Keepers v. Purgers

I like to think of myself as a purger, but my garage and my Google drive betray me. My garage is a mess–mostly full of old boards or tools, things I swear I will need at some point. There’s a tire with a hole in the sidewall that I keep thinking I should make into a swing. I’ve got probably 100 square feet of boards that had to be culled when I installed new floor this past summer in the kitchen and laundry room–but they look project-y, right? Not to mention old tents, busted kid-toys, chunks of sheetrock, a regular cornucopia of junk.

My Google drive is similar. (I should stop here to admit I have a filing cabinet full of spiral and composite notebooks too, but for the sake of this post, let’s stick to the digital.) This is the great thing about cloud storage–it doesn’t seem to take up any actual space (unlike my garage) so I can keep everything and not have to worry about parking two cars in there. Today, in an attempt to avoid working on some new and old short stories, I found this file, titled Ideas. It was a .txt file, which means I had it on my old PC that I used early on in graduate school–the file info swears it was started 10/6/10, which would be 5 days after Judah was born, which doesn’t seem quite right, but I guess I did take two days off and then went back to work after he was born, so maybe I did the same with graduate school? Anyway, here’s the list:

1. Good news is no news
2. Baked goods and long nights
3. Control
4. It should have gone like this, I should have screamed
5. Windmills
6. GB tattoo
7. I hate heaven
8. Neighbor at the Bottom of the Stairs

I have no idea what 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 are. I vaguely remember #2 which sort of turned into the story “Almond Bark”. And number 6 and 8 correspond with “Painting Elephants” and “A Pretty Good Gig”. (All available, of course, in The Northwoods Hymnal.)

Anyway. That’s all. If 1, 3, 4, 5, or 7–or for that matter 2, 6, and 8–seem like good ideas to you, by all means, write away.

Little Fingers, Little Screens

When we gave Eden a retired iPhone, cracked screen and nearly unupdatable, I felt a couple ways about it. I’m not a Luddite by any means, not scared of technology, but I do want my kids to interact with the physical world they live in moreso than the digital world that they will soon enough fully inhabit. And I’m bad enough–I have my composition classes print off their papers, just so I don’t have to spend all day looking at screens and then, when I get done with a few papers, I positively reinforce myself (a bit subconsciously) by staring at a screen, which is to say: It seems almost unavoidable.

Sidebar: When I teach literature, we often spend one class period talking about the main cultural vehicle of the time and how that has shifted over the course of history and, dramatically, in the last hundred years or so. And then I ask them to prognosticate: What’s coming next? What will be the favored cultural medium of their children? Or hell, how about next year? They often point to those floating recliners from Wall-E.

And I ask, “Does that sound like a good time to you?” A few of them nod, but most of them agree that they’d like to avoid that kind of existence, at which point the conversation turns to whether or not we have options. Is our choice between the Wall-E chairs or a log cabin in Montana, off the grid somewhere?

It’s got to be a false dichotomy, right? At least that was my hope when we gave Eden the iPhone. And honestly, what I’ve found is that she’s much better at self-regulating than I am. She often uses it for music when she’s cleaning her room or doing art projects. She seldom pretends to use it for anything I do (I’ve never seen her treat it like a phone–but I don’t really use it that way either, I suppose). And then she takes these videos–of all sort of things. Her brother playing with cars and legos. Tours of our house and yard. Walks to her friends’ house. There’s one great clip that is her walking the three blocks (God bless small towns. #ruralism) to her friend Amelia’s house and it ends centered on Amelia’s smiling face. And then the video is over. She’s arrived and she’s ready to play and the phone gets tossed in a corner somewhere.

I don’t know where I’m headed with this (does a blog have to have a moral?) except to say that I wonder–and hope–if my kids can make their way through the technical world in a more balanced way than I can. And, in the meantime, with my face glued to a screen somewhere, it really is a miracle to be able to watch the world through Eden’s eyes. And I’m awfully thankful for that.

Told You I Was Back At It

Only a nine day layoff this time around.

