Mailing It In

I love forgetting about something until it shows up in the mail. You don’t really get to do that much in this blissful epoch of two-day and even sometimes same-day deliveries. But a while back I was offered a thing and I – wisely – accepted. I chided the sender once, then left off, and yesterday it arrived. “That’s odd handwriting.” I knew it wasn’t my mom’s, thought it could have been my dad’s, if he was in a hurry, then I looked at the return address and remembered that Miss Dickinson had been on her way, as she says in #324, Some Keep the Sabbath, “all along.” Thanks go out to Gerard for the best of gifts: a book with a personalized inscription:

It’s a gambit of sorts, because I gain more from it than this book. It means that I, like Gerard before he sent it, now have two copies and can send one off to anyone who wants it. Raise your hand in the comments and we can work it out.

There’s a lot going on, to be sure, but I don’t want to talk about it. I want to do this: Sanding the deck (it’s done, BTW, we’ll stain this weekend) inevitably, finally, reminded me of this poem:


There are days you learn things
like —
the real feel of sawdust,
downy in plush piles
No trace of the pain
of its bellicose birthing
Days you learn that things  
you don’t long look at —
things made when two mean pieces meet
and one must give —
are too quickly swept away
The first time you smelled it —
a tidy slice that bled
all freshness from the dying
whine of the chopsaw
(hard named thing!)
was in the garage, probably,
or a cobwebbed shed or even
in the bright back woods,
under a stiff wind
that moved whole seasons
and could not help but carry
the fruit of hewn history
straight into you
That first time it was only looking —
A place to live
A home forever
We know it now not
as the smell of the jobs of our fathers —
jobs that didn’t seem enough
We know it now
as the smell instead
of the work they did
that we silent saw
(and they more silent did)
Work that was rough,
that was mean,
that mother sometimes seemed to think
wasn’t good for much
That it was only the work —
just that, merely the work —
that made them,
merely, men
But now we know that Mama knew
and nothing good was left unseen.
We know that she knew that
Papa had to be the silent thing
to clear a little holy space
for a little violent shepherding
Now we KNOW that Mama knew
what rough cuts made the dust,
and how she must not just sweep it up
but that she must
(hard fought stuff!)
form piles —
neat peaks to bear up the brutes,
the boys, the noise-born boys!
whose shouts we shussshhhh —
stamp right out.
Believing —
we can polish the mean teeth
of the saw,
pad the menacing head
of the hammer,
quench the fires blasting
in the bellies,
And still have a house to live in
Mama —
who made us
Who made us
whole —
sees us act
as if we could make all the hard things soft and the loud things
quiet and the mean things nice and never once put tooth to tree.
As if we could have the
(yes, messy)
blessing of the dust
without the saw
We never saw that
mama cuts things, too
She lifts her blade while papa
(who always mutely knew)
swings his, severing, down
We stand between, above —
smelling home with every
swipe and hack

The PVP Diaries #69

Sanding the deck has been like doing a jigsaw puzzle. The Italian and I work on it when we have the time, sometimes together, sometimes separately. We’ll look outside after a while and say “woah, looks like you got a lot done today.” And last night, when I was driving home with the kids after soccer practice, I realized I was going to be a little annoyed if she got to be the one to finish it.

Percentages. Deaths were hovering at about 7% of positive cases for a very long time. I imagine the 4.7% will continue to drop. And 13.5% of positive cases seeking hospital care certainly sounds high to me, but I have no idea. This does not appear to be the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, is all I’m saying.

Mary Rowlandson is a strange read. Being captive of the Indians seems to have been an unpredictable blend of torture and ease. She seemed to be able to wander their camps fairly freely, entering any wigwam she wanted to at any time, and even invite her owners to “dinner” if she scrounged up enough food to share. But then also she received beatings at random times, had her food stolen from her pockets as soon as it is given to her, and was sold between families. Maybe it was that frenetic unprdictability that fueled her peculiar habits of capitalization and italicization:

“The Woman, viz. Good wife Joslin, told me she should never see me again, and that she could find in her heart to run away. I wisht her not to run away by any means, for we were near thirty miles from any English Town, and she very big with Child, and had but one week to reckon; and another Child in her arms two years old; and bad rivers there were to go over…”

“English” and “Indian” receive frequent, but not consistent, italicizing. And capitalized words from that passage like “Town” and “Child” are written un-capitalized as often as not. Old timey stuff, whatever. I’ll get over it. I am not a scholar of the grammar and mechanics of the 17th century Engrification.

Have to run – cutting it short. But not without reporting that as it happened, the Italian did not finish sanding the deck while I was away at soccer practice last night. But she very nearly did, excepting an area that was soaked the day before – collateral damage from yet another battle in the Coronavirus Not-So-Dead-End Street Water Wars of 2020. A fight that escalated (as they always do) from balloons to water guns, which leads to the positioning of several 5-gallon buckets (both Home Depot orange and Tru Value white) in various spots around the neighborhood for resupply and reloading, until someone finally says, “Oh just to hell with it” and takes control of the nuclear arsenal by grabbing the hose. Naturally this is when the shouts of “that’s not fair! begin, answered by a bloodthirsty, 9 year-old cry of “F*** fair! THIS IS WAR!”

Capital capitalization, Comrade Citizen!

