TODAY I TOOK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

September 22, early 23, 2021: Albuquerque, New Mexico almost to Marathon, Texas. Cheap motel on noisy street in Carlsbad on night one.  My first substantial road trip in a few years. Albuquerque to Carlsbad NM/Carlsbad to Marathon TX/Marathon to San Antonio TX. Granddaughter Patricia’s/San Antonio to Austin TX/Granddaughter Teresa’s/Austin to Hobbs NM/Hobbs to Albuquerque.

Primary goals, besides having good fun with Patricia and Teresa, include never setting tire to interstate and taking ever more photos of the grand geography of this whole big beautiful country—if only the bad people would go away….

Every day should include a report on an event, sight, or activity peculiar to the day thereof. Today, for example, I engaged in two highly recommended activities for elders desiring mental fitness—solving puzzles and socializing. And all because I believe in Real Paper Maps and Road Signs to guide me to my destination. It went like this:

9:30 am. Los Lunas. Half an hour from home. Following Highway 47. Oh dear, my map says do this, the road sign says do that. I ask a person #1…she says it’s there. It isn’t. I ask person #2…he says it’s back there. I look again at the map. I drive back a ways. I ask person #3…she says…and then #4 says…which takes me back to a sign I saw in the first place…doesn’t match the map but by now I’ve been in Los Lunas (a really small town) about 40 minutes. Person #4 is the winner. And, by socializing with four people and working my way through a puzzle, I’ve completed my elder-health-goals for the day.

Of such grand adventures is travel made. Day one saw mostly the kind of flat, unpopulated country that’s only interesting from two-lane roads where one can stop at every historic marker, pull over at will for a stretch and photo of a windmill, and wait with anticipation for the next McDonalds where an apple pie and a pee is always available.

I drive and I drive. Easy days. I could have been a truck driver. Solitary road trips offer the best thinking time in the world. With a companion there’s bound to be an occasional exchange, and if someone else is driving…well, you nap, right? On a plane or train, there’s reading/writing, people around speaking. Bothersome. But my kind of road trip. Me and Ghost (or any one of the many clunkers I’ve driven over the years) and the highway. I formulate my future, ponder my past, and I imagine what it’s like to live on that ranch over there or in the last village I passed through…what it’s like to be a cowboy, a bank robber, to be a crazy Scandinavian artist planning a ‘Prada’ installation along a desert highway. 

HOW ABOUT GOVERNING ‘FRIENDLY’?

WORKING/NOT WORKING

“If you must have motivation, think of your paycheck on Friday.” Noel Coward said that.

I’m lucky I suppose. It was never my paycheck that inspired me to go to work; most of the time I found great satisfaction in what I was doing (although of course the paycheck had to be there when all was said and done), always in a creative arena or offering small supports for lives in trouble. Now in the new-normal of today, I continue with great good luck to work at North Fourth Art Center, a place/organization combining my two interests, art and social work. In the past that meant the KiMo Theater, Global DanceFest and the Day Arts School for individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities. Interesting, exhilarating, worthwhile. But that was then…the challenge for front-line workers in the arts and social justice arenas to make any difference at all has increased exponentially with the disruptions of covid spread, climate change, and cult-building. Makes me want to wear a t-shirt urging ‘Creative do-gooders of the world…Unite!’

Today I just want to say a good thing and a bad thing…it has been a pleasure to return to our familiar warm and colorful Center with a few creative colleagues to see what we can make of this unpredictable new-normal. We have a substantial federal grant, bright and connected young people, a host of workable ideas, and multiple years of experience. What could go wrong? (Well. Actually there could be multiple years and layers of pandemic-time and drought and fires and floods and our very own home-grown rampaging terrorists and an increase in Republicans and Jeff Bezos could kidnap the best among us for his Mars colony where he intends to wait out the apocalypse.) Anyway I’ll be retired by then.

CONTEMPLATING THE FUTURE…IN THE DARK.

In a year or two or three, I’ll have all the time in the world for writing, reading, blogging, ranting, poem-making, class-taking…I could even reinvent letter-writing. I can volunteer as a reader or visitor for old-elderly (I’m young-elderly). I can drive refugees to appointments. I can dish out soup at a homeless shelter. I’ve been doing all of the above now and then over the years, but work (as in paid work) has often interfered. But I worry about not working. How will I know who I am? All of the above? A Jimmy Carter-brand retiree?

