- You never end up doing anything.
- Other people have an easier time telling you your limits.
- After a while, it makes you crabby about everything, because crabbiness blunts the sheer radiance of all the random awesomeness going on, making it easier to live with.
This weekend I saw a few culture-clashes go by around the topic of photography that helped my thoughts gel. One involved a small dog-pile over charges of elitism, and one involved a putative professional talking down to someone who was just happy about their new camera. You could characterize those clashes as people talking down or talking up, but also just talking past each other.
Sometimes I want to write a screed about photography culture and inclusiveness because I’m an outsider in parts of that culture and find parts of it as frustrating and tedious as any other human endeavor that can be gate-kept. Other times I remember, as a younger person who reported to me once said, that I’ve had eight lives, including one as a writer, where I was an insider:
I was (well, am) a published author. For 15 years I successfully provided for myself & family. I was a managing editor, had credits in the industry outside authoring, I’d won awards, and I had success and leadership in multiple formats. I got very good at the parts of the trade that the web added to our job descriptions. I’m not saying that to brag, it’s just true and I’m noting it to get through this thought.
At the peak of my career in that field we were coming off the initial shock of blogging (amazingly disruptive to tech publishers) and were beginning to see the self-publishing wave roll in. A lot of my colleagues felt threatened, and that was a fair feeling to have because the people we thought of as “our readers” were experiencing the benefits of disintermediation. Also it just sucks to wake up to Dave Winer and Doc Searls reading a malediction over your still-living body.
We did reader interviews for one of my tech sites, talking to a kind of influencer down below the level of purchasing authority, but positioned to say “this is what I want” and have a credible chance of getting a purchase order approved.
Their universal responses to what we could be doing better:
“Be more like Stack Overflow,” and “you need more bloggers who just do this stuff and don’t care about all the nice formatting and filler.”
Suddenly our field was awash in amateurs. Bad ones, gifted ones, talented ones, terrible ones. And we were dealing with the disorientation of all our tools for determining “usefulness” or “quality” going out the window: Suddenly a terrible amateur could make up for 100-500 words of disjointed prose with five lines of useful configuration code slapped in a
As a reader, I was dealing with my own feelings about the self-publishing tide rolling in. As I’d scroll the store with my Kindle I’d see tons of $0.99 books. I was less threatened by that than annoyed: Fiction wasn’t something I was interested in doing professionally, but I had a definite hierarchy of quality in my head, and you had to have some sort of professional editing to get into the higher tiers. I know I said and wrote some uncharitable things about it all.
Then someone flipped the framing around for me, asking why amateur self-publishers are so averse to just paying for a goddamn editor, even just a copy editor.
The question engaged another part of my brain that had been dealing with writers for a while at that point, and still vaguely remembered when I was first starting out, badly damaged by public education and standardized testing, carrying around a deeply held belief I couldn’t write that no amount of positive feedback from my professors was helping:
“I can’t speak for other would-be writers, but as a past would-be writer who spent a lot of time hearing he could write well from assorted authorities, I’d say it’s some degree of ego. Not the nasty, snarly ‘grar, I’m better than you!’ ego, necessarily, but sometimes a more fragile manifestation that editors are in a position to harm without a lot of thought.
Having been put back in touch with my younger self, I remembered that I knew a lot about amateur creators and had a whole set of behaviors and strategies for helping them gain confidence:
“As an editor for online tech sites, I tend to recruit writers on the basis of what they know first, how well they can write next. If I can look at their sample and imagine merely editing it—not engaging it with lash and fire—I’m happy to work with them. I’ve had a few come through who are better than mediocre: They’re adept writers, but they happened to pick another career. Some are recently out of some IT program where they had a good experience with a supportive professor who suggested that they were better at writing than they suspected.
“I’ve learned to treat them the way I wish someone had treated me when I was first being told I was a good writer and had no way of knowing for myself: I understand that their poorly understood talent might seem like some sort of magical manifestation to them. Because they have no way of understanding why they’re good writers for themselves (they didn’t spend school reading good writers or learning about what makes writing good), they depend on outside authority. At the same time, they’re afraid that as easily as one random outside authority conferred the mantle of “good writer,” another could take it away.”
