Some I miss. Some I don’t.

Some work I miss. Some I don’t. I miss dragging up, sawing through and splitting stumps to pieces with my friend Ken all day, though I don’t miss twenty feet up a ladder leaned on a wobbly oak limb with a gurgling chainsaw. The work melted time. It hurled the sun up and over head. I remember, I can always tell three o clock sun. I could see it on his face we’d be finished soon. 

I miss all the dogs. The big finicky Shepherds and dough eyed boxers and hear them screaming down the hall huskies. Giving one a bath was my first real test at the vet. She did great. They were surprised. I wasn’t. Which is probably why, our blue eyes were locked and I ran water over her for more than five minutes before a bit began to stick to that thick, greyscale coat. The old golden retrievers who seemed so out of place kenneled between a spastic one legged country mix and one of the doctor’s insane pit bull hybrids. Quiet. Stoic. Whose bark was nothing compared to his brown eyes, begging to be let out. I don’t miss most of the cats. Nothing against them. Just what they become when they visit the vet. I don’t miss being in the room helping to explain why someone’s best friend wouldn’t leave there with them. Some people had to pay for everything, make every arrangement, before the IV, before the slow groggy eye roll into everlasting sleep, so that the instant after goodbye, they could leave. It’d be first thing in the morning sometimes. Lit candles flicker in the waiting room. Each color coded doctor flag flung out in warning. The young staff begging to give a dying pup something inane like a cupcake. Pressing their limp paws in black ink and rolling them onto neon colored paper. I don’t miss that. 

I miss riding fifty foot high porch swings up a mountain through a blizzard and leaning forward dreading that leap and goofy trot at the top, to sit in a heated box for an hour eating my Nature Valley bar and scribbling nasty, numb finger poetry in the palm of my hand. Slapping the switch and bringing the whole contraption to a halt when a nervous kid would neglect to lean forward and slide off. Teaching kids and old folks alike how to ride a lift I had never even authentically used myself. Wearing five coats. Jumping in place nonstop when it was fifteen below. No fewer than two pairs of everything, gloves, socks, hats. I don’t miss climbing a frozen ladder onto the frozen bullwheel that moves the cable with all those porch swings bolted to it, with a lit blow torch in my left hand, a full propane tank in my right. No kidding, I asked if he was kidding when I got to the top. I thought I was being pranked, or hazed. But no, I was earning my keep, proving my worth. Slow and unsure I melted every inch of the inch of ice that had coated that thing before I climbed down to the sarcastically scrunched look of ironic northern surprise. I miss being a living breathing novelty. I’m glad I lived to miss it. 

I miss moving hundreds of yards of material in a single roll of fabric. I have never seen people more excited to purchase an almost never ending chore. The thrill they found in fabrication touched me in helping provide for it. I miss the excited look of kids wearing their favorite cartoon characters on clothes made by their favorite grandparents. You get to a certain age and you almost forget altogether how it feels to wear something you’re excited to sleep in. I remember the best boss I’ve ever had slapping a stack of multicolored polyester poplin and explaining to me how they were off to be made into fast food uniforms for some restaurant chain or other. Humble little store bought fireworks sizzling in my mind. Working in wholesale is like having x-ray vision. You get to see the skeleton of everything. The resources that get twisted and braided and heavily longarm stitched and embroidered into products. I don’t miss time clocks or cleaning bathrooms or having to handle often times caustic personnel issues. Infighting between the different shades of blue collars. Trying to explain that the beauty of work is what you get to leave at home. That you’re really being paid not to show up everyday. To be there, to lend your time and talents and bodily and customer service presence, but keep the you part safe and secure, no one will every pay you enough for that. Leave it where it’s safe, employ it only for your dreams. Trust me, the money you take home will help, but those dreams won’t make it easy to make. A few hours a day off from being the true authentic you can be a beautiful thing. Can be being the optimal phrase in that sentiment. It takes practice. I miss the times I really had it honed and humming. 