Or will I play out the scenario more or less foretold below: I made a vow a few years ago to order all of the books I wanted while still employed. I do. There are many. About a third of which I read as they arrive on my shelves; the others are for later, for when I have time—scary amounts of empty time. If I were the kind of person that prayed to a magic being I would request that my eyesight remain excellent until the minute I die—in lieu of supernatural help, I’m using a good brand of eye drops and crossing my fingers. Then there’s streaming but I’ve pretty much watched everything on Acorn and there’s only so much one can stomach on Netflix and its tens of rivals, all with hundreds of mostly uninteresting shows. Not all bad though…with endless ‘scanning the choices’ time on my hands I’ll find the gems out there in the netherworlds of Amazon, Hulu and on and on. And there’s always the Great British Bake-Off to be watched over and over and over when all else fails.

     Maybe I’ll find the perfect balance; I’ll write and read and stream and do the occasional good deed and cook an egg or dust a shelf occasionally, my time will be filled. Right? The golden years all burnished and valuable.

     Until then I guess I’ll get up and go to work.                                   

 Yonder See the Morning
 Yonder see the morning blink:
     The sun is up, and up must I,
To wash and dress and eat and drink
And look at things and talk and think
     And work, and God knows why.
 
Oh often have I washed and dressed
     And what's to show for all my pain?
Let me lie abed and rest:
Ten thousand times I've done my best
     And all's to do again.
 
A.E. Housman
 
 

IT’S FALL IF I SAY SO

Fall begins today. For me.

     The New Normal starts today also. For me. On May 26, 2020, the first entry appeared in my fancy brand-new leather-bound diary. I declared it Day 72 of Covid-19 and noted the ongoing malevolent presence of DT in the white house, and that a black man had been strangled to death by the Minneapolis cops. I had vowed to only include items that mattered in the new journal.

     Now it’s September 6, 2021, Day 545 of an unrelenting pandemic. We are living the New Normal. I have decided to acknowledge that. When this virus has mutated its last mutation—if that happens, we will continue to experience the rampaging climate of a pissed-off globe and a world mired in fear and hatred of the ‘other’… that is … whoever any one band of humans (with weapons) selects to vent their hatred upon.

     In the meantime…who doesn’t love fall? At least those of us in/from temperate climates. Air chills, leaves color, school children chatter; we experience a burst of energy, necessary to prepare mentally and physically for the winter ahead.  

     So, I say to myself, do that. While Albuquerque doesn’t offer a proper autumn, I can consult my inner-Minnesota-child and proceed to lose myself in fall-inspired preparations for sundry worthwhile activities which, while they don’t involve canning peaches or butchering a steer, will make me feel prepared for something or the other.

     I believe I’ll start by writing a small series of posts closing out this period of my life in blogland—the one that began February 12, 2020, a month before the Governor closed New Mexico down from Covid-19. My next Blog Book will include these eighteen months of entrees in a ‘travel-blog-book-with-oh-so-little-travel’.

BLOG BOOKS. TRAVEL THEMES UNTIL 20-21 WHEN THEME CHANGES TO STAY-AT-HOME CONFUSION.

     Life and blog posts to begin anew, as autumn practically demands, when I take off later this month on a road trip (two-lane highways and small towns or odd villages only)  through southern Texas to San Antonio and Austin. A small adventure with granddaughter visits as the reward.

     Over the last weeks I’ve begun several posts about the awfulness of world events. However, since this is my first day of fall, my favorite time of year, how about I dispense with all rantings for now and post a few photos of my family on this holiday weekend. The bad things will still be there should I choose to use up tomorrow’s words on them.

NEIGHBORHOOD ROAD RUNNER.

MALAISE

AND SHE SAID, “I MUST GO.”

Malaise: A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.

If I can identify the cause(s)…is it still malaise?

