Novelistador Goes to the Library

A quick word on the title:  Norman Mailer, in writing journalism, often referred to himself as Aquarius.  Ted Williams, in conversation, referred to himself as Teddy Ballgame.  I think of myself as Novelistador.  So shoot me.

Journal Entry, 9/31, 2017

Well, it had to happen.  After a week of clear skies and warm afternoons, today is rainy and the morning chill feels like it will be a noontime and a mid-afternoon chill as well.  Once again, I remind myself that sitting under cover, watching the river flow by and writing into a box on my lap is a pretty damn good life.  If the biggest problem I face is having to wear a hat to keep warm, I’m willing to bet at least 97.5% of the world’s population would trade places in a heartbeat.

Still, once I’ve stoked up the resentment machine, I still haven’t learned to shut it down immediately.  It’s designed to kick out a few products before lumbering back to sleep.  Let me know whine about my head.  Or at least about hats.  Most men’s heads look at least passable in hats—some are even improved by a fancy chapeau.  Almost every hat I’ve ever worn though makes me look like a cancer patient or Charlie Brown.  Without a hat, my head is within acceptable guidelines, but a hat seems to bring out the bizarre in my looks.  Thus, I have two non-winter hats:  a baseball cap which makes me look like a tennis ball with a scab on top and a green Stetson fedora, which makes me look like a giant baby wearing its father’s business wear.    Again, 97.5% of the world . . .  Still, I want a new hat.  Or a new head.

I just realized that I’ve got no standard format for these daily blog posts.  While the responses have been gratifying, I really should at least have a standard header.  I mean, some of them just have a title, others have a date, and still others are called Journal Entries.  And then I realize that if my biggest problem today is formatting posts, I am a lucky man indeed.

Yesterday, I wanted to head to town to pick up mail, check to see if the historical society is open and visit the local library.  Mail was noneventful—a packet of advertisements from the postal service letting me know they were rerouting my mail to the box I’d just removed the letter from.  Of course, the first day I picked up mail, I discovered official Tiny White Box business cards.

Along with refrigerator magnets for some future giveaway!

The historical society was not open.  The historical society may NEVER be open, since the sign says they’re open by luck or chance.  I really want to learn more about the Republic of Indian Stream, an independent nation in the 1830s owing to border discrepancies between the United States and Canada.  That desire may need to remain on hold for a while.

My visit to the town library was the most eventful, especially since there IS no real town library.  I followed my Googlified directions and was dumped into the parking lot of the Pittsburg School, K-12.  The lot was two-thirds full, and I assumed it held teachers getting ready for the new school year.. When I didn’t see any signs for the library, but did see a Main Entrance door, I walked in and was greeted by a very kind receptionist/secretary/knower-of-all-things school related.

(Full Disclosure:  Those of you who know me from my time at Liberty House or from my writing may not know I spent 20 years as an educator, as director of alternative schools throughout the southern part of New Hampshire.  Having started out as a second-grade teacher and reading specialist, I also became certified as an English teacher and school principal.  In short, I know schools well, and I know who knows where the bodies are buried:  the school secretary.)

The secretary, whose name I asked for and, unfortunately, immediately forgot, told me the town library is the school library, and it’s not open to the public during school hours, which, in this age of child-nappings of various kinds, makes sense.  I asked when it WAS open to the public and was told it used to be open Wednesday evenings, but it’s not anymore, but that it is open on Saturday mornings. She thinks. She took me to the library, at the same time taking me into a time machine leading back to my mother’s childhood in small-town libraries.. I could picture little Bev Howard curled up in a corner with “The Bobbsey Twins Go to the Shore” in her lap.  Although I don’t know that Beverly’s library had a computer lab annex in 1935.

I mentioned my background in education, and asked whether the school, with its 100 or so students divided among 13 grades, ever needed volunteers.  She got a springier step and took me to the teachers’ room, where I was introduced to Mrs. Sherry, the principal.

Mrs. Sherry deserves a new paragraph. Hell, Mrs. Sherry deserves a book! I met with her for maybe five minutes, but in that time she enticed me with so many story possibilities I’m not sure I could ever write them. Really.

At the end of our brief interview, I gave Mrs. Sherry my card, told her email was the best way to communicate with me, and left.  Depending on whether Mrs. Sherry remembers my offer, looks up my history on the internet, and follows through with an email, I may be a volunteer at Pittsburg School.

What a funny and delightful world we live in.

Even if I sometimes have to wear hats.

