Monday, August 31, 2015

Gift Horse

Simone, the cat, likes to announce her success hunting kangaroo rats by bringing them to the bed in the middle of the night. She has to vocalize out the side of her full mouth. Rrroow. Rrroow.

Thanks Simone.

I pat the bed stand in search of a head lamp, knocking off reading glasses and pens. When I find it, strap it on, and shine some light, there she is, eyes glowing, kangaroo rat drooping in her jaws.


Aye. I try not to wake Megan when I coax Simone off the bed and out into the living area or kitchen where I can try to get her to drop her prize, catch it myself, and toss it back into the wild desert.

She then looks at me like I am a lunatic before she lies down and plans her next foray. I close the cat door to prevent more sleep depriving suprises.

Such is the pattern of my life: a cat that wakes me up, a job that puts me to sleep, an old house with swamp cooling that is so hot at night I soak the sheets with sweat, money that is never enough, a brain that gets dizzy, feels lost, and refuses to focus.

Simone loves me in spite of it all. She rubs her head on my sweaty bike jerseys.

She stretches out her front paws to say adios when I leave on Monday mornings to go to work. She says hurry back so we can hang out after you feed me.

She doesn't care that sleep, money, time, brain are all in short supply. She doesn't care that I feel pressed to respond and have to leave my brooding thoughts behind to join the day, do my part, make my daily bread.

Part of me, as you might guess, does not like having to do this. In fact, that part of me hates it, is angry, wants to be left alone, and, sometimes, even wants out. This life is just too freakin' complicated and miserable.

The better part of me, the one who loves my cat, my swamp cooler, my poverty, my confusion, knows that this a good life. It comes in the form of a cat that says "Let's eat rodents!" which is her way of saying "Lighten up!"

I want to look this life in the mouth and say that the dentition is far from perfect and that I reject such a sorry premise for an existence. But that is bad form when one is given a gift.

So, once again, here I am at the crossroads of another Monday. Down one fork lies the litany of all that is wrong; down the other lies the abundance of surprise, delight, pathetic humor.

Come on brain, help me out here. That horse is waiting. The prize wants to be held close. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living the Dream. Still.

Outside the street's on fire/ in a real death waltz/ between what's flesh and what's fantasy/ and the poets down here/ don't write nothing at all./ They just stand back and let it all be. -- Bruce Springsteen

It happened in high school. Ms. Norem, my junior English teacher passed out some spiral notebooks (schools used to provide materials back then) and told us we would spend an entire semester writing in those journals. We would then take some of what we had written and revise it into essays that would be graded. I think we did a narrative, a report, and an argument. What we wrote about was up to us.

In current parlance, I was, "Like.... What!? I don't know what to write."

"The whole semester?? No Way."

So it began. I and the other students filled the days writing in our journals while the radio played in the background. I can still hear lyrics of popular songs  -- "I can see clearly now. The rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way....". Periodically, Ms. N. would call us up to her desk to discuss what we had written. She also collected and read the journals just to keep us accountable. And she counted pages. I think was part of our grade too -- just pages. She made only reader response type comments on the journals. She wrote in the margins things like "Sounds like you had a wonderful time sledding out at the State Park," or "I like this line about how some music makes you see things in your mind."

I was hooked. I began keeping a journal at sixteen and haven't yet let up. That was 43 years ago.

Keeping a journal has been on the constants of my life. I have searched for and found answers to problems and questions I had. I have recorded days that were bliss and days that dragged me through personal hells. Anything was fair game. Most of the writing was bad, meant only for my eyes. But all of it helped me to find out who I was at any given point.

As an introvert, I like talking to myself to figure things out. I don't find much wisdom in the thoughts of many, nor am I all that wise. But I do trust myself to ask the hard questions, the ones no one else seems to want to hear. The journal has been the repository for those questions.

For better or worse, writing has become the most valuable aspect of my life, beside my family.

That class, and others that followed in college and beyond, set me on a course to be a writer, a writer at all costs. Write or die. I was ruined. 

But where has all this magical eros led me?

