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A Lost Shivering Animal
Eyelids shut fast
Boozhoo, indinawemaaganidog! Aaniin! That is to say hello, all of my relatives! Welcome to another edition of An Irritable Métis. I feel like it’s been forever since I’ve written anything here but I guess it hasn’t been all that long, has it? A week or so? I’ve been busy! And I’m happy to report I’m very, very close to turning in my latest edits for Becoming Little Shell. It’s entirely possible that by the time I post here again next week or so that I might have sent it back to Milkweed or, worst case, be down to a final top-to-bottom re-read or two before kicking it halfway back across the continent and allowing someone else a new opportunity to make it my problem all over again. But don’t think I’m ungrateful for the opportunity to be in this wretched position because I am. Grateful, I mean. So grateful! I just hope it’s a better book after this latest pass but I honestly have no clue. Time will tell if we – this mass of text and I – are ever friends again but I have hope for that. I find myself laboring mightily just to make sense of a 700-word irritable bloviation up in here every few days; 90K-plus words is a much more vicious and menacing beast. Anyway, I’ll be talking about all this some more here in a newsletter or two down the line. Wish me luck in getting over this near-to-final hump!
Suffice to say, I’m reminded all over again how precious time and attention are, so miigwech again and again for you choosing to share the gift of yours with me. This is one of those relationships that I am trying to keep reciprocal and I hope it feels that way to all of you too.
But also, if you’ve sent an email recently and I’m slow getting back to you, I’m sorry to say that’s probably the new normal. I do appreciate them. It’s not just email though; I’m slow getting to newsletters, my office needs cleaned, and I don’t feel very personable these days. That’s probably all the new normal too.
None of this happens without the paid support of those of you who can manage it, and for all you, paying or otherwise, I am deeply grateful.
It’s been more than three hours since I’ve been outside but I know it’s cold because the furnace, which is maintained at a moderate temperature, seems to be running nonstop. And though I can’t hear it directly I know the wind that vigorously kicked up around mid-afternoon is still going strong because I can hear the clunk and rattle of the vent over the stove that draws the cooking smoke outside. That doesn’t happen very often.Nor does it often blow hard enough to get around the corner of the house and make the little temple bells hanging from a sheltered branch of the cherry tree plink and ring, and they too are keeping up a steady song. Now the furnace has paused for a breath and yes, there is the whoosh in the limbs of the yonder ponderosas. I’m writing by candlelight and the glow from my monitor and it is quiet and peaceful. It’s good to hear these kinds of nature sounds happening for real, and not beamed from space via some YouTube channel. I’m not above embracing that kind of thing; a rainstorm, a crackling fire in an imaginary hearth, a gurgling stream. But why would I tonight when I have the real thing?
I know February is a rough month for some of you so I’m checking in. How is everyone holding up? I know Ziigwan – Spring – is flexing a bit more vigorously in other parts of the country than it is here, but I do feel a shift in the season ever since we celebrated Brigid just a couple weeks ago. Even today around 2:00pm it was sunny and gorgeous in the low 30s and I considered going for a saunter before getting back to work, then two hours later the wind was howling and snow was blowing sideways and I feared the old building I was holed-up in was going to collapse around me. The temperature plummeted and tomorrow and the next day are promising to be bitterly cold all over again. Part of me is tired of this and eager for the next thing, but the larger part of me is still exhilarated by it.
I’ll be out in the cold one way or the other. I know we don’t “do” resolutions anyore (*cough*) but I’m here to say I make them all the time. Not just during the first of the year but at all times. I am never more fervent in making new resolutions than, say, after a vigorous workout on the heavy bag and I’m sweaty and feeling good in my body and my blood is percolating with endorphins, and I’m rounding the corner during my half-mile cool-down on the walking track before moving on to something else, and the sunlight is streaming through the windows and the sky is heartbreakingly blue and I’m resolving to never eat garbage again because this magnificent body deserves so much better than that and then, two hours later, I’m sitting on the tailgate of my truck eating something awfulI’ve dragged out of the deli from the grocery store.
