I’m feeling suspended in time, as in limbo

A curious set of emotions has set in for me. As much as I love living in Dover, I feel myself separating from it. There’s a sadness, as well as the excitement of new adventure ahead, though we have no idea exactly how soon.

Next week? Next month? Next spring or summer? We don’t know yet.

We had enough surprises in trying to buy this place, in what seems a life ago to me.

So I anticipate a crush of time-consuming work ahead in packing and then unpacking our goods, as well as the rounds of changing address and establishing new connections, and that in turn has me hesitating to step up to volunteer for tasks in the groups where I’m a member. Yes, I’m distancing.

It’s happening at home, too.

Moving around the garden, for instance, when we realized we wouldn’t replant garlic bulbs this fall, not here. Or looking at my fern beds and asparagus patch, knowing I’ll definitely miss them.

Or facing household breakdowns, which seem to be multiplying. You know, let repairing them become someone else’s problem. They probably wouldn’t like the color of paint we use, anyway.

Things we’ve never really liked about the house itself but somehow accepted now are acknowledged as irritants. That sort of thing.

I keep thinking we could easily pour another hundred grand into this domicile, if we had that much, but it would never be want we really want or, at this point in our lives, fit what we need.

This all feels so strange, given that I’d settled into a kind of familiar lazy comfort with things.

All of them about to be uprooted.

A time for redirection in my own life

One of my annual practices around now used to be crafting a seasonal itinerary for the coming year, one that included goals for each of the major components of my life – Writing/Creative, Quaker, Relationships, Household – that sort of thing. It was kind of like budgeting, but with a focus mostly on time and dreams.

Closely related was a consideration of what kind of schedule I wanted to follow once I retired or somehow otherwise achieved financial freedom. You know, maybe having a bestseller novel break out to fund it all.

The one thing I realized each time I attempted the planning was that there would never be sufficient time for everything I deemed important. And, as my wife pointed out, there were a lot of mundane tasks I wasn’t even considering.

Looking back, I’m rather embarrassed by what I’m seeing. One thing for sure is that little of my life since retiring is anything like what I had anticipated. I had no idea how much my stamina and self-discipline would be flagging. During the earlier thinking, blogging wasn’t even on the horizon nor was choir or daily swimming. (Well, the latter two are currently off, given Covid.) I’m still not meditating or doing hatha yoga daily, either.

Much of the time has been taken up with the self-publication and promotion of my novels as ebooks, and later, with the deep drafting and revisions of What’s Left, which in turn prompted drastic reworking and even renaming of my earlier fiction. Releasing those in both Kindle and paperbook at Amazon last summer came as a HUGE relief. In many ways, I felt I was done.

Or almost.

What I wanted to do was reshape my daily, weekly, and even annual routines. What are my goals and dreams now? What do I need to do, too, to maintain a suitable living situation? Some of it was even reexamining my self-identities and lifestyle. Well, before I retired I had hoped to take a retreat at a monastery or some such to ponder these bigger issues. Was this now the time?

Instead, I glanced at what I want to do here on WordPress in the coming year, and that prompted several months of heavy writing and scheduling of posts. You know, clear the deck, for the most part. Frankly, it’s been more time-consuming labor than I expected, no matter how much I enjoy doing it.

The thought even crossed my mind: What if I stopped blogging altogether? What would I do with the free time? (Would that leave me feeling retired?)

The latest unanticipated turn, though somehow fitting into this refocusing, has arisen in the joint decision to downsize and relocate. It just might lead to a time of isolation and retreat for me, too. We’ll see how things shake out.

Yes, indeed.

Cash in a time of Covid

Well, this used to be the start of the Christmas shopping season, and with Coronavirus I’m assuming that our Thanksgiving gatherings are smaller than usual. (Anyone sitting down to a turkey TV dinner rather than a family gathering?)

Traditionally, today is a day when we’re supposed to think about what we’re grateful for during the past year, but we’re more likely reflecting on what we really miss.

Those face-to-face times when we’re altogether, especially. (Including those casual opportunities to pass along treasures to others, too … as I’ve pondered while culling my bookshelves.)

It’s even having me admit how little cash I’ve used since March, instead putting most of my small purchases “on plastic,” the way, say, most kids have long been doing. For just a cup of coffee?