It resulted in my becoming a fair to middling writer and a reluctant teacher. Reluctant because I am so painfully introverted that being in front of people feels like my skin is being peeled off.

I have been what is called an expressivist teacher, one who values aesthetic, "creative" writing. This is very out of style these days, if not vaguely indecent and stigmatized.

Current theories of teaching maintain that "writing is a social act," and that phrase is said with the unshakeable conviction of the zealot. There is no questioning or qualification or counterpoint.

That's the deal, and the implications are that student identity, feelings, self-reflection, choice, interest, worldview, path to greater humanity, finding a thread of meaning in an otherwise chaotic life, are either off-limits or exceedingly peripheral to learning to write.

Much more important are the highly abstract elements of audience, purpose, genre, rhetorical situation and how all of these show up in what is called "expository writing," writing that asks little overt participation of the writer as a living, subjective voice.

You could say we are at odds, this brave new world and I. You would be right. So what is a lost, out-dated, vintage misfit to do?

Go back to basics, I say.

Bottom line is writing. Writing. What I want to work on. All else seems superfluous. I need to get this stuff straight in my head. That means reading more, going to poetry events, joining workshops, sending stuff out, getting shit published. And deciding on what to write (it has to have some action, some interest, some kind of thread and tension.) What is that? Possibilities: Literacy story, prison journals, spiritual stuff, romance frustration, loss, unrequited love, ordinary shit about life and place, make something up, what is the line?

Maybe it's time to leave the work world and to lock myself in a room and see what happens. Make writing the priority. Make finding/listening to what it is you are supposed to write a part of your daily business.Put down your thoughts. Straighten them out and do some research. Work with your talents. Commit. Focus. Sustain. Stay on task. Manage your anger. Deal with the energy that creativity produces.

But in the meantime, I have classes to meet, obligations to fulfill. I have a contract.

I will do my best to make good on that, but the brain, she does not want to go there. She is a wild and unruly beast of a heart throb.

Gull dang it. What does one do with a brain that won't listen to reason?

Dream on, dude. Dream on.

That and hit the streets, the angry beautiful places, the prison. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Making the Victim the Enemy: Composing the Migrant Narrative

They are coming. If we believe the fear mongers, they are dangerous, criminal, threatening, poor, hungry, desperate. And they are brown, black, yellow, and red. Demagogues like Donald Trump and Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban make political hay by vilifying them. The stories create a terrifying "Other" that becomes the scapegoat for social problems, and the First World plays the privilege card of innocence, surprise. "It's not my problem," we say. We look for a story to make us blameless and comfortable, victims of forces beyond our control. 

But the refugees and migrants keep pouring into the First World from Syria, Mexico, the continents of Asia and Africa. They are everything those with privilege fear. They are not going away. the story fails to explain why they keep coming. Other narratives may provide better answers, lead to longer-term responses and solutions.

Heres is one: We, in some ways, have made them. The global economy, with its structures of distribution, strips the poor of wealth and deposits it in the pockets of the elite. Income distributions have grown from absurd to obscene. To maintain inequity takes force, martial control. Tolerance and support of dictators that help preserve the status quo creates heavily armed tyrants that eventually turn to bite the hand that feeds.

We trained and armed Bin Ladin and the seeds of Al Qaeda when they fought the Soviets. We propped up the Shah. We overthrew Allende.

Yup, what goes around, comes around. And now ISIL has grown out of the chaos we have helped shape. No one can condone what the so-called Islamic State does, but they come from somewhere, are the product of structures and systems that the powerful First World has but in place. If one follows the money, why things are the way they are begins to emerge. The bottom line sleeps with the most blood-thirsty of regimes.

The First World in its need to concentrate wealth at the top has pulled the life sustaining rug from beneath the refugees and migrants who now want in. Many are fleeing for their lives. Migrating was not a choice. It was either die or move. And there is more. We humans always want more. They want in for work, education, shelter, for productive, human lives. They have nothing to lose, everything to gain. 