I miss arranging pink and blue piggy banks and flower vases shaped like Ford Mustang convertibles. I don’t miss knocking three glass shelves covered over in them completely to the floor in the glittering shattered cascade of sharp ceramic, clear blue shards and the broken up eyes and snouts of little pigs that were never even fed a penny. 

I miss helping young women and their moms search for the right prom dress, and young men toward their first black suit, and older men nervous to tell me their true waist size even though I had already assessed it with my eyes. I remember helping one gentleman on and off with his shoes, and his wife thanked me for my help with tears on her cheeks. He was getting a suit for his sister’s funeral, he was a very big man, with a great many stories to tell, and I was honest to God happy to help. He reminded me of someone, but I never figured out who. Probably myself. I don’t miss the owner’s father, Pops, following me around like he thought I was going to steal something, condescending me because I cleaned the bathroom, which he referred to as ‘woman’s work’, and chastised me for slipping off a ladder even though he refused to steady it for me, or take the heavy box I was descending with from my hands. That was the only job I have ever walked off from in the middle of a shift. And three months later they begged me to come back to watch the store for them while they were out of town, and I never did. I would rather sweat through summers doing landscaping than to be treated like something I’m not. Dishonest. 

I do miss cutting grass, all day chasing a self-propelled push mower and coming back through like a barber with a razor scraping the warm shaving cream of soft green grass off the edges of sidewalks and wiping them clean with a leaf blower. I worked for myself, for a few houses, and a church in Shelby. One day I had to do the job in the rain and I broke the bolt that held the blade on the mower deck three times, going to the hardware store to replace it, three times, before I finished the job. Knowing if I did not make it home with that check, well, that was not an option, at that time. I don’t miss finding I had hit a snake, or a toad in the grass. Or that I had taken an extra twist and nicked the heads off someone’s lemon yellow daffodils or candy pink tulip lips. I don’t miss being overworked and overtired and still poor. Or when it would start raining and not stop for six, seven, eight days sometimes just pouring. That’s a good word for those times. Pooring. Equipment sitting cold in the bed of my overworked, overtired Jeep. 

If not for my chickens and for my gardens those times would have pushed past hard and actually frozen solid as ice in the dead center of summertime. You can ask my sister. I’d eat ten, eleven ears of corn and call it dinner. Leave the house with three hardboiled eggs in the morning, and no lie, pick dandelion heads and free pears and scavenged blackberries on the properties I worked. I was so terribly free and pinballish those two years. Almost everyone who loved me was afraid for me. But I wasn’t though. Too busy. 

Which is how I discovered my own personal secret to sustain sustaining. Busyness. Work. Walking. Responsibilities. Caring for animals. Caring for people. Neglecting myself. 

I learned a critical lesson, and I will share it with you here to sum up and finish this piece that is likely to go on ten, maybe even fifteen more years at this pace. 

If you can’t be okay all the time, then start walking it back. What makes you okay for, let’s say, a day. If you can’t be okay for a day. Keep walking. What can you do to be okay for an hour. If you can’t manage that yet, how about half an hour, fifteen minutes. Don’t lose heart. Fifteen minutes of being okay can be really really hard. Back up to a minute. Is there anything at all that you can do and for just about one minute not fixate on your problems, your hangups, fears, your lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, innate invisible suffering no one in the world may know about but you. 

You’ll find it. It’s there. For me, it was work, and walking, with my dogs, hiking, being outside. But work mostly, for other people, for myself, on my farm, in my notebook. I found I could choose one of these activities and be okay for a minute, and if I got a little momentum, two, then five. A good long walk, losing track of the dogs as they bound up ahead of me after a deer they’ll never catch, or a bird that isn’t actually there, fifteen minutes, then forty five. At the end of it, all of it would come back and hit me like an ocean wind. So I’d do it again, and again. A nice, breathtaking, sun drenching, sweat dripping shift, I’d get five, six hours in before something worse than exhaustion would catch up to me. I practiced those a while, and soon enough, I could get through a day, at the end of which I’d be beat, inside and out, upside and down. All the energy I had left to do anything with was required to carry my butt to bed. I’d get up with all these thoughts, ideas, lists, agendas, chores, filling my head. No room for the other stuff. 

