27nov02 . . . .
thanksgiving's many faces
I'm ambivalent about Thanksgiving, though it's nice to have a big meal with friends,
whatever the occasion. However, the day after Thanksgiving is a holiday of sorts that
I always try to do something for: Buy Nothing Day.
Since I'm often away from home, this is particularly tricky. Also since this is one of the biggest
shopping days of the year in the US, this is also a bit of a challenge. For some reason, it seems easy to explain to people
that you are celebrating a holiday that involves massive amounts of excessive comsumption -- whether it is food, presents, TV watching -- but tougher to explain that you celebrate a non-religious, non-nationalistic holiday that is the opposite of this. People who would never challenge your religious beliefs have no problem at all making fun of you for just opting out of buying anything, one day out of the year.
I try to explain it like this: the less crap I buy that I don't need, the less I have to do work that I don't enjoy trying to pay for it, maintain it or replace it. This leaves more time to do work I do enjoy, make art that keeps me sane, and correspond with friends, family and strangers. This one day is just a way to track all the money that piddles out in dribs and drabs by not spending any of it. I promise I'll work on the GNP over the weekend.
23nov02 . . . .
The snow melted and our fierce snowcat turned into a drippy snowdevil. Then it got cold again and now it is a tallish snowblob in the driveway which winds up making me think that someone is in the yard when I come home at night.
We're playing the "eat all the food in the house" game in preparation for leaving in a few hours. Trying to remember what I have in Seattle and what I'll need is a challenge. Bring more wool socks or no? Bring cassette tapes or no? Bring extra books to read or no? My book reading has been accelerating so rapidly that planning an eight day trip now necessitates 8-10 books. I mean, you have to assume that you may not like a few of them, and maybe there's one you read before, and one might not be good plane reading, and maybe one is falling apart. Since the very last part of this trip is the five hour plane flight, and I have nightmares about being trapped on a plane with nothing to read and a chatty seatmate [which is almost, but not quite, as bad at spending any money at all in those icky airport bookstores and paying $7.50 for a three-hour paperback. I won't even buy gum in there, I pretend that airports take a foreign currency that I do not posess] I am erring on the side of caution. My bag is heavy.
We did finally get the word on the park ranger job, nearly two weeks after they said they'd call, and only because they were returning my call. We did not get the job. Sad, but who wants to work for lousy communicators anyhow? I have some pickup work in Seattle, starting 18 hours after I get back, doing some grading for the California achievements. It will be like I never left.
21nov02 . . . .
misty snowcat morning
There was an unreal fog when we woke up yesterday. The temperature had spiked to almost 40 degrees and the top layer of snow seemed to just be vaporizing, and the bottom layer was sticky. Greg and I went outside to mess around in the snow and made a snowcatmonster that we are inordinately proud of. We even employed our very basic knowledge of physics to get the super-heavy ball of snow atop the other super-heavy ball of snow. "Hey, we can build a ramp, just like the Egyptians!" Meanwhile, I live on the side of a highway, so people would just stare and stare as they drove past. Adults don't really play in the snow much in Vermont, at least not in my neck of the woods.
You may notice that this year's snowcatmonster is much bigger than the snowcatmonster of '99.
We had dinner at the truckstop and listened to the French-Canadian truckers all speaking Quebecois and then came home to a full moon lighting up the whole yard. Oddly, since the day was so foggy, parts of the landscape that were completely obscured in the light of day, now shone brightly under a moon brilliant enough to read by. I can never sleep well during the full moon so I spent some time walking around in the backyard, saying goodbye to the vast expanses of yard and trees and birds and bugs until mud season next year. I leave on Saturday, head to Seattle after Thanksgiving, and come back sometime in 2003.
18nov02 . . . .
We had a power outage
today, around 4:30 PM. The phone was also oddly out which meant that we needed to drive down to the post office to call the electric company
. On the way, Greg noticed that no one's power was on along the whole four mile route and sure enough, the post office had no electricity either. So, we figured the electric company knew there was trouble, we called the phone company
just to make sure they knew our line was out.
