Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection


These home renovation projects – I hate to call them remodeling, which points in some other direction – have established a pattern. The latest, the bathroom and utility room round, is one more in a sequence that began with saving the barn from collapse and then inserting a mother-in-law apartment 16 years ago, then redoing the kitchen five years later, followed by opening up the barn loft for easier access and three-season use just seven years ago. Looking back on photos taken before each of these always startles me. I could have kept living with that?

Each project begins with a vague sense of definition or direction. OK, I did make drawings for the mother-in-law apartment, and my wife had to order the kitchen cabinetry and plan for what would go where in that undertaking. But other than that, much more has happened – should we say been improvised? – along the way than I’d care to admit. Want to talk about lighting, for instance?

The pattern itself begins with ripping away obstacles. Even the first barn project had drywall to come down, windows and doors to trash, improper wiring to tear out.

That, in turn, leads to an urban archeology stage as we discover clues about earlier residents.

The barn, for example, had been inhabited by what we concluded had been an artsy set – the cable television line remains, no matter how outdated its specs – even though their arrangements were simply not allowed by zoning or building codes. Or so the inspector told us. A horse or a goat, we assume, had chewed away at some of the framing years earlier.

The kitchen, in a one-story el extending from the main house, had been added in 1928, as we concluded from Boston newspapers used as insulation next to the sheathing. As one of my favorite headlines optimistically proclaimed, automobile sales and production would just keep soaring through the coming years. So much for the Great Depression right around the corner. Our mudroom had been a pantry with a door where our stove had been, rather than the entry right around the corner. So the original kitchen had been somewhere in our current dining room or utility room?

Framing we find for former doorways often makes no sense now. Rooms have definitely been shuffled around. A hallway ran through two bedrooms, and then the bathroom was added – a small window there had been a full-size two-over-two. The closet to the front bedroom had apparently been just an opening atop the staircase, which would have let daylight in. Was there a second staircase in the back of the house? And were the stairs to the third floor moved from elsewhere? What we often see is how little had been done “right.”

We reflect on what we’ve heard about the previous owners and speculate on which ones made which decisions – many of which we’ve come to regret. Somewhere in the ’60s or ’70s, according to our calculations, two-inch-diameter holes were bored about a foot apart in a horizontal line along the exterior walls so that foam insulation could be pumped in along the framing. Great idea, except that in the subsequent years, the foam itself has dried out and turned to dust or useless puffballs. In reality, we have no insulation against New England winter. Still, I have to wonder about the asbestos siding, just when it was added – whether it was pried away for the foam project or added at the time.

As more and more debris comes down and goes out the door, the remaining exposed rough, dark wood leaves me feeling hemmed in. The windows grow small in response. It’s all part of the pattern.

In the next stage, though, I find myself staring at the open space. Think of an artist looking at a blank canvas or a writer, well, we used to have blank paper. This, though, is something else. For me, it’s Zen. The open framing, unfinished flooring, freedom from furniture – it’s all potential we will soon fill in. Unlike many who prefer lush surroundings, I love openness. The wiring and, if needed, plumbing need to go in, along with insulation and then drywall. We need to make decisions about lighting and color scheme. Toward the end comes the actual painting.

Add furniture. Then get used to the results.

As I said, it’s a pattern.


My poems on the challenges of renovations, repairs, and relating as a husband are collected as Home Maintenance, a free ebook at Thistle/Flinch editions.


As I said at the time …

I’ve heard there was a time when elders would hand tracts to Friends entering Meeting for Worship. I suppose it was like the ushers in many congregations who distribute bulletins listing the order of hymns and sermon title, as well as announcements. Let me confess I’ve been tempted to randomly distribute some of our weekly mail that way, just to see what pops up.

Tracts and pamphlets do seem quaint in an Internet era, but a lot of Quaker teaching has been passed down in those small pages. Are there new ways of doing this without “spamming” the message? Maybe relying solely on the written word is too limited. Perhaps the actors and visual artists in Friendly circles will step up to the challenge. Audiotape? DVD? Web streaming? Well, the newsletter as a PDF download is one step in that direction.

All the same, in this frenzied season, there’s something comforting in opening next year’s Plain-style calendar – the one from the Tract Association of Friends. And who would have guessed how helpful it is, thanks to the numbered rather than named months, in dealing with the computer protocol at the office? Maybe some things are simply timeless, even when looking toward a Happy New Year at the end of frenzied holiday celebrations. So here we are, turning the page, and in some ways, just starting all over again.


I never intended for my blogging to take the place of personal journaling.