The first world narrative that paints them as criminals, terrorists, job thieves, illegals, and moochers fails to situate migrants in history.  Narrative composing machinery that fans the flames of bigotry and racism by demonizing the migrants,  that plays innocent of any context or role in the causes of migration, will not result in effective action. It doesn't get at the root, the causes, the bigger, more complex (and less marketable) context. It doesn't connect the dots, or trace history back to the front door of Europe and America. 

In reality, the migrants are the products of structures that the colonizers and empires have put in place for the last three centuries. They are the results of subjugation, exploitation, systematic dis-empowerment of whole classes of people. Indigenous, native, subsistence cultures have been hit the hardest and continue to lose while urban, industrialized cultures benefit, disproportionately.

The migrant become enemy is coming home to roost. She now comes to us in our dreams and knocks at the door of our borders.  She needs help. She is the part of us we have pushed away, denied, and tried to forget. First World comfort is built on the misery of the dispossessed.

Several writers have advanced more complex narratives that counter the migrant as enemy narrative. Luis Urrea, for example, in both The Devil's Highway and Into the Beautiful North employs narrative non-fiction and fiction to humanize migrants. T.C. Boyle too, in Tortilla Curtain, dignifies the struggle migrants have once they get across the border.

Literary treatment humanizes and points to a larger understanding, but often limits coverage to individuals or particular cases. They fail to cast the net wide enough to see historical forces at work, to reveal some of the accountability in shaping the forces and structures that cause migration. They don't yet hold the First World's feet to the fire of complicity with terror, poverty, and repression. 

Who will tell the truer story?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Prayer of the Worker Bee

Our Energy, which art in short supply, is harnessed, if not quite tame.
Our paycheck come, along with some health insurance and other stuff, and Thy will be done (between the student learning objectives and standardized goals), on-line as it is in bricks, mortar, paper, and in-class. 
Give us this day our list of duties we have agreed to fulfill. Make the list comprehensible and not too long for the white board in my office. 

Forgive us our daydreaming, blog posts, exhaustion, confusion, and resistance to assessment instruments. We sometimes know not what we do, so help us forgive those who point fingers against us and blame us for things that we can in no way control, like whether or not a student turns in his final portfolio.

Help us to put on hold all the things we would rather be doing, and to get our courses up on the web platform. Help us to remember that we do dearly love the Word and that we came into this work for a reason.

Lead us not into distraction and deliver us from Ducey and his short-sighted austerity budgets while delivering our applications to other jobs that might better appreciate our interests and talents. 

Grant that our aversions to the tasks in front of us fade and float away like leaves in a river and that our attachments to play, fun, creativity, and expression cool enough to let us be here doing our job -- for the days on the job are more numerous than the grains of sand on all the beaches in La Jolla or Cancun.

Thine is the livelihood, the point spread, the final exam, and the relief of semester breaks. Getting up to do it again seems like forever and ever.


Monday, August 24, 2015


As I enter my sixtieth year, I take stock on the abundance of my life. I am surrounded by the trappings of a rich and affluent existence: kayaks stacked in the back yard, bikes hanging from the ceiling, camping gear overflowing in the storage closet, T-shirts from 30 years of cycling and running events, stacks of work shorts and blue jeans. The list could go on and on.

But now that sons are moving on and I am slowing down, it's time to downsize. Do I really need four kayaks? Six road bikes? Three mountain bikes? Backpacking tents, climbing ropes, polypropylene underwear that I will likely never use again?

Then there is the property: land in Patagonia, in Tucson, on Mount Lemmon, in New Mexico. I am cash strapped but property rich, and that property costs time, energy, and money in terms of maintenance.

Yes, all of these possessions require some amount of time, energy, thought, and money to hold and maintain.

I am short on these things, and it is time to thin, to downsize, to simplify.

Yet I am reticent to begin the inevitable winnowing. Why?

I know, somewhere that all of these things are not the real wealth of my life and that I will have to give it all up soon enough. I see in them my body, all of its strength and vitality that is declining. I see in them my senses fading -- sight and hearing growing dimmer. I see in them the desert I so love to explore narrowing to what I can see from the road, or a car, or a window. The world is receding, slowing, inexorably.