The good news is that even without electricity, we still have running water [gravity fed well], heat [woodstove], hot water [propane hot water tank], and a stovetop [propane]. We lit a bunch of candles, stoked the fire and watched our neighbor decide that a power outage was a good time for snowblowing. He had a bright flashlight, so all we could see out the window was this rooster-tail of lit up snow as he plowed out his driveway. We lay around on the couch, telling tales about the blizzard of aught-two and the power came back about ninety minutes later. About 6:30 the phone rang. It was Stevie from the phone company, just making sure the line was working okay now.
16nov02 . . . .
I've spent a lot of time on family stuff this week. This is actually the good news -- no deaths, no fights. Like many people my age, I sometimes find interacting with my family a little mystifying. I like most of them a great deal. However, while I tend to view a lot of my other interactions with people as wholly voluntary, having a whole class of people who I am going through life with no matter what is odd for me. You do not have to tell me that this is because I am a control freak. Or that I am weird. I know this. It's not them, it's mostly me.
My aunt is one of the family genealogists. When my grandmother died last month, my aunt showed me the family trees that she has made up, tracing our family back eleven generations to Edward West born in New Hampshire in 1638. Very strangely, six generations later, Gilman West somehow made it from New Hampshire to Vermont, where he was buried in 1806, not 20 miles from where I now live. Keep in mind that I did not grow up here, I moved here -- some 150 miles from my childhood home -- after college.
So, with my interest piqued, Greg and I undertook a Wells River cemetery crawl on Wednesday, looking for family. Going to the little libraries nets you xeroxed pieces of paper containing maps to all the local cemeteries specifically for nuts like me, telling you what their date ranges are and what sort of condition they're in. Older towns have many cemeteries. Wells River has four, three of which we found [one of which was 16 busted up gravestones in the woods someplace, we never found it]. Most of them are up dirt roads, in people's backyards, or by the sites of what used to be churches. We saw a lot of grave sites of Revolutionary War veterans, with flowery script and those little skulls on the top of them. We saw lots of burial sites of dead children, adorned with little lambs or birds; many graves of second and third wives, all buried next to each other in the family plot. We saw the gravesite of "Old Joe, the friendly Indian guide" and a lot of great old given names, Jabez being my favorite of all.
We never did turn up Gilman West. He may be in the cemetery in the woods, his name may have been obscured by lichen, or he may be in a poorly marked grave, or someplace entirely different. Now that I'm on the trail though, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled as we drive on the back country roads here. Genealogy websites can be kind of odd sometimes, it's been fun trying to puzzle my way through them. Two other neat family things this week: my cousin's advice column and my "cousin's" [some sort of second or third cousin] charity roast.
13nov02 . . . .
Yesterday was a day of small epiphanies all around. Greg got his LSAT scores back and did well. I finally called some new roofers to fix a persistent leak and a flapping on the barn roof that is quite disquieting. And, the publishers did the right thing and picked one of my images
for the cover of the book, making me a graphic designer as well as a librarian, editor, and certifiable pain the ass. For reference, the original image can be seen here
, you can probably see why there was so much urgency to replace it. Of course once the decision was made, I needed to drive almost an hour into Montpelier to upload the 70MB Photoshop file at something quicker than 44k. It was just barely speedier than fedexing it.
Once that all got through -- and I had stopped shaking at how narrowly we had averted diaster -- we went to Montpelier's State House for a tribute to Hayden Carruth, the poet I had mentioned a few days back. There was something really heartwarming about seeing all of Vermont's old school poets and hippies and literary types sitting in the Senate chambers -- of the only state whose entire congressional complement voted against the war in Iraq -- and listening to Carruth's poems about war and cows and night time and jazz. They told a lot of stories about Carruth -- who was there, though not in good health -- but one that I missed was how he turned down an inviation to speak at the White House:
"This is to acknowledge your invitation to attend a 'Millennium Evening' at the White House in celebration of American poetry on the evening of April 22 (1998). Thank you for thinking of me. However, it would seem the greatest hypocrisy for an honest American poet to be present on such an occasion at the seat of the power which has not only neglected but abused the interests of poets and their readers continually, to say nothing of many other administratively dispensable segments of the population. Consequently, I must decline."