What I’m posting is, after all, far more public, drawing on a deep archive of writing on all fronts now augmented by current happenings in my life and the world around us. What’s emerged is a kind of collage roughly defining the boundaries of my life and thought. I was about to say “normal” life and thought, but not everyone would agree.

Over the past few years, the blog’s also evolved into a showcase for my literary writing, even during a politically overcharged year like the one we’ve just encountered. Remember, I live in the Granite State, which remains a political bellwether as well as the home for many well-known writers. After all the years of having to keep quiet about these concerns, it’s been a relief to be able to air my feelings.

That said, let me admit I’m never quite sure what will turn up here. Maybe that’s why your likes and comments, especially, are so welcome. It’s nice to know when our hopes and dreams and experiences overlap or when there are alternatives to what I’m thinking or even presuming.

Now, back to work …


needing to get out, around noon
I trek about Massabesic
with light snow aground

grateful to have trails
in mixed evergreen and deciduous forest
so close to home

a concert of winter birds
in glinting white


nesting branches accommodate


all of the ways I’ve crossed jagged stone
boulder-field and glacial moraine
even bogs and midnight salt flats
mingle in whatever conflicts and trials
I’ll encounter

overhead, the cheeky birds tell me


To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015


As I said at the time …

You had mentioned a while back that you liked the name, “Jnana,” but didn’t know what it means. I usually tell people it’s a nickname, that it reminds me to be good. That, the short answer, usually works at a contradance or similar setting, where there’s little time to converse. Actually, the name was given to me when I was living in the ashram in the Pocono mountains, 1971-’73, and had undergone some pretty profound changes; it refers to the spiritual path of the intellect, or discernment and discrimination, which also matches the gifts of my character. Like it or not, I’m a thinker – so when that side of me is linked up with the spiritual and emotional, as the name reminds me to do, I am returned to harmony. The idea of renaming is not new, of course: we see it in the Bible (Abram/Abraham, Sara/Sarah, Jacob/Israel, Simon/Peter), and among the American Indians, who insist that the name given at birth is not a person’s “real name,” which will appear later. So the Mohawk Owl Woman tells me. On a practical side, I know immediately whether I’m being addressed by a friend (they all use the Jnana) or by a salesman or bureaucrat (at the office, half of the males had the same name, which becomes nothing more than “boy!” and was thus ignored).

Again, my thanks. And best wishes for a blessed holiday season and magnificent new year.


today I don’t want to do anything
very wet forecast 4½ inches of rain
a wild week with some gorgeous days
much color coming on

the early touches of swamp maples or blueberry foliage
now blown into prime color

apple-picking afternoon
cold nights
the prolonged skunk smell

new style orchard, pruned for center growth
and a twelve-foot pipe support

weather swings

the tapestry, Belknap Mill


such incredible foliage at the barn window
over the smoking garden, two yellows
one pale, the other golden
with intense blue sky and slate branches
a palette of four colors

the remaining foliage now pale yellow or dull tan
a brooding sense of November

a blue cloudless sky against mostly yellow foliage
of what remains

how quickly the foliage moves to November bronze
the remnant on the branches

the window / the field dull, tawny or shadowy
with a spray of bronze (leaves

the distance reasserting itself as the dominant range
in the field of vision

November windy, shifting from west to east
(the smoke indication) seen from abed

whirlwind of leaves

late fall, we still have some flowers in bloom
I picked a pink rosebud . green parsley, too
plus clover and dandelion for the rabbit

an old oak at the meetinghouse crashed in a storm
so large, you anticipate a lot of boardfeet, sectioned
except so much of the trunk is hollow
a whole set of other value
animal holes, homes, insects
the foliage and limbs, all the same . in God’s eyes?

or my soul, it’s not yet winter
or even Christmas
too warm, mostly, and no wood fire
yes, that’s it

the sunsets begin coming later by mid-December
before the solstice

first day of winter, I walk in the snow
another storm, a blizzard, moving up the coast
only a few inches here, yet we’ve had snow cover
most of the month

Christmas Eve freezing rain
the icicles reach down to the first-floor windows
upstairs, they largely block any view

we’ve come through the deep freeze intact
without frozen pipes
although the hot water faucet in the bedroom vanity
no longer shuts completely

great to have the dishwasher back, too

awaken to fresh snow piled high on the branches
even the bird feeder perches

trim the hedges in the snow

in a breeze a single bronze leaf flickers
a flame over snow

(late spring) the ground clears
and during the dance
snow returns
another twelve inches by noon (April 5)

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015


Let’s be honest. We have days like this. Ones where we wish we didn’t have to deal with these a#!/?\*s. You know the ones I mean, even if you live halfway around the globe. They’re one and the same.

