything and anything. Middle school teaching's going great and smooth after two years of figuring it out, but no matter how honest the workdays, there's nothing like a day off work to stomach-clutch and swim in the trippy haze of meds and gut mayhem.
I never know how to count coffee consumption. It takes two mugs and a thermos to drop the liquid level from six to one; I know, because for most of my teaching life, it's been two mugs to get me into the car, and a tall metal sippy cup to get from there to the end of first period. Is this five cups, or three? And more importantly, is it enough?
I have a hard history with caffeine. Jolt -- "all the sugar and twice the caffeine of regular cola" -- got me through high school AP exams; those No-Doz were a lifesaver in college, at least the first time around. And coffee? I chewed espresso beans to get through my graduate program; drank a twenty ounce every Monday for a seven year stint at my latenight radio show, deep in the bowels of the now-dark classroom buildings, and on a school night, yet.
Once, then, I would have jumped at a testrun of Stok, these new coffee shots in creamer tubs, recently boingboinged via their new gadgetblog. That they come in both black and sweet would create a conundrum of delivery like nothing since the day I discovered there were other dark roasts besides French. The idea of adding an extra minishot to every cup would be worth serious consideration, at least.
Not this year, however. Because this year, in an attempt to find a cure to the as-yet-undiagnosed syndrome of yesteryear, and also because I finally noticed the uncanny coincidence of summer mellowmode and the halved ration of coffee that gets me to and through it, I've been drinking a cup less in the morning.
I still have energy in school -- still sing "Won't You Be My Neighbor" at the top of my lungs as the kids stream down the hallway from the bus, waving my coffee mug like a mug of grog. I still get there, ready to go; in fact, I've been getting there earlier. But I'm a little more focused, a little less anxious, and a lot more happy. I'm also falling asleep early, which is a mixed blessing.
As an added bonus, it takes less nicotene gum to get me through the day.
(But a word about what? At the time, there was some thought of a new perspective, an illumination that should not go unnoticed -- one as yet unworded, unnamed. By the time I got here, it was gone. All was vague of purpose. But here I ended up regardless:)
And unbidden, I think of this space, and the language begins to scan itself. Three paragraphs swim into blurry unfocus, the smooth flow of the light serif blocks out in the brain. The public mind awakens as if no time had passed.
Once I spent a summerweek writing my blogging life. Four chapters, an hour at a time by the banks of the Smith College waterway, by battery in the rough-hewn wood of a Japanese Teagarden, my back to the woods and dormitories beyond.
In the end, I took the unfinished half'script home, archived it -- and never opened it again.
Today, a thought: perhaps it was only a beginning. Or a part of the larger writing, the life-logging constant, in review.
Regardless. If there is to be a language flow -- if I dare let the hidden itch rise to the surface, to grow back into the constant nag of the brain that this, too, must be written.
Maybe the book is there. Maybe not. Maybe this is a hiccup, a faint one-fer, a retired novelist's daydream, a once-poet's bubble amidst another life.
But there must be some sort of word, I think.
And so goes this unblogging. And so comes the return, like shingles: reluctant, blossoming, and oh, the relief of the fingernail scratch on the keyboard like skin. Perhaps an outbreak. Perhaps a fluke. But for one moment, awakened, here I am again.
In the evenings I empty my pockets of blogs that might have been, postcards from a life on the road. In and out of days, weeks, a month and more, they pile up in my computerside cubbyholes: a growing catalogue of the unread and unedited, living out a darkened existence on the back of envelopes and old maps in a shaky hand.
They cry out to me, sometimes, when I cannot sleep, these almost illegible scrawls, written up against the steering wheel on the back roads and highways.
Some excerpts from a life unblogged:
...Every once in a while on a different way home I pass the house not taken and wonder what that life would have been. Back on our familiar streets closer to home, the neighbors have removed the inflatible leprecaun from the lawn, though the tinsel shamrocks still swing from the trees. How much polyurethane, how much air and light, how much sheer commercial kitsch will it take to ring in the subsequent season? What will Easter bring? We'll soon know...
...I'm in therapy now, paying ten bucks a week for the privledge of talking about myself for an hour uninterrupted. The health plan picks up the rest; I wonder what they think I'm getting out of it, whether they'd tell me if I asked, if the answer would help me understand why I go back every week...
...The urge to write still comes, sometimes, but my heart stops me. Without a grand entrance prepared, the prodigal return seems unsurmountable. Does it take humility to come back home? Am I so stubborn still? ...
...I care too much, and cry at the radio, play and replay the same sad songs and stories from This American Life: children challenged for who they are, their parents cursed for who they would never be. I try to care more about people, less about things; more about nature, less about human nature. But still I dwell in my mind's eye, seeing my children in these voices, these rooms, these roads, years from now, in an imperfect world I could not fix for them....
...I've lost my voice, and cannot sing. My sinuses stifle, my ears clog. I cannot hear myself. The poignant pieces of our trivial lives -- this one's first haircut, the paper plate rainbow that one makes for me in school -- overwhelm my senses. I used to want to feel less, to protect my heart. Now the feedback I once depended upon for understanding goes missing, and I know not how to recover it...
This evening after supper I bring in the last of this year's wood. Clearing the line brings light into the yard where no light has been for months; the neighbors house and the woods beyond emerge after a long winter.
Afterwards, in the waning light, I raise my eyes to the sky, give of myself back to the world, give over to the urge. And like an answer, out of grey nowhere, drops begin to fall from the sky.
Snow melts away into Spring below my feet. The smell of ozone fills the air.
It's been two weeks, and though I have nothing to say, I suppose I owe it to me/you/us to create some closure. Quickly, then, and fragmented as it comes, before the moment passes:
In the myriad possibilities of wandering, there must always be an acceptance of that which passes. After all, we cannot carry our entire histories on our shoulders as we go. Sometimes, if we are to go forward, entire worlds must be left behind.
Maybe I'll come back one day. Maybe I'll need this place that never existed, yet can always be found, right here where I left it.
Until then, I suppose. May the road rise up to meet you.
And may our paths cross, once in a while. You'll know me: I'll be the boy smiling at the evernew world in his hands.
I've been thinking about poetry again, wanting to capture the way the mothers huddle together at the end of their driveways, glancing half-anxious over the hill's horizon as they wait for the bright yellow buses each afternoon as I drive past.
I think there's something there, maybe an image to pair with the way my old students, now hulking high schoolers, stand huddled in their own coats, watching their breath and the cars pass each morning, watching for another town's bus, way on the other side of the same mountain.
Of course, I'll never write it now.
In the halflight before the sun came up this morning the world was covered in a thin layer of snow, and everything -- the sky, the ground, the trees, the air -- everything was the same color, the same shade of grey, the color of bleached night.
It's like poetry, this world. Sometimes, I guess, it's enough to leave it at that.
Reading as Death, Writing as Life On Teaching Your Own Child to Read
So many stories about death in this year's Best American Essays: spouses, dogs, your own impending. Winter is like death, too, or so the everpresent "they" have always said. I read outside in the frigid cold, five minutes at a time, and watch last month's too-soon bulbs wither and die.
In our house life reigns. We're teaching the elderchild to read and write, the two of us in turns over the weekend. It's a difficult task compounded by her vast brains and creativity, a well-intentioned reassurance that she need not bother yet carried over from school, an ADHD instinct to look away from the page and into space when trying as if the words were everywhere at once, a tendency to already know what the words should be.
The living room gets taken over by her magnetic drawing board, a focused selection of books. We take on the task for the bare maximum of her attention, and I wonder how much we can truly get done in ten minutes at a stretch, and marvel at how much progress we've made in one short weekend.
Yesterday after I got frustrated, she copied the word "moss" perfectly from the page where we had been working. I didn't know until I unearthed the word, centered on an otherwise blank page, there on the floor where we had been working. Today she knows the word, and it's hard to tell if she recognizes it wholecloth or if she really reads it to me.
I want to keep this, her first privately written word, in my wallet, hold it close to my body forever, a talisman against the independence and solitude that reading represents. Instead, I leave it in the pile, hoping it will do her some more good.
