Sunday, July 31, 2011

I think you are strange


Friends from Caribou are camping in the backyard this evening. We woke and fed them boiled eggs and maple jelly. My day felt strangely empty, today, but also joyful. I typed “the end” yesterday, and today’s my Sabbath.

I wandered around the yard, tying up tomatoes, transplanting things, watering the cilantro seedlings that have finally sprouted, weeding the row of peppers—garden tasks I’d been putting off for weeks. It felt free and empty and the same time. We made burgers and my overloaded-with-greens fried rice, my new way of disposing of all of the stuff from the garden. So. Things are good. Not much to report.

I’m impressed by the concept of the Sabbath, one of the things that has been a boon to my life here. I don’t write, walk, or do yoga on the Sabbath, which gives me time to do things I don’t do other days. Let the sun get on my shoulders in the mid-morning. Explore the Subarus in the front yard. Reorganize both the freezer and the cupboards. Blanch greens. Cook.

For the next few weeks my only tasks are to clamber among the clouds and exist. Now I’m listening to The Notorious BIG and loading photos of the garden, as July rolls around to August. The campfire outside burns down.

Friday, July 29, 2011

He’s a drugstore truck-drivin’ man

First peppers

Another character wrapped up today. Sorry to keep talking about it. I’m just rather overwhelmed with success. I know it’s boring to everyone except me, but I can’t believe that I could actually be finished with a halfway-decent manuscript tomorrow. I’ve been spending three hours at it a day this week rather than two, and it’s amazing how much more exhausted I am after three hours of work.

It’s odd to me how writing is the thing I’ve always wanted to do and it’s still the thing I have the hardest thing talking about. I’m happy writing blog posts about moose in the garden or sailing on a beam reach or hiking 23 miles in a day, but actually writing about the thing that means the most to me? It’s excruciating. I’m afraid that someone will just come out and say: you suck. There’s no hope. Give up now and quit embarrassing yourself.

There’s this crazy balance you have to do as an artist, which is, after all, what I’m trying to be. I have to believe, simultaneously, that what I’m doing is the worst thing ever and the best thing ever. Unless I believe it’s the worst, I won’t keep working at it, making it better. And unless I believe it’s the best, I won’t believe that the excruciating work is worth doing at all. It’s just too hard.

Forgive me. Of course I am quite convinced that what I’m doing is not close to the best, or even publishable at this point. But if I don’t think there’s a possibility that what I’m doing is good, then I won’t be able to keep the faith. I have to keep the faith. I’m not even sure why, but I do.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When I opened my eyes

When I lived in Chicago, one of the alternate careers I dreamed of was being a divemaster in Roatan or Manzanillo. I wanted to live in the tropics, to spend as much time as my hemoglobin would bear 100 feet below the water. I don’t know if I believe in there being the ancient four Greek elements, but something in my body seems to connect to the water. Maybe it just feels like home.

Now, the career I dream of is farmer, as I live in a climate where I have yet to immerse my body in the water. Maybe I can connect to the earth in the same way, draw things up from the ground. But I’m spending more time at my writing career. My self-imposed deadline is the end of this month—hence the blog distraction. It’s funny to me that I started my college career as an aspiring chemical engineer, when I’m so far from that now.

I saw a special the other day on women in science, and I felt some guilt for abandoning the possibility of being a female scientist. As cliched as it continues to be, I had to follow my heart. I remember when I realized that, walking home from campus one spring day in 1996. As cliched as it is, it felt like a lightning bolt from heaven.

I prayed today, in my Wednesday night church service (our farm congregation abandons Sunday services in summer): “send me out into the world in peace to do the work God has given me to do.” One character’s storyline tied up yesterday morning. Two more to go, before the end of the month. I believe I’m going to make it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I’m gonna dance hall, dance hall every day

Hollyhock about to bloom, at my new friend the artist's house

The cat woke me this morning, kneading his claws against my lips, as he likes to do in the morning when he wants to be stroked. That, and the sun striping my calves, and I woke up early to coffee and an egg sandwich, and then straight to my desk. The list of things I write each morning is getting longer—a stream-of-consciousness journal entry, then my dream from the night before, a way to mine my subconscious for the real work—the book that gets closer to being finished every day. My self-imposed deadline is July 31, and I feel my breath catch in my throat every time I realize I may just make it.