Reminded of empathy I’d stopped experiencing as something other than a management strategy, I came back around to the topic, which was how to deal with this influx of self-publishers of varying degrees of professional conscientiousness and talent:
“I’ve seen a lot of $1.99 and $2.99 genre books come through the Kindle store, and the one thing they remind me of above all other things is that the barrier to saying ‘fuck it … might as well go for it’ is lower than ever. Hopefully it’ll be a remedy for a lot of people who are completely paralyzed by the presence of the Web in their lives, because it’s a non-stop reminder that someone, somewhere is being so fantastically awesome that even trying to be heard or hoping to be appreciated is pointless. A lot of people will still fail, I doubt many of them will ever make a living at it, but a number have a better chance than they ever had before to make a living doing something they love.”
… and that, eleven years later, is where I try to be today.
Unlike my time as a writer and editor, my professional and personal interests have diverged. I like “ops stuff” and “chief of staff” stuff for work, and I am passionate about taking pictures for just walking around being me. I’ve done a couple of commissions and I’ve donated some prints to help out a struggling website, but mostly I just like to make sure there’s a camera with me, I like to share the pictures I take, and I like to revisit them later to see what I can see that’s new.
I share the internet with kinds of photographers who are different from me. They’re trying to make a living, they’re in an active state of honing their craft in a way that is different from how I try to improve.
There are pockets of that culture that both annoy me and remind me of when I was making a living with my writing, because there are similar technology-driven dynamics afoot. I’ve known a few photographers who have lost niche but sustaining businesses, first to prosumer digital cameras, and then to smartphones.
I get annoyed sometimes, because people under pressure or in fear for their livelihoods, while sympathetic characters, sometimes express their angst in really poor ways, either by denigrating hobbyist amateurs and their work, tossing around sexist slurs about the social aspects of popular photography, or simply insisting on speaking to amateurs and hobbyists in professional terms, as if to say there is a single way to talk about photography that must conform to their formalist or commercial concerns.
I also get annoyed because I see myself in them, from when I felt under threat and before someone asked a question that unlocked an answer in me that I’d forgotten I had.
And I feel a dull unease because they (often unintentionally) poke at the part of me who hears things like “you’ve got a good eye,” or “you should try to sell some of this” or “your pictures are just, like, photographic” and feels that jolt of vulnerability, that sense that “as easily as one random outside authority conferred the mantle of ‘good writer,’ another could take it away.”
The annoyance and unease dissipate a little, because I found my way to kindness and can only trust other people will, too. We need more art in the world. We need more people striving to make beautiful things, silly things, pretty things, ugly things, whatever. We need more people striving to create. So we need to be kind.
Coffee Walk, 2023-01-06 (Regular Edition) Lents, Foster Road Portland, OR
Coffee Walk, 2023-01-06 (Traffic Crash Edition) Foster Road, Portland, OR
Not sure what happened but it involved a crashed car on the sidewalk, a sheared off tree, and an investigation team.
Once I knew my time at Puppet was winding down I took stock and decided to take a break. I gave myself November and December to rest. I didn’t think a lot about what it would mean to rest, I just knew I was going to do it. I’ll probably write more about it, because I might have something useful to say to people who are in a position to rest but don’t know how.
If I am to summarize things in a few words:
I feel pretty good. Rested. It took me time to figure out how to stop a few runaway mental and emotional processes, and once I did things improved a lot, including my sleep and sense of optimism.
I have never felt more like I do now than when I wrote this:
“So there’s this moment where you’re just hovering, unmoored, between a state of going up or going down. Just there. You came from the ground, you’re going back to the ground. For that moment, though, maybe it seems like you could be going nowhere; or perhaps you’re in danger of going practically anywhere.”
… yet I have never felt more at ease with it.
The bad news: You’re falling through the air with no parachute. The good news: There’s no ground. — Chögyam Trungpa
The other part of the decision was that I was going to “step it up a little” come January. I have a better formed idea of what “stepping it up” might mean than I did “rest.”