The PVP Diaries #68

Let me bring this back for a minute:

We’ve been having a small uptick in deaths to go with the large bump in positives. The graphs are predictably startling. But “tons more people being tested everyday,” and all those mitigating factors, and whatever. I don’t know what this thing is, how serious or grave, but it’s certainly still here. That it is being artificially buoyed to some extent by politics is undeniable (or so I think), but who knows how much. And as I look at graphs with a marked upswing in the last couple of weeks – tests, positive results, deaths (not so much an uptick as a steady presence), I then come across the graph for new hospitalizations:

There appears to be a sort of diminishing of severity to go along with the surge in occurrence, such that you wonder how much we still have to fear. Some of you will say “there was nothing to fear in the first place,” some will say “don’t let your guard down,” and others will give it the ol’ “a little of both, somewhere in the middle.” All I know is that I don’t want to homeschool my son again.

The parents at The Boy’s school started a long email situation the other day, prompted by a Dad linking to an article about outdoor classrooms – some nod to yesteryear, open-air learning environments, the benefits thereof, etc. A dozen or more emails followed, all laser focused on that subject. The next day a friend, Mom of one of The Boy’s classmates, texted me privately and said that if they don’t – first and foremost – get a solid, complete plan in place for remote learning, they’ve failed. She sent an email to the school saying the same. I couldn’t agree more. Whatever the Coronavirus might actually be on the sliding scale of Vast Government Conspiracy to Global Death Sentence, the likelihood of being in the classroom in the Fall is close to zero (at least here in Washington). And this is the 21st century. I like the idea of outdoor learning as much as the next guy, but we’re not paying all that tuition to send our kids to a 1907 model of education.

The reading’s all been somewhat one-dimensional. And I also forgot to mention that my first post-4th of July read was “In the Heart of the Sea” as a follow-up to Moby Dick. I say go and read it. Twice, even. But under no circumstances are you to watch the movie. Do. Not. Watch. It. The book was written by a man with the most New England name I’ve heard since Hester Prynne: Nathaniel Philbrick. You’ll see some references to the whale stories in my hockey novel, if that ever comes to pass (no, it isn’t actually a hockey novel). Highly recommend.

To mix things up, and because my not-a-hockey-novel is set in a fictional Massachusetts (OMG I spelled that right on the first try) town, I’m starting today on Colonial American Travel Narratives. It begins with Mary Rowlandson’s story. The introduction (yes, I repeat, you have to read the introduction) goes a bit predictably academic when Rowlandson fails to mourn the death of her captors’ baby:

At the same time, the religious framework that mediates Rowlandson’s suffering makes her blind to the suffering of those who don’t share the same cultural assumptions.

Christianity and cultural assumptions? TARGET ACQUIRED. Please, Professor, do go on:

Rowlandson’s inability to extend sympathy suggests that her survival instinct outweighed the Christian admonition to be charitable.

No, it didn’t. In fact, I don’t see how her survival instinct had anything to do with it, or Christian charity. Rowlandson had already seen “seventeen family members and friends butchered before her eyes.” The people who did the butchering kidnapped her, and at some point lost a papoos of their own to sickness, about which Rowlandson simply said “I confess I could not much condole with them.” It would take something like a humanities professor to translate that reaction into cultural insensitivity or religious hypocrisy. For my part, I find the fact that Rowlandson did not outright celebrate the child’s death, and characterize it as an act of divine retribution, to be charitable in the utmost. Christian, even.

I take the kids to the doctor today for an annual checkup. I have no idea if this will involve any sort of a traditional flu shot, or if we’ve dispensed of that cute little ritual altogether. Seems kind of like going swimming in a raincoat at this point. I’ll certainly ask.

Is This Even a PVP Diary? (#67)

“Hey dad?”
“Do you want to know the reasons of life?”
“I don’t.”

I’ve been reading books manically. Though also of course placidly, because I don’t know about you, but the only effect that reading good literature has ever had on me has been one of balance and accord. Even the uncomfortable, frenzied, painful stories, because the recognition of the feeling somewhere outside of myself is naturally calming. It’s validation, or a kind of fraternity, and it is centering, even in anguish. Like the way a toddler throwing a tantrum can be calmed by someone simply saying “You must be very angry right now. Do you want to tell me how angry you are?” A good story has a way of being exactly where you are, or bringing you to where it is, without ever telling you that you’re being ridiculous.

Here’s my list since the 4th of July:

  • Legends of the Fall (3 Novellas)
    1. Revenge
    2. Legends of the Fall (puts an already very good movie to shame)
      • Have not yet read:
        1. The Man Who Gave Up His Name
  • The Survival of the Bark Canoe
  • The Shell Collector (Short story collection)
    1. The Shell Collector
    2. The Hunter’s Wife
    3. So Many Chances
    4. For a Long Time This Was Griselda’s Story
    5. July Fourth
      • Have not yet read:
        1. The Caretaker
        2. A Tangle by the Rapid River
        3. Mkondo
  • Heart of Darkness
    • I’ve read a lot of Conrad, not sure why it took me so long to get to this.
    • Went ahead and watched Apocalypse Now (again(I mean again-again)) after reading this, and it was even better that way.

I read to write, and that’s part of why I haven’t been here. While I am not making swift progress, my novel is coming together little by little. It’s slow enough that I’m saying things like “we’ll see where it is this time next year,” but I sense that I’m going to hit a point where it gets easier to write it. For now I am treating it like a job: working on it (which means reading as much as writing) for a few hours every day, taking weekends off for house projects, neglecting laundry, etc. One of the big problems is that during the summer, with the coronavirus rolling along, there is little to occupy the kids. They’re outside messing around as much as possible, but with The Italian and I both working, the kids find themselves in front of screens an awful lot.

There’s also my intent to publish my One Donut Poems as a collection, another poetry collection idea I have, and two half-done short stories that I’d like to finish, but I need to pick something and go until it’s done. Nothing will make me feel more complete than the novel.

