Working hard or hardly working

There is a difference between exercise and labor.

Both can help your health, could cause injury, or swell ego. Except, physically demanding chores are a little different. When accomplished correctly, they leave behind a pile of split firewood, or dripping clean dishes, or a new row rolled over in the garden.

In a gym, this experience is for sale. The impact grows firm in sore muscles, or rinsed with expensive sweat down the drain in the shower after. For your money, you get strong and healthy, but only around repetitive motions specific to mindless machines, a heavy iron bar and round silver dumb-bell ears.

Even simple tasks like cutting grass, however, on your feet pushing a smoke puffing mower, or filling holes in the road, or turning compost over, or digging gardens by hand, exercises your thinking-organ as well.

Eyes, ears, mind must go to task with body, so as to not waste effort. Cause injury to yourself or others. Damage the yard. Break a tool. A tsk tsk task. It is as mentally engaging to get good, essential chores accomplished as it is physical.

Compared to mind numbing counting and losing track of turns around the track, rote transitions through this machine or that, stretching out on the mat, cardio, bodybuilding, athletic training for bookkeepers, an army of well-tended iron on wire cords.
Such monotone, even-tempered, routinized methods of getting into or maintaining desired shapes. It all becomes another way to measure ourselves against others.

Splitting firewood, cutting and hauling yard trash, moving earth, putting down power tools and doing the work by hand, won’t win you any speed or strength or body building competition. But it will make you stronger. And the gym has been in business longer.

Young Woman Washing Plates

Up a long exposed outdoor corridor lined in thirsty late summer grass, she walked. Hands still sheened from the olive oil she kept by the wash basin in her room. She can not keep them from cracking. The fire-hot water, barely not boiling, the lye in the soap, the constancy of filthy clay plates and white ceramic that came to her every color but white. Dust rose behind the fine gravel crunch beneath tight tied, unheeled leather shoes. A branch overhung the path snatched a pinch of dress around her backside, and she scoffed the plant as if it were the gardener. A smile fleeting from her face. At her basin. Her station. In more ways than maybe three. She would be standing in this spot for what seemed eternity.

The clarity, sharp outline of those working hands. Definition, in places it was not desired. Looking tired, only when no one else was watching. Smiling through the doorway at the woman baking bread. She dreamed of lining her hands in dough. More olive oil. Each time they dried, just long enough from the water, the air would touch the tiny pink crevice at the base of each cracked callus and close her eyes. She’d grip her wrist, twist in place, grind the balls of her feet and make an ungodly face. Then turn back to her smooth wooden washbowl like nothing happened. Nothing had. She had absolutely no one in the world to turn to. To even complain to. Like the path that leads from her empty room, she felt walled in and vine-wrapped and forgotten. The opposite of a bridge. The antithesis of a road. The wall. She could hear gulls on the other side. Ever so often, the voices of young children. Scraps leftover from lunches. Which led to the gulls, and children. Her assumption. She didn’t know. But how she could donate hours to wondering. Dreaming. Such earthwhile things.

A clink and a slosh as her table shifts under the weight of a new tower of meat greased plates. The hefty, top heavy man who set them there, oil stained up and down his front, like it had been pouring from his mouth down his chest, lingered. She kept her eyes downturned and reached for a dented pewter bowl she had been working on. The man dipped two fingers in the wash water, held them up in front of his face as if he had never seen fingers before, and tasted them both in his big dry mouth.

“Tastes more like day-old soup than dishwater.”

“Taste a lot of dishwater, do you?”

“Luce, you are a funny one. I’ll fetch you more hot water.”

“Thanks, darling.”