I’ve made the first cancellation of the next previously-hoped-for round of travel. Gives someone as addicted to being out and about in the world as me, moments/hours/days of pause: It filled me with uneasiness. Notice me not saying anger or sadness or worry. Those are emotions I’m reserving for things I might be able to fix. However my ‘three horsemen’ of Cultism (representing the Nazis, fascists, trumpers, survivalists among us), Climate change, and Covid are beyond my ability to even alter in the slightest of ways.

So I am extremely uneasy (‘anxious, troubled, uncomfortable’). The world probably won’t crash and burn in my lifetime (although there’ll be more attempted coups, floods/fires/drought, and new strains of old diseases or brand-new viruses)…but, my dear grandchildren, good luck to you.

There is good news (right this moment—which is all I really expect) as I sit here in my tightly-closed house because the California fires are pumping smoke in through any opening. I am willing myself into a strong enough state of denial to be replanning all of my missed trips for a whole lot of time on the road and in the air in 2022/23. What I’m doing use to be called ‘whistling in the dark.’

Yes, breaking through my Sunday afternoon malaise—there is that ray of hope. Which would be a brighter ray if it weren’t for all the smoke in the air.

I’m angry that I must wear a mask because so many people in this country are cultists of the most benighted sort; swilling down the anti-vax Kool-Aid. To make myself feel better, here’s a rant and a book recommendation.

Don’t know about you, but my impending sense of doom is … impending again. There have been the months here and there when it seemed that my ‘three horsemen of the apocalypse’ had unsaddled … letting the rest of us get a good night’s sleep…no such luck.

 I keep referring to my three doom-bringers as covid, climate and Nazis, but it’s a little more complicated than that: It means pandemics of ill health stemming from the crap in our air and soil and water (and the reality of healthcare being just one more capitalist enterprise); it means that we obsessively-consuming humans have managed to force  the earth into terminal decline; it means the uglier sentiments of populism all over the world—most obvious to us in the cult-of-trump—but it’s rising wherever there are white men longing for a mythical past of unchecked control. Truthfully though, there are equally deadly systems of inhumanity in countries with leaders of every race, culture, ethnicity, religion…wherever men (mostly men) are greedy, frightened; lack knowledge and morals. There…my rant for the week is done. I don’t really feel any better unfortunately…still doomish.

Now for the book review. Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell.  I am only about a third of the way in, but I so very highly recommend this book. First of all, O’Connell has a wry, self-depreciating, and … how to describe it … smart-while-silly sense of humor. He’s an Irishman which may explain this irreverent and dark perspective on the state of the world. Notes… is a look at some forms of end-of-the-worldism or, stated more elegantly, civilizational collapse; I’m only through the ‘preppers’ and into ‘luxury survivalists’ but it was a perfect way to spend a semi-sleepless night. Really. Don’t know about you, but when I can’t sleep, I think of what awful things could happen to my family, or how and when I’ll die, or whether the world can survive any of my three-horsemen scenarios, and other unhappy thoughts. So I may as well be reading about end-times—personal and global—as considered by a curious, thoughtful, and oh-so funny guy.  Who knew the ‘apocalypse’ could lull me to sleep with a smile.

A new day. Busy. Perhaps I’ll sleep tonight.

PRIMARY COLORS

Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices

instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking

into the heart of the night. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Color is a prime ingredient of every single thing we see and a big part of our language…but it doesn’t get credit for how ‘primary’ it is. I’m a little bit obsessed with color. I have a lovely book titled On Color (Book by David Scott Kastan and Stephen Farthing) and just acquired a new one, as yet unread, The Secret Lives of Color (Kassia St. Clair). The latter described thusly, “The unforgettable, unknown history of colors and the vivid stories behind them.”

Sister-in-law Marsha is a gardener par excellence, especially of flowers she plants and waters and weeds and nurtures in plots and pots all around their Minnesota house. I think of it as growing colors.  How about a series of photos of them enlarged and mounted for a wall here and there, I thought.  Walls of primary colors.  

I don’t have the idea perfected yet but here are a few starting photos. The concept was to have pure color…the flower as color rather than as its whole being. I tried that and also threw in a two photos with bright against bright, bright against subdued.

Please view on a screen larger than your phone if possible and tell me if you think the middle section works with the idea of primary colors.

