Bounty in scarcity

The death of our dog left a pretty big hole. Not even this can of kittens could fill it.

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One of about a dozen new paintings in process by my wife, which’ll round out her first exhibition in the Twin Cities at the new Glam Doll Donuts location. It opens on about December 15th, and there’s lots to do!

Boundaries and limits can actually be pretty wonderful. Our annual income can barely be quantified in the tens of thousands. If various expenses are included, the plural could be removed pretty easily. This is not a limiting factor I would have chosen for our family, but it’s our reality. This reality keeps me awake at night.

How could we ever justify the massive expense of another dog?

This time we decided on a breed in advance, and wanted to start from scratch with a puppy. 800 bucks. Yup, that’s pretty nuts.

In this unique case, the problem became the solution. Everybody would have to work together. This household income thing I’ve been pining after would have to become a reality. In order for us to bring this mini goldendoodle puppy into our children’s lives, we’d all have to work together…

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I only reluctantly agreed to the puppy jar. It seemed pretty unrealistic.

The kids sold toys, and WORKED. My daughter raked leaves for a neighbor, made 20 bucks, and put it all into the jar. I sold off collections: old coins, baseball cards, and more. I learned that these collections really aren’t worth much when you finally get around to selling them. All those years of storing and sorting didn’t amount to much, but the exchange for a lovable being who should help usher our kids through the remainder of their childhood and beyond is worth it…

I even sold this old lobster trap for a whopping $45. We picked it up at a junkyard in Nova Scotia 17 years ago, only a couple hours before boarding the plane for home. It had sentimental value. Now that value can be found in roughly 5% of our new dog.

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Our children made similar decisions to part with stuff. These were really tough choices, but they knew the exchange was worthwhile. These ducklings, for example, were super hard for my daughter to sell. She was in charge of their hatching, and they were her’s. $30 netted for the puppy jar sweetened the deal for her. She sold them only a few days after our dog died. It was so hard. I’m really proud of her for making the right decision…

The dollars slowly accumulated. Shawna offered up pet portraits to the world, and quickly got a commission. Our kids had their fingers in this too, as we brainstormed together about how we’d come up with the cash.  Half the proceeds went into the jar, because we do have to eat.

Long story short, the money all came in. It was a collective project. The parents didn’t engineer success. It only happened because we all worked together. This was a true household economy at work, and how I’d like for it to function in the future.

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Our kids—contentious twins—are learning to work together.

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This even showed as we all had to agree on a single puppy from the litter. This was a major breakthrough that simply wouldn’t have happened if we had whipped out the credit card back in August.

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Simplicity can be undertaken voluntarily or involuntarily. Many of our family’s simplification efforts have fallen into the latter category. Oddly enough, involuntary simplicity can be even more beautifully momentous, when we accept it.

One of my kids consistently asks if we are poor. Thankfully, the inquiry appears to be lessening. Mere statistics would lump us into the poverty category. I’m finding that we are becoming richer in other ways. I must confess that I am earnestly seeking longterm financial sustainability for our family. It is indeed stressful. However, we are learning and growing in ways that would never have happened if we had experienced quick success.

Matthew 5:3-

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

What this country needs most is you

I wrote the short piece below for the paper. I had hoped to encourage people, but was surprised at how controversial it became (judging by the comments on a local website). The experience caused me to see why the vast majority of individuals keep to themselves. Once again, Gandalf’s comments seem appropriate:

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.

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Never in my life, which extends to the previous century and millennium, have I seen an American election produce more anguish and heartache. People everywhere are weeping and gnashing their teeth. Unimaginable stress causes them to succumb to migraine headaches. Formerly joyous individuals buckle under the weight of depression and despair.  Morosity and bitterness run rampant. Some have fallen under a spell of hopelessness, and actually contemplate leaving the country. This level of anxiety reflects a dim view of what our nation is built upon.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue sits exactly 1,173 miles from my doorstep. Along that route you’d pass through field and forest, cities great and small, villages of people engaging in everyday actions that make America great, and alongside the farms and farmers who feed us. The strength and vitality of the United States is found in its people. Yes, that even includes you and me. This reality is unimpeachable.

Our energy and focus can be more productively directed to where we may be of real influence: our neighbors across the road, and where we devote our time and treasure. We have the greatest impact while living life to the fullest, delighting in liberty, and are fully engaged in the pursuit of happiness. Rather than pass anxiety on to your children, impress these self-evident truths upon them.