I got real good at going two or three days. Which was great, I could more than feel, but see my progress. Next thing I knew, I’d have my weeks mapped out all the way until I had to call them months. And honest to God, honest to you, it has been years, actual years now, since I’ve revisited the bottom of that pit my thoughts dug out for me so long ago. 

And that’s the secret, my secret at least. Start small. Start with the seed. The here and now. And don’t even take a second to think about minutes until those seconds are something you can sustain. Until for a few seconds, you can be okay. Don’t dwell on hours, if you have to, pretend there’s no such thing as days. Build your happiness brick by brick, minute by minute. Without much more strain and wracking your brain, you’ll have a wall, four walls, a roof, without any more thought than it takes to slap down a little mortar and sandwich it tight in between two red rectangles. 

I think a lot of depression and anxiety are actually offshoots of our impressive imaginations. Our understanding of, and longing for, wide, intricate blue-printed designs and multi-layered, textural maps, and the expectations of our friends and families and the pressures we put on ourselves to think in five year plans and knowing our lifetime career goals before we’ve even held down a simple summer gig, or a year or two of odd jobs and the hungry, gut-wrenching process of self discovery and finding out our own beautiful, hardfought points of exhaustion.

Essentially, try not to get ahead of yourself. Try not to plan too much until you have some pretty decent milestones in the rearview. Once you have a few mountains behind you, you’ll see the vast range of powder blue ridges stretched out before you differently. You’ll see them with your feet, and with your back. You’ll learn to distrust your eyes, just enough so that you can hear the beating of your heart. 

You’ll learn the greatest fear you’ll ever feel is for the things you’ve already been through.

No matter what obstacles are set out in front of you, they all have one incredible, optimistic aspect in common. 

They’re new.

Dear Lord, Let Me Be Wrong

Mist pours in on a comparatively warm November evening, shows me my cross-eyed headlights and blinds me when I click on the brights. Walmart is full of people. At eight on Thanksgiving eve. Full of stink eye and camouflage and middle aged women in pajamas. Our little country corner of the world. Little girls apologize for their father’s scowls with upturned eyes. A grizzled looking gentlemen sights a slender twenty two caliber rifle up at the twenty foot ceiling. Capitalism is most at work when we aren’t. Swiping hours of our lives away with flimsy magnetized plastic, futuristic looking chips embedded in them. There’s a doglegged line in front of the pharmacy. Gigantic Hershey kisses and hollow shepherd crooks full with M&M’s. Grown men wearing flip flops. Little boys in cowboy boots beg beside the bike rack, tears in the corners of their eyes. 

I can’t settle my heart. It liked living outside too much. For my thirties, my eyes and my feet are best friends. They do everything together. Partners witnessing crime. Flying down Old Post I can not help for the life of me the feeling there is hatred and resentment more so than white knuckles and hidden toes powering the machines passing me. It is an old Jeep, I confess, I don’t dare push past the speed limit, so I damn near see the whites in their eyes as they ride my spare tire bumper. There are young men in the Walmart almost through the door when they spot a single lady walk in all by her lonesome and nod their heads together and turn around.

My deepest prayer to date is that I’m wrong. 

Answered by family, warmed by fire, wrapped in mist in the foggy corner of the county we call home. I want to turn around and grab those boys by the scruffs of their necks like tomcats. I want to buy that kid his bike. I want to take the gun out of those paint stained fingers and kiss that man on the cheek if I have to. Wrap him up in a hug and ask him what’s the last thing he forgave. I want to let her know she’s safe, but I don’t have to, anyone wearing pajamas in public is already far more comfortable in their own skin than I ever have been. I want to buy all the milk almost past its date. Tell the people wearing blue vests and name-tags how proud of them I am, how honored I am to be helped along by them, how I never would have found HDMI converters without them. 

As I drive, I get real afraid the mist is smoke. I imagine deer throwing long tan legs out like Rockettes onto the stage. I wince at the sight of roadkill. I throw the Jeep out of gear and coast downhill, thinking how that engine is idling same as if it was sitting still in the driveway, going fifty-five and bouncing across the flimsy bridge at the bottom. If it doesn’t bend it breaks. 

