It has not been the focused and relaxing summer I had anticipated and planned for, but I suppose it never is. I keep thinking that once I get finished with x, or once y is over, things will be great and easy. I realized last night that I have been thinking that way for at least 10 years, if not forever. Right now it’s all about the book. If I can just get a book deal, then it’ll be smooth sailing from here on out! I’m starting to suspect that that is not true. Also, it’s no way to live. I would say that I am surprised by how often I think seriously about the very bad Adam Sandler film “Click.” I think often of this film, and nod my head grimly. The message of the Adam Sandler film “Click” is spot-on. I feel that film could have actually been pretty tremendous, if it had been directed, written, and starred in by completely different people.
A lot has happened this year that has been very bad and not fun. Some of it has been worse than other parts of it. It was like, really bad things happened, and then it got to the point where then a slightly less-bad thing happened, and because it was less-bad than the bad things that had already happened, it sort of seemed delightful and fun. Then things even worse than the first most-bad things happened. I can’t really talk about any of it but some of it is stuff I think about pretty much all day, every day, and probably will for awhile. I am fine, but changed probably.
Katy visited, which was predictably incredibly life-affirming and spiritually rejuvenating, and we talked about how middle age hit in a major way. Not only the bad knees and the weird sleep management issues and the absolute refusal to go out past 9:00 pm. but also just shit getting super real. Death and destruction, people having actual problems, not the problems of your 20s where you’re like “if I can’t put an album out on K Records I will be a failure” or like “if this random asshole won’t make out with me I will grieve forever” or like “boo hoo I don’t like working as a receptionist at this college scheduling software company downtown” or like “I’m fighting with my friend” or “my butt looks weird” or “I really hope we don’t invade Iraq in the wake of 9/11.” Worries that now seem quaint, like medieval people worrying that a cloud in the shape of a horse means the apocalypse is coming. Silly medieval people! In a few years you will all be dead of plague, but here you are worrying about clouds! That was us, in our 20s.
And then in addition to becoming middle aged and having weird middle aged problems, the world seems to have gone absolutely to hell also. Like on top of all these sad things happening in my personal life, I’m also sobbing on the airplane reading this completely harrowing article about how the Assad regime is intentionally trying to murder every doctor and nurse in Syria. They do this thing called “double tapping,” where you bomb a hospital, then fly away, wait 20 minutes, then fly back so you can drop bombs on all the rescuers and ambulances. I could not stop crying about this article. Then I got off the plane and, like, got a Starbucks. This life feels completely out of joint.
Does every generation feel this way? I’m sure the Vietnam War did not exactly feel like a comprehensible and peaceful time (not to mention the aforementioned bubonic plague), but these days it just seems like the end is so near. That George Saunders article about the madness of contemporary political discourse made me so deeply, profoundly sad I didn’t know what to do so I got up and made a blueberry pie. With fresh blueberries from my garden! Yeah, I just went out and picked five cups of blueberries, and didn’t even exhaust the supply! NOT A BIG DEAL
Here are some things:
I’m growing my hair out and it looks crazy. This is only the second time I’ve grown it out in adulthood and I’m enjoying it more this time. Maybe because I have so much more hair now, and it’s thicker and has weird kinks in it that it didn’t used to have? This was another thing Katy and I discussed: how wildly different our hair is now. Anyway I have this big mulletty mop of weird multi-colored hair and I don’t have to teach in the fall so I don’t give a shit. I want to own a hairbrush again.
I dreamed a wolf blessed me by taking my hand in his mouth and biting down, gently but firmly. I woke up awash in a gentle feeling of well-being.
My neighbor told me that a gigantic albino skunk has been living in our neighborhood for four years. “Wait’ll you see him!” he said, “and wait’ll you SMELL him!! Take three normal skunks and put ‘em together, that’s what this one smells like.” “Wow!” I said.
Still plugging away at Cosima Wagner’s diaries. The other night I read this entry where she casually mentions that, contrary to popular opinion, Wagner had actually written a symphony, but that Mendelssohn lost it. It was apparently in E major. She says Wagner wishes he would find it, “just so I could prove how well I knew my job.” I wonder if this is the actual source of all Wagner’s insane anti-semitism; Mendelssohn losing his symphony (joke). Also, how do you just “lose” a whole symphony?? What, did he leave it in a taxi cab? What on earth! I love picturing that conversation, where Mendelssohn has to cop to Wagner that he lost the only existing copy of a piece of work that probably took like three years to make. “Bro, I’m SO sorry.” Like the Very Strange Doctor skit. “Then I just flat-out lost it”
There is currently one existing Wagner symphony, that I’m aware of. It’s in C major and I’ve never heard it. I bet it’s pretty good. Credit where it’s due, you know? The guy knew his way around orchestral writing, no two ways about it.
At my family reunion my entire family stood around roaring with laughter while watching my brother prepare, cook, and eat a quesadilla while delivering a monologue in an Australian accent. This is sort of a classic my-brother moment. My brother has also gotten really ripped lately, because a regular at the bar where he works gave him a car, which he then gave to this old Vietnam vet who runs a boxing gym in exchange for free training. So several times a week he goes to this run-down boxing gym straight out of Rocky and lets this man scream at him and hit him in the stomach with boards. He looks like a million dollars.