Words are life, I explain to her when I tuck her in that night. With words, you will be that much closer to your own self, and to the world. In my head, I finish the sentence, knowing that, in the way they open up the world to her, the words will change her, take her away from me, add one more little death of us to the pile that is her daily growth.
I kiss her, and tell her how proud I am that she is learning to read. She smiles that proud, almost smug grin to herself, and I tuck her in quickly, and turn out the lights, and close the door almost all the way, hurrying to leave before I can cry in her presence.
Books left on the glass-topped table outside crack at the spines when you open them -- something about the way the glue gets brittle in the cold, I suppose.
When I was a kid I used to love the way the paperback spine would stretch and give as I found my place again. Some of my oldest young adult selections still sport the scoring of my fingernails, pressed absently into the soft, forgiving pasteflesh during a lifetime of latenight reading.
I've been reading a lot, and blogging little. There's both comfort and avoidance in this, especially given the end-of-term grading that looms before me: a hard drive's worth of projects, two boxes full of notebooks in the backseat of the car. A strong practitioner of structured procrastination, I use the time to post a discussion of disk-death and the home-to-school work dynamic in the workblog, anticipating a long-overdue but politically sensitive switchover to web-based storage for our students and teachers. You can't read fiction at work, no matter how much you plan to timeshift; it looks bad.
Back home the books I read are random, pulled from the giftpiles accumulated over my birthday week: more Terry Pratchett, a Jewish humor collection, the NPR's This I Believe collection. I read them outside, five minutes at a stretch, in the cold and suddenly white-coated world; I read them on the couch by the pellet stove fire, late at night when the kids and wife are asleep, and I really should get to bed myself.
The blank space, white like the snow that never falls, a world that hardly beckons. How to begin again? And where is the urge?
The house is clean, intermittently. We eat out more often than we should. The wee one speaks in sentences we cannot always understand, sits in her highchair at supper and picks at her pale white foods: crackers, cheese, plain pasta, the occasional pea.
Out the window the world is deceptively autumnal, the backyard ground still unswept of brownleaves and twiglets. Only when we step out the door do we feel the sudden freeze in our lungs, sharp and dangerous. On the morning drive to work the world is still, save for the constancy of smokestack grey rising ever upwards. Even the students waiting for buses by the roadside do not move, their shivers lost inside their huddled, heavy coats.
At work the term winds down in the usual fog of grading and last-minute adolescent angst over grades long past the point of revisiting. My computer classes give up their mice, learn to love Tab and Shift and the function keys, come finally to trust that no amount of key banging and guesswork will irrevocably enflame the hardware. I sit at my desk and chat in hearts and symbols to the howdyspouse, at home with the kids on her lap, while the students struggle.
One night the elderchild's musicbox stutters and is still; I play soft strings, dulcimer in the dark by her bedside, until she falls asleep, and the next night she is finally weaned of our attention, her solo slumbers come so easily it is as if we never coslept at all, never worried how we would ever get our bed back.
I spend my time reading birthday books: the full round of this year's Best American collections, mostly. Deep in my mind, the world is still and quiet, unfamiliar, and yet somehow like the winterworlds I remember, white snow dampening everything, out and in, macro and micro.
Two weeks with nothing but a haiku food review to show for it, at least in the virtual world. Starting over again, it’s hard to know where to start.
But embracing life has been a noble experiment, worth every minute.
An increasingly verbal wee one has turned into quite the Daddy’s girl. She looks for me in the dark house before I leave for work, makes me read to her with my coat still on when I return. Mama brought her in to work twice this week; both times, the look on her face as she ran towards me was priceless.
Meanwhile, elderchild goes solo at bedtime for the first time. She looked so proud and sleepy when I stopped in to check on her.
It’s my birthday tomorrow, and we’re having a party: barbecue and beer, a mixed bag of coworkers old and new, a few friends from church, their kids. It’s the first party we’ve thrown, I think, other than family events, and the first time our guest list runs multigenerational in both directions. It feels very adult.
In other news, mama’s replaced the computer chair with a huge yellow yoga ball. It squeaks beneath me as I write. There’s been a flurry of books, arriving each day like rain; used paperback Discworld novels, the year’s Best American Non-Required Reading. The quantity of it pleases me. I read a book a day, all week, and do not blog.
Nothing to say tonight, really. I just missed the old regularity of the blogged life. It's been a good week, anyway. A little restless tonight, perhaps a little bittersweet. Two days worth of nostalgia are coming, and I'm looking ahead with my heart.
First, tomorrow night we've accepted a quiet invitation to old friends from the prep school teaching days. After seven years on campus, it's going to be more than a little odd to feel the pull of these now-deserted buildings that once held our lives captive.
The next morning we're expected at what will surely be the last of a long tradition of Hangover Special breakfast feasts farther north, at the house in Newfane, where we crashed for one glorious summer, and a decade of New Years Eves; where our family grew bigger as Darcie's brother Josh found his own second family.
The world is about to change again. The siblings continue to disperse: Josh and Clay to Oregon next week; Ginny back to Hawaii the next. The endless uncertainty and stress of the workweek whirlwind looms in the forecast, longterm and practically eternal.
I've been thinking more about the idea of New Years resolutions than about any particular self-improvement or renewed conviction. Giving my wife the gift of time for the holidays has left us both more relaxed, and with more energy left after kid bedtime for each other. I'm fresh off a workmeeting about my professional goals, with clean markers of progress to report; my Instructional Technology certification finally arrived last week, an early holiday gift from the great state of Massachusetts.
Which is to say: I'm doing okay, I think. My family is amazing; my environment is safe and stable, if still bereft of snow. Life is crazy, as it always is. But this year, I'm resolving to let the world be what it is.
Do you like beer? Do you like ice cream? Well, has Ben & Jerry's got a taste for you...
I consider myself somewhat of an ice cream snob, ever since I spent a summer scooping ice cream at a local Steve's franchise, my first real job (from which I was ultimately and rightfully sacked, a story for some other evening). At Steve's, we made all our own ice cream, and it was beautiful to watch; we folded our own toppings in by hand on a long, creamywhite countertop long before a generation of Cold Stone employees discovered tendonitis, and it was a glorious, sticky summer all around.
One especially hot and adolescent evening we decided to try making beer ice cream. It tasted like vile swill -- mostly because the beer already tasted like that before we put it in. But otherwise, our experiments were generally a success. I can still taste the fresh peach ice cream like it was here in front of me. With mixed-in mini-sized chocolate chips. Mmm.
And after being so close to the process, I'm always game to blow those gourmet bucks on the best quality. No cheap, rectangular ice cream cartons for me; it's Ben & Jerry's if I'm doing the shopping. For a long time, I stocked up on Pecan Pie (with real chuncks of pie!) or old standby Chubby Hubby when I got the chance.
This week, after eyeing it on the shelf since it's release date in March, I finally tried something really new. Black & Tan, Ben & Jerry's new pintflavor, ain't the work of a couple of stoned teenagers. Here, the bitter bite has been tempered to a faint and fond hint of a quite distinctive cream stout.
I don't usually "do" product reviews these days, but this is amazing: deep, rich, extra-dark chocolate ice cream blended with cream stout ice cream, with a cream stout head. It doesn't taste like beer so much as it tastes like the world's best beer ice cream. It's like frozen Guinness, if Guinness didn't leave that bitter bite on the back of your tongue. And it looks like this:
Yeah, I know it's freezing out. But there's still no snow. Settle for ice cream.
A lazy day amidst the holiday season -- errands late this morning, a leftover lunch of christmas ham sandwich and heavy squash soup, a bout of to-the-basement woodstacking in the clear, still-snowless side yard.
In other news, elderkid got a gigantic Colorforms set for the holidays; I've more than doubled the piececount by cutting out lines and boxes from the sheet from which the original shapes had been punched. Check out how well they photograph against the soon-to-be-terraformed yard.
Darcie suggested we use the shiny plastic to map out the lines for this spring's yard project. It works out: red and white for path and stone walls, yellow for deck and railing, green and blue for field and fountain. I'll probably have at the windowglass this afternoon, after furnace fire, perhaps a nap.
