Sunday, November 26, 2017

Some of the instructions of Šuruppag

Reader, good evening. Here is the view out your humble scribe's door.

The door is open and the night is cool; your humble scribe is fully garbed, even unto sneakers and sweater, feet up on a stool with the door wide and this scene laid before him. He lives in a free-standing room in the middle of the backyard of a nice house. This is the backyard of that house, which--like most houses--is more than a 'house'; it is a lovely and distinctive community in which your humble scribe currently takes residence. The people you see are enjoying 'Friendsgiving' together and, bending towards year's end, singing Christmas carols. They are singing in euphonic, occasional harmony and with humorous, frequent gaps in the lyrics -- mmrhsmshmrling bits they do not know and laughing.

They are drinking. Earlier, at dinner, your scribe was as well. He glasses? of more-than-acceptable red wine.

More than enuf. But: speaking of gaps in the text:

"The Instructions of Šuruppag" (often transliterated as "Šuruppak" or "Shuruppak" (that Š gets a 'sh')) is one of the most famous--and complete--examples of Sumerian wisdom literature. 'Wisdom literature' is a term that you may be familiar with from other contexts; if not, it doesn't matter -- it does what it says on the box. Someone is imparting wisdom to someone else, often in the form of a mono- or duologue, and it is implicit that the wisdom conveyed reflects a value system someone felt was worth recording.

Your humble scribe has spent much of his weekend with this and related texts. Here are some bits of it.
get it, Reader? 'bits of it'...?
This picture is Creative Commons; thank you, Daderot.
Reader, this tablet and words etched upon it are dated to ~2500 BCE. Meaning: these words predate the common era by more than the advent (as it were) of the common era predates you; the gap between Šuruppak advising his son and a man on a cross between two chatty thieves is longer than the subsequent gap between those three unfortunate, crucified men and yourself.

That is how long people have been like this -- drinking, singing in gardens, giving advice: the whole all of it.

Here's some of what Šuruppak has to s--

oh! Last note: all translations are from the Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, an indispensable resource that does not--insofar as your humble scribe can discern--offer individual attributions in its translations. But at least that credit can be given, and gratefully so.

101-102. Property is something to be expanded (?); but nothing can equal my little ones.

103-105. The artistic mouth recites words; the harsh mouth brings litigation documents; the sweet mouth gathers sweet herbs.
Your humble scribe suspects that there is some sophisticated, erudite gloss of 'sweet herbs' that makes this insight make...sense? It's not even a robustly parallel construction!

126. You should not pass judgment when you drink beer.
The singers outside are passing no judgment. They are singing, and laughing. But: point taken.

242-244. Nothing at all is to be valued, but life should be sweet. You should not serve things; things should serve you. My son, …….
This comes out of nowhere! There's advice about where to dig your well and "female burglars", and a lot of recognizable parental 'work hard, don't lie or mess around in bad stuff' type advice. And then BOOM: Šuruppak's like, 'possession is dust.'

261. Without suburbs a city has no centre either.

265. [...] of Dilmun [...]
Even an exceptionally complete piece of text from forty-five hundred years ago has some holes in it. Anyway: great advice, clrly.

266-271. {To get lost is bad for a dog; but terrible for a man} or, as a different tablet says {An unknown place is terrible; to get lost is shameful (?) for a dog.}
The second version is actionable, at least.

Good night, Reader.
Happy start to the end of the year.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Meet: humble scribe

Reader --

It is morning, pre-sun,
on the day after the holiday on which,
in your U.S. (and Emmy's, too;
for your shard and hers share so much, are so close),
you feast with friends/family,
sometimes argue,
and hopefully also
give Thanks for your luck.

Your humble scribe did so, with pleasure, last night; he did so, and walked several miles through his city -- marveling (as, perhaps, you sometimes do too) at the range of light, color, trash, beauty we have made and are. The thoughts that he had won't be narrated further; imagine the clichè of the full-stomached flâneur, padding bright streets as the year turns its corner and the next looms as reality, coming on fast.
one sees things like this, in a city
I want to talk to you.

I, your humble scribe, want to talk to you. So much.

The irony--yes--is that I do talk to you. I 'talk to you', Reader...approximately forty hours a week. Give or take, depending; your scribe must pay bills, and 'talking to you'--sadly--does not yet do so. But I do: talk to you, every day, for at least a few hours.

What? Who? What is all this???

Reader, when I say 'talk to you', I speak of your presence as I sit in my work. Really: it is almost as if you are sitting there with me and I'm talking to you. That's what it's like. You are there in my heart and my mind as I sit, wrestling words into clay -- transposing Emmy, Stang, Rich's whole world into words; fashioning and refashioning and re-re-re-refashioning those words; reframing events and thoughts, places, and things -- though not, ever, fundamentally altering them. For they are given to me, Reader; I am, humbly, a scribe.

I am 'talking to you' every moment I am. don't know that! You don't experience that, at all. It is like when you receive some electronic message, and you fashion a heartfelt response in your mind (good, bad, whatever), and you live the full life of your response's rich arc: sending it, the receiver's receipt and response,'s all in your head. You did not send the email. None of it happened it's all shuttered inside.

Basically: my existence is like that. There are useful, exonerating, and important differences. But that basic framework is not a bad start.