So, yesterday marked the end of “Phase 0” of post-Puppet life, and today marks day one of “Phase 1,” which is meant to be about applying myself to finding a job while being as kind to myself about the whole thing as I can manage.
It’ll mean a little more structure in each day. Some of that is meant to gently bend my routine back into something that will be able to fit in with more external demands on my time, and some of it is just to keep me on track and readily accountable to myself. But I also mean to continue to use the time I’m being given and can take to do things that are restful and good for me.
That’s all for now.
One last post to squeeze a few more favorites in and make sure to include Mt. Scott Fuel, maker of Mt. Scott Bark Mulch. It sits across the street from Carnelian Coffee on Foster Road, where Al and I walk most mornings and have been for about two years.
2022 was also the year Ben graduated from high school and moved down to Eugene. He’s been home for most of December, and that’s been pretty nice.
Almost 12 years ago I wrote up a few thoughts about a morning routine I’d adopted to help me deal with some creative and personal insecurity. I called it “exposure therapy,” and it was just an active practice of looking at photographs, understanding a lot of them would be better than the ones I was taking. I stuck to it for a while until something broke up the way I organized my mornings. I kept at the habit of at least looking at pictures a few times a week, but at some point I stopped doing that and just started reading blog posts about photography. I stopped thinking about the images and started just … thinking.
Over the past month, away from work, I’ve been thinking about that routine. I’ve had more time to play around with cameras, pictures, and tools, and I’ve thought a lot about assorted technical aspects of picture-taking, but I’ve not really done anything to prime my creative pump. Worse, there’s a small part of me I have to own who is properly wondering what he’s supposed to be up to, what he should be expecting for himself, and what he should aspire to. I am so immensely grateful for the circumstances I am in, because I can sit with these things, ride them out, find new reasons to rediscover a kind of optimism I used to have in so much supply. And I have space to deal with the sense some days that I fell through a wormhole ten years ago, had some interesting adventures, and now am out the other side needing to take inventory about what happened to the me who tumbled in.
Thinking back to that morning routine, I remember the feeling I had when I’d see something go by that was just … awesome. After enough times it was sort of like a sunlight therapy lamp: Enough exposure and my sense of personal energy and creative restlessness would go up and I’d want to get out there and do it myself.
With the big Twitter flap and the sudden surge in Mastodon people, I’ve been trying to follow photographers as they turn up so I can build a list. Tonight, though, I also opened up a new Flipboard account because it really is a wonderful way to browse pictures from assorted feeds, and I imagine I can turn my assorted social media photography feeds into a Flipboard magazine.
Anyhow, here’s the post. I appreciate the me who wrote it. He was dealing with some stuff and it was really, really hard to just sit there and be overwhelmed by how much goodness there is out there, but he pulled it together and made himself stare into it.
March 23, 2011
I read a short bit a few weeks ago titled A Simple Guide for a Mindful Digital Life, and it offered some suggestions that resonated with me, along with a few that would not be practical for a good many people. I recommend it, though, because I like the author’s take on ownership of online presence. One thing that came of trying a few of his recommendations was a modification to my morning reading routine.
Over the past year, my iPad has become my morning paper. I like to get up a little early and sit by the fire reading the things I consider interesting but disposable. I use Flipboard and Twitter lists to skim through the things with which I’d like to have headline-level familiarity.
I like the morning skim because I don’t have to place any weight on anything I read there. Sometimes I bookmark useful things for later, but it’s the only time of the day I’ve got that I consider solely mine. After it’s over, my time stops being just mine for long stretches.
One neat thing Flipboard offers is support for Flickr as a “digital magazine.” You can subscribe to your own Flickr stream, those of your friends, your own favorites or (and this is the part I really like) the flickr “interestingness” feed.
That’s harmful thinking on a few levels:
So Flickr’s been hard, because it’s full of great photographers , and the Interestingness feed pulls in a lot of their work.