I am rolling elderchild around atop the giant yoga ball before supper; shrieks of glee echo throughout the house. The wee one, ever Daddy's little girl, sees this as an imposition, a usurping of her usual role, and runs over.
No! My ball! NO! I'm....ME!
My wee one. Lighter than air, deceptively small for her age. Says please and nak noo, fusses over the slightest mess, spends hours wedging herself into the tiny space under the kiddie kitchen sink. This is a kid who names her emotions, who, when the world begins to whirl in front of her, yells Fun, yes? Fun, Daddy! like a spriggan.
Surely, she intended to say No! I'm mad! Just as surely, something more primal, the sheer identification of the feeling ego, was all that could emerge. Only with language so new could emotions so potently overwhelm the very vocabulary.
Home from the heavywet snows of Vermont to a garden pushing up green bulbshoots through the heavywet leafbed. The house is cold, as if the fog had infiltrated everything in our absence. The cat is happy to see us, happier still to be let outside again.
It was a frantic Christmas, like every year -- a dizzying flurry of wrapping paper and elderchild deliveries from undertree to aunt, uncle, grandparent, parent. We were late arriving, and my wife's siblings had to run their separate ways soon after, but the long afternoon with the inlaws was quiet and centered, and the kids were happy to play with new braintoys, the hanging bells, their great, great grandfathers' music boxes.
Now we fill the fridge with scavenged Christmas ham, line the kitchen counters with gifted bakedgoods, begin the long process of cleaning up for tomorrow' mass playdate, my father's afternoon visit, a week of snowless vacation. In the corner, the dog chews on her Christmas bone, tired out from long outdoor hours with my in-law's mixedbreed giant. The wee one slumbers in the car outside, pooped out from a long overnight. 364 days to Christmas, and it's good to be home once again.
Emotively speaking, the middle school holiday break begins midweek, somewhere between the multifaith and snowman-heavy decor and the calendar's end.
By Friday morning, the kids are a mess, and so are we. Learning has gone out the window, to be replaced by so much sugar it's not even funny. In my case, this meant cookies, gummi bears, and enough chocolate covered goodies to overload the nervous system. At 7:40 in the morning. After the usual six cups of coffee.
Of course, you just have to have one of everything, lest some kid feel left out. Not even the gift of a half dozen buttery, smooth pierogi, boldly requested in compensatory jest from the kid who took Thursday off from school to make 'em with his family, could take the edge off the sugar high.
By midmorning I'm practically hallucinating. I've given my morning lab classes the option of free play on the computer; the best and brightest choose to make holiday cards, or fiddle with the snowflake-maker courtesy of my mother in law, but most play mini golf while they munch on their cookies. The rest flail around the classroom, hurling gift wrap at each other, laughing uproariously while I make snide comments that keep them -- barely -- on this side of appropriate behavior.
I save the last few minutes of each class for a comprehensive crumb-cleaning and lab shutdown, finish my own classes by ten thirty, spend the afternoon wandering the halls, wideeyed and jittery. The kids are in their teams, watching holiday films; most won't finish, but the point is to be eye-glued to the screen, given the potential for havoc. Their teachers look frazzled after their own morning of containment. Their classrooms are clean, and ready for a holiday break floorwash in their absence.
By 2:15, I'm on the road, surprisingly relaxed, ready for a long winter's break. No snow in the forecast this year, but the rain begins as I crest the mountain. It hardly makes a dent in my serentity.
Back home, the kids are charging around the house like angels, pantless and gleeful. Elderchild and I present mama with her gift: some rose-scented bath lotion, the plaque above, and a commitment to moving the bedtime ritual into our mutual corner, that mama might have more time this year. The wee one throws cotton snow from window display to couch; everyone smiles, and no one asks her to stop.
We light candles, trade a last night of Channukah gifts, eat fresh challah warm from the oven. Darcie calls some old friends, making plans for a New Year's in our old prep school haunting grounds. The air is full of holiday shufflesounds. By nine, I'm asleep beside the elderchild, wiped out from a whole year's worth of bustle.
Pre-holiday Wednesday is a bit like the bitter, poisonous taste of biting into an orange rind -- you can take it, even as your lips grow numb and itchy, because there, unfolding before you, is the Fruit, leaking onto your hand.
I was going to write more, but now it seems unnecessary.
Hanukkah was a rush this year, as always but moreso, a perennial crunch of eight days into concentrate made both necessary by our family's inevitable diaspora. In eight hours or less, a whirlwind of eventhood: lunch with my brother, our spouses, or father, my children; a rush back and forth in various combinations to get the right people in the right places to prep for the party, and to pick up my brother's car in the shop.
By six, we were singing songs around a dozen menorahs with my parent's oldest friends, now joined at the kitchen island by their own grown children holding children of our own. By seven, the family left behind was deep in a gift exchange, the kids burning off the evening's sugar rush rapidly among a blizzard of bright orange toys and wrapping paper snow.
By the time we arrived home, it was past ten. The kids had fallen asleep miles back to the story of the Maccabees, the lullabye rush of the holiday traffic on the turnpike; Darcie put them in their beds, and stayed up to clean and read a bit.
And instead of heading right for the computer, I used the sudden, rare silence to take out this year's present from mom: a dulcimer, in cherrywood.
The perfect instrument for the mellow and melancholy. Sure enough, I spent an hour in the firelight, faking my way through the Sufjan Stevens Christmas songbook.
Since then, I've managed to sneak in a few moments here and there, away from grubby fingers and eager minds unused to fragility. And, after wanting one for years, I'm pretty happy.
The dulcimer sounds a little like a banjo, and a little like one of those autoharp things that were popular when your mother was a hippie. You've probably heard it on a bunch of old Joni Mitchell songs without realizing it -- though it's much easier to play.
Want proof? Less than two hours total, and I can play the full set of blues chords, but more than that, after years of flute, I can find the intervals in the music, play melody and twang-harmony alike. I've mastered a dozen songs, and can play them at speed, and all without having to run through the usual gradated boringness that is the learner's workbook.
And thank goodness. Because it did come with a book, like instruments do. And, typically, the book is called You Can Teach Yourself Dulcimer. Which is the dumbest name for anything, really, because either it's true, in which case what do I need a book for? Or it's not, in which case maybe this isn't going to be the best book to start with, seeing as how they don't think you need one.
Also, the picture on the cover isn't promising. It depicts a guy wearing a dorky vest and a tall, blackbrimmed, turn-of-the-century hat. He seems to be working at some sort of faux-authentic outdoor museum; all around, perfectly normal children pull at their equally normal parent’s hands, point and laugh and this poor goofy-smiled guy who...well, darned if he doesn’t look just like me, beard and all.
I've decided I don't need the book. I can be me better at home than I can in a crowd of overcharged gawkers. No, it's enough to play along with the radio, and with the songs in my head, and finally and so rapidly be an agent of the full, chorded sound that fills my universe. And to be given such peace, such autonomous peace, out of the midst of such chaos. Thanks, Mom. It's what I've always wanted.
Sinuses strained and fever at 101. An earache, a swollen backache, and -- since the coffee pot seems to have blown a fuse -- a headache growing behind my eyes. Last night I passed out on the couch in my winter coat, slept for three hours, and staggered upstairs to toss and turn until 4.
Not much of a way to end the week, what with the elderkid performing tonight in her preschool holiday show, tomorrow's hanukkah party at Mom's. But what goes around, comes around, and this one's been going around.
It's coming on Christmas, and up on the ridge the family farms sell cut-your-owns to send their kids to college. Ours consumes the living room, though we took it off four feet up to clear the ceiling; five hundred tiny lights and a wife's lifetime of ornaments spread sparse against the tapered balsam.
Tonight was meant to be a full-fledged traditional Christmas with the intimates, all four parents, their only grandkids, our longsettled selves. Darcie made a duck and all the trimmings: beets, stuffed game hens, a cheese and a balsam reduction, three sorts of sauce, and for an hour or three the house was just full enough, almost comfortable.
