Friday, September 4, 2009

Waste Not, Read A Lot

My new slogan. I am an official employee of Half-Price Books in Roseville. Finally--employment, and not just of the boring kind. I get to spend my days around books, movies, and fun interesting folk. It was my first day today so my optimism is at peak levels.

My beginnings have finally arrived.

I am sitting in what will eventually become the sewing/craft/writing room of my new home: 339 2nd st, northeast minneapolis. For now it is full of boxes of pottery and some computer cords. The place is taking shape though. Our things are slowly filling the nooks and corners of these rooms. Jillian's herbs are in the garden. The smells of our baking come through the many windows. The boxes are flattened and sitting in a pile on our porch. In just a weeks time this place has become home. It is funny to think that just a few mugs on a shelf, your favorite pillow on the couch, a portrait nailed to a wall can transform nothing-ness into something-ness.

And what will this place be in a few months, as we add more of those somethings to these nothings.

We will wait and see.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

This Is Water.

I've been drawn to lakes as of late. I went and swam by myself the other day. It was a part-cloudly type of day with a wind that created the tiniest of waves. Enough of a force to make me fight a little hard, carving my hands into the gray water that splashed my eyes loosening my contacts. The shore in the distance slightly blurred. Only patches of warmth and sun. Back and forth, stroke by stroke.

But the water felt so nice. The fatigue afterward was satisfying. Collapsing on my small blue towel, now turning a shade of brown from all the sand of the summer. Lying there watching the tiny beads of water on my shoulders disappear. I couldn't help but notice that most people around me were alone. Reading books, curling into naps. I tend to notice those who are alone when I myself am alone. A type of solidarity I guess. Maybe there is no connection. Maybe that day I was just being more perceptive. More aware of my surroundings.

This summer has been free of a lot of distractions. I've had time to think, time to read, time to be...time to swim. This has all been good. It was necessary. But it is already August. Traditionally, this would be the countdown. One month starts. But can there be a countdown with nothing to count down to?

I'm kind of tired of this freedom. But maybe I'm also tired of countdowns altogether. Maybe I'm also tired of worrying and waiting, and more keen on just being.

Maybe what I need is to remind myself, this is water.

here are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"


It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over: 'This is water.'

Friday, July 24, 2009


These are the lyrics to (what may be) my favorite Over the Rhine song, that did in fact inspire the title of this very blog. I wanted to share them with you all.

Etcetera Whatever
Don't speak.

Words come out your eyes.
You're wet with this nightmare.
Like thorns you hold these secrets to your breast,
your slender fingers closing into fists.

Trace your bruise
like a guilty streak.
Hold the pain.
You're a connoisseur.
You think you have no other gift to give,
but we have so much left to live.

We don't need a lot of money.
We'll be sleeping on the beach,
keeping oceans within reach.
(Whatever private oceans we can conjure up for free.)
I will stumble there with you
and you'll be laughing close with me,
trying not to make a scene
etcetera. Whatever. I guess all I really mean

is we're gonna be alright.
Yeah, we're gonna be alright.
You can close your eyes tonight,
'cause we're gonna be alright.

So come on now,
I can almost see
that place
on a distant shore.
And courage is a weapon we must use
to find some life you can't refuse.

We don't need a lot of money.
We'll be sleeping on the beach,
keeping oceans within reach.
(Whatever private oceans we can conjure up for free.)
I will stumble there with you
and you'll be laughing close with me,
trying not to make a scene
etcetera. Whatever. I guess all I really mean

is we're gonna be alright.
Yeah, we're gonna be alright.
You can close your eyes tonight,
'cause we're gonna be alright.
All that I can see is your eyes.
Close your eyes.
Close your eyes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


If I could choose a profession that would be the farthest away from my chosen field of dusty books and typewriter keys, I would embark upon the world of lab coats and complicated machines and study that three pounds of nebulous material above our eyebrows we call the brain. Not that I don't already spend enough of my time noggering over my noggin, but this would be a different approach.

I secretly wish Lacuna, Inc. existed. If so, I would apply.