Oh yeah, here’s the link to the page where you can find my poem that the good people at Whatever Keeps the Lights On were kind enough to publish. I think it’s fantastic that they found a place for me. Maybe I oughtta push out a few more today, see if anything takes.

And I’ve started to cull the internet from my life to whatever meager extent is possible. I’m entirely gone from Facebook (except of course for their extensive and permanent file containing my habits, interests, desires, internet history, shopping history, friends, acquaintances, birth certificate social security number, medical history, and probably even my DD-214), dropped a few sites from my list of daily or near-daily visits, deleted several apps from the phone that I found I’d open up and look at like a drugged raccoon in a dumpster, and am teaching myself little things like “it’s ok to go to the bathroom without your phone.” Sounds a little sad, I know, but like most of us, I’m a lot less unique than I’d like to think.

I may also have to slink back to FB. It was my best way to stay in touch with my brother. Since losing FB Messenger, I have heard almost nothing from him.

Well anyway, some folks are coming to clean the roof and gutters today, so that’ll be nice to have done. And last year we had our deck enlarged a bit, and redone entirely in some nice cedar, but I prepped it poorly and used cheap stain, so we’re here now:

Sanding her down little by little with the random orbit sanders. We borrowed one from a neighbor so that we could both work on it, but still didn’t quite finish over the weekend, what with other obligations happening. We’ll at least know that the wood will be good and ready to drink up the stain, and we’re using a good, expensive stain that we’ve used before and have no complaints about. (about which we have…whatever). I’d love to get the sanding done today, but I’m writing.

On Sharing Experiences, and the Experience of Sharing

There’s some way to stop this. It’s not like lightning or earthquakes. We’ve got a bad thing made by men, and by God that’s something we can change.

Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

The three years I spent in college were characterized by the exercise of one theme more than any other: experience. One person, the prevailing idea goes, can never know the experience of another. It would be a fine topic for philosophy, but it was never really examined at that level. Nobody cared to ask what deep, intrinsic features make experience unsharable, which things about the rights of ownership of experience are de rigueur vs, de jure, etc. It was simply posited and accepted that all races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual preferences were irrevocably separated by the unbreachable uniqueness of their individual experiences. Individual, but immediately transferable, in uncorrupted perfection, to anyone who shares a skin tone or birth country, gender, etc. For instance, all gay people can immediately know and understand the experience of a single gay person. But no straight person can. Ever. Nobody but a black person can know the experiences of a black person, and all black people are privy to that single one. They can commiserate. Nobody else can. It can be broken down into more restrictive zones, based on birth place, country of origin, etc. It reduces all the way down to neighborhood and even family home, whenever that level of covetousness is required in order to guard against criticism and/or self-examination.

Shutting people off from one another is one of The University’s most refined skills.

But – If I cannot know the experiences of others, then why did I get ill a few weeks ago and turn away after watching the first video of someone being beaten by looters? Why can’t I handle watching the replay of an athlete breaking his leg? Why do those experiences of other people, black or white, male or female, physically sicken me, even through a computer monitor, if I can’t know or understand anything about them? Empathy, maybe. But I’m not sure that counts for much beyond being a nice thing to say.

I thought about this condition of experiential boundaries as much as anything else in college. I thought less about the experience, and more about the unknowability of it. The odd bubble around an individual that prevents me from knowing or understanding his experience, even when it is taught to me, or actually occurring right in front of me. The thing that came to me quickest, most frequently, and has never left me, was this: What are we doing, in college, telling each other that there’s things we can’t know? Things we can’t learn? What else is school for? I am not Pythagoras, but that didn’t prevent me from applying his theorem when I was building my patio. I was able to access and employ the experiences of a man who I am not, because, as a child even, I learned it. If Pythagoras were adhering to the tenets of today’s educated society, he would have copyrighted his theorem and demanded a stop to any construction using right triangles. When he said “you can’t possibly know this,” the absurdity would have been evident.

So – If I cannot know the experiences of others, why do I read? How am I supposed to react when a girl who grew up in poverty in Afghanistan stands at an open mic and reads a poem about her experience, if I can’t know anything about it? Why should she even bother? Why should anyone?

My God, the things that we would miss.

And of course, what of white privilege? After all, the concept of white privilege is the declaration of a perfect knowledge and understanding of the experiences of white people, by people who are not white. It’s an obvious contradiction, sure. And no doubt it’s the kind of rocky coast upon which essay after essay dashes itself without dislodging so much as a pebble. But honestly it isn’t much of an issue for me. I do not believe that my experiences are not commutable. People of all kinds are bright and capable, and can learn what life is like for me – even when they are not me – simply by asking and observing, and really by generally existing in the same world. The world is nothing, if not evidence for everything. I have no call to tell someone that because his skin is not white, he must look dumbly upon me and know only about me that which I am willing to tell him. I believe, in a word, that non-white people can observe and even share in the experiences of white people. All the time, and easily. They can cry “white privilege” and be right or wrong, but not dismissed on the grounds that it’s impossible for them to know.

I just also happen to believe that it works the other way as well.

I arrived here, eventually: any time you can convince someone that there is something he cannot learn, you can make him your slave. You can tell him anything about it that you want. Anything that serves you and silences him, because he is precluded from having any doubt about what you are saying, and strictly confined to doubting what he thinks he knows about it. You can build a prison of lies for him to live in, unable to protest, because his agreement is full submission to your mastery.