I’m on my last chapter right now, and it’s one of these things, like my desk, like my garden, that I can hardly believe. How can I be this person who has almost finished such a beautiful thing? Even if I tie the manuscript up in a neat knot and put it in my bottom drawer and never again show it daylight, every time I remember its existence feels like a drug. I don’t know what happens next, what happens on August 1, and right now I don’t care.

Then I put down these words, and after these words I go into the garden to harvest radishes, snap peas, turnip greens, spinach, and basil for macaroni salad for a friend’s birthday. Then maybe a walk in the woods or yoga, before I walk up the hill for pork ribs on the barbecue. Tomorrow, I can chose between a bluegrass festival, an Afro-Cuban drum workshop, and a local township’s annual festival on a dirt road, camping in the Maine wilderness. I feel like I’m living someone else’s dream of my life, as if I was mysteriously transplanted into JK Rowling’s world, or something. And I’m broke.

But even there comes synchronicity. Late last night, celebrating with another set of friends their anniversary, the potato harvest was mentioned. The idea of pulling potatoes up out of the ground, working in the open air, breathing nothing but oxygen and herbicide, and making enough money to get halfway through the winter, seems like another gift. Every day I breathe in faith, breathe out faith.

Monday, July 18, 2011

One day up near Salinas

Sitting on my boat, in the companionway, I used to cry my eyes out listening to Me and Bobby McGee. I don’t know what it is about that song. I fell in love with it in France, where I used to play it on my cassette player, hooked up to French speakers that cost 20 francs at the dollar store. I’d sit in my little apartment in the old village, freezing my ass off, watching the champignons bloom from the leaky roof. I’d move one of the apartment’s two chairs in front of the bookcase by itself, and turn up the walkman as loud as it would go, and let tears stream down my face.

I did the same thing on Secret, listening on my little solar-powered computer, with the sun streaming in.

Something about that song. Something about having such happiness that you’d trade all your tomorrows for it. Something about looking for that home, and hoping you find it. Something about freedom being just another word, about having nothing left to lose. It used to be the saddest idea in the world—nothing left to lose.

Now I see it a different way. Maybe the most beautiful thing in the world is having nothing left to lose. To be able to hold life so loosely that no matter what happens, I’m free.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Now here comes the preacher

Beets today in the garden. You can see rocky the soil is here, and also how I'm not such a good weeder.

It was 81 degrees out today—yay. I have such a hard time on these sunny days. I feel like I should be spending every waking hour outside, in as much sun as I can find, soaking up all of it, but that means not being inside my office, where the work that’s most important to me takes place. I always feel that cognitive dissonance, wanting to be indoors and outdoors at the same time. That's one of the things about writing—it’s an indoor sport.

The thing is to do it like the farmers say: early to bed and early to rise. As another adage goes: easier said than done. I’d love to be one of those people, like my Papou the writer, who woke at dawn. I once read that National Geographic only publishes photographs taken at dawn or dusk. So if you don’t wake up at dawn, you’re halving your chances.

But I don’t believe in that crap. I wake up when the sun slants across my ankles, or as close to it as my dreams will let me. And then I come to my little sun room and put some words into the computer. Sometimes they are good words. Sometimes they are bad words.

As now, when I have been to the top of the hill celebrating the midsummer full moon a day late, the first, and last, of the true summer. I’m told it just gets colder from here on out. I don’t believe it, not yet. But it’s possible. I’m no longer supposed to plant endive, according to my book.

I suppose I’m spending enough time outdoors. I spent an hour in the garden this afternoon, getting sun on my shoulders and waging war against the cucumber beetles and deer flies, weeding the pepper plants and putting in another row of radishes. The garden’s beautiful, and brings me more joy than almost anything on a sunny day. But it’s still hard not to feel this conflict. The mornings I spend inside, and as much bravery as I have for the rest of the day outside.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My brother’s standing on the welfare line

The door onto my grandparents' garden

For a long time now, I’ve had a theory about Bob Dylan’s album Blood on the Tracks. As everyone knows, Dylan composed this album in the middle of his break-up with Sara, the love of his life, mother of his four children. It is, without doubt, the greatest break-up album of all time. My theory is that for each break-up, all of them, throughout all human history, there is a matching song on Blood on the Tracks.