And there is more to be surrendered. You know what I mean. There are the people, the times of a life, the memories, the cornerstones of being, all of the companions who have kept me company on this crazy life-walk. It has begun already. Friends with whom I have shared breath and life and love. Women I have slept with, even married, have departed.

It begs the big question: If I have loved all this, how can I let it go?

The answer, I say to myself, is to combine surrender with the love. Love life and prepare to let it go.

There is no way around that. The lesson is a hard one, one of the hardest, one of the most spiritually necessary.

And so I lean into it, opening even wider, loving even deeper, knowing that I will never be able to possess that which is dearest to me.

Love it. Love it so deeply that you crack open and burn with light. Then let it go, dear pilgrim. Let it go.

And say thank you.

Now, who wants a kayak?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Hell and High Water

Bill Gates and his company have high-jacked my computer again. Their notice that I should not power off, unplug, disconnect, or breathe without their consent has been on my screen for the last hour.

This would not be a problem except that I have work to do. This machine is my ticket to the smokeless factory of post-industrial labor. My life on line depends on it. As a cog in a bureaucratic, policy-driven, rule-governed, uber-controlled system, I have things to do. I move data around in Cyberlandia, and the State gives me a digital advice that turns into money that I use for rent, food, transportation and other needs in the analog world.

This obligatory and involuntary update is keeping me from being productive and I want to throttle Bill and his evil empire goons.

A lot of good that does.

This is something of a crisis because, of course, this is my first day back at work for a new semester. It also happens to be the monsoon season in the Sonoran Desert. Water runs fast and messy in the washes following the big thunderstorms.

I like the floods and wish I could be out there watching them, but I am here in front of this screen waiting for Bill's updates to download or whatever it is that they do.

I am not well adapted or evolved for sitting here and waiting. I can feel my body atrophying, slowing down, going into a sugar coma. We worker drones get way too much screen time and not enough walking, running, swimming, cycling, iron pumping, sun bathing, river rafting, or fresh air.

The upside, or downside, depending on how you look at it, is that I have a moment to ruminate on the state of teaching as we move more and more on line with a curriculum that fits that medium. For better or worse, this is what I come up with. 

Digitzed teaching, and its sanitized curriculum, to my eye, saps creativity, social critique, exploration of identity, and blood from learning to write. Time spent in class is more about policy enforcing and learning to navigate web sites than it is about finding and shaping meaning in lived experience.

Where, as a teacher, I used to ask students to explore how their identities were constructed, how they fit into larger structures of power, how privileges of class and race affected their chances in life, I now just help them correct their papers, learn how to get ahead without asking questions. My role now is less about helping them discover and develop their humanity than it is to help them find jobs and work the system.

It's the way of the 21st Century. All that other stuff is too messy, too dangerous, and so old school.

I don't usually think about it, but here in Microsoft purgatory, what else am I supposed to do? There are still some 30 updates to go, some 42,000 operations the computer has to revise before I can get back to work, move that data, tote that bit, fire that binary switch.

The digital world is too much with me today, but, if I want to be in the game, I need to knuckle under and pay homage to Bill, to Microsoft, to keeping students on line, glued to their screens, and busy making the grade, getting the carrot. It is not just Bill ( I know it is not fair or useful to hang all of social issues on one person) or his company or even all the minions, of course, but he is the face of it all for me. On we go into the brave new digital empire.

Or not. The rivers too have things to say. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Road to Tucson, 1984 (A Reverie)

It was my 28th birthday. Like most other days in August, it was a dog day, and I was roasting, in spite of traveling along at 70 miles an hour on Interstate 10 on my motorcycle. It was still early, but with a helmet, leather jacket, boots, and blue jeans, it was toasty.

The long stretches between mountain ranges in southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona seemed to drag on endlessly.

I was returning to Tucson to go to school, to follow a woman, and to live, after a few years teaching in South America and Mexico. Everything I owned was packed on the bike, and it lumbered up the long grades in New Mexico along the Rio Bravo and the passes in Arizona.

