Category Archives: Uncategorized

We are never empty

At our broken places
we are chinked light and
shattered breath
scarred like lace
fearful of movement
and still
We may yet flex
we may yearn
then bend
slowly stretch and dare once
to reach
until the skin our seal
splits open pours out
each failing each
fear every loss.

Oil or blood or water
it’s hard to tell in this light.
The heart beats on without it.
Below the black tide line, the bones.
Above, clean air and a vessel.

An echo tossed in comes back,
ricochets and forgets.
All that space needs
a voice
more than the sound of
a broken pitcher
soaking the floor.

Collect your wrongs
hoard your sharp edges and hard points
Or open your mouth
and with muscle, with breath
give thanks.

Wayfinding

We are slowly returning to the world, internet connectivity, cell phone reception, and all. The past summer, in all its surprising and unplanned glory, has felt both like a blip and like an epic. We’ve only been gone from Asheville for a bit more than three months, and it’s a little funny to have returned to the same city, but not the same life. Inertia has power, but we’re determined to defy it.

About the trail. I don’t feel that we failed at anything. In fact, I’m grateful for how everything did play out, because the experience clarified a few things in a way that abstract examination couldn’t have.

Living in the woods soothes me. Trail life has an attractive simplicity, a quietude that is a balm to me, in spite of its not-insignificant challenges (perhaps because of them). But I also miss my stuff and my home life. I miss writing at my desk, cooking in a full kitchen, riding my bike somewhere, pulling out an old book whenever the mood strikes me.

Living in and working on an unfinished house in the country sang to me. Stars moon-bright by virtue of their sheer numbers, hearing a hawk’s cry more often than a car’s passing, hiking and mountain biking right from the front door. Doing something with my hands everyday. This is how I lived until I was sixteen, and it’s in my blood and marrow. And yet. Even with more than three decades’ practice, I can’t quite figure out my relationship to other people. Life without them is great… until I get the urge to pedal up to the bar, chat with a favorite bartender, eavesdrop, people-watch.

I love the rural address, living off pavement and off most people’s radar, hearing gunfire and not worrying that a crime was just committed (it’s likely just target practice, varmint elimination, or hunting season, for those of you not acquainted with the phenomenon). But I also love the neighborhood, both mine specifically and the concept in general. I’m a strange country/city mouse hybrid, not spliced in a lab but grown in real life. And that brings with it some tough decisions.

Leaving Virginia again was hard. My mom has moved to an area that was never even in my scope of consideration–actually, my entire immediate family has, strangely, ended up in the same county. It’s beautiful and rich in many ways. Her home is well on its way to being magnificent, and it’s the sort of place I dream about settling in, when I’m in country mouse mode: market garden, workshop, and writing room, oh my.

But, as scripture and pop song remind us, there is a time and place for everything, and our time and place right now is here, back in the old ‘hood. As we finish resurrecting our belongings from storage and equip our own work space, we’re working on something that will make that settling possible, a business that could be able, once it grows up and starts to long for the country too, to pick up and move to a place covered over in clear, countless stars. (More on that soon.)

What we’re doing is best done (or at least started) here. But questions remain, even when the where has been worked out.

Willa Cather, then a professional journalist but not the respected novelist she is to us today, received some advice from fellow writer Sarah Orne Jewett. In a letter, Jewett advised, “If you don’t keep and guard and mature your force, and above all, have time and quiet to perfect your work, you will be writing things not much better than you did five years ago. Your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet center of life, and write from that to the world.”

Thomas Merton and the poetry of Wendell Berry share my nightstand right now. Read together, they seem bound and determined to break my heart, or to forge from it something better.

We’re here, in a town and a city we love, laying a three-part foundation for a sustaining, creative, and independent life. (This has gone through many, many iterations, and I’m a little weary of how many times I declared it done, but I think we’ve finally found a good fit this time.) One portion is the aforementioned business. One involves building into our life more of the sort of adventure we embarked on back in June–travel, bike touring, and trail time aren’t luxuries, though they do take some serious work to make happen. And one is about making (taking, really) space for regular creative work in my life, which opens up questions about where to do that, and where to get the time.