Serenity and Progress

Journal Entry Wednesday, August 30, 2017

 

Last night I found serenity floating like a cork on a quiet lake.  Around 5:30 or so, Chief Worrall, Terry and I drove to Round Pond, about three miles from here.  The two of them got into a fishing boat and set out to catch nothing much, while I loaded onto a small pontoon boat.  Until then, I’d thought of pontoons as vessels designed to keep drinking parties from becoming drowning parties.  My only experience had been with party boats, 10-foot by 15-foot barge-like designs with a waist=high rope around them to make sure drunks bounced back into the boat instead of into the water.  This pontoon is very different indeed.  It’s a one-person vessel with two sealed missile-shaped drums connected by a couple pieces of metal that support a seat.  With an electric trolling motor on the back and a tractor battery on either side, it’s the height of comfort and quiet.  While Chief and Terry moved around the small lake searching for the fish they never found, I left my phone and headphones in Chief’s Jeep, and simply floated hither and yon, listening to nothing and seeing no one.  Although I’ve taken part in “relaxation exercises” in various facilities, on Round Pond last night, I could almost feel the stress flowing out of a small hole in my right heel, like sand coming out of a sandbag.  The two hours I was drifting could have been two minutes or two days.  By the time we left, the sun was going down, the air was noticeably cooler and the shorts and sandals I was wearing got me to shivering in the back of the windowless Jeep.  Of course, we stopped for ice cream.  I focused on the heat of the hot fudge as we drove back to Warriors@45 North.

 

I talked with my 20-year-old daughter, Libby, yesterday, and had yet another shot of future shock—or at least a realization that the world changes faster than I imagine.  Libby had called my number (603)361-6266), and left a voicemail for me.  This voicemail was transformed into a text, which I still haven’t received, and an email, which I did get the next time I got near WiFi.  Libby’s message had asked me to call her as soon as I got the message, so I asked to use the house phone and called her.  Although we’d talked about communication before I left, she hadn’t really believed I’d be living in a place with ABSOLUTELY NO cell-phone service.  That was as inconceivable to her as the notion of outdoor showers and no flush toilets.  (I can’t wait for her to visit!)  The real kicker was when I told her that email was the most reliable means of communication.

“Email, Dad?  You’re kidding, right?”

“No, Sweetie.  Email gets through right away, but anything else takes time.”

“But that’s so old-fashioned!  I haven’t used email since I was in middle school.”

So . . . this is where we’ve come.  Email is outmoded.  It seems like only yesterday when, as a cutting-edge adopter of Gmail, I’d felt so proud to get each of the girls email addresses that would distinguish them.  I have keithhoward@gmail.com, and my daughters have, respectively, rebeccahoward, meredithhoward and elizabethhoward@gmail.com.  I guess that forward-thinking father got them really great eight-track players.

 

(I’ll be surprised if any of them, or many of you, ever saw a functioning eight-track player.)

 

While on the subject of my daughters, of whom I am sincerely proud, let me share with you an email I got from Becca, the oldest at 25, and therefore able to remember when email was the cat’s pajamas:

 

“I have been working late at UNH every night this week, because we are doing a research project in the residence halls where students are testing a video game that is supposed to help incoming freshman learn bystander intervention tactics to prevent violence and sexual assault. I found out that I have four friends from my RA days that are now Hall Directors at UNH…kind of crazy to think about.  When I was walking back to my car last night, I watched all the drunken chaos on Main Street from afar, and it felt kind of oddly gratifying to be a sober spectator.  This is my 7th year hanging out at UNH during opening week, and I think this is the first year that I finally feel like an adult. It’s a good feeling.”

 

Am I glad Becca is working as a researcher at UNH?  Absolutely.  Am I proud of her work to protect young women from sexual and other assault?  Absolutely.  Am I pleased with her chance to be a sober spectator rather than part of the drunken chaos?  Absolutely I am.

Am I glad she feels like an adult?

Am I glad she feels like an adult?

Am I glad she feels like an adult?

Yes.  But it makes me feel like a man who’s still amazed at the speed of email.

 

Secret Clubs and Replenishable Meat

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sam and I went to civilization last night, or at least to Colebrook. For the last 10 years, I’ve been going to a secret club, first in Nashua, then in Manchester, then in Nashua again (and in between in England and various parts of the US).  This club meets to review the very simple truths that helped us stop drinking an, infinitely more important, learn to surf rather than sink into the chaos and unmanageability of life.

After having access to four or five potential meetings every single day in Manchester or Nashua, life in the secret club requires more planning up here.  Colebrook is 40 minutes away, at least the way I drive at night—constantly scanning the underbrush for signs of suicidal deer or moose plotting their demise on the front of my Jeep—and meetings are only held on Mondays and Fridays.  Those may be the only two days I leave the Tiny White box, but those WILL be the two days I do so.

The Colebrook meeting was like every secret meeting everywhere.  We donned crimson robes, chanted allegiance to each other and to the club, brought out the goat to be sacrificed, then let its blood coagulate on us as we vowed to destroy all that lay before us.  Sorry, I got carried away there.  This being the Great Northern Woods, we sacrificed a fox, who was not too damn happy about it.

Honestly, the ritual of these meetings is comforting, something like what I imagine a nominal Catholic feels as she goes to mass each week.  There’s nothing new to be learned, no news flashes from the Vatican about a heretofore undiscovered sacrament for life in the Internet age.  Instead, the priest and the congregation take a walk down memory lane, re-remembering things learned long ago.  My secret meetings just remind me of what life used to be like, what happened and what it’s like now.  Life is better today than it’s ever been, and those secret meetings are a good part of the reason why.

