Monday, May 4, 2015

With Your Choice of Fillings

I am remarkably ill-prepared for the Twenty-first Century. I reckon I can change that, accept that or adapt and learn from that. I don't know if others feel it; sometimes you don't comprehend the change as it happens. I'd guess that is adapting. I mean, here I sit writing away on a "Tooshba," internet open, streaming tunes on my Kindle because of the pathetic speakers on the laptop render music unlistenable. I've a cell phone in my pocket, an HD television behind me, hell, I'm even drinking my coffee from one of those insulated Tervis cups - mine's got Mr. Reds on it - the whole damn house is wifi-ed (I do not know how to conjugate the verb "wifi") and...

(Oh before I forget, this is kinda long.  There's an alternative to today's long post called "An Alternative to Today's Long Post" if you're short on time.)

... I don't understand it one little bit. Any of it. I've adapted to it, but just by blundering and jabbing and tripping through it. And screaming. And bitching. And complaining. And, surprisingly, none of that has stopped the march of technological advance. So, I work from a sort of defensive position, adapting when I must, hoping beyond hope that this is the last program or format or app or cable company or phone I'll have to fucking figure out.

It never is.

I suppose it's nice to recognize that I have adapted as I have to this new century. In a way it makes it easier to accept that I will never own it as I did the last. I am tempted sometimes. Tempted to immerse myself into it and figure out how to use to my advantage this bombardment of information and ideas. I see things that people do with technology today and stare slackjawed at it. In cars and homes and classrooms and hospitals, in sacred places and remote outposts, in orbit above us and in our basements at night, the utilization of these incredible technologies has transformed everything.

The obvious course of action here is for me to yield to that temptation and get with it. Become that aging hipster, technology-touting, older dad. You know, the cool one. Truth is the boys might like that and, to people around me, maybe I'd seem younger and more go-getting - or is it go-getterish - more an imperative part of this whole big thing. We could have an online calendar, Bluetoothed music, stylish tablets, wifi-linked thermostats and lighting systems and garage door and all those modern accouterments that make life so, well, modern.

It won't happen.

It'd be like playing a role and I long ago decided that was not the way I wanted to go. There's one other reason I probably won't try to learn to do all the things a modern-day dude needs to master. Besides the battle over time it would take, which I think is a legitimate problem - simply not being able to devote the time it might take and/or regretting that time when I have songs to learn, stories to tell, and dough to make, pizza dough, that is - the fact remains, I already learned all the stuff I was supposed to learn. You know, stuff that seems, well is, outdated or antiquated or, most often, profoundly unnecessary.

Like how to fix a VCR or cassette, as an example. Or using amps and preamps and mixers and turntables and miles of wire to get music into every room at a party. Or how to use a can opener, you remember, the little hingey one with a curved cutting blade, no? Well, you'll be glad I'm along when we need to open that can of beans, wontcha? I can dig a ditch or a hole, trim a bush, get a fire started, jump a car, all kinds of stuff no one does for themselves anymore.

I know how to butcher and make butter. I can milk a cow. I can make that honky noise with a piece of grass between my thumbs. I can hammer and saw and wire and plaster and sew and make sausages and jelly and sauce from fresh tomatoes and...

Stuff that doesn't matter anymore.

But, that's not really my point.

Growing up here in the rural Midwest when I did in the seventies and late sixties, one was never far from an internal combustion engine. From the great big loping diesels on John Deeres everywhere, to small little alcohol powered engines on my brothers model airplane; from the big block 357 Windsor in a '67 Cougar that same brother rebuilt to the primitive little four-cylinder in JB's Ford Falcon next door, they were ubiquitous. I understood how they worked by the time I was ten or so and by twelve I'd gotten my fingernails dirty and engine oil in my hair.

I've never really been a gear-head, but there were a lot of them when I was a kid, but you tend to absorb that knowledge if you're around it enough. We all had models that we'd built of engines. Some of them moved and showed how pistons worked and how a cam turned it all into a powertrain. I had the V8, Jim had the V12, an engine available in Rolls and Jaguars in those days. There was a lame four-banger that someone had. It was sort of a need to know thing.

