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Posts Tagged ‘serial novel’

I was really looking forward to this weekend. I had so much planned. I was going out to dinner, really going out and getting dressed up. I was meeting with a few chair members to discuss plans for a big fundraiser coming up this summer. And of course I had all the usual engagements: time with my personal trainer at the gym, my therapy session, some errands to run, a hair appointment, and always work to catch up on.  But. We had about 3 feet of snow come down all at once, faster than high speed wireless; accompanied by a huge drop in temperature creating a very heavy crust of ice over everything. It started coming down late yesterday afternoon and didn’t stop. The kind of snow where you look down and get involved in something and when you look up, you think you have time traveled to a different era.  One in which everything is varying shades of white and all living things have become statues.  Kids around town were cheering even more than the usual sugary Saturday morning.  But I can’t stop the frown that has formed at the corners of my mouth. Everything is down. Internet’s gone, phone lines gone, roads are impassible, power is out.  The world is closed for the day, come back later.

It’s at least a moment to reflect on how amazing the internet is.  A way to break down our false sense of isolation, of living on an island and instead to realize that Croatian farmers have as much in common with Japanese woodworkers as elderly hospice patients have in common with mural artists in Central America. Before, maybe no one I know has anything to say about, oh, the best way to prepare a cup of coffee. But then you go online and hundreds of people are sharing their methods, their recipes, their love for a particular style of coffee. It’s like traveling all over the globe to as thousands of people one question; you can simultaneously have a conversation with women in Nicaragua and France as if they were neighbors you could just walk over and ask any old afternoon. Maybe I am pushing the point to far, waxing too poetically the beauty of the world wide web. But think about the abstract shift in thinking this creates. Suddenly, you can be in two places at once. Our barriers to language are over because online translating requires just the click of a button. People who have never breathed the same air can have a conversation together. Our lines of separation are disappearing- there is literally a way to connect everyone together. History and the future come together in a place where time does not have to be linear. Our illusions about separation are crumbling as we realize the common threads we share. And the greatest part about it is that there is no one creator, dictator, leader organizing this web. The internet is not stored in some big warehouse with a lock and key. It is made up of all of us – all of our computers and cds and thumb drives contain more information than could possibly be contained and erased.   But at this moment, my access to this magic cloud is cut off and it’s as if my lungs are crushed by the weight of it.  I can hardly breathe.   I live outside town, a four mile walk to the nearest bus stop, gas station, local grocery store. Great. Well. I guess I will just have to re-arrange my schedule. I still have my iPhone. Errands can wait. If the internet comes back (it always comes back!) then I can have the meeting become a virtual conference; I can call and re-schedule our dinner date, and I can always get work done for next week. I sit and make notes and memos for a while. Clean out old e-notes and re-organize my apps and calendar. This isn’t so bad.

 

