Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dec 23, 2013—Winter Project

                       This was the worst day for icing I have seen in a long time.  The tree limbs are arced over toward the ground and the electric lines are weighed down almost to where they must snap. It is work walking anywhere. I have to start up the old yard truck to carry me where I want to go. I simply cannot walk on this uneven wet glare ice. The 4wd in the old truck still works fine. One of the tires is almost flat; the better will it pull on the ice. I have in mind a project for today. It is not cold, hovering around 30f. The rain, which freezes on anything it falls on, downpours every now and then. The old disgusting barn we started raising goats in almost twenty years ago is now for the most part empty. For awhile we kept bucks in it so I call it the buck barn. Once upon a time Charlie Connell, a neighbor, took down an old barn, thinking he might build a barn himself with it, but he never got around to it, and then he died and his family sold the pile of old rough boards to me for $75. Took me awhile to transport it all home. Somebody had already removed most of the nails. No way to build a proper foundation except by digging ditches and throwing in stones I had gathered, but I got to work and soon my wife and I had a shelter for her rapidly multiplying herd of goats. Believe it or not, our goats seemed much happier in that crumbling old barn than anywhere we have put them since. Now, though in the same state of ruination, it tends to be my summer home—chickens in the back. And in winter, when the weather is terrible, a biting chill and frozen rain, I have a mind to amuse myself with a carpentry project. I have cleaned the barn out, as I tend to be disorganized, and snugged it up, and I have a few of my power tools set up, and I have shortly ago taken a trip to the dump for some new furniture, and I went to Lowe's and bought a drawer slider set, and I have in mind to build me a desk for my ever increasing pile of computer junk. I am running two computers at once. One of the monitors I actually bought at a store, the other a Hanns-G, a very fine monitor, though elderly, but mat and comfortable to stare at for hour after hour, I got in a trade for 35 dozen fresh eggs. (I had a lot of chickens at the time.) The poor fellow soon ended up in a divorce and he moved to Atlanta and he never did get the eggs but I got the monitor, which is easily my favorite—no glare, I don't know how they did it. A third monitor will be coming soon, when I run into more junk. So I need room. Especially I need a slide out shelf to put an extra keyboard and mouse on. The sliders came with no instructions at all. How do they go together? I had to use the precious gray matter. It was not like figuring out Emmanuel Kant or Ludwig Wittgenstein. I think you never really figure them out. You get a general idea, but just when you think you have all the answers, some new trouble comes up. I had trouble enough figuring out how to install that sliding shelf, and how to put the junky desk together so that it might be usable. That's one thing you never do get out of Kant, in my opinion, something usable. It took two years to figure out Wittgenstein's Tractatus but that only left me in the middle of even more mysteries; mysteries, incidentally, Wittgenstein claims do not exist. So it was great amusement figuring out how to build this contraption but not like the amusement one finds in Spinoza or Descartes, not like the amusement one finds in Shakespeare or Dante. I thought, as I was putting this piece of serviceable nothingness together, how much fun I was having after sitting around for two days because of the terrible weather. I was using my hands and my gray matter. I guess plenty of people will disagree with me but damned if what I got out of it in total, three or four hours of fun and a table to put my computer junk on, is more than ever I got out of any book. Can that truly be? The juice never did go out, ice burdening the power lines or no. I thought it was something of a miracle. I finished and made it back inside the house in plenty of time to bug my wife with another winter project I have in mind. This one requires that you have to drill a few holes in the house. She wasn't too happy with that.

This is what I came out with. Now I have room for one more monitor. I wish the Macbook was a Thinkpad.

More projects are scheduled for this winter. It is predicted to be a long one.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dec 12, 2013—An Instigation

                         Still don't know what I want to do. I might retire, I might not. Tonight is bitter cold. I might bundle up and go out, fresh air could do me good, or I might not. Right now what I really want is a cup of coffee. The pot is empty. It is very silent in the house. The light from the barn is flooding the snow in the dooryard. The curtain to the window beside me is open just enough. Christmas is in the air. Time and space glimmer on ice. It is about 1a. I am thinking about a coffee and a snack. I truly have nothing to do but think, and all I can think about is a hot coffee and a snack. My brother calls up. As I am working my overnight, he is working his, driving his truck toward Detroit. He is on the web trying to find his way. He does not think the directions he has been given are right. Night workers work in a world of incomplete or incorrect directions. Life often does not come with directions, either right or wrong. God leaves it up to us to find our way. I have been instructed that there is a plan but I see very little evidence of it. We fumble around, all of us in whichever shoes, feeling a way, and when true to our feelings, God provides the smallest push, a surprising instigation that cannot be ignored. If ignored we go slowly insane; if obeyed God lifts us out of the commonplace into wisdom. In the end we do the heavy lifting, we perspire. There is the process, a vision or a dream to stumble toward. Seems as if I have been awake all my life, and I have done work, it is important to me to do work, so I know I can explain the work right. And I have struggled with the writing and the thinking, which I could not ignore, it has followed me close, close like the back pocket in my trousers. There is a process. I know enough about the process to hate the irrelevancies that beset it. I hate the fillers, the illusions. But the self criticism hurts. It is brutal; it is like walking through fire. There is so much that is just junk you have to scrap and toss out. You cut down by half and there is still a half more to cut down. You build with the sentences. You are the sentences you build with. No filler; no irrelevancies; no cliché. I have done the work on this winter night. I am the only one left who can be me, Pablo. These sentences belong to Pablo from the top of his skull to the soles of his feet. Yet what does he know which can be true? Is Pablo an encyclopedia of cliché? He clings to the irrelevant with a demon's ferocity. Every roadblock to put up from the greater world he clings to. Maybe he really does not want to know. I am sick of words that don't mean anything. Now on this bitter winter night I think about a cup of coffee and buttered toast.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nov 14, 2012—Oh Human Puzzler

                                I went outside for awhile this morning, then came inside because of laziness and the cold. The wind was worse than irritating, a strong north-wester. In spring such a wind would not disturb me, but these sudden cold snaps in fall are harder. They bring a noticeable bracing thump to the pulse. The high arctic sky is amazing blue but the unobstructed sunlight seems cold and far away. It is a puzzling sunlight because it seems to give no warmth. And when there is a wind, as today, though there is work to do outside, I am driven inside with surprising urgency. In this weather salting my attitude with fortitude is as good as to waste it. A person who prides himself in hardiness is displeased to fritter away fortitude on a lost cause. But I come to this season prepared with outside work vaguely finished, as finished as ever it gets, and jobs to do indoors. I amused myself the other day by dis-assembling a computer keyboard. It was old and worthless, it was worthless when it was new, another mistake of mass produced technology; mostly it worked, but for the rest it didn't. People put up with it as if they don't know any better. But now it has been beat up with years of use and collected dust and dirt and some of the keys are gone dead. Curiosity will waste hours; in the glory days of computing when no expense was spared, keyboards were mechanical, and to this day though more than twenty years later, they are valuable to expert typists, and I might be better employed expending my curiosity on something valuable. The keyboard I use most of the time is a twenty years old IBM standard. I use other keyboards, one of which was very expensive, a Happy Hacker. But I wouldn't part with the old IBM ever. There are other ways I might be better employed than staring at keyboards and motherboards on the Internet. But telling myself that something is an ineffective utilization of time and actually persisting in avoiding it is hard work, especially where curiosity is involved. So I am anxious to go inside because I know that I'll soon have that simple-minded task in front of me. (One of the keys has disappeared. I theorize that a cat kicked it off the kitchen table to play with and stashed it somewhere.) I have classic works of literature to study but here also are one-hundred-and-fifty or so small parts to puzzle over. I remember the first Chevy 327 short block I disassembled. Since that day my opinion has been that anybody who has passed through a certain number of years of life without seeing the bottom end of a Ford or Chevy V-8 must not be very bright, must not know anything, in fact. It is right up there with watching a baby being born and milking a dairy goat or cow. A V-8 engine also has a large number of parts, and one must be careful which goes where. There is involved a lot of organizing; but there is a fair amount of puzzling too. You try to do away with as much puzzling as you can through organization, but even the best organizer sometimes gets confused. People love to puzzle but they also love to avoid what should be most puzzled over. But in the end it was not the puzzling over the worthless damned Dell keyboard, which I took apart because it happened to be broken, it was the simple desire to get out of the cold. So a little disgusted with myself because I had a job to do and it was not getting done, I went inside from outside, and the heat hit my face and it seeped under the lids of my eyes and I became almost sleepy. So now it was time for puzzling. I had already puzzled about the cold sunlight, and now I puzzled my way through the keyboard puzzle. There are puzzles and then there are other puzzles. The keyboard was a puzzle; a computer OS is another puzzle; a V-8 engine or a nuclear submarine is a bigger puzzle. Which takes us through puzzles to a point. But what does that mean? My keyboard, which was broken long before I ever thought of dis-assembling it, is a puzzle whose solution tells me hardly anything. What, for instance, does this mean? How is it that this life we slouch through such dim souls so mistakenly seems so inexplicable? Then who is going to explain, and attempt to explain we must, who is going to explain the mysteries? Take error. How is it that two men can take two common facts and the one will make out of it truth, the other while away into error and wonder and get nowhere and both with a conscience equally clear? Oh, human puzzler, who just built that atomic bomb, explain to me the Trinity! Thus in anguish, careless of the blunt north-wester, I returned outside to chop firewood.

