Monday, October 30, 2006

Thinking Out Loud 

Me. Mine. Self. Help.

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.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:05 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Autumn Leaves 

My little willow leaf
Never so happy being buried alive...

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.

Willowleaf 1 Willowleaf 2

Willowleaf3 Willowleaf4

posted by boyhowdy | 2:34 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Musical Elseblog
Death Cab Does Death Right 

Spent my blogging energy tonight over at music-sharing community Audiography, where the theme this week is Death.

If you haven't fallen in love with Death Cab For Cutie's brave, sweet, everhopeful lovesong I Will Follow You Into The Dark, you haven't lived.

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.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:35 PM | 0 comments

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back From The Garden
An Interlude, With Music 

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...

Click over to Yousendit for Eva Cassidy's cover of Woodstock.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:18 PM | 1 comments

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sorry About That 

Excuses here.

Seriously -- it was one of those weeks. Yesterday and today have been much, much better, though. More on that tomorrow.

Oh, and Darcie, if you're reading this...I miss you and the kids terribly.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:04 AM | 1 comments

Monday, October 16, 2006

Confessions of an Addict 

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.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:28 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, October 14, 2006


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.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:17 AM | 1 comments

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mundania De Lo Habitual 

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.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:10 PM | 0 comments

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stacking The Deck 

Talk about structured procrastination -- I just spent an hour writing a workblog entry on the ecology of learning spaces just to avoid writing here.

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.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:22 PM | 5 comments

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Horse Of A Different Color 

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.

posted by boyhowdy | 8:49 PM | 1 comments

Friday, October 06, 2006

Where I've Been 

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.

posted by boyhowdy | 6:38 PM | 1 comments

Monday, October 02, 2006


As last year and the year before, I've taken Yom Kippur off from work -- not to go to temple, but to spend some time in the wilderness of myself, and come to terms with the year's past.

I head off midmorning, towards the waterfall and the dam, through a neighborhood silent in the workday sun. Across the street the cows graze behind the fence; over my head, this year's wild grapevines hang low with fruit, ripe purple globes entwined among maple branches red-gold with the season.

I ford the stream to pick my place, find a flatter spot under the trees just that side of the spillthrough, where the rushing water and the mottled light on the newly carpeted forest floor provide a place for peace and reflection. I set up my chair, and reread last year's meditation, my own private Vidui, for strength and context:
We are guilty, O Lord
of pride in a job well done,
even when it comes at the expense of others.

We are guilty of playing to our strengths...

I take the pen and paper in my hand, try to clear my mind as blank as the pages before me. A chipmunk scurries across the rocks by my feet; the wind stirs a jay from his nest nearby. Clouds move past the sun. The river flows ever forward.

And then, nothing.

A year ago yesterday we spent our first night here, in a house not yet a home, but already a promise of newness and survival after months on the road, the four of us evicted wanderers, jobless and worried, our lives and safety at the mercy of friends and family. The convenience of the time frame encapsulates the year nicely, like a well-wrapped present.

But atonement was easier when everything was new, and the world was suddenly no longer all wrong. It's easier to make amends when the future looks so bright and the past is so rootless. Examining the heart in the midst of a new beginning is to natural as to go without saying.

This year's underpinnings are more subtle, more private: a still-unexplained illness, a growing discomfort with the way our nested lives have grown static under our feet and all around us.

I have so much to atone for this year. But I fear I was easier to forgive -- both for others, and for myself -- when we were coming off that year of homelessness and hope.

Too, here -- at the base of the dam's far side, where high rocks hide the floodwaters -- it is hard to feel authentic about anything, really. The things I should atone for are so much more subtle, so tangled in a life of place and purpose, that they seem impossible to isolate, let alone explore, like fat, dark grapes hidden behind the bright turning leaves.

If I could wish for a better context, some light to illuminate my faults -- some Godblown wind to clear the trees of my heart of these obscuring leaves -- I would.

But atonement postponed is atonement unrealized, and I am blessed to be part of a religion that mandates such reflection. The time is ripe, though I may not see the fruit; it is better to offer these grapes, however hidden from my view, than to miss the moment, and pass through the liminal still unwritten in the book of life.

So, as last year, and the years before:
For all those offended, regardless of intent or personal gain, I offer my sincere apology. You deserve better; I love you more than I may have said, and I apologize.

Even if you never noticed my lapses, or I never noticed, or we shared the experience without the name; even if I made you happy, and it was not as much as I could have: I could do better by you.

In this time of self-exploration, or recommitment, of sorrow and yearning for betterment, I commit myself to you, and your betterment, and ask that you hold me to it.

May we be blessed enough to be inscribed in the book of life for another year together, side by side. And may we be honored, one day in the long distant future, to see those inscriptions, and smile, and remember each other fondly, and have more fondness to remember than we could ever have pain.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:29 PM | 3 comments
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