Reader--or perhaps I should say 'friend' or 'reader-friend', as slimbuttons tends to--this leads to a chance to introduce myself. I have never formally done so; please give me a moment.

I am your humble scribe. I am a voice and an artifact of the 'book', Erra's Throne; I exist--passionately, solely--to bring that work to life.

Now, we are both also familiar with this other person: slimbuttons, whose blog (site? 'journal'? srsly wut's his deal) this is. I know him well because of course, I am him; just as you, 'Reader', are almost undoubtedly the same person as the 'friend' or 'reader-friend' to whom slimbuttons addresses his chatter about...I mean, wow. Whatever that guy likes to write about here. G*ds bless his weird little rambling .

There is a third, other person, whom we also both are. He is totally fine. He is blessed with good health and exorbitant fortune in family, friends, circumstance; we will, as a rule, not speak much of him here.

But, Reader -- yes, fine, you are 'reader-friend'. I am 'slimbuttons'. This whole thing is an affectation of words, labels, names. Agreed! Also: much of life is an affectation of words, labels, names. We are both, you and I as we are in this space, specific instantiations of whatever truth in ourselves gives rise to identity. And there are many such truths. This is the least novel of concepts; your humble scribe has many faults, but he is not in 10th grade -- he does not think he's onto something new with this point. Who is the same person to their mother as to their co-workers? to their partner as to the traffic cop, writing a ticket? We move through many selves in the space of the day. Of an hour.

So what's happening here? What has happened in this post?

I am inviting you, Reader, to be as the you-self who reads Erra's Throne. An important proviso in this is that you don't have to have, um, 'read' Erra's Throne to be so. (But also, ffs -- go: read it. u shld). The invitation is not one of action, but mindset: to be a sort of reader: less 'Internetty', perhaps; more open to discursion and, most of all, reflections on writing and the process of making with words.

If that sounds awful to you -- holy cr4p! that is fine! If that's the case, then these posts that are all 'Reader' this and weird-third-person-reference-to-self that: steer clear! Pro-tip: they'll be labeled as such: 'humble scribe'. Slimbuttons is extant; he's kicking around here somewhere. He'll write about Hong Kong or punching himself till he pukes or whatever these things that amuse him are shortly. Or, when he feels like it. Honestly nobody knows with that guy.

And I am announcing and introducing myself, here in this space. Your humble scribe. I am, as a first, attaching an 'I' to that self. I have brought myself into creation, through the process of putting Emmy's story to words. Is that good is that bad? Am I good? Am I bad? Who dafuq nohz. You decide. Or: don't bother. I don't care; I exist.

I am a manner of placement of colons and line-breaks; I am tone and I'm diction; I'm to some extent limited in subject matter -- and stronger, I feel, for these limitations.

I am the dubiously liberal use of italics.

I exist; I am here and, for the most part, you don't even know it. Someday soon you all will: when the clay is final, complete, words baked in the sun and no longer subject to change and improvement; they (and therefore I) will break over the world just like Enlil's strong winds. Or more gently, like a glimmer of moon on the water at night, glimpsed by a careful and attentive few.

Honestly, either's fine.

So long as they--the words--are crisp, lean, beautiful, sharp. So long as I, a cracked vessel, have carried enough of the gods to your lips that you, Reader, find pleasure drinking there.

But that takes time. A lot of time. During which, Reader, as far as you know: silence.

I am not silence.

So I am going to change to that. I'm going to talk to you, here.

Because you make me happy and you give me hope.

g4me on.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Saturday Evening, On and Around Base

Saturday, 8pm

A. and C. are baking. Everyone else is off...doing something. (Bar? Karaoke?)

A. and C. are not baking for us--the All Hands volunteers and staff--but better. It's Saturday night so tomorrow is Sunday, and what they're baking is thank-you treats for the community at the church. A thank-you for putting us up--the All Hands volunteers and staff--in the church's dorm / gymnasium / I-still-do-not-know-what-that-room-normally-is.

Meaning this room--the annex, with the kitchen and tables, in which I have sat writing all of these things--is quiet and empty except for the bustling, cheerful patter of A. and C. baking.

It's wonderful.

The air conditioner hums, loud. White noise. (Actually: brown, I think. Really!)

C. has just asked A: "So what sorts of things do you like to bake?"
A. is responding with a laughing, self-effacing answer. She compliments C.'s superior technical skills.
A. and C. are terrific.

I'm tempted to pipe up, because they are terrific. I want to join in. I'm glad when I don't.

Today, earlier: we finished more "mucking and gutting" at the same public housing. We finished 'late', which actually means pretty much on-time, because Team Rubicon runs on a different schedule from All Hands. So I went for a run straight from the showers instead of showering and heading back to base before a run, because-- logistics, skip skip.

The run was hot, but it felt fantastic. It felt good to move and--this is weird--sweat, freely and out in the open. It's 'weird' cuz I'd been sweating profusely all day. But like: up a ladder! chipping at drywall! with a p100 on! That's an example from the end of the day, and of course part of a complete whole that was, as each day here has been, a gift.