Here are some things:

  1. The novel–The Birth of Birds–is indeed finished. I’ve been in the midst of an 8 month search for an agent (did I mention this? I think I mentioned this). It’s actually gone well–about 20% have asked for a full or partial manuscript–but alas, I’m down to the last half-dozen or so that have those full manuscripts and where I used to get about a rejection a week (or more), I’m getting like a rejection a month. And some of them are so kind, kind enough to live off, probably for the rest of my life. But I have an ego, like everyone else I suppose (those possibly bigger than the average ego), and it is feeling tender. So what to do?
  2. Start something new. I’ve been working on both a new novel and some short stories. I’m afraid I’m much more suited for short stories–either because of my attention span or because of the precision they require/share with songwriting. Both processes have been enjoyable and I wish I had a better memory for that because I tend to go days (sometimes 9 at a time) without working and start to get a weird brain-buzz until I get to work again. It’s good to have the work.
  3. I started playing in a band about six weeks ago. The Ruralists. We’ve had a handful of shows (including one tomorrow night) and have been working on an EP/demo and fleshing out songs from The Birth of Birds. It has been a salve or a balm or something like that. Straight up calamine lotion. I’d become so accustomed to the brain-buzz that accompanied not playing music that I’d almost gotten to the point where I could totally ignore it. Almost.

Hopefully I’ll have something more than complaints and updates in the near future. Gotcha catch a flight home from Michigan now.

Back at it

I haven’t written on here in so long that I forgot my login and password. Whoops.

Here’s why I’m back: It’s been one whole year since I wrote a song and last night as I was falling asleep I had a mild panic attack that I’m mid-thirties and washed up and I’d never write another song–or at least a decent one–ever again. It’s the kind of thing that comes washing over me on occasion.

Really, the occasions are seldom. I tend to walk through the world with an inexplicable confidence. I told Sarah a couple years ago that I just assume everyone in a room likes me and she looked at me as if I had suddenly started speaking Sanskrit. I just assumed everyone lived this way.

And I think I usually write this way. But back to those occasions: My first reaction is to start pointing fingers. Eight months of agent rejections! Or maybe the contentedness of a simple life! (I will blame anything.)

But I know what it is: Effort. Songwriting–any writing for that matter (if you only knew how many times I used backspace on these 200 words)–takes effort. Sitting down and doing. And this seems like a good place to start–there’s no risk, no editor, no hypothetical book deal. Just me speaking into the wilderness of the internet: It’ll get better.


I took the kids to swimming lessons last night. (It’s part of the reason my Tuesday Tunesday has already gone off the rails, two attempts in.) I was sitting back aways from the pool, hoping I could watch both of them simultaneously even in their separate classes. Judah was sitting against the wall on this little step that runs around the outside of the entire room–it’s maybe a foot off the ground (though I’m pretty terrible at estimating that kind of thing). And my skinny little 5-year-old, all bones and sinew and ligament, put his elbows on his knees and I realized just how bent his knees were, just how long his legs are, and suddenly I had this vision of him as a teenager, lanky and gangly like I was, worthy of that nickname Ribs that my sister gave me. It was, in some sense, a trick of distance–when he’s close, like when we were wrestling earlier in the day, he still seems small, just beyond toddlerdom. But from afar, I had perspective, and I arrived at the bittersweet conclusion that he’s growing up, faster than I can track or measure.  

It got me thinking about distance. I do my work mostly in the myopic; I wrestle phrases and clauses and words and sentences, some days I spend an hour on a paragraph. I read papers looking for comma splices and misplaced apostrophes. I prefer short stories and songs–the hardest thing about writing a novel was trying to keep the whole thing in my head. And I’ve probably always been this way–my idea of planning for the future entails figuring out if we need a babysitter for Friday night. On Wednesday afternoon. 

But distance seems like an important skill, especially in developing discernment. And I’d like to get wiser with age–I’d like to be able to step back and see the bigger picture, get a wider view, see the long skinny legs of my son. 

That’s all really. No moral, no righteous accomplishment. Just a realization. And maybe a long-term, distant goal.