All of this language policing, all the shouts of racism and sexism where there is none; all the hoarding and walling-off of experiences and words as things owned and personal; it is about establishing that mastery, and gaining that submission. This is where it is easy to say it’s about power and control, in a sort of grand, state/national/global-level scheme, but I’m not convinced it’s quite so deep for most people. I think that the relationship – the arrangement – is sought as a means to arrive at a simple feeling of personal security, and is only carried further on its own momentum. That’s when it starts to dip into political waters, but I am not a very political person. I think about Steinbeck when I think about politics. I retrace my steps back to the humanity – the person – at the source. About “bad things made by men.” That’s what politics is. And like the tenant squatting in the disappearing top soil in The Grapes of Wrath, who believes that the men who built the bank-machine are still in control of it, I can’t shake the belief that that’s something we can change. I can’t grasp the notion that there’s something out there that is made by us but is beyond us. Run by us but not controlled by us. Made of us, but is not us. It’s logical but naive, sensible but stupid. That’s why it’s so easy to abandon.

So what I mean, somewhat obviously, is that politics is corrupt not because it’s politics and there’s something inherently, mechanically bad about it, but because of the people in it. The individual men and women using foul means to course-correct for personal shortcomings. Not because they are Democrats or Republicans, fascists or communists, but because they are individuals striving for small-scale salves for the wounds they suffer at the hands of their consciences. In short, nobody is setting out to make a city or state or country’s worth of people bow down to their whims. They are setting out to cover the holes in their armor. The things that make them feel small and vulnerable and, undoubtedly worst of all, mediocre. The shouts of injustice and privilege are not really about power – they’re about waking up in the morning feeling personally, individually unimportant, under the control of something outside of and bigger than you, and going to bed that night feeling you’ve done something about it. Like you’ve at least gotten your three dollars a day to drive the tractor, instead of impotently waving your rifle in the window of the farmhouse that the tractor’s running down.

College, by the way, deified the notion of vulnerability, while casting any skepticism to the lions. Once advanced, a person’s expression of vulnerability was never to be doubted or questioned. It was only to be supported and validated. It’s very nice at first, and as long as it is a voluntary revelation of weaknesses that we instinctively try too hard to hide, in almost every instance it’s a perfectly useful, pleasant, kindly and humane response. We can find a world of glad protection, outside of ourselves, when we dare to expose our soft spots. It’s beautiful. But ultimately grievance was made tantamount to vulnerability, so that anyone claiming any degree of victimhood also fell under the protection of the vulnerability tenet – that once uttered, it was not to be disputed. A case of good intentions wreaking havoc on the virtue of honesty. Soon every word is a wound begging for a bandage, and quickly slapping away the hand of any Thomas who dares to doubt. As for the vulnerability itself – it starts to ring shallow and measured, and offered only as a sort of unconscious habit, or tick, never left to be weathered by proofs. It is the robe snapped shut at the threat of the probe, with no soul noble enough to bare flesh and say “put your finger here.”

And more than than that, it’s about something that I’ve talked about several times before. It’s about getting something for nothing. About forgetting that it’s normal to have very little, and it’s exceptional to be affluent. That a life of being low-to-middling in just about every aspect is the common condition for minimal effort, which is how most of us go through life, and that anything above that bar is the result of having done something more. But for some reason we keep believing in the perpetual elevation of the minimum, that we are beaten if we are happy with what we have, and that there is virtue in an increasing gap between merit and reward. That while we shouldn’t be asked to do anything more, we should go on expecting to get something more. Perhaps if the United States is guilty of any injustice, it is guilty of spreading that particular optimism, poisonous as it may be.

All of which is about, of course, one thing: The refusal to accept reality. And most definitely the inability to be satisfied with it. Conflating contentment with submission has driven us to believing in an ethics of tantrum, wherein the intellectual creativity that we should be using for growth and creation is being exhausted in the pursuit of too-clever variations on the theme of “that’s not fair.” Our great capacity for belief is wasted in the notion that we are something that we are not, and that we deserve more than we’ve earned. And most perniciously of all, we believe that a person is defined by what is said about him, rather than what is known about him – the former being shamefully abundant, and the latter being dearly scarce. Any Monday morning cynic can prattle on endlessly about where that belief comes from, how and from whom that arrangement is learned, but that’s just another kind of witch hunt. Our obsession with blame over solution. The belief in progress through punishment. I’ve been a parent too long to believe that works.

Now, with this blockade set up around experiences, we’re able to claim a little territory. We’re able to tell people, at least in this instance, where they are not allowed to go. The tenant gets to stall the tractor and the owners have to get in their closed cars and go back to the bank, and everyone gets to believe for a while longer that it’s just a system. That it’s tractors and cars and banks and not people, until the tractor fills in the well and pulls down the porch and then it’s “were will we go” and “how will we eat” and suddenly it’s human. Now it’s time for a reckoning, because almost all of us want to – but almost none of us will ever get to – be the bank, and we don’t have the strength or courage – much less the capacity for contentment – to go on being the tenant. So we accept the bank’s offer, climb up behind the wheel of the tractor, spread our blameless arms to the horizons, and only have to try to keep the lines straight as we plow our old homes into the dirt. That’s powerful. It feels like getting something without having done much of anything. And that feels good.

It really does. I’m not saying this cynically or sarcastically. I have been in the military and have been on both ends of orders. Both sides of power and impotence. I have been arbitrarily prohibited from countless meaningless activities, even sometimes from speaking at all, for no other reason than that the person standing in front of me had the power to do it. I have also been that person, issuing the orders, the prohibitions, in the most trivial and ridiculous circumstances. And in every case, I enjoyed it. It felt good. Maybe that doesn’t speak well of me, and maybe it isn’t true of everyone, but let’s be honest in an era of equality, there really isn’t all that much difference between any of us. Winning always feels good, and in the absence of conscience, the Pyrrhic Victory doesn’t exist.

