Clearly I haven’t posted much of anything on the blog for months. Throughout this time I’ve been doing lots of other things, but alas, that is not the real reason. The “real reason” is more difficult to overcome than simply being busy. The problem of trying to be perfect. This is the same reason why it might take me twice as long to paint a room as a contractor or twice as long install light fixtures (or outlets, or deadbolts, or smoke detectors…).* I’ve been trying to be too perfect. That’s a fool’s** errand. The Avett Brothers have a great song that sums up how to move past regret. Enjoy where you’re at!
Oh, and another thing. I couldn’t figure out how to share something perfectly so I put it off until it was way too late. I’m a huge proponent of parenting and particularly of converting dads to be stay at home dads. I had the opportunity to share this message on a much bigger platform than my own. Check it out! So You Want My Job: Stay At Home Dad on the Art of Manliness
*The one job I do super fast now that I’m back in the swing of things is change diapers. Newborn Monkey #3 is a boy, so it pays to be even faster than before. You only need to get peed on a few times before you learn.
**Any time I hear the word fool I hear this song in my head:
Summer has been busier than I could have ever expected. I have come to understand the appeal of nostalgia for the past because the past always seems to be the only time that is less busy than now. The past is certainly simpler than the future because the dust has already settled while the future is a swirling, roiling dust cloud about to engulf everything.
I have been thinking about dust and simpler times lately, mostly while sanding plaster doing drywall repairs. My first experience with dust storms was in West Africa but I didn’t really become a dust storm connoisseur until I got to Iraq. Both of those places held simpler times for me, much simpler, even if I failed to recognize it at the time. So now I find myself in the strange position of looking upon those pasts more favorably than when they were futures or presents.
Watching a dust storm approach is very interesting. From the ground one has no idea how long it will last. I would wonder whether it was local dust or dust from far away. In Guinea our dust supposedly came from the Sahara. In Iraq I imagined the dust clouds to be trapped with the borders of the country, just pacing around killing time like the hundreds of thousands of Americans. Regardless, life continues within the cloud mostly as it does without and then it passes. Just as the air clears I view that I’ll handle the dust a little smarter next time, mostly by keeping my mouth shut.
I’m fortunate enough to watch my daughters develop their sense of independence incrementally in real time. Along with those abilities I’m also trying to encourage a healthy (maybe extreme) resistance to negative societal pressure so later on they can be just as insufferable and righteously indignant as me. Any time I need to feel that thrill of independence and self determination all I have to do is listen to John Butler’s “Used To Get High” and my sense of stubborn resistance to all things negative is renewed. Then I listen to it a bunch more times until the thrill wears off. The irony of being addicted to a song about common addictions in our society is not lost on me.
This song also serves a dual purpose as a kick in the butt to keep fighting the good fight. One of the things I miss about the Marines was the ready proximity of someone to kick my butt anytime the need arose. I imagine that there are plenty of people willing (itching?) to kick my butt out here in the real world but they don’t express it so readily or clearly as I would like.
Today I was watching my girls and some neighborhood kids climbing an amazing rope structure at perhaps the coolest park in the universe and it got me to thinking about threads and ropes, rope ladders and safety nets. Luckily I have inherited my mother’s ability to think via free association. It’s how I manage to weave disparate threads of thoughts and observations into some coherent fabric of an outlook on life. Like my mother, that outlook is generally sunny. This optimism is a choice, though, as the alternative is sheer terror and who would choose that?
The fact that we are here (are we a “we”, you and me, Dear Reader?) and in the situation we are is the result of what appears to be an infinite chain of unlikely events. Sometimes I think of the close calls I’ve had in my own life and it gives me chills*. Sometimes I think about how my ancestors from leaf to root on the family tree must have had close calls as well. I can’t think it likely that someone is “lucky” most of the time but somehow I have been. I can’t think it likely that a family, much less a species**, is lucky most of the time but it seems we have been***.
In my mind I picture this series of unlikely series of events as a thread****. A thread is a useful thing but fragile on its own. Dangling there on the end of my thread of galactic scale good fortune I am awed and grateful, infinitely pleased but aware of the precariousness of my position. The best thing, then, is to multiply the strength of your thread by making it into a rope with the threads of other people. Is that how we have kept all of these threads from snapping all this time? Is it the case that a stressor that might snap my individual thread and send me careening off into oblivion doesn’t, simply because mine is intertwined with those of my family and friends and larger community? Yes, and by that I’m humbled and made to be utterly grateful.
You can do a lot with a rope, but you have to take care of it. It’s just a bunch of threads, after all.
Some dedicated delivery dudes moving a couch in Bogota, Colombia last year.
