Rebel

Yesterday I took Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies quiz.  Apparently I am a Rebel. I thought I was just unemployable.

I also listened to a marketing podcast that cautioned against daily blogging.

The best advice I ever got came from a novelist who was writing from the perspective of a seagull: “Go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be who you want to be. Live.”

I read that book at a very impressionable age.

Apparently.

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In the News

In the news about deportations to countries less worthy
I heard a chance remark

keywords: poverty, extreme

a rhetorical question of how one might fare if given the boot
after living so long in the Promised Land

to go from so much to so very little

Yes, yes, it’s true: newsroom pencils break along fault lines
like pencils everywhere, those in my desk drawer
are not immune, the disinclination to connect all the dots,
it’s a tool of survival, yours, mine, and theirs.

First rule of dysfunction: don’t see the dysfunction.

And yet, and yet, how hard you must work to not see.

All along the back roads of eastern Kentucky, through Tennessee
hollers, past the shorn mountaintops of West Virginia, north
to the future of rust belt ghostwalks, these inglorious ruins
of hollowed-out empire

Keywords: poverty, extreme

Drive at your own risk, fill your tank at the Quik-Mart,
grab a donut like a local, walk the boarded up Main Street,
sugar-fueled, past the queue of shabby coats and unshaven faces
waiting outside the door of the plasma center,

random dots, haphazard humans,

your pocketed notepad, your unsharpened pencil,
the rule of the unseeing eye.

Popcorn

My music partner and I played a benefit gig last night in a middle school auditorium in a tidy little town about an hour’s drive from home. We took the interstate as far as we could, then traveled Indiana back roads past fields still blanketed with last week’s snowfall, silos white-capped, the moon a skinny crescent in the sky.

The middle school campus was vast. The stage was deep. The audience was receptive. It was a sweet gig.

And then on the way home, we got lost.

Well, lost. Both my partner and his wife, who’d come along with us, had gps mapping and navigation on their smartphones. So we weren’t really lost, we were conflicted.

They were conflicted. I was just along for the ride. Hello, moon.

Their devices were giving contradictory directions. One said go, the other said stop. We did a little of both, and found ourselves deep in the part of south-central Indiana where the gentle hills circumscribe your whereabouts and the roads don’t have names, they have numbers and directional tags.

The one I remember was North County Road 490 Southwest.

It doesn’t have quite the right cadence for a song title, but maybe. Maybe.

Lucinda Williams on the audio system. The ding-ding-ding of the “your vehicle is low on gasoline” indicator. My bickering friends: You said. No, you said. The relief of pulling up to a gas pump. The silent recrimination that would not dissipate.

Inside the mini-mart I bought a little bucket of popcorn from the self-service popcorn machine, hoping it wouldn’t be overly salted. It wasn’t. I enjoyed it all the way back home.

Hobbies

Here’s a word that makes me recoil: monetize.

As in, how can we monetize this blog, this bit of art-making, this penchant for scribbling poems at 3 a.m.? How can we turn this thing that gives us joy into a thing that gives us money?

How about, let’s just not.

Let’s let hobbies be hobbies. Things that we do for the sole pleasure of doing them. It seems especially important now, when everything everywhere is tipping us toward some sort of sales funnel.

Another term from which I recoil.

From Austin Kleon, on how the British may be better at enjoying hobbies than are those of us in the States: “As our empire crumbles, we would do well to observe how citizens of former empires enjoy a nice pint, a ramble, and a bit of tinkering.”

Economy

It’s hard to imagine an economy without money.

I imagine it, though, whenever I buy vegetables from Missy’s little grocery and then Missy has lunch at the cafe. The money circulates between us, but it’s really just representational, a way to keep the interaction fair. We’re bartering, even as we pass the same ten dollars back and forth.

It’s so simple.

Except, of course, at the end of the week, only one of us can deposit that ten dollars into our bank account and use it to pay our bills. Missy can’t pay her vendor with my soup. I can’t trade Missy’s avocados for gasoline at the Marathon station.

Those of us raised under the western mindset were pretty well inculcated with the notion that bartering to meet daily needs is a primitive form of economic exchange. Regressive, even. Something undertaken by those whose cultures — or households — are deficient, backward, unready or unable to join the great material continuum known as the money economy.

But its scale — which is relational and specific rather than abstract — is so much more satisfying. At least to me.

So I figure it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A little barter around the edges of the money economy may not make a measurable difference to the numbers people in offices far away — though if they’re in government, they’re sure to want to tax it somehow — but it makes a difference to those of us engaged in it. It offers the opportunity to move at least some of our exchanges from transaction to interaction as we go about the business of meeting our daily needs.

And that’s not nothing.

Tara

This morning I backed out of my driveway, slid into a snow pile, and got stuck.

The snow pile was a ridge of packed snow left by a passing plow. The snow had started out all fluffy and white, but after a few thaw-and-freeze cycles it had become stiff and unyielding, stained with car exhaust, the color of bruised fruit.

My wheels spun.

I rocked the car, I turned the wheels, I got out and kicked the snow from around the tires.

Stuck. And blocking my little street, which is technically a two-lane street, but let’s be real here. When it snows, all these streets become one lane.

I glanced up to see a delivery truck coming around the corner. I looked in the other direction to see an enormous pickup truck coming down the hill.

“I’m stuck,” I said to the young man who climbed out of the delivery truck, as if it weren’t obvious. Behind me, the pickup truck slowed to a stop and a woman leaned out the driver’s side window. “Want me to pull you out?”

Pull me out? “Yes, please.”

She got out of the truck with a fat chain and attached one end to the underside of my little car, the other to her truck. She was wearing a hoodie and sweatpants. No gloves, no hat. She was not dressed for the weather.

I asked her if she lived nearby.

“One house over. It’s the house I grew up in. I just bought it.” She stood up. “My furnace when out two days ago. We’ve been heating with space heaters.” She nodded toward the delivery truck.  “They’re bringing me a new furnace, but they can’t get up the hill, so we’re going to put it on my truck and take it in the back way.”

I got into my car, shifted into neutral. Felt the chain go taut, and just like that I was dragged backward out of the snow pile.

Her name is Tara. She lives one house over, in her childhood home. For the past two days in near-zero temperatures she’s been without a furnace. I hope her new one went in without a hitch, and she’s warm tonight.

I think I’ll take her a pot of soup.

Unmediated

I love a good tv show. I really do. But I haven’t turned on my tv in a long time.

Sometime in 2016 I thought I might practice living a life a little less mediated — less at the mercy of someone else’s idea of what stories I should carry with me, what images, what narrative.

Not so I could replace them with my own stories, images, narrative. But so I could replace them with nothing.

Nothing but space.

Life being life, I knew other things would pour in to fill the void. I wasn’t so concerned about that. If I removed one thing, I figured I could remove another. Re-commit as needed to holding the space.

It wasn’t a once-and-for-all decision. It isn’t a never-again decision. It’s a decision for today. For now.

Sometimes I miss my shows. And I’ve no doubt I’ll find them again, find new ones, let a little tv back in at some point. But for today, for now, I really like the space that grows between the stories, between the images, between the thoughts.

It’s peaceful there.

I’m not sure I can have that peace and have my shows, too. So for now I choose the space.