The intention was to follow this with a true turn-of-the-century Christmas, complete with roasted chestnuts and a host of recreated otherthings for the reenactment fan at Sturbridge Village. But tiny Cassia's cold made her too cranky to drag into the stilldry winter, so Dad and I stayed home to drink endless tiny cups of imaginary tea in front of the unattended television. By the time her bedtime had come and gone, so had Dad; all that was left was to bathe the fogheaded child, and wait for mama.
Tomorrow the elderchild will play Mary in our Church pageant. Smalltown Unitarian being what it is, there's been no rehearsal; Joseph will be played by the minster's child; between them they make up half the kids in the congregation. She was encouraged to dress up as anything she likes, "from fairy to lobster"; Darcie being what she is, there's sure to be a costume hanging in a closet somewhere already.
For most of my life Christmas was a cultural thing, everywhere but here; of the public sphere, and faintly imagined in other people's houses. Our Jewish lot brought presents, and the lights were bright, too.
Somewhere in those years I fell in love with someone who loves Christmas, and ceremony, and peace on earth. Christmas came into my house, and nestled in me.
I was thinking about Christmas songs the other day, and I finally realized something: what I love so much about Christmas has always been the way the music is something we all share in common; how with universal song we can belt our joy out together, and do; how it brings the world a little closer every year, if only for these darker days.
There's little else so powerful, and so sustained, in this world.
Jewish or Christian, Muslim or Pagan, let us celebrate together anything at all, so long as it can bring smiles of familiarity and memories of gingerbread to even strangers. Merry Christmas, everyone. God bless us, every one.
Two Canadian bands with female vocalists from opposite ends of the trad-alt-folk spectrum cover black American songwriter hits from the mid eighties. Exceptionally well. With banjo.
Ironically, though their playing styles are disparate, the originals were conversely so. The rough backporch plucking of Doves reframes the beatperfection of Prince's original; the crisp, bright acadian-rock turn of Mountains brings the distance of a greek chorus to folkie Chapman's raw, plaintive lament. And so on.
Okay, it's from a kids movie, and I can't help visualizing an animated Curious George painting handprints on an elephant's butt at the end, but I'd like to think that even if this weren't my daughter's favorite song, I'd still appeciate the sheer childlike joy of this and the better half of this year's soundtrack. More full than some of this ex-surfer's previous efforts, and less storytold, but for me this finally pulls together all the elements in one from Johnson. Who knew the jungle drums and the bounce of the animated flick were just what that distinctive strumstyle needed?
Recent release The Crane Wife is still growing on me, but this song stands out, and not just for a production value that finally showcases that quirky, nasal lead as powerfully distinctive, rather than just plain awesomely weird. I still have no idea what this song is really about -- there seems to be some eastasian fairytale backstory -- but the catchy universality of getting swallowed by a whale quietly sticks like gravy in the mind. And oh, those crashing accordian choruses like waves.
7. Handle With Care Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins w/ Ben Gibbard, M. Ward, and Conor Oberst (site)
Finally, a song that pretends to be nothing more than a fun wheeze almost accidentally transforms a chestnut into one of the catchiest songs this side of January. The original supergrouping from which sprung this poppy hit featured distinctive voices from Orbison to Petty, and Lewis plays the song true to form, bringing in the next generation of Traveling Wilburys with great success, proving once again that the best covers bring new light and life to even the cheesiest of originals.
Me and a billion twentysomething housewives, I know. But I'm not in it for the top forty hits. There's something about John's simplest songs, the way they capture inner adolescence so perfectly, the sheer joy of hope, the claptonesque guitar, the boy genius. Heart of Life rivals Daughters on my sentimental playlist, and that's saying something, since my first daughter was born when that one first came out. And, hey, Dave Chapelle thinks he's cool.
5. Mas Que Nada, Sergio Mendes featuring Will.i.am and the Black Eyed Peas (site)
Everybody's collaboratin' across the genre line these days. Sometimes it even works (see number 3 below, for example). This hiphop samba, featuring the always askew Black Eyed Peas over tradlatin beatmaster Sergio Mendes, is so crisp it teeters on the good side of overproduced, but that's half its charm. The other half is the universally stellar, almost disparate performances. The mix is clean, the players rock, and the whole is better than the parts -- what more could you want? Who knew the samba was so deep?
Another cover, this one by an avowed addict with a voice and style that transcend his pedigree (say what you will about Richard Thompson's songwriting; his voice really isn't my cup of tea, and nor is Bob Dylan's voice). Originally performed live in 2004 for this year's tribute flick to Leonard Cohen, this plaintive reworking rivals the best of Teddy's album work -- a nice turn from the oft-cheesy coversongs so often cluttering up the soundtrack racks. Thanks to Dad for turning me on to Teddy.
It was tempting to pick the throttled rage of Ray lamontagne's cover, or perhaps Nelly Furtado's scared little-girl lisp. But the success of the covers only demonstrates just how universal the sentiment, how plastic the motif of insanity. In the end the original reigns supreme: from the phat beats and funky bass jumpstart to the raspy vocals of out-of-nowhere Cee-lo, this one had earworm all over it, and I'm always grinning-glad to see it rise from the shufflechaff.
Incidentally, major props to me for introducing dozens of middle schoolers to this song long before it hit the summer beach boombox crowd. Thanks, blogosphere, for setting me in the groove.
Joshua Radin was kind of a dark horse for me this year; it was September, I had never heard of him, and then, within a week,
this song popped out of nowhere
someone passed me a live cover of Yaz's Only You
his originals turned out to be universally quiet and catchy
I fell in love.
A quiet gem off The Last Kiss soundtrack, Paperweight's poetry was supposedly written the night before it was recorded, and I believe it; musically and lyrically, it is one of those perfect, raw, sparse songs that come out whole cloth on those rarest of inspirational nights long past bedtime. We hear Zach Braff's second film is no Garden State, but this song makes it all worthwhile. No idea who Schuyler Fisk is, incidentally, but it's her lyrics that rock.
A nightsong about waking, a mystical spinner about motionlessness and impotent loss: sweetness and light from a harmonic pair of solo-folkies-gone-indieband that took the blogging world by storm this year. Talk about earworms; according to iTunes, I've listened to this song over 120 times since downloading it in April. My daughter knows all the words; she's fallen asleep to it, once or twice, in my arms on the couch, when Mama was out.
Finally managed to pare down to a clean top ten songs of 2006 list, though it hurt to make those last few cuts. Thanks to those who sent along suggestions. Honorable mention, in no particular order:
Roll On, Little Willies
Manifest Destiny, Guster
Cell Phone's Dead, Beck
Little Sadie, Crooked Still
Chasing Cars, Snow Patrol
The Needle has Landed, Neko Case
Thirteen, Ben Kweller
The Heart of Saturday Night, Madeleine Peyroux
Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, Flaming Lips
Springtime Can Kill You, Jolie Holland
Blue as You, Shawn Mullins
My Strange Nation, Susan Werner
Heist, Ben Folds
Waiting, Glen Philips
Thanks to the wonders of Yousendit, the final top ten songs will be available in mp3 form. Give me a day or two to upload everything, and I'll have an early holiday present for you and yours up before you know it.
Been trying to make a top ten songlist for the year, but the pickins are slim. Plenty of albums by great musicians this year just never stuck a track in my ear. Ray Lamontagne's new album? Eh. Madeline Peyroux? Neko Case? Good, but nothing quite so catchy as their last few. Emmylou Harris and Mark Knopfler, Bruce Springstein and a house full of banjo players? Worth having for posterity's sake, but not worth featuring.
More frustrating, I find to my chagrin that much of the music I discovered since January was actually released in 2005. Feist's Mushaboom, Jose Gonzales' Heartbeats, an amazing half an album by Teddy Thompson, even the newest Death Cab For Cutie singles first showed up a year ago or more. So much of my overplayed 2006 favorites have been out for ages, there's little competition for the top spots.
Makes you wonder what's out there already, just waiting to be loved.