It occurred to me a few days ago, however, that maybe the thing to do would be to just dive into that pool of greatness, so I modified my morning routine a little by tweaking Flipboard. I pushed a lot of the lists about Facts and Things to the second page, and I filled the front page with interesting photography feeds. First in line is the Flickr Interestingness feed. I’ve been flipping through it each morning and marking a few of the pictures I see as favorites (another nice thing Flipboard lets you do). I’m trying to treat it as a mindless exercise, something done without a lot of reasoning, because I think doing it that way allows me to silence the inner critic for others, which makes it easier to silence the inner critic for me.
I try to stop thinking about the things I used to think about: Is this image overprocessed, did the photographer go too far with the sharpening, is the image correct, is the underlying sentiment hackneyed, and on and on. I try to just like stuff. Sometimes, though, I see a picture that achieves something I once tried and failed to pull off, so I favorite that for when I can circle back later, when I’m in a better frame of mind, and consider the things that will help me take better pictures.
Last night after a 12-hour day of learning how to put down flooring then putting down flooring I tacked down some baseboard on a single wall so that I could at least narrow my vision a little and see the end of the project, which has consumed a big chunk of November.
Everyone had to deal with their own lockdown stuff in some way or another. In our family, it took the form of not having a ton of space by the time we’d flipped a few rooms into offices.
My first swing at it involved building a cover for our tiny patio. That gave us a space to spill out onto and opened up the possibility of having guests over. We spent election night in 2020 out under that cover with our intentional family and a propane heater.
My second swing at it was to turn our garage into a movie theater (“the Coviplex”). We could have people over, open the garage door, roll out the propane heaters and have movie nights. Ben’s godmothers agreed to sit through the Marvel movies through Avengers: End Game.
Me: I’m surprised you were up for that. I mean, it’s just, like Extruded Cultural Product.
Kathleen: Well, yeah. It is. It’s still fun.
It’s sort of strange to look at both those projects now. I can remember the energy that went into them, from figuring out how to do things like build a patio cover to coding standards to how to do drywall. One aspect of my ADHD is hyperfocus, and it was on full display. I didn’t think of what I was up to as “a little DIY project,” I thought of it as a sort of folk engineering. I wasn’t interested in simply building a thing, I wanted to build it in such a way that I could also take it down in a day. I spent a lot of hours just watching and rewatching videos and reading tutorials.
Meanwhile, Ben was upstairs being a teenager. He liked the patio cover for sure – it was separate from the other living areas and we all fell into treating it like a shared resource, not a shared space. You could go sit outside and stare up through the cover at the towering pine in the yard nextdoor and listen to birds in silence. But the theater didn’t really land with him. It was a little too shared.
One day he came down and said he just didn’t have enough room. Our house is sort of weird to the extent that, from the curb, it looks like a plain old two-story home. The lot it was built on, however, is closer in size to the slivers you see “tall-and-skinnies” built on … it’s just turned 90 degrees because it is built across the width of a former back yard, not the depth of a subdivided lot. So Ben’s room is sort of shallow and wide. By the time his desk, stereo stand, and bed figured in, he had a tiny patch to stand on.
His take was to figure out some kind of rearrangement, but we talked it through and there wasn’t much to do with it. It was sort of like a sliding-square puzzle. In the end, there was only so much square footage and not a lot to optimize with.
So I mentioned the idea of a loft. He didn’t like it at first: He’d had a skinny Ikea one when he was much younger and it didn’t add a lot of utility. So I showed him pictures of the kinds of lofts that turn up in dorms, where you get a full bed, better floorspace, and construction meant for an adult body. We back-and-forthed on some general design ideas, and I finally found one that he liked.
It felt good to do the project: I’d learned a lot about basic household carpentry over the previous year building the other two projects, and felt comfortable taking a basic plan and improvising on it to suit his space. One design thing that was important to me was to make it feel utterly solid, so I built it to fit exactly so, and bolted it in so that when he climbed the stairs or leaned against a post, it simply did not move.
That gave him more space, and also subdivided the room so that he had a place to hang out and watch t.v. or play with his Switch, and his desk area. It was pretty comforting to sit down in the living room or in the garage movie theater and hear him playing music and dancing because he had room.
