Category Archives: Life
My brother gave me a 55 gallon drum last summer. He made an excellent compost bin with one, it hangs sideways between two posts and spins so you don’t have to stir, then dumps right into a wheel barrel. I’m making a rain barrel out of mine. To do that, it took me a year to break down and install gutters. That’s what I did this past weekend. Today I’m building an outdoor kitchen sink to run from the back side of the barrel. It’s similar to what some friends have in Mexico.
So far this spring, my house projects have mostly involved twisting the monkey off my back: the utility company. We’ve put up a laundry line, built window screens, hung screen doors, and now we’ve got this waterworks system. The utility meter reader guy came by Friday while I was on the ladder. I said, “Suck it, man.”
No, of course I didn’t.
We’ve spent $551 since June of last year on utilities. It’s depressing how many CDs one has to sell to come up with that number (I don’t think I ever have). Cutting wastewater will help the cost. It’s really the ugliest one, tucked in there on top of the water bill. They charge you to bring it, charge you to take it. No matter if you drank some or poured it on a flower.
Last winter we were very cold, and in the summer we lit the house with lightning bugs. We’re working on improvements. On Grace Acres Farm in Virginia, transitioning from Harlem, every morning we opened the chicken coup, fed the goats, watered the cows, and tended the large garden. My in-laws were on a motorcycle trip cross-country and knew Ashley and I could use a farmhouse in our life. After the inner city lollypop adventure.
I found Rebekah’s copy of Thoreau’s Walden and came to his illustration of the Indian basket maker. It resonated. Thoreau says, and I paraphrase:
“the Indian basket maker, who believed that crafting beautiful baskets was his greatest life ambition, decided that if he could not sell enough baskets to make a living, he would busy himself by creating a different style of living that did not require he sell as many of them.”
In the basement of the house at Grace Acres I recorded “New York City Spanks Levon Walker.” It was very fresh on my mind. Maybe I’ve sold 100. It was on iTunes for a year and actually lost money. I was very disappointed with that.
There is always the problem of sustenance when you busy yourself with making something, and less with the selling. Songwriting is my craft, and I get a little sad when I have a new one and think forward to the people in a bar who I’m going to scream it into their collars.
If it made any sense, I’d live on this little piece of land and work the ground. In the evenings, I’d sing to it. In the mornings I’d write my blogs, or maybe a novel. Ashley could paint what she wants. Our kid could run around the yard and I’d have a camera nearby for when he/she did something astonishing.
To complete this utopia, I’d likely go away to work as a longshoreman in the South or on journalistic assignment to the U.S. border of Mexico. Then we’d have the cash on hand to pay for government deficit spending, student debt, insurance, and other pretty little baskets like Netflix.
I was finished there for the day, but now I’m not. My trouble with sales needs working out.
Trade can be a genuine exchange like buying tomatoes and eggs at the farmers market. Or it is like buying a product in its devised cycle from a manufacturer who has already planned a replacement, and buying it with a credit card to get the bonus points, and maybe tacking on a few more large ticket items to jump into a higher rebate category. I get the sweats about discussing my AT&T contract. The bank wants to start a “relationship.” They used to call consumption the “con” and it would kill you.
At one time I listened to Zig Ziglar incessantly. I was in financial services sales then and I needed a motivational talk for every appointment. Ziglar says, in so many words, that the salesman is the catalyst for the american way. He said this a long time ago, way before credit crisis was the american way, and he also talked as much about integrity as he did sales. I’m a Zig Ziglar fan, but somewhere I became extremely bitter towards selling. Probably all the stood up appointments, cancelled contracts, and pressure during the banking crisis to sell our way out of ruin (due to previous overselling). I starved in my suit and tie, it didn’t seem so scary to hang it up. I have tomatoes now, too.
I sold less than 100 CDs in a year because I feel so dumb asking for money for them. People have to insist, and insist at least twice. Am I fast talking someone’s inheritance into my IRA plan? No. Those CDs carry lifeblood. To say that they go for 5 bucks feels a little ridiculous, it’s more than a money issue. I’ve given away well over 1000. They are the manifestation of my gift, and a gift is not for sale. Well maybe it has to be, but I’m very bashful about it. It’s my paradox, and I’m going to start writing pop songs. Those can be for sale, but not very good at sales and that’s why I grow tomatoes.
That was my explanation behind the 2010 EP “Not sure how I’ll eat but I’m not picking peaches.” My new one is underway, “Hope for the things seen and unseen.” It has my best songs ever written and I’ll slip you one soon.
Tags: 55 gallon drum, american way, banking crisis, compost bin, con, consumption, credit crisis, hope for the seen and unseen, indian basket maker, installing rain gutters, kub, longshoreman, netflix, new york city spanks levon walker, not sure how Ill eat but im not picking peaches, rain barrel, thoreau, us border of mexico, utility meter reader, zig ziglar
They just left my house after doing a home appraisal. We got up early and scrubbed for hours. It was one year ago tomorrow that we moved back home.