Clouds hung around the peaks of the higher ranges like the Black Range in New Mexico and the Chiricahuas in Arizona. They grew as the morning wore on into towering, anvil-headed giants. Likely by the time I got to Tucson, they would move down off the peaks and spread rain across the thirsty valleys.

All for the good I say. This is my idea of a good time, after all, the way I want to spend my birthday, and the place I want to spend it. It would be nice to catch a draft of cool air though.

I travel pulled forward by a dream -- an ill-conceived dream -- to write. I want to write because I felt, and still feel, so strongly and I want to express, to squeeze,those big emotional questions into some kind of shape. I learned somewhere to discover what I thought by writing into the feelings, the questions. I leaned into the disturbance and stirring of the heart and mind and spirit. I don't know what genre and have little understanding of fiction, poetry, or prose as crafts. I just want to put down in words that which bothers me, moves me, runs me. I found someone in words that I didn't yet know very well.

In other words, I traveled filled with the half-baked notions of a young, white, privileged male who didn't what the hell to do with his life. I believed that the world will actually deliver some of what I wanted, even though I didn't quite know what that was. I was bent on trying to find out.

In that moment, I thrived on the metered hum of the machine as it climbed and descended. The pitch of the motor rose and fell with RPMs I can still hear. The sound mirrors the land as it rises and falls from rocky heights to alluvial slopes. I don't know what I am looking at, but it answers some image of seeking. I associate the open spaces with freedom, adventure, risk, departure. There is a place in the mind where the West resides, and it is the zone of and myth of seeking, of testing one's mettle.

By early afternoon I see the shark-tooth ridge-line of the Tucson Mountains. My socks are soaked through with sweat that has run down the length of my body. The soaking clothes offer no relief that I can detect from the 100+ degree heat.

No matter. I'll stop soon and get a cold birthday beer. I don't know where, exactly. In El Paso, I just went downtown and found a flea-bag hotel. Might as well stay with the pattern.

I exit at Congress, the main street in downtown Tucson. I park and check in at the Congress Hotel. It's an extravagance, but I slept on the ground the last couple of nights.

As I throw my pack on the bed and look out at the mountains baking to the north, I see the red bricks of buildings at the University of Arizona, where I'll start classes in few days. I am enrolled in a master's program in bilingual education, even though I am unsure whether or not I really want to be a teacher. I need to find a job, a place to live, and to call an old friend.

The woman is not here yet. She is coming on her own time, pursuing her own dreams. We will meet and give life together a chance.

Years stretch ahead of me as far as I can see. I have no idea how I will pay the toll they ask.

Monday, August 10, 2015


I wait for the bus after I pass through the sally port of the Main Gate at the prison. The day is a prickly one -- heat pressing down and squeezing sweat out my arms, face, and back. A stream of it runs down my back under my shirt.

But these days are lovely in a way. Curtains of rain obscure the Santa Rita mountains to the south, and the hope of rain, of cool, fresh rain hums in the heat. I hear thunder, see ragged sticks of lightning in the distance.

I don't mind standing out in the sun when the vista is like this.

Even the concrete beneath my feet glistens with humidity. Patient wildflowers have defied the scraped discipline of the prison and sprung up in the lower washes. The puddles left over from last night's storm hold blue sky and reddish sediment.

A bus passes, but is not the one that will take me to Santa Rita. I wave at the driver and he nods. I would have taken his bus, but that unit is locked down. Another staff assault coupled with a staffing shortage keeps those inmates in their cells today. We won't get a chance to talk about their entries for the Pen Prison Writing Contest. The deadline for that is only a few weeks away.

Nothing to do about it. I can't go in and they can't come out.

My bus pulls into the roundabout and I wait for the officers to disembark. It's shift change time and the bus is packed with uniformed, badge and weapon wielding men and women who smile and joke as they step down, glad that their Saturday shift is over.

I see evidence of flood when we pass over the culverts on the way to Santa Rita. Water ran last night, under the bridges; it smoothed out the sand, sculpted it into meandering beds. The sand tells the story of being carried through the darkness, left in a new place, waiting for the next flood to travel again.