Please pray for my tomatoes. They are growing like hotcakes. My garden looks like Little Shop of Horrors, like any minute the vines are gonna come in through the window and strangle us in our sleep. Alien beings, crawling everywhere. I went out there yesterday to stake some of the vines up and I kept finding previously unseen vines, spread around in a much wider radius than I’d thought. I planted five kinds of tomatoes: Jet Star, Better Boy, Sungold Cherry, Brandywine, Early Girl. There is apparently a terrible tomato virus in this area that makes successful tomato growing very difficult; this is why I ask you to pray for them. As you no doubt know, I have survivalist fantasies, and I read a lot of sustainable living manuals that are way too advanced for me, like this one INDEPENDENCE DAYS which is written by a woman who has four children and doesn’t own a refrigerator. But I’ve decided to set a couple of attainable goals along these lines:
- buy a chest freezer and fill it up with local corn, blueberries, rhubarb, broccoli, etc. to cut down on produce-purchasing in the winter when it’s all trucked in from Mexico
- build a hoop house and try to keep kale going into December
- build a DIY root cellar by burying a bucket in the ground and filling it with carrots
My biggest goal, one that I won’t meet for a couple of years probably, is to grow and can enough tomatoes to get us through the winter. The challenges in meeting this goal are several-fold: for starters, I have never canned anything before and don’t know how to do it. Secondly, the aforementioned difficulty of growing tomatoes here. And finally, we eat A LOT of canned tomatoes, probably more than most people. I would say it is a major staple of our diet. So, this is a good goal, one I will have to work diligently to meet. Imagine the year when I finally meet this goal!!!! Oh boy
We bought the chest freezer a few days ago, after a year of discussing it. We went to this place called “Manny’s” that sells appliances at a discount for unclear reasons. Some of them are returns, some are broken in superficial ways, I don’t know. We have always called this place “Manny’s Dented Appliances,” and I kept being surprised that that wasn’t actually on the sign or the employees’ t-shirts. They had one chest freezer that was the size we needed (very small), so we bought it. It fits right in our little pantry. I put two milk crates in it and boom, it’s organized. We stood around admiring it and talking about how “badass” it was to own a chest freezer. As soon as we did all this I read a chapter in Independence Days about how you should try to phase out your chest freezer because it’s so energy inefficient and won’t be any good once the power’s out anyway. Oh well
- convert our house to solar power. This is more of a ten year plan, and would probably entail chopping down our apple tree, so I’m not sure about it. Still, how great would it be?
- dehydrate fruit. The Independence Days lady says you can use your car as a food dehydrator.
- make three times as much cider as we did last year
- get into forest farming. My old man is reading a book about this. It’s called “agroforestry” and it entails farming in a way that is totally in synch with the normal ecosystem. Apparently you can grow paw paws in the shade. I had never heard of paw paws before, but they are like papayas, a fruit I detest. My old man is very excited about this–last night I was sound asleep in bed and he came in and woke me up to show me a picture of a paw paw. You can also grow shitakes, and have ducks.
- we bought a $100 board game called Caverna that has over 300 individual carved wooden pieces, takes 20 minutes just to set up, and has a 24-page rule book with an 11-page appendix. It is AMAZING and we play it all the time. You can play it with ONE PLAYER.
- I am getting age spots on my face that look like smudges of dirt, so that’s awesome
- the snoopy is doing great. He’s a leggy old gent. He’s lost a couple of pounds, not sure why, but it makes him look SO much weirder, like a long-necked sea creature. In the hot weather he pants even when he’s just been lying there napping for hours; when Katy was here he had to sleep in our room and his panting kept us awake but we didn’t mind. He was very scared of the chest freezer but has gotten over it. The other day we washed him in the yard with the hose and it was so humiliating. Now he smells like a salty cake. I just deleted a very long paragraph exploring my thoughts on dogs and on the love of dogs. Thinking about dogs is overwhelming to me, their completely selfless loyalty, their willingness to trust after being hurt. The responsibility of having a dog is so much deeper than just making sure he has enough water in his bowl. He gives you everything, you are his everything. It’s a devotion so easy to abuse, to take lightly. It makes you want to adopt every dog on earth and just be nice to them. DOGS. When I die please put “SHE LOVED DOGS AND FOUND THEM INTERESTING” on my tombstone
- the other night my old man lay awake all night with a beetle crawling around in his hair because he could tell I was mad at him for tossing and turning. I congratulate him for his bravery
