25 April, 2014

Learning Along the Dirty, Sacred River: Educated vs. Learned; A New Poem

 Educated vs. Learned

I grew up believing that if I wasn't immediately good at something, then I should instead focus on those things I did excel at after one try. While this idea was not planted in me by any one person in particular, it was cemented into a false truth by pee wee football coaches who were either more interested in seeing their sons play or trying to compensate for their failure to coach in the NFL; it was fostered and encouraged by well meaning teachers whose impatience at my stubborn inability to grasp things like long division and the particulars of photosynthesis placed me firmly in the group of dim students who sat in the back and doodled rather than sat up front and knew every answer.* This idea was bullied into fact by other children who were more impressed with their own imaged prowess than with a quiet boy's curiosity about nearly everything.

Funny how curiosity was not (and generally still is not) one of those things people consider something worth being good at. I am very good at being curious and I have always been -- even when I was not good at articulating my curiosity. 

This idea of not doing what I wasn't naturally good at was also encouraged and developed by the list of things I was told, specifically, NOT to do. Adults like to say (and I have said it myself) that all children believe they are immortal. That sense of immortality was not something I experienced all that much because I was a sickly kid. I was in and out of the hospital several times before I turned five. Doctors took out my tonsils when I was four because they assumed that swollen tonsils were the reason I was having trouble breathing.  It took a while before my parents could find the right doctor to make the correct diagnosis. The smart, non-cutting doctor determined it was chronic asthma made worse by allergies. And I was allergic to almost everything. The doctors assured my parents that exposure to any level of dust, pollen, or mold might trigger an asthma attack that would kill me.**

This created a long list of things I could not do. If a neighbor three yards away was mowing their yard, I couldn't go outside to play. Sports were problematic, and even after I was cleared at the age of eight to join the world outside of school and church, I struggled. I couldn't tromp through the woods or explore the wide open fields near where I grew up -- both of which I did, often once I was old enough to be let out on my own without fear of the Carnahan's lawn mower.

One of the places I was never allowed to go was Grandpa's workshop. My brother and my (male) cousins were allowed. Most often I was left in the house, where I learned to play gin rummy with Grandma, and where I continued to develop my already over-active imagination.  Looking back, I wonder if my being barred from the workshop somehow limited my ability to talk to my mother's father. I remember him being a silent man; but he was not always silent. He would tickle me and sing silly songs to me when I was very young. He once gave a very nice pork pie hat -- grey brushed felt with a leather band -- that had been his, I think.***

I love the smell of wood and tobacco. Both of these smells represent things that were forbidden to me when I was young and it was believed that the dusty ol' world might kill me.

More than that, though, I love the thought that I am learning, again, how to work with wood.

One of the projects Amanda and I are working on this year are covers for the raised gardens. We have 4 raised Amish-made cedar garden beds. Last year, we tried to plant a garden that was trounced by flying squirrels, a squatter possum, bluejays, crows, and cardinals. The solution this year: simple wood frame and chicken wire covers. The scope of the project is not grand. I'm not going to try and jump from this project to building a house. But it's start.

Photo by A.Hay. The useful looking one is her Dad.
The hardest part is that while I can intuit a lot, and while I can figure out a lot how things work, and while I can research and learn about the things I can't figure out on my own is that somewhere, in back of my mind, I hear echoes of that thought -- generally in voice of Coach Thornberry, the king of jerk^ pee wee football coaches -- that if I can't do something, that I shouldn't do it at all.

But, in the parlance of our times: To hell with that bozo.










A New Poem


Winter makes me tire of myself.
Cold, dark February days instill in me
a desire to whittle away everything
that might signify I am alive.
Erase. Cut back. Wear a different hat.
Forgo certain enjoyable habits –
as I am and always have been
a creature of habit.

I was never so free
as when I lost my identification
to a pickpocket in a Minneapolis casino/
Bereft and released,
no longer obligated to my father’s name
I was only who others saw
or chose not to see.
There would have been no urgency at all
except that terrible itch in my foot and the anticipation
of touching your soft, warm skin
of looking into your bright eyes –
You, who know do not need to know my name
to know me
or to know my place in this world.