Once I have my radio and am through the electric gates of the Santa Rita yard, I pass men waiting in line for "meds" or some other appointment. A few look sick, in pain. I feel their eyes on me, appraising, sizing me up, trying to place me. One asks how he can get into the workshop. I stop and explain the process of submitting a "kite," as a guard signals for me to follow him to the education wing where he unlocks a door to an air conditioned room.

He leaves me to set up.

I wait. The thunder continues. I hear laughter from the visitation area on the other side of the wall. No one comes.

After forty five minutes I knock on the thick window of the control room. I ask that they turn the men out for the workshops. The guard looks annoyed or embarrassed and makes the calls.

When the men show up, we have only half an hour left.

I ask if anyone wants to read.

Heathco, one of the regulars of the workshop, speaks up and says he wants to read first.

"My father died three weeks ago," he says. "In the last year, we kinda ... reconnected. We been writing back and forth and he even sent me a story about how he found who he was, how nature helped that, one time when he shot a bird, an Indian hen, when he was only about ten years old. That got me to write more to him about what my life has been....I want to read a poem I wrote to him before he died, one I know he received and read the day he passed."

He reads three pieces: the poem, the story his father wrote to him, about a time he shot and killed a sacred bird, and a reflection on the two other pieces.

He is moved. The other men are quiet. Rain falls. We can hear thunder, close now.

"I never was much what I would call spiritual, but I have to say that I have seen someone out the corner of my eye lately, and that person looks like my father. When I turn to see him straight on, he's not there."

We talk some more, but run out of time. A guard comes into the room and assumes a wide stance. The men get quiet as I give them an assignment for the next workshop.

They leave and I pack up my tub. I make my way out past the window, turn in my radio, and pass though the gates.

I wait again for the bus, now in the rain. I don't mind. I am not worried about lightning.

On the bus, one of the guards asks me, in a sardonic, knowing tone, "Any masterpieces today?"

"You might be surprised," I tell him.

I look out the window and think I hear answers rising from the patterns in the sand, the sand left stripped by the rapture and memory of rain, the water that runs at night.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Back Into the Fire (Another Education Rant)

It's 107 degrees here in August, as classes begin in Tucson. The weather, however, is not the only heat as we teachers step into the fire that is education in the early 21st century.

Between an overemphasis and misapplication of testing, higher class sizes, lower job security, and less appreciation from the culture at large, teaching has lost ground as a profession. Students don't want to become teachers and education programs go begging for applicants. The shortage is showing up in school districts around the country.

I can't say I blame the students. I doubt I would go into teaching if I were a twenty-something looking for a career that would both be meaningful and allow me to make a living.

Simply put, teaching now is a job that generates high stress while producing little satisfaction.

Class sizes have become ridiculous. Many classes K - 12 have over 30 students in them. Think about trying to control 30 - 35 distracted young people and then multiply that by five if you are a high school teacher.

Then there is the testing and the testing is a big part of your evaluation. Only recently have gains been part of that equation. The testing is full of problems, but the most egregious abuse of test results is penalizing schools and teachers for test results that are out their control.

Then there are the stagnant wages and the loss of social respect. States don't want to pay teachers a fair wage and teachers are blamed for poor student performance and job skills. Never mind that teachers are expected to be cops, surrogate parents, coaches, role models, motivators, counselors, surveillance cameras, and indefatigable organizers.

I have left public school teaching and am glad I did. Life at the university is not a picnic, but it is not the grind that most teachers have to endure. Here too I see the decline of teaching as worth investment and priority. Students, mostly, want a credential to get a job. Administrators want grants for research to fill the hole left by declines in state funding. Teaching gets lip service rather than real, tangible support.

In fifteen years, the number of staff doing my job at the UA has been cut by 65%. We do the same work -- with more students -- but with far fewer colleagues. The gap has been partially filled with underpaid and under-supported adjunct faculty. The work has increased, but the people doing the work has decreased and been covered by teachers with no job security, sometimes little experience, and less of a voice. 

Just once, I would like to see political and business leaders take a year to teach in a tough, urban, poor school. Just once, I would like to see story-tellers take the side of teachers, to make the work they do more visible.