Baking, right now: C. has just told A. that she has "such a love-hate relationship with some of my baking!"
They are having a detailed back-and-forth, with a rich and complex vocabulary, about their own baking foibles. Their baking hangups.
The gist is: the practice is pleasurable, but it incites their obsessive tendencies.
They're laughing about this, and about how they're both introverts, so that's why they gravitated to doing this baking fun-thing together. ("Let's hang out! Up to a point!")

They met today -- yesterday, maybe.

They are improvising a little. Not all of the ingredients they requested wound up coming back to base, with the last shopping trip. But most did. A. and C. are in motion.

Run! Back to earlier! So I'm on my hot, slow, great run. I'm not pushing myself hard on runs, this week. I'm running every day (so far. touch wood.), which I don't usually do. And though the work--mucking, gutting, debris--isn't a workout per se, it does tire you out. It could do worse than tire you out, if you let yourself get dehydrated or are unsafe, but everyone is careful about all that in my experience so far.

As I am running, a beat up old Cutlass cuts me off. Not abruptly, but clearly. Pulls in front of me as I'm moving to cross a street, stops, winds down its window.

I pop off my headphones.
The woman driving has a weathered face, red hair; maybe sunspots (maybe. memory).
At first I think she's just asked, "Do you want a lift home?"
I smile. I don't recognize her. But I have an All Hands shirt on, so maybe she recognizes that. Or is making a joke. "Sorry?"
"—ve seen a little white dog?"
I click into this, after a second. "...A little white dog?"
"Little white dog, not big. I'm up from Corpus Christi and somebody just dumped her."
"No I, I'm sorry. What's her name?" I definitely said 'her'; I thought about it and said 'her'.
I make the woman repeat the name. I'm pretty confident that I've gotten it right.
"Blacka. Little white dog, big titties like she just had babies I didn't even know she was pregnant. Big ears," she cups her hands to her head: ears, big. "Black patches."
She does nothing that I can convey with my limited language to you here, but: it is very clear that the black patches are on the dog's ears.
I have a clear mental image of Blacka. I tell her I'm sorry. I haven't seen Blacka. I'll look.
She looks sad.
I ask her her name. (Her name, not the dog's).
She tells me. Just her first name, at first. Then, in the pindrop moment in which the futility of all this hangs between us, she adds her last or perhaps middle name, stringing it with her first, which is what she is "on Facebook."
I repeat it, her name. And I tell her I'll look out for Blacka.
I still remember her name, now, sitting writing this.
I continue my run as she rolls down the window.

I look for Blacka, throughout the rest of my run. I see many barking, fenced dogs in the homes around here. Some houses destroyed, some damaged, some untouched. A pair of Chihuahuas really makes an impression, as always: they pace me, yapping like mad from (thankfully) the other side of a fence.

I wonder how many and which of these homes will wake up on Sunday, get into cars for a short drive to church, and arrive within meters of where I am now sitting to find A. and C's baked goodies waiting for them.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Debris; It'll All B O K; Some Shorts

So I almost wrote last night--rather, I did write last night, which is now two nights ago cuz now it's the morning after I started this. But, two nights ago, what I wrote was internal and navel-gazing and did not include much new information, perhaps because I had again mucked and gutted all day (two days ago).

Yesterday, however, we did "debris." And I am animated by novelty of experience and the prick of emotions; I don't even really understand these emotions, of course, because that's how emotions are. But I wanted to share some.

Also, I got some shorts.


We--the team I am on with All Hands; I have been on the same team every day, a team led by B. and D., both of whom are great and on both of whom more, later; I think I am ride-or-die with B. and D., even though you get to choose a team every day, and even though the Team Rubicon partnership entails slightly longer days.
The board on which I, daily and perhaps quixotically, have thus far done no more than affirm, reaffirm, and re-reaffirm allegiance to B. and to D.

This loyalty is not because other teams or people seem bad, but rather because I like my team and team-leads and with only one week here it seems nice to go deep. Also D. calls me "Shaggy", which, y'know-- how do you not just embrace a man who knows how to use all the tools with precision, is kind and relaxed, and calls you-- and don't get me started on how good B. is at her job, which I've touched on in the last post and will touch on again. Which--

Okay! I'm gonna go ahead and start that sentence again for ya.

We (⇐ where we went off the rails, 'graph above; the sentence did not get far) arrived at the Team Rubicon FOB ("forward-operating base") to learn that there was...a "change of plans." Instead of heading back out to the Section 8 Housing we'd been working our way through the two days before (that was the "gutting and mucking"), we took yesterday to do debris work on a large property.

What's "debris" work?

We arrive at the property. I'm sure you can imagine it, wherever you're from. A broad flat sprawl of green-ish but unkempt land off a small asphalt road. The property has a mobile home raised up on a wood-scaffolded foundation; it has another mobile home, too, off on what looks like a separate lot but is just the lot next to it. It has an RV at the back -- you can't see this, yet, but are not at all surprised when you do. It has a bunch of knotted and gnarled trees, as well as a few tall ones. It has five or six cars, or most-of cars; it would be surprising if any of them worked. A truck out front, which looks like it does run just fine.

Now savage this property with wind, rain, flood.