Sitting in our living room today, Anne and I watched as thunder clouds rolled in and the street was pelted with a fierce diagonal sheet of rain. The burst of lightning, rumbles, and rain drops came and went in a brief interlude. The sun returned with full force deepening the rich blues of the rain clouds that had made their way across the sky. Those images conjured in our memories the sights, smells, sounds, feelings of earlier storms prompting a moment of sharing similar events of our childhoods tucked into the recesses of our mind. Anne described the colors of the trees in her backyard during a storm. I explained the tension I felt huddled underneath my grandma's shawl in the front seat of our suburban surrounded by ominous clouds harboring tornadoes.

Image after image appearing in the forefront of my mind. Puddles jumped in. Skies black and velvety, putrid green, and gauntly gray. Where did they come from and how did they get there. Dragged out of boxes and over-stuffed file cabinets by little elves? hardly.

Memory is such a fascinating thing. Painful and playful, joyful and sorrowful. Every image or experience stamped, cataloged, shelved somewhere up(?) there. Drawn out by a familiar sound, smell, touch, taste.

I read an article last year in NY times about science's new breakthroughs into memory. Technology, like Lacuna Inc.'s weird ticking machines, is becoming more of a present reality. Not just some figment of Michael Gondry's imagination. Memory tracking could be a possibility--the power that would give us could be endless, and frankly dangerous. The article talked about science as being "behind the times" when it comes to the study of the mind. After all, literature, art and music have been mapping, probing, poking and pondering upon the matter between our ears for centuries. Science is just beginning to stick their tools and technologies into a place long studied by words, paint brushes, and composers' keys. And they haven't found answers to those questions. So hardly seems probable that a technology or a science's tool will do the trick.

Those images whether they haunt or illuminate the mind's eye will be endlessly wrestled with by method or melody--tool or type key.

I think I'll stick to words. Lab coats don't suit me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day

I have a confession to make, that may surprise some of you.

I used to listen to country music. And I wasn't just the occasional listener either. When we were in the car and my dad would turn on the radio in a matter of seconds I could name the artist and the song and start singing along in that high-pitched, off-tune way young kids do. I blame this partly on my roots. Growing up in Northwest Iowa, the only stations you had to choose from were light fm (hits from the 80s, 90s and today!) or country. I don't know what it is about the Midwest and country music, but we can't seem to resist the twang and narrative lyrics about life on the farm, dead pets, and lost loves. I sure fell for it.

My early collection of compact discs contained mostly female country crooners with names like Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McIntire, and Pam Tillis. As a family we listened to a lot of Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn (Boot Scootin' Boogie anyone?), Alabama, and Tim McGraw.

Don't worry, I didn't wear a cowboy hat or shirts with tassles. I wasn't that country. But I did know those songs by heart, and to this day can still belt the lyrics (in a slightly less off-tune manner).

The reason I bring up this nugget of nostalgia, is because yesterday for the fourth I took a trip out of the city to the country-stationed lands of northwestern Minnesota with my friend Kirsten and her friend Natalie. The whole experience reminded me of the small towns and rolling fields of my youth. Fourth of July celebrations with the family at some crowded park with neighbors and bbq and the staple: country music

Our reason for leaving the cities and heading out west (to Avon to be exact) wasn't completely random. Garrison Kiellor was broadcasting his show A Prairie Home Companion live from the edge of the Lake Wobegon Trail in Avon's city park. We arrived at what we thought was a decent enough time, 4 P.M. to a city crawling with NPR fans that made the pilgrimage from the cities in their nice sedans and hybrids. Cops on horses (not kidding) directed traffic to the tiny city center park.

We found an open spot to park our car next to the post office and joined the crowds carrying coolers and lawn chairs cutting across front lawns to make it to the stage. Kirsten steered us toward the front which probably wasn't the smartest idea. A woman with a clipboard gruffily told us to "Find a seat that way" and pointed at a tiny stitch of grass carved out between the rows of people. An "aisle", sort of.