Bitter break-ups: Idiot Wind.
One-night stands: Simple Twist of Fate.
A slow, gentle infatuation that has no chance at a future: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go. Et cetera.

My theory expands beyond that. When a person is inside of a relationship, and can identify which break-up song is the break-up song for that particular relationship, that is the moment when it’s over. I’ve had that miserable experience, when I lived in Chicago, where I had at least one Idiot Wind and a couple of If You See Her, Say Hellos.

Since growing older, I’ve noticed that Dylan is one of many artists that sings plenty of songs about the fevered beginning of relationships and their hollow ends, but almost no songs about the middle. Which is, of course, the hard part. Falling in love isn’t difficult. Leaving, most of the time, is easier than staying. But the middle is the meat of the thing.

Staying with a person requires desperate faith and hope, and an almost unassailable belief in the power of truth. I’ve been learning that lately, or trying to. To just tell the truth. Even if it’s: I really want to paint a wall of the kitchen red. Or: I bought ice cream. Or: I feel awful today.

The song I think comes closest, at least on Blood on the Tracks, is You’re a Big Girl Now.

Our conversation was short and sweet
It nearly swept me
Off of my feet.
You are on a dry land
You made it there somehow

Bird on the horizon sitting on a fence
He’s singing a song for me,
at his own expense
And I’m just like that bird,
singing just for you
I hope you can hear me
Singing through these tears

Time is a jet plane
It moves too fast
But what a shame
If all we’ve shared can’t last
I can change, I swear.
See what you can do
I can make it through
You can make it, too.

Love is so simple
To coin a phrase
You’ve known it all along
I’m learning it these days

I can change, I swear, he says. Don't we all feel like that? I am changing, day by day. I watch my plants grow and some days it feels like they’ve metamorphosed since yesterday. They’re changing, and I am, too, and my prayer is to grow together, to flower, to produce the fruit of the Spirit. I’m just like that bird, singing. Love is so simple, and I’m learning it these days.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Is it worth it

I’m sitting on a blanket in the grass right now, sitting in the sun, but edging the shade. Today is free music in the park in Presque Isle, and it’s the first time I’ve been. Listening to some Brooklyn band pour out their hearts into their harmonicas while old people and young people and people with down’s syndrome sway in the shade give sme hope for the future of humanity. It’s summer, and summer means music in the park, and life is beautiful.

Although I don’t know why these crazy Mainiacs, who have canopies on their folding chairs, insist on crowing into the two patches of shade that exist. Seriously. It’s cold eleven months of the year—they can’t sit in the sun for the one month of the year that it’s warm? It’s like they’re allergic. Or crazy.

At least it’s 85 degrees out, and we have at least thirty more days of heat. Activities are piling up—the Potato Blossom Festival all this week, a street dance next weekend, the Land Speed Record Race at Loring Air Force Base, and then the County Fair beginning in August. Then summer’s done. Then snow starts falling.

Just joking, but it does make me want to spend as much time as possible outside in full sun, every minute that it’s shining. It does make me appreciate these beautiful days of music and heat. Even the band, Spirit Family Reunion, is good, as Brooklyn neo-folk tends to be.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Happiness, come back a while

Grandpa Jenks, the gardener, electrical cord clearly visible

It’d be nice, when attempting to live a back-to-the-land lifestyle, to have a trio of men to perform each of these essential tasks: electronics, mechanics, and plumbing. Someone proficient in electronics could help with circuitry, soldering, and wiring; a mechanic could fix cars, small engines, lawnmowers; a plumber could help with heating, septic systems, drainage. Who can imagine a family with all three of these skills? No one.

I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by families that are different than mine. My grandfather focused all of his life on books, theory, and theology, as though the world of ideas was what mattered, not the world of things. He spent his life waking at dawn to write, most of his life in an office. The story my grandma tells, was that when she asked him to dig a hole in the backyard for some tomatoes, he dug the spade in, looked at her, and said, “Why, Joan? Why?”