What are we all doing with our life? This is our one shot at the world. What are we all doing at Walmart at eight o clock on a Wednesday night. Looking so sour. Looking down sights. Staring down strangers. 

Strength. True strength. Is not stubbornness, or rigidity. When the man said love your neighbor same as you would love yourself, he could just as easily have said, if a bridge doesn’t bend, it will break.

Unmistakably Living

I am hypnotized by blue skies. I am cold beer at noon. I am fire, and in the other hand, I am ice. Somehow, I am holding the two together. And neither is reduced by the presence of the other one. I am scared by my own happiness. To possess a thing so precious. As a smile. I am afraid of what it speaks. To others. Who will believe contentment makes me weak. Drunk. Perceptible. And I am. But I don’t want them to know I am.

Flowers that bloomed and wilted in fields never witnessed by the feet of men or women.
I am the best water you have ever tasted. Pouring from a permanent spring in the mountains. Every drop. Wasted.

Sometimes when I eat good food, I taste my neighbor’s hunger soon after. Call it guilt. In my gut. There are some essentials I don’t want, unless my neighbor has them also. But if my neighbor wants what is mine in spite of my need. I will be war. I am the answer to that ancient prayer, something something or other about how we treat one another. It is not axiom.
It is not advice. It is basic, universal, physical and primeval law.

This entire experience we call life has one clear singular inarguable purpose. Balance.
It doesn’t make sense if it was meant to be all good and this is what it is. And sitting where I am right now, though I know it will change somehow, I can not tolerate the thought it is all bad. Even if it’s just me. This child. That dog. Sitting in this little well insulated box on the edge of a great glacial lake. Enjoying the long awaited sun. This scene means the universe can’t be all bad. Or all wrong.

I farm the fabric of the existence. I am the great great great grandchild of two polar opposites. Inexorably attracted. We are all what happened when they finally banged together. We’re the universe’s passion child. We don’t make sense. Because we’re screaming at the top of our lungs love babies. Illegitimate children. And yet, here we are, unmistakably living.

I know I am.

Out of the Box

Use caution putting things away, because that is where they stay. For as long as you don’t mind not seeing them. All sorts of things. Spices printed with dates like two thousand and fourteen. Half written journals and perfectly full ink pens and highlighters gone dry left so long in the dark. Dust in caked layers and rust inundating needle nose pliers and hair off so many animals. Life is not a house. Life is not a closet. We built these places, and tuck ourselves in. Tidied up. Straightened out. Organized lives from so many broken pieces of mine. Like puzzles. And you take a puzzle out of the box to put it together. The picture doesn’t fit inside its own container. Though it is much more secure in there.

Steel drains and matted hair. The windows where we sat and stared. The doorways we broke through to get somewhere. Be careful. Confusing life with the packages we put it in. Use caution. Putting anything out of sight, and subsequently, mind. Because it will become something in isolation that it was not before. Love makes a great meal. But it doesn’t store. At least not well. Not in the boxes where we dwell. Where we hide. And like scared children, keep ourselves hidden. Calling it a living room when it is more of a tomb until doors are broken open and windows crack and wind blows curtains back and light sweeps carpet and life steps over thresholds carrying smell and pollen and sound like a smiling bride braced in bent arms.

Get life all cleaned up, and out, and put away, and straightened, and immaculate, and categorized and sanitized and ornately adorned and closed windows and locked doors. So that at our own discretion, we can choose it. Have it eternally, as long as we don’t mess up and use it. Risked. And there is no insurance to safeguard against this. But I can tell you, antiquity, is where things go to die. Be careful putting away anything you love. Because it will stay put up. While you, and so many years, pass by.

Inalienable #projectlocal

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I want to take a moment to break this statement down. There are a lot of words here, but in reality, there is only one. An all encompassing four letter word that, should we fail to pause on it, even for a second, we might overlook the never ending, climactic struggle of ongoing cause and effect it entails. This word life. And to iterate a point, how many ended so that you could arrive at this point? How many lives complete with beating hearts and restless lungs and electric minds, stopped, so that this day could start?