Read a book by someone who has walked or biked across the length and breadth of this country, and you’ll discover an optimist, because they’ve been in close contact with what truly makes our nation great. Read my book, for that matter. The kindness of strangers has often been a balm to my soul. Be that balm for others.

Extend kindness and love to that mysterious neighbor who proudly displayed the political sign. Marvel at their bravery for taking such a public stand. After all, such a stance is bound to irritate someone, and could even invite vandalism. Conversely, get to know the weird family down the street. Extend your blessing to the old curmudgeons who keep to themselves, as well as that new young couple whom you feel cares nothing about the neighborhood. Might they just be busy or shy?

You are surrounded by people who are chock full of amazing talents, experiences, and expertise. You just have to dig for them. Go ahead. You’re not prying. Just be interested.

It took me decades to arrive here, but I can assure you that living in this place of absolutely zero angst over the outcome of a national election is a great place to be.

I am convinced that I can be of more use to the world by doing what makes me come alive, rather than by concentrating precious life energy upon an act that takes place every four years. For me that means writing words, growing food for my community, and by adding beauty to someone’s everyday life through the painting of their home. How about you?

I did vote, but that just might be the least important aspect of citizenship. How could this infrequent act possibly be elevated to the significance of loving one’s neighbor, for example?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Those are the words of scripture, passed down for generations, and to you at this very moment. Regardless of our politics, most of us can agree on this.

Also, when it comes down to brass tacks, can you think of any President in your lifetime who has ever delivered upon their promises? In the main, things keep humming along the way they always have.

Many things do need to change, but history has shown that these changes simply do not come from the top down. On rare occasions, when they do, backlash results. Lasting change occurs as a groundswell through the individual actions and opinions of the people. Justice will roll down like water when our everyday actions match our most sacred desires.

 

 

 

Making America Great Again

The city needs surrounding rural areas just as a rubber tire requires a metal rim. Neither will truly thrive without the other.

Living in the city, as I do, my wellbeing requires a regular inoculation of the country. And by country, I don’t just mean the land, although it certainly includes that. The people who live upon and from it are every bit as interesting as the land itself, but when you get right down to it, even the land—the soil itself, if you will—is one amazingly complex community consisting of billions of microbes, funguses, and far more than we’ll ever understand, all interacting with their environment. So by the land I’m referring to a vast ecosystem, of which we are a part, and not just a pretty landscape.

Yesterday I journeyed out to procure a winter’s worth of grass-feed beef and pork. The day’s adventure nourished my soul. The satisfaction of stocking up on so much quality food from a source I trust, 4 Quarters Holdings, is immense.

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I visited with seven entrepreneurs on this particular journey, most of whom were farmers, but I also spent some time with an artist who lives in the woods. My motivation for these conversations was to get some ideas to organize our family’s finances, which come from four sources: my wife’s burgeoning art career, my book and various writing jobs, interior and exterior house painting, as well as my urban farm. It’s a lot to keep straight, and my organizational skills seem hopeless at times. I need a dead-simple system to keep track of our finances, business receipts, etc, so I sought out some advice from other people who don’t have conventional jobs.

Many of my questions might seem intrusive to a fly on the wall, but I’ve cultivated a relationship with these folks. They know my family is in a tight spot, and are happy to share what has and has not worked for them.

It’s wonderful to have friendships outside the city. Each of their homes might be considered a joyous destination, even if I do only make the trip a couple times each year. It all stemmed from joining a CSA, living out there for a few days while seeking to learn more about where my food came from, eventually working at the Food Farm for a time, and voraciously venturing further down the local food rabbit hole.

Bonafide culture, which nourishes a community, includes art as well as food production. A community which cannot (or will not) feed and entertain itself can hardly be called a community at all. The fabric of local lore is woven in large measure by artists and storytellers.

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I was taken by this painting at the artist’s house, signed simply by, “Nana.” It was gifted to him when he was just six months old. Hazarding a guess, I’d say that was 38 years ago. The painting hangs in a happy home. We should all want the people who feed and entertain us, and thus help make us happy, to live joyous lives themselves, outside the clutches of poverty.