I just sat here a very long time. It feels like I should recap or talk a lot. Nope, the insight is a short one: Explore deliberately and stick. Stick just as deliberately.
It’s a gritty place, on a 93 degree day last day of May, and my sweaty jeans lay heavy over the arm of a chair. New screens keep the bugs out.
Ashley is cleaning brushes and eating string cheese, about to go to sleep. There are onesies laying on my studio chair and a book, “Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What do you See?”
This is the most reckless, life out of the trunk, yellow stripe smash the dashboard adventure I need at the moment.
Don’t just stick deliberately, have the same expectancy to be amazed.
Tags: airstream, baby bear baby bear what do you see?, deliberation, dixie kitchen distributers, downtown north knoxville, expectancy, explore, holy smokin, home appraisal, knox tenn rentals, la dolce vita, old north knoxville, onesies, stick
Documenting some more. It was Thursday midday, Knoxville Tennessee. One of the first real scorchers. Men were setting up the stage for a Better Than Ezra concert tonight (woa oh). Ice cream and hot dogs were everywhere. Alexander was busking on his alto sax by Cafe Four. I stopped in Bliss Home to reshoot Ashley’s work.
I’ve been taking Ashley to work on my bike (she frowns at the word “haul”). In the cool morning she walks, but at 1:30 she hops on the rack of my ox cart. A pregnant lady shouldn’t be walking these East TN hills in the heat of the day. She should be on a bicycle rack, clasping her responsible partner. The car is sold now, and that has been interesting. One more week of school and no more bike rides for the three of us. She already exceeds 50 lbs and we expect it to continue. And let me tell you, the hills are a bitch.
Everything came to a head as I was looking through the Monday morning Craigslist ads. Browsing for old cars around $1,500: a downsize, a vessel, a hood I could raise and never be reminded of the computer in my cubicle, or my six year old Corolla.
There was a 1976 Datsun 610 station wagon, Tennessee Volunteer orange. Pure metal on the outside, hot cracked vinyl on the in. 4 speed with a new clutch. A dashboard of dusty electrical tape. I called. It was a man I could trust, a man I wanted to meet.
I biked from my office at the University of Tennessee to the library, where Ashley would be between her classes. Many a sales pitch have I prepared in a similar stance of passion: pedaling furiously and piecing my route. She would be excited and our lives forever changed. I wanted grease on my hands. We would make new fleeting memories, endured by great cost: of a 1976 Datsun station wagon. An orange so fluorescent. Panache of the days unseen since my father was a younger man than I.
Ashley was midway through a masters program in Education. Her unconventional idealism soared and stunk. A polarizing pupil, the academics of the university loved her zeal; the public school needed her to manage the classroom. With her physical stature like an eighth grader, it was difficult. She was a flower of naivete being ground in the bureaucratic system. I was waiting and hoping for a compromise that might work for her. I rested gently, having long ago made mine.
And so we had lived these last three years. Once before, we had been risky and a little premature. And still before that, five years before now, young newlyweds drowning in archetypes more similar to the present, although located somewhere in Western Kentucky.
With a new number in my phone and an address in Maryville, I made haste. Ashley wouldn’t understand what anything had to do with an old Datsun. I’ll explain it to you like I had to for her.
to be continued…
There wasn’t a clear moment when I decided I was ready to be a parent, as if it were something I needed to do, and “today is the day.” Instead, it happened more like this: your mother and I (which feels weird to say considering we only passed a pregnancy test yesterday) had made a lot of trips to Tazewell, VA. (so far in 2011 due to Uncle Eddie being in the hospital, then passing away, then the baby shower of your cousin Pearl, and then when Dana passed away).
These seem like inconsistent reasons for considering parenthood, but family is most important and we were taking a hard look at ours. We’d just returned from our second winter trip to Mexico, precluded by a different story of driving to the US border and back in five days, the result of another family circumstance involving your grandfather. (who doesn’t know about you as I write this, but has said he wanted the hypothetical you to call him Groove Pa). Rearing children seemed like crazy talk, but we were making a lot of it.
Once you get to know your mother and I a little better, you will understand why the final decision to be “ready or not” came as an impulsive push through much back and forth deliberation. We’ve had long conversations, some of them selfish, some of them principled, all of them anticipatory. I suppose we never decided the timing was perfect, but we finally became ready to hand time over to biology and fate.
Apologies dear child, I’m having a hard getting to the bottom of a good explanation. (I ramble often, and start too many thoughts). I want you to know the world as it is for your mother and I, in the days that barely precede you. On an afternoon drive through the Virginia mountains with your Groove Pa, the subject of children came up.