My grandfather from the other side, who carpeted his garden with scraps from his living room to keep down weeds, who built a tomato trellis out of old electrical cord, who composted styrofoam and meat scraps, so that he had to keep the raccoons away with a .22, who never had garbage pick-up in forty years, so that he burned his old tires cut up into his basement furnace, was much more in touch with the physical world. The last meal my grandmother cooked for me, two years before her death, was ham, scalloped potatoes, braised chard, sliced tomatoes with mayo, zucchini bread, and ice cream with raspberries. Four things came from their garden.

The two sides of myself at war: my grandfather the intellectual and my grandfather the pragmatist. I spend half of my day locked up in my office, with books and papers piled around myself, and the other half picking cucumber beetles off my squash plants (we’ve determined they’re cucumber, not potato beetles), weeding the beets, heading basil. Maybe I can get them to peacefully coexist. I always end up immersing myself in the world of things, the world in which I’m much less comfortable. Biking, sailing, farming… All of those things require the ability to respond to sensory data. But that’s the point. It’s a challenge. And life’s no fun without a challenge.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Only in dreams

Speckled romaine

The first radish

Today, at long last, the first salad from my own lettuce and radish. I feel a bit like a braggart, like one of those people who say: hey, look what I can do! But I think the astonishing thing was that I never really believed it was possible, that food could come from seeds in little packages, even though everyone keeps saying that it is. I was operating on complete faith.

I had to keep trying. It wasn't even that I didn't believe it was possible to grow things--my grandfather did it his whole life--but I didn't believe it was possible for me. So, as an exercise DVD I used to do says: consistency equals results. Try long and hard enough, and use all of the resources at your disposal, and eventually it'll happen.

A graduate professor of mine used to say that being a writer required three things:
1. Persistence.
2. Stick-to-it-tive-ness. (I know these are the same thing, more or less, but it's so important it requires two line items.)
3. Willingness to adapt and learn from one's own mistakes.

I have learned that the same thing is true of the garden.

Friday, July 01, 2011

To the words I said

My beautiful lettuce, grown from seed.

Planting a row of collard greens today, I thought about water. Mainly because the beans I planted last week aren’t getting enough, and now they may be rotting in the ground. I’m partly thinking that it’s foolish to be planting anything this late, but my garden book assures me that collards taste better after a frost, and that there’s no point in planting pole beans in this climate until the soil’s warmer than 55 degrees. Nonetheless. Water.

I’m not sure I’m watering the garden enough, but watering is another of those ecologically sensitive topics. There’s a well at the house, but the water is pumped using electricity from the Maine power company. Maine gets almost half of its electricity from renewable resources, as proven by the massive windmills on top of Mars Hill. So that’s not that bad, right? Certainly not as bad as the lousy 18 miles-per-gallon the Econoline I drive makes.

This state has water in spades, and this land, with its low-lying acres of beaver swamp, has even more than most. The land I investigated in Georgia had no water and was built on absolute solid rock, with not much possibility for a well. I was convinced I could poke through the woods and find a spring somewhere, but water in Georgia is a matter of life and death. Something that battles, at least political ones, are fought over. My back-up plan was to install a cistern and collect water from the sky.

One of my favorite things about life aboard was catching water. I drank and showered with rainwater, and my only conundrum with water was that I had to lug it forward and pour it beneath the vee-berth into a little plastic tank. My dream was to install a deck fill for water, and then an elaborate contraption that would funnel rainwater directly into it.

I love drinking well water here, even if it does clog the coffeemaker every six months. It tastes great, and whether or not it’s true, I choose to believe I’m drinking essential trace minerals that make me healthier. My dream now is electricity generation, a small solar panel or windmill, to pump the water, with the eventual goal of complete sustainability. More and more, that’s what I’m identifying as my purpose with this kind of life.

Whether it’s planting collard greens or living on a boat or installing a solar panel, my ideal life is one where I fend for myself. My Christian family would perhaps say that’s not good enough, not a high enough ideal, that Christ sent us into the world not away from the world. But I don't see another way to live a moral life in the contemporary world. Certainly not one where my conscience is clear.