Monday, September 30, 2013

A Fun Problem

Josh turned 10 this month.  To celebrate, I took him and two of his friends to Kalahari, a giant indoor-outdoor theme park in the Wisconsin Dells.  

I believe the theme of the indoor theme park was soul-wasting vagaries of a commercialized childhood. Or, if that wasn't right, it might have been the desperate pursuit of fun amid a head-splitting cacophony of visual and auditory noise. 

People with peanut allergies should avoid peanuts, and people like me should really steer clear of amusement parks.  I loved them as a child, but now they bring out my dark side: a cynical, critical, coffee-house misanthrope.  

I'm not usually like that anymore.  Parenthood has sweetened me beyond recognition.  Talking to my pregnant belly, singing Rogers & Hart songs to my baby, scrunching up my face and making cross-eyes for a smile...I forgot why I  spent so many years of my lazy youth wondering why life was meaningless, commercialized, over-scripted, and dully ironic. 

But birthday parties bring it all back, clear as day. 

In fact, they scare the hell out of me because I know that deep down inside, despite having identified, finally, so much spirit and love and beauty in the world, I am still not as light as air or sea foam or Styrofoam or even wd40.

So, it was my kid’s birthday.  We were at that giant indoor amusement park, and I was stressed.  But I dearly wanted Josh to have fun, so I assumed a worried expression and trailed after him from a respectful distance, eating overpriced and weirdly sour frozen yogurt that was supposed to taste like birthday cake.  

After about ten minutes, Josh's friends glommed onto each other and vanished into the ether.

I searched for them everywhere for at least twenty minutes. And then I begin to panic. I went to the front desk and confessed that I had lost two children, not my own.

The woman at the desk took her phone into the entryway vestibule (the only place where a person could hear herself scream).  When she returned, she explained that the announcement would only be audible to people who were playing electronic games.  

Within seconds, the two boys showed up. 

With classic Barmackian intensity, I explained to them without raising my voice that they must tell me where they were going at all times unless I could actually see them. I knew, because I am my father’s child, that they would abide.

We took a long walk of shame from there all the way to the water park, where, for the next two hours, Joshua anguished over whether to go down any of the water slides. He would wait in one line with the rest of us for twenty minutes or so.  With each step toward our goal, his agitation would escalate.  

I tried to comfort him.

If it scares you, I’ll give you five dollars.

What if it doesn’t scare me?

If you just get in the raft, I’ll give you five dollars.

No, I don’t think so.

It was our turn to step into the raft.  I reached out to comfort him.

Ten dollars? How about ten?  All you have to do is get into the raft. C'mon!  Get in the raft!  It will be fun!  

I don’t want to get into the raft.

Ten dollars…! Ten dollars...!

No!  I don't want to get into the raft!  I’m not getting into the raft!

Okay, okay!   I’ll see you at the bottom of the ride.

My son had to turn around and walk, all alone, past all those people, down all those stairs.  Did I mention, it was his birthday?   

Water-jets propelled my two-person raft (with just me in it) through a boiling, curling tube of high-speed, stomach-churning, kinetic disappointment.

Josh, are you sad?



didn't get ten dollars. He burst into tears.  

I have spent so much money on this place, I think. And for what?  

Josh scolds, You shouldn’t bribe me with money.

And I think, Then with what should I bribe you?  Candy?

Okay.  I won’t bribe you. 

I had made those stupid water slides extra important by offering Josh money to get on them, thereby magnifying his sense of failure.

I just wanted you to try it because I thought you would really enjoy it.  I thought it would be fun.

What the hell do I know about fun?

The slides are not important, Sweetie. They are just for fun. 

For the love of Christ, stop saying fun.  What do you know about fun?

(I want you to work through your fears. I want you to dispense with this inconvenient anxiety. 
I want you to be like the other boys.)  

Horrible, horrible parenting.

I searched my mind for an ennobling thought, and stumbled over my shame at having thrown money at the problem of Josh's inconvenient birthday.  

We had just moved...We were still unpacking...I was overwhelmed... So, I tried to solve the problem with money, and yet the problem remained.  

A less expensive, less time-consuming, less exhaustive effort might have been unsuccessful, but at least it wouldn't have been so wasteful.   

I gave up.  I gave in.

As long as we’re sad, I said, we might as well play water-basketball.  

That pool is too cold, Josh said.  He was right.

Yeah, but we're miserable anyway, so what difference would a cold pool make?  I don't see any balls available, either.  Let's go!

