Redeemed

June 27th, 2015

I watched the President sing ‘Amazing Grace’ this morning.

Perhaps I have a peculiar relationship to the things I say. I say them enthusiastically – grandly – with deep conviction and sincerity. So often, I am entirely wrong.

I am not wrong about this:

The President is a good man, singing a true song to an impossible people. He has overcome.

God? What are you doing?

June 18th, 2015

The corniest metaphor ever!

June 18th, 2015

Here it is: as far as meaning goes, I’m like a spreadsheet. Its contents don’t matter to a spreadsheet – only its users care.

This is hugely important to a spreadsheet’s survival – to it’s being started up in the first place. How it gives back what’s put into it determines everything: how many times it’s started, how often it’s used, how many other users find it and want to use it too.

It’s my use by others that is my life. All the attention and energy I put into managing my own content is simply dead time – I don’t learn what somebody else wants by looking at myself.

Jesus was famous for this: love your neighbor.

Science is pushing this: what you do for others – outright self-sacrifice – is where happiness comes from.

My life isn’t determined by anything I can understand from within. Self-reflection, therapy, soul-searching: it’s all dead time. I’m just an unused spreadsheet. The single dumb rule: ‘if you’re asked for your coat, give your shirt also’ – that’s life itself.

It seems bizarre and un-natural. If I don’t take care of myself first, how can I care for anyone else?

And so I don’t really care for anybody – and I’m disappointed and uncomfortable to my last gasp.

If I’m cut up and broken and lying in the road next to an unconscious stranger, with headlights bearing down on us, the best thing – for me – will be to push the stranger out of the way first.

(of course, try living that)

Closer to the top of the world

June 10th, 2015

I’ve just driven up to Fairbanks. It’s daylight all the time and I was hoping some of my darkness would go away. I’m in the third year of a single long temper tantrum. I had a sudden thought, sometime back, that maybe I could feel less alone if I got to know a stranger. I’ve been prevented – by my family, my moral history. By the stranger.

I’ve become bizarre, unpredictable, and dangerous. I went around to the various hawkers selling their explanations and tried to devote myself to ‘answers.’ But the entire mass of twentieth-century philosophical diarrhea came flooding out of a hole ripped open by a mechanical fallacy (‘I am what I think I am’) – and the world is full of smiling practitioners obsessed with self-content and babbling nonsense. I’ll have done with it.

There’s something new birthing in the world. I’m not feeling it first, but I feel it strongly because I was born with a mind that seeks excitement and disruption. What’s coming is disruptive indeed, but it’s invisible if you’re sitting still.

I going to die ‘now,’ which is a euphemism for – what? Thirty years? Forty?

That’s just a disappearance. I didn’t get to watch a ‘death’ for fifty-five odd years. I should have watched one sooner. There is absolutely nothing coming my way, and I’m not leaving anything behind. What should I do? Embrace the tautological stupidity of ‘be here now’ – as if I could sort out from a fiction some solid chunks of truth?

I’ve been screaming into the night. For a couple of days now, at least, I’m going to scream into the daytime.

‘invisible reality’

June 4th, 2015

The science indicates parental influence has very little to do with a child’s adult outcomes. That’s right parents: all your efforts, anxiety, and enthusiasm basically amount to self-exhortation – barring outright abuse, your kids will turn out the same no matter what.

This is hard to believe, so I’m forever trying to ‘do the right thing’ for my kids – and constantly explaining myself (to myself) by reference to my own childhood.

My mother was genuinely crazy, and if yours wasn’t you’ve got no idea what I’m talking about. She believed hers was a pivotal role in the history of humanity, and her own actions were going to bring about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was a very little boy when I decided this (probably) wasn’t true.

So we argued.

She argued in the way of the missionaries. She repeated her ‘truth’ over and over, with no discernable proof, by deploying what she felt was incontrovertible logic – if there is any ‘invisible reality’ at all, then the wildest imaginable realities might be true, and I couldn’t prove they’re not because they’re invisible.

I did the only thing a boy could do: I rejected the possibility of ‘invisible reality.’ This made for odd conversations (“don’t you believe air is real?”). It took her a long time to let go of me, but eventually she kept to proselytizing more ‘gullible’ characters.

Comes the man, and a little ‘invisible reality’ might be handy once in a while. ‘Love’ is an invisible reality, and I’m studying the science texts trying to discover the mechanical contexts for some kind of verifiable brain-to-brain communication so I’ll know that ‘love’ is real.

You’d think somehow I might just try believing in it. But the little boy knows what you’re up to.

 

Fast enough for me (?)

May 19th, 2015

A week before my mother died, I was busier than I remembered being. It was spring, and getting late for some of the yardwork (gardens have deadlines). The boys were constantly on the move. Lessons, shows, just get-togethers and parties (they must be driven to and fro – they must be fed!). I was working full time from my home office, stopping by to see mom whenever it fit into events. Then my wife caught the flu and lay down on our bed for five days.

I like it when situations become hopeless; when it’s unassailably impossible to keep all the balls in the air. I get to do just what must be done, without apology, and as efficiently as I can. I’m freed by circumstance from a sense of responsibility. I’m just a cog in some bigger machine, sloppily doing all, in fact, that ever will be done.

…about that water.

April 30th, 2015

It turns out, nobody’s any good at long term weather forecasting. I’ve been worried about my well going dry and I’d like to know how much it will be raining in the future. But there’s no telling.

Typically, when uncertain, I plan for the worst. The worst here, I suppose, would be no rain at all. But that’s like anticipating a global super virus. It’s hard to agree with death, so mostly we act like we’ll live forever.