The point I’m making is that, at least in my life, everything that I’ve tried and succeeded at has been built on the detritus of failure after failure after failure. It still is. For every good sentence there are dozens of unintelligibleones. For every good poem there are pages and pages of uninspired ones. For every hour I spend laboring at my desk there are dozens when I didn't. Over the years for every bowl full of raw spinach I've eaten there has probably been half-a-container's-worth that turned foul in the fridge before I got through all of it because deli garbage is so much easier to access in that moment of hunger rather than wait an extra fifteen minutes to get home and eat responsibly. None of this means I'm going to stop writing sentences, or poems, or working, or eating spinach. I'm just trying to be kinder with myself for my endless failures while trying to do just a little better.
I made a promise to myself to start hitting the gym regularly again last fall and I haven’t missed a workout. I’m planning to add a little bit to my three-days-recently-turned-to-five-days routine here in March. Both are resolutions of sorts. I don’t even like calling it “working out” so much because it’s fun to do and I look forward to it. Being there, doing my thing, with no phone, is a refuge. Time spent in refuge – at the gym, out in the woods, at the river, or even quiet moments at my desk – is an imperative that cannot be overstated.
Also last fall, last December really, this graphic crossed my radar:
I think the context of it was mostly aimed at getting kids outside more but I thought, “What a great idea!” and took the challenge on myself starting in January. That’s a resolution of sorts too, and so far I’m managing. I’m even a couple hours ahead of where I need to be. It’s not just about being outside “doing stuff.” I’ve claimed probably close to half of them just sitting outside doing nothing more than soaking it in. I keep a camp chair in my truck and I take lunch outside somewhere, or I arrive early somewhere and make time to sit in beauty, whatever. Those interludes have probably been my favorite ones.
You’d think an hour outside every day, minimum, would be easily achievable though, right? Sometimes … but not always! It’s a profound study in how our modern lives draw us away from such things and going toe-to-toe with that is totally rewiring my brain and I love it. Not just the experience of being outside that much more – something words fail in describing how big of a deal it is to me – but in evaluating my life and how I’m spending it. What I’m letting distract me. It might be one of the most important tasks I’ve taken on in recent memory. For real! I look at all those required hours coming up this summer and I can’t wait to see how I am going to enjoy them. There’s going to be dirt and pine needles and wild water and grass and weeds and leaves and who-knows-what-else stuck to me, and wind in my face and sunlight in my eyes and the rich vanilla smell boiling out of the cracks in the bark of my ponderosa friends. So exciting!
This is all a means to say that I am making an effort to pursue joy in some form, every day, and I urge everyone else to too, whenever you can, as much as you can. Be downright hedonistic! It can be elusive and feel unattainable sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Even this weather that blows in and makes everything difficult all over again has little nuggets of joy. The poetry of John Haines comes to mind, for example, who homesteaded in Alaska for decades and wrote often about the bitter conditions there. Like this one, recalled when I could feel surges of wind finding its way through the cracks in the walls of my lair:
Miigwech, my friends, for reading. Share some joy you’re finding these days, should the urge take you….
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The clunk and rattle, I mean. The smoke – clouds and clouds of it! – happens every time I cook something.
Usually greasy, often crunchy.
Like just this word, “unintelligible.” Do you know how many times I wrote and re-wrote it trying to get it to look right? Not just in the body of the newsletter, but here again making this dumb footnote? A bunch of times! Spellcheck on this website is lazier than I am and sometimes decides to just stop doing its job, and it only has one. So I took to my battered copy of Webster’s New World Dictionary that lurks under my computer monitor to get it right … and even then failed at finding “unintelligible” and was like, oh yeah, duh, I have to look it up as “intelligible” and then tack an “un” on the front of it. What a hassle!