So what you have is these same things now covered with clotted grass--this awful hay that clings and clumps up and sticks to everything: I don't know which factor of the weather events tears this stuff up and distributes it around, but it's all over so much here, almost any uncleared structure features at least some, maybe as much as a foot deep of it. Those knotted, gnarled trees are now largely knocked over, splintered out of the ground. One of the mobile homes, the one to the left, and also the unsurprising-RV at the back are in catastrophic shambles: their contents saturated and slurried by water, knocked aside and in pieces by wind and water, covered in silt, walls and roofs stoved in, and in some cases their contents ripped from them and spread on the property like the guts of an animal cruelly and wastefully slaughtered.

'Debris' work is...clean all that up.

The work is outside, which is nice! It is also hot, sticky, and that kind of physically draining that no one really likes: not like a good workout, but like a trudge with punctuated moments of effort. It's also very satisfying. Anyone who likes "tidying up" will relate to this. What you are presented with is a big, awful mess. Your mandate and your service is to make that mess better, or at least get it closer to being more manageable.

So, while it's sticky and sweaty--working under the sun, hauling broken toilets and fragments of sheetrock and insulation (which sucks: fiberglass, be careful), the work is very satisfying in itself, before you even factor in the psychological income that comes from the sense that you're maybe helping someone. De-constructing things can be satisfying; making a pile of heavy big things disappear by moving them with a team of people you like is sweaty, but satisfying.

BUT WHO CARES ABOUT THAT ARE YOU CRAZY. I'm serious; and these thoughts kind of live simultaneously through it. Because: that's your story, all that stuff I just said. And your story does not matter at all in all this; or, no, no need to be mean to yourself about it. But, if you are emotionally sane, your story is immediately and completely eclipsed by the real story here: that of the homeowners, residents of this place.

The greatest difference between my day doing doing 'debris' work and the two days before, doing and 'mucking and gutting', was not the work itself -- though the work itself was, in itself, very different. The difference was the presence of the humans whose space and stories you've entered to do this. The situation at the Section 8. housing, where the tenants have mostly vacated, is apparently atypical; in most cases, the residents themselves have petitioned the org (sometimes through an intermediary, local collective) and as such they are present. Which was the case yesterday, as we did the debris work. So, if your story [narrowly viewed] goes like mess ⇒ work werk work ⇒ cleaner! pretty satisfying!, that is quickly submerged by the actual narrative of this place, which goes

home, life ⇒ STORM ⇒ ??? ("oh, my G*d...")

This is so starkly true there's not that much more to say, descriptively speaking. But I'm saying it because I know that I find it easy to lose sight of what we're really reading about when we read, in the news, "X,000 residents displaced" or "XY,000 homes damaged by flooding."

We spent much of the afternoon clearing the remains of one of those stilted-up motor homes. Once we were done, what remained was a ruined stage: the ceiling and walls had been damaged and cleared out before we got going; we had cleared the debris that was left, and now this thing that had been a home was a bare, shattered floor with some hazardous holes (water damage) and the ramp leading to it.

As the bulldozer (which Team Rubicon refers to as one of "the heavies"; they have all this big equipment and call it "the heavies") came in to tear this last remnant down, I happened to walk past K.: one of the home-owners. She and her husband, V.--I'm almost sure they were owners; certainly, they lived here in a structural way--had been present all morning. K., in particular, had been vocal and warm and grateful to us throughout. sidenote: Not that he, V., had not been. He just spoke less English, I think, and also was active with his own salvage activities. end sidenote So I happened to walk past K., just as the bulldozer began tearing into the wooden base of this structure, making the big ripping splintering sound that that makes. And I saw something come over her. A physical shift, a clear physicality like a shimmer through her muscles -- one of those things that when you see it it's not being nice or considerate to reach out, just your body does it for you before you think. So I said, "Are you okay?"

And she nodded, but clearly was feeling something. So I hitched up my step and paused by her and gave her a fist bump. And she raised her fist, bumped mine, said "It's going to be okay," and started to cry. She'd been sunnily and even cheerfully thanking us, all morning -- she was visibly tired, but her affect towards us had been totally giving and generous, despite the ruin of her life all around her. What she was doing right now--sitting in the shade, crying--seemed completely, completely appropriate.

She was sitting I was standing; I sort of moved to hug her and she leaned for it; we hugged for awhile and her tears got on my cheek, they were warm.

I repeated her, saying that it was going to be okay, a few times. She gradually retracted and I smiled at her and...went on working. Once I got out back, where we were clearing debris from the catastrophic remains of the not-surprising RV, I told A. what had happened and said maybe K. could use a little company and off A. went. [The initials are confusing, here, reader-Friend: I'm sorry. You have met this A. before, though. She is not the expert veteran A. who explained about drywall; rather the fellow-noob who started when I did, but is much better than I am at everything. And I'd noticed, earlier that day, that she'd--with ease and immediacy--fallen into chattily empathizing with K. earlier that morning).

A. went off for few minutes. Later, she told me she and K. had had a good talk, about K. and V.'s lives. And about how the work we were doing would hopefully help.

Here, I Have These Shorts

I didn't pack perfectly for this trip.

I didn't pack awfully! I was prepared, packed before, etc. In fact, the main way I packed poorly was in that I overpacked, and in my defense I was just bringing all the things that they said, even though I suspected--and indeed, was correct in suspecting--that they'd have many of these things, in surplus, at the base.

But I forgot a couple of useful things, the main one being a pair of comfortable shorts not for running (brought those), but for hanging out at base in the evenings.