Two Thirty on a Tuesday in December

Five feet toe-tapping quarter notes beneath their seats. A kid in the crowd meows like a kitten and the audience howls. Some poor kid tried to clap between medleys. A teacher with a salt and pepper goatee and a baggy school hoodie on has four different smartphones in his palm. The lights are all up front. When anyone chirps into the microphone the whole system hums. Girlfriend leans on Boyfriend’s shoulder and the teacher sees and says nothing to her. Christmas music for high school students on a Tuesday afternoon in December. The Chorus dismembers and takes up instruments in their hands. They play Rudolph the Red Nosed Flat Note and We Wish You a Merry Solo. They sound perfect for what they are, as does the audience they play for. High School kids who bought two dollar tickets to get out of fourth period had no intention of paying attention to the show. Teachers with fourth period planning impressed into chaperones. The energy is palpable as kids cram together row by row, they know, there aren’t enough teachers to see all the hands. There isn’t enough light to see which mouth threw which knife. That’s what makes it a reward. And for the kids in the choir and band, they’re playing for the toughest audience of their careers: their adolescent peers. Every song speeds up from the start, from the nerves. Each shy note or apprehensive solo is heard. The kids in the crowd are distracted and loud but on the inside they could never do what they heckle. Imaginations set only to meddle. While those kids on the stage cling to metal, and do something with their breath akin to life after death, resuscitating inanimate objects into music.

The man with his back to the crowd shows them how every single day. The band director. The chorus teacher. Two English, two math, one science, all playing usher. It is for them, and they truly, shamelessly, despise us for it. Traps aren’t meant for the masses, but only the one. One animal in a trap could chew off a paw and get out. But three hundred kids, maybe twelve adults in the room, and the lights all turned down and the blinds all closed too, there’s no chewing off a limb. Two thirty on a Tuesday, last week of school, there’s no escape. It’s us or them.

The Voice

Take away the noise. The voice. The rippled ocean in the air. So that we are all ears. So that no one can hear. Except through the soles of their feet. Don’t pray with fingers intertwined but toes touching. Take a seat. Flee the heat. Fleet week. Anarchists in sailor’s uniforms. Soldiers by day, villains on the web. Spiders say thank you for your service while thinking damn I’m glad I’m not you, and I would send you into hell to save only the shadow of myself. Silhouetted soldiers on a bumper sticker on her car. It’s just a job. No one takes you so seriously as you do. No one is supposed to. Everyone will lie to your face and deny it under torture and declare they are honest. But in earnest, they disbelieve in the existence of the thing called truth. Some philosophical fragment encountered in their youth cautioned them into chaos. If education manufactured silent spaces, simply sought to take away the noise, no one would disbelieve the concept of truth. 

Swear on the past, equivocate the present, and promises for the future suture up the time in between. But no matter where you are looking, the proof is in the pudding. Can you imagine, coming to God, the real God, the only one we’ve got, having killed, murdered, in preservation of your own survival, and in reflecting on your own story, you can’t articulate the purpose of your life, the good you’ve done, the mountains you moved, nothing. You fought a war or sent soldiers into fire to save a forest you never explored. If a villain approached you with a blade and swore to end your life and you took nothing from them but the blade, you’d go to heaven with the real God there greeting you, beer mugs in both hands. If you went out on a frozen winter night and laid down in the woods and breathed in the roaring frothing air until it made you ice on the inside, God waits at the trailhead of your next adventure holding two glasses of wine. Take the pain because the pain came from the same thing the joy did and you’ll be there with all the ones you ever loved clutching sticky flutes of champagne. 

But if you go the other way, if you commit to kill a stranger because you are afraid to die, you could not enter heaven even cradled in the arm-crib of God itself. Even if that stranger was evil. It does not matter. The act of not desperately avoiding death would save a life, no matter the consequences, makes a better story. If you kill to stay alive, you better be able to articulate why. Why you. Why life. Life is an inheritance, not a recompense. You did nothing to deserve or earn this status. Killing picks up stones in the footbed of your soul. Which accrue, and grow, to become the very anchor that keeps you from ascending to the life that follows after life. You will be trapped in your own cocoon. Never taste nectar. Die a fat, insatiable caterpillar belly full of leaves, farmers cursing your name and gifting you blame. 

You call death what nature calls change. 

You are the powerful one in this equation. 

God is a third person omniscient narrator.

A disembodied voice offering us this choice.

You be my life after death, and I’ll be yours.

Craftsmanship

The most prevalent theological error seems to be believing God would use a human’s inner voice as a medium to relay instructions. How low and how little do you think of divinity? To choose a method with absolutely no objectivity. No. God is a real God and a God of the physical which the energetic plays like puppets on strings. It won’t whisper. God sings. God shakes the earth and lays down trees though they’ve never seen a saw. God moves in electrons within us all. And if God wants you to change, or do, or alter, or pick up an object and move, it will physically communicate that to you. And I argue, already is. But you don’t listen to your kids.