Cather and Jewett and Merton and Berry seem to be telling me, both with their words and with the simple fact of their works, something about strengthening and distilling and developing my own writing. It does indeed need the now-proverbial room of its own, in more ways than one. Quite literally, I have that room–my writing desk sits in it now, though my books and files and favorite pens are still in boxes. It also requires a figurative buffer. Like tender seedlings must have shelter before they’re ready for sun and wind and changing temperatures, my work (if it is to become more than hobby) will need its own hothouse. (Interesting that my new office is a sunroom.)

Though it flies in the face of my impetuous nature, which demands NOW and ALL AT ONCE and knows not the wise practice of patience, I’ll be writing words that won’t be seen right away. To you, here, this will feel like silence, and maybe even like neglect. But it’s necessary, it’s overdue, and it’s good.

We took an amusingly circuitous, complex route to move just a mile from our old place, but it still feels like a transformation, a remaking of a life that, on the surface, will continue to look a lot like the old one. I love our new house, its street opening onto the streets my bicycle knows so well. My writing desk is flanked by a bank of windows, the room infused with warm fall light. Our nascent business has, I think, more than a fighting chance, even in this economy. Another trail, the trail, lies before us, and our legs and hearts are strong.

The power of one dollar

We are twenty percent tippers. More, if you’re fabulous or one of our regular bartenders or servers.

We are also tipped employees. One of us has made a long career in food service. Restaurant jobs aren’t just for teenagers and those not smart enough or hard-working enough to get a “real” job. Americans are generally pretty uncomfortable being served–what with that curious bootstrap fetish we’ve got and all–and seem to pretty consistently overlook the fact that waiting tables takes more intelligence and physical effort than your average “real” cubicle job.

There’s a lot to be said (and quite a lot that has already been said) on that topic, and I’m not going to get into it here. Blogs don’t change minds–particularly when the topic has so many emotional hot buttons (money, our conceptions of work and worth)–and the converted don’t need more preaching.

But I will say this: when it comes time to tip your server, you have the opportunity to work a little magic. It’s very simple, and it won’t even hurt the first time. Once you get used to it, it will actually start to feel good. Here’s how:

Get your bill. Do the math. Decide what you believe the tip should be (twenty percent, fifteen percent), to the penny. Then round up, not down.

That’s it. One more dollar than you might otherwise have left. Your wallet probably won’t even notice. (Side note: If your wallet does notice–and there have been times in my life when every single dollar counted–you probably shouldn’t be in a restaurant in the first place.)

Your one dollar buys more than you ever thought a buck could get. Your server who–let’s give the benefit of the doubt–takes pride in his work and was doing his damnedest to make sure your meal was a great one, won’t take the bump from, say, 18 to 22 percent lightly.

Imagine that you received a performance review a dozen times a day, and that your boss adjusted your salary based on not only your job performance but also on the quality of the entire department’s work. That’s what waiting tables is like.

Sure, your buck could go to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Maybe your meal turned out alright because someone else was paying attention when your food was up, or caught the mistake when your order was put in wrong, or tidied up after the kids at the next table so you didn’t slip on the cheerios all over the floor. Maybe your server was hiding in the office texting while all this happened, and shouldn’t get that dollar.

It’s a risk that’s worth taking, because the joy you spread is far more important than “losing” a point in the grand game of Who Gets To Be Judgy-McJudgster and Be More (Self)Right(eous).

I hate that game.

And it’s not overstating the case to bring Joy into it. My fella is the sort who takes an enormous sense of satisfaction from doing a job–any job–well, and receiving appropriate feedback. A smaller tip doesn’t just bum him out; it makes him question everything about his own performance (questions which are usually totally unwarranted). A larger one (and, remember, we’re talking one lousy dollar), is an affirmation that he appreciates more deeply than you might think–and, by extension, makes the next table’s experience just that much better. Your dollar buys a smile, puts lightness into steps, and brings relief in a world where there’s precious little of that to be found.

What a bargain.

Necessary things

I’ve never really believed in New Year’s resolutions, but I suppose that the Jan 1 transition is as good a time as any for a person to take a new direction or follow a dream. Ours has been in earnest motion now for some months, but this day–keeping with tradition, sort of–seems a good one to lay it all out.