Buuuuuuuut: there is a "free stuff" box! And, on my first day, you better believe that I rummaged right through it. And found--yes!--shorts. They are these; they are perfect. They are a woman's size 10 pair of Old Navy black shorts. The waist is very big on me, and the rest of them are...not so big, so I really need a belt to wear them or it gets little risqué.
The shorts, which I know you'll agree are like perfect.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How To Handle Old Nails When You're Gutting and Mucking

I am sitting in the (I think) annex / community area of a church in Aransas Pass, Texas. I am conscious of the fact that I am being antisocial, maybe conspicuously so: I have headphones on, and I'm writing this, during evening hours that most people are using to socialize. One table over, eight of my fellow volunteers are playing laughing, merry poker.

I am volunteering with an organization called All Hands, which is active at a number of domestic and international sites of natural disaster; they do immediate response and--they emphasize this, so I mention it--more long-term community rebuilding as well.

I spent the day "gutting and mucking" houses in a low-income housing development; we (All Hands) were teamed up with another nonprofit (Team Rubicon) for this work.

It is weird, me at this moment: headphones on writing with everyone shootin' the sh*t. But y'know there's a whole thing here, which I think is in earnest, of 'look after yourself', 'you can't work well if you don't'. I'm a weird, solitary guy. This is how I look after myself. I hope they understand. I think I was an okay team member today, doing "gutting and mucking." I tried to be.

"Gutting and mucking"--I'm sure that my definition is incomplete--is when you go into a house that's been damaged (flood; rain) and basically rip out everything that's inside. You of course clear the house, first; of debris, for example, if there was a major storm that ransacked the residents' personal effects. And then you really just gut it. You rip out drywall and insulation--in case of water damage, like ours, the insulation and interior spaces may be riddled with fungus/moss: blackened with visible spores. If there's a lot of this stuff, you wear one of those full body suits like in movies, just less dramatic and more flimsy.

There's also more advanced work, for those who know better than I do: removing water coolers, gutting plumbing out (bathtubs), etc.

But if you're a grunt, as I'm lucky to be, the anchor of your work will be dealing with the drywall and then doing "QC". Dealing with drywall is very straightforward: you kind of lever behind it with crowbar and hammer, and pull it from the wall in the biggest chunks you can muster. Sometimes you bang through it with a hammer, first, to gain purchase; but the idea is not to just go around hammering out every square inch of drywall (inefficient). "QC", at least as All Hands uses the term, is what you do after the drywall's all gone. I think it stands for "Quality Control"; if I'm right, that doesn't quite make sense to me, as it's really a part of the process. Regardless, what "QC" is: pulling out all the nails. I'll explain! You're ripping out drywall and insulation, right? But not tearing down the house. Not knocking over the wooden frame structure. The idea being that the house has been riddled with (say) moisture and moss, and you need to gut it but not tear it down. The bones are fine; the skeleton of this house will remain, and get muscles and nerve and skin put back on. For example (end metaphor): drywall will be reinstalled. And in order to have--

Sorry, it occurs to me: this blog post is probably comically ill-informed, to many of you. Or that other thing, where someone has just discovered something so it's new to them, but it's not a new thing at all, so the fact that they are explaining it as if it is is either a little bit charming or a little bit embarrassing or sometimes a bit of both. To many of you, my whole explanation here is probably a bit of that second thing! And indeed, I'm writing explain it in the way that I'd need it explained. i.e., veeeery simply.

So, in order to have new drywall properly installed on the preexisting, reclaimed wooden structure--in order to rebuild this house that's been "gutted and mucked"--you have to be able to fit that drywall flush to the existing wood structural elements. Which means, obviously, there can't be a great bunch of gnarly bent-a$$ nails sticking out every which way. The problem being that that's exactly what you are left with, after pulling the drywall: as even I knew, drywall is silly and brittle; it crumbles and breaks much more easily than (say) a well anchored nail into wood, the result being that the drywall as you remove it mostly crumbles off around the nails that had fixed it in place, leaving them there.

So this is a thing that I learned today, then, because I wound up for much of the day doing "QC". What I learned was the trick of getting these nails out. A., who has a movie-star grin and hazelgreen eyes and one of those haircuts where the side is all buzzed beneath a longer top (on one side), and who has been a volunteer for twelve months and is absolutely capable of taking that water cooler out,explained it to us outside. We were all having this problem where the heads of the nails, like the part that you hammer, would PTANG! get torn off when you pulled with your hammer (that back part of the hammer that you use to grasp and yank nails out), so you'd be left with a naked ungraspable shaft of tiny metal stuck deep into wood.

We were outside, on break, wondering why these nails were so annoying: if they were crappy, or just old; if the fact that this is government housing meant that the lowest-bidding contractor did the work; if the fact that this is government housing meant that the lowest-bidding contractor did the work and then perhaps used even cheaper materials than they'd promised to in their bid; etc.

And A., who has been at this stuff for a year, said a thing:

Well, until the 1980s or so, drywall was always secured with nails -- not screws. So a lot these buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s, you see this with the nailed in drywall.

Which was a very tidy way of diagnosing, based on the development of building practices and materials, the age of these buildings and why these (old) nails kept on breaking.