I can't imagine the amount of boyhours I put into it all. I can't imagine the number of manhours I would go on to spend, head under a hood, trying to figure why an engine was running hot, or wouldn't charge or was stalling out.

Here's the thing, I knew what I was doing. I knew what I was doing because I'd spent a buttload of time learning it all.

There are hundreds of examples of this I could give you: the movies, the music, the food. Fence-building, drywalling; singing, throwing, chasing girls... the list is endless.

Again, what I've filled my mind with isn't the point of the matter - it's the filling. The fact that I've managed to fill my head with knowledge, both useless and useful, is really what I'm getting at. If we go back to my original contention - that I am profoundly ill-fit for this century - I'd argue it's true. However, throughout my boyhood, childhood, teenagerhood, young adult-hood, and now father and elder-hood, I see how appropriately I was skilled for the challenges and opportunities that came my way.

As always I am tempted to tell story after story in which the hero is my preternatural ability to seemingly foreshadow my own life. Clever, clever me...

All of this - my cleverness at learning all the "right" things, my reluctant adapting, my, frankly, cleverer-than-thou attitude - has resulted is a cavalier disdain for the technologies and products I am failing to master.

I have come to understand - am coming to understand - that I shouldn't judge how others choose what they are learning. Choosing - actively, aggressively, willfully - what we will fill ourselves with is, in my opinion, an extreme act of faith (uppercase or not, your call). A faith in serendipity, a faith in redemption, a faith in evolution, a faith in mystery - all are served by the sublime, sacred act of filling ourselves.

I'll tell you what made me start thinking more about this. It was an offhand remark at something disparaging I said about Twitter and/or Instagram or/and Reddit or... you get it, from a buddy of mine on the innerwebs. He's a go-getter and a social media whiz and I admire him a lot. However, we are completely different men, I mean polar opposites in many ways. I think he wanted to dismiss me and just get me to shut up already. He said:

"Use it how you want; and if you don't get it, play where you understand how to play."

Yeah, it's cool. After the initial rancor I found myself in, I let it sink in. I began to hear it less as a admonition and more of a reminder. I began to feel the reverence in the words "play where you understand how to play."

So, here's the not-so-obvious next question: Where is that place I know how to play? It seems in the past. It seems blurry and dim. It seems like memories. Like hope. Like dreams

Perhaps, that is where my place to play is now. In my memories. Maybe now is when I take the time to try to understand the course of my journey. Perhaps the filling is nearly done and it is time for me to stir, to distill, to contemplate.

Maybe I will tell one of those stories...

I know all things screen-porch. I can't say why, exactly, that is. Growing up without air-conditioning, gets people onto screened porches, and the bugs in rural Ohio get them behind screened doors. Being a boy leads inevitably to needing to replace them. There's a lot to learn. Tools and techniques and materials very specific to the chore.

My buddy Bruce leaned too far back in an aluminum webbed chair and it crumbled on the back legs and he splayed over backwards and his head hit the screen leaving an appropriately sized dent and ripping the seem up from the bottom. This was on my Mom and Dad's porch. They were out of town.

Now this porch ran along the western side of my childhood home. The north side opened up, with a screen door, into the front yard. However, the majority of the porch was over a garage and a story up. We went and got a ladder, and using our collective knowledge, set to fixing that screen panel. Our problem was that we didn't have a replacement screen, not, as perhaps it should've been, that the four of us were on a second case of Rolling Rock. We knew we could get the bottom reattached, but that dent would still be there. The head shaped dent.

Well, one of us cut that panel out (I won't go implicating any one) with a utility knife and a screwdriver for the staples, yes, on the ladder, mid-second case of beer. We thought we could "undent" it by walking over it, you know, squashing it down so it'd be flat again. That didn't work. We set a heavy piece of train rail my dad used for his, uh, heavy stuff needs, and left it on for a beer or two. That didn't work either. A car may or may not have been utilized in that attempted flattening of that screen. Catching on finally that the metal in the weave was actually bent, we considered a bonfire, primitive bellows, a sledgehammer and the aforementioned train track. Needless to say we were only freshmen in college not metallurgists.