Josh laughed.  We jumped in the pool.  His two loyal friends reappeared.

Something heavy with talons launched itself silently into the humid air, off my shoulders.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Not Dolphin-Safe

Processes!  I'm caught up in a web of processes.  I feel like a dolphin in a net meant for tuna.

To get WiFi to the house, a wire needs to be buried under the ground.

Before the wire can be buried under the ground, Charter needs to notify the town.  The town will notify the gas company.  The gas company will come out to the property and mark their underground pipes with flags, which they've already done once.

We have about three dozen gaily colored gas flags currently on our property.  But time has run out on those flags.

New or additional (I'm guessing, additional) flags will be erected in their place.  And then, Invisible Fence will be able to put down a wire on Monday. 

Did I say Invisible Fence?  Yes, I did.  Did I mean to say Charter?  No, I didn't. 

Invisible Fence comes first.  And then Charter.  Two separate processes, dependent on the same process: Having the gas authorities post flags.

The flags are already here, I say to the guy from Charter.  

But they will come out for free, they say.  At no charge to you.

But it's... [don't say stupid, don't say stupid] ...possibly not the best use of the gas authority's time to come out here three times in as many weeks.

The flags expire, he explains.  

I look at the flags.  They're still there.  They have not expired, though we may have run over a few of them. That must be the reason for this madness:  the fact that we run over the flags, that a dog might grab one and chew it up, that a storm could brew and tilt one in a way that would miscommunicate its original meaning. 

I cling to this fragment of reason, which floats, like poo.

Okay, I say.  Okay.

So, first, Invisible Fence.  Then Charter.   

Then the plummer.  Then the electrician. 

Meanwhile, I'll scrape away at the deck when we have friends over.  And one day, it will be ready for paint.  And then I will paint it.

While I've been advised that it would be better to rent a belt-sander and sand the deck paint off completely and then stain it, because stain is better for wood than paint; renting the belt sander would cost more money and wreck my back; and anyway, the deck needs repair beyond paint.  Lipstick on a pig.  Not a bad-looking pig, but no need for lipstick.  

I wish I could replace the deck boards myself.  

How hard could it be?  

I don't know the first thing about wood shop tools.   

I am now determined to learn how to cut a damn board to size and nail it to another piece of wood. 

How hard could it be?  

I wish I could do it right now.  

I can't.  I have to learn how to use those tools.  

It's a process: The learning comes first, then the doing.  

The Barn

A barn is like a manuscript to a copy-editor.  The copy-editor chips away at the manuscript page by page, little by little, (bird by bird), secure in the knowledge that eventually, it will get done.  It's a process.  

No matter HOW determined or capable the copy-editor, a 1200-page manuscript can't possibly be edited in one day.  

It is not a blog post.

I'll scrape away at the west side of the barn for one hour every morning.  It will be very zen.  (I started yesterday.  It was very zen.)  

I will be tempted to scrape for more than one hour, but I must stop. (I went five minutes over yesterday.)  

I must stop, because there are other processes in process, and I must attend to them. 

I am not a copy-editor.  

I am a developmental editor and a hack writer.  You can write a developmental letter in a day.  It's not easy, but it's possible. 

(You can write a post in just a couple of hours.)

I am a creative thinker.  I get the idea, but I do not usually run with the idea.   I usually hand it to someone who is built for running.  

But now, I find myself running against type.  Last time I did this, my knees gave out. 

I need to acquire a copy-editor's doggedness, an experienced novelist's faith and commitment to a vision and long-term goals, and a farmer's perspective on time. 

I will learn how to use power tools, after the electrician re-wires the barn.  

(He was out to our place this morning.  We walked through the barn and talked through what we wanted him to do.)  

(He'll write up an itemized list.)  

(We'll look it over and make any changes.)  

(Then the work will start.  On the electricity.  In the barn.)

Meanwhile, I'll  scrape the side of the barn for one hour every morning.  It will take a week to finish the west side.  It will take another week to finish the east side.

(We'll  have to hire someone to paint the south side--it's very tall and requires scaffolding.  But we won't have that done until after we've reinforced the planks, repaired windows, doors.)  

Fortunately, we have time, because we can't start on the fencing until the soybeans are harvested. 

And we can't bring the horses over til after the first frost, when the butternut squash will be harvested. 

If you want me, I'll be at the library or the Firefly, where there's WiFi.