People were packed in lawn chair to lawn chair shaded by umbrellas and playing cards to pass the hours they had apparently sat there to listen to Garrison Keillor. Not being an avid PHC listener I was shocked at the size of the crowd. We tripped and stumbled through the crowds and finally found a spot in the back near the vendors. We immediately dug into our late lunch and tried to shield ourselves under the umbrella of the family in front of us.

The show was amusing. Lots of local talent and Garrison Keillor in a red tie, camel suit coat, and blue jeans bouncing around the stage conducting the band and sharing the local news of Wobegon.Around 7 the broadcast ended and the crowds departed in droves down the small streets. We missed out on Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie but heard promise of a place 10 miles up the road called Charlie's Cafe with famous pies. We decided it was a good option, considering how backed up 94 east would be with the masses headed back to Minneapolis. Avon's police department apparently was short of help because it took us at least 20 minutes to go four blocks.

We made it to Charlies an hour before they closed. Charlie's Cafe is in Freeport, Minnesota. The only thing putting Freeport on the map is Charlie's. Upon exiting a large arrow painted on the side of someone's house points you in the direction of famous Charlie's 1 block away. The sign for the cafe itself towered above the rest in bright gold and red lettering, making the place look top heavy. The small cafe seemed crushed under the weight of the sign.

For all this pomp, I was expecting some darn good pie. Unfortunately so was everyone else that had been at Avon. The three of us crammed into a two-boother and our waitress, who looked a little frayed at the ends, informed us that they were "out of pie." Three words I am sure she had been repeating for the last hour to loads of hungry customers. I left her a nice tip at the end.

A stroke of spontaneous good luck did come our way though. I remembered that our other friend, Karina, lived close to this area and called her up to see if she was home-- and she was! Kirsten scribbled down some cryptic directions, full of mostly landmarks instead of street names. (pass through a small town, St. Rosa--population 74, see a red school brick house on your right, take a left by church etc.)

We drove out to her farm, windows down. I felt at home among the gravel roads, rows of corn, brick silos, and that familiar hog smell I know so well from Iowa. We took a "tour" of Karina's farm. Posing for photos with the cows and waiting for the sun to go down so we could see some fireworks.

Karina's aunt and uncle lived on a lake close by so we drove out there to sit on their dock, dip our feet in the water and watch the neighbors put on a series of amateur firework displays. The whistles and claps and the occasional "yeah baby" echoed across the lake as everyone watched the show.

It was a great ending for our impromptu trip. After a series of grand finales and the bugs growing thicker, we drove back on the dark curved roads to the cities, tuning the radio to one of several country stations. I sang along to the words of one of those familiar songs from my childhood: Independence Day by Martina McBride. The words I haven't forgotten.

Let freedom ring, Let the white dove sing, Let the whole world know that today is the day of a reckoning, Let the weak be strong, Let the right be wrong, Roll the stone away, Let the guilty pay, It's Independence Day

Thursday, July 2, 2009


I'm feeling full. And not in the belly-busting-big-meal kind of way. These past two days have seen more activity than my whole summer up until now (a day trip to Duluth, dinner with Kooistras, an impromptu job interview etc. etc. etc.)

But it isn't just activity.

I'm full of anticipation for a job...for a home...for roots in this place

I'm full of anxiety over troubled circumstances...questions of uncertain future

I'm full of joy for new friendships...simple surprises (such as beans on toast)

I'm full....
with plenty to think about
and so little to say

Friday, June 26, 2009


We went to the beach today, Stephanie and I. Our Wallace and Pushkin needed a little sun. A slightly wrong turn got us a little lost, but we arrived at a much quieter beach than we intended, with no lifeguard which meant freedom to swim out past the buoys. We shared the sand with a few nannies and their kids who fished in the sea weeded parts of the lake.

We floated. Swam out past the buoys and laid back against the still water. Little tufts of cotton floated past in the blue blue sky. Suspended for a moment--cut off from your surroundings, the only thing you are aware of is your own breathing and the emptiness below you.

A swim back to shore, some cold crescent moon pizza, a few more pages read of Jest and we're back at 1300. My skin smells like lake and sunscreen.

My copy of Jest now has sand stuck in the creases between pages, when I open it I can hear the faintest crunch.