11nov02 . . . .
my illustrious career
"I just feel bad because I can't call that lady from the New York Times back..."
"Sweetie, you can't get in touch with her because you're at Yale giving a talk, chill out."
Yeah so I was busy. More to the point, I was ridiculously stressed out. I gave a talk to the librarians of Yale [some of them] about the Third Wave of radical librarianship and how we need to get over the image problem and replace it with more positive activism about why libraries are -- or should be -- an essential service in this country. I think it went okay. People asked some good questions, no one snored. I was so nervous I honestly don't even remember doing it. I led off with something about how librarian jokes aren't funny [they're really not] and went from there. What do I tell people about it...? "they put us up in a hotel!"
Speaking somewhat of books, I learned one of my favorite new words this week, one that will be almost impossible to use in conversation. The word is xylothek and the concept requires explanation. Back when nature occupied more of our daily lives, keeping track of it and identifying it was more important and more complicated than it is now. The xylothek is a way of keeping track of wood.
A xylothek is generally speaking a collection of simple pieces of wood specimens placed together in some kind of cupboard. In a refined form it is in the shape of "books" where you can find details from the tree inside, everything arranged as a "library". This latter form flourished in Germany around 1790-1810.
Meanwhile, in my crazy digital world, our publisher sent us a proposed book cover which included fireworks, a screaming head, and text that went in a circle. We, naturally, balked. They gave us a few days to come up with our own ideas. These are the ones I made. Perhaps I am in the wrong profession.
04nov02 . . . .
The movie list of all the films I saw is now online
. Most were good, many stayed with me for quite some time. Only one I forgot, and that was only because it was a lot like another one. The whole weekend of movies was $35, putting it high on my Super Deals in Vermont list.
Today in the mail I got a whole stack of one cent postcards I got off Ebay [I have broken my never-buy-from-Ebay rule only to allow unused stamps and postcards], and a copy of an article that I'm in from the Utne Reader [Revolution at the Reference Desk] as well as one from Punk Planet [Liberating Information] that I enjoy a lot. Neither are available online, but Punk Planet may even be worth buying, and the Utne Reader is available in fine libraries everywhere.
The snowplow just went by. It has been snowing since I woke up. It's so nice to not have anyplace in particular to go.
02nov02 . . . .
day of the dead and partly dead and soon to be dead
I've been in a poetic mood lately. The changing of the
seasons sort of does it to me. It was just turning into Autumn recently
and tonight it got dark before 5 and it's eighteen degrees outside. Greg
and I went on a nice long romp of Northwestern Vermont and drove someplace
near the world's
oldest coral reef
[never actually saw it] and peeked in the windows of
one of the oldest log cabins
in the US [it was closed, and resides appropriately enough in a high school parking lot currently]. We're home for a few days before we go down to New Haven and I give a talk at Yale about why librarians have no sense of humor, or something like that.
I've been reading a lot of good poetry lately, and while I thought that a poem a day seemed like an attainable worthwhile goal, it's been done before and my poetry choices are largely pedantic and political and would likely drive everyone crazy. So here's a poem for today and there may be more later. Hayden Carruth is a favorite of Wendell Berry [though not this man's favorite] and I was delighted to find that he'll be speaking in town here next week.
On Being Asked To Write A Poem Against
The War In Vietnam
Well I have and in fact
more than one and I'll
tell you this too
I wrote one against
Algeria that nightmare
and another against
Korea and another
against the one
I was in
and I don't remember
how many against
when I was a boy
Abyssinia Spain and
and not one
breath was restored
mans womans or childs
not one not
but death went on and on
never looking aside
except now and then
with a furtive half-smile
to make sure I was noticing.