I’m wondering what else, besides cash, has been a victim of this pandemic.

High on my list would be communal worship, singing together, dancing, concerts and plays, swimming and similar exercise as well as sporting events with live crowds, study groups, parties.

For the record, I’m grateful nobody among my family or friends has come down with Covid and that none of us has been evicted. Also, for one in particular, being furloughed opened the door to an even better position. So the list of positives begins to emerge.

How about you?

Looking afresh at a personal foundation of reading

Living in the family I do, my TBR stack of books is well larded with Christmas and birthday presents – things others think I’ll like or should at least tackle, as well as volumes they’ve already enjoyed and wish to tempt me. I’m not complaining, mind you, though I can be perplexed by their choices, at least until I’m moved to open the cover and dig in.

Sometimes it takes me several years to get around to that, which was the case with The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.

The tome surveys the Inklings, a literary circle established at Oxford University by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, an affiliation that lasted their lifetimes and paralleled the more progressive Bloomsbury elite.

As I read of the budding authors’ early years and passions, my eyes were opened to how different their reading habits and expectations were from mine. They were steeped in a desire to recover a mythos of elves and other realms arising in ancient Britain but lost over time to the teachings from the Continent. There was also a fascination with invented alphabets and languages and secret communications. In contrast, apart from an early round of Tom Sawyer and English shipwrecks, my tastes ran to non-fiction – biographies, histories, and science, especially – and to visual arts and classical music. I still love to read maps, by the way. As for language, English still holds plenty of room for exploration, and Spanish and French are challenging enough.

Fiction returned to my lineup my senior year of high school via an essentially political route – Animal Farm, Brave New World, and 1984 on the leading edge. Besides, that was the time when I was finally getting serious about writing and editing, too.

In short, I read to learn things, and still do, for that matter. Rarely would I admit to reading for pleasure, as such.

But the first years after graduating brought a change, including The Lord of the Rings (which struck me as a rehashing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle material), Samuel Johnson, and Virginia Woolf before getting to Tom Wolfe, Vonnegut, and Kerouac and, after college, Brautigan.

My preference soon settled on contemporary and American, here and now, even if I have a fondness for baroque twists and long sentences.

I have to admit having little in common with the Inklings. Even our religious leanings veer in opposite directions – their thick Catholic and Anglican wrappings versus my Zen and Quaker ascetic.

~*~

At that point, while cleaning a very dusty bookshelf, I chanced upon Becky Gould Gibson’s Need-Fire, a poetry chapbook elaborating the life of Hild, a 7th century abbess who founded a monastery for men and women in Whitby, North Yorkshire but at the time Northumberland. It was a time when some women had more authority in the Catholic church than would be the case later. That, in turn, led me to learn more of the history of Britain in that period, including the reality that much of the land was openly pagan perhaps into the 9th century, much later than I’d assumed.

With another leap of thought, I realized that much of what I’ve found puzzling in the English folksongs, mummers’ plays, and the Abbots Bromley and Morris dances  I’ve encountered through Boston Revels is thinly veiled pagan tradition living on, part of the deeper culture of the land and its earlier peoples.

Well, as we say, the plot thickens.

My next question returns to these shores and an awareness of what this land means to its inhabitants. For me, that’s a blending of science, economics in the broadest sense, spiritual awareness, and the arts.

So how would you define the grounding of your own reading habits and interests? Has it changed over time?

It’s surprising to see how much early morning commuter traffic there is here

As a line in one of my poems goes, New Hampshire is for the most part a daytime state. The thought arose in downtown Portsmouth around six o’clock on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening around  this time of the year nearly three decades ago, and it still holds.

For added perspective, let me add that Portsmouth was – and until Covid – continued to be the place with the most nightlife in the Granite State, yet the center felt deserted that evening, save for a few furtive figures dashing from doorways and down the sidewalks.

Well, tourist season had long passed and the weather was definitely frigid. I imagined that everybody was already huddled inside somewhere.

Lately, I’ve been thinking there’s a good reason for that daytime state observation. The bulk of the populace in the state has a long daily commute to and from the workplace.

~*~

When I lived in Manchester, my apartment was only a few miles from the office. I had backways to zip from home to work and back.