WORK

 

August 2, 2021. North Fourth Art Center is open for business. Five former staff returned to work today, including me. It turns out I really like work…it makes taking showers, buying those new jeans last spring and arriving home at night all worthwhile.

We received a SVOG (Shuttered Venue Operators Grant) from the Small Business Administration which grants sufficient funding to rebuild our arts community and many of our programs over the next year. The goal is to make the Center a hub of arts activity in the North Valley. All five returnees have been at North Fourth a long time, and we have the right combination of performing and visual arts education, creation, and demonstration skills to move ahead.

It felt quite wonderful…if a little scary…arriving at the office this morning. While we’ve see each other since closing in June 2020, this was different. No dropping by for a bit of discussion or exchange of info…we had to Stay and Work! Now it’s 6pm and I’m so looking forward to bed.

And just to say. As satisfying as it is to complain about government bureaucracy, the pandemic has reaffirmed my belief in strong, competent, and humane federal government, and solid well-funded state and local governments. Obviously to represent all of these things, the odds are very great that the branches doing the good will be Democratically controlled.

Without unemployment and the supplemental checks, my life certainly would have been difficult, and without this SBA grant for North Fourth, the Center would have a short future. There were tax benefits that helped every one of us, and a Paycheck Protection loan that enabled our program to continue paying employees for awhile after the initial closure. So thank you Government…didn’t see any of our friendly billionaires chipping in did you?

7pm. Way past my bedtime.

WHAT PANDEMIC?

Marj and Marge are in Minnesota

It was May 3, 2021 and we were emerging from the pandemic—when last I wrote. Now it is August 1, 2021 and we are…what? I am as confused by life as everyone one else right now. So here’s a back-to-blog-world post about my very own pandemic-free month…kind of like ‘what I did on my summer vacation’ but with the expectation that I’m returning to the new-normal…you know, the socially-distanced, when can-I-take-another-trip normal. Hope many of you had the pleasure of a month or two off before you started worrying again. Between covid, climate and the nazis, it’s not so easy to find that month.

Never mind all of that. For the entire beautiful mask-free, up-home, lake, woodtick, walleye and family month of June 2021  I WAS HOME.

Before I attempt waxing profound when sharing photos from out at the old place…or visiting elderly cousins…or getting my road-trip mojo back…or Buddy and the flowers and the birthday, here’s a light-hearted opening.

There are two of us. Minnesota Marge who used to live in New Mexico, and New Mexico Marj who’s a Minnesotan but has lived in New Mexico for lo, so very many years. We remain buddies from long-ago Democratic party campaigns in Albuquerque and later hanging out in the Twin Cities during my bouts of living ‘back home.’

It was a week after flying into Hibbing, Minnesota on June 1st, throwing my mask in the back seat, not to put it back on until walking back into the airport in Minneapolis one month later. And after spending some good talking, dog-petting, eating, lazing about time with Robert, Marsha, and Buddy, I headed out to meet Minnesota Marge at a cabin-at-the-lake just outside of Motley, Minnesota. You must understand, for Minnesotans, going to a cabin at the lake in the northwoods in summertime is sacred. More than work, home, church, school, Vikings games, maybe even more than hunting season…it is sacred.

The sad story behind all of this is the Nesets didn’t own a cabin at the lake or have the financial wherewithal to rent one if we had wanted to, so there is that small stain against our Minnesota-bona fides. In fact this would be one of my few trips to that magic realm (The Kingdom of Cabin-on-the-Lake) in my lengthy life. You can imagine I was excited!

The pictures tell the story. Pale bodies near water. Walleye, turtle giving birth, water and water and water, Strawberry-Rhubarb cake baked by Marge’s friend, Mike…Minnesota Lake Summer Friends Home.

RAIN IN GILEAD

Watching Handmaid’s Tale on a rainy afternoon. Praise be.

FRONT YARD.

Adam Grant recently wrote an article about languishing (NYT April 19, 2021)

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing. Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

Here I was…thinking I was suffering from ennui, French word for “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.” You can only pronounce the word correctly if you’re sitting in front of a Paris brasserie in the rain with a café au lait in front of you and the Eiffel Tower over there. That’s true.