I'll post full mp3s once I've finished the list. In the meantime, since it would embarrasing to end up with a top ten list with only nine items on it, feel free to drop me a comment with any must-have suggestions I might have missed. And don't be afraid to point out the obvious. I don't get out much.
Marlboro Lights, Part 2 What were the students like during your time there?
Bring the second in a series of interview questions for old collegiate co-conspirator and amateur historian Shaw.
What were the students like? Not one was like the next; each was a busted stereotype in and of himself. Find commonnality between the ruralmaine carpenter down the hall, his classically trained homosexual roommate, my quiet ex-Deadhead athelete of a roommate and the RA huddled next door studying the TV Dinner culture of the american fifties? Typifying them is night impossible, Shaw; even on the smallest scale, your second question is a null set.
True, the small group I drifted towards were primarily older students, back at school again after a few semesters and a few more soulsearching. If we were all anything, it was that we were more defined than eighteen year olds, and perhaps that was why, in the end, I find them a pack of remembered individuals, rather than a group to explain.
As underclassmen, however, we were framed together by our similar status. We lived as classmates and co-explorers more than anything else -- strange bedfellows, all, sharing co-ed bathrooms and party basements thick with smoke and life. The upperclassmen were half invisible, barely present. Even those who did not live off campus were wraithlike in the social world, focused on plan and higher order questions.
By the time we became those upperclassmen, of course, what had once felt defined was now just overfocused. The reason upper classmen were invisible was that they spent much of their time in solo pursuit of The Plan, a solitary and anticommunity activity of the mind.
When we met in those last years it was more to talk crosspurposes at each other, using each other as objects and soundboards for our own necessarily one-track minds, trains passing in the night, and I appreciated how bright, how different we were then, because is validated our own unique pursuits while simultaneously offering of and in each other the one totally new perspective, however off track, that we would have in a month of single-question thought. If we started as individuals in type, we ended up individuals in mind.
Marlboro Lights Question 1: Why did you choose Marlboro?
As part of his ongoing obsession with all things Marlboro, old college chum Shaw is interviewing me via email. I'll be posting my responses here as I can get to them. Got no time for othermusing anyway.
We were living together off and on for a couple of years by then, most recently in a shared Somerville, MA apartment under the world largest willow tree. My fellowship at the Museum of Science was coming to an end, and the time felt right to go back to college.
But I also knew that most educational models didn't work for me. You've seen me in the classroom, Shaw -- I'm a bright guy, but I really need to be engaged with the material in order to get much out of it. And I got lost in those long, inevitable hours of background and knowledge that spun out time eternally between every subjectively resonant image, every mind-altering epiphany, in a classroom. It wasn't just a need for small class size, I also needed an environment where everything I was asked to do was, ultimately, something I asked myself to do.
Thank God Marlboro was that place.
I mean, sure, I was in a different place, too. When Darcie and I had dropped out of Bard together halfway through our Sophomore year, it was partially because the only thing we were really getting out the place was each other. Since then, my time as a public programs and school programs fellow at the Museum of Science had taught me that I had some mad skills, but more than that, it gave me a real curiosity about the relationship between the content of our presentations and the mass media models which lurked behind us, audience and presenter alike, and the way this shared awareness of narrative modes framed the ways we developed our demonstrations.
'course, I couldn't have said it like that at the time. That's what Marlboro was for.
Why did I choose Marlboro? Because it was ten miles up the hill from Darcie's parent's house. And Darcie had decided to move back home. And I needed one myself. And Marlboro was perfect.
Coming soon: a workblog entry about Wikipedia pro and con, featuring the classroom potential of Wikipedia Simple English. An entry so obvious in its outline and high points it practically writes itself -- so why haven't I started it yet?
At the mall on Wednesday, past red-suited Salvation Army bellringers, the stores were full of tinsel and snowmen, shimmer and tree, and not much more in the way of crowds than an average Summer sunday. We didn't buy much -- some shoes, a pink peasant skirt for the elderchild, a sit-down lunch at Friendly's -- but we weren't holiday shopping, either.
On our way back home, the year's first Christmas song turned up on the car radio. This morning the astutely audiocool jefito posted his 2006 Holiday mixtape. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and it comes earlier every year.
But shopping on Black Friday? A great way to lose your sanity and your kids. We're not celebrating Buy Nothing Dayper se, we just hate the crowds. Happily, a teacher and his family can always start shopping at 3:00 midweek to beat the rush. What do you want for the holidays this year?
There was a seed, grey and small In the ground of the earth between our hearts. We'll never know what mystery made it grow It will just be our history, now... -- from Thanksgiving, by Deb Talan (click to download)
One week seeding the house with the colors of autumn, filling the glasstopped table with dried leaves and twiglets, hanging boughs from the post and beam. An afternoon constructing the world's largest cornucopia in the bay window. Two days cleaning, with special attention to the shelfdust and windowsmears for once.
Four leaves on the cherrywood table, and we still need to add the camping table to seat the prospective 18 arriving tomorrow, side dishes in hand.
It's our second year hosting Thanksgiving at home, and it's already looking like another successful family afternoon.
I can't really take credit for much of it.
This year's theme is a celebration of the local. We've bought local milk and cider. Today we picked up the bird: farmbought by Darcie's parents, driven halfway here, and handed off from trunk to trunk in the parking lot of the Ingleside Mall. Tomorrow we make stuffing with the challah she made last Friday.
The family -- my parents and hers, sisters and cousins and aunts -- will converge with their own local goodies, making it a true New England feast, unless my sister manages to bring something on the plane from Ohio.
On the way home from the mall, the suddenly unsullen elderchild insists on singing every verse of Twinkle Twinkle to her sister in the backseat darkness; the everpolite wee one brings Mommy, please help me as her first proper sentence. Our children grow in leaps and bounds, become themselves in firework moments. Tomorrow, they'll be the center of the universe, get drunk on attention.
I am thankful, among many, many things, to have a family like this, a home like this, a place like this. Having come from homeless and uncertainty to this bigenough house full of love makes it easy to give thanks, and then some.
But if I have so much to be thankful for, it is no coincidence my wife runs through this evening's entry like an angel. She is a wonder, and at her best when creating the perfect event environment. She is a mother with everything she's got, and she makes it look easy. She is a partner, a friend, a lifemanager. She who plans the party, schedules the turkey, sets the table, cleans the bulk of the house while I am at work, holds us in, holds us together. Giving thanks, like life itself, would be empty without her.
Happy blogday to me, though the language doesn't spill from me like it used to.
Happy blogday, though the world is quieter now, more full of white noise, less bloggable.
Happy blogday, though we've come a hundred miles or more, lost a generation and a job, had a second child, been homeless and come home again.
Some things haven't changed, I suppose. The beard grew back, though the hair doesn't hang like it once did. My back still hurts; the cigarettes still run my life despite a three month hiatus. My wife still loves me, and I love her.
But the evidence is in the archives. That tiny fistwaver has passed through tyrant into something bright and too-often self-aware. The students I once knew as friends are now just kids, no matter how smart, how coiled, how epiphanic.
The memory of weekly radio broadcast fades into mundania. Memes disappear; the last unhashed past congeals and grows cold on the kitchen counter like the picked-over bones of leftover chicken.
The mind I threw freely into the void smothers under the weight of family secrets, workplace preservation, all the myriad symptoms of a life lived in public as the rest of the world has come online.
I lived at work once; now I clear my head twenty minutes at a time, back and forth ten times a week between two disparate selves.
My voice, my world, my family, my home: some days is seems like nothing is the same.
Four years ago tonight, in the wee hours where I no longer dwell, I started a blog. You were there, too.
It seems like a lifetime. In many ways, I suppose, it has been.
Finally got around to signing up for an account over at last.fm, a web-based service-slash-tool that -- among many other social sharing functions -- logs your last-played songs and makes the resulting up-to-date playlist available, like so:
A neat way to give your adoring public some ear-access. Assuming I can find a skin that's narrow enough, look for a permanently placed playlist in the sidebar sometime soon.