Later I picked up a gallon of maple syrup from a guy named Christopher, who runs a side business called SpringLight Maple. I’ve sourced all my maple syrup from him for nearly two years now. I believe he purchased the land about a year before I stumbled across his sign advertising syrup out on Hwy 4. It’s always fascinating to make note of the changes that have taken place since the last visit. He built his own driveway to access the property, cutting down a bunch of oaks in the process. These he had milled into usable lumber, which he has kiln-dried himself in a homemade solar kiln, and is now using the lumber inside the house currently under construction. Since moving onto the property he has lived in this tiny garage, and is now a newlywed.

garage

His bride enjoys living in this small space with him. Evidence of bootstrap frugality abounds. They’ll continue to live in the tiny garage, happily, for at least another year, and with minimal debt. It was exciting to see their future home completely framed up and covered since my last visit, about a gallon of maple syrup ago. How can one not want such salt of the earth to succeed?

house-1

Next I dropped in on Catherine, and was stunned by the sight of her recently finished home, which is located on her small vegetable CSA farm. Once again, it should bring us joy to see the people who feed us be nourished themselves, and to live in a comfortable home of their choosing.

house-2-best

The view from this home, looking south across Catherine’s fields through the series of floor-to-ceiling windows, is stunning!

You don’t get this feeling when your food and entertainment is metaphorically beamed to you from the mothership, somewhere out there, but who really knows where…

Do you wish to be fed by corporations or by people you can actually visit. Farms that welcome visitors, which aren’t surrounded by barbed wire and NO TRESPASSING signs as a deterrent to consumers discovering just how revolting the conditions actually are. Or back to the realm of entertainment, instead of seeing hundreds of millions of dollars funneled into far-off corporations and “stars” who do not share your values, perhaps this money can be spread out a little more broadly throughout the countryside to the people who truly make America great.

Then we’ll see more healthy farms atop healthy soil, a thriving community of artists and entertainers who help make life more rewarding and interesting, and an economy—both rural and urban—that benefits the health and wellbeing of everybody.

 

Introducing the Hall of Rejects!

rejects-1These paintings were rejected by Shawna years ago. Several date back to 2007, when Shawna decided to begin painting again, after a significant hiatus, during which time we moved across the country twice, bought a home, yada yada yada.

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They’ve been in our basement collecting dust for years. A hopeless sentimentalist, I’ve rescued them from my wife’s destructive hands more than once. Slowly I’m discovering that she’s right to rid herself of them. Shawna is constantly pushing herself forward, embracing new challenges, and doesn’t wish to live in the past. Perhaps more importantly, these were rejected by the market.

I did dispose of several that weren’t even suited to the newly christened Hall of Rejects, and some of these only made it in because we have ample gallery space. Shawna’s skill with the paintbrush has improved mightily since these days, which is fun to see. Additionally, most of these works were influenced by different stages of our lives, such as the chairs with the red blanket over them that served as a frequent fort.

While of zero interest to the average consumer, they are meaningful to me. Below is a painting of Shawna’s very first studio in our drab basement (upper left). Later I commandeered this space for my home office as a telecommuter, and she carved out a spot in the dining room right next to the canary, which became a frequent subject.

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Since most of these works are on wood panels, and never had proper hangers attached to them, I drove nails right through them—permanent damage. They are hanging in the stairway that leads to my writing space atop the stable outside. They are far more inspiring than the dirt and clutter that previously littered the space. I love how this one was placed at chair height—entirely by accident!

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The painting below was inspired by a horrific camping trip. After enduring one of the longest nights of our lives, just half a notch better than puking all night, and included a bear roaming through the campground, our daughters hair getting snagged in the tent zipper right after she finally fell asleep four hours into the odyssey, millions of mosquitoes, and more fun, we decided to leave early after surviving just one night. Prior to leaving, however, we chose to enjoy the entire day that followed—right up until bedtime—having fun. We paddled into the Boundary Waters, ate supper in front of the fire, and I took the kids swimming down by the dock as the sun set while Shawna packed up the tent and whatnot. It was a fantastic day. We all learned that it’s ok to quit early sometimes—just cut bait—but that you can still suck the marrow out of everything that remains.

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Many of these works have proven to be of insufficient interest to others, but if you find one you like, I could probably pry it off the wall for fifty bucks or so. You must come tour the Hall, though!