But we’re all in this together. No matter what they think.

Now, what can we do together … to solve the real problems we’re all facing?

Well, that’s how it too often feels. But could another take give us a healthier way of dealing?

Suupose, for example, what if we’re all nuts?

Not just the others, the ones all around us who leave us pondering the rampant lunacy. (Not just in politics or the workplace, either. The highways are full of them. As for the checkout line at the store?)

No, what if we who’ve thought ourselves responsible and sane, are really the looniest of all?

Might we enjoy life more if we joined the out-to-lunch club?


Close to home, I’m seeing how trying to cope with an elderly family member afflicted with advancing dementia can put the caregiver in a tailspin. Somehow there must be a better way to span their alternative outlook and our reality without losing our own balance or course of action. Is it possible to enter their world and still stay grounded?

Just why am I here, anyway? What am I supposed to be doing? Or, as my dad used to ask when looking at his nursing home, “Who’s paying for this hotel? Who’s paying for this dinner?”

From my perspective, he seemed to be trapped in a dream that would rarely allow him to waken. As much as I love good dreams, I anticipate and appreciate the clarity of a wakeful state.

But then I write and read fiction and poetry, and maybe they bridge these awarenesses in alternate worlds. And I meditate, which enters other realms as well, at least as far as most people are concerned.


So here I am, still trying to make sense of it all. Maybe it’s time to reread some of those old stories about celebrated lunatic Zen monks. Think we’d find a clue there? Loud laughter, after all! Unexpected twists in everyday perception!

Stuck with a similar diagnosis, I’d want to be the one filled with childish delight in the trip. Maybe the one lost in a world of prayer for the world and all within it. Maybe I shouldn’t even wait – start now to look at all my surroundings with such wonder.

I’m open to other perspectives and suggestions. Anyone else on board here?


We’ve not yet rented one of those green dumpsters that so often accompany a renovation project. To date, at least, that’s been one expense we’ve skipped. Yes, I’ve learned about the recycling center, as it’s called – in the old days, town dump was the term – except that now these things are hauled off somewhere else.

What it does mean is that we have temporary mounds of debris until I can borrow a pickup truck or find some new use for the waste.

With the bathroom and utility room projects, I kept pondering secondary uses for all the tile we ripped from the walls and floors. Any ideas? Can’t see using it as fill if there’s any possibility someone might want to dig there in the future. And yet?

As for the wood, I’d love to just have a big bonfire but know I’d never get a permit from the fire marshal. Alas.

Old piping, wiring, vents, fans, other mechanical parts, insulation, lathe … it all adds up.

The old drywall, at least, will disintegrate in the garden, and it’s a good source of lime to loosen up our clay soil. I’ll be using that stack on the new raised beds we’re planning for flowers.

As I blog about this, please remember I have no intention of speaking as an expert or saying this is how it is done, step by step. Far from it! Instead, these are simply the confessions of someone who’s fallen into the situation of being the owner of an old house – and whose abilities and interests fall far more into literary or theological realms than those of more pressing domestic matters. So much, it turns out, is a matter of muddling through. Or as one expert replied when asked where we were going with one problem: “We’ll know when we get there.”

OK, we did get that overbuilt monolith out from the doorsill we needed to repair and left it on the other side of the driveway. Six months later, I finally buried it – all 500 pounds – in a hole. We’re still thinking of building a gazebo above it. Now there’s one project I think I can handle!


My poems on the challenges of renovations, repairs, and relating as a husband are collected as Home Maintenance, a free ebook at Thistle/Flinch editions.


Newburyport, Massachusetts

Newburyport, Massachusetts


We wanted to change the world, but it nearly cost us our soul.

Once vaunted powers, the nation’s metropolitan dailies shaped public opinion and daily conversation everywhere. You had to read at least one. Maybe two.

We could accept the low pay, long hours, evenings, weekends, and holidays. Even the career steps through Podunk outposts on the way up.

But then the whole field started crumbling. The corporate chains bought out the family owners. The bean counters kept cutting to the bone. And then further.

None of them wanted to rock the boat, much less run against the tide or easy pickings. Change the world? Not with the fat profit margins they were making.

With few exceptions, the press today is a shadow of what it once was.

So who’s holding watch? We can worry. For all the reasons I detail in my novel, however surreal in the telling.


For my novel, click here.