As you may have gathered, we’re taking the long walk this year. This is something I’d planned to do solo about seven years ago, but then life did its thing and I found myself with a career in EMS and staying in a city I never expected to like as much as I did. Time passed, various lightning bolts struck, and here I am these years later with the good fortune to have a partner who embraced this dream wholeheartedly. So now we are two–twice the planning, but twice the hands working on putting it all together.

It’s gonna be good. But, more importantly, this is the opening act of a totally new chapter in our lives–bigger than moving across the country, bigger than changing jobs, bigger than anything either of us has ever done before.

2011 was a year of more self-examination than usual. A year in which what I’d always found not quite right turned into downright unsettling. A year in which I did a lot of work explicitly clarifying my values and deciding how to make my life more closely match them.

We spent a great deal of time thinking and talking about what’s necessary and what’s not, in the smallest and largest senses. About how we’d apportion our waking time if half of it weren’t already automatically beholden to an employer. About what satisfies us, in a deep way. And how to make that happen.

What ultimately killed our restaurant plan was the realization of what it would mean to finance the project. Nevermind the enormous commitment of time and effort the place itself would entail (sweet labor though that might be, to folks like us). Owing a bank such a huge amount of money would dictate how we’d be able to live for all the years before we could pay it back. That’s an awful lot of control to willingly surrender.

It began to look like a trigger we weren’t meant to pull.

We still had our finger on it the day I broached the thru-hike subject. We talked about what it would take to make this happen–paying off the last of our debt, saving money, shedding possessions, reconfiguring our budget, making do with less–and then it dawned on us that this was the exact same plan for making our wildest of wild dreams happen: this was the way to hike the AT, yes, but it was also the way to get off the hamster wheel of work/paycheck/stuff for good.

I think angels sounded a high, clear note, and the sun got a little brighter.

This was possible. And we were going to make it happen. And the key wasn’t–as I’d long been taught, as we’ve all long been told–getting a better job and making more money. Our yearning for more has been misplaced–we don’t need more money, more things, more degrees, more titles, more on our resume; we need more time that actually belongs to us. We need more real meaning from our labor. And, unless you’re independently wealthy, getting this kind of more means having less.

If you’re okay with that, the math works in your favor. Me, I’d rather have fewer nice clothes and more time to write. A smaller house and a bigger garden. Fewer nights out on the town and more long days in with a chore list of my own making.

It’s a funny thing, though, shedding all those years of conditioning. Even when you know, down to your core, that this is the right thing to do, you find yourself resisting in unexpected ways. Relinquishing my professional identity and the status that comes with it was an important step, and it’s made some of the other de-attaching go more smoothly. But we still run up against the cool tee shirt problem: when discussing exactly how much of our considerable book collection to offload, I had the realization that I was attached to more than just the books themselves: I liked what stuffed bookshelves said about me. Even though the only people who are likely to see the inside of my home already know that I read, that I’m intelligent, that I have diverse interests, I was still clinging to that physical symbol of these attributes.


The Man Friend has a great expression: these things that we hang onto, that we use like bumperstickers to advertise about ourselves are identity bangles. Like the bracelets, they rattle around saying look at me! Look at how [smart/cultured/fit/well-connected/pious/rebellious/whatever] I am! They’re cultural shorthand, a substitute for the hard work of actually getting to know each other.

I can’t get rid of all the books–I love me some library action, but there’s something to be said for being able to pull a well-loved tome off the shelf any time you like, to re-read in its entirety, or just to sample a few choice passages. I find it extremely comforting. But there are plenty volumes on those shelves that really are just filler–books I’ve read once and won’t read again, books I read and didn’t even like, books that I own because I think–as an English major and a “serious” reader–I should own them. That’s the very definition of superfluous.

So I suppose what we’re really doing is working out our own definition of what is necessary. Time? Yes. Food? Yes. Shelter? Yes. Creative efforts? Yes. Most of our stuff? Not so much. Money? Not as much as we think. And, maybe most destructive and unnecessary is the stress that comes with all that we’re working to purge. For, after all, being invested in a job you aren’t in charge of is simply borrowing someone else’s stress. For people like we two, who are inclined to become invested in any job we have just because we like to see work done well, whatever it is, it’s impossible to work for bad managers and not get upset about it. And a paycheck just isn’t sufficient compensation for that kind of irritation, not anymore. Money may indeed make the world go ’round, but there are other forces that can take its place, once you’re able to wean yourself off that dollar-sign teat.