Oct 23, 2013—Big Pastures

                     A cold front was passing through this afternoon, bringing in showers and a foreboding winter wind, but the rain stopped and Sunshine, my dog, and I walked on the north, the downhill, side of Kittridge Brook Road. There used to be big fields in here. Jack Robert's father, a dairy farmer, once worked this land. But now the fields are all grown up to brush. Sunshine and I got into the woods on a slash cut where there had been logging, and we missed the trail but there was a stone wall to follow and the stone wall crossed the trail again. There was a rusted wire fence along the stone wall in the middle of the woods. To have these old fields all grown back is a hard thing to think about. I have some idea what it means to clear land. And now my own land is growing back because there is no crowd of animals to graze them any more. Used to be the bucks would clear brush behind the buck barn but now we have only Johnny, a Nubian. It doesn't take long for the brush to take over, three or four years. I should hire a bulldozer to level it off and clear the big boulders to make something of it; then fix the fencing and buy a little crowd of sheep to raise and sell. Sheep are too dumb to get personal about, not like pigs, who are surprisingly smart, and you name them and when you send them to the butcher it can get personal. I'll probably knock down more firewood this winter. I am getting older and my legs are not so good but I want to get firewood. Pretty soon that's all there will be for me to do, cut firewood and take care of a vegetable garden. It would be nice to get a couple of years firewood ahead, maybe ten, fourteen cord cut, split and stacked. Then I'd burn like I used to, which is all the time. That would keep my open spaces―I almost said fields―clear. But it is much easier on my wife, who is getting old too, to run the furnace. In Jack Roberts' backyard the pines and spruce have taken over, which must be the first cover toward a normal Maine woods before the leafy trees come in. Possibly the fact that the land slopes north reduced the number of leafy trees in this first growth because, of course, northward sloping land tends to get less sun. But once the leafy trees take hold in most situations where the ground is not too uneven, they crowd out the piney trees; the leafy trees, even the poplar, tend to be taller and their upper branches are more needful of light. I have observed that numerous times in old growth that has not been recently logged, at least here in the foothills, deciduous trees tend to dominate. Now in this young growth there are few trees worth cutting down. Where we walked today Jack Roberts had laid out some large trees to work into firewood. But the trees had been cut from a place along the edge of the new growth. The logs looked like sick and broken down elms. Cows like to hang on the edge of the field on hot summer days for the shade under the big trees that have been left. Along the edge of the cleared land the farmers used to leave substantial trees. I myself have left a sturdy beech, for instance, which happened to be nice to look at, inside the fenced in area for that very reason―it would be useful as a shelter to the animals. But the animals interfere with the roots and sooner than you can imagine the branches are naked and the tree having ceased to flourish becomes dangerous enough so that you cut it down. Hopefully the tree is not very close to house or barn. Twice in my life I have come uncomfortably close to felling a big tree on my house. More recently big weather knocked over a hefty maple that just missed ruining my new roof, the roof I am planning to retire under. This big tree had been left for its shade. But my opinion is that sun windows in winter are more valuable than shade is in summer, and, of course, creating sun windows for winter often leads to an adventure. You have to cut the damned trees down! I feel as we cross out of the new growth and brush into the fields that someone has kept open that same feeling of adventure. When the farmers cleared the land, it must have been something like a battle in war. These fields are like small battlefields. Woodsmen tell me about cutting on blustery Autumn days. You couldn't know which way the tree would fall. There were injuries, unforeseen accidents, even deaths of both animals and men. As I walk I feel the souls of these men so close, so close. They are very dear to me. How has it happened that so much has changed? I can think of hardly a person man or boy strong enough to cut down a big tree with an axe and pull the stump. What has happened to the dairy farms? I did not think this change or these fields grown up to brush could presage anything good. As I walk through I struggle in damp combat with contrary images of an American future I can not believe in.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pablo's Preamble List

Now Pablo when writing the Preamble to Annals of Pablo ended up with another of those gosh darned lists. Not in order of importance. Are you kidding?

  1. I’m usually not interested in anything that doesn’t have some sort of climax somewhere close to the end.
  2. Almost everything I try to read is about a third too long, even Holy Ye Christmas! books. And then all of a sudden her eyes turned to blazing spikes, etc. The popular taste is inured to it; it’s just another opportunity to speed read and accomplish something. Think again.
  3. If I don’t know the story by personal experience, I’m not interested in writing it. But I hate journalism and my stories are anything but memoirs.
  4. I don’t know what imagination is. I think it’s something you’re born with. In that case I give up.
  5. I like to dump my subject matter into the road and drive over it about a thousand times with a ¾-ton pick up. To leave it fluffed up is a sin. Once it’s flattened then you load it. You don’t want to drive away with less than a full load. I try very hard at this. It is something that has always bothered me. Too long, too much stuff. Either you understand this or you don’t. I really don’t have any words for what I am trying to get at from my love of brevity. Not minimalism. That is a professor’s word, and I don’t even know what it means. The wisdom silence spins off. Lists.
  6. I like the illusion of spontaneity. Who invented the term “flash fiction”? I guess it is supposed to leave the impression of an insult like teenybopper used to. But I like it and crave to obtain an effect that is immediate, that “flashes” at you. And best of all: the work is all figured out when you finally write it down as if on an impulse. Then you don’t have to spend the best part of a lifetime worrying it to death.
  7. This all goes hand in hand with the classical drill that is supposed to inculcate clarity. Clarity sure helps. It is hard work, though, and good luck to the player. You have good days and bad days. On a bad day you can’t get the mud out of the writing because you don’t even know it’s there.
  8. One thing I’m pretty sure of, I have noticed quite often in my life, that a time comes for everything. I owned a paperback copy of Isaac Babel’s stories for almost twenty years before the cobwebs cleared and I could finally see in his stories a philosophy that I could build on. Take John Milton! What a struggle I had with him! How could I ever read that? I must be dumb. No sense going to school any more. One day the time will come. I really like to read, and I’d read a lot more than I do if I didn’t love to write so much.
  9. The big objective: avoid journalism. A man does not avoid a rat carrying the plague like I avoid journalism. In my younger days we used to sit around wondering why we didn’t want to write journalism. Some of us eventually did. And there was a scholar among us, too. But to this day I’ve never sinned that way. Journalists tend to be poor fools, though some of the ladies are cute.
  10. I don’t set myself up as anybody’s conscience. I am not a doctor, so I can’t tell you what happens in the ER. I can’t write a glossy detective story either. Criticize another writer? Don’t be ridiculous. But write a potboiler? Maybe. I have several juicy ideas. I don’t intend to mirror my age, wouldn’t know how to even if I wanted to. I’m a guy who loves to write. I’ve been doing it all my life on the back of cereal boxes, on file cards, little notebooks, big notebooks and now on my laptop. In college I cut an amusing figure. People shook their heads in bewilderment and smiled: I didn’t look smart enough to put one foot in front of the other! Still it can’t be that of all the several millions of words I have written nothing of it can be any good, can it? Given the possibility of eventual happy accident.
  11. Face it, the object is to finish the work, and like it enough to believe somebody ought to read it.
Thanks. Me, Pablo.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dec 6, 2013—Out of Season