You graduated school. Now if anyone tries to teach you you defend your own intelligence and call them a fool. But you used to let yourself learn things, and chuckle at criticism. Your kids still do, and my best advice is listen to them. If I was a god, your inner voice would not be my first choice, I don’t know, I’d probably litter the sky with specks of light so dim they can only be seen at night. I’d give unparalleled powers to subatomic particles. And I’d make change subtle, slow, taken out of the hands of the individual and given to the dice-rolling, storm-blowing agents of chaos in the universe. I’d make it all about mutation. I’d put the germ inside the brick and set it loose on a leveled lot and sit back and watch. My favorite part of a garden is after the third weeding when the plants are tall enough to cast down a blanket of shade no lowly plant can evade, for a minute, the farmer’s useless. If I were God, omniscient, omnipotent, I’d create the whole universe in that image. Totally independent. I’d make it so perfect, my hands would stay so clean. My creation would not need me. Some would call it atheism. But I would call it craftsmanship.

Gold Mine

Write something for release. Something to get all the feelings out. Some good angry metaphors and critical analogies. To get you thinking, to stop me. It’s ten after six and the only sensory details I have through the window are an odd rooster crowing at an imaginary sun, a goat kid calling the dark for mom, and bush crickets that go silent the moment I write their name. There’s the big empty trucks driving tired men to work, where their trucks will sit emptier still in a parking lot. They’ll work six months then lay out six, that’s when someone comes and takes the truck. They peer into blacked out windows in the houses they pass with such fierce jealousy and disdain for sleeping bodies. Still not angry enough for how stuck I feel.

Trapped. Used. Forgotten. Lonely. There have to be better words than these. Pinioned. Whorred. Dumped. And honest. Keep the melodrama to yourself, Jeremy, please. My heart is what I named my deepest, most internal, least malleable and consistent thoughts. Right now my heart cries want, want, want. To work my farm from dawn to dusk. To be my very own son-of-a-bitch boss. To finish this book burning in my head. So I can start on the one I haven’t dreamed of yet. I want to be Jeremy, capital Me, I want the last of Mr. Homesleys. There is a gold mine on this land left buried.

I have the shovel.
But not the time.

See It Sewn

A misty eyed mystified look across twenty four young faces. Masks make you realize how it all always was in the eyes. Skepticism. Judgment. A narrow fold of scrunched justices when brows get pulled down together. A good orator sits back in the seat where they stand. Let them stew in it a bit, before easing the queasy feeling of questioning what it was they just heard. A crooked smile is like a wide-brimmed hat, one should never leave the homeplace without it. 

The love a partner hands over after forty years of marriage is the same love McDonald’s believes people have for its sandwiches. There’s no formal distinction between these two uses of this one word. I love my mother. I love Saturdays. Equitability doesn’t just raise the bottom, it lowers the top. Levels the heap. Squashes the pile flat as the earth was before we rounded down its corners.

Assigning students to produce in a room designed for them to receive. Sit quietly. That thing in your pocket that is quickly becoming your voice, it’s contraband in this space. You will use it to speak through for the rest of your life. It connects you to anyone who loves you and would fight for you no matter the stakes. Make no mistakes, your phone will save your life perhaps even from those publicly sworn to serve it. But if you glance at it during class, to check the time, no time to ask, you’ll lose it. They’ll take it. And you refuse to, they’ll send both of you home till Tuesday. 

Then this kid thinks, well I can’t go to college. This school thing is not for me. I can’t go four more years, my voice held hostage while I’m demanded to speak. Kids forming their perceptions based on tired, saggy, complaintive old people going through the motions is a recipe for the slow motion disaster being served at all our tables right now. 

I get it. School is a two bird, one stone design. Built primarily with babysitting in mind. But it is also a teacher trap, a catchall for those called to the one field government never sacked the revolution on: educating future generations. It is amazing. How far we’ve come. How drop-dead smart we are. And yet we haven’t figured out how to make a door we can close behind ourselves and once we do, no one can ever come through ever again. We can’t figure it out, because the universe is created in such a way where it can not be done. If a nation is formed of revolution, then it will be plagued by revolution until its dying day. The line stops when we find there’s a real plot to dumb down our children. I will not see mine censored into societally induced stupidity. 