But the thing about all of this is that it was a holding action. He still couldn’t see his friends. We’d ultimately only reclaimed about 24 square feet. My half of a 2-up army barracks room had felt more spacious. The context was still out there.
So it made some sense when Ben decided he was ready to move out after high school. The actual chain of events was a little abrupt, but I remember that same restlessness and readiness to move, and in my case it wasn’t informed by two years of relative lockdown.
One thing that didn’t work for me, as a teenager, was that my parents actually moved out of state just after I graduated from high school. I stayed back for the summer so I could earn some money before starting college. The first time I spent the night “at home” after going to college, it was as a guest in my parents' home – my brother and sister had rooms, but I didn’t have a room there. It was profoundly dislocating.
Ben told us he felt like he’d outgrown the loft, and that in some ways it was a reminder of things that were hard for him. I completely got that, and my first impulse was to simply remove it and just somehow reclaim the space … he was moving out, after all. But I remembered that feeling of sleeping in a guest room in my parents' house, so I asked him what he’d like: Did he still want to have a room of his own in our home, even if he was moving out? What should it look like? Could I take the loft out? I asked about everything, because wherever we are and whatever house we’re living in, wherever he spends most of his time and however much time he spends in our house, we are some kind of home.
I did ask him to clean the room out and pack as much as possible of what he wasn’t taking with him. He made an effort, but was more focused on moving on to his adventure. We spent October aware that his room needed some work to get it into a place where we could even work on it. The loft needed to come out, things he’d left behind needed to be packed. The loft had created its own share of issues to be addressed. In October I was also trying to wind down a job in one of those situations where I felt more responsibility to individuals than I did the organization, so the month was spent pointedly not going in that room or thinking too much about taking the loft down. I was worried I’d biased in favor of sturdiness and solidity over deconstructability. I gritted my teeth and stuck to my plan to have the room ready by Thanksgiving, but not starting until November 1st.
The loft teardown went pretty well in the end. I’d expected I’d need a second set of hands and was braced to get a few bumps on the head and some muscle strain. As it was, it took a few hours on a Saturday afternoon on my own. No bumps on the head. There were a few stripped screws, but easy enough to drill them out.
Over the past several weeks, as I’ve worked away, I’ve sent Ben little teaser photos: The loft in the process of being disassembled, the room stripped of carpet and molding, the first coat of paint, the first test run of flooring. Each time it’s a little bittersweet and a little tentative. Part of stepping back and letting him leave the nest meant putting ourselves on a budget for his time and attention. I love texting in a way I never did before because we can have small moments of connection without the weight of letters or phone calls.
The deconstruction photos weren’t great for him. A partially deconstructed loft looks a lot like a partially constructed one. I don’t think he liked the reminder of the periods where I was absorbed with making space. Like I said, it was a good thing to do, but it wasn’t happening for a good reason. The context cannot be set completely aside.
He has warmed up as things have progressed, and it felt good when the implicit finally became explicit after I sent him a picture of the room stripped to the plywood floor:
“I actually really love this because it is scrubbing away the the past in the most literal sense.”
I remembered that Jekyll doesn’t do a feed out of the box so I added one. The last few weeks have had some ups and downs, including a mystery illness that hung on. I’ve spent a lot of time on website stuff because the declutter process I undertook in March pointed me to a few things I’ve just taken to calling “purposes,” including writing and photography, and I had very little creative energy but plenty of nervous energy.
Building websites has been a small distraction from a bunch of things … something to do with my hands. I think I ended up picking Jekyll because its plain-text, command line, git-deployed nature is an experience I’d call tactile. It is soothing to me to figure out Liquid syntax, dink around with HTML, and try out deployment pipelines. Code, preview, tweak, reload, iterate, wonder, dig, tweak, reload, etc.
But it is also a distraction. Building websites isn’t really one of my purposes. It’s just a way to platform my purposes. So the danger for someone like me, who can sometimes defer unease or anxiety by going into the crystalline world of tech stuff, is that I’ll slowly begin to confuse my purpose with my tools.