The military analogy is somewhat unfaithful, though, because to have the authority to shut someone up means achieving a certain rank, and achievement requires effort. You cannot become a non-commissioned officer without satisfying some number of requirements that require a level of input slightly greater than getting dressed in the morning. You do have to do something in order to get something. If, however, you are launching your authority from a platform of personal experience, claiming your promotions by birthright, then you are demanding to get something not from doing something for it, but simply by being something. It starts to look a lot like privilege, except you objectify and commodify yourself. You “earn” said authority through absolutely nothing more than being born in a certain place, or with a certain set of parents, of a certain skin tone or gender, etc. You are constructing an authority on nothing but sophistry and vain solipsism, making an arrangement in which you attempt to trade skin color or sexual preference for that sweet feeling that comes when you tell someone to shut up, and he has to.

Whenever I begin these things (begrudgingly, believe me, but I am sometimes compelled), I expect that I can do it well. Do it better. I expect that I can present my criticisms in a way that even the people I am criticizing will not take any offense. That they might even walk away thinking “there are some really good points in there.” I know that, first of all, I am not so deep and erudite that I can perform that particular miracle with the degree of success that I wish. Second of all, I know that it is the rarest of souls who takes criticism well, without rancor and resentment, and with a willingness to apply it constructively. The rarest of souls that takes a searching doubt by the wrist and guides the finger to the wound. Just as they teach in college, we don’t even believe that we ought to be criticized in the first place, and should immediately condemn anyone who does it. Irony’s a weird trip.

The third thing I know is that I am not supposed to care. That I am supposed to refuse to tiptoe around anyone’s sensitivities, and to outright dismiss the reactions of anyone who can’t handle what I have to say. That if I am right, I am right, and the cries of the offended are not my problem. If I were a more popular writer, I’d have a dozen comments in an hour telling me to stop being such a baby and not apologize, ever, for “telling it like it is.” But if you think about what I said earlier about politics being made of people, and not necessarily by people who are setting out to rule over whole populations, you can start to see how it gets that way. You start by thinking “I’ll post this essay, and damn anyone who can’t stand reading it,” and then realize that when you carry that attitude through a winning political campaign, you wind up applying that personal philosophy to your governing philosophy, and that’s what tyranny looks like. That’s when man becomes machine.

So think about the girl from Afghanistan reading her poem. I asked why she should bother, if I can’t know anything about growing up poor under a different sun, a different God, a different war. If her experience really is so singular and remote from me that I can do nothing with it beyond being told. The answer is that she should bother for the same reason we all bother: because we want each other to know. Every time we speak about our experiences, we act against the supposition that no one else can know them, and we do it in order to gain something that has, for a change, a grain of nobility. We do it not to win, but to win over. We want understanding every bit as much as we want allies (the latter without the former is a very weak tonic), but are struck by the disquieting feeling that every time we share something personal we lose ownership of it. We want to somehow both give it away and to keep it, to tie it to a string so that we can let it out when we’re feeling lonely, but yank it back when all the sharing feels like dilution, and we’re losing our claim to uniqueness. Without a way to reconcile those needs we’re very confused. Very vulnerable. And generosity of that sort – the giving away of something personal, the the gifting of some part of the soul – is always hardest to do because it means giving up a measure of something you have, to someone who can never care about it as much as you think it deserves.

One of the most worn-out cliches expended in praise of someone is the one that says “if you tell her she can’t do something, she sees it as a challenge and won’t quit until she proves you wrong.” Usually the premise is a lie, anyway – nobody ever said “you can’t do that,” in the first place, but it makes for a much prettier arrangement if we say it, and it is accepted. It sets up conflict, which we absolutely love, because we are at our most excited, most elevated, when we are triumphant. Especially over someone or something that can be shown to be mean, base, or cruel. Over someone who said “you can’t.” We celebrate victory uber alles, but triumph is only possible when there is an opponent, so we keep our lives as full of them as we can.

Well maybe it’s just me, but the fewer opponents I see when I look around, the more harmonious I feel. And maybe it’s just my experience, but the more often I’m told that I can’t know something, the less inclined I am to try, because all my efforts start to feel like submission to manipulation by some lilliputian force, and it becomes very appealing to just get away from that exclusion and stay closest to the things that are most like me. To spend less energy trying to assemble a gossamer affinity for a stated impossibility. In other words, this covetous ownership of experience has the only effect that it possibly could have: it pushes us apart.

The good news is that there isn’t very much that needs to be done to correct any of this. We’re already contradicting our covetousness by sharing our experiences every chance we get. It’s most of what social media is. It’s nearly everything produced in the arts and literature. Everyone’s experiences are everywhere we look, and everywhere we listen. The only thing that needs to be done differently is to cut the string that we keep using to yank them back from the brink of recognition in order to preserve our sense of ownership. The string that’s so clearly labeled “this is mine.” And for those of us being told that we can’t possibly know, it’s our job to reassuringly object. To insist that we can understand, and that we have something of equal value to share in return. As it is, we are doing ourselves the disservice of offering acquiescence in place of understanding, and losing the distinction between familiarity and enforcement. In a world where mutual respect across any discernible boundary is rarely expected, wilful servility is being proffered as an adequate substitute. If we could simply respect each other enough to believe that we can be responsible stewards of one another’s souls, we’d find out how natural an impulse sharing can be.

