Friday, March 11, 2016

On Brokenness

Just this Monday I was sitting here, looking over the backyard scattered with broken branches and sticks.  The old playset, new so few years ago, is sagging, the tree behind it dying, and all around the neglect of winter and time is showing its power, its might.

I flipped on Spotify and went to a Bob Dylan playlist that usually pleases me.  A song I hadn't heard in a very long time, from a mediocre, at best, album released in 1989, Oh Mercy, came up.

This song:

Everything Is Broken

Broken lines, broken strings
Broken threads, broken springs
Broken idols, broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken

Broken bottles, broken plates
Broken switches, broken gates
Broken dishes, broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground

Broken cutters, broken saws
Broken buckles, broken laws
Broken bodies, broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin'
Everything is broken

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face

Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties, broken vows
Broken pipes, broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken 

(You needn't listen to it, but, if you care to, here's a link.)

I got to thinkin' about the song, about the words.  "Everything is broken."

There is a literal truth in the statement.  All around me are things that are broken.  There's the closet door in the boys' room that falls off the track and I can't figure out what the hell is wrong with.  A clock I made with silly numerals on the face, sits stuck at 12:08.  A drawer here, a shed door there, the flip-down console in my truck, the damn hinges on the kitchen cabinets, a dehumidifier, a fan, the outdoor shelf for the camper, even my damn shoes...


But, if I look around the brokenness, just beyond it, there.  A fixed lamp that Marci was sad to lose, which I rewired to the utter amazement of the boys.  The closet track in our room.  A tractor.  Porch screens and swings.

A doorway...

We have only been living in this house a few months.  Spring is here and I've screened in the porch to my satisfaction and today I am fixing the screen door which I had to trim to fit but is still to tight, although I know how to measure.  I can see that it is barely sticking in one place, I'd tried to get some WD40 to smooth it over.  It just seemed tighter this morning.

I have a plane and a coping saw and some coarse sandpaper, a screwdriver and a hammer.  I try to plane a bit off but the angle is bad.  I get a little off with the coping saw and still it seems tighter than yesterday.  It is obvious that I'll have to get the door down and on the sawhorses and use the circular saw again.

I grab the screwdriver and the hammer and, in frustration I smack the door frame with it.  The door isn't too big, I've not measured wrong, the frame had popped out a little and that little hit gets it back true.

I tried to sand over the damage done by the coping saw and plane, but, the scars are still there, what?, fourteen years later.  I chuckle when I see them, amused at how oblivious I'd been to the obvious, how blind to a simple solution - seems like I shoulda noticed that gap there between the door frame and the bricks:

There are so many lessons, skills, techniques, more, I've learned from fixing the broken things.  I need to remember that.

Beyond these physically broken things, there is a whole world of metaphorical brokenness.

An internet friend of mine complained on Facebook that a website that published his very good work had deleted all his pieces or gone defunct or something.  Many fellow blogger commiserated.

In fit of anger and pain, for me and my friend, mostly me, I wrote:  "The entirety of the publishing/writer model is broken. No. One. Cares. Every time I get an agent or publishers attention the absolute first thing they ask is about my FB and blog metrics, never, ever, ever about the words I write or the kind of man I am. Content is NOT King, it's a fucking commodity."


Someone suggested that the model wasn't broken.

In a flight of righteous indignation I wrote back:  "Everyone who is deeply enmeshed in the social media world is so quick to defend it, but it don't work for the rest of us.  As a writer, as, dare I say it, an artist, the onus should not be on me, or Brian or so many others, to build some digital dust empire to be seen.  We've got work to do, creating art.  If the model takes time, effort and money away from the creator, if the model accepts false metrics, ill-gotten likes and "exposure" as collateral, it's broken.  If the model looks at fashion and pretty design and sensationalist, current affair, designed-to-go-viral microposts as an indicator of skill or talent, it's broken. If, as I have heard over and over, the model wants me to write less, dumber and insists that I play SM reindeer games, yeah, it's fucking broken."

Yeah... pretty.

I am not proud that I lashed out in anger at someone I actually respect a great deal.

That night I finished a book by Newbery Medal and Carnegie Medal award-winning children's novelist, Sharon Creech.  In the last month or so I'd read six of her books previous to this one, Castle Corona, and had enjoyed them all.  Her stories rely on deep emotion and simple, compelling plot-lines.  In this book she used medieval archetypes - a bumbling king, a vain princess, honest peasant children, a wise and wizened hermit, a wiser crone, a poet prince.  It is a redemptive, allegorical story that is still with me.

I set the book aside on the nightstand and a thought came up in my mind that I couldn't shake - the words aren't broken.