                                     Lately, Sunshine and I have gone out every day, though the weather has been bad, to do our walk. Hunting season is almost over, except for the muzzle-loader who has saved his permit on the odd chance that he might run into a good buck when most hunters have already packed it away. Today we heard a lot of shooting in the distance. Rifles which load in the muzzle not the breech go off like a stick of dynamite. Sporting rifles have a sharp report that sounds less important. The explosion of a muzzle-loader wakes you, reminds you of the wild west of distant longings. I don't have time for hunting but then why not make time? As long as I have lived in these foothills with deer everywhere? As many times as I have sauntered through the woods and fields near my house, Sunshine and I? Would that be a distraction if I did? I am always thinking about distractions. What isn't a distraction? I'd love to build a garage to put all my tools in and then build a for real pickup that I really like, not one of these pansy things get stuck in a mud puddle. I'm not so strong on my legs any more, but I like to get out even more than I used to. I long for the solitude of the big woods on the northwestern border. But that must certainly be a distraction. So that makes essentially everything a distraction from going to work and doing the real work I get paid for. But who can live that way? The hunter whose shots I just heard might get a bite or two of deer flesh in exchange for all the energy he has expended. He also may have a job, a family, but should any resident of the woody foothills dare suggest that such sporting was a mere distraction from the real work of life, that hunter utilizing his muzzle-loader in the last of the season, one might almost say out of season, certainly might have a few sharp words to expend in his defense. What is a distraction? Suppose a man's work is the distraction and the hunting in the dark season—and it gets dark now not long after 4pm—is a man's real work, his reason for being? Well, workers of the world, why not? Some days I sit and think for hour after hour. I dare anybody to tell me I am wasting my time! I don't feel guilty about it. But my idea is that though you can think all day, one way or another you have to remove the thinking into a useful pattern that you can defend and explain clearly. The hunter has his meat, but I have my meat, too. I have been all day trying to think of a word. It has to do with people who use too many words to communicate something simple. (Lord knows, might I not be one of them! Seems to me I often have more than enough to say.) They constantly overstate the case. It is a common drawback in certain kinds of artistic(?) writing. Pretentious? I think that's a good word. I like that word. But deliberately understating the case, making it brief, succinct, is a wonder too. The jaws of speech shut tight; even common words are an anguish; you never get to the point, you hope they'll figure it out. It hurts to sing that way; forget it then, just remain silent. But the irony of the understated case makes it more vivid. It demands more art, more intense digging, heated, headachy spade work, and the possibility of silly failure is one word away. The problem is that there are lots of ways to do something but one of them may be better than the others. Do something one way, and “alternatively” do something another way, and who can say the former is better than the latter? There may be an argument about it, but that should tell you everything. What is to do in those turns of affairs? Why not save it for later, when the head is clear and the cool limit of out of season is reached? One must wait, hold his breath. Simplify! Error is likely. But error is a sort of outcome. Obviously it teaches you something. It could be a better day ahead than I think. Even if I blow it, have that big accident—a possibility that has nagged at me as I drive here and there all of my life—I'll still have to make it better. Now I hear the muzzle loader explode one last time in the distance. I think Sunshine can hear the last sounds of a dying animal, or she knows, for she has whimpered softly. I know there are white tails in that direction. They are in a stand of thick growth in an old cow field that has been permitted to brush over. The overcast is spreading a mist through the last of the daylight. The hunter got his buck in a season past the usual. He waited till the crowd had gone. That old muzzle-loader from his grandfather's arsenal? Who wouldn't expect failure? But it was simpler that way.


                            It had rained all night. Usually the rain on the trailer's metal roof don't bother me, lulls me back to sleep in fact, as if somebody was talking to me...a soft voice...and it drains bad stuff going on in your head and you can't help dropping off but tonight I was thinking stronger than the soft voice and I stayed awake a long time before I fell asleep again. I don't like this job I had to do tomorrow. So I thought about that and finally went back to sleep and it seemed like five minutes before my father was shaking me awake. I had already loaded the six pigs yesterday afternoon at feeding. There was Milly and Bucky and the four others who were not so friendly as Milly and Bucky, and they had followed me into the stock trailer as if it was nothing. That didn't make me feel so good as it should have because they were trusting me and I was leading them all right. I tried to think about that Dad would pick this day because he had been doing this since a long time and I knew he'd picked this day because there was a hot market, so I tried to think about the money. These hogs were some fat hogs, and I had fifty chickens, meat birds, also very fat, which I didn't care about like I did the hogs especially Milly and Bucky. Don't know why, as long as I have been on this farm and raising hogs, since I was a little boy, I guess, hogs bother me so much. Dad says if you can't make money raising hogs, maybe you ought to think about something else to do. Well, I do think about something else to do all the time. I think about playing my guitar in fancy places in the big city, or writing my poems or stories on my computer or just staring at my computer all day.  But then I get out with my hogs, and there they are. Same with cats and dogs and goats and all the other animals around here but worse with them hogs. Some things there is no figuring them out I guess, except the money, even the money.
     So finally after Dad shook me awake, after I lay there awhile wondering if Milly and Bucky knew what was happening to them, like I swear She-she did, our old family milker Jersey, who dried up one day and wouldn't freshen any more...she pointed at me her wet black nose and big black eyes eyeing me woeful, I swear she knew...anyway, I gave up thinking about them because I started thinking about the money I'd put in my pocket today. Jerry had a used Wrangler down to the garage about 8 or 10 years old, a Florida car he brought back from speed week, no rust, and I thought I might be able to swing it. You know about Jeeps. It's been like that all my life.  I forget the guy's name, George something, when we lived in town a long time ago, had a CJ he fixed up fancy. Me and Dad went over one day to look at it. Maybe Jeeps are a guy thing. Ma laughed, "That thing leaks in the rain, cold in the winter, no heater, won't start! Adele, three babies, must think the world of all the money George has sunk into it." George took us for a couple hours ride. That was it for me. Damned, that thing could get around. So after awhile of thinking about hogs and my dirty deed and then thinking about Jeeps, maybe I felt a little better. Besides, I didn't have to look at the hogs this morning or feel their itty-bitty all knowing eyes. I got up. Dad was eating breakfast. Not me. I went outside. As I was walking outside, I could feel mom and dad looking at me kind of funny. I always feel better when I'm outside, 'cept when I'm outside too long, then I want to be inside again.
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Friday, December 6, 2013

Pablo's Prologue

                            I have been writing for a long time. I would not call it work. Other writers say "my work" but I don't know what they are talking about. Writing has given me solace and diversion in troubled times and in good times recreation and delight. Writing is thinking in a relatively systematic way via words and the way they hang together in sentences. The ends in this kind of thinking, if done honestly, may not be obvious but rather therapeutic in the way that football or psychoanalysis are said to be therapeutic. In the process of my avocation I have learned a few general understandings. Perhaps you will find them interesting.

I really don’t like autobiographic writing, or whatever it is presently called. My dream has always been to write imaginative stories. I have tried for a long time to learn how to use the imagination. I am embarrassed to tell you exactly how long because then you'll certainly wonder about just how with it I am, I mean that I did not give up a long time ago. I didn’t want to let the imagination get extreme. Usually that’s what happens. Wildly imaginative "creative" writing can be very popular. I still don’t know what it all means. I avoid thinking about it because I dislike it. For some people it is "entertaining" to spend time on subjects that will never nor have ever had any possibility of being real either in the details or the general thrust. But even if you are a person who has art burning inside you, you shouldn’t have to suspend disbelief to the point that you wonder if you are cracking up! Take "Romeo and Juliet". While the professor was waxing effusive, I was wondering, "Humpf, do ya think?" The English tradition is all tangled in similar confusions. To keep myself safe from the subsequent stoning I'll avoid the long list. But I personally am waiting on the truth, and frankly I don't give a damned about anything else, and it is in my nature to be skeptical. Anyway I have resolved some of my personal qualms about the imagination and I have been able to move on.

I don’t think anymore that truth has much to do with the real world; truth has more to do with the unreal world. When you are driving in traffic and you are irritated by an extra long stop light, you are engaged in a great untruth. Stoplights like untruths come and go; untruths are here now and then vanish. Truths are more stubborn and persistent. They find a niche in the world and they persist, and damned if you are not stubbing your toe on them your whole life! You may stub your toe on an untruth, too, like that stop light above, but that has more to do with accident. So what I mean by realism is not what comes and goes but rather the patterns that are incessantly THERE; and it seems like at times they’re gonna drive you crazy. When I was a young philosophy student, I was impressed by Plato's Theory of Forms. Now I am an old philosophy student, though I hardly ever read Plato any more, still the thought that a story is how characters are conducted through the forms always gets my attention.

So I try to stick to realism, even though sometimes it is not autobiographic. I try to stick to the stuff of ordinary life that you are constantly stubbing your toe on. So I try to be realistic. I haven’t gone off into fantasy very much. The upshot is that if you go by this notion the writing must be believable and not in the sense of "verisimilitude" but in terms of factual matter relating to data that is the everyday case. The data does not have to be autobiographic but it must be the case.

Now, I’m thinking of the word “fair”. It disturbs me that a fair-minded person in this world tends to sound like a radical, or like a person who has let his imagination get the better of him. You take a fair-minded person trying to explain why it is better to compromise with another person than kill him. Fair-minded people tend to clear the air, but how has it come to be that they sound so weird? I used to be a nihilist and an anarchist. I still love the theory that the least and simplest of everything is best. If you want to improve something make it simpler; if you want to mirror the real world use common sense. My youthful nihilism, which simplified everything it couldn’t destroy, eventually made it a little easier to believe because in reducing the number of blockhead pre-conceptions, it made my ideas about the real world a little truer. (I hope!) So I try to convey that perception because it has been a struggle to learn to believe in it myself. The result is that I want to be fair to my characters (and my feelings) and not kill them off just because they have slipped up and some notion has suddenly occurred to me that they deserve that end. I don’t mean to suggest that everything I write about really happened. Something very similar to it did happen to me personally. But I’m only a soldier, a lover of the written word who is incapable of shutting up, but not one of the brass. I’m not interested in the doings of the brass, what I’m interested in is the greater world that exposes the darkness that surrounds and limits the self. I am convinced that the fact that we can actually turn back darkness into light is what makes us human, and a little less than angels.