Sam was impressed with Colebrook for a few reasons.  We stopped at the IGA, a supermarket chain I thought had passed into conglomeracy long ago, and I got him a beef bone.  It gave him great pleasure while I went to my meeting, and at this minute he’s still working to get to the delicious marrow inside.  A part of me would like to get him a cow, just to cut off a hunk of it now and then and let Sam feel a little heaven.

Which reminds me of an idea I’ve had for a long time, and still haven’t discovered the flaws in.  Why couldn’t I keep a beef cow, and when I wanted a steak just go out and cut off a pound of him, making sure to cauterize the wound and let him heal?  I’m not saying I’d do it every day, or even every week, but why couldn’t a cow survive minor surgery on a monthly basis?

Bacon Today, Oatmeal Forever After

9:45, Monday, August 28, 2017

The adventure is truly beginning now.  I got in late Thursday night, so Sam and I slept in the box with just the battery electricity to light us.  Of course, because it wasn’t cold and all we were doing, after taking a walk and letting each of us pee under a starlit sky, was going to bed, the previous sentence is simply a plea for . . . what?  Pity?  No, pity is way too strong a word.  Sympathy?  Closer, but still too whiny for what I mean.  Identification?  That’s the word, or at least it’s a word.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday were devoted to settling in—long walks with Sam, getting to know the neighbors—Jay and Judy next door in a beautiful two-floor log cabin that, until Saturday, I’d assumed was NEVER inhabited, and Gail and Boone at the end of the dirt road.  Gail is in her late sixties, a widow who shares her house with a nameless cat and Boone, a large black dog with some bits of retriever and who knows what else.  Boone, unfortunately, is the bane of the neighborhood, a two year old who runs the road, chases cars and responds to no one and nothing.

Saturday afternoon, while Sam and I were heading out for a couple-mile walk, Boone appeared at the end of his driveway.  Because he was leashless, a free-range dog, I didn’t want Sam to feel he had to protect me from Boone.  I took Sam’s leash off, the two sniffed each other for about 12 seconds, then took off to play grab ass for the next 90 minutes until they were both completely exhausted.  I found myself laughing out loud as they wrassled and counted coup on each other’s necks.  Boone has about four inches and 15 pounds on Sam, so the fight was never even.  Still, Sam gave as good as he got and seems to be learning how to “fight” as an underdog.  I can see the seeds of a great dog in him.  Just as all men marry above themselves, no man deserves the dog he gets.

Sunday was church day with no church.  I’d planned on meeting some local folks there, but worship starts early here and I was still filling my mouth with sausage and eggs at 8:30 when the local faithful gathered.  Next week, then.

A note on life at Tiny White Box.  I’m located on the grounds of Warriors at 45 North, a hunting and fishing retreat for veterans.  Right now, two staff members are here, but they’ll be leaving Wednesday to go to the Lancaster Fair.  When staff is here, Ray Booska, who lives down in Colebrook, comes up and cooks a fine, tasty and completely unhealthy breakfast, and makes sure food is ready for the rest of the day.  A man would be happy with Ray’s food forever.  Also very fat, at least if that man ate with my vigor.  Safely for me, for most of the winter I’ll be living on oatmeal and canned fruit.

 

 

Silence, Silence Everywhere, and Naught a Thought to Think.

Sam, the boxer/lab six-month-old puppy who’s thrown in his lot with me, and I have landed in the Great North Woods to live in a Tiny White Box.  (If I’m not careful, another sentence like the last one–with its common words capitalized–will make me sound as if I’m living in the 17th century, instead of the grand and glorious 21st, where we’ve got rocket packs and universal peace.

The first couple nights here have gone well, although Sam has endeared himself to no one with his judgment that the porch of the bunkhouse is an appropriate place to take a dump.  While it could be Sam has a peasant’s view of the gentry who sleep in their wilderness luxury with fire and bed frames, I kind of doubt it.  Although . . . Sam’s upper body strength might be perfect for pulling a noble-filled tumbril to the execution point about a mile or so out of town.  But I digress.

Ernest Hemingway had a great line in a short story–“He was awake a long time before he remembered his heart was broken.”  After being married to Liberty House for five years, and being father to a series of 10 veterans, I think it will take me a long time to stop thinking about the place, fretting and wondering if things are okay.  Still, I haven’t called to check in, the sun is shining here and I’ve got a few novels and a memoir to write–along with planning for the first Tiny White Box veterans writing retreat starting September 22.

According to my phone, I’ve now been sober 3751 days.  Huh.  It seems like just over 10 years ago I was a suicidal drunk.  (Unable to complete a thought, the author now contemplates what a “phone” that has no service should be called.  Until I go south in three weeks to visit my daughters, the box in my pocket is little more than a music, podcast, audiobook player.  And reminder of how long I’ve been sober.