Thursday, July 25, 2013

Makin' it up as I Go Along

Building the deck on the guesthouse in El Morro, New Mexico this summer has pushed the envelope of my physical strength and carpentry skills past the edge and into new territory. I don't know how to do half of what I am trying to do; my elbow, back, neck, wrist, and shoulder throb, waking me up. I have not done this before. I have spent my work life teaching, not wood working.

But the pieces are coming together in spite of myself. Sure, there are the mistakes: the missed measurements, the broken finger nail, the ugly joint. But time and contact and persistence lead to progress.

Some of the boards even line up -- square, plumb, and level.

It is not totally my doing, even though I am sawing the wood and hammering the nails. The results are out of my control. I just show up and put in time and effort. The product is something that comes to me from an ongoing surprise called the future. Sometimes it delivers things I like. Other times ... well, you know what hits the fan.

Moving forward into all this unknown territory scares and excites me. The steps into the future also scare and excite me. I don't know where I am going, where I will live, what I will do for a livelihood, how to handle conflicting emotions, what steps to take. Part of this uncharted future is what I do for a living. As a teacher, I am asked to take on more responsibility, more tasks, handle more students, and do it all without the perks of a real office, tenure, or pay increase. My workload has increased while the number of colleagues has decreased by over half. My job has become an ongoing humiliation of doing "more with less."

The lack of administrative support is just part of a general decline in social support of education. I hate to say it, but I take this personally, and have become discouraged, demoralized even. I am weary of responsibility and "all that caring," as Stanley Kunitz says in his poem "The Long Boat."

I guess this is part of what people call a mid life crisis, rushing emotions that precede the final descent into old age. I feel love -- love of my students, of the need to learn to think and to communicate effectively. I feel fear -- fear that learning to think has been replaced by an education of memorizing facts, facts that are obsolete the day after the test is taken. The brave new world looks menacing, and dangerous, even though I know it is also filled with potential.

I  admit that I am out of control. I need time to think but time is short and I need to act without knowing what, exactly, to do. I am not ready to surrender all the delights of this lovely planet, this gift of a life. But something has to change, to die, to attain the renewal I seek, I need.

I don't possess the knowledge or experience to guide me as the work progresses. I do have some strength and trust. That seems to serve me better anyway. There are forks in the road: the heart calls from one; duty and commitments call from the other. Momentum of old ways fails to provide what I need.

Change confronts me. I am in a dilemma. Do what I need to do to feel alive or stay comfortable but dead in old ways of doing things? Those old ways no longer answer the questions I need to answer or provide insight into what I want to do. Each option carries a benefit and a cost. There is no certainty of reward waiting behind either horn of this dilemma.

The weather here in July is unstable. There are storms inside and out. Summer winds will end soon and I hope I have what I need to cope with the stresses of work, family, bills -- all those necessities. I will have to face the demons and fears as the school year begins, as I once again engage with the grinding inevitability of how my life will progress. I don't know if I have the courage to leave that which no longer sustains.

Where I will end up or what I will be doing remains a puzzle yet to be solved. I can't see ahead, but I know I need to show up, put in the time, act with integrity and passion and the results will follow. It is hard not to worry, just a bit, about the consequences of change. That makes me feel old.

It aint over yet and there is no map for where I will go. Joy and suffering converge in an open, broken, grateful beating heart.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"It Looks Bad," He Said. "Real Bad."*

The Ramah Navajo Reservation blends a mix of people into a strange salad of human types. There are the Navajo, of course, and they outnumber everyone else, but in the checkerboard of land ownership, there are ranchers, hippies, artists, rednecks, drifters, misfits, eccentrics, mountain lions, bears, bobcats, and wolves, though the wolves are behind a fence out in Candy Kitchen (animals are people too, in my book). Candy Kitchen was named for the bootlegged white lightning that was distilled there during Prohibition.

All of us here like to wave discreetly at each other when we pass on the highway. We don't cotton well to any lack of civility.

There are also the Mormons. They live mainly in the town of Ramah, where my car rests next to a wood-burning, gasified 1972 Chevrolet S-10 pick-up truck. Yes, this truck runs on wood, about a pound of wood per 3 miles or so of real motorized movement. That is much better than my fancy Japanese, all-wheel-drive, 2.5 liter horizontally opposed four cylinder Boxer engine speed machine. It is beneath a large cottonwood with the hood up  enjoying the stiff sweet breeze and enduring the scrutiny of Jodie, the head mechanic and owner of the shop, and a couple of Zuni guys, Mike and Frank. They are all shaking their heads.

I roll up on my skinny tired road bike, exhausted from fighting the wind. They are not impressed. Mike and Frank walk over to the shop to let Jodie give me the bad news.

"It's bad. Real bad."

He lets that soak in.

Then he says "We took off the valve covers and found aluminum shavings all through the oil system."

He looks at me like a patient parent explaining that a beloved pet has died.

"You're going to need a new engine."

The spear penetrates fully into my heart before it twists to let the blood and viscera poor onto the New Mexico dust. My beloved car has died and will not move from this place unless I sacrifice (again) my financial viability to have transportation. I want to rail against Fuji Industries, my fate, God, the universe, my lack of sleep, and sore butt. It just isn't fair.

Oh well. Oh hell. I suck it up. I now need to find a phone or WiFi or some way to search the Cosmos for a 2002 Subaru Outback engine -- the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, the Rosetta Stone of my next couple of days.

My quest begins.

* A nod to Raymond Carver and his Poem "What the Doctor Told Me."

(To be continued....)