I will note, further: later that afternoon, up on a ladder, ripping some drywall away from wood beams (I did a lot of the higher-placed drywall; I'm tall-ish), I found a note from 10/1/1975 in chalk; it seemed to be marking someone's work hours, C, I think: C had started sometime after 9am and knocked off around noon, and someone else had initialed and OKed this.

I am not claiming this proves A.'s factoid true; I am saying that I do not care to further investigate A.'s factoid.

Let's review:
-- anecdotal evidence of satisfying explanations for things I know nothing about can be, itself, satisfying and compelling to me (esp. up a ladder with a hammer and crowbar)
-- it is way better to get the nails out! if you do not get the nails out, you have to hammer them in so they are embedded in the wood: the point is that the surface must be flat and pretty smooth for the reapplication of drywall. (B., our able team-leader, talked me through this)
-- if you fail to get the nail out with a hammer, you still can remove it, but you have to do this thing with pliers that takes a long time. (winching the stupid nail back, back and forth, denting the wood, watching out for glass (as, once, stupidly, I failed to))
-- but: it's hard to get the nails out with the hammer! Cuz the stupid head of the nail snap right off when you pull it! stoopid old nailz!

In response to all of which, here is what I learned. (A lot of it's in the wrist; I felt that, during the day, my wrist getting smarter.) (I also felt, and feel, my fingers and hands, unaccustomed to some of this work, tightening up). But a lot of it is a consciously replicable and expressable thing:

I initially approached the challenge of pulling a nail from deep wood as being mainly about levering  pressure with that back part of your hammer, using that head of the nail to grip onto. You slip the head of the nail in that v-slit at the back of the hammer, the head catches when you pull, pull against it. voila. Except not 'voila', since as I've said that head of the nail breaks off.

So: you get good at eyeing the placement of the nail, and do a crisp quick motion where CHAKK you drive that backside of the hammer against it; i.e., you jam it in such that the nail itself gets wedged in that biting v at the back of the hammer: you're not using the head to pull up, you've jammed the nail in the bite of the v itself. And you use that torque, judiciously, and


pull it out.

It's fast and it's good! You can get many nails removed this way, even ones that are awkwardly placed.

I would not have been able to figure this out, because I would not have known what to do at all, or even how to be safely inside of that house, without the help of B. and A., aforementioned, as well as E., J., C., and (other) A. -- a fellow noob but a more skillful one.

Tomorrow, we're gutting and mucking again. I might learn something new. Might just do more of the same. We'll see.

I'm glad I'm here. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Alone vs. Lonely / Talk 2 Ppl

I have been going to this terrific coffee shop in the mornings; I'm generally there at opening, 6am, though I try not to be actually loitering at the doors as they're unlocking them because that seems weird/annoying.
Here is the coffee shop, much as it looks when I arrive in the morning. I'm not sure how to credit this picture; it's not mine; it's from the website. The restaurant in which it's embedded is also good (I think); true to my rigidities, however, I've marked it as a place I go to for coffee and (usually) a freshly-baked good in the morning, and by the time the restaurant starts to fill up and the kitchen is open I'm out. Also, to be fair, I've basically gone off places where another human being takes your order and brings you food (unless I'm out with friends).
This morning, my rigidities were disrupted. I'd had this whole conversation with myself starting at 4:56am about what to eat, based on a delicious-nutritious thing that I'd baked (in the fridge), temporally proximate baked goods at the coffee shop, less temporally proximate but also relevant other good food because today's Saturday which means the Calabasas Farmer's Market will open up at 8am right outside (right outside; parking lot) the coffee shop, PLUS the fact that the Topanga Library opens at 9am today which seems like a nice thing to take advantage of and is relevant to what I'm eating at 5am because...well it's all part of a plan, right?

Let me pause: I think I come off as crazy in the paragraph above in a way that I am, but not as much as it may make me seem. A narrative schema that I often admire in novels and plays is when you're put inside the lived reality of a protagonist and themes strongly emerge--anguish, suspicion, fixation on clouds, whatever--and you're given no explanatory exposition for why this theme should be so central (because the point of the story is the story, not some book-cover summary bullsh1t approximation of the concept of the shape of a thing like a 'story') until maybe some glancing reference 2/3s of the way through.

I admire that a lot in novels and plays, but it's maybe not so super-great for blog posts so let me be clear: there's backdrop lore here that's useful to this post (and, perhaps, others). My living situation is in transition, in an accelerated and unexpected way, with some stressors attached. This is not a big deal; even mentioning it, I feel silly. But I guess I'm weak enough that it is in some ways acting on me, and that's a relevant backdrop and good to acknowledge. It's affecting productivity, logistics, mood, etc.; certainly, it's relevant to why I'm loitering outside coffee shops at 6am.

Anyway, so this morning, all my plans came to naught because I'd taken the delicious-nutritious snack from my fridge with me when I left the house at 5:30am (see backdrop lore, above) but not eaten it, on the promise of temporally proximate baked goods at the coffee shop, and--reader, brace yourself--there were no baked goods at the coffee shop. Not only that, but there was some new guy behind the counter who didn't know all the stuff (and: didn't know me) and we had a not unfriendly but y'know static-y interaction re: baked goods and coffee. Again, to make the story actual, let me be clear. I wasn't like, "Dude, where are the fucking muffins?" It was more like one of those things where we each had to say things twice; we both misunderstood each other a couple times. Static-y.