In moving to Dover, things changed. My hour-long daily commute over Manchester involved part of the afternoon rush hour, which blessedly was headed mostly in the opposite direction. For the late-night return, the roads were nearly empty.

Working the vampire shift or weekends definitely gives you a different view of a certain subculture of society. You can shop or run other errands when so many others are locked away on their jobs.

One thing I learned to avoid in my free time was trying to head south, meaning toward Boston, any earlier than 9 a.m., when the bottleneck at the Great Bay bridge would finally clear out. (After years of construction, that problem’s finally been alleviated. Hooray!)

Other than that, I haven’t thought much about rush hours, but recently, given repeated opportunities to dash across the state in the morning on behalf of my elder daughter’s business, I’ve been retracing my former daily commute plus a little more, just at a much different hour.

Hoping to avoid the morning rush hour, I’ve set forth as early as 5:30 but been surprised by the amount of traffic already on the road, significantly more than I’ve been seeing at 8 or 9 in the evening. By 6:30 a.m., the headlights streaming out of seemingly rural locales (what we call towns or others might consider townships) is quite steady – in one direction. Many of them, I’m guessing, are headed toward jobs in Massachusetts, ones that might start at 8 or 9.

As I ponder the flow, I’m wondering how much heavier it was before Covid and all of the work-at-home shift that’s followed. Did the drivers I’m seeing previously have to leave that much earlier to accommodate the heavier traffic volume?

Still, if you’re among those who have to rise at 4 or 5 to commute four to six hours a day, that leaves little time for evening activities. It strikes me as a high price to pay, but then so is the cost of housing in the Bay State, where most of the good-paying jobs are.

Cleaning out the pantry

Our Eat Vegan Before 6:00 approach to Advent, adapted from Mark Bittman’s book, has led us to a refreshing side activity. We’re trying to use up a lot of items we already have in our pantry rather than shopping for more.

We’re digging out a lot of legumes and grains and beans that got pushed to the back, for one thing, as well as home-canned fruits and vegetables, for another.

This “use it up” strategy is actually fun, extending to other parts of the household. It’s boosting efforts at decluttering. Do we still need this or that? Do we know somebody who can use it? Does it go into our yard sale now planned for May?

To be honest, we still have a long way to go. Guess I’ll just have to use more jam on my toast in the morning.

You don’t have to take it as gospel

Despite of having read all of the Bible – and wrestled with many of its passages – I had never read it straight through until a few years ago. (Rather, it had been piecemeal. Seeing it in the larger structure presents some unique hurdles and troubling assumptions, as well as an evolving comprehension of the Holy One and faithfulness. )

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been retracing that experience with a new post each week at my As Light Is Sown blog. My reflections, as you might expect, are quite unorthodox, and in the books of the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament), they’ve been augmented by heartfelt insights and confessions by some wonderful Jewish poets and novelists – not  the stuff commonly encountered in Christian circles. You don’t have to be a believer to be engage with these stories. Think of them like Shakespearean or Greek drama, if you will, filled with human drama.

It’s a much different approach than reading it as law, one filled with more punishments than rewards. No, this is essentially about life itself.

I’d love for you to join in the series – and look forward, especially, to your reactions and comments.

As for those dreams

My wife’s long dreamed of living on an island and had come close to making that a reality. She’s still pained by the way that came apart, back before she met me. Well, indirectly it’s a reason we came together.

So here we are, finally with a destination that’s technically an island, one connected to the mainland by a causeway rather than a ferry.

As for me, Downeast Maine – the lands and waters east of fashionable Acadia and Bar Harbor – reminds me of the Far West, with its long distances to anywhere, the wilds and wildlife, and opportunities to explore nature. But our destination also has a lively arts scene, one that reminds me of Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, back in the early ’80s.

Leaving the Pacific Northwest crushed a passion and way of life, something I’m feeling rekindled in this new setting.

No, it’s not Alaska or the coast of British Columbia and there are no glacier-glad mountains, but the vibe’s right. For that matter, I’m not up for that degree of isolation in my life at this stage.

Somehow, though, this is exciting.

~*~

For us, it’s not quite as simple as packing everything onto a boat and landing at a new dock.

Instead, we’re relocating in stages, eventually merging two households into one. Two households with barns, to an old Cape without one.

Whatever we keep will be strategic, for sure. And yes, it will still be lined with books, lots of them.