While these never found a home, they enabled Shawna to hone her skills. I see now that it would have been ok for her to paint over any of these, or even throw them away. They served their useful purpose, and were extremely valuable for the experience gained. She would not be the artist she is today without them.

This oddity here is a very early piece. I have no idea what it means.

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What do you have in your basement gathering dust for no purpose? It’s time for those objects to sink or swim. Put ’em to good use now, or just get rid of them. Make more room for the things you cherish in life.

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This evening we’ll be at the opening reception for the 61st Arrowhead Regional Biennial. It’s free of charge, and runs from 5 – 7 pm. Come say hello and see Shawna’s painting, Watering the Wallpaper, and numerous other selected works from area artists. The show is on display at the Duluth Art Institute, in the Depot, until February.

Woven into the tapestry of an old home

Our home is on the cusp of entering its 107th year. My family is just the fourth to live here, and this is not uncommon on our street. Numerous folks spend the majority of their lives here, which has made for a tremendously desirable, stable neighborhood.

I’m aware of two former notables: a U.S. Senator out of Idaho lived here as a child, and has some big dam named after him out there, and Richard Gastler, who bought the home with his first wife from the 2nd pair of owners in about 1962. Dick came to visit, unannounced, on several occasions after we bought the place from his ex-wife in 2003. He loved to chat and reminisce, so I gave him as much time as he needed. Tears inevitably came to his eyes as I’d show him around. It was quite touching.

A couple years went by without a word. I intended to call him up to show our progress on some things, but never got around to it. Then he died. I learned about his passing in this column over at Perfect Duluth Day, and was stunned to see how beloved he was by the community. I knew he had been a teacher of economics, history, and civics, but didn’t realize he’d be missed by so many people. He appears to have been one of the most colorful teachers to have served in these parts, and even appeared on Good Morning America for his antics. I wish I would have carved out time to have him over more, but appreciate the conversations we did have. This home meant so much to him, and still bears his marks, even though divorce forced him to leave in the early ’70s.

I pondered this while tearing apart the room he built in the basement for himself as his marriage was crumbling. The old garage also contained about 14 ancient doors he collected, all of which are marvelous, but are cursed by having too much character to be dispose of them, but are too impractical to be of much use. Gastler had hoped to panel a wall or entire room with them one day. I still find myself trying to get rid of these doors, and chided him for the burdensome collection on more than one occasion, which brought guffaws from us both. Here, one of only two remaining from the collection, is an amazing, unbearably heavy old door. Perhaps it’s made of oak. This thing is a real beast, well over 100 years old, and is the sort of door to which I imagine Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses at the Wittenberg Castle Church in 1517. I reckon I’ll try to sell it, and place the proceeds into the family’s puppy jar (we’re already halfway there!).

door

We each shared a love for old homes, history, and the community. I still wish I had carved out more time to get to know him better.

I discovered these newspapers up in the attic of the old garage, while rescuing those ancient doors prior to demolition. I love the tagline in the upper righthand corner: The Morning Newspaper of the Northwest. Duluth, Minnesota was still considered part of the Northwest in 1938! It wasn’t much earlier than this when vast tracts of land were considered territories, sometimes disputed, further west. Washington State was admitted to the Union just 49 years prior. Anyhow, this was a surprise to me. This area was considered the gateway to the vast, largely unexplored Northwest back in the fur-trading era, and it lingered for some time apparently. So much history…

When this same newspaper called about a week ago to say they wanted to do a major story about my wife, artist Shawna Gilmore, and her home studio, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I had already dropped everything in a laser-like focus to get our lives into order, and this would only speed the process. What otherwise might have taken 40 days or more, was whittled down to just four. Shawna’s parents came to help, and we painted just about everything downstairs, stem to stern, and on up the steps to our upstairs hallway. For the first time in my life we have zero clutter in the majority of the living space. It is fantastic! I grew up in a household with a case of extreme hoarding (see my book, also available on audio or kindle for the clutter-averse), so this has been a lifelong goal. I finally reached the point, being 40 and all, where I’ve realized that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life pining after this goal. It’s time to just do it. We still have the basement, bedroom, and garage to go, but we’re nearly done.

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Yup, Bob Dylan slept on that couch on multiple occasions, but that’s another story.