The Messy Notes
*Thank the Mighty Mighty Bosstones almost two decades ago for introducing me to the phrase, attributed to John Bradford, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The song sticks in your head, as does the phrase, and that isn’t such a bad thing. It is what I think of when I think about how relatively little hardship I’ve seen or endured in comparison to most of the people in some of the places I’ve visited. (Italy doesn’t get counted here, I’m thinking more along the lines of Guinea)
** In my various trainings over the years (EMT, Hazmat Ops, annual CBRN stuff in the Marines) I’ve realized that the natural world presents an infinite amount of ways of killing us individually but we humans have doubled down and devised even more ways to kill us all collectively as well. We’re still coming up with new ways, too. Operating a passenger train while texting? Yep. It happens.
*** Several years ago, or was it the other day, I was talking with my dad about how it’s funny that there is a finite way to do something “right” but maybe an infinite way of doing it wrong. WIth those odds, it seems natural that I’ve most of what I’ve attempted I have done incorrectly. Likewise for you. How is it then that things still turn out fantastic? And things are fantastic. I can drink the water out of the tap and no one actively tried to kill me today. Other people in the world have done more things right than me and can’t do the former and had to contend with the latter.
**** This thread idea may come from the Stephen King book “Insomnia” which I read probably fifteen years ago. Basically, an old man who can’t sleep develops the ability (or hallucinates ) to see everyone’s thread tied to a balloon over his or her head. Sometimes a nasty little guy with a fearsome pair of scissors snips the thread and the person dies.
Ideas bump around in my brain for a few years sometimes before they get out. I’ve been thinking of this song as more or less a mission statement since I heard it a couple years ago as a free Single of the Week on iTunes. (Is that still a thing?) Well, here is a great song that sums up alot of what I’ve been failing to articulate. (Picture is link to Amazon MP3)
One of the biggest things I’m trying to learn myself and teach the girls is the inter-relationship of things, the context, how small things (us) fit into the bigger picture. It’s important for them (and me) to know that everything plays a part in everything else. There is room for wonder there and there is room for pride in a role well played. In the Marines we called it Esprit de Corps and I’ve been ruminating on it for a long time. One of these days I’ll be able to articulate it better.
In the meantime I’ve got my girls and the other neighborhood kids helping out with our habitat restoration/invasive plant removal efforts by “nursing” some Tulip Poplar tree seedlings along. We “rescued” them from the swing set area where they were sure to be weed-whackered. When they get big enough we’ll put them back into our forest where we have removed some of the bamboo, English ivy, and garlic mustard. Along the way we are learning a little bit about soil, worms, and the scientific method of recording observations. Perhaps the biggest lesson that we are all getting is about patience and the passage of time. There are some relatives of these seedlings already in the forest that are close to 200 years old and absolutely gigantic. It’s quite a wondrous thing for all of us to hold a seedling in our hand that might some day be 150 feet tall.
This tree project builds on another slightly shorter time scale project that my neighbor did with the kids.
She ordered a butterfly kit from Insect Lore and the kids got to watch the life cycle of the painted lady butterfly from caterpillar through chrysalis and then the release of the mature butterfly.
The kids got to observe, use the calendar, and WAIT. It was great.
We want to put roots down here in the Neighborhood. The best way we have found to do that is by inviting people into our house. We invited our children to come live with us (and then waited and waited from them to arrive). By hosting the CSA we invited many many strangers to come to our house for their vegetables and soon they were no longer strangers. Two years ago in a snowstorm we invited one of our neighbors, The Professor, over for dinner and now she is among our closest friends.
The other day we hosted a party at the house ostensibly for children. The only requirement was wearing a hat. As you can see from this photo of The Professor and Monkey 2, one’s attire can really speak volumes about the wearer’s personality and outlook on life.
Special thanks to Our Millennial for the photo, as I was off extolling the virtues of Compost! to all who would listen.
Lately I have been making an effort to think Long Term. The necessity of doing so is impossible to ignore when things that were inconceivable as a young person are now a regular part of life: 30 year mortgage, IRA’s, and (gasp!) college savings accounts. Thinking about the future, near and short term, brings into sharp relief how wacky my experience of time is.
As a kid I felt time grind by, never missing an opportunity to drag even slower during my least favorite periods (third grade, of course). Now with kids of my own I seem to not even think of weeks or months but only of seasons, and even they go by so quickly it’s almost impossible to recognize. The major difference of course is that Monkeys 1 and 2 have gone from lumps to essentially teenagers all while I looked down at my belly button for just a second.
My favorite time reference now is “the other day.” As in, “the other day when I was shoveling snow” which would of course refer to an event back in January but that seems like, well, just the other day. Maybe the day before yesterday. Sometimes my “the other day” references jump not just in time but in distance as well. The other day in Istanbul I really enjoyed eating a fish sandwich by the Bosphorus. The other day in Iraq I watched the crows and how they seemed to play with the thermal drafts and then fly as low as they could to the ground. The other day in boot camp I learned about long days and short weeks. The days have been long ever since. The weeks, well, wasn’t it just Fall?
P.S. One of my favorite books of all time depicts the passage of time in a very powerful way, A Canticle For Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller. This is one of those books that I’ve read and re-read and also given away several copies. Fantastic. Check it out at the library or Amazon. What’s your favorite time book?