Late Summer

The yard is utterly overgrown. I wave to my neighbor through a tangle of grapevine and mow a path alongside the explosion of honeysuckle. Volunteer mulberry trees appear out of nowhere, three feet tall before I even notice them. How can this be?

A far corner of the lot out back goes unmowed season after season, all shaded and wooded and strung with yet more grapevine, Virginia creeper, English ivy. My insurance company tells me it all must go, the insistent vines and intrusive saplings that threaten the integrity of the nearby garage.

This is Indiana, and the abundant flora will have its way.

The Oval One was in town last week. It was billed as a rally, which is to say, a campaign event. It never ends, the campaigning.  Two of my friends were there, dressed as Handmaids in red cloaks and white bonnets. One of them even made it into the venue before being escorted back out to the sidewalk by two men who weren’t interested in parsing her First Amendment rights.

Lock her up, lock her up.

My writing practice is giving me grief; I’d like to blame the Huckster-in-Chief for sucking all the oxygen out of the room, but it’s not his fault. (Surprise! Not everything is his fault!)  I am summered out, lazy and without direction, in need of something I know not what.  I go outside and breathe in the last of the fragrant honeysuckle, and tell myself I’ll cut it back to a manageable size next spring.


If It Breaks

Was it ever the case that the times weren’t hard and the money wasn’t short? So asked Emerson, friend of Henry by the Pond, gentle scold and scholar. I remind myself of this when the times feel too hard, the money too short.

The cicadas thrum in the humid August evening and the air conditioning kicks in. Luxury.

A decade ago this fall, as I approached a Significant Birthday, I was hard at work on a book. It was to be my first, and I was determined to publish it before that birthday. It didn’t need to be great. It didn’t need to be well-received. It just had to be done.

It got done.

I’ve published two others since then. It’s a thing. Like getting a tattoo. Once you have one, you can’t help but want more. Or so I hear.

I like words, strung out along the page, making meaning where they can, meeting up with a reader and making yet another meaning. Different, because we are all so very different, yet so much the same, at least in our love for words and our desire to inhabit a creative life.

What is that, a creative life?

My friend Eric carves bears out of giant logs. Every so often he and his spouse load up a trailer and take his chainsaw bears to a flea market in Louisville to sell them. I don’t think he’s motivated by the prospect of a sale when he’s carving. I think he carves to carve. And then there are suddenly all these bears, and a trip to Louisville is in order.

I think it’s like that with words, too. That there are suddenly so many of them, and a book is in order.

When I was painting more, my paintings would accumulate until there was no room in the house for them. What then? Rather than rent a storage unit or give them all away, I opened a little gallery. In it I put my own paintings and the paintings and artwork of friends. Chainsaw-bear Eric contributed a sculpture of a bird. With an egg. When he brought it to me I didn’t realize the egg was an actual egg, it’s innards blown out through a tiny pinhole, leaving only the perfect, delicate shell.

Which I dropped.


He came back with another egg. Because that’s what you do.

Times are always hard. Money is always short. Make the art anyway. If it breaks, make it again. Find another egg.

A Tree is Someone

They asked us: if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

I said: if there is a woods, then there is always someone. Tens of thousands of someones. Millions of someones. In every woods.

Even the falling tree is someone.

It’s arrogant to think you have to be human to be someone.

Boomers & Stickers

There are boomers and there are stickers, wrote Wallace Stegner: those who need to go and those who need to stay. The boomers push on, restless and searching, the stickers linger, setting up towns and local governance.

My introduction to Stegner was Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. I’m not sure if this is where the boomer/sticker notion first surfaced; I suspect you’ll find it — at least thematically — in his fiction, as well. Over the years it’s been picked up by community-builders and church-builders and was the launching point for this lecture from Wendell Berry.

A preponderance of those who reference the boomer/sticker dichotomy seem to favor the stickers: those who put down roots and participate in the work of building communities and local economies. Boomers get the side-eye, described by turns as opportunists, gold-diggers (literally), fortune-seekers, rootless, greedy.

But surely people set out for the territories for reasons other than greed and acquisitiveness, just as those who stay don’t always do so out of any great affection for a particular place. Sometimes folks just get stuck.

I like this song by James McMurtry.

“Flatter than a tabletop
makes you wonder why they stopped here
wagon must have lost a wheel
or they lacked ambition one.”

Flood Stage

All day long it’s been raining. The river is crazy high.

Driving home, I saw three news vans parked at a scenic point, cameras aimed at the swollen Ohio.

There will be floods. Every year there are floods.

The floods make things rough on the city’s aging and non-EPA-compliant sewer system that co-mingles storm runoff with sewer flow. It’s something cities aren’t supposed to do, but apparently our city didn’t get the memo.

Or threw it in the trash. You’re not the boss of me.

After decades of non-compliance, the city was finally sued by the EPA . Now they have to fix things, and of course the burden of payment falls on current residents, who didn’t make the decision to ignore accepted practices (or common sense) but will pay for the bad choices of those who did. So it goes.

It’s not like city officials didn’t know they were dumping raw sewage directly into a river that is the source of drinking water for some three million people.

They knew. They just didn’t care enough to fix the problem until the EPA lawsuit forced their hand.

Can’t make me. Don’t want to.

It’s such a human response, to put off until we can put off no longer. Nobody likes to do maintenance. Which is why the hard-working Ohio River — known as Belle Rivière a mere 100 years ago — is today the dirtiest river in the country.

But tell me more, please, about how those government regulations are the real problem.

666 Fifth Avenue

They call it “real estate” but beyond a certain point there’s nothing real about it. It’s just money in search of a place to land.

My curiosity about Jared Kushner’s finances is idle, fueled in large part by the street address of his company’s most infamous holding, the 666 Fifth Avenue building that was purchased in 2006 for a record-setting $1.8 billion, all but $50 million borrowed.

The building is apparently now worth more as dirt, according to those in the know.

I am not in the know. But I’m reading this article from Bloomberg that came out last summer and thinking, this is what the media and the players in DC refer to when they talk about “the economy.” It’s not the place in which I go to work and pay my bills and buy the stuff I need from the supermarket down the road. No. It’s a parallel universe of whacked-up numbers representing nothing but speculation.

None of it is real.

Well. Until the bill comes due. Which, on 666 Fifth, is in about a year.

But of course by then something equally unreal will have come to pass, more creative financing of the sort you and I can barely fathom.

This economy of theirs is nothing more than a digital game of hot potato. Pass the debt along. Pass it along again. Until one day it comes to rest in the hands — and on the backs — of ordinary people like you and me. At which point it will, at last, become real.