I take it this is an agreed on statement, since I’ve been taught this in school since I was a child. That it is an inalienable right, for all of us, endowed by our cosmic creator, to have life.

It can be confusing. We’ve only had around a billion years roaming this little world to figure it out, but what exactly is life? Not talking about purpose, or pursuits, or the spiritual ramifications of eternal conquests for insight or understanding. I mean, what does it take to sustainably exist in a state one can call life? You see, this one is a simple equation. I can’t be the only person in the room who knows there’s no life in a vacuum. And that incredibly complex and deep running planetary roots are required to sustain all of us just to sit in a chair and breath regular. Just to exist. You’ve eaten. You’ve had a good bit to drink. And you’ve had reprieve from the elements. Food. Water. Shelter. A nice neat simple little equation to help make reality of this little soundbite, life.

If we have a right to life, that is different than a right to existence, right? Existence can be a blip. A single second. A momentary instant where some flash flood of consciousness thinks ‘I am’ just before it is gone. But life is more of a fire. A spark we share together with single cells from a billion years ago on the shore of a prehistoric ocean. Then all the fuel and tinder and kindling we’ve fed into it over the many millennia. A lot of work and effort went into life. And there are sources for resources we as a species can not generate all on our lonesome.

We don’t protect endangered species by putting them in armor. We do so by protecting their endangered habitats. Because there is no life outside of constant access to food, water, shelter.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Debt and over taxation without adequate respect or representation are forms of oppression. They have a long history of being used to maintain people in varying states of not fully free. Human beings can not survive in a vacuum. If you’ve guaranteed a human its freedom, you’ve guaranteed it free access to some food they can consume without fully depleting it, clean water from a consistent source and shelter from weather, from seasons, from the prying eyes of others. Without this option, this reality, what we have can not be called freedom. And if these assets are not available by natural, agricultural and rural-industrial means, and can only be obtained monetarily, then an appropriate amount of value must be provided, untaxed, at the very least annually, for the procurement of adequate food, water and shelter sources.

Choices.

The only doorway that leads to freedom. And unfortunately, when it comes to basic needs, none of us has any choice in the matter. Any governmental, or economic barrier that must be passed through in order to get to that simple, basic, fundamental place, is a restriction on, and therefore a denial of, our intrinsic right to freedom. We have to be alive to be free. We have to eat, drink, and have a safe place to sleep, to be alive. Therefore, having free access to those resources is the physical equivalent of having freedom. And what you do with it from that point on is living.

Fast cars, big houses, fancy dinners. This is why we formed economies. But capitalism has no intention of feeding our children past profitability. Capitalism knows that food, water and shelter are the invisible monopolies. And that if it can convince creatures these basic rights are commodities, they have found the perfect product. One consumers can’t boycott.

I’ve used a lot of words here, as usual, only trying to say one thing. Farmers don’t waste time trying to orchestrate the social lives of chickens. We would have better functioning government if they gave up trying to government, and simply tried to farm us. Because a farmer does three things for an animal. Provides food in varying sources, water clean and constant, and shelter from weather, danger and one another. Apart from that, freedom means nothing. Stubbornly doing absolutely nothing else for this little creature except watching it learn and grow throughout the ever-changing trials of life.

Local infrastructure: designed around food production and foot traffic based economic activity and education and healthcare.

Community justice: a tremendous burden placed on proof, and judgement by those who knew your name before they knew your crime.

Federal networking: communication town to town, region to region, state to state, and state to nation. Connecting the dots between surplus and shortage, recognizing the otherwise unseen congruencies between agriculture regions and climates. Trade regulations, foreign affairs, diplomacy, military and medical and disaster relief organizations.