Our position statements:

  • Monetary income is a poor measure of the quality and meaning of one’s work.
  • Paychecks are meant to be spent, usually on shit we don’t really need, supporting a global system of consumerism that is, on balance, not a great thing.
  • The more toys you have, the more you want–and the more of your time you sacrifice to work for more of that almighty paycheck.
  • Have less, want less, buy less = have less reason to work for someone else. This frees up an enormous amount of time to do things that have real value for us–whether concretely, as in growing our own food, or more abstractly, as in more time to create and write and meditate and pay attention to what we can do to help our neighbors.
  • We want that.

Kicking all this off with a six-month exercise in living a life stripped to its bare essentials seems right. Even if we don’t finish the trail this time–very few do, though I think we’re more prepared (in all ways) than most–it’s come to be about more than just a simple thru-hike. And there is gold waiting at the end, however short or long the rainbow itself may prove.

Trust issues

Let me take you on a bit of a ramble:

We’ll start with plants. On my ride to work, there’s a stretch of road with no shoulder. Just a hair past the white line, the asphalt ends, and a steep bank climbs up for thirty or forty feet, eventually leveling out where Interstate 40 passes overhead. In hilly terrain, this isn’t unusual–roads here are carved out of ridges, blasted through mountains, trenched between wooded slopes. The “shoulder” is forever trying to reclaim the paved-over territory, reaching out with branch and vine and shoot. Fleets of blades are sent forth every day to mow, trim, clip, and saw all this lushness back from signposts and guardrails. The work must seem neverending, and I imagine it’s easy to adopt a win at all costs attitude toward all that relentless vegetation.

About two weeks ago, on this same stretch of road, I noticed something different about the wall of green off my right elbow. Seven or eight feet up, a distinct, horizontal line had appeared. Everything above it was still an insistent emerald facade, leaves overlapping like tight shingles, the bank behind invisible. Everything below–the lower half of small locust trees, mostly–was yellow going to brown, three months too soon.

I don’t know what they sprayed, or when they sprayed it. I don’t know if I breathed it in some damp morning, spread it a little farther down the road on my tires, or picked up a film of it on my arms, my legs, my clothes. I do know it ended up in the river, because everywhere is a watershed. I do know that I generally don’t believe them when they tell me something that kills so effectively, so indiscriminantly, is safe and not to worry my pretty little head about it.

Consider:

Persistent Herbicides in Compost

“Environmentally-Friendly” Herbicide Isn’t

Higher than expected rates of herbicide volatilization

Monsanto creates yet another monster

How a “safe” herbicide still kills frogs and bees

I could go on.

But it only makes me feel both full of rage and completely helpless (much like when I watched Gasland a few weeks ago–a movie you should see, too, despite the yucky feelings it will engender), and that’s not a pleasant sensation.

Here’s what I’m having a hard time with: I take it as a given that shady doings are in progress every day–shady doings that endanger your health and mine, all for the sake of lining a few select pockets. Shady doings that the masses participate in and accept as normal (eg: using nasty chemicals to clean, deweed, and impart a “fresh” scent to their home and yard; using a car to travel less than two miles; eating factory-farmed, highly processed “food” because it’s cheaper on the front end; and so on) because that’s the end result of effective spin. Shady doings that are becoming more firmly entrenched and exempt from legal oversight.

I know this happens, and it probably happens even more than I suspect, even on my most paranoid, cynical, angry, depressed days. I know it, but I’m still surprised to see it. Maybe some part of my brain is still trying to hold on to the notion that people are inherently good, and that’s the part that registers surprise. Maybe, as an act of self-preservation, I’m practicing some sort of unconscious, selective amnesia, so that I forget the rampant bad stuff until it appears again.

Whatever the case, I’m not sure which is worse: my impotent rage in the face of injustice, or my naive wounding every time I’m reminded of something I already know. Either way, I feel like a cranky kid, wanting to scream and smash things until somebody makes it better.

I don’t want to be a cranky kid. I grew up for a reason, right?

(Right?)