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The mail slot atop of the buffet just might be the locus of evil in the modern world, although my wife would say it can be found in my inevitable shoe pile below the stairs. Either way, I am the problem!

In a chicken and egg sort of scenario, I’ve learned that one of the secrets to keeping a clean house is to actually have a clean house. One stray piece of paper really looks out of place when you live like this, so it’s easy to stay on top of things. Previously I’d get to 80% clean, call it good enough, and discover that clutter always breeds more clutter. That should be a law of physics, and the effect is that we can’t live up to our full potential when our minds are cluttered to such an extent. The physical mess is indicative of an inward discombobulation. Similarly, when rats took up residence in our backyard earlier this year, I felt that it was just an outer manifestation of our inner chaos. I still feel that way, and have taken drastic steps to order my life. By removing so much crap from my life, there will be more room for the people and things I truly cherish. I am acutely aware that I need to change in many ways, so I’ve found it helpful to start by cutting out most things that I don’t really love. This even includes socks and underwear, though I find myself struggling in the garage with tools. Working on it…

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Anyhow, the reporter came to the house with a photographer, and the place looked wonderful. It still does, in fact. I delight in having people inside to visit. How freeing this is!

Take a look at the marvelous column just written about my wife: Daydreaming on canvas: Duluth artist takes whimsical ideas and transforms them into imaginative, fun paintings. The spread was even more impressive in print, as it took up an entire page and a half!

shawna-better

Shawna’s career is finally starting to gain traction, after painstaking work on her part, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. We’ve learned not to pin any financial hopes into such opportunities, but it was just wonderful how this whole experience just fit perfectly into where we were, and where we’re wanting to go with our lives. Next month Shawna takes on a major show in the Twin Cities, at a new Glam Doll Donuts location that opens mid-month, a task for which she is now preparing feverishly. The original location was honored as being among the top 10 donut shops by USA Today, so we’re really stoked to have this be our first foray into the Twin Cities art market.

One of Shawna’s pieces was also selected as part of the 61st Arrowhead Regional Biennial, the longest running biennial in the midwest, which has been a sort of white whale of her’s for about 10% of these. It feels so good to be chosen! The piece that made it in, Watering the Wallpaper, is a real dandy, and seems even more alive in person.  You can see it at the Duluth Art Institute (in the Depot), from November 10 – February 9, 2017.

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Next time I will share the Hall of Rejects with you. I can hardly wait! I have struggled with hoarding many of her old pieces, and have finally found the solution. Stay tuned.

Whittling down to the essentials

This is the entire accumulation of papers and notes saved from my favorite classes in college and grad school:

papers

I’ve never consulted them, but I have stored and moved ’em around for nearly two decades. Is this this the sum of all the knowledge gained from tens of thousands of dollars in higher education? Can it be contained to a tote? Could it possibly be an accumulation of wisdom? I don’t think so.

At one time, back in the ’80s, I thought baseball cards would make me rich some day. This week I traded 20,000 of the cardboard rectangles for eight carefully folded $20 bills. Back in the day I paid more than that for a single card. Eventually you just have to cut bait, and man does it feel good to finally be free of the albatross. True treasure cannot be contained in totes.

It’s ironic, given the spell those cards had on me, but I have no photographs of the formerly impressive collection. What could I have done with the time and energy that went into them?

Oddly enough, I did take a picture of the recycle bin that was completely chock full of papers. While rolling it into position I strained my back. It must have weighed 250 pounds or more!

papers-in-bin

The original rough draft of my book, which had been shelved for a few years before I rewrote it entirely, is in the lower right of the photo. I obtained the red folder during a tour of a college in Colorado, done solely for the free lift ticket provided afterward for Crested Butte Mountain Resort. And then there are the surplus postcards for the opening of my wife’s art exhibition at Lakeside Gallery this summer, where you’ll continue to find many of her fresh, new works going forward.

gallery

Papers are my nemesis. Thus, they all must go. As Marie Kondo would say, “Papers do not give me joy, so I don’t keep them.” It’s pretty much that simple.

I am 40 years old, and do not wish to spend the rest of my life with the goal of clearing out the clutter. I just need to do it. Though I should probably focus more on income generation, I am completely obsessed and focused on this lifelong quest instead. I hope to get to about 90% complete, and call it good enough. There are emotional, and even spiritual dimensions to this. It’s essential to my wellbeing at this point.