I remember working and laughing as the sunset at our backs. Our final solution was worse than the bonfire would have been - I still wonder if that would have worked. It involved removing a panel from the east side of the porch, sort of down behind the picnic table, hidden, replacing it with the head dent piece and using the scavenged piece to replace it in the more obvious place. Remember, Rolling Rock.

As I think back on it now, how is it that four men - boys really - all knew how to, well, screen? We did though, and we got it done.

Yesterday I replaced two torn panels on our porch here, one punched out by a leaning nine-year-old, the other by a rolling basketball and the other nine-year-old. I knew how. And, I was beginning to understand why. I wasn't learning all those years ago how to screen and staple and nail and climb, I was learning how to fix. Filling that place, that solve it place, for a time I would need it.

At a cabin in the woods in my twenties the damn door kept falling apart because there were, like, eight men going through it every day a hundred or more times, each, and so I decided to do something about it. I popped the pins on the hinges, laid the door flat on a picnic table and resplined the whole thing with my thumbnail and a screwdriver. Years later when I built my own screen porch and had to screen the door, I learned what a splining tool and did two.

Since then, much to my frustration, I've replaced or resplined those doors dozens of times. I did the one that swings in from the garage and on to the porch yesterday. I didn't have to learn how to do it. I didn't have to mess up a dozen times or understand the way it all worked.

No, I didn't.

What I had to think about was doorways and memories and slamming screens and time.

I had to think about comings and goings. Realizing that practically every time these boys have left to school or church or Gramma's or Nana and Papa's or our friend's lake-house or a doctor's office or a hospital or a pool they went through this doorway, touched this door. Every homecomings was punctuated by the slam of this door. From toddler to teenager this is the portal they will go through to start their adventures and end their days.

If I hadn't know how to do this stuff...

Well, I'd've had to think about something else. I am glad I knew how to do it. Because I filled up the right spot earlier, I was free to think about something more satisfying, more substantial, more soulful.

The things that I've learned, the weird skills and arcane tasks with which I've chosen to fill myself are all the right ones for me.

If this is true, it must be true for you as well. And, for Nick and Zack. If God does come in the guise of our daily lives then I am wrong to judge others their choice of fillings. I am bound to believe what I have seen in my life holds true for others as well.

The screen behind the quote is one I replaced. This is what it looks like finished:

And this is the doorway through which we enter in and out of our sacred lives.

Oh, and this is the spline. A piece of rubber cord pushes the nylon screen into a groove and secures it tightly:

Thanks for dropping by today, or tomorrow, or whenever you do, or did... timelines are hard.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"I'd rely on the power of the traditional algorithm."

Well, duh, you know, like, who wouldn't...


  1. Piece of railroad rail, anvil. But most used to crack black walnuts. Wonder who has it. I can't remember.You, at least, still remember these things. Good piece.

  2. The thing about all this new technology is that to me, so much of it feels "tacky." And I haven't decided yet whether it really IS tacky, or whether I just perceive it that way because I'm not totally adept at it.

    In ages past, it's my un-researched thought that new technology was variously seen as "exciting" or "snobby" or "important" or "out-of-reach." Or a slew of other things, but less often "tacky" or "superficial." I don't know. Maybe a mechanized clothes washer or a refrigerator WAS seen as superficial - "fixing" something that had been handled just fine for eons before. But I just can't help feeling that so much of this social technology makes me uncomfortable, even at the same time that I use it and hope to benefit from it.

    But I know that tech-phobia isn't the gist of your post - you're talking about something more substantial about becoming a whole person, filling yourself up with good things as you encounter them in life, celebrating that "fullness." And I think that's a good message, something I could stand to think about more . . . to think more about the things I'd like to fill up with, and worry less about the things that don't sit quite right.

    I'd sure like to learn to make that sound with a piece of grass.