- Did I tell you I set up my new office in the basement? It’s very funny. Lets just say it’s not the kind of office that pops into your head when you think of “office of an Assistant Professor at legitimate university.” It’s more like a custodial storage space in which someone has semi-legally set up a semi-functioning office. There is no window. Also whereas my previous office was adjacent to other professors’ offices, my new one is adjacent to practice rooms. So, previously, I of course heard musical instruments and singing all day long, which has never bothered me and actually I am MORE uncomfortable in offices where I’m NOT surrounded by this kind of noise, like in my first office at my last job, which was in the languages building rather than the music building. But now I am realizing that practice rooms are not the same as the actual faculty offices. In the faculty offices, they rehearse ensembles and solos, they preview concert pieces–it’s repetitive, but musical. In the practice rooms, though, kids literally sit in there for an hour just blowing into a saxophone mouthpiece, making a sound much like a duck screaming in horror and pain. They do mouth exercises and weird fingering exercises, or they practice slurs over and over again. They do hilarious vocal warm-ups. It’s not musical, it’s more like random screaming. So that’s been interesting. I think I have an unusual tolerance for certain kinds of repetitive sounds, and an unusual INtolerance for certain other kinds of repetitive sounds. A dog barking from a block away will drive me absolutely batshit crazy, but a kid playing the same four notes over and over again on a trombone doesn’t bother me at all. Also, I spent a summer driving an ice cream truck, and even THAT didn’t bother me! But a clock ticking in a quiet room makes me want to jump out of my own skin. What does it all mean
- scuttlebutt is that all the academics are going to be moved up to the second floor once the art department moves into their fucking brand-new fancy building (WHOSE YOU-KNOW-WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO YOU-KNOW-WHAT TO GET A NEW BUILDING AROUND HERE??? SOMEBODY FUCKING EXPLAIN IT TO ME). This seems way too good to be true–it seems like it’s so obvious, such an obvious and incredibly easy solution to our office space problem, that there is no way it could ever happen. Instead, some completely bizarre thing will happen, like all the practice rooms will move up there even though it will entail 10 million dollars of sound-proofing, and the academics will actually be moved down to the level that is BELOW the basement, and looks 100% indistinguishable from like a bunker in a movie where they do illegal experiments on people. When you inhabit the Kafkaesque nightmare that is the bureaucracy of a state university you learn never to expect that the easiest, nicest, most straightforward solution will ever actually be the solution that is chosen. 30 million dollar budget cut? No problem, we’ll just hire a new Associate Assistant to the Vice Provost for Diversity Development, and pay them half a million dollars. YOU’RE WELCOME
Somebody in my town had a big herd of goats that got out of hand and it turned into an animal welfare situation, so animal control came in and took away all the goats, and it became this town-wide communal thing of trying to get these goats placed in good homes, and they did it! They got the goats all wormed and healed up and then placed them–in pairs, never singly, because goats get lonely–all over town. I would love to have a pair of goats. They are a very weird animal; probably they are the devil? They like to climb up and stand on tall things. I once heard a story about a guy driving down the freeway who saw a goat standing on a grazing cow.
SMALL TOWN POLICE BEAT: Like any thoughtful person I have major problems with cops and am appalled by the rise of the modern the police state, but leaving that aside I would like to specifically applaud my local police for their attitude toward animals and wildlife. I swear 50% of what the cops do in this town is search for lost dogs or help people who come home to find a rooster on the porch, or save a bunch of feral goats from some weirdo’s property. Two times in the past year off-duty cops and firemen have found dogs that have been lost for months and months, and then the whole town rejoices. I would say dogs appear in the local paper more than is normal for a newspaper. But anyway, the cops here have an attitude toward animals that I really approve of. For example, in the aforementioned rooster dilemma, the cop came and told the homeowner to just leave the rooster alone. That was the solution to the problem. Leave it alone and it will go away on its own. NO STRESS NO MESS. And right now is the season when bears come into town looking for food, so there have been all kinds of bear sightings and pictures of bears in the paper, bears chilling out in people’s yards, bears casually ripping bird feeders out of the lawns with their cool-ass bear hands, bears strolling down main street. And regarding these bears, the local cops are 100% on the side of the bears. They have no sympathy for people who are scared of the bears or who want the bears off their lawn. They are always quoted in the paper like “leave the bears alone. The bear population is good. Unless a bear is actively attacking you please don’t call us; just leave it alone and let the bear do its thing. Don’t act like an idiot and the bear won’t hurt you.” The other day the police chief was quoted as saying “if we get a report of a stolen bird feeder and the main suspect is a bear we are not going to investigate.” Basically telling people to deal with the fact that they live in rural New England. Basically being like “bears rule; don’t fuck with bears or you are an asshole,” which is just true. BEARS FOREVER
the cops here also seem to respond to a lot of 911 calls that turn out to be children calling the police because they don’t want to go to bed. Also a few weeks ago every cop in town was called to respond to a missing children report, and then they found the children on the highway, trying to walk to New York City to meet the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I am really enjoying living in a small town again after 20 years of living in cities and/or Iowa City, which is neither a city nor a town but rather a theme park for drunk white kids and which I do my best to forget every day. No offense to drunk white kids, lord knows we all have our struggles.
Now I will go to the YMCA and do my very sad middle-aged-person-with-hip-dysplasia 20 minute elliptical workout while all the buff dudes look pityingly away. Who cares??? I have half a blueberry pie at home and two beers