I touched on this in my current column for the paper. I have no idea if it will spark anything of interest in others, but writing it certainly made connections in me.

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During all this purging we took a break for a family trip to the Wirtanen Pioneer Farm, located about 40 miles north of Duluth. A Finnish pioneer by the name of Eli Wirtanen started it in 1904. There are a dozen original structures scattered about the farm, and they’re all unlocked an open to the public. Nobody else was there. We were free to wander around, explore, and play. It was a blast.

I was struck by the fact that Eli died just 19 years before I was born. My obsession with hoarding both baseball cards and animals began just 28 years after his death. These strange collections would have absolutely mystified him. Thousands of dollars were poured into 20,000 baseball cards and well over 100 living creatures that I shared my bedroom with. It’s disgusting, and least of all due to the bird droppings that soiled my bedsheets. It took Eli years to save enough money to buy his land, and he worked his tail off to do it.

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We spent a good hour there, threw the football around, and soaked up the serenity and peaceful ambiance of the place.

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It got me thinking about how I wish to spend the remaining years allotted to me. This morning I was awake hours before dawn, fretting about the unwelcome moles that have appeared on my forehead of ever-increasing size. Next week a dermatologist will look at, and I suspect, remove them.

I’m also beset by a profound fatigue, which has decreased with the diminished workload. A  two-mile hike the other day wore me out to the point that I required a nap, and still felt exhausted the next day. 20 or more miles in a day use to barely phase me. My wife points out that I recently recovered from a cold, and thinks I’m a hypochondriac. She’s probably right.

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Mortality afflicts us all, though. We know not when the curtain will fall. Be it five years or fifty, we need to live fully right now. I fall short in loving God, family, and neighbor, in so many ways. I’m tempted to say, as always, that I’ll devote more of myself toward these ends later, after completing this particular goal. The problem is that there is always the next distracting, shiny object. This might very well be the root of my crisis. We cannot control the past or future, but we do have now. Right now. Live fully in it.

Entering the story, painting the dump gray, and the last chicken

This week I found myself, somewhat reluctantly, attending a theatre production that included an Eddy Gilmore character. I expected to gain nothing from the experience. Blessed beyond belief by an atmosphere of utter richness, I left with more wealth than could be carried by pockets, wheelbarrows, or even an armored truck could be expected to carry. Being there on this particular night could not have been timed more exquisitely.

Honestly, for me, it is on a par with the beauty I encountered in the recent death of our family’s dog, Tillie. That particular day remains lodged in my memory as remarkably meaningful. In fact, if the whole of my experience with the animal was distilled down to the moment of her passing, it would have been worth the time and treasure that were devoted to her.

That day I was working away from home, unavailable for most of the day. Tillie smelled like death. My wife couldn’t deal with the stench, and put her outside. Thousands of flies were drawn to the smell. Countermeasures were employed, but it was a desperate situation. This was real suffering. I received texts throughout the day imploring me to facilitate a final trip to the vet. Necessary work at the farm prevented as timely an arrival as she would have preferred.

Late in the afternoon I stepped across the threshold to our back porch to greet the dog, who had been unconscious all day, and she immediately greeted me by standing up on all fours. Briefly I held her in my arms, she lost consciousness, and gradually her breathing just stopped. All this happened within the span of two minutes, at a time when I was going to drop her off at the clinic like some sort of burden for somebody else to deal with, after which I’d immediately hustle off to another job. Instead, time stood still. I dug a deep hole. The evening spent with family was deeply touching and healing for everyone. Since I’ve already written about that, I’ll spare you further details.

Once again, experiencing the theatrical production of One River at the moment I did, was just as meaningful, and seemingly divinely timed.

Many things have just now come to an end. That very same day, due to the seasonal nature of farm work, my part-time job at Talmadge Farm ceased to exist. My friend and I had also butchered the 11 chickens that remained of the 100 that I had so carefully shepherded through an epic storm and loss of power on the very night of their arrival, only to lose nearly all of them in a single evening to a gang of predators. Here is the very last chicken. This photo was taken after the heads of the others had rolled. Observe how content and at peace she is, though the savage act of butchering was occurring a mere 15 feet from her. She really appeared to be having a pretty good day right up to the very end.

last-chicken

The only real thing keeping us afloat financially, painting, also came to a temporary stop, as I completed my last big project on the books. I am a reluctant painter, applying brush and paint solely for the cash, and yet find myself continually surprised by encountering beauty in and through such menial work. Even at the dump. That’s right, I pretty much spent two solid weeks at the dump, painting three large garages at the Materials Recovery Center. Hungry for cash before winter, I profitably completed this job for several thousand dollars less than the next lowest bidder.

