Thursday, April 01, 2010


When I was a minister and flying around the continent to preach and attend conferences, I had a fake-suede folder with a nice brass clasp that could be locked with a little key which I lost almost immediately. I bought it out of one of those catalogues in the pocket of the seat ahead of me. It was intended to be an organizer for Important People who had a lot of different things to do. When you opened it up, it held an array of little squares that you could write on and then move around to create some kind of schedule, plan, process, one of those nice orderly means by which orderly people presumably control their lives.

Of course, it didn’t work and I soon went back to scribbling lists on the backs of whatever envelope I happened to have in my pocket and then absent-mindedly mailing the envelope. People seemed to think the scribbles had something to do with the contents of the envelope, whatever it was. (My handwriting is not so great.) After a few years things developed into a routine and I didn’t really need to write much down.

But I still have that folder. Once in a while I get it out and look to see what it says. There are lists of books I want to write: a scholarly work about the poetics of liturgy, a scorching expose of a small town that sacrifices its children in the Minotaur labyrinth of football. Lists of clothes I want to sew: two beautiful pieces of fine cream-colored cotton that I bought at Scarlet Ribbons in Portland -- or was it Josephine’s by then -- and small asymmetrical antler buttons meant to be blouses. I make lists of things I’m looking for in my so-called office where rise stacks and stacks of print-outs and tear-outs and papers to file that I’ve been carrying around for twenty or thirty years. But I still can’t find that 8x10 portrait of Audie Murphy that he sent me MUCH longer ago than that, so I can give it Ken Overcast who writes terrific stories about cowboys and loves Audie Murphy. Somewhere I have some autographed programs from the Chicago Northwestern years when I was a stagedoor Johnnie (Johnette?) and saw fabulous things for free by ushering. Peter Ustinov. The Lunts. Christopher Plummer. If I can’t find them, do I really have them? Oh, yes. They’re here somewhere. Maybe they’re valuable by now.

There are a lot of strategies for tackling the problem of order and sequence, all that linear stuff, but they aren’t always so straightforward. One is to “swiss-cheese” -- that is, to do all the easiest stuff first and then see if that makes a difference in what’s left. Or you can turn around and do all the hardest stuff, the stuff that’s so scary it makes your toes curl. Then the rest looks easy. Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just KNOW what you ought to do: the weather is right, the tools are at hand, and THIS time, you’ll get the quarter-round caulked in around the shower. Again, it might be the opposite. You go to make the first cup of coffee -- I use a little cone filter holder -- do the set-up, boil the water, go to pour it in and realize that you never ground the beans. There they sit in the filter, dark-fat-smug-shiny-and-whole. Then you know that you probably shouldn’t have bothered to get up except that the cats won’t tolerate it. They want their catfood cans opened on time.

When you read this it will be April Fool’s Day, but I think the whole year has been pretty much like that. On NPR I was horrified to hear that when Clinton and Bush went to Haiti to show support and were shaking hands with the crowd, Bush shook hands with someone who evidently (and not surprisingly) had filthy paws. So he wiped his hand off on Clinton’s shirt. The jokers said, “He probably wouldn’t mind. We’ve seen what he eats.” I notice Bush is not on the next gig. At least he didn’t grab Clinton around the neck and try to mock-choke him, the way he did the female head of state of Germany, who did NOT think it was funny.

The biggest surprise, of course, is that a health care bill was passed, but no one at all can figure out on whom the joke is. Them or us? Worse than that, the Repubs can’t figure out who they are these days and the Dems can’t figure out whether the president they elected is for ‘em or agin ‘em. It just gets more complicated and surprising all the time.

So we’re sort of all having to sit down and do a bit of zero-base budgeting, that is, what do we absolutely HAVE to have in order to get by? It’s surprising how little it takes. Cup, bowl, spoon, table, chair, bed, book, book, book, book, book -- computer. It won’t be quite the same from one person to the next. When I get really overwhelmed, I go out into the garage and burn sticks in my little woodstove. Leland saw it and said (with much enthusiasm), “You could COOK on that!” He said the same thing about my tin washtub with the wire refrigerator shelf on top, with just as much enthusiasm. One of the true basics: a fire.

The cats are in the yard checking to see what came out from under the snow. Things are still sort of flat but there are green blades interweaving in the old dry grass. The old dry men are out on their riding mowers getting it all the same height. I’ve seen one sprinkler on and was tempted to hook mine up -- but then I backed off. The tulips are up about four inches. I always forget where they are. Last year the poplars were so infested with something that made knots all over them that this spring I can’t tell whether there are buds for leaves or not. They rain sticks to burn. It was a wet cool summer last year. Let’s see what the April Fool gives us this year. It won’t be the same.

Now where did I stash that folder last time I looked at it? Maybe I’ll try using it again.

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