So I decided to write this post to say to myself, “I added a feed, I like the way the galleries work, I have category pages, the whole GitHub-to-Cloudflare deployment pipeline ‘just works,’ and I’ve made a basic editorial calendar that goes out six weeks. So I can put this down for now, call it v1, and get on with it serving my purposes.” That’s what it’s here for. That is its purpose.
A few years ago, pre-Trump, I quit social media and most news apps cold turkey. I was bothered by the effect social media dynamics had on my photography, and I was bothered by the engagement-driven nature of news apps. I wanted to listen to just myself on a creative level, and I hated the way news apps worked.
Over time I reestablished social media presences and spent some time tuning up how I read news. When I compare where I am today to where I was when I felt like I’d just had enough of all of it, I feel generally healthier. At the same time, I still catch myself exhausting the well of things to read or catch up on, and I find myself swiping down the screen in a motion Cal Newport describes as pulling the arm of a slot machine that is eating my useful minutes.
Newport’s definition of “digital minimalism” is:
“A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
He cites three principles of digital minimalism:
Principle #1: Clutter is costly. Digital minimalists recognize that cluttering their time and attention with too many devices, apps, and services creates an overall negative cost that can swamp the small benefits that each individual item provides in isolation.
Principle #2: Optimization is important. Digital minimalists believe that deciding a particular technology supports something they value is only the first step. To truly extract its full potential benefit, it’s necessary to think carefully about how they’ll use the technology.
Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying. Digital minimalists derive significant satisfaction from their general commitment to being more intentional about how they engage with new technologies. This source of satisfaction is independent of the specific decisions they make and is one of the biggest reasons that minimalism tends to be immensely meaningful to its practitioners.
I’ve known a few people in whom I can see those principles at work, and I’ve always admired the deliberation with which they approach new technology. It has often read to me like a particular kind of self-care. I’m more of a magpie when it comes to new things and have thought that kind of self-care might be a good thing to adopt.
There are a few tics in the style that I suppose are just part of what is normal for this kind of book. The phrase “it turns out” pops up a few times. The phrase “we’re wired to …” pops up a few more. But rather than being a Jonah-Lehrer-like recitation of a bunch of studies (though a few are cited) this book is a little more quiet and less breathless. I was left feeling relieved that Newport has a full-time job he likes, because there’s a moment where it feels like the book could have tipped over into the sort of cloying pseudo-movement merchandising play but ultimately did not.
What is most compelling to me about it is less its identification of everything that is wrong with digital technology – the attention-mining, the emotional toll, the wasted time – and more its temperate prescriptions.
Yes, it does discuss a 30-day “digital declutter,” but less as a cold-turkey feat of will and more as a call to fill that time in other ways and see what you get before gradually letting things back in as you determine the ways in which they can serve you.
There is a mild fixation on doing all this “to live a more remarkable life,” and that stirs in me a peevish resistance, but it’s tempered by noting that it is okay and life-enhancing to simply do things for their own sake, or because they bring you pleasure or make your life better, and not because you should be out there crushing it in all things. It does argue in favor of more vigorous, mindful leisure, but not so much because it’s important to be constantly “productive” as much as it is because it will probably make you feel better than social-media-enabled “doing nothing.”
Published in 2019, one poignant, melancholy aspect of this book is that it spends a lot of time on the value of unmediated human connection. Its prescriptions include avoidance of assorted “like” and other reaction affordances in favor of spending time talking to people. There are a few examples that are about being with others in gyms, exercise groups, etc. that are almost jarring as we close in on two years of pandemic life. It helpfully suggests that Facetime is a great technology for keeping personal connections over distances, but cannot anticipate the dull, suffocating exhaustion of contemplating yet another video meeting for people who have spent the past two years staring into screens full of flattened, grainy faces staring back.
Finally, it was kind of interesting to see the ways in which, over the past three years since the book was published, at least Apple has begun to help implement some of the attention-preserving, deliberate living practices Newport advocates. The Screentime tool provides a way to understand how you use your phone and where your time goes. The Focus tool makes it possible to filter out notifications or tailor the interruptions you’re willing to indulge.