Not much blogging this week, but spending the week porting 41 gigs of mp3 files over to "Max", our new 200G external hard drive, was well worth the time otherwasted. The newfound space cranks up the downloading habit a bit, especially after a year valiantly struggling to keep room for pix and docs on the 60 gig laptop; at this rate, the 60 gig iPod will be full by New Years.
Back in the classroom I've got my seventh graders comparing internet news sites with their TV, radio, and deadtree counterparts. Today's assignment: write a letter to a pre-literate infant, recommending one of the big four over the others as a lifelong primary source. Interestingly, no single medium came out a clear favorite; even more interestingly, at thirteen, most members of the post-digital generation can already intuit the basic benefits of each, from portability to personalization of content and context.
Happily, by midday on November 2nd of that year, I soon realized I was a plotless idiot who had no business trying to produce junk, whether it be for meme or for later novelfodder. I mean, imagine what most NaNoWriMo participants are cranking out on November 27th at 3 a.m. and you grok the basic problem here. Heck, imagine the dreck that most folks tend to start with, given the lack of general outlining and planning participants speak almost proudly of.
Look, maybe you're Kerouac -- maybe you, too, can produce a short stream of consciousness thingie of quality and innate truth in just a few short weeks on the road of your daily grind. But most of us don't live the whirlwind existence. Most of us have no great unwritten novel fully outlined in our heads. And most of us have much better things to do with three hours of every day than to write as fast as we can about absolutely anything, so long as the keys keep clicking along.
And anyway, my life is my novel. Why force it? Four years and over a third of a million blogwords later (that's six novels, if you're counting), I remain convinced that'd rather pour my energy into family, friends, blog and brain on a daily basis.
To be fair, way back in that fateful November, I bookmarked Novel In Less Than One Year, just in case I ever want to go back. But when I publish my blog excerpts, I'll have the last laugh for sure. When I do write my novel, it will be marked by a lifetime of history and careful craft, not an arbitrary ruler or a clock on the wall.
God bless anyone who manages to actually complete a novel worth reading in the midst of this experiment in mass production -- and there are sure to be just enough exceptions to prove the rule. And God bless you, too, if you have no better way to do what you've always wanted to do.
But, truly, doing it because it's that time of year? Because everyone's doing it? Novels aren't a destination. It's not about speed OR endurance. It's a piss poor way to fulfil your destiny.
Kerouac's powerful, high-school-accessible On The Road is a great story, and it's great poetry, but a novel it ain't -- and Kerouac knew it. Anyone who thinks they can write a novel against deadline would best remember Truman Capote, who said of On The Road: That's not writing, that's typing.
Two indian summerdays in Brooklyn, where art is everywhere, especially in the tinroof apartment my brother and his wife share with their studio spaces. Kid-friendly, pescetarian fun in Central Park and subways, but cities make us nervous, New York City moreso.
We were on the road when I realized I was dizzy. The world looked yellow. My hands felt cold. I pulled over in the rain so Darcie could drive.
Home, the front room is infested with fragile bugs. Their cornhusk wings show on the sliding door like fingerprints. I spend an hour lurking by the chairlegs, waiting for wings visible against the glass, the room spinning.
The garage is an airlock. It's still raining outside the cold house. All night the New York sky glows like a ballfield.
Stakes in the Grass Inside and Out: A Juxtaposition
We're closing fast on the end of our fourth year here at Not All Who Wander Are Lost, and other than a little sitetweaking the biggest issue here seems to be the sporadic posting. I've blogged before on this, suggesting at the time that maybe this was a good sign, that the life unbloggable was a life less in need of being blogged.
But the coverage area of possible reasons is endless, remains murky. Perhaps, I wonder, the subconscious is trying to keep a tight reign on the flow of language, lest something slip out. Am I so afraid to see what I am thinking?
On the homestead we spend the morning behind the house, staking and roping where the sliding glass falls off into nothingness. The project will involve a complex deck opening into, varously, a full-scale patio, a suite of halfwooded playspaces and terraces, and a shape-enchoing staircase similarly opening into same from the french doors at the house's other end.
After months of treecutting, becoming comfortable with the space and its possibilities, what was once wooded and closed starts to seem infinite. Funny how, once you've steeped in it a while, the world steps out organically into the senses like that, to become somehow both defined and present.
I like a warm house. That we've not yet figured out how to dampen the wood furnace properly pleases me.
The laptop -- our sole computer -- holds 60 gigs. So does the iPod. What with photos, software, and room for the occasional word document, that leaves the 'Pod glass perennially 2/3 full. Or is it 1/3 empty?
Two short-attention-span kids + an endless number of short clips from classic Sesame Street episodes on YouTube = three nights running of postprandial snuggletime.
If the natural trend of the universe is entropic, why do we clean the house again?
You know how, on late eighties sitcoms, they've got that hilariously wry handyman who never seems to finish that endless series of odd jobs? We're looking for one of those. I think his name is Mike.
"Mr F., you know what movie you need to see?" "No, Courtney, but it wouldn't matter unless it's rated G." We haven't had a proper date since the elderchild was born. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Used to be, the very mention of a bath would set the dog barking madly. Now it sets of the dog and both kids. Bubbles, Dada? Indeed.
Blogger's cut their users off from their FTP accounts as of the 31st. Note to self: after three years, it's probably a bit late to update the old about boyhowdy pages anyway. Want to know more? Read it anyway, and extrapolate from there.
Reason #4,572 why my wife rocks: the local consumer bureau is paying us thirty bucks to use two packs of diapers we'd have bought anyway, and all we have to do is answer a few easy questions online and call for our check. I'd give details, but we're not supposed to tell anyone. Shhhh...
Reason #4,573: The wee one's caterpillar costume won a prize at the town hall after the Halloween parade.
In a universal nod to fairness, the elderchild's butterfly fairy photo showed up full color in the local paper two days later. I'd post the pic, but they're a bit too local for that.
In other news, there's nothing like an almostfull moon in a clear sky the first night it freezes over. Stay here awhile, baby: it's cold outside.
A holy host of new words from the wee one this week speak to the growing awareness of selfhood and separation. We adapt to her needs, offer her opportunity where just last month we did it for her, wait for her first try to fail, hold ourselves back until we are asked for help.
Then, tonight, as we dance in the lights-off living room, wrists aglow with summer's leftover lightsticks, a new word comes: own, as in "I'm going off on my own for a while."
Mama comes back from the bathroom alone to tell me about it. And off goes the wee one, stalking herself in the dark.
On some basic level, language is freedom. Speaking up and speaking out make the difference between slave and freedman, between own life and owned life. Witness the language of the baby, who cannot speak for herself; witness, too, the self-censored silences of untenured wage slaves, the yes men nodding in the silent boardroom as the doomed ship goes ever onward towards the reefs. In ancient societies, cutting out the tongue was an act of disempowerment in many ways more severe than excommunication.
As an expression of inner voice, words are more than mere evidence of mind. It is a truism in teaching that the ability to verbalize is paramount for those who would develop clarity of thought. The inner grok, the empathic awareness, the epiphanic brainburst have value, to be sure. But if you can't put it into words, we say, you can't truly be said to comprehend.
Thus, we celebrate Cassia's new words, and the development we infer from it. How wonderful to have a child that wants to try. How blessed we are to have a kid that sees herself as self. How beloved we feel, to know that she trusts us to be here, if she needs us, and when she returns.
But you can't have selfhood without personal loss when you're a parent. How ironic, I think, that the goal of a parent is to teach that which we have put aside in order that we might have children in the first place. How wonderful and strange to realize that giving up my independence was but the first, vital step towards her own first steps away from us, and towards herself.
Someday, God willing, she will walk towards us again on adult legs, head held high, clear of thought and tongue, moving of her own volition. In the meanwhile, God give me the strength to step aside, and gladly, that she might come into her own.
It's raining now -- all high winds and falling limbs, in fact -- but yesterday before the storm took the rest of this season's leaves down from our towering oaks, the elderkid and I had some fun with the leafblower. Full flickrset here; samples below.