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To me, this is the beauty of the united states: the glorious opportunity for a mismatched group of people to find peace together. For diversity and coexistence to come to life. There are so many beliefs, so many interests, so many personal ideals all living under one “roof.” Life is like a record store, Forrest: everyone’s vinyl is a different vintage. Some folks are jazzy, others full of metal rage. There are soft-spoken crooners and exploratory concept bands. And due to luck, fate, alphabetics, they might all be leaning against each other in the “C” box. Coltrane. Claw Finger. Crosby. Cooper. I discuss this concept with one of my favorite housemates, a grad student named Hank who does the New York Times crossword every morning. He disagrees. No man, life is like a fridge with magnetic words all over it. Sometimes they come together and make a sentence, and sometimes it’s just non-sense. But the point is, green and mother and moon are all on the same playing field. It’s just a matter of who will notice and put them together. It’s the divine spirit, the god and goddess writing a giant, ever-changing fridge poem. We contemplate this, as we drink fair trade organic coffee from chipped thrift store ceramic mugs.
“Hank. I know you have all the good mugs in your room, dude. Time to share or prepare for a raid.”
He smiles says, “Ten letters. Tom Cruise Mission.”
Impossible. I laugh as he walks away with a pen, newspaper, and yet another cup to his room. Jen and Lars come down from the attic in their pjs, which consist of a giant Steve Miller band T-shirt and a silk robe, respectively. I ask them what life is like. Lars slides next to me on the bench.He says, “It’s like some modern abstract painting: no one fucking knows what it means. Even the artist makes up some bullshit ethereal contemplation, but he doesn’t know, man. It’s all these colors and lines and shadows. Fucking beautiful.” Jen likes this because she’s the modern abstract artist. She slides onto the bench too, with two steaming cups of tea and honey. They sip gratefully, the warmth wet on their lips. Her eyes wander up and to the left, meaning she’s thinking of something good to say. Hmmmmmmm. Her eyes then close. She purrs, “Life is like a library.” She’s quiet again, as if she will keep her revelation to herself. And incredulous Lars comments that she probably hasn’t been in a library in years. She ignores him and explains: “There’s non-fiction and fiction separated into different rooms. Magazines and movies and newspapers get divided. Allende and Alcott make it so South American spirits sit next to young Victorian heiresses. Homeless men sleep in corners and yuppie kids play chase around bookshelves. Chaos and order in the same place all the time.” As she says this, Adam comes in and asks if she’s talking about our kitchen. And then he sighs because there are no more mugs in the cupboard. I stretch and pass him mine as I stand to face the day.

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(I am sorry to say that in hearing the word co-op, and it’s description, I imagine a lifestyle similar to the kind depicted in a reality tv show- a la MTV.  Bad romances, wild partying, drama abound.  Please tell me you can dissuade me of this stereotype. )

Ugh. So many people think this.  But it’s not so much that they will ask (so thanks for your direct question!), but I can just see the slight repugnance and disapproval in their eyes. I’ll bet it prevents a lot of people from considering shared housing as a lifestyle, when the reality of it can be so much more rewarding.  In fact, when I spend time in other people’s houses, I often daydream about how it would change if it were a co-op.  The household is more efficient: one person doesn’t have to shoulder the cost of everything, so bulk foods, taking turns cooking, utility bills, all get shared- making it easier and cheaper!  The house is more alive: the rooms and shelves are all full, instead of seeing whole rooms go forgotten, unused, neglected because the house is too big for two people or whatever.  It always produces more well-balanced citizens: everyday is a chance to learn a different way of doing things.  Okay, so the picture I paint in my imagination is a little pie-in-the-sky…Of course, conflicts occur.  Sometimes not everyone wants a disco dance party at 2 am.  Sometimes a housemate of two will get irritated at the number of times they’ve eaten vegan casserole that week.  Sometimes a certain housemate will sweep their downstairs neighbor off their feet, in a very short-lived romance (due to the walk of awkwardness to the breakfast table the next morning).  But everyone’s life has challenges, and I think the result of struggle and strife in a communal and intentional setting results in much more considerate and capable citizens.  I really really do.

(How do you handle all the details and responsibilities of a home, shared between so many interests?)