But still, and importantly, sharing does confront us with disharmony. It taunts us with imbalance. The possibility of giving something away only to watch it be mishandled can be very discouraging. That’s why we make of personal experience such an insular entity, and protect it so dearly. What we fail to realize is that sometimes we will lose a little something of ourselves, but that loss is a valid experience, too, and one that is every bit as sharable as the rest. So we have to just keep going. And if, at the end, we find that the world’s run off with all of our experiences and there’s nothing left of us to share, that’s how we know that we’ve done something right.

So please, tell your stories and read your poems out loud. Just resist the impulse to snap the cover shut when it looks like the audience is getting too close. Let the world take them, and run with them, and bring them back improved.

Sandpoint 3

There were more people here yesterday, but not many. It’s still strikingly quiet for such a beautiful place on the 4th of July. I’m sure we’ll see more people around today, being the actual holiday, and at least one of us will say “now it’s getting crowded.” But still, compared with what you usually see on a summer weekend in a lake town, it’ll be dead. I can’t imagine the crowds back home this weekend at Lincoln Park and Alki Beach – the gnashing of teeth that’ll be done over the flouting of norms for social responsibility, the prognostications of Coronavirus spikes, etc. It’ll be right, mostly, but it still bores me. In fact rightness, correctness, is often one of the dullest things around, because it tends to be pointed out so relentlessly. Anyway, Seattle’s the city. You can’t throw a BLM Molotov cocktail without hitting three yoga classes, two bicycle clubs and a police car. Whaddya gonna do? The place just wakes up crowded.

Out here in the hills of lake country things are different. It takes work to gum the place up with humanity, even when the moon does this at 9:45 in the evening:

That came after finally leaving the firepit on the beach. S’mores and insects and wet wood. It had been raining steady here for a couple of weeks before we showed up. The day we arrived was actually the last of it. The fire wasn’t able to really get going. There was a lot of smoke. The Italian is a firebug but even she wasn’t able to make much of it. My friend and I were able to stay at the fire alone for a while, talking about music and watching phone videos of his twins playing Highway to Hell on guitar and drums. In talking about books, I mistakenly mentioned Great Falls by Richard Ford, because I was thinking that Great Falls was in Idaho (it’s Montana, Andy). Possibly understandable, given that Idaho lays claim to Twin Falls. There should really be more coordination on these things, to avoid the confusion. I seemed to be having a little cognitive overlap between Ford and Raymond Carver, who was the Pacific Northwesterner. It’s only this morning that I’m realizing my mistake. I’ll remedy it later.

The time was ours because a couple of the kids had said – in moment of Loch Ness level rarity – that they were ready to go in and go to bed. Our wives did that thing that tells a husband he’s landed on solid ground when they said to us, “We’ll take care of this, you guys enjoy the fire for a while.” We did. Now it’s our job to have the presence of mind to return the favor when the opportunity presents itself.

Dinner was thrown together rapidly on the heels of our boat trip. The boat return was stressful, requiring a stop at the fuel point that was an unrealistic thing to ask of people who don’t pilot boats regularly. The space was tight, the water was crowded with boats moving in a hundred directions, and our pontoon boat was not small. As my name was not on the rental agreement, I was able to stay calm and help with guidance and reassurance. As with most things, it was over eventually.

But not before tubing and paddle boarding (sort of). I love water, but I have a kind of juvenile, laughable, umm, let’s call it an “apprehension,” about swimming in lakes, oceans, etc. Like most fears reasonable hesitations, it isn’t describable in very logical, dignified terms. I’m completely happy and comfortable to wade in from the beach, to a clean and clear area for swimming. But dropping into the middle of a lake from a boat is not appealing. I don’t know what’s down in that vastness. No amount of mature reasoning, or even experience, can ever completely silence an innate fear (30 parachute jumps and I am no less afraid of heights than before), so lowering myself onto a standup paddle board alongside The Girl was an exercise in affected nonchalance that I utterly failed to pull off. At 12 years old she had no worries at all. As so often happens, my child made me look like a baby. But let me just say this as clearly as I can for anyone who needs to hear it: When your daughter puts on her vest and asks you if you’ll go out on the water with her, in that voice and with those eyes that tell you she’s thinking of you as the real life preserver, you do not say no. As her father, you have to be a better man than any she’ll ever meet for the rest of her life. It’s no guarantee of anything, because nothing is, but it makes sure that anytime she thinks she may have sailed too far out from shore, she can still see home when she looks back.

The boat wasn’t ours until 2:00 in the afternoon. We had to do something else with the day until then. Three-ish hours in the pool worked well enough. The pool is the only babysitter I’ve ever known that has the power to match screen time for its sheer ability to keep kids happy, independently, for whole days at a time. It’s amazing. It’s a small pool, but as I’ve said, there’s nobody here. We had it almost completely to ourselves the entire time. The virus dies in the chlorine and chemicals anyway, so it’s one of the safest things we can do. Marco Polo sailed the waters tirelessly yesterday.

I may have mentioned before that in her youth, The Italian was a manager at a Cinnabon. We like to call on her experience a little too frequently, but she’s generally happy to comply. She made a batch of cinnamon rolls and froze them for our trip. They were breakfast yesterday. Heavy, thick, sweet. perfect, with honestly far too much icing. Except that there’s no such thing as too much icing. They were a sort of soft, somnambulic countermeasure to the crispness of the sun coming up over the water.

I saw that view and almost went out for a walk, but I don’t have a travel mug for my coffee. I mean, a man can only be asked to handle so much hardship, you know?