A good orator is not in it for the applause. Jesus knows who rocks the boats, he doesn’t fear water, his time is set in stone. Before the end, you just want to know, there’s a touch of what was in you still out in the world, and if you don’t see it, a good orator will shell out the right words, and see it sewn.

Little Boy’s Beauty and the Beast

Why would you want a fancy prince when you already have a fearsome beast? You have the girl and the castle and servants all immortal, all entrapped within their service. What makes it a fable is the imaginary assumption anyone would try to fix the curse. Beauty and the Beast is a patriarchal vision. The whole thing starts with a kidnapping of an accidental trespasser who is then locked in a personal dungeon. Then, leveraging the old man for his young intelligent daughter. What is a redemption arc when it becomes twisted? Perhaps more of a redemption roller coaster with no resolution at the bottom, just little boys begging for another ride who will soon be carried to the car in tears for answering their parents’ fears.

Without a harrowing repentance, there can be no redemption. The greatest fiction is that a man turned beast at this point in his authentically cursed existence, is capable of innocent, consensual, passive and pacifistic love. To what gain? His cruelty to women is what birthed in him unimaginable magical power and prowess. He lives in a little boy’s paradise. In a world where our choices surrounding love will one day turn us all into monsters. Some unfortunate little girl dreams she’ll scheme to change the theme and turn the beast.

Like a Jekkyll and Hyde in reverse. Super human ability born of a curse. The tragic hero with the power to make the changes the world needs, but a slave to the sacrifices that power demands.

Beauty and the Beast could be a cautionary tale for father in laws, maybe, a fantasy for beast-taming bookworms, perhaps. But for little boys it is all about the beast. The ability to fight off wolves in the night. How those sharper claws don’t ever fully retract.

How having the power to protect also endangers the ones we love.

Hide. (part 3 of 3)

But I’m here now.

We will peel apart the atom like an apple and discover a seed in its center that is carved somehow with the chicken-scratch autograph of what can only be called God. Though that moment will ruin the word, it will rescue the world, and religion will mean story again.

Every action you commit to in this place creates the brightest light. Burned, pulled into the electrons that energize and power you on. And you will remember, lest ye be remembered, by the lives of all you have eaten, the lives you ran down in the road, the lives you put your hands on without permission. There is life, and consciousness, inside the atom, and therefore memory, and the ability to make decisions.

Push. Pull. Hide. That is what an atom can do. 

Ask yourself. Is that so different from you?

Pull. (part 2 of 3)

All of our mass is here in the proton and neutron. They are together in the nucleus, but distinguished from one another, for example, one is electric, and one is, as far as can be seen, not. The proton pushes, positively charged, like a young dad with bulging arms carrying all the beach toys, neutrons follow his lead and hug his wake and bask his shadow all in tow. But he put his call over the ocean. Heard it answered. A push to pull, a negative to his positive, a farmer for the garden, the electron may very well be the only seed God planted before it slank back into the hammock that rocks above every barrier the beanstalk never broke. Yet.

Am I Jack? Climbing a hairy vine wrists wrapped in red rash, pulling, pushing, hiding when I have to, searching for a slithering piece of snake-like thread that unravels this shape and pulls it apart so completely, such a threat, the giant feels its hammock shift among the swayless trees, in the windless ether of the realm of all-observance, where life was once a dream, but now we’re hushed, because its favorite show is on the tv screen, I scream so that it finally drops both feet and shakes this blanket of blank grass and weeds we’ve been scattered across like a fist full of seeds. I will make the farmer show face and explain itself.

I don’t believe the answer can be found the way one can trace and track the color of a flower to the nutrients in the soil. Because of flaws in the equipment. Because of the limitations of perspective. Our minds weren’t molded to uncover transcendental, universal understanding and Truth. Just survival. That’s all.

To achieve enlightenment we busted apart a telescope and took out the bulbous lens and until now we’ve only been using it to burn ants.