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Being such a busy place, I often labored after hours, working until dark. At such times I found the place to be both beautiful and peaceful. The sky was a source of consistent wonder. I toiled alone for hours under fantastic cloud formations and a great big sky. Some feel pretty puffed up about being granted a key to the city. I, on the other hand, feel pretty special to have been entrusted with a key to the dump. Unfortunately I’ll have to hand it over one of these days.

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Captured some vitamin D at times:

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I brought home a new friend on the day I painted the previously neglected wall in the background:

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And finished the job after the sun set, feeling sicker than a dog, as cloudy dampness seemed to envelop everything.

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Two days later I had recovered from an awful cold, just enough, to attend this play. Afraid to pass along this illness, it was with some guilt and trepidation that I shook the hand of my doppelganger. I am the shiny, handsome one in the photo.

doppelganger

Being at such a crossroads, with few prospects looming on the horizon, it was incredibly touching to experience this play. Luke Harger, who played Eddy and several other roles, captured me at my best, though we had never met. Amazing….

We made eye contact at one point during the production. I could tell he recognized me, and I was super uncomfortable. Luke never missed a beat. This is what most impressed me about the entire cast, in fact.

The cast of 11 positioned in front of their real life counterparts:

14446155_10207360839527450_6272070306553679522_nThe small theatre holds an audience of just 100, so the production occurs just feet away from the audience. I would find this distracting, and succumb to self-consciousness, but these folks continued to emote powerfully. You can’t get away with shoddy, insincere acting in such a place. As a writer, I often write about some pretty vulnerable things, but I have never allowed myself to be as laid bare as these young actors. It was as if their very souls were exposed to the light. This is a level of exposure that I have always shied away from in such situations, but these theatre people absolutely live for it.

Frankly, I have never really experienced theatre until this performance. It is as if the veil has finally been removed from my eyes. I actually get it! Inured to the special effects of Hollywood, few of us are exposed to the incredible performances engendered by theatre. In some ways, the effect was life changing for me, and that’s not just because I was cast into it.

This has to have been the most passionate, dialed in group of college students I have ever encountered. It seems to stem from the fact that they are doing what they love. Not at some distant point in time to be prepared for, but right now. The concept is so simple as to be extraordinary. Something to emulate. This collective passion, and absolute thrill in doing what they love, also has produced a tremendous chemistry between the cast members that is evident both on stage and off. This is absolutely what I am after in life, and in community. To be reminded of this on stage, at a time when I am sort of standing in the middle of the road wondering where I am supposed to go next, was beyond marvelous.

They concluded the production, which included numerous stories from people far more interesting than myself, with the paragraph below. It is from my blog post about journeying to Whiteside Island , dramatized in One River:

I poured a lot of myself into understanding, and into actually entering this one little portion of the Story. Without a sense of place, there is no story. Without a story, there is no sense of place. Wherever you live, I urge you to enter into that story. Delight in sharing it with others. Become part of it. Help to shape it as even now the story is being passed along to the next generation. It’s always in motion. Rather than fight the current, perhaps use it to help shape the contours of a narrative continually in the process of being written, even at this very moment…

Actually seeing the process of entering into the story, dramatized on stage, mere feet away from me, could have absolutely brought me to tears. This is the direction I must take.

Thank you so much, cast of One River, and to Tom Isbell for writing it. Tom, the playwright, took an incredible risk in taking on such a project. Frankly, I think he was crazy. The whole idea was ridiculous. The One River, Many Stories project lacked any structure, form, or rules. It was complete anarchy, as storytellers and journalists went around and did their thing. What a mess to have to sift through, and make cohesive!

Wherever you live, go see a play. It just might change your life. Become immersed in local stories and storytelling. Far too many of us are Amusing Ourselves to Death through an engorgement of corporate entertainment and media that lacks any root or attachment to place.

One River has five showings remaining at UMD, running each evening from October 4th – 8th. Secure your tickets here.