We have a four hour long meeting every Sunday night.  It sounds intense (and it can get that way!) but generally, we eat dinner, we vote through any number of things, someone facilitates.  It’s like any board of directors; everyone has a different role in the house, we take turns doing chores, we take meeting notes and have an agenda.  That stuff usually goes pretty quickly.  It’s the New Proposals section that eats up the whole evening.  I find it fun and fascinating. Shayna proposes we host a GLBTQ movie night.  She’s a little shy and nervous because she never presents much to the group.  Most people nod, until she names the date and time and gets a few loud protests: Not the weekend before midterms!  How many people did you say you wanted to invite?  100?! And she quickly loses her shyness and her cheeks get flushed and she defends herself fiercely.  These are the moments people become leaders, become advocates, become nay-sayers, draw lines in the sand, get defensive, get offensive, find personal truths or find ways to tell lies for what they believe in.  It’s an amazing thing to watch people develop passion and beliefs.  It’s why I work in politics- because I see politics and government in everyday life.  We (human beings) are constantly forming groups, defining ourselves and others through exclusion and inclusion, asking for leaders to make decisions for us, making trades and rules and rewards and punishments and credos and mission statements.  Whether consciously or not, humanity will always magnetically move towards and with one another, and whether the result of that particular interaction is thriving or decay, we will work at working together tirelessly.  Every politician, economist, historian has a different idea of the best way for us to live together on this little planet.  To me, the point is not the methods or approach.  The point is, we are not like tigers in the jungle who live singularly and alone.  We are not even like bees who live in huge, organized colonies with one collaborative purpose.  We are this funny little species; we like to ask questions and share the answers with each other; we’d rather work together, for better or for worse; we form preferences for mates and friends based on inexplicable reasons; our whole history as a species is an inquisitive step towards each other, and a refusal to completely run away no matter what we see.  It’s illogical and beautiful.

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Yeah, it can be hard sometimes.  But again, that’s what’s great of having so much family nearby.  Calvin spends a lot of time at his Grandmama’s house, and often with his cousins at my brothers and sister’s houses. The weekends are great.  Right now there’s a lot of yardwork, so me and Steph and Calvin spend time in the yard.  As she pulls out the dead flowers and mulches the roses, he and I rake the leaves.  That is, I use the rake and he throws the leaves everywhere, repeating why why why.  We explain why the leaves fall down and why the winter is coming and why it’s important to take care of the yard.  He stops to listen for that minute, and then goes back to making his leaf mess. We wave to the neighbors, one of ’em’s got a kid about Calvin’s age and they shyly look at each other across the street. Steph goes right over and chats for a while.  I wave, but stand my post in the yard. I turn around and watch my son humming and making some sort of costume out of his mom’s garden gloves and the trowel.  I think having a sibling will be good for him.  Shoot, good for us too!  I hope to give him the experience of growing up in a big family like I did.  The preparations for our new little one have already begun; I have started building a rocking chair, Steph is working out finances.  The fall is a good season for us- I’ve got a lot of work, Steph’s job gets busy, so we’ve got good solid income.  And the holidays are always great- Calvin wants to be a pirate for Halloween, so his mama’s putting together a really great little costume. We’ll arrange a trick-or-treat party with his cousins and some of their friends.  From growing up here, me and my brothers remember the best neighborhoods to get the most candy. Our wives give us worried looks to say ‘we don’t need the most candy in our house. Our babies teeth, and your teeth will rot out.’  That’s what holidays are for!
           On normal days, when I’m home from work I love to spend time teaching him things.  He’s only three, but you can tell he’s paying attention.  I’ll fix a shovel or fiddle with my tools in the garage, he’ll just sit on the workbench with his eyes wide open and watch.  I have similar memories of me and Mike, watching my dad.  Sometimes he points and asks why (his favorite question these days).  I’ll explain what I’m doing, and lord if it doesn’t seem like he understands every word.  Even when I say things like two-stroke engine, and fulcrum of the lever…his eyes and ears just kind of soak it up.  Shoot, maybe he’ll be a mechanical genius some day.  Like his uncle Mike for example, he spent more time in dad’s garage than even I did.  As a kid, Mikey took apart the vacuum cleaner to see how it was put together. (Mama didn’t like that one so much.) And for his fifth birthday, he had asked for a real toolset. “Not the plastic toy kind, dad,  a real one!” He got to work right away; his first project was to start sawing off the legs of the dining room table.  (Mama didn’t like that one either.) But Dad was impressed.  He said, “Look here!  I never taught the boy how to use a saw.  He figured that out darn quick!  Smart kid!”  And now Mike works on cars- he’s the best mechanic in town.  He listens to Car Talk on NPR, and when a caller asks a question, Mike will turn down the volume, proclaim the answer, and then turn it back up to hear that he was right on the money.  Smart kid. 

 (Do you hope your son will someday follow in the family business?  Become a roofer like you?)