So, definitely recommended for its low-key vibe, and its emphasis on deliberation and care over simple prescriptions or tech abstemiousness. I’m going to give some of its ideas a try.
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport 📚
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. — Psalm 90:10
There is no safety in the threefold world; it is like a burning house, replete with a multitude of sufferings, truly to be feared, constantly beset with the griefs and pains of birth, old age, sickness and death, which are like fires raging fiercely and without cease. — The Lotus Sutra
When I was nine years old, I borrowed a collection of Star Trek stories from my dad. It included this one, wherein William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly all end up in the 23rd century owing to some sort of freak transporter accident.
That was a pretty exciting premise to me. Since I knew that I was living in the 20th century and that Star Trek was happening in the 23rd century, I could do the math to figure out how long I had to wait to see it all for myself.
23rd century - 20th century = 3 centuries, pretty much.
So if it was 1977, then I was looking at having to wait around until 2277. I grabbed dad’s Commodore calculator (it looked like this) to help with the next part:
2277 - 1968 = 309 years.
So, dad being in seminary at the time and our family being church-going anyhow, I had some idea that some people lasted a pretty long time. Methuselah had a pretty good run. Hadn’t Noah made it to 900? Needed to check with mom, though.
Yes, she explained, people in the Bible lived a long time, “but we get threescore and ten years now.”
I knew how much a score was because Abraham Lincoln was my hero.
1968 + (20 * 3) + 10 = 2038
and 2277 - 2038 = not even close, really.
Further away from now than last year’s bicentennial had been from the first Independence Day.
I just wasn’t going to make it.
My favorite grandfather is dying of a brain tumor. Mom goes down to Texas, hoping to make things right, but all she does is get in the way of the t.v.
I don’t think what I experienced was a “death trip,” exactly. I just remember that things got pretty morbid some time around dawn. I was in the tv room at the house in Indianapolis, looking out at the parking lot behind the back yard. Cody and Kevin and Bill were riding bikes in the morning fog, gliding in and out of view.
Hudson was so stupid and inept. They made him my buddy and told me if he didn’t make it out of basic, it’d be my fault.
The last week, we were out in the field under a tree. It was raining and Hudson had fucked something up and all he could do was cry. All I could do was put my arm around him and tell him it’d be fine.
Jump school seemed like a good idea. It never really occurred to me to feel frightened during the day, but every night I dreamed of falling and falling with no parachute. My subconscious mixed it up by letting me ride a mattress into the dirt one night.
The team’s up on the Richmond site outside of Taejon. It’s an old building behind a gate. We’ve put up the mast and we’re on the network. The team chief asks us what we’d do if the balloon went up. Oh … I know this one:
“We take our defensive positions and the one on radio watch burns the SOI and takes an axe to the COMSEC gear, then we all defend the site.”
The team chief says, “you do that. I’m gonna run my ass down the hill before it gets shot off. They won’t bother with soldiers anyhow. They’ll just dial us in and light us up.”
I arrive at Ft. Bragg the week a major in my brigade had a bad landing, broke his leg and the bone severed an artery. He bled out on the drop zone before anyone could find him and help him. I don’t know if he knew what was happening.
That last nine months I was on jump status, I was pretty sure each jump was going to kill me. If you could be on jump status, though, you were supposed to be on jump status. That’s how it was. The sergeant major would cut your wings off your chest in front of everybody otherwise.
They aspirated a lump in my throat on a Wednesday, the doctor fucked off on vacation before the labs came back on Thursday, and nobody would tell me anything until the next Tuesday.
It was fine.
Ben. He stirs some things up.
“I mean,” says my friend, “FORTY. Aren’t you freaking out?”
“I just don’t, I guess.”
It wasn’t a question for me though, was it? In retrospect, I regret the answer.
Here we are.
I still don’t.
Some days, I feel naive or clueless and I think to myself that I might be wrong, and that I might be giving the wrong answer on a cosmic test.
Some days I think, “you’ve taken advantage of a number of opportunities to consider it.”
Mostly I think we’re born in a house that’s on fire, and there’ll be a moment between flame and ash.
We’ll need to have been kind.