We built a nation from the top down, and because of it, some country could take the head off America and the rest of it would just collapse. Local farmers go out of business while we feed families food from other continents, because it’s actually cheaper. We have flea markets, and garden like it was a pastime or hobby. Not like how when there is a disaster, it will be our sole source of life. Local will always be better. Always. Because there is an actual cost available. The story behind where a product came from and how it came to be. It is usually an incredible story. But it is always, however, local.

I propose we promote each agricultural region of no more than twenty square miles or so, to look at their area as an ark. As in, if they had to, just how much could they produce without going too far from home. At first, a simple, beneficial exercise, but ultimately, a ranking system where areas compete to produce upwards of forty, to sixty, or even eighty percent of their entire food, medical and water needs. So that when each local principality reaches out to their larger regions, even to their states, for help, it is only to supplement, or trade for the diversity we’ve grown accustomed to accessing. And in doing so, each region and state would go to our federal system needing that much less. An easy endeavor to incentivize, and even promote a little capitalistic competition between regions and towns to out-sustain their neighbors.

As opposed to what we have now, which is leadership most likely praying disaster for the sake of publicity and increased budget spending. Police departments receiving new gadgets and pay raises after each destructive riot. A certain level of homelessness and unemployment to keep the ship rocking. All hands on deck.

For as long as people look to governments to fulfill basic, daily needs, there will be government jobs in an endless stream. The motivation just isn’t there. The perfect worker works to make his or herself obsolete. So what we have here is an entire system built on a conflict of interest. And a government invented by unimaginative, vengeful men who didn’t want to dissolve the crown, but split it up into eight hundred pieces and secure never-ending employment for their little nephews and nieces until kingdom calls us all home. And it has. Right here and now.

We can not be free without the choice to be. To human. Before we American, before we are students or residents, before you are anything but you. This right is God granted. It does not need to be government approved.

By Way of Means

When I write the word life, how much was written for me.
Gripping a bird feeder beyond clear barriers.
Moan yodeling in the corner forming soon-to-be hairballs.
Bare skull bearing antlers on a woodpile outside.
Deer turning up white in search of dirty green.
When I write the word life, I say the word why.
Then wiggle my hand until a pen gives me my answer.

Eat breakfast through my eyes and give time like spent breath.
Like carefree charity. Trash to me. Treasure to the tree.
New York timber living gnarled and surrounded
by their crumbling attempts at winter.
Which up here means more.
Apologies. Useless light switches.
Four families fourth floor apartment.
Generators hooked up to water heaters.
People choking in their homes for a hot shower.
Much by way of means.
Just no power.

Like family

When heat tumbles through skin and knit cloth,
like stifling, sun-warmed mists rising up to the occasion of a morning,
I feel so like the earth.

When jungles of oil-darkened hair frame a face,
crowd sky blue, dusty vision, tickled behind ridge dotted ears,
spreading rashes down a sun-red neck, when feet hurt,
when towering spine stiffens,
heat gets up to blood bathing the brain
and causes a nerveless organ to undergo the experience of feeling pain,
I am truly the naked mammal child of my planet.

And in these many moments,
the languages of elemental parents and grandparents,
great aunt the sun and granddaddy moon,
wind and water table cousins,
close kin and friends who pass over like rain,
stirring and kicking in the swollen bellies of clouds,
are familiar to me.

I hear their words clear, but understand only faintly.
I believe the world is telling me that I have lived here
like a stranger long enough. Now, we,
the earth and me, will be like family.

At least for now.

Sluggish black snake crinkled over life and death all mulched together.
Army ants sort eggshells in search of crumbled chunks of gold.
Water with a hint of rust red orange iron. And a breeze,
which signifies the passing of blue metal skies,
and coming rain. Consciousness is wasted on people.
The sun can not, not for lack of trying, break through the trees,
caught tangled in wide paw-like poplar leaves
and ones on oak limbs that look like turkey feet,
with shifty raptor eyes. That sun has even left
a shady place for the moon to shine through,
intrude toe-stepping the fluctuating light of day.
Not putting up much of a fight. This spring star
is different from the one that comes out for summer.
Content to warmly tickle the mounded backs of rain clouds,
keep the ground too much mud to hope to plant a plow.
At least for now.