Hard not to end up a bit depressed after thinking about death so much, I suppose. The dark, cold nights don't help. But I can't help thinking: if work weren't a thing to endure these days, I'd have weathered it better.
Then can I walk beside you I have come here to lose the smog And I feel to be a cog in something turning Well maybe it is just the time of year Or maybe its the time of man I dont know who l am But you know life is for learning -- Joni Mitchell, Woodstock
My name is boyhowdy, and I'm a blogger.
Once I wrote in this space several times a day. Four years ago when things were new; three years ago, when the life of the mind was rich and renewed; a year and a half ago, when the world was falling apart; a year ago, when it all fell back together again.
In the past month, I've averaged one post a week.
It's not just that nothing's new, though I suppose in some way the mundania of it all is starting to shine through, like tin under the gold plate of an insincere marriage. It's not just that I've mined my past until the cavernous shafts are all that remains, though it's hard, sometimes, to remember which tiny remnants might still be there, buried under the discard pile.
On Friday, I was alive and light of heart for the first time in months. For the first time in years, I got to be a part of one of those perfect oldfriends parties, where intimacy is the name of the game, and you stay up late eating comfort food and talking about everything there is to talk about. Those rare nights, where you never seem to be without a drink, but you never get really drunk, and you never lose that happy, babbling glow.
On Saturday, after a slow hilarous morning, pancakes and bacon and coffee by the koi pond, comfortable in everyone's nightclothes, we caravaned it over to the annual meeting of the minds -- thirty crew chiefs, the heart and soul of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, our home away from home. Where I was more appreciated, more genuinely celebrated for both who I am and what I have done with the world, than I've felt at work in a good, long time, not since the novelty wore off.
Once, I would have rushed home to blog it all: the friendly faces, the thousand thank yous, the nods of approval, the ideas, the love, the shared sense of purpose. The chicken pecking at my feet as the roundrobin crew chief reports slowly wound their way around a circle of folding chairs still cold from their barn storage space. The glasses we smuggled from the pizza place, ice and all in our coat pockets out the door midmeal, so we might remember this night forever.
In the car on the way home the language would begin taking on the rhythm of the road, my heart, the wind through the crackedopen window. By the time I hit the turnpike, I'd be scribbling fragments to myself in the dark, desperately trying to hold on to the overwhelming, perfect structure of the ten 'graf entry forming unbidden in my head.
Less than a month to go until my four year bloggiversary, and I'm fighting to tear this one out before it disappates.
Brain be damned; rut be cursed. I need this blog, need you, need the regular rush of language. I hate what I'm turning into. I hate that I only feel this alive one weekend in ten. I hate that the language is leaving my life.
We are stardust. We are golden. And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden...
Every day it's the same. Alarm at 5:20, down in the dark for the bathrobe by the bathroom door, flip the coffee switch on my way outside for the first cigarette, shiver in the dark, reading by the porch light. Finish, head right for the now-glistening java on my way back inside, pour the milk by the refrigerator light. Settle in by the computer in the otherwise-dark with that first golden cup: check the email, play a few rounds of weboggle.
When the clock says six, I pack up the computer, leave it by the door by my shoes, belt, wallet and keys, head out for a second cig, refill on the way out.
Coming in, the cup is stil half-full, or half-empty, I suppose. The shower beckons.
I hang my clothes in the bathroom the night before. I fill the coffee pot with water, filter, grounds, rinse the travel mug. When I disrobe for my shower, I hang the bathrobe where it will need to be for tomorrow's darkened awakening.
The coffee goes on the first surface inside, so my hands are free to put the toothpaste on my finger; in the shower, I'll transfer it to the brush, and do my teeth with my whole head immersed. The watch goes just so on the sinkside, next to that second cup; I'll finish the now-cold coffee between pants and socks, there in the still-warm damp before opening the door into the new day.
From here, it's all downhill: the hair cream in the unfogged mirror, the flip of the fan to clear the last moisture out of the air, the trip upstairs for forehead kisses all around, the final pocket assembly by the counter, lights out behind me.
I realized this morning as I bumbled through my daily ablution that I no longer think about the day ahead as I prepare for it. A minimum of movement, a grace in grogginess, everything on its way to the next thing, a well-oiled machine am I.
The ritual takes the place of the preparation. It's as if the walkthough was all there is. Meditation, or man's measure? Survival, or careful planning? Either way, the start of another day.
Sleepless in almostwinter, the sky still dark, I am awoken at six in the morning by the wee one waving a waning-light flashlight in my face, asking for batrees. Clok?, she asks, pointing above my head. And in my half-awake stupor, it takes a moment to realize she's asking me to switch out the unseen power from one object to another. Pretty subtle, for a little kid.
It's her half birthday today. At eighteen months her vocabulary has grown to almost a hundred words, though not all are clear. And she still won't use more than one at a time, unless you count the sequence of sounds that comprise Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in babblese.
But she's forever on the cusp of full language, prepped with nouns and adjectives and verbs, a few sounds. She can finish every line of her favorite songs with the right word; knows the names of a dozen family members, twice as many foods. Some words, like in every kid's development, seem to have come from nowhere (what do you say when you burp, we say? Beep!).
So far this morning, we've talked of snak -- appies, nuts, mik -- and settled on fissies (What do you say, Cassia? nak nu!). She's gone to the door to look for the moon, watched Daddy make cafi, and asked for batteries until the mind moved on.
Watching her come fully awake is like watching a seed grow. At first, the wee one and I glaze over to Boohbah, an old tape made by my mother when we first tried the telly with the elderchild oh, so long ago. We watch it twice together, talking our way through, like an ex-media teacher should when watching television with a kid far too young. She sways along with the fuzzy wide-eyed blobs, first in my arms, then, more independent, on the carpet in front of the television, solo with the screen, grinning like a madman, laughing with glee in the otherwise silence, learning to jump with fierce concentration.
By now, she's running in circles behind me, humming along, rolling and tumbling and spinning in almost-control of her body. In a half an hour, she's moved from identifying with the Boobahs themselves to trying out the movements of the live-action, look-what-I-can-do kids portrayed between the scenes. She's fast with the fast music, slow with the slow, almost on the beat, almost okay on her own, except that she wants to be sure I'm here, enough to come over every few minutes to touch my hand, look at my face, laugh, go back to her play.
Maybe she isn't too young, after all. In the context of the usual daytime I experience, she looks so small against her sister; though their constant struggle for place and self has become a bit more manageable in the past few weeks, it's still rare to know them for themselves, outside of the sibling struggle.
But kids aren't statistics; each one needs what she needs, and those of us with more than one of them must constantly struggle to give them their individual attention in a constantly shared environment. And this one is, to my surprise, more awake, more human here in the early morning than she is in the late post-work afternoons that, usually, are my only lot with her.
God bless the one that can take us by the hand, lead us downstairs in the morning long before her sister arises, and, in doing so, give us the time to finally see them in their own growing light.
Postscript: First sentence: Daddy, Dance! Ten minutes of frantic, hilarious carpetwiggling later, she fell asleep in my arms watching Elmo. She may be growing up, but she'll always be my sweet little girl.
So many days of full steam ahead, though it started a bit oddly when I got pulled from the classroom after the first fifteen minutes of class Tuesday to go off and grade 7th grade standardized essay tests, which I secretly enjoy, because it's so often hilarious. Didn't miss much back at school -- it was to have been my slow day this week. Ah, well -- my students seemed to do okay researching their "moment in computer history" without me there to constantly derail them with tangential trivia.
Yesterday at work we did a dry run of our emergency lockdown procedures. The cops brought the dogs in to check lockers while we huddled on our classroom floors in groups of twentyfive, behind closed curtains, locked doors, silent, in darkness. Twenty minutes never passed so slowly. But it's better to be sure, I guess.
Back to normality today, or what passes for ritual in the specialist's everchanging world. The lab's still busy, what with both 8th and 7th grade science projects in the last throes of completion, and my own students are mid-research, but while they cut and paste their pix from google I've got enough time for overdue paperwork. In the end, I fill up an hour's worth of tweenminutes with a hundred emails, a rewrite of the old and out-of-date citation standards for the school, a draft list of school technology project needs for the principal.