4th of July, finally. Have fun doing good things.

Sandpoint 2

Not very clever with the titles, but now we’re talking:

Obviously the view is East. I may look up tomorrow’s sunrise and see about waking up for it. Happens pretty early, though. And don’t be fooled, it’s only 48 degrees out there. It really doesn’t feel like that, though, even out on the deck.

I made the effort to pivot my old bones a little bit South for this one. An idea of what the complex/resort looks like:

I think we’re in the rental section of the community. Those roofs in the picture are on top of what seem to be more permanent residences, with attached 2 car garages and individual entrances. We cooked outside last night, having reserved 90 minutes at a small, “shared” patio type area with three grills and two large tables. A woman who identified herself as an owner came over and asked us our story. Much conversational box-checking occurred rapidly, with all the right nodding and affected amazement over all the rubes out there who aren’t wearing masks at the grocery stores, etc. It’s the newest and best virtue signal. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t think we should be wearing masks, it only means that I always feel a little ashamed and embarrassed for people when they reach for the cliches, the banal social passwords that hamper and postpone the move towards any real human exchanges. It’s like rubbing a magic lamp and saying, “I dunno, genie. I guess I wish for some string cheese. I like string cheese.” It’s disappointing. You could do so much more with that.

We hiked yesterday. It was cold, but just about right for a bunch of old people and their kids.

Most things don’t change, even though being out in the country, 6 hours from home, feels very different. I always have that little insecurity that makes me wonder if people are doing every thing in unrecognizable and unfamiliar ways, but mostly they are not:

What are the “ing” words? Gerunds? My God, those were difficult in Arabic. I still don’t know them. But here in English, I can recognize the way they result in sentence fragments in several parts of that sign. It’s been funny how the pandemic has exposed the poor grasp of grammar that prevails out there in the world.

– The Pandemic Pedant.

The trail was fairly quiet. We passed a handful of small groups along the way. One of the groups was wearing masks already, so we put ours on (always at the ready, natch) as we passed and muttered muffled “how ya doin’s,” and got on our way. We didn’t finish. The kids lost patience, even after a stop for lunch, and when we saw the 2 mile marker well past the point when we all believed we had gone 2 miles, we knew that it was time to turn back. We had lunch here:

The rest of the night was peaceful. We put some camp chairs on the beach to catch the last 20 minutes or so of sun, and back at the condo The Italian said to me, “Today went by very slowly. Like it should.”

But it’s 8:00, kids from both families are mobilizing, the sun is out, and I have swim trunks on. Time to eat some cinnamon rolls and head into the day.

Oh yeah! Yesterday I had my first alcohol in about 3.5 years. A “Good Behavior” from Odell brewing in my old stomping grounds of Ft. Collins, Colorado. It was fine, whatever. Sipped a hard cider, too, and immediately remembered that I never liked those. Anyway, beer having been had, I can say that it didn’t reignite any desire to pour 9 more down my neck and start giving high fives and swearing around the kids. Honestly, an icy Coke tastes an awful lot better, and is a thousand times more refreshing. Never mind things like ginger beer, lemonade, etc.

Pontoon boat today! 2-6:00, then beach fire and s’mores. Happy 3rd of July!

Sandpoint 1

“Hey kids, did you know that in about 25 years a van like this will have it’s own computer that we’ll connect to a phone, and when we tell it where we want to go, it’ll tell us how to get there?”
“Sure, dad.”
“No, really. It’ll even warn us about traffic jams and road construction on our route, tell us how long it’ll take to get there, and what time we’ll arrive.”
“Riiiight. I bet it’ll even tell us what the weather will be like.”
“Good one, Bobby! Dad’s talking crazy again! 25 years, my ass.”
“Sorry, mom.”
“I know, right? Hey dad, just put down the Rand McNally and get us to the next motel, will ya?”

Perhaps not the most encouraging of signs, we almost had an accident 13 minutes into the trip. The driver (not me) was remarking how much farther along we’d already be if the West Seattle Bridge wasn’t closed, hypnotized by the GPS screen, when all of the cars in front of us agreed to stop without asking for our input. We very nearly input our car to the one in front of us. The cargo shifted, the heartbeats increased, the kids didn’t notice.

The rest of the drive was a breeze. It became ominously dark at 11:30 in or very near Snoqualmie:

The rain started, giving us motivation to drive on and get through it. GPS showed a 4:31 arrival time. That’s 40 minutes later than we were supposed to check in. We hoped they wouldn’t punish us with a case of coronavirus.

Around Ellensburg the wind picked up and the roof rack acquired an obnoxious whistle. But we were making good time, in the sun now, having run through a fresh course of beef jerky and peanut m&m’s. The Girl eats the chocolate shell first, then the peanut. She’s also the kind of person (like her mother) who eats all of one thing on her dinner plate at a time. If there’s meat, potatoes, and a veggie, she’ll pick one item and eat all of it before moving on to something else. I just made the mistake of asking her if there’s any rhyme or reason to what she chooses to eat first, and she’s been answering me for 5 minutes. Short version: it depends.

I’m a grazer. A little of this, a little of that, all calculated to make sure few bites are of different items, culminating in whatever is my favorite food on the plate.

The Boy just tips his plate up and sweeps everything down his gullet at once.

While The Girl prattled on about her chew rates and drink intervals, I took more pictures out the window:

Forgive me if this is too political:

I know what windmills can do to people.