Next worst thing would be lots less rain. Still some, just lots less. For this, I’ve thought extensively about digging a pond.

My neighbors will think I’m crazy. My friends will listen, and believe what they see. But here’s the thing: everyone agrees the well might run dry. Anyway, I’m not yet convinced that it won’t.

I try to imagine myself a ‘rational man;’ to consider what he would do in this situation. Normally, I’d say, ‘Assess the problem.’ But there’s no persuasive assessment of when this dryness might happen. It remains a devastating possibility. I wonder if I can insure against it.

Problem is, the drought fear is general, so everyone is infected by it. Conversations are met with uncertainties, usually dramatized as forceful opinions. Most people think the drought will simply end. No-one but me thinks seriously about catching their annual requirement from the sky.

So I think it alone.

With my wife and kids – using all these high water-efficiency appliances, I require a hundred-fifty gallons a day in my house. Aside from the appliances, we make no effort to conserve – so surely we could cut that to one hundred.

I can build a thirty-six thousand gallon cement tank outside my bedroom window. Filled once a year, I’ll have all the water my house needs. By any math I know (and unless it stops raining entirely), I could catch enough rain in my little pond to fill my big tank once a year in winter.

But perhaps I’m over-reacting to the drought hysteria. Perhaps the ‘most’ of the voices, repeating the easiest thing to believe – will be right!

The immensity of the pond project is intimidating. I’ve met a few guys who talk about fissures and depths of wells; had geology-laced conversations with people drinking from wells themselves. These talks are re-assuring, and we all tell ourselves the rain will come again.

Almost effortlessly, I move from thinking about water running out – to thinking about what I want to do with water. And this is much more pleasant!

I want the pond to swim in. Indeed, rather more like a pool than a pond. I want water for the many bushes and trees I’m planting; for the flowers the women love so much.

So instead of using my pond to survive an unlikely drought, then, I’ve simply added pond expertise to my over-all water-planning strategy!

Since I’m after a pool as much as a pond, it’s now for entertainment; for health – it’s necessary. And where it’s located, there really is no source right now but rainfall – no creek, no spring.

One thing I’ve learned is that a pond around here evaporates at a foot per month. So if it’s ten feet deep (and I take a foot a month for myself) the water simply can’t last a long summer. But now it’s my swimming pool and I need to fill it at the end of the dry season.

What to do?

In an excellent metaphor for understanding so much of my world today, at the end of my researches into how to survive if my pump starts pulling sand – I’ve decided to drill another well.

Earth

March 11th, 2015

Today I plowed up a quarter-acre of our grey clay. It’s not so great, on its own, for growing peas and cantaloupes. So I work with it. I turn under crops and bring in truckloads of mulch. Sometimes I even fertilize.

I like heavy work to exhaustion. My wife likes to plant flowers in newly turned soil. So I go out and move dirt. She comes along and adds beauty to it.

She’s fun to watch, moving around in the sunlight. Sad old love songs make no sense. I’ve been with her since the earth began. We rub up against each other and new things grow.

It’s impossibly rare, this friendship with my wife. I can close my eyes and remember how I loved her when we met. I can open them and love her like we just did.

 

Air

February 23rd, 2015

Yesterday I moved three posts in my garden. I set them in the ground last year to prop up raspberry vines, but the vines struggled under too much direct sunlight. There’s a shadier corner inside my fence, so yesterday I moved the berry posts over there.

It’s hard work setting a post, mostly in digging the hole. There’s a clapper-mouthed tool with two handles, so you can grab a chunk of earth and lift it out – then drop the tool back into the hole and grab another mouthful of dirt deeper down. There’s something about the physics of it – holding my arms out in front; pushing, squeezing, pulling up the earth – that exhausts me almost immediately. I test that feeling: to a point, right through the ache, summoning all my strength will move things just a little more – and then it won’t. All the force I can possibly muster fails, and my arms give up.

I’m trying to build a relationship with these few acres. I have a desire (most of us have forgotten) to be part of the ground I walk on; to think, “Here, I will grow this. Here, I will die.”

There are several acres, and I am just one man. If I chose to put in fifty posts, it would be easier. I would imagine where to put them and how they should look, then pay someone to do the job.

But I’m not here to look at the garden, really. Not that I don’t – I do a lot of staring at plants. It’s just that enjoyment isn’t my deep purpose for being here.

I’m lucky. I get real satisfaction from standing a post in the ground with my own hands; with getting dirt on my pants. And the ground changes. The land becomes more of me; of what I am. And it’s hard work. It strains me. If I am fortunate, I will be beneath my own trees on the day it strains me and I die.

Water

February 9th, 2015

I live on a few acres in the country. Our water comes from our well. As long as I remember, water came from household faucets. I didn’t think a lot about what the faucets were attached to. Now, I think about flow-meters and water softeners and holding tanks. Every other day or so, I think about drought.

Our well delivers four gallons each minute. I’ve been a lucky man and I have a nice house, and most of my money is tied up in it. If the well stops delivering, my house will be worthless (and I’ll be pumping enough to bathe in from a water truck).

Wells are going dry. The climate change debate has been locally mooted because the rain no longer falls. You can argue your heads off, but we’ve got action on the ground. What do you do when you’re your own water supply?

Well, you can try drilling deeper. Or drill a second well. If you can get a permit. One of the things about drought is, governments decide you can’t drill any more; something about conservation. So then, maybe, there’s the pond. Even in drought years a foot or so of water will fall. Our land miraculously has the natural contours to capture many thousands of gallons in a holding pond.

If it comes to it, the pond should fill with enough rain in winter to hold us through the months the well goes dry. More on this later…