But all this paranoia only breeds more paranoia. And paranoia, I’ve decided, has roughly the consistency of creamy peanut butter. A little bit is compelling. Too much, and it sticks to the roof of your mouth. More than that, you slowly lose the ability to chew at all. Your jaw is paralyzed; your airway blocked with nutty brown goo. Then you choke and die.

Here’s a sequence of events for you:
1. Notice liberal application of herbicide on roadway, presumably by city or other government entity. 2. Recall the raspberries along the greenway are just ripening, and that you planned to pick some this week. 3. Remember who owns the greenway. 4. And what sort of landscape maintenance methods they prefer. 5. Decide the raspberries have probably been poisoned. 6. But, raspberries! 7. Consider risking it. You can wash them, right? Maybe not. 8. Recall everything you’ve ever read about persistent environmental toxins. 9. Which reminds you that modern life is, by its very nature and despite your best efforts to avoid it, toxic. 10. Fill with rage; weep in despair. 11. Overthink it until the gears in your brainbox seize up and begin to smoke. 12. Choke, die. (And still no raspberries.)

I have to admit that this sequence of events–or something very like it, minus the death part–happens inside my head more often than is probably healthy.

Something happens when a thinking person confronts the world as it is. If the thinking person has been going to yoga class regularly, reading Pema Chodron, and can maintain at least arms’ distance during this confrontation, she can cling to some scrap of something that might pass for compassion or simple, neutral open-heartedness. But without all that (and let me tell you, my schedule hasn’t allowed for yoga class lately), she just thinks. And thinks some more. And I’ve not found that thinking gets one to anyplace warm or fuzzy. Thinking, analyzing, stripping and ordering facts, in fact, paints a fairly dismal picture of the way things are.

Maybe I’m genetically encoded for a tendency toward pessimism. Maybe it’s simple cognitive bias. Maybe I’m just right (boy, I hope not). But I can’t recall the last time my brain was overwhelmed with a snowballing, steamrolling, relentless mass of good observations about the world. They come, but they come in ones or twos–quite easy to get down without the too-much-peanut-butter effect.

But I suppose there’s this: even in smaller quantities, the good stuff is a pretty effective antidote to the seized, smoking brain-gears. You have to go looking for them, or at least make sure your eyes are open and ready to see them when they pass your way, but they’re there. Despite it all.

A short list from the last 24 hours:
Last night’s fireflies. (Every night’s fireflies.)
The farmer’s market bouquet on my desk.
Lemon cucumbers on a vine I grew from seed.
The good book I just finished, sitting on the coffee table.
Cold sparkling water after a few hot hours weeding.
A kiss from my fella.
Hearing from an old friend.
Stories about people in boats motoring toward gunfire, trying to help.
This photo of two women, married at last.

Mistrust–that general, world-as-a-shitty-place feeling–is a choice. Distrust–of Big Ag, of politicians, of the guy who used to live two doors down who never had his aggressive dog on a leash–is specific, and earned. A subtle difference, but important. It’s easy to conflate the two, and the byproduct of their unholy mating is paranoia-nut-butter. (Choke, die.) That gets us nowhere.

Keep the dis- alive–it is the fuel for action that change requires. What I’m working on is reining in the mis-, which feeds on the vague, stubborn negativity spilling into me from headlines, talk radio, internet forums, and watercooler bitching. I’m countering it with a little pure, prefix-free trust, gleaned from my short list.

It helps.

Worms on the move

In the middle of your living room floor, a tarp. It’s not the chintzy thin blue kind, the kind that you see on the highway, untucked from its moorings, waving itself to ribbons. No, you shelled out the extra cash for the good tarp, the heavy-duty tarp, the silver on one side, brown on the other tarp. When you unfold it, it crinkles in a lower octave than the blue tarps. It means business. Of course, this particular job doesn’t necessarily require the good tarp, but it certainly never hurts to go for quality, right?

Living room, floor, tarp. And, on the tarp, a small mountain. It’s mostly dark, that black-brown you see on animal coats or wet wood. Here and there, a fragment of old newsprint or a shunned beet end, stubbornly sprouting. And, as they wriggle back into the pile, the glitter of light on moist worm hide. Some are fat and red, but some are tiny–pale, hair-thin creatures you wouldn’t notice except for the way they undulate their bodies. Is it crazy to feel this flush of maternal pride over worm babies?