What I have tried to write about are the mysteries that surround every one of us, to turn back that darkness a little. Well, a man can always dream. In my life I have been a terrible dreamer. Any kind of light can be a very long time coming.

Another word, balance, has bothered me for a long time. Everybody thinks about Ulysses’ avoidance of extremes. Now suppose. You want to write a best seller. But you want to be loyal to your upbringing and your mother’s admonition about not lying your ass off, and true to the experience of the world you have gathered over a lifetime. So invoke balance. Stand there, let them take their shots. Fantasy defenders, go ahead! Maybe you’ll even get taken as a serious person. In other words: show up!

When I was a young fellow, I used to search all over for stores that sold used paperback books for a nickel. I loved glossy new books, too, but I was a rag tag kid. There was always some crazy guy in there who’d give you a cardboard box, and pretty soon you were walking out with fifty or a hundred books, a big pile of them anyway. My dream was that one day I’d find a book that had everything you could imagine in it. Not The Holy Bible, which, of course, is okay for starters—I spent many hours loitering over it—, but a for real scuzzy paperback that had everything in it, and no bullshit. Then I’d have it to screw around with and keep in my back pocket. Leaves of Grass, plenty of good reading there, I used to tell myself, better get started, time is wasting; and there were others. Now I’m dreaming that one day I’ll write that big book with everything in it and no bullshit. But that’s just energy and enthusiasm. The simple object is to write a best seller, the complicated object is to get read. How do you do that now? A little sex, a little violence (guns and war always help), a little love, family. If you can write about kids, that’s a good thing. Not very many writers have been lucky that way that they can really write about kids. Something for the head, something for the heart. If anybody can explain to me how you get read, I’m open to all suggestions. Well, I guess that’s about all I am pretty sure about.

My shoes are more like hiking boots than shoes. I've hiked around in them quite some, and maybe they'll fit you too.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Writer's List

                          Being by nature a prolific list maker, this morning I made a list. A writer must bring with him a thing or two in order to face that blank space to put the letters on. I think about now it snowed a bitter few snowflakes in the last of the darkness.
  1. Experience. Pretty hard to avoid. I don't want to sound like a moron explaining it. Young people explain it back and forth to each other. For some of them it is a "thing".

  2. Book learning. I guess books are always there; morons tell you how learned you have to be, how well read. I've been on the wrong end of those sermons more than once. Book learning is expensive. Time passes and you have written nothing. Enough! I don't think you are born with book learning. That should tell you everything.

  3. Grabbing stuff out of the air. If you can do it it is a good idea, and may be the best thing for you if you have the knack for it. It reminds me a lot of experience, but it is more about simple attentiveness, paying attention to what you are really doing, and how what you are doing looks to who is looking at you doing it. (This one could pick up some elaboration. Maybe tomorrow.) It's so simple it must be a gift from God!

  4. Listen to elders, wear their old clothes, even if just for a little while. Everybody knows old clothes get thrown away when they are worn out. But if it fits, why not wear it?

  5. Somehow put it all together. I used to use the word fuse all the time. Then fuse got all mixed up with purity, and then damned if I knew what either of them meant. So I don't know about fuse, it's a violent word, as if you collide ideas into one. Identities have to be retained. I am unhappy when through incorrect utilization identities become corrupt, fuzzy. Fathers are not sons. Poetry is not prose. One is this, the other is that. The commonsense phraseology is "it is what it is." Yet, if you have any fight in you, you'll put likenesses in one column, and differences in another column.

  6. Avoid vanity like the plague. (Check out Solomon.)

  7. All the frigging hours I've spent staring at blank spaces to put words in you'd think I'd have figured some thing out. Okay. Write one sentence then write another sentence.

  8. There was a ninth part to this list, but I forgot it, and time now to take Sunshine, my dog, for a walk. I can see, though just a dog, how disappointed she is when I am late.

Oct 16, 2013

                              The house was sleeping, and the darkness outside imprisoned the windows. I started to read a Hemingway short story, "Fathers and Sons". Besides this one there are several others from that period, "Summer People", for instance, that though rarely anthologized are unusual. As was this starless morning for me, these stories are dark, almost sinister. Their realism is blunt, direct. Many of the details are the last that would come to mind when you think about beauty. But the style is precise, clean, gritty, in the vernacular, mostly common words given a new light by their correct use and setting. It taps the pure fount of American English to a fault, the which, I might add, in this case written by a globe trotting linguist who in the greater part of his life seemed to avoid the country of his origin. This story and some of the other later masterpieces seem more intensely autobiographic than the early stories that we read in school. Does the middle-aged Hemingway, several times husband and father, eschew the imagination for the actuality of more immediate memories? Perhaps the time lost between the conception and the execution was shorter. When we are young the stories bank up fast, so it may be ten years or more before a certain conception is dealt with, then the original impression is dulled by time — and often becomes less painful to deal with. More complex still are stories forgotten about which suddenly emerge into memory as if from nowhere. When we are old, why not write what happened yesterday because what else is there? So time has no time to dull the original experience. No matter how you do it...the fresh colloquialism "alternatively" comes to mind: you may do it this way or alternatively you may do it another way...wait for the execution to come, or do it day after tomorrow, armed with copious journal will get nowhere without somehow rounding up for yourself an intellect. It is a subject I have wondered about since I was nineteen: what is intellect and how do you get it? By intellect, I don't mean the general intelligence you are born with. We are all smart enough: some do better in life, others do better in school, some manage, others get lucky, every dog will have his day, and so on. So this is what I was thinking about as the darkness encasing my window began to lighten. One day long ago I asked Hannah Arendt if you had to read every book in the library before you could start writing. She said, "No!" To this day I am not embarrassed by that question. The professors who were protecting her from the student peasantry like thugs a despot were embarrassed that they had not caught the crazy kid in time.  As the years passed and I ran into a few more literary people, I admired Ms. Arendt more for that blunt, one word answer than for her numerous famous books.  A blunt answer to a blunt question is a rarity. Now the sun has risen, filling my dooryard with light, as I knew it would. It is one thing I am certain of. The dawn I am certain of; but how a Tolstoy or a Yeats or a Hemingway came to be I can only guess. Maybe one day someone will explain it to me.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thanksgiving List from Pablo

Everybody knows I am addicted to lists. This is my T-day list:

1.  First freedom, this above all.  Praise to democratic man!

2.  Don't forget error.  How can you explain it?  Just because there are two points of view, why does that have to mean that one is in error?

3.  If you do anything mistakes happen, and they are essential.  Get over it.

4.  If a website doesn't open, don't spend ten hours trying to get in.  Forget about it and try again tomorrow.  A lot of things are like that.

5.  It is not true that you don't know anything.  It is true that you don't know much.

6.  The way of doing something you are most familiar with may not be the right way or even the way you'd want to use.

7.  It is better to have somebody pass you the potato than to be damned to taking it for yourself.

8.  Congratulate yourself.  You have made it this far.

9.  Don't trust in God.  Figure it out for yourself.

10. There's more than one dog show in town.  And every dog will have its day.

11. An empty room is not perfect, it is empty.

Have a great Thanksgiving from StoryNoir, me Pablo.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sept 28, 2013

                              The weather in Maine lately has been typical to the autumn. A low in the Maritimes has been reluctant to pass on. The blunt north-east wind has a chill and the clouds in the afternoon have been thick and dark. And when a cloud slips past the sun, the shadow is ominous. It is a nervous light; it influences one's metabolism. In the end it makes you want to hurry. There is work to be done, firewood to be stacked. Chores around the house take on an added necessity. The pump house must be re-insulated, fixed, for it has received quite a bit of attention this summer, new parts, a new pressure tank, and new light bulbs set up to provide heat in the small space on those bitter winter days. The skirting of the trailer must be replaced in places. The air conditioners were removed and stored away awhile ago. The chickens have ceased for the time being to lay; they are saving their protein. I'll have to trick them into laying again with a light in the hen house for a few hours every evening. But I'll wait till mid October, for they have worked hard this year; they are in their prime, and they deserve a vacation. The pigs are hungry all the time. They are oversize for the butcher anyway, and they are troublesomely untrustworthy. They are so big! I am reluctant to put a hand where they can get at it. In the mornings when they get their ration of goat's milk they become ravenously occupied, they dive into their feeders with loud snorts of glee, and while they are clamoring I have a few seconds to climb in the pen with them and drop some hay in their shelter, pick up feeders they have thrown around, and maybe quickly check the fencing. Oddly, even gentle pigs like the ones I have raised this year, are defensive of their territory; but once outside by some means, they tend to be peaceful, and they will be lead around after a fashion, so long as not rushed. I ought to fence off my failed garden plot for them to dig in. I am ashamed of what happened this summer, when much of my vegetable garden fizzled drowned in the rain. A man I met in Home Depot was buying a lot of drainage pipes for his garden. He had had enough. He had ditched his garden, lined the ditches with crushed stone, and now he was laying the pipes. Too many wet summers lately, he vowed. I am embarrassed to pass by my garden, and if the pigs were in it, they'd make short work and soften and grease it up for next year, too. But my horticultural good spirits have died with the season. I am picking corn; the cobs are smallish this year, but prolific and sweet. In a few more weeks these pigs will go to their semi-tragic end. Although they live together, though they come to me when I approach, I will preside over their slaughter, and like all God's creatures, they will die apart and alone. Another thick, dark cloud has darkened, made vague and cold the ground. A shadow crosses the heart. I will not raise pigs any more; I will not plant a garden. I will not participate in this damnable cycle any more! But the long winter coming will re-educate me, and the new spring will recommend the dark, rich soil, piglets will be born, laying hens. A brood of young guinea hens was born this summer! This after many years! The vile despot, the vulture, which was pecking the chicks to death each summer died last winter. The chicks are just now learning to fly. They spread their wings, flapping, take off, circling noisily around the mother hen, and then crash land beside her as if glued in a magnetic field.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Milk and Mud