Now it is Spring
and the honeysuckle is blooming.
I find myself more inclined
to write myself back into lines
rather than obliterate all trace
and pray for the insight of others.
Your eyes, they shine on me
trace the lines that demarcate me,
the lines I have spent a cold season erasing.
Within the fresh lines,
your eyes fill me with ten thousand colors
of ten thousand forgotten nourishing suns
as the neighborhood roosters call out
demanding us all to rise.

*Sometimes I scribbled poems and silly stories. Sometimes I drew robots and then scribbled little poems and stories about them. Sometimes I daydreamed that I was a robot. Or that I was Superman. Or that I was a secret agent in enemy territory... that was a particularly favorite daydream during Ms. Melvin's 4th grade class when we studied multiplication tables.
** Not being able to breathe is an odd experience. I call it odd, rather than traumatic, because it happened often enough that it stopped being scary and became annoying. The only thing more annoying than not being able to breathe was everyone else's reactions to my not being able to breathe.
***I wasn't able to wear the hat very long. My head has always been unusually large.
^ Think of a wanna-be Mike Ditka. Same ego, same attitude, sans the coaching skill.

14 April, 2014

Brief Meditation on the Metaphysical Politics of Place and The Good Friday Assault (A Story)

I've often told my friend Jared Salyers that I am jealous of his sense of place.  With very few exceptions, he has never wandered far from the place he knows is his home -- Olive Hill, Kentucky. With very few exceptions, I have more or less avoided my childhood home -- Bethel, Ohio. His reasons for staying are startlingly similar to my reasons for staying away. His sense of connection to the area where he was born and raised -- and where he is now married and raising his son -- runs deep. 

This will seem like an unremarkable statement if you are a native Kentuckian. Since I am an implant from the dirtier side of the dirty, sacred river, I often meditate on it with a sense of wonder. Native Kentuckians fall more or less into two distinct categories:
  1. those who love it, identify with it, and feel in their bones (whether they stay or go); and
  2. those who leave, and once they leave, rarely feel the need to return.
There is a pull to ground in Kentucky that is unlike any other place I've been. And even though it took me a long time to get here -- and even though I will need to scratch my itchy foot from time to time -- this is the place I call home.  I don't have the same connection with the place that others have -- a connection that in my mind gets wrapped up in my notions of grace, as a gift bestowed by the universe for reasons beyond our reckoning that are probably not worth the energy to try and understand.  And because I do identify that sensation of knowing home in your bones for your entire life as a kind of grace, like any good Protestant Reject I recognize the other path to paradise comes in the form of works.

Love and impossible gravity* drew me here. Love and impossible gravity keeps me centered. And it is because of love because of impossible gravity that I am embracing every facet of my life.

Lately, this has meant learning. Learning how to garden. Learning how plumbing works. Learning how to repair things, make things, how to plan for years instead of days and months -- and learning that plans are only good plans if they are fluid and if they are grounded in love and in impossible gravity.

Places, like people, wilt and rot if they fall into neglect. Places, like people, will rise out of the fog someone is willing to put the work in.

And there is beauty in wilting and rotting. And there is beauty in rising out of the fog, washing
everything in sunlight and in water, and in pulling out what arguably should have never been there... like the carpet upstairs. Except for where a very old, very sick, very incontinent cat destroyed the pine floorboards, the floors are sturdy and in good condition. In spite of some the fantastically disastrous "improvements" (people who don't know how to do wiring should not do wiring. People who don't understand gravity should not install plumbing.)  done to this house by the people Amanda bought it from and in spite of some age and wear and tear, the bones of it are good. We're putting a lot of energy and thought into the place. We're going to be planting an expanded garden soon, and we are planning to expand it further next season using terrace gardens.

This clay did not birth me and I will never be able to say that. But I will be able to say I put in the work to justify calling this place "home."

The Good Friday Assault