I love the open country. How much sky you can see. The Italian remarked that it looked so much like Eastern Colorado. I agreed, and said “also parts of Arizona.” Then we saw a Wyoming license plate and agreed that it was ” a long way from home, but it looks like that, too.” Almost anywhere is just about everywhere.

I don’t know where we were, but it was pretty deep into the drive when I saw a sign that said “Crop names in fence line next 5 miles.” I’ve never noticed a sign like that before. My instincts told me to inform the kids, but my experience spit out a loose piece of tobacco from a hand rolled cigarette and responded that “look man, you know they won’t care,” so I committed myself to trying to get a decent picture at 70 mph, while aiming perpendicular to our line of travel. After several failures I managed a good, croppable shot of everyone’s favorite little rascal:

It’s a very little rascal, indeed.

It was gorgeous, what the wind was doing to the fields, to keep us from being too lost in the clouds.

The clock showed 4:31 when we pulled under the covered drive at the main building. This made it, technically, an “after-hours” check-in, so we had to call the special number, make our excuses, and then just go in to the same reception area and check-in exactly the way we would have an hour earlier. I guess sometimes it’s all about the rigorous observance of ritual. And the shame.

The friends we’re here with (with whom we are here, whatever) have twin boys a year older than The Boy hisself. So they’re all good. The Girl is somewhat lonely, but she does fine. She’ll steal the favor of the twins pretty soon, and The Boy will become jealous, and we’ll have some management issues to deal with (with which to deal, whatever). Such is life.

We sent the kids to bed and stayed up until 11:00 last night, talking with our friends on the patio of their condo, one floor above ours. Lots of virus talk, and some wondering over whether or not America’s on the downward spiral to inevitable empire collapse. Mixed thoughts there, but generally: no. Also we talked about the difficulty in believing in Truth (capital T) at all, given the damage done to the notion by media and social media, and the fact that an awful lot of people seem to be leaning towards the belief – whether they realize it or not – that Truth doesn’t exist. Evidence for this being the fact that if you are a Democrat, you cannot recognize when a Republican says something that is true. And of course vice-versa. Whether it’s “you can not believe” or “you will not believe” is moot, because habit becomes nature, and they both amount to “you do not believe,” so the damage is done.

There was more, including the ossification of unexamined beliefs being accelerated by the increasing social consequences for leaving the thought plantation. I like that topic. How much does the threat of losing friends prevent us from thinking and expressing ourselves honestly? It could have gone on much longer, but we have several more days here. Also, for people of a certain age, 11:00 is very late.

It’s dead here. Maybe the weather needs to get better and the weekend needs to get closer, but I’m pretty surprised how much of the place is empty. I’m not complaining in the least. This was my view at 6:00 this morning:

It’s called Lake Pend Oreille, pronounced pond uh-RAY. I’ll not bother with the Wiki deets, but it’s yuuuuge, and looks far too cold to swim in (to in it swim. Really?). The weather’s supposed to clear today and warm tomorrow, and stay good through the weekend. We have a pontoon boat for the 3rd and the 5th.

Thursday calls.

The PVP Diaries #66

Fourth straight zed. You know me, I don’t get all conspiratorial and pull a full 1984, but sometimes the government is all, like, “hold my beer.” Seattle now has a hotline for reporting businesses that don’t comply with the new mask law, and has created an ominously named “Education and Outreach Team” to handle businesses that are in violation. It is a part of something called “The Department of Finance and Administrative Services’ (FAS) Consumer Protection Division,” which has been granted “enforcement authority over businesses that violate the mandate.” That sounds pleasant It is my understanding that we’ve always had a hotline for reporting violations of the law, but in fairness, that one’s 3 digits long and really hard to remember.

Small entry today, as we’re packing up and heading out this morning. 5-ish hours to the destination, and everyone’s goal is to make it without having to use the bathroom at some virus-infested backwater rest stop in the sticks. Much of the drive will be wide open countryside – Eastern Washington and that part of Idaho is not very populous, to say the least. It should be a beautiful drive. Bio-anatomically, The Boy and I shouldn’t have any trouble in the case that nature calls, but the ladies might struggle a bit. We did get a portable toilet – a sort of short TV Table with a toilet seat for a top, to which one can affix a “liner.” It isn’t very inviting. Smart money says that if it comes down to it, they’re going to opt for the rest stop. We have plenty of hand sanitizer and gloves.

My wife (family members need nicknames on blogs. Maybe I’ll call her The Italian) will be doing most, if not all, of the driving. She gets car sick easily, so driver is the best position for her. I’m not complaining. As the passenger I can reach back and punch the kids easier when they complain too much. Maybe I’ll keep the laptop handy and type up countryside impressions on the fly. Live-blog the pee breaks.

Karamazov is complete. I do appreciate the ending, the way it contrasted two different deaths and triggered thoughts of the novel’s first death much earlier on. How does a person’s life influence their death, and what do we learn from any of them? What constitutes a tragedy? Who deserves our respect and who among the living is even worthy of offering it?

Lighter reading for the trip this week, as I’m bringing the Mr. Rogers book, Kindness and Wonder. So far it’s just biography. The introduction was very off-putting, with a bunch of PC virtue signaling by the author over climate change that was very much not in keeping with the concepts of either kindness or wonder. But considering that the rest of the title is “Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More than Ever,” it’s predictable that things might get a little preachy. It’s that “now more than ever” phrase, signalling compliance with the notion that at any given time, we live in the worst of all possible times. I’m just one guy talking here, but I don’t think Fred Rogers would agree that the need for kindness and wonder varies in degree from day to day, and depends on the state of the ice caps. But what do I know?

Don’t pee there, Comrade Citizen!