It’s not until you catch yourself talking to the worms–out loud and utterly in earnest–that it occurs to you that this might not be how most people spend their Monday nights.

An authority on worm composting, Miss Mary the Worm Woman recommends a bedding change at around six weeks. That milestone for my worms passed, um, six weeks ago. But I haven’t been completely lax: at about week eight or so, I got a second bin, drilled it like the first, with drainage holes in the bottom and ventilation holes around the top, filled it with fresh bedding, and nestled it inside the first bin so it was resting directly on the bedding. The theory–and it would seem a sound one–goes like this: as you add food only to the top (new) bin, the worms will finish eating the dregs left in the old bin and then gradually follow their (noses? crack kitchen-scrap-aura detection skills?) through the drainage holes and into the new bin. Rich, lovely, ready-to-use compost in old bin; worms happily munching away in new bin–easy, peasy. Miss Mary says this is a slow but sure process, usually taking 1-2 months.

Well, I got a little impatient. And, in retrospect, this was (for once) a good thing. After a few weeks of taking the lazy lady’s approach to bedding change, I couldn’t detect any sign that a massive worm migration was underway. Were the holes too small or too scarce? Was there not enough contact between old bedding surface and the bottom of the new bin? Had my worms grown attached to their first home, and were loath to leave it? Were they plagued by anosmia? Immune to auras? Hodophobic? I’m not sure. What I do know is that there were slimy, rotting things in the bottom of the new bin when I opened it, and no worms. Time for plan B.

And so, the tarp.

After hosing out the new bin, I hand-shredded some new bedding, then upended the old bin’s contents onto the tarp. I must admit to an illogical concern: though I know worms tend to move away from light and thus are not likely to set out across the wilderness of a brightly lit living room just for grins, I couldn’t help but wonder if the trauma of eviction might inspire a Fugitive-type scenario. The bin rolls over and dumps out its worms much like Harrison Ford got dumped out of that bus. Stung by the injustice of it all, the worms sprint for freedom. We have a few close calls and near misses, in which I almost nab one before it jumps off a spillway and I nearly catch another but it dons a green bowler hat and slips into the crowd. The dogs would no doubt volunteer to be my fellow U.S. Marshals, though I don’t recall Tommy Lee Jones’s buddies eating any prisoners in the film. The ending would be happy, with the worms vindicated but still tucked safely away into their new bin. This, however, was far more excitement than I was looking for on this night.

Thankfully, the worms didn’t really seem to notice that anything was amiss. The submitted to being dumped out onto the good tarp, pawed at, talked to, gushed over, gingerly picked up, and deposited into their new bin. They haven’t brought it up again since.

A word about what my worms have made: Some folks might want to pull on gloves for an endeavor such as this. Not me. While I saw firsthand how foul veggie scraps can get when they languish worm-less, what happens to them in the worm-ful bin is remarkable. The resulting compost is dense but light, moist and crumbly, with a texture that reminded me of an especially decadent chocolate desert I had once, that resided somewhere on the spectrum of indulgence between a mousse and a torte. I didn’t taste any of the worm compost (I swear!), but I did smell it, and more than once. It smelled like a garden. And, if my seedlings keep growing, it will be.

Which is all simply to say that I’m counting my first foray into worm composting a success. It’s proven to be inexpensive to get started, easy to maintain, tolerant of a little benign neglect, and well worth the time and effort. It’s got a good beat, I could dance to it, and, yes, I would recommend it to a friend. Maybe you could use a few more worms in your life?

Final note: Yeah, you’d think this post would be ripe for some photos. You’d be right, too. A mightier blogger would attend to your need to see the good tarp, laden with its compost mountain and worm fugitives. This one begs your forbearance, and hopes her prose did the trick. I mean, aren’t you having visions of worms just reading this?

I really need to get a camera.

If visual stimulation is what you require, you could do worse than this:

Worm Farmer George is a hoot, he’s got one of them thar fancy worm bins, and he gives a good peek at what finished worm compost looks like. “Believe in the worm,” indeed.

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Role models

Last weekend, I participated in the Mountain Xpress Poetry Show, as one of the poetry prize finalists. (I’ll be sharing that poem soon.) Sitting in that historic auditorium, listening to other poets read their work and talk up the Asheville poetry scene, I was seized with the desire to devote more time to my own writing. There are quite a few regular reading events around town, and, for the first time in my life, I’m thinking seriously about attending.

