May 05, 2005

The Things We Build

Except for my little office and a bathroom tucked into the northwest corner, the first floor of our house is one big room, with a kitchen area in the northeast corner, a big round table, glass doors that face east for morning light, a fireplace in the southeast corner, and then a bay window that faces west for afternoon light. The oak table, its top all covered with scratches, pen marks, and drips of wax, is where we gather to eat, or play cards, or play board games. It's where we have family meetings - and candle ceremonies for special occasions. The ceiling fan above the table has provided hours of enjoyment for the boys: if you don't know what I am talking about, try duct taping various items to a ceiling fan and turning it on.

When I sit at the table, I always choose the spot that gives me the view out the big glass doors. I like to watch the back meadow turning green, the dandelions jumping up all yellow. The words back meadow sound romantic but the reason we have to keep this field mowed is because it is the septic field, watered and fertilized any time someone in the house flushes a toilet. Several of my flower gardens are right in my line of vision, and I am looking forward to putting in plants at the end of the month when the soil is warmer.

For the first five years we lived in this house, we had no step outside the glass doors. So anyone who went outside had to jump down a bit to get to the ground. Not a big jump or anything ... but an awfully big step for anyone with short legs. It's amazing how quickly you get used to this kind of thing. It wasn't until last summer, when we were planning Daughter's graduation party, that it occurred to me that I ought to build some kind of step.

I decided to build a big step, 6 by 8 feet, so that it would be more like a little deck, big enough for a group of kids to play hacky sack on. Spouse helped me get the lumber one weekend, and I chose a sunny weekday when I was home alone for doing the actual work. Sadly, I had waited until the mosquitoes had hatched for this project. And it was a wet spring last year, so the mosquitoes were present in huge numbers. While I was running the circular saw, it wasn't so bad. I don't think insects like the noise. But when I sat down to hammer a million nails in, I was surrounded by a cloud of hungry insects who wanted blood.

I was in a miserable mood that day, brooding over something that now seems irrelevant. I had spent the morning e-mailing Artist Friend, venting about all kinds of things, and listening to the kind of music that just makes me melancholy. I think I was angry about something, but not admitting it. I am not always so good at the being-in-touch-with-your-feelings crap. And these damned mosquitoes were just the last straw. I slapped at them, swore at them, tossed my hammer onto the ground.

Finally, I got the electric fan that we put in the bedroom window upstairs in the boys' room and an extension cord. I put the fan right near me as I worked. The blowing air kept the mosquitoes away, and the breeze felt good as I worked in the sun. I hammered and hammered, nail after nail, allowing myself to feel angry. It felt good to drive those nails in, one after another, the pounding making a loud noise in my quiet woods.

This morning, I was feeling out of sorts, my feelings all mixed up. I talked for while to a friend who helped me sort out my feelings, then came out to sit on the back step and soak in the sun. I listened to all the noises of the woods - the chirping, rustlings, twittering, singing. The sun warmed up my sweatshirt, my jeans. New leaves were bursting from the lilac bushes next to me. A cat joined me, curling up in the sun. I remembered pounding the nails in last year, feeling angry, and how good that felt to allow myself to get angry. I thought about the questions SortingFriend had asked - and I wrote them in my journal.

The wind chime near our back door is a big one, with a deep, mellow sound that always seems nautical to me. I thought about how my Dad and I used to get up early in the morning when we were camping near the ocean, and sneak out to go prowl a marina in the newness of the morning. I thought about what a shy kid I was, never talking, often angry or passionate or frustrated, but never knowing how to express those feelings without someone telling me I was wrong to be upset.

I felt grateful for Artist Friend and Sorting Friend. And other friends too - the Wild Woman Friends, the Monking Friends, the Conference Friends, the Poet Friends, the Longtime Friends - who help me figure out my feelings. And don't make me feel bad for having feelings. I traced the nails on the deck with my fingers. It's a nice back step. I am glad I built it.

33 comments:

Lucy said...

I love your writing style; it always conveys a real sense of place and a feeling of serenity. Reading your descriptions make me feel like I've been walking in the woods, or sitting on the step in the sun with you, which is a lovely retreat of working at my computer.
So, I've been reading and enjoying your blog for a while now, but what motivated me to actually tell you how much I like it today was you noting that you used to be a shy child. I was wondering how you got to be better able to express yourself.
I always seem to be asking for help in people's comments - I'm sorry for the imposition. Academic bloggers seem to be a wonderful source of accumulated wisdom :)

PPB said...

when are you inviting us all up to your house? we promise not to tape anything to the fans.

Yankee T said...

jo(e), this is another gem. Thank you for continuing to delight.

Scrivener said...

Yeah, when are we gonna get invited over? And don't go trotting out that old excuse of anonymity again--we've heard that enough. So post your address in one of these comment boxes and let us know if you want us to come by next weekend or the week after. I'll bring a blender so we can make some smoothies. Anything else I should bring along?

Songbird said...

I'd like to come, too, but I make no promises about the fan.

PPB said...

I'll bring the guitar. I can sit on your back step and play while Scrivener sings and Songbird tapes your children to the fan. with organic tape, of course.