I’M WONDERING IF I SHOULD RECONSIDER MY WARDROBE AND LEARN TO CLOSE MY MOUTH WHEN CONCENTRATING BEFORE NORMAL LIFE RESUMES?

Actually, I’m among the fortunate, the pandemic wasn’t particularly traumatic for me; my mood held up most of the time (in no small part due to my new house—thanks Michele and Steven). But for just a few weeks in March and to a lesser degree in April I did experience some of all of the above. And it was confusing. Hey, things are better…I can travel, my job will return, no one’s ill, I’m visiting—even without a mask in appropriate situations…so why so little energy, why dissatisfied?   Languishing topped off with ennui.

BACK YARD

And now they’re gone. Both of them. Did I mention it rained today? My manuscript is in good hands. The grant is submitted. Our art center will open in a couple of months. I have plane tickets and train tickets. My little yards have prettily greened up. And it rained. And June will outlast Gilead. Praise be.

GUN-LOVE

As I read of the latest mass shooting I was thinking that soon we would all know someone killed or injured by a gun and I felt the urge to once again post a rant about the deadly American disease of gun-love.

Then I suddenly remembered, for the first time in a long while, my early encounter with an angry man with a gun. I was six-years-old when my mom was shot. She wasn’t dangerously injured so it became a minor piece of family lore—but it really wasn’t minor at all. It’s just that in America we’ve always accepted angry or careless or stupid or fearful men with their very own much-loved weapons of mass destruction.

Here’s the story I once wrote about mom getting shot.

Once a German shot Mom.

Herald-Review, Grand Rapids, MN: January 3, 1945—Mrs. Swan Neset of Nore Township was seriously injured when struck by a load of fine shot fired by a man shooting at a stray dog.

The big round table covered with red-checked oilcloth, clear blue plates with white bread, butter, the last piece of apple pie, a half-eaten dried beef sandwich, almost-empty coffee cups. Windows covered with the thick shine of ice. Wood-burning cookstove, black coffee simmered down to tar in a banged up old pan.

Mom’s sitting slumped over by the table, she’s crying and talking and trying to cut the leg off her shot-riddled chore pants so she can tend to her wounds. She was milking cows at Grandma’s and, as she and our big brown shepherd Pal walked home, mom carrying a lantern, Gus Senkpiel shot her. Commotion reigns. Dad’s gone to borrow a car for the trip to the doctor’s. Robert and I are crouched under the table where we are close to mom but out of the way. We are more bewildered than fearful. I clearly remember the confusion and how it seemed Robert and I could help. We would find a car and drive mom to Dr. Palmer’s. Robert (age two!) could operate the things on the floor and I would steer and we would save mom. Please stop crying mom.

The man who shot mom was a grouchy German transplant living in the midst of a community of Norwegian immigrants near the end of WWII when Norway was occupied by Germany. When he shot through the trees at flickering lantern light he knew what he was doing. He was hurting my family. He had been angry ever since dad pounded two planks in the shape of a V (for Victory) on our garage door, which faced Gus’ house, and painted them white, the better to show up against black tarpaper.

The sheriff came the next day and Gus said he thought he was shooting at a dog or maybe wolves. Mom refused to press charges. All of her life, she carried much of the shot in her leg because the doctor said it was safest to leave it in. It caused some pain over the years but was never debilitating. And it never seemed like a big deal. How strange it that?

My dad and mom both hated guns so those nasty little (or big) killing tools had never yet appeared in our house. My brother would go through a fairly lengthy phase of gun-love but he never seemed to be engaging in collecting for purposes of making himself feel more manly…while the rest of us never really liked it, gun-worship was such an accepted part of the culture that we hardly noticed it was ever-present. We did not yet comprehend that it was societal poison, a threat to the very fabric of what we innocently thought of as the ‘American way of life’ which represented safety and security for all. Didn’t it?

As previous rants have attested, I loath guns. I am trying to work out my own explanation of how America came to be the Land of Gun-Love above every other emblem for which we could have stood? We aren’t the only racist country, the only country that had a frontier, the only country with lot of guns available. Yet no other country worships them, is ready to sacrifice their children for those tools designed solely for killing. What in the world are we thinking?