Your Groove Pa was a wild, young pro motorcross racer and started working in the mines to support your infant mother. I asked him if it was hard to put his racing dreams to the side and he said, “No, it felt good. Like I was doing something for my baby girl.” There is a similar story on my side, about my father and the dream of a farm in Western Kentucky.
Child, as I write this I don’t have much figured out. My triumphs have been quiet ones and my resources don’t make fatherhood look rational. I have the feeling that your upbringing will be an interesting one, and it is my belief that you will be an extraordinary person.
All I know about you is a plus sign on a test strip. They say you’ll have heart beat in a week or so. As you’re developing to begin your story, I’m going to tell you mine. And the one about the rest of our folks, as far back as I’ve heard told. You’ll need to know that, too.
Google predicts you will be here on December 14. That’s good, I can work with a deadline.
end of letter
I apologize for the period of silence. Ashley and I found out last week that we are pregnant. That becomes the only news, and there was nothing else I could get on here to say. I decided to share a piece of this letter to break the silence. I intend to make it a memoir of sorts, but really it’s just what you’ve read that exists.
Ashley and I are thrilled. Bewildered. I don’t know what else to say right now, except for baby names.
[ from a. addair who is listening to The Civil Wars (Barton Hollow) ]
I was listening to NPR the other day and heard David Orr, author of Beautiful and Pointless : A Guide to Modern Poetry consider the role that poetry plays in the wider world.
Here’s an excerpt from the NPR article:
“The final chapter of Orr’s book asks what might be the most important question: Why bother? Why read poetry at all?
And Orr has a rather surprising answer: ‘I don’t know that people ought to bother. I think that poetry is one of those choices you make in life that’s … it’s not really susceptible to reasoning or arguments…I think a better way to approach the question ‘why bother?’ is not to answer it — but rather just to say that if you do bother, it can be worthwhile.’”
His answer first shocked me and then I began to fancy it as delightfully simple and refreshing…and applicable to painting.
In his book, Orr writes, “For decades now, one of the poetry world’s favorite activities has been bemoaning its lost audience, then bemoaning the bemoaning, then bemoaning that bemoaning, until finally everyone shrugs and applies for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.”
1. I heart David Orr, isn’t he funny? 2.This reminds me of myself, bemoaning on a few too many occasions.
Recently I lead a discussion on the role of arts in spirituality. I think a large part of my motivation to participate in the class was because I wanted to help promote the gospel that says art (particularly visual art and even more narrowly painting) is vital to life.
Embarrassingly flimsy now that I think about it.
I’m not downright reversing the way I feel about art’s potential, but I am lightening up and laying off the zeal.
Probably, one can go through an entire lifetime without looking much or caring about painting and live a satisfying and whole existence. Fair enough. I can wear a black beret and not-too-tight-and-in-a-wad panties at the same time.
I think much of my intensity toward convincing others of the value of art comes from a bruised starving-artist ego. It desperately seeks validation: I’m not wasting my time right? Spending my whole day concerned about the quality of a line or how a shade of red responds to fuchsia is not frivolous right? Somebody, please confirm me; but if you won’t you just don’t get it. Snub. Snuffle. Bemoan.
Because the work of artists is often undermined, when we talk about the merit of what we do, it can get rather bristly.
I do believe it is incredibly essential for an artist to pursue the making of art because, at least for me, I delight in it and have come to depend upon it for processing and appreciating life. And I think it has the capacity to do these things for/in the viewer as well. Making and seeing art is important; it is a piece of the whole, but not supreme.
I’ve also been thinking about what Doug Banister from All Souls said about needing both structural and spiritual components for renewal.
So much of my recent journey has been about relaxing into what is already there and this moment is no exception. It is such a relief to rest in the realization that I possess only a little piece of a great big whole. There is more than one component for renewal and I can only give what I have, which is an important part, but not the every-part.
Tags: all souls, all things considered, Ashley Addair, barton hollow, beautiful and pointless, context, david orr, doug banister, hanging is only scary when you're small, NPR, paint objects, painting, poetry, red, renewal, spirituality, the civil wars, under-appreciated
I was just making fresh pesto for tonight’s Food For All. Pesto for twenty and it can’t be eaten yet, basil is precious right now.
Then I was staring at two extra garlic cloves, peeled and sitting in a bowl. My friend Edwin in Mexico taught me a trick. It’s too early to call a habit.
Bite the garlic and chase it with hot, black coffee.
It burned a lot less today than I remembered. I grabbed some fiery mustard and a jar of banana peppers (the fridge is rather well stocked with condiments right now). I ate a couple peppers and swigged coffee, reminiscing. Ashley can’t or won’t talk to me the rest of the day when I do this.
For the second clove, I buried it in mustard and threw it back like a grape. I reached for the coffee and chased. Slamming the fiesta ware on the formica, I exhaled fire. It stung my eyes. Then came tightness of the chest and the back of my neck began to sweat. Gosh I miss Edwin.
Then in a few seconds it passed. I am getting stronger.