Dr. H said...

prickly pears in my smoothies, apparently. :)

I'm so there. Visiting jo(e). With all y'all. I hope she doesn't kick us out when we show up. I love board games.

jo(e) -- I'm glad you found those friends, too. We all need people like that. And nails to pound, too.

jo(e) said...

Scrivener: You know my address. Bring the cute kids of course -- we always need more girls here! And your beautiful wife, too, because she is smart and funny and shit.

Dr. H: I'd never kick any of you out. But you did promise to try skinny dipping, right? Better hurry and get here before the mosquitoes hatch.

Pigpuppet: Yes, it's true. I was painfully shy as a kid. And I'm not really the least bit shy now. I think the credit for that goes to my friends. I've always had friends to nudge me in the right direction -- and either hold my hand or yell at me, depending which I needed.

PPB: Yes, definitely. Bring the guitar. You can join the boy band that is always going on in my living room.

PPB said...

I always wanted to be a member of a boy band. They like the Indigo Girls, right? A little Kum By Yah, perhaps?

Musey_Me said...

Hey - I wanna come too! I don't do the skinny dipping thing, But I can haul my bass along to play with the band.

the lawmom said...

ppb--you don't want Scrivner singing. trust me.

Dr. H said...

oh my word... If I'm going skinny dipping, then musey's going, too. For real.

I'll sing, too. Fun. I know lots of Indigo Girls songs, PPB!

Also, with respect to the skeets... Spouse is an entomologist. He is quite knowledgable about the mosquitoes. I can bring him, and he'll identify all of the different species of the skeets for us. Did you know that there are LOTS AND LOTS of species of mosquitoes? I didn't, until Spouse told me. He looks at the hairs on their legs and the shapes of their wings to identify them.

jo(e) said...

Cool, Dr. H. We can all get an entomology lesson. I have students who take entomology so they are always asking me to find insects, put them in plastic bags, and stick them in the freezer. The bizarre things I do for my students!

Pigpuppet ... how did you change your name to Lucy? I didn't know these comments could change. I have to say, I like Lucy a whole lot better than Pigpuppet. I'll change you in my blogroll ....

Friday Mom said...

Hey, I want to come too. But if I skinny dip and you decide later it was a mistake to suggest it, I won't take responsibility. I'm taking responsibility for others' discomfort anymore! :-)

Friday Mom said...

Ummmm... that would be "NOT taking responsibility for others' discomfort anymore."

jo(e) said...

Friday Mom -- You left the word NOT out of that last sentence. Which does make it a bit less effective. I think you need more practice at this!

Skinny dipping is never a mistake. Really, you all have to trust me on this. I'm willing to give Dr. H or Musey a gentle shove if that is what they need.

Up at camp, we have fights with mud and seaweed sometimes. Get someone filthy enough and they will be happy to get into the water.

Friday Mom said...

No doubt I need more practice....

jo(e) said...

Friday Mom: Hey, we can all help you practice. I could use some of that myself.

I once told a friend that I was terrible at saying no. So after that, he would come up to me at random times and say things like, "Will you buy me an elephant?" Just to give me practice saying no. It felt good, too.

Friday Mom said...

That's why I made the resolution public. Any help with practice I can get is welcomed!

PPB said...

jo(e)
Will you buy me and elephant??? I really, really want one and I'll feed him and walk him and everything!

jo(e) said...

An elephant? Sure. What kind of elephant do you want? Asian or African? Little or big? I can buy you an elephant if that's what you really ---

Ahhh! See, I am not good at this.

Let me try again.

No. No. No.
No, I will not buy you an elephant.

(You aren't going to be mad at me now are you? You didn't really want an elephant, did you? Maybe next year, I will buy you an elephant.)

jo(e) said...

Obviously, I need more practice at this. I'm not very good at it. Maybe it's Friday's Mom fault. She is taking responsibility for stuff like this, right?

Friday Mom said...

Yeah, it's my fault. I'm also responsible for the war in Iraq and the tsunami in southeast Asia in December.

Oh, wait that was a trick wasn't it? I am NOT responsible. Yeah, NOT responsible. Damn! I won't fall for it again...

PPB said...

If you'd just get me an elephant, it wouldn't be your fault anymore.

Lucy said...

I changed the "display name" under identity in my profile. I didn't realise it would change all my comments too.

Dr. H said...

LOL @ the buying (or not) of the elephant. :)

Spouse is a great party trick. Everyone likes to talk bugs at the parties.

jo(e) said...

Hey, PPB, I bet we could get Scrivener to buy you an elephant.

PPB said...

I didn't know Scrivener was a pushover.

Scrivener said...

I'm no pushover!

But I did get you an elephant PPB.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Damn! I hate when I'm too busy to attend the good parties! This one was a doozy. Can we do it all again tomorrow? Minus the skinny dipping, I mean.

P.S. You rock, jo(e). You oughta be on television!

jo(e) said...

Thanks for the compliment, Phantom.

But what do you mean minus the skinny dipping? Are you another one who is going to have to get accidentally shoved into the water?

Scrivner is too nice of a guy to go around shoving people into the water ... but me? I have no scruples.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. If we're going to shove people in the water to get them to try skinny-dipping, don't we have to get them naked first?

Hot tub!

Rana

jo(e) said...

Oh, there's all kinds of ways to get them naked ....