The real thing. The true staff of life. Touch it!

                   So you have decided to come out to the barn with me? You’ll need these boots. There have been eight inches of rain just lately. I’d give you gloves too, if you’d take them. I have observed that for many people mud is a drawback. My wife has me come in the back door. She has a rubber mat set out in the back hallway. I kick off my boots before I get inside. Then I put my boots carefully on the rubber mat, even before my poor body comes inside. No matter. She says the mud smears and spreads. Oh, she does carry on. I’m sure you’ll hear about it. Shows disrespect, so she claims. Never heard that much about it before we were married. I always was a muddy boots, dirty hands critter. That was just thirty some years ago.
      I guess people are inclined to change concerning their opinions. And Lord knows the smell of sweat these days seems unfashionable. I’m inclined to think that folks aren’t interested in working where there may be dirt and sweat around, as if it was unhealthy. I can’t see how mud and dirt can be unhealthy. You don’t stick your fingers in your mouth, do you? I’ve heard explained that the smell of a goat in the rut is invigorating. It does tend to stick to whatever it touches; like a good vagabond, it gets around. I personally think the smell would be all right if it was toned down. But a lot of things seem okay when they are toned down.
     You got those boots on by now? There you are. You might want to figure out something to do while you’re here. Just a theory. Wonder what you might think. Might be a bit of a shock to the average city fellow...
     ...what? Oh that’s just a slug. What can you do? This much rain they come out of everywhere, and apt to get into everything. I’ve considered doing a study. No way to get rid of them, I imagine, without killing a good bit of the rest of nature besides. I’ve found that to be true generally. Mother nature is stubborn about her ways. Damage one part of her one where and another part of her elsewhere tends to kick about it., as I was saying, might be a bit of a shock walking into a place—that is if you’re not used to it—where any damned thing can happen. I suppose you might say it could be amusing if you’d let it be. For instance, how can you know what you’ll be doing from one minute to the next? It’s a sort of Shangri-La of fuzzy details. The details may even be surprising. I’ve heard that described as an interesting way to carry on. What’s next? You get up each day wondering. Then you take care of whatever is necessary. Might be enjoyable, I guess, if that’s your object in life. A little something interesting every day.

Berry and Lady. They are the old girls. They were born in this barn
and they will die in this barn.

    Oh, that’s just the girls bellowing. They want to be fed and milked. No, they’re not suffering. No, they’re not pregnant. They are just good, sturdy, healthy, fat goats—like The Bible recommends.
     I guess we might as well start chores, before we end up with a stampede. Berry and Lady, those two taking a rest, are past being freshened and they are in peaceful decline, as they say: not a worry in the world, unless in consideration of mortality. Since they can’t freshen, there’s no milk in their udders, and they don’t get on the milking stand.
     First I grain the whole herd, and they dive in for their share. But the others get grain on the stand also. Once they get grain, they get hay. You can put out the hay. Don’t be cheap! Put out some hay for the girls. Here, Moon. Come here. Here, maybe you’d like to try milking? Think not? Oh, you’d prefer working with a closed system? My, you’re a humorous fellow. Oh, no a goat’s udder is certainly not what you’d call a closed system, if there is any such thing. No dust in the transistors?
     Now that’s hard to imagine! Your transistor is just a small barn, to my way of thinking. It’s like everything else. When you can figure out what’s gonna happen, everybody wins. But when does such a happening come about? Other how you’re stuck with the dust in the best of plans. ...Calm down, Moon. You wouldn’t mind handing me a cup of that grain, would you? I think a smart fellow can have a general idea, nothing specific, what’s gonna happen. But only to a point. Why just last winter, we were proceeding along smartly when our prize milker, Circle, apparently healthy, suddenly keeled over and dropped dead. No! Wind and sun are into everything, if for good or ill, whether visible to us or no. They are in the dust and the shadows. Everywhere! Why should you be surprised by mortality, if you aren’t surprised by an udder with milk in it? I wonder that God might have done that a little better, given us a clue about what’s gonna happen, you know, maybe he did but we’re too blind to see it. Just the other day nature came to visit in the eye of that young milker. The eye became inflamed pustular, and it closed tight. When life has gone awry and they are sore and confused, goats will approach and complain softly. Nature may be unkind: a protruding branch, a spiny plant, an impatient comrade, namely myself, who happened to be on the upswing with a pitchfork. An accident happens hardly noticeable. But it has to be tended to. Don’t you see, young fellow, a little direct, objective can’t turn your back on it. Why would you want to?
     To get “clear of that crap?” What crap? Nothing’s crap.
     What is that faint, mysterious shadow on the northwest horizon? I expect it should be stormy tomorrow. A world of rain has made early haying hard going. I have surmised that the grasshoppers will be worse by far this summer. If no second crop this year, milk production will fall off early. Now there’s plenty to think about. Milk in the bucket! No, I suppose it won’t launch a white rocket to the stars.
     Well then, before we give much consideration to the stars and the white rocket, let’s clean up the place a bit. You take that pitchfork, and I’ll take this, and push in the wheel barrow. We’ll clean up this pen, move the manure into the pile outside. It may take an half-hour or so. You’re sweating? It’s good exercise. Just as well. It puts the mind into focus; it puts roots on your reasonings. If the reasonings have been held up overlong, or are vague or unreal, once they touch ground in the sun, suddenly they vanish. Why would you want to expend even a few hours on an unclear idea? Sweating is good for you. You’ve had enough? You’d rather be inside? You take this as a waste of time! Really? Well, some books, I think, put the mind in such a strain it feels good to get away. I prefer outside. Still, when I’m outside too long, I wish I was inside; but when I am inside too long, I wish I was outside.
     Well, go inside if you wish. Read that good book you’ve brought with you. And work on your computer, too. But be sure to knock the mud off your boots before you go in. The better half is hell on the world’s mud, and it seems it has been raining for the last two weeks, and more to come I expect. Might get ready for it if I can.
Can this be what old mortality looks like?

Tree Satori—Part 2

                     So the tree is down. It fell exactly where I wanted it. Now the work becomes safer, if not simpler. It was that big gray birch behind the buck barn, forever backward leaning into the shadow, and seedy. The log is very heavy. The work has proceeded according to plan. The tree did not fall into the muddy swale and my truck is not stuck in the mud, and I have pulled it up nearby the log in order to load it efficiently. Sometimes the work of cutting and hauling can’t be done in one day. Just because you can’t haul your handiwork out the day you cut it down, because the ground is still muddy from the winter, doesn’t mean you have to spend the afternoon reading Plato. Plato is for after sunset. Plato is a good reason to make a point of living long. But first square away your days! You may not finish the work on this tree till summer, when you have moved the wood near the house and stacked it in the woodpile there. But for the sake of happenstance, you've driven the truck alongside the log and all is well. Now, is it best to start at the top and work toward the stump, or start at the stump and work toward the top? Or even maybe start somewhere in the middle? In other words, where is the beginning?

Here are your tools: chainsaw, wedges, maul; and beat up fifteen year old Nissan truck.

Some say the top is the beginning, from which one works down toward the root; some say the root is the beginning and one should work toward the top. The top is often paltry in comparison to the bulk of the root. A good many woodlots have tops piled high untouched. The tops aren’t worked up at all! In season when a burn permit may be gotten, the tops make a handsome bonfire. Sometimes more frugal workmen are allowed to salvage the worthwhile firewood. There is always more than anyone would estimate, and bone dry, for the leaves are still attached and transpiring moisture to the sky. The top being closest to the sun supports a tangle of life giving branches. I have never been too proud to exclude roundwood from my woodpile. But get among these branches, screaming chainsaw in hand, and you may wonder which is the branch and which is the leg behind the branch. A tangle, a slip and a bucking saw may conspire unhappily. Is the trunk closest to the root where one should start? Start at the root and hope there’s a flower or two up a way. Especially when the trunk may sport fifty or more feet of clean, solid fire wood. In fact, after the which, why continue? Slash and burn. The big money is already made.