Writing is, by its nature, a solitary task. Anyone can put words together for their eyes only. But being a successful writer–published, read, paid, all of the above, whatever that means to you–means bringing other people into that sheltered place, even if you never see them. Knowing that someone, somewhere is reading your words can in itself be terribly intimidating. Face to face, even more so. I’ve been on stage before, mouthing other peoples’ words, but I’d never read my own to an audience.

I felt my hands shaking, but my honest Man Friend swears he couldn’t see it from his front row seat.

The applause was like warm rain.

The brief accolades are part of it, to be sure, but more than that I want to use this simple love of good writing that this group of folks shares to fertilize my own. That applause–indeed, the very fact of every person there being there in the first place–is like damp earth to the scattered seeds of ideas that bump around in my head day after day.

Yesterday morning, as the pouring rain gave way to blue skies, I was shaking hands with farmers and cheesemakers and bakers and potters and getting similarly inspired. I’ve picked up a little part-time work with the North Asheville Tailgate Market, and attaching faces and names to the items in my kitchen makes my green thumb itch and my barnheart flare up.

True, I can be somewhat easily influenced by what I see–watching The Big Lebowski always makes me want to drink White Russians–but this is deeper. It’s a specific, reality-based reaction–seeing other people doing some version of what I wish I did more of is a great kick in the pants. I don’t watch movies and have the urge to head for Hollywood. I don’t read National Geographic and decide to enroll in graduate school and become a geologist. I don’t listen to The Kills and want to start a band. All of these potential life paths appeal to me, but more in a daydreaming, idle sort of way.

But the life of a wordsmith-farmer? Now that I could do.

If I wanted to become a diesel mechanic or a biochemist or a jewelry designer, I’d enroll in school, and learn from the learned. I’d hope to be taught by that sometimes rare figure: the great teacher. A great teacher sparks in the student a passion for the task at hand, a desire to read and investigate and explore on her own. Spending more time around the writers and farmers around me is accomplishing much the same thing. This is school, deconstructed, and I am so ready to learn.

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The worms are coming! The worms are coming!

I’ve procured a bin, collected some nice dry leaves for shredding (before the weather decides to get them wet again), and have on hand all the other materials for a cozy worm home. I just placed my order for a pound of Eisenia foetida, and will anxiously await their arrival. Since we’re talking live critters, the shipping schedule is a little different than it is for, say, books or clothes. My red wrigglers won’t be here until the end of next week, but I’ll give a thorough accounting of their settling in, along with a little how-to for those who might be interested in setting up their own worm composter.

The more you know…

Roll your eyeballs up to the header there and take note: I’ve added a Resources page where you’ll find all manner of useful, entertaining, and thought-provoking links. Its content will evolve as this blog does, but will always be related to the work we’re doing here, exploring sustainability in its broadest sense, and finding ways to bring more of it into our lives. After all, you can never have too much brain candy.

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Long-distance dedication

Got a few new things brewing over here behind the curtain; they’ll be up in the coming days. Thanks for staying tuned.

For my aunt, host to Gentleman Cats, who are no doubt happy to have her back under the same roof:

The Ten Commandments of the Gentleman Cat
May Sarton

A gentleman cat has an immaculate shirt front and paws at all times.

A gentleman cat allows no constraint of his person, even when it is loving and well meant.

A gentleman cat does not mew except in extremity; he makes his wishes known and waits.

When addressed, a gentlemen cat does not move a muscle. He looks as though he hasn’t heard.

If he should be frightened, a gentleman cat looks bored.

Unless he is directly concerned, a gentleman cat takes no interest in other people’s business.

A gentleman cat does not hurry towards an objective, or look as though he wants just one thing: it is not polite.

A gentleman cat approaches food slowly, no matter how hungry he is, and decides from at least three feet away whether it is ‘good’, ‘fair’, ‘passable’, or ‘unworthy’. If it is unworthy, he pretends to scratch earth over it.

A gentleman cat shows his gratitude for a worthy meal by licking the plate so clean that it looks as though it has been washed.

A gentleman cat is never hasty when choosing a housekeeper.