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It’s Always Worth It

Same view, different day

The skies clear, the temperatures drop, and the cows’ water freezes over hard. I break it with the head of an old axe I’ve left leaning against a fence post. It’s a small but satisfying piece of work.

My friend Andy and I ski early in the day. Early enough that maybe it’s late in the night. It’s eight below zero but stone still, not even the faintest whisper of breeze. And the stars! Like someone loaded them into a shotgun and fired at the sky, over and over and over again. For the first hour we travel by headlamp, straight into those little cones of light, just the sounds of our breathing and the squeaking of our bindings. Eventually the dark begins to break. The stars fade fast and then are gone. Or not gone, not exactly. Just not visible.

It’s been a month since a good friend of our sons’ – a friend of our entire family, this whole community – took his life. He was 17, and I remember driving him home from a visit at our house the previous summer, just before he got his license, and how he told me about all the things he wanted to do. And I said, wow, that’s a lot of stuff, and he replied you know, I really think this is the time in my life to try things. I didn’t say much after that, just sat there driving and thinking that maybe this 16-year-old kid knew a whole lot more about living than I did.

So yeah. Not sure what else to say but be good to one another, ok? It might not always be easy, but it’s always worth it.

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It Just Takes Time

Winter feels as if it is moving fast. Maybe it’s that it has not been a hard one; we’ve had a few mornings below zero, but only a few, and though the snow has come frequently, it’s arrived in measured doses. Three inches here, four inches there. A trace, a dusting, a flurry, a squall. Or maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, and falling for that old cliche about time and age. It’s foolish, I know. Time doesn’t do anything. It has no agenda, no particular pace. It delivers nothing. It just passes.

A young man arrives at my writing class. 20-something, I figure. I haven’t seen him before. He is tall, and covered in tattoos. Lots of skulls. He says he’s been writing his whole life, hundreds upon hundreds of notebooks worth, all hidden away. He’s never shared anything with anyone. I say “ok, fine, you don’t have to share here, either, but if you want to, you can,” and when it comes his turn to read or to pass, he reads. His voice is shaky, and when he done, he lets out a long exhale and shakes his head. “Whoa,” he says, and takes a pull off his energy drink. Monster Galactica Rocket Extreme, or something like that. Later, he tells us that his father beat him every day. “I got what I wanted, just not the way I wanted it,” is how he puts it. He says it like it’s just another fact, which I guess it is.

The days tick by. Our oldest cow, Apple, goes down for the second time in a week. This time, we cannot get her to stand, even with aid of the tractor. We know what needs to be done, and so we do it. We’ve had her for nearly 16 years, and I think that in 16 more years, I will be 64. This does not seem possible, but there it is. In an email, an older gentleman reminds me how much life remains in the years before me. There must be something that gives him reason to think I don’t understand, and maybe he’s right. I admit to sometimes feeling old already. But then, sometimes I feel young, too.

I tell my students “let go of inspiration,” by which I mean “don’t wait around for inspiration.” Which is not the same as not enjoying it when it comes. Oh, yes, definitely, enjoy it when it happens. It’s a gift. But the rest of time? Do the work. Sweat it out. Put in the effort. Because if you do, eventually you’ll get what you want. Maybe not the way you expected or even wanted, but you’ll get it. It just takes time.

 

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A Very Long Time

I’ve been absent this space so long that I’ve received emails of concern (thank you very much, you know who you are), and yet I’ve had a hard time returning; there’ve been a lot of false starts over the past weeks, but the words just sort of get caught in my throat, and I walk away. It’s not writer’s block – whatever that means – as I’m writing plenty for other outlets and projects. Perhaps it’s merely that I’ve been too busy to stop and take notice the way I’m always admonishing my writing students to stop and take notice, and if this space has been anything over the years, it’s been a recounting of thing’s I’ve noticed. 90% of good writing is paying attention is what I say, although I have no proof of this whatsoever. It could be 75%; it could be 95. It may even vary from day-to-day. (This is why you probably don’t want me for a writing teacher)

But yesterday I promised myself I’d pay attention, and so it was that when I emerged from the wood on my skis in the early morning light I could feel the cold stinging my cheeks and see the stars dimming slowly in the sky, and sense already the tentative pull toward spring: light coming a little earlier, the promise of a sunny day, the mid-point of January now past. It’s been a good winter, a come-and-go-and-come again sort of winter, not a hard winter, but not a mealy one, either… there’s been enough of it for a fellow to sink his teeth into.

I skied through the old churchyard, a half moon hanging over the steeple. Just like I’ve done a hundred times or more before, and probably written about here, too. My breath frozen on the zipper of my jacket. Over the bridge, and up the hill, just to the side of the gravel road. Simon came jogging past and we exchanged greetings, and I could hear his departing footsteps in the frigid air for what seemed like a very long time.