A woods just logged…day cold and dark and still…this winter's first snow.

But not the old penny wise wood burner. He runs his life on the assumption that his time is worth nothing, therefore, he has time to save time. If time is money and one works for money then half the job left undone is the most thrifty. I must not be very thrifty either of time or money: no tops trash my woodlot.

Now, I cross my arms thoughtfully and spin a cogitation upon the subject of which end of the tree is the beginning. One case may not compare to another case. Here is experience: I felled this tree exactly so and not otherwise for several reasons and among them was a slight ledgy hump on which lies the trunk about half way its length. It teeters as on a fulcrum. So most of the stress is lying on the fulcrum, and the best part of the trunk is lifted clear of the ground. In this case the trunk makes dandy cutting. Here's the best place to start work on this tree: at the root. As the saw screams the big chunks drop on the ground with a thump.

Baby the chain, baby the saw, woodsmen say. With the trunk slightly lifted on its fulcrum but still bearing weight, start cutting on the top, cut a good bit, perhaps three-fourths through the log, and then gingerly switch to cutting from below. Cut a small notch below, then cut on top again. The log being raised clear of the ground, there’s room to start the nose of the bar below the log without contacting the ground. The blink of an eye when the chain is in contact with an almost invisible stone in the sod under foot, for instance, may send you to file a numbed chain. The cutting edge of a sharp chain should draw itself at a good rate into the log. Sometimes this is hard to get. We, the amateurs, can't afford a new chain everyday, but we can sharpen our old chain everyday. The chain shouldn’t need to be pushed down to get it cutting. When a lengthy and thorough filing won't do the trick, it may be time to pony up for a new chain. New chains cost fifteen bucks or more, and it’s a dark day, but when I get home and back cutting again, I'm not unhappy anymore. The saw is cutting like mad. I can feel the energy in my hands. Running a good running chain saw is enjoyable work, but it doesn't take much to make it downright unenjoyable work. Baby the chain, baby the saw.

Now the cutting is going pretty well; the bar is piercing the log at a good rate. The bottom cut has almost reached the top cut. Before the log can start to pinch the chain, slowing it down, pull the bar out quick and cut again from the top, and the cut parts cleanly and that section of log falls off. In all work with a chainsaw, if there is any weight to shift, it will shift onto the bar of the saw. If the tree is big, it will lay its weight upon the chain and the bar of the saw in an instant, pinching the bar in the cut, and when the bar can't be wiggled out, it is a great aggravation. Should another woodsman see you in such a circumstance, he might find it worth stopping for a moment of ridicule. Quite a few woodsmen lug around two even three saws. Some even as many as five, whose chains they sharpen every night razor sharp. But a poor man will be happy with one saw and a wedge applied smartly.

I am then proceeding along steadily. My lucky fulcrum, which I spotted by means of long experience, helps a great deal. If I had not been so lucky, I may have to find a good place to cut somewhere along the log, and cut off a big section, but still small enough for me to handle; and catching it with the bolt-hook, which hopefully is not lost in the sod where the truck can run over it and puncture a tire, turn the log around to cut on one side then on the other side. Exhausting work because the log can be very heavy even when cut up into thirty or forty inch bolts, which most likely it won't be. Not to mention the possibility of impacting the chain with the ground and numbing it dull. And remember: these logs tend to be round, and if set up on a hillside, once they get rolling, the paltry flesh of a man will not slow them down.

Now that I have sawed off a good chunk of the log into twenty inch segments, maybe it would be a thought to shut down the chainsaw, take out the splitting wedge and maul, and enjoy the silence for a time. I may then work up a sweat, get the blood flowing to the brain, perfect for contemplation. I am a great one for talking to myself. I may wonder about a thousand subjects, none of which seem to be in books. You'll see me far to the back of my woodlot sitting on a turned up stump, castigating whomever over whatever. Fortunately, my boss is nature, who has provided me an entire spring to get a leg up on this work before the vegetable garden starts clamoring. But up again eventually, and at it for it won’t do to sit around all afternoon. And too much thinking gets on the nerves, especially thinking in day time. Thinking in such a way that the nerves are not soon all jittery and anger rising takes a knack and a bit of practice. Perhaps rare. Back to my chopping.

Now I have come toward the top of the tree, the area of thick branches. These branches make the best burning of all the wood by far in my country woodstove. Come winter, throw them on a bed of coals, which have been dug out of the night’s ashes, and they draw up forsooth with a bluish-red flame, extremely mobile, like fine silk in the wind, a wand of heat like the half transparent dusky glimmerings in Hell. By God, if I could get up enough of these thick, defrocked branches to burn, I wouldn’t burn anything else. I'd have hot Hell in a cage! Now apple tree limbs will heat you out of the house. Some years I can get a pick-up load from the orchard down the road. I save them carefully for the darkest, coldest winter nights. Once the stove is packed full, soon the glass crawls with flame. Apple limbs afire bring out the Jim Beam from the cupboard; time now for a shot, for this fire will last awhile. The house creaks from the bitter norther. Ten below and dropping. I stare into the efficient and well made fire, and I salute it from my easy chair with my naked toes. The soles of the feet are the best way by far to drug up heat inside.

So do I cut down my tops? By the time I finish with this old gray birch, there will be nothing left but a few rounds a quarter inch or less. My pile of discard will look like a convoy of grasshoppers basking in a warm evening. And in two years after tramping down the pile once a month, these little sticks will join the earth. Nothing left of one tree! But nature grows on.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Red Trailer

                     Laid off again. It was a hard time. Obviously we had to make a change or we would be out on the street. Kathleen, my wife, thought we might rent the house for extra cash. It was a terrible sacrifice for her to leave her house. But the land that we had bought in ’92 was available. (We called it “the land”. It was almost as if we were going camping. If nothing else we were survivors. I have observed acquaintances clinging to fancy sucked down, and only a bottle of wine and the shirts on their backs were left over; and their future and their childrens' future ruined. A real estate agent advised them to walk out of the mortgage.) I had a little cash left from the better days, just enough to put the septic in and a gravel pad and a well. I started to look around for a used trailer. In Maine they are called “starter homes”. (I love that phrase. In Maine it has special meanings. I guess you have to be a Mainer.) You wonder how you get into these situations but it is unwise to get too down about it because bad can go to worse in a few days. It’s amazing, for instance, how fast you can get hungry. I thought about Knut Hamson's novel, Hunger. At each mysterious twist and turn of free market capitalism in my life the book has come to mind. We weren’t in that situation yet, but we needed to make better use of what we had or we might be.
     Rather than spend her days weeping and beating her breast, Kathleen studied the newspaper ads. In the Lewiston paper there was a used trailer near Sabattus, not too far away. It was mud season and once you drove off the main road, the dirt road into it was almost impassible. The billowing murk pressed on my nervousness and the grey rain beat against the car’s windshield. I zigzagged from one side of the road to the other in order to avoid the muddy ditches. I was still driving the Mustang, a left over from my better days—Kathleen owned the mandatory in Maine 4-wheel drive "Jimmy". As we pulled up to the trailer I already knew I was going to buy it. It had been re-sided with T111 which had been painted barn red. The roof line was vaguely convex. Actually this was probably the best house we ever had for heat. Roofers who know what they are doing often build flat roofs because they are so heat efficient. But the big weight of the snow on the roof eventually plays havoc, and the house won’t survive long, I don’t care who the builder is. If you know how to shovel a roof, that, so it turns out, becomes less a problem. But shoveling an icy roof is a quaint occupation. It is surprisingly easy to fall off a roof, even one that is just slightly pitched. The trailer had plenty of windows, another advantage. The young couple living in it was anxious to move out and away from “the road” which was a “disaster” and into an “apartment” where they could “just live”. Besides, the owner of the land was planning a trailer park with new trailers, and they’d have to move out soon anyway because their trailer was too “crappy” for this new neighborhood in development. The bedroom was filled up with a giant water bed, which surprised me because I didn’t think a waterbed was the greatest thing for fornication. They were in a family way, that period in life when people are often very soft and gentle and sweet and enjoyable to be around. Didn’t I feel them in the years afterward improving my mood when it was dark? I figured that the building was worth two-thousand. They weren’t inclined to argue.