These thoughts are my pipe dreams as I make my way down the sidewalk to my appointment with a new semester. The concrete radiates heat.

Yes, it is hot here. My feet are burning.

Can someone please let in some air, shine come light?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Another Summer in the Sticks

Given my expertise in construction, it is a miracle that I didn't topple the New Mexico project this summer. Contrary to the odds bookies were making on disaster, the place actually progressed, thanks to the help of many -- George Dobbs, Tom Brightman, Bob Shaeffer, Frank Blackmoon, and many others.

We went from rough sheetrock to a pretty nice set of painted, textured walls, and drop-dead freakin'gorgeous ceilings and concrete counter-top.

The first thing we had to do was get the stuff stored in the house out of the house. We had to put it somewhere special. That meant a big, green shed. That shed now goes by the name Big Green. Pretty clever, huh? We leveled a pad for it, added gravel, and then put it up on piers. That may not sound like much, but it required ordering organization and coordinating that had to happen pretty sequentially. Order; schedule delivery from Tucson; meet guy with backhoe on site after 325 mile drive; get blocks from trading post in Candy Kitchen; haul blocks; set in place; meet delivery driver; set shed in place; drink beer; look at ways to optimize space; move stuff into shed (bikes especially).

Once the stuff was out of the house, we could get down to real mudding and texturing. I also painted the casita -- twice.

Once the painting was done, it was time for a trip to Tucson to see Sean and Kyle off on their respective next chapters -- Sean to Panama and the Peace Corps, Kyle Mexico City en route to Spain where he will teach English. Those stories will be elaborated elsewhere.

Then it was ceiling time. With advice from George in mind, we ordered some tongue and groove fir from Bubany Lumber in Gallup -- 400 boards of the stuff. Scary and lovely. With my new compressor and nail gun, Megan and I hauled, sealed, and installed the entire ceiling in about 4 days.

Once the ceiling was done, Tom Brightman joined us to help put in a concrete counter top, frame out a closet, eat strawberries and put in some cabinets.

He is a genius, a comic, a beast on the bike, and crazy as a one-eyed jack. He hung out of a second story window to vent a fart fan.

Luckily I had the OSHA-approved safety protocols down. I had to save him from himself.

Then it was time for a 4000 mile road trip to see family and to do a bike ride from Seattle to Portland. In spite of very little training I survived.

After the Northwest and a long road trip, it was back to the New Mexico house and work with George to put in a door, clean up, and pack for the trip back to Tucson.

Overall, it was a pretty productive summer, but now it's time to get down to some real work. I have not been on the bike much and am really out of cycling shape. And there are students signing up for classes, fellow teachers planning curriculum. I am on my way this morning to my university office for what will likely be my last year teaching. The events of summer swirl around me as I close the door on June and July and look ahead to fall.

I want to say thank you for the time. I hope I have used it well, that I am worthy of the gifts so many have bestowed on me.

Of course, there was more -- much, much more -- to the summer. There was the beauty of the place and the sky, the times with friends and family, the moments of truth and pain. The story is never complete; it's only a sketch, a work in progress.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Knowledge of Cities

When I am away from the city and close to nature the noise in my head quiets a bit and I can see things I normally don't more clearly. It's been like that working on the house in New Mexico this summer.

When it is quiet and if I attend to the core of my desires, I find pretty basic values. I want to live in compassion and to do my work.

Now you can branch off from there into all kinds of complication. I mean, what does "living in compassion" look like? What does that mean? And what the hell is my "work?"

When life gets complicated, like it is about to in a few days, applying these core values to messy situations, like work in academia, gets confusing.

The conflicts between who I am inside and what I have to do to make a living gets pretty brutal in early August.

This transition is like tearing off my skin.

Big groups of people that are run by fear, greed, idolatry of the self, and all the other values of corporate America have little sense of compassion or wisdom.  Money rules.

And, yes, it is time to go back into the fray. I want some of the goodies that playing the game of work provides. But I also want to remember what it was like to be free, at peace, and hopeful.