I’d sure love to teach him everything I know.  But I’ll tell you: I’m awfully grateful to my parents for never pushing a career or anything onto us kids.  We were told we could do whatever made us happy, so long as it put food on the table and didn’t cause trouble with the law.  I will definitely say the same for mine.  Just looking at him laughing in the yard and learning about the world…I sure can’t imagine limiting him in any way.

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(How’s the packing going? What are the most important things (material or non-material) that you feel you need in order before you go?)

It’s all a little overwhelming at this point. I feel like I am being pulled in about twenty different directions at the same time. Picture ten people pulling on a piece of saltwater taffy until it stretches so thin in the middle it softly and quietly falls apart. All at the same time I am trying to: say goodbye to my friends of many different groups, take in and appreciate familiar experiences while I can, eat as many of mom’s dinners as possible before I leave, organize the details of visa and travel and arrival arrangements, decide which belongings are important enough to come along without going over the 50 pound limit, and mentally prepare myself for what might be ahead. Actually, the suitcase serves as a pretty good analogy for all of this. I can try and stuff in as much as possible, but at some point either the zippers will give and explode open, or some item won’t make the cut. At the end, it looks like any other piece of baggage, that with a simple glance one could not suspect the strain, the heartache, the joy and hope that went into it. I guess I like that about packing, it’s an exercise in hope. Hope I packed the right ratio of warm to cool clothes. Hope I can do without those boots because they won’t fit if I want to take the film camera. Hope those few books and photos will serve well enough as comfort. Hope airport security doesn’t steal my peanut butter as contraband. Hope the other volunteers and staff don’t see my luggage and think I am high maintenance! On every trip I’ve ever been on, I have brought something that never got used, something I wish I had more or better of, and have realized that most things can be purchased or replaced when I am there because, yes, they have stores in other countries that sell toothpaste and socks.

Mostly, I am daydreaming about what I think this will all be like. I picture the adventures I will go on with fellow volunteers, trying not to get lost as we explore. I see kids giggling and asking eager questions as I teach them in a small but colorful classroom. I passionately and intelligently advocate for the children of my class to go on a field trip. I imagine being sad about missing Christmas at home, but finding happiness in re-creating some holiday traditions abroad. Maybe it’s all a little silly, that instead I should be doing more research about Costa Rica, and reading what people have written about similar experiences and making specific plans or goals. But I figure, I have a whole year to get it all sorted out. I feel the most important thing is to leave home without regrets or lingering doubts; to be ready to get off that plane and commit all my thoughts and energy to being and working there, and not pulled back by homesickness or wondering what I left behind. I want to jump in, day one, and swim around my new life and taste what it feels like to call it home. What philanthropist or advocate for change can do a complete job if they don’t have total focus and drive for the task at hand? How could I positively impact the minds and lives of these disadvantaged kids if I had anything holding me back? So far, my education has been very theoretical and abstract and book-based. I am looking forward to finally putting my beliefs and ideas into action; to using my hands and feet more than a computer and a brain full of thoughts. Mentally, emotionally, I’m ready. Even if you couldn’t tell that by looking at the mess around my unpacked suitcase.

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I only have an hour, is that okay? I serve on two non-profit boards, am acting as a financial consultant to a handful of people, am in the process of bidding on a few properties, have had the largest client base of my career, and am diving in to a new hobby of website design so I’m sorry if I seem rushed to find time to even eat a sandwich.