     It was a crazy time of my life. I finally got another job. I was driving down country to go to work, 120 miles, and staying over with my father in Hampton for the three day work week in a type shop in Salem, Massachusetts. The owner of the type shop was looking for a computer guy. They were hard to find back then, and I wasn’t one, so I was lucky to hang on to the job for a year. On top of that acknowledged instability I was stunned with organizing the survival. Took awhile before we managed to get the trailer moved to “the land”. It blew a tire on the way. Moving trailers is big business in Maine. I was lucky only one tire blew. Upon arrival at the land the movers reminded me that the blown tire had meant a lot of extra work, and they had not ripped me off. The estimate for the move was $400, but since the tire had blown, it would be more. I thought: “Okay. Thanks.” I waited, studying the ground, not breathing, wondering. They tried to sound conciliatory: “Fifty bucks more.” I sighed, relaxed, said, “Okay.”
     Now, the land was hard scrabble forest land in West Paris, Maine, damp around the edges, not ideal; and having been recently logged, it was grown over to thick swatches of saplings and brush. The dirt road, Kittridge Brook Road, leading up to it, was even less ideal, but I knew from my experience in road construction that the driveway into the land would stay put. I bought the land from Corneilieson, who laid the driveway. He said: “I happened to run into some good gravel.” Good gravel packs and sticks together like cement. It is the same one-hundred years later, in good times and bad. Frank Wright should have used more of it under his houses. Then they would have lasted longer. Good gravel is hard to run across nowadays. What you end up with is grainy ballast in too much sand. It floats away with the rain or blows away on the wind. I have invented another name for it: bullshit. It is everywhere I look.
     But the lot was well insulated from the neighbors. It had firewood and solitude, and it was flat, the better to raise animals, my wife’s first love.
     We moved into the old junker 70 foot trailer even before the water was hooked up. Although the son of a friend of my wife’s helped us, for me the learning curve was steep. The roof had to be sealed; skirting installed; gas and heating oil systems attached; plumbing put in. Water systems, for instance, are tricky for the luckless beginner with no money. Eventually, after a summer of struggling, I bought a new pump from Sears on credit and a plumber helped me install it. He did the plumbing with real copper and solder, not PVC. He explained to me enough about the ins and outs to survive. I can’t remember whether I ever paid him. He was a neighbor, and neighbors are like that in Maine. Later, adjusting the plumbing on my own, I used a fitting with a tiny scratch in it which, having allowed air into the system, caused it to run lousy. I am a stubborn person; I never ask for directions; it took me an entire maddening month to finally give up, but the plumber came over and found the problem in a couple of minutes.
     The last of the kids left and my mother-in-law, Ruth, came to live with us, and she kept my wife occupied. After all the anguish my wife expressed to me about her mother, having hardly a single good word to say about her, they got along peacefully; they pacified each other. They’d sit together for hours in the evening, employing themselves one way or another. My wife would say, “Aw, Ma”, and no matter how she tried she could not veil the affection in her voice. But Ruth must have wondered about me, a great reader, hiding forever somewhere behind a book. She said to me a few admonitory comments— “A man should occupy himself with his hands.” That sort of thing. But for the most part she was cordial. She noticed that I also went to work outside the house, an important ritual in life for the old people; and not nearly so important nowadays since everyone wants to work at home in front of their computer. When I was laid off there was land to clear and firewood to work up. Otherwise when I eventually found steady work, I went out every day in a decrepit Chevy pickup. So in the end she didn’t seem to mind whatever I did with my own time. Kathleen follows her mother, whether she likes it or not. They both have enormous inner resources for amusing themselves.
     In fact, I might add as an aside to folks stumbling toward marriage, for the bridegroom, think well of thy mother-in-law for the wife will soon be like her, and for the bride, think well of thy father-in-law for one day the husband will be like him, and probably sooner than later. And hope for the good times while expecting the bad times in order to avoid disappointment.


     Even as a child in third grade I had loved to write. Now I had no money and no job, I had no excuse not to write in lieu of some more expensive hobby. In this junky old place I think that I progressed more than anywhere else in learning how to write.
     I set up shop in a corner of the bedroom. My desk was crammed beside the closet. The clothes hung in the closet nearby me, and there was also the water heater. I had taken off the sliding door to the closet to be nearer the water heater. It was such a grungy corner: books crushed into every open space, a mouse’s litter of notes and draft pages everywhere. An old man, the husband of a close friend of my wife’s, who had developed great intellectual strength through years of solitary study, when I showed him my writing hole, laughed at me. “No,” he said. “That won’t do at all.” But an omnivorous reader in the detachment of his books is actually a simple person, not complicated like a writer, who is anything but detached. I know because I have been both. Writers tend to dig holes; then they pop out every so often like cicadas, climb a tree, take a gander at the real world, spread their oats, flame out and fall back. I used pen and ink but also there was the flea market typewriter. It was so simple! Although I sat transfixed upon my study far away from the woodstove, the water heater always warmed this spot even in mid-winter with the west wind howling. I believe that the clothes hanging in the closet like Hades’ scriveners formed a sort of insulation. And this spot was always so quiet! The Red Trailer deadened sound to the maximum. I don’t know why.
     And in the bad weather, or just too worn out to do anything else, I whittled at my sentences for hour after hour. I settled into a habit of how to look at sentences, whether long ones or short ones are best, and how to think in sentences consecutively; it’s a sort of meter. There’s a meter to prose as much as poetry, though in poetry the diction tends to be “higher”—meaning I think more old fashioned. Maybe poetry is historically more reluctant to accept the vernacular than prose. It tends to eschew those numerous sturdy indefensibles and word inventions that invade the Democratic vernacular like the hordes of Attila.


     Grammar is hard for me; I am reluctant to bend a knee to authority. It is as if the very word rips something out of me. Eventually I established two hopeful objectives for each sentence: the sentence will be grammatical, and the sentence will be clear. Probably grammar and clarity go together. Another word for grammar is correctness. They are not exactly analogous words. Everyone’s ambition is to be creative. I have always loved the imagination, but I have been in a painful confusion about what it is. Maybe someday I will learn, and when I understand it, I might be more inclined to utilize it. But for the time being there is grammar. Grammar is about rules, but correctness is more about the fusion of rules with energy. Why am I spending so much time thinking about this old and crusty word, grammar? Because it works! My object has always been to create a meter of my own. While the water heater softly sizzled and bubbled like a brook in the glens of Xanadu, I thought a lot about an American language. So I needed a meter. And since obscurity is a sin I needed some grammar. But it takes a long time to learn to look at sentences that way. It should be simple but it isn’t. I don’t know what I mean by correctness, though I sure do use the word enough. It’s the energy, it gets in there and it makes everything complicated! If you can't quite believe everything you say, which happens all the time, at least bring it with energy, enthusiasm. But everybody should know that.
     What I mean by style is a manner or approach to language; when one brings to bear on language energy, it creates style. The assumption is that the language has certain rules and these rules make choices less difficult, and you have to know what these rules are in order not to get lost in a diaspora of choices. Most rational people are aware of the idea of basic rules, and I think form may amount to a series of educated personal choices. It is a structure. I don’t know exactly what would happen if the energy were not attached to a structure. By that I mean whether the language would be intelligible. When I note that I have been loosely attached to the structure of the language—its rules of grammar and usage and composition—then intelligibility (clarity) seems in general to decline. But a certain type of energy may prefer more uncontrolled word positions.
     I’m stretching for excuses for that kind of thing. Art should involve a rational mind. If it does not what else is going to?
     What is at the center of it, all other considerations being equal, in my opinion, is the epithet. That’s an idea that came to me from Jorge Borges. Borges said one day in a TV interview that he studied epithets in Middle English. When the interviewer doubted this was useful or even true, Borges became irate. You tighten up the verbs, form correct clauses, sometimes a matter requiring much staring, simplifying or not to taste, and then guard the epithets like a mother hen her chicks. I learned a little about that in my nest in the Red Trailer. The epithets taught me a meter; the meter taught me a mood. But that is only a start in the real world. And in fact it means nothing unless you get to actually doing it. And in the heat of actually doing it you can end up forgetting everything.


     For five years, while I was carrying on my wonderments about writing, I went from one job related disaster to the next. I don’t hold grudges. My ex-employers are all dead or dying, or they went to Florida and became drunks. Thereupon they met young women who knocked them off, usurped their children’s inheritance and squandered it in Las Vegas. I doubt that they got any fun out of life, while I enjoyed my little home in the Red Trailer.
     Took me awhile to write a sentence, and then I learned to write more than one and make a story or poem or whatever. I never gave up on that day job though, and eventually I got a pretty good one, as has been recorded elsewhere in these Annals of Pablo. My new career, occasioned by my numerous lay offs, has both frustrated me and caused me much satisfaction. Was it luck or just a simple willingness to endure and try something new? Alas, I am still alive and roof over my head. I congratulate myself that with the help of my family it was not all luck.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Tree Satori

                                     After I bought my land, I was dead broke. The land had firewood on it. How else was I going to heat the house? Now, how to chop down a tree without squashing something. Isn't that the first thought that comes to one's mind when considering the problem of gathering firewood? You'd like to predict which way or how the tree will fall. There are a few things to learn but very little is written, and in those sorts of skills the actual doing becomes more like an art. You've got the work in front of you; you are in close contact with it; a few procedures are established to go by: you may even have your own personal taste about how to use these procedures; the problem now is to get through it. As you look at that big tree, what firewood gatherers of the past are available for advice? As you become more proficient the tree usually crashes down safely in the planned direction. If you become very proficient, the tree always crashes down where you planned. And your physical body or anything else that is valuable is not located where it crashes. But in this business the possibility of deadly accident through error and bad judgment is always close.