And when I went back for my refill I decided: basta, not good enough, slimb. C'mon. So I tried to be a little more of a viable human being. I was like, "Hey, are you new? I'm here lots of mornings and haven't seen you, I'm" etc.

And he was like yeah no, I worked here for awhile but then I was gone for a few months but now I'm back, I'm etc.

And I almost let this conversational offer pass (I often mess things like that up; sometimes consciously, sometimes not). But I didn't! I was like, "Oh was it a fun trip or what?" This question isn't quite as anodyne as it may seem (although that'd be fine, too: anodyne questions make the world go round). This coffee shop, for those who did not hit the link at the top, is part of this interesting complex that is coffee shop / restaurant / bike-shop. It serves lots of people in lycra with fancy bikes, and some people who work here are into that too, so I thought maybe this young hipster/granola- lookin' dude might have gone on a big bike trip or something.

Interruption: a guy with a charming and shambling sheep dog of some sort just came in the front (the entrance to the restaurant, not the coffee shop); he saw me brighten and mark and, as I took off my headphones, launched into an apology about how they were "just going straight through to the coffee shop" which trailed off at once when he saw that I was just happy to see his cool dog. He and I (the man; not the dog; don't know the dog's sex) had some bantering about the water backpack the dog had on, how he could now go and fill it with coffee. 

I'm actually a little confused about the breed of his dog because it was strikingly (gorgeously) hetero-iridiatic or whatever the right dogword is for that thing with the eye color. It was white with black speckles but kind of long-haired;
what the heck kind of dog is that? Beyond a good one, I mean. Clearly.

Anyway long story short, nope the young guy had not been on a long biking trip; he was on tour with his band, which he's in with his brother and another guy and whom I went and listened to after we talked, as I started this post, and then I went back to him and was like, "dude, you guys are grand!" and he thanked me in a way that I immediately recognized: very much over the idea that every time someone compliments your work that means you owe them some kind of performance (cuz, um: you know that your work is good. you have known this for years. it's like: the one non-objective fact that you know, beyond loving your friends and your family), but at the same time: it is, in fact, nice every time someone says something nice re: your stuff.

So now this moment of static and (absurd, privileged ⇐ duh) disappointment had become a nice small moment of connection. And I flipped from one feeling to another. Which--what is this, two-thousand words later?--is what this blog post is about.

I spend some time being "lonely", and I think I've written here about what that word means to me. Maybe you feel this sometimes, too; for me, basically, it is not net-net a bad thing. We're dealing with functions of margin, and the bad side--occasional loneliness, falling over the line--is like an inevitable overflow function of a very good side: solitude, focus, governing my own time. So in fact, if I never felt lonely, it might be a good diagnostic that I'm doing something wrong, and indeed there are times in my life when I've sure not felt lonely and man it's not good. So, in fact, "loneliness" takes on a bittersweet niceness, in memory for sure and even in the moment, because it's an acknowledged part of a whole that is, on balance, a blessing and full of very very good things.

But then there's "alone". Which is totally different, as I experience and understand it.

Here's a physical metaphor for this whole thing. I like to move my body and do fun, sometimes taxing things with it; the fact that I like to tax my body (and mind, I guess; or my fear, or whatever) means that I'm sometimes in physical discomfort or low-level 'pain'. But, just like loneliness, that 'pain' takes on a bittersweet niceness. Everyone else in the world has observed this as well ('no pain no gain'; 'pain is weakness leaving the body'; blah blah blah) so while I'm not into the fetishization of pain I'm also not into the shying fetishization of not-pain; I accept and to some extent even embrace a certain kind of pain and discomfort as the indicator that I am at the right margin, pushing the right limit.

But pain injury, this example. Pain doesn't equal chronic, sustained pain. Both of those things--injury, chronic pain--are really hard things. I don't want to say anything flip about them. They're hard and people managing them deserve deference and respect. If I could do away with discomfort, with the 'pain' of pushing yourself while training...I probably would not. But if I could do away with injury and chronic pain? Hell yes. Hell yes. Erase it forever, 4 u & 4 me.

So let's SAT analogy this whole thing (the "analogy" section was part of the SAT that...y'know what nevermind):

loneliness : alone
no-pain-no-gain type 'pain' or discomfort : injury or chronic pain

Do you see? The thing on the right is a sh1tty bad thing -- I'd free all of us from it forever if I could. The thing on the left...mmm. Life's not perfect! Maybe we need it. And obviously it's a continuüm: exposing yourself to the thing on the left is a gateway risk to the thing on the right. But again, tradeoffs; so...

So here's the point. It actually brings in every thing that I've said in this ramble-a$$ post, which is kind of a pleasant surprise.

The retrieval of my glancing interaction with the musician (whom I encountered as a barista: we've all gotta do what we've gotta), from a static-y interaction to a kind-of-nice interaction, underscored for me that I've pushed past the margin a bit on the lonely vs. alone thing. Because of stuff with the housing, mainly. The difference is safety, security; when I feel 'lonely' I don't feel at all unsafe or insecure--in fact it often accentuates feelings of safety, in a cozy kind of way. 'Alone' is different. And again, #JFC, this is not a big deal; I know I'm writing all this but I'm not a deranged narcisso-solipsist. But it's also how I feel, so I am writing about it.

