Five Minutes

If there is one thing I’m good at it’s making bad decisions. And when I was about 20 years old my special talent nearly cost me my life.

My bad choices led me to the worst jobs for the worst reasons, they had led me into dangerous situations populated with equally dangerous people. I was building a checkered past and not certain how I would break out of that pattern when fate casually walked through the door in the form of two well armed young men.

It took five minutes for them to rob us.

When it was over, I fled first to my apartment but, discovering they had used my stolen keys, I fled again, finding refuge in the basement of a friend’s apartment.  I hid there for over a month.

For that month, my only window to the outside world was their large-screen TV, and I consumed a steady diet of news letting my fear consume and embalm me.  The cocoon became a crypt, and when I emerged I had not evolved but grown the beginnings of a sarcophagus around my soul.  Now, I couldn’t be alone or in a crowd.  I moved constantly and changed jobs just as frequently, painting my new shell in the increasingly garish colors of my bad decisions.

Ultimately, I left my home for a new city, hoping to escape bad memories and the results of my bad choices, but my shell went with me.

In the city, I needed a roommate. My aunt, an expert on these things, guided me, locating a promising ad instantly. At first it seemed like a bad find; the ad had been placed by two men, but she assured me this was common in the city and, as the man on the phone sounded like he wasn’t  “an ax murderer “, she urged me to see the apartment.

Then next day I met with with the self-described goofy-looking goon.  This giant was definitely goofy, but he was also the most incurably friendly person I have ever met.  I took the apartment that day, and my shell began to crack.

It was weeks before I became aware of the fissure.  But as the goofy-looking goon and I quickly became friends, I noticed that, despite his own recent loss, he never seemed to retreat from the world.  He greeted everyone – corporate VPs or janitors – with the same good-natured cheerfulness, and as he was wrapping the world in a bear-hug, he took my hand and yanked me back into it.

To be sure, I still have the occasional flashback, but fear no longer owns me.  And, even though I sympathize with the urge to retreat in the face of the horrors the world inflicts on us all, burying myself alive didn’t make me safer, it just made me alone.

The Song Remains the Same

Yesterday I did something that I haven’t done for almost 2 months I. I never thought I would go this long without doing it either. But, almost accidentally, I have abstained from almost any news almost two solid months. And to my surprise, not only have I not missed it, I’ve enjoyed my life so much more without it. The irony of this discovery is that I have been a news junkie since I could crawl.

My parents were both academics, and, worse, my mother is a historian, so current events and – gasp – politics were not only mentioned at the dinner table, they were served with the main course. Then I joined the Writer’s Project in May. On the first night our mentor mentioned that he had started shutting out media that didn’t contribute to his life. It planted the seed.

My already busy life became even more scheduled as school let out and the workshop ramped up. But the increased activity nurtured that seed, and I accidentally discovered a life without internet news or Sunday morning noise shows. I only noticed the change a few days ago when, blessed with a few precious minutes of downtime, I checked my TV site for what was happening on my soap. After catching up on who might be coming out of a coma and who was really adopted, I switched over to a news site for a quick dose of all-depressing-all-the-time.

Fortunately, the politicians and the media that covers them didn’t disappoint – or maybe they did. After a month away, more had changed on a fictional soap that depends on slow story lines for survival, than in a political media landscape that is, theoretically, supposed to serve ‘the people’. The politicians and their echo chamber still seemed more intent on feeding into and off of fear and discord. The only themes were what was wrong in the world and why it’s that person-you-should-be-against’s fault. In short, the song was the same as it was a month earlier.

So after a few minutes, I consciously shut off the news blogs and came back to my own blog and doodles, determined to make my own music. I’ve been nurturing it already by writing and doodling and reading, responding to comments here and in our group, and so far, I like this tune. Writing is cathartic for most people, so it could be seen as a completely selfish endeavor. But as I see more comments and emails from people I’ve never met (sometimes around the world) I hear notes plucked from the common threads that the media, so often it seems, wants to drown out. I hear from other mothers who are frazzled and imperfect but still trying. I hear from our group of artists no longer content to see themselves as wannabes (I wasn’t the only one). And, in the absence of fear, suspicion or jealousy, there is the freedom to grow and, in turn, to foster growth. And this music is much better.


Market Day

We were talking about barns at writing group yesterday.  Two of our members mentioned that the falling-down barns that are strewn around Washington County remind them of things cast aside.  There were inevitable comparisons between the aging barns and cast-off people and, with them, a bit of sadness.  But, for me, the talk of barns revived a feeling of optimism about rural life I’d enjoyed since leaving the farmer’s market earlier in the day.

We go because my kids love the farmer’s markets.  It’s not like going to the grocery story – I don’t have to drag them there, the kids love the sights and smells, they’ll eat the vegetables because they were fun to choose, and we actually spend about the same amount of money for a week’s worth of food as we would at the grocery store.

Yesterday, as the market began to close up, a young couple in their late 20s or early 30s caught my eye.  They were packing up to go home.  At first I noticed how young they seemed to be to be interested in farming.  I realized I was watching a little act of faith in the future of rural life.  But what I noticed next was their infant daughter (the bigger act of faith).

It was hot out,but she was completely content lying in her carrier under the canopy as she listened to the hum of her parents’ conversation.  They looked tired and ready to go home, but they didn’t look frazzled or worried.  They were working hard, but both farmers/parents smiled at each other and at their daughter from time to time.  And, as I thought about the hope this farming family represented, I thought about their daughter and her future here in the country.

Few farmers are financially wealthy, and she may want things that kids in other areas take for granted.  But when she gets to that age when she’s old enough to notice what she doesn’t have, I’m betting she’ll also start to notice the things she does have.  She’ll be surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the northeast.  She’ll have the freedom not to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, to breathe clean air, to live close to the land as she gets to know nature.

I know this because even though technology is always competing for my sons’ hearts and minds, their souls are in the mountains.   I see it when they emerge from the forest, filthy and full of secrets.  I hear it when they excitedly point out the wildlife in the yard.  And watching this couple nurture hope under the market canopy, felt my faith in the future of rural life renewed.