A lot of people would see my schedule and shudder.  Do you want to take a look?  Okay, here’s my Google calendar –ahooh! looks like I just got that email response I’ve been waiting for- okay sorry, so here’s the calendar…  Now see, I can flip through the next few weeks and there’s nothi-wait- here’s a two hour break on the 13th maybe I can call Jen back and tell her I could meet up then, great.  I love my iPhone, see how easy all that was? Just a tiny flick of the fingers and email, phone calls, planners, camera, music, weather, shopping, I mean whatever is right there immediately, it’s probably why I’ve been so successful and busy lately because it just streamlines everything, so that’s definitely the answer to your question: I use my free time to fill up my free time with other stuff.  I love being busy, I love making contacts and networking and communicating with people.  We live in such a unique time in human history- never before has an individual been able to instantly talk with someone across the globe connect with complete strangers on a shared experience via the web sell and buy goods internationally without ever physically exchanging currency musicians and artists and writers can share their creations with millions of people governments and businesses can update policies fluidly.  I could go on, but the idea still blows my mind: we are part of this ever-flowing and constantly adapting and interchanging current of ideas and energy.

So you clearly have enthusiasm for networking and the advance of digital development.  But there has to be something you enjoy outside of work. 

Of course.  I guess my response sounds a little overkill. Yes, there are lots of things I enjoy outside of work like  I always feel great after a forty-five minute run at the gym I like to travel to big cities -I actually live a little ways outside of town, the house my partner and I bought was just too beautiful to pass up and besides, it’s not too long of a drive to downtown- but I always get a thrill from the speed and anonymity of sky scrapers and buses and concrete one of my favorite parts of the day is when I get up (really early) and brew a cup of dark, fragrant, arid coffee and  I sit beside the glass wall of the kitchen and read the NY times on my phone as the mug steams up a soft-sided, egg-shaped section of the window.  Often I see a neighbor woman who gets up early too.  She either likes to sit in one spot in her kitchen all day (I can’t imagine!) or has some physical disability and can’t stand and I only guess this because sometimes I come home from lunch and still see her sitting there.  Speaking of sitting, I’ve got to get up and go Thanks so much for your time and your questions I look forward to continuing this chat did I mention I really support your public radio station?  I believe I donated this year let me check hmmm yes here it is great  keep it up good bye!

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My name is Leon, like the Russian revolutionary.  I have a lot to live up to.  Most people name their children the most common names possible: John and Jason and Josh- all having nothing to do with meaning or purpose, but mostly just because they like the ring of it or the way it pairs with their last name.  But my parents named me after a man who’s convictions led him to try and change an entire country.  I’m sorry, my feet don’t fit in those giant leather shoes.  But the funny thing is that I am a political communist activist. Just not a famous/ brilliant/ ambitious one.  Which came first, the chicken or the name?  Was I named Leon because I was born destined to live in a commune and work for a political lobby group and think tank? Or do I live in a commune and work for a political lobby group and think tank because my name is Leon?  In either case, I have never lived on my own; I have never owned  even my own coffee cup, let alone a kitchen appliance; I have always rather eaten at potlucks than any restaurant; in grade school the only high marks on my report card was “Shares with others.”  Does that answer your question, or is it too much significance?  My apologies- It’s not just that I tend to go a little overboard sometimes, just jumping into a question or project; but that I am prone to diving head first into the deep end and racing to touch the bottom.

So you live in a commune.  Can you tell me more about that: how you chose it, what it’s like?

I would love to.  The commune is a very large house with 29 people living in it.  Each room and tenant is unique, and things are constantly changing.  People move in and out, guests come and go, walls get painted and re-painted and muraled and painted again, seven couches dance around the living room, and art projects are born and grow and die on a regular basis.  I chose to live here because I could never live any other way.  I couldn’t imagine a life without heated philosophical debates over how to cure a cast iron skillet; without the passionate nights of card games and wine; without wondering whose shoes found their way into the fridge and why; without long weekly meetings with vehement discussion about the brand of peanut butter to buy; without being a part of this pulsing, living web of individuals who all bring their own flavor to the table.  I read somewhere once this complaint:  “In a communal kitchen, no one has the authority to throw out the ugly mug.”  While very true, the point has been lost: it’s not about efficiency in removing (the subjectively) ugly object; but rather, the communal kitchen is about embracing what we all bring together to share, and about the process of intentionally and thoroughly examining the group’s values and goals.  Again, does that answer your question?  Or I have I gone to deep once more?

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