And if you read it, all these words: thanks you.

I hope you have a great weekend with lots of good things. And perhaps a sprinkle of some not-great things, just to balance the mix. But none of the bad things. No bad things for you, ever.

last beat: The young dude setting up the bar (different dude), 
is having trouble with beer taps. They're stressing him out. 
I hope, for his peace of mind,
that he is able to forthwith resolve them.
Although I also hope, tbh, that those taps don't need use for a good many hours.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Supercut", a Lady, the blue Pacific Ocean

"Supercut" is track 9 on Lorde's fantastic album, Melodrama. It's that song right at the end of a great album (Melodrama has 11 songs [don't give me sh1t about that "reprise" meaning there are only 10; that reprise is like a totally different song from the song it's reprise-ing]) that's like "oh u thought I was done? WH-HWAM: not done. Ur welcome."

What you probably should do is just go listen to Melodrama, or at least "Supercut", then come back to this post.

The song (sorry if you just listened to it! now I'm describing it--anyway), "Supercut", is one of those spectacular songs that are probably my favorite kind of song: it is poppy and catchy but it is about sad things. It has some driving plonky-plonk stuff that builds; at one point Lorde's voice cracks in the most surprising burst of emotion I've heard in straight pop perhaps ever (the first time I heard the song I was cooking; I stopped when she did that, went and rolled the track back just to hear the bit again; I couldn't believe what I'd heard, how great it was). So it's like a feel good chill-roll jam that you shout in your car but it's about...y'know who knows exactly, this is a pop song (in a good way), but it's about loss and a relationship that once was and the images she holds in her mind of that person? At least that's what I think it's about. I'm happy with what I think it's about.

"Supercut" was playing as I came up on the Parker Mesa Overlook in the middle of a Long Slow Distance (LSD. lol) run today; I was doing an LSD as a total audible; I called the audible mid-run, and instead of doing a shorter run-and-then-take-a-yoga-class-later type plan I redirected my whole day around the LSD as part of ongoing efforts to figure out how to master myself and my time.
This isn't the most interesting pic of the Overlook, but it's clear and representative. The Lady was on the bench on the right; I was on the bench on the left; I took her picture in that gap in the middle.
As I came up, no music in my ears, the only other person there was an Attractive Lady.

"You ran the whole way?" She asks this before my headphones are out, but I'd smiled at her so it doesn't seem weird.

I nod-smile and  she asks me how long that was.

I don't know how I know, but I know--from the manner of her taking pictures, from I don't know, I just know--that she isn't a trailhead.

My response to this realization is to give her, of course unintentionally, the most convoluted trailheaded answer possible to her question, based on the fact that I don't know where she's come up from and there are all these different...anyway. At one point I interrupt myself with "sorry this is way more than you needed" and she says something like "No I asked" which I thought was nice because it was friendly, but it also acknowledged the clear truth of the situation, which was me failing Casual Social Interactions 101 (I am a bad student in this class, in general, and have mostly stopped trying unless someone else's reputation or well-being are involved in my behavior).

Then she approaches and with what feels like summoned pluck says, "Well you're going to take my picture." She holds out her phone. It's in a pink case that perhaps even has a sticker or something like that.

I laugh and start wiping my hands; she says "so...that's all sweat" which I can tell she does not intend in a mean way but is a's not so much calling attention to the fact of my being sweaty (I'm, like, so sweaty) but the way it sort of focuses both of our attention on my combined semi-nakedness and sweatiness. She is not that naked at all, for a person on these trails; she has an ordinary summer dress on that is not short/revealing, and a hat.
I was this sweaty, with this much clothes on. (I had shoes on. Such as my running "shoes" are, at this point.)
So I take her picture and I suggest that she take her hat off and I think for a second she thinks I'm either hitting on her or being artistic and then she relaxes and is like, "Oh for my face."

And I'm like "Yeah, so we know it's not a body double."

And she's like "Yeah, ha, that's me." The way she inflects 'that's me' makes me realize that she's playing on the idea that what I was saying was a compliment or comment on her body or something, and I feel bad about that but she doesn't seem upset (not that this means she isn't upset; she just doesn't seem it) and we roll on.

I take a few more pictures of her; she does things with her hair, which (her hair) can only be describes as being in 'tresses.' She does things with her tresses, floomping them out to the side, I think because they were all kinked up inside her hat.

Does anyone ever have a tress? There is a singular form of that word.

I hand her back her phone

and we have a few volleying back-and-forths;

she offers information about her not coming to LA very often; she says a thing about where she's from (in the totally sensible format of comparing this hike to hikes she's familiar with, in her local geography).

I'm friendly, I think; I guess I don't offer equivalent information about myself but I felt I offered a lot answering her as I did, showing up as a sweaty half-naked man on this hilltop in the middle of the mountains.

Anyway it's a positive interaction. Or, y'know.

And then I say "have a nice walk down"

and she smiles and says something I don't quite make out through the music, but it's a wave-goodbye type of thing,

and I'm back down the trail towards home
and "Supercut" plays again: building beats, tight melody line, words about who knows but I think:
having once been with someone and how that was nice and you're not anymore but you have the sad beautiful pictures left in your memory.