I knew what that meant.  Storytelling isn't broken.  Sentences still work.  A period ends one, a capital begins the next.  Tenderness still works, love ain't broken.  Simple works.  Metaphor and voice and tone, devices and tenses and meter, connotation, denotation, alliteration, assonance, inner rhyme - none broken.  Redemption, renewal, power, love, duty, fame, honor all are themes that shall forever remain unbroken as we build story upon story on their immutable foundations.

If words like Ms. Creech's reach me in the quiet of my family home and trace tears down my face, well, maybe the model isn't "fucking broken."

Maybe something else is.

Maybe... I'm broken.

It is difficult to not feel broken when one will turn fifty-five in a few days.  55.  "Double nickles."  Five years from 60.  Not possible.  I hurt.  My shoulders and knees hurt from thirty-some years of slinging drinks and hash.  My hands hurt from forty-some years of pickin' guitars.  My back spazzes out when I twist funny.  My gut hurts from three full open abdominal surgeries.

And, though it's hard to admit, my heart hurts sometimes, too.  The world looks broken to me.  Perhaps, I've just mislaid my rose-colored glasses.  I don't know.

I was trying to find something I'd seen a while back on FB and clicked an old link and this came up:

Yep, broken Facebook.

The next screen, which I failed to screencap, suggested I may have a "bad connection."

Yeah, if every thing and person and institution and soul and heart seems broken to you, well, maybe you're the broken thing.  Maybe, you have a bad connection.

Listen, there's a little more to this story.  I started this last week and wrote the bulk of it Monday and Tuesday morning.  I'd been fighting a bad cough for a couple of weeks figuring it was just a bad cold I couldn't shake.  I had a very bad coughing spell early Tuesday morning that left me breathless, sore and, frankly, a little afraid.  Because of the wonderful thing that is healthcare in the US, my primary care doctor couldn't see me until St. Patrick's Day, but I could go to a "priority care" facility nearby.  I went and waited there - for an hour.

After a nurse checked vitals, I sat for another half hour.  Finally, the doctor came in, asked a few questions and after listening to my chest and all looked at me and said:  "You're a real sick dude."

I was diagnosed with acute bronchitis and GERD induced asthma, a common side dish to chest infections.  He gave me an antibiotic, steroids, Prilosec and an inhaler.

Turns out I was broken.

The other day I was looking for a post to put up for that "Throw Back Thursday" thing folks do.  I found this piece, A Prayer For You, and was reminded that I've felt - been - broken before.

Without Brokenness there is no redemption.

Broken dream lead to better ones.

Broken hearts strengthen that same heart as it heals.

Broken ideas transform into deeper, new understanding.

A broken body on a cross, forsaken, wounded, ultimately healing all.

Brokenness is simply a chance at renewal, at Redemption.

Well, that's enough for now.  There's one last thing I'd like to say.  In my opinion, Facebook is broken.  I know many of you have liked the "ihopeiwinatoaster" FB page, I appreciate that, but many of you say you aren't seeing my posts.  Rumor has it that if you check both "See First" in "In your news feed," and "On (All Posts)" in "Notifications," you'll see all I post there.  Remember, I long ago promised I would annoy you with a lot of links and shares to things you've probably already seen, I still won't.

Or you can sign up for email notifications with the, uh, RSS feed thingee gidget up there to the right of the top of this post.

I have to learn to accept my brokenness.

Telling you about it helped.

God's Peace to you all.  Thanks for sittin' a while, did you notice the daffodils and crocuses coming up over where the construction crew ripped that old oak out last summer and I thought nothing'd ever grow there again?  There's a sapling come up as well.


  1. Things do seem broken, but as you say this brings redemption or as I say renewal. I think this feeling comes strongly near one's Birthday. It is hard not to feel broken as we age and know we are loosing a bit each year. There is no bouncing all the way back. Enjoy the birthday but don't sweat it. Let me do that

  2. "Without Brokenness there is no redemption.

    "Broken dream lead to better ones.

    Broken hearts strengthen that same heart as it heals.

    Broken ideas transform into deeper, new understanding.

    A broken body on a cross, forsaken, wounded, ultimately healing all.

    Brokenness is simply a chance at renewal, at Redemption."

    When you put words together and I have the privilege of reading them, there is a moment in time when ALL is RIGHT in the world. And I pray that you never lose sight of what you remind me of all the time--our words matter. Yours and mine. God gave us a gift to express things other people FEEL but cannot say. And when you take a moment to affirm the artistry of my writing--the lines that may have taken more time to craft than I care to admit--I feel like the hardest English teacher in high school (Miss Ney) just praised my work in front of the whole class. When someone who writes like you do and thinks like you do and feels like you do, sees value in what I do … well, all the FB likes in the world would never measure up.

    Thank you for getting up each morning (even though when it hurts) to write words that make the reader believe not EVERYTHING is broken. I am grateful for you.