Behind the buck barn stands an obstinate ancient Gray Birch. I have known this tree for many years. I am not friendly with it as I am with the Red Oak standing off a short distance. Over the years I have put upon both trees a botheration of goats who snack on low sagging limbs and are unkind to roots. And my general human rush is bound to violate tree stuff too. But the Red Oak has flourished, producing each summer a numerous crop of leaves and I swear almost visible growth. The Gray Birch has been less lucky. In terms of a tree’s history this fellow has seen better days. Now his bark is peeling off in wide swaths; his top limbs are bedraggled bare and weary. Often I have stood nearby scratching my head. I should get a life as many times as I have ventured to this place to contemplate the plight of this tree. I think I remember a clean straight tree, a stalwart. I’d bet he is a hundred. Although there are even now no weird splits or crotchets, he has obviously reached his doldrums. Despite all the clearing done around him, all the sun let in, he has persisted in leaning backward into a low swampy place away from the sun, away from the daylight into the shadows. Now I have lost patience and sympathy. I have come out with my chainsaw. A going back now would be a weakness, though I am tempted. These occupations are sometimes not worth the effort. One day it will fall over on its own. But a young lovely sugar maple stands in sunlight only a few feet away. Soon I will be old, and this sugar maple will put up with my spring amusement. Not everything should be left to wind and time. In dealing with this crusty old codger, the Grey Birch, suppose there should be an accident? Which way will he fall? Not I hope on the sugar maple. The woods’ complaint would groan in the wind for a long time. The woods must take a dusting, a clearing out, as must everything, and the Grey Birch will yield an easy cord of good firewood. I’ll be rid of him and next winter he’ll keep me warm.

Now, time to cut a notch. I fire up my chainsaw and on the side of the tree in the direction I want it to fall, I saw horizontally a thumb past a quarter of the way through the trunk. About three inches above this cut I begin to saw in the shape of a triangle another cut. This cut would resemble the hypotenuse of a triangle, as it meets the lower cut at its farthest point into the tree. The triangular slot, once it has been cut, will then pop out. There is always a great temptation to saw the first cut too far into the tree, in which case the tree will fall back against the cut and pinch down on the chainsaw bar. It is in the nature of temptation that it will ruin one's day. I feel in a hurry; other jobs are waiting. Temptation waits always in the thoughtlessness of hurrying. It is not unusual to find a rusted out chain saw blade stuck, sticking out both sides of a tree trunk, the tree having nabbed it and grown around it. If I do cut too far and my chainsaw blade does get pinched, no amount of wrenching and pulling and tugging will loosen the bar to get it out. Perhaps there might be just enough opening to insert into the cut a wedge. If this happens, and you beat enough on the wedge, perhaps you can make enough space to loosen the bar and tug out the saw. More likely, you are in a serious bind. An axe blade might open up the cut enough to get the wedge started. A second chainsaw is a luxury, and suppose it gets stuck too. Where did you think all that cussing would get you? Perhaps best disassemble the saw and move it away from any further disaster. You can buy a good, straight used bar for ten dollars; fixing a stove chain saw can get expensive. You’ll take a fierce ribbing at the saw shop. You might go and find your come-along. (No one can live in Maine without a come-along.) If a tree is nearby to loop it to, at great risk to your good health, you might be able to drag the tree over. Or get out the old duct taped axe and chop the tree on the side opposite the notch, and just chop it down. Damned if the saw bar gets rolled over, bent and ruined. On the other hand you could retreat, sit down and enjoy the weather. One day a big wind will come up and fell the tree for you. Why all this invention and struggle when a big wind could do the work? Nature may be for a minute fed up with you, man!

Enough depressing possibilities! Waiting for the wind? Risk that young sugar maple? Likely I’ll be senile before a wind comes up, if I am not senile already. I won’t get my saw stuck, not after so many years. Surely I have learned enough in my life to avoid this temptation. I have plans for the sugar maple! While the ancient is yet strong enough to stand, I stop cutting. I bring experience to bear. Now I am ready to insert my wedges.

I summon up the necessary persistence and application. If one must persist in this simple chore, deduce the rest!

Now I begin to saw the trunk on the opposite side from the notch and three or four inches or so above it. (Getting this alignment right is not so much a science as an art. You estimate it by the eye; study it and the eye will tell you how close it is to being right.) Again, saw no more than a third of the way through the trunk. When done, roughly a third of the way around the cut insert the first wedge. With the maul I pound the wedge until the cut slowly begins to open up. Another third of the way around the cut I start the second wedge and briskly pound it. Ever so slowly the tree begins to straighten up or tip over in the direction I want it to fall. Then I plunge the saw bar into the cut in front of the wedges. If you strike the saw chain cutting edges on a wedge, I hope you have a clean file because you’ll need to do some sharpening. Now cut an inch or two farther toward the notch; the tree can’t fall back, pinching the bar because the wedges are supporting it. More desultory pounding later, the arms and shoulders are feeling weary. Even on a cool early spring day, you’ll easily break a sweat. Then finally the wedges have opened the cut so the bulk of the tree is leaning toward where you want it to fall. Weight has come off the wedges so that they loosen in the cut and they literally fall out.

Now I may pause, for it is a satisfactory moment. I have adjusted nature in the interest of my human service. Then back to work; a breeze may up any moment. The chainsaw makes quick work of it. The forest resounds with the mighty crashing. The nearby young sugar maple breathes a relieved sigh.

The old codger is down! By means of my human machination, he has come down not on the young sugar maple or into the low muddy bog, where I can not drive my truck, but onto the high ground, where I can drive my truck, and safely away from the sugar maple. I will cut him up into stove wood lengths and load him into my truck. I do not regret what I have done. About fifty years ago Greg Watson of Sumner logged this land, but he left a good number of well established trees, such as the Red Oak, a sturdy and straight tree whose upper limbs preach bravely toward the heavens. I will not cut down that Red Oak. It is precious to me an I'll leave it to the future. I myself will be cut down to dust long before that tree. This that has happened that I have done hasn't it seemed likely?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sept 18, 2013

A sunshine day! There are no clouds in the sky. It started cool, then when the sun thoroughly fired up the warmth filled body and soul. Perhaps because of the disappointing summer, the more am I appreciative of days like this. I was sick for most of the summer. I couldn't seem to start feeling right. Kathleen, my wife, was remarking about all the weight I have lost. My nose drained, my garden flopped. The bad weather in July was intense. My garden never quite got started. The plants' roots rotted as the drainage failed to keep up; the puddles carried on forever; and the listless sunshine stunted everything. I thought that the plants would make up for lost time when the weather turned. But apparently that is not how gardens work. I wouldn't know. In forty years of tending a garden, I have never had a failure like this. It was as if the game had changed. Could it be something drastic has happened to the sky, that we will never again see it as once before? As if the plants had frozen, the dead, listless look never went away. It was mid-August before my tomato plants developed their normal ferny look, but even then they did not smile at the sun, just drooped over listless. My, I thought, it couldn't be that bad. I weeded and hoed and drained the best I could, hoping an extra long season would pull them through, and I'd get some production, but no extra long season and no production. The growing is just about at an end after two frosty, though not freezing nights in a row. Maybe it will get warmer, but the sun is falling, collapsing out of the sky, and each day seems shorter by more than you'd expect. I ran the woodstove last night and the night before. The moon was full, and frost drenched the grass and mushed in the moonlight on my pickup's windshield, seeming to turn the color of snow, hoary, pale. My feelings toward this coming fall are as listless as my plants. I still get up early, by now in this season well before dawn. From my window I watch the pale sun painfully slowly fill in the front yard. Is it me or do the banty hens seem grumpy, too? There is an edge to their voices. Even prior to sunrise, still in the dark, obeying some unusual, inexplicable impulse, they castigate the sky. The philosophy of the morning is impugned. Twelve more of our comrades are senselessly killed. Why is there such a deluge in Colorado? I am restless, bitter. The dusky, sharp scent of a skunk warns me not to let out the dogs, who are anxiously waiting by the door. A sharp ray of sunlight drifts onto the barn. Get up! One must remind one's self. Your body must bear the weight of your works. Sometimes this is not easy. The goats come out of the barn; they are staring at the house, my very window. It is plain time to get started. The sun of this brilliant day illuminates my way. My heart warms as I work.