All the stuff once pending, now finally out of the way.
Back home the leaves have turned our lawn a bright yellow orange. The driveway is wet from the rain, slick with rotting, fallen foliage, and it takes two tries to get the old couchmobile up the turn. The kids have been home all day with mama, uncleaning in her wake, and it's good to bring some energy home.
Some, anyway. I still fall asleep on the couch before supper.
It's darker now when I rise, as if that were possible; dark when, dressed and showered but as yet unbrushed, I tread lightly upstairs to kiss the girls goodbye; dark, still, when I check my pockets, gather up the laptop, the third cup of coffee, the keys, head out the door. The garage door rises at the push of a sunvisor button to reveal the faint deepsea blue of a wakening morning, and I am off to another day.
The weatherman predicts a cold night, but it's still damp and warm outside, the humid air holding back the first true frost. Who knows how close we are to the edge? Let us celebrate the autumn while we may, for snow is coming.
Sometimes, the best thing about having a blog is everything else.
Pity the main reason I'm avoiding this space is that my life has become temporarily consumed by the unbloggable bits. Well, that, and the sad fact that surely no one wants to hear about how much I hate shaving.
Rocking horse (Oak, Provincal stain) from Kloter Farms
Even beyond the car dealership inventory sales, in our nexk of the woods, at least, the universe of commerce and community comes out for Columbus Day in droves. The fall foliage is at its peak, so the buying season is on its cusp before New England hunkers down for winter. Greenhouses hold last-gasp hayride festivals; orchards feature this year's last apples and the first, best picks of the pumpkin patch.
So, with little to do on the first of a three day weekend and a holy host of deck and playstructure ideas to test out in full, we headed across the Connecticut border to Kloter Farms for their annual kid-friendly fall festival.
Imagine, if you will, a dozen or more playstructures, ready to sell, all filled with children; a clown making balloon animals; a pumpkin painting station; free barbecue and cookies and cider for all. Imagine just the right amount of kids to keep things feeling festive, but not enough to cause lines or conflict at the swings or facepainting stations. Imagine a two-car steam train running through it all, steam whistling and bell clanging just often enough to avoid a wait, a sneaky, snaky way to pull parents across the totality of backlot inventory while their wee ones hoot and holler.
Imagine, too, a family prepared for the full brunt of their children's antisocial behavior -- this is, after all, a kid who threw a full-bore tantrum at the local playground just yesterday because we were trying to teach her to pump the swings instead of just pushing her forever -- only to discover that something about the crisp fall weather and the part atmosphere had coincided to create the perfect behavior for the perfect day.
When we asked her to move on to another activity, she did so willingly. It was like having someone else's kid, or the kid we always wished for, or maybe just the kid we thought we had, once, before the long struggle began.
Maybe it's an anomaly. Maybe it's a turning point. Either way, it was worthy of reward, and we gave willingly.
Willow was in such rare form -- manageable, happy, and willing to take direction -- we bought her the showroom rocking horse we'd been eyeing for ages. Sure, someday soon the rockers will come down on her sister's foot. But the more kids you have, the more precious and rare those perfect days, where everyone is in the right spirits, will come along. And for a long while, now, we've been starting to think we might be plumb out of days.
After a quick trip back to the warehouse to switch it out for the golden oak finish instead of the provincal featured above, it just fit in our trunk. Looks great in our living room, too, in that hole between the barstools and the oversized chair. Winter will come to the window behind it; surely some stress will mark the majority of our days. But today will ride forever, into the sunset of our memories. Finally, after years of waiting for the right moment, kid and horse fill the perfect spot in our hearts, our house, our home.
Driving over the mountain, startling crows from the yellow lines as I whiz through on my way to work, pink sky in the rear view mirror, the bright reds and oranges of autumn all around me.
Teaching far too much without a planning period in sight, since every teacher wants their classes to start their first project off with a trip to the lab for instruction in everything from Publisher to better research to creating their first formal wordprocessed papers.
Leadership training today for the district-wide professional day -- a great systems thinking workshop chock full of fun moments and nifty new management tools, plus it was just an honor to be asked to attend.
At the playground with the kids, at least until Willow flipped out. If anyone has ideas about how to get a kid to learn how to swing, I'm all ears -- she just won't listen to instruction well enough to understand how to pump against the swing, instead of with its motion.
Searching the byways of our little rural town for milkweed, so our little be-jarred monarch caterpillar can stuff himself, and -- if all goes well -- we can have a butterfly to release come springtime.
At the sliding door, watching the setting sun dapple the newly cleared yard, and the trees that we've just contracted to cut down next week -- which will leave an even greater area, mulch piled at the edge, ready for seeding, leveling, landscaping, and spring. And for swings, God help us. Though I'm determined to include, as well, a fully enclosed treehouse, so when the kids fly away some day, they don't go too far.
I hate quotations. Tell me what you know. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
And you know, when you study the semiotics of Through the Looking Glass or watch every episode of Star Trek, you've got to make it pay off, so you throw a lot of study references into whatever you do later in life. - Matt Groening
She wrote secret web pages with gentle empty spaces where the universe could creep in and rest when it got overwhelmed. - Robin Williams
Cable news networks...often act as if the best way to present information is to serve the viewer two opposing advocates battling it out. But in many instances, this ends up confusing rather than illuminating. Not every fact is debatable, not every opinion equal -- or worth equal time. - David Corn
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur C. Clarke
This "telephone" has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no use to us. - Western Union internal memo, 1876
The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular? - David Sarnoff's associates, in response to his urging for investment in radio, 1920s
Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons. - Popular Mechanics, 1949
There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home. - Ken Olson, President and founder of Digital, 1977
Subject: HIGH TECHNIQUE ELECTRICAL HOME APPLIANCES---COMPUTERIZE GAS KITCHEN
Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2002 08:53:27 +0000 (UTC)
From: "MRS WANG"
Organization: FUJIAN HUALI TECHNOLOGY CREATING CO,LTD
Do you like to comprehend a computer housemaid ? Do you like to own a blue soldier ? Today , SHIELD gives you the answer .
SHIELD is a computerize gas kitchen which is controlled automatically and intelligently. It is a world wide invention , is a new generation of the gas kitchen..
What is the benefits that SHIELD brings to us ? Firstly , it will relieve you out of the kitchen ,you shouldn't be in when you cook the food .Second ,it solved the problem that the food would be burned ,the soup be out and the gas be leaked .And it will make your family safer and healthier.
Do you want to understand much more merits about SHIELD? Please see the followings:
1. amounts and the kinds of food (boiling water, porridge, rice , soup ,fish ,meat ,medicine), SHIELD will regulate the temperature and time to cook automatically ,and the soap won't be out ,the food won't be burned .It will turn off the electric and gas source by itself ,and tell you by springing out the music .
2. when needing and you can set five times to light fire .
3. ,it will send out a big fire ,and when the temperature reached 100 ,it would change the flame .If the temperature is below 100 ,it will turn to be a big fire ,and keep the flame blue .The containing of CO is less than 0.04% of total .(standard :less than 0.05%) . And then it reduced the pollute .
4. B"CAutomatically limit the time of offering gas :It is 30 minutes that offering the gas. When cooking ,it won't be out whenever it is blew or watered .Because when the fire is out , it will light automatically. When the gas leaked ,the density reached up a level or the temperature of the platform is over 80 ,SHIELD will warn you and turn off the electric and gas source .
5. need ,it can set the temperature and heat the food by itself .
6. according to the container .
7. 70.51%(standard :higher than 55%).Comparing to the common gas kitchen ,it can save more than 40%source of total .
8. natural gas and marsh gas to cook , also can use many kinds of pans, such as iron pan ,aluminum pan and high pressured pan. SHIELD computerize gas kitchen is a housemaid , is a soldier .Is there anything more important than the safety and health of your family ?
Let us share more happy in our lives .Not to bore for the burned food, not to be sad for no time for cooking .For you love your family ,please begin with SHIELD .Possessing SHIELD is possessing love .