It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and I apologize. While I should be hoarding the questions that come in until I’ve got enough for a column, I’ve been frittering them away by answering each questioning email I get at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve gone back through those emails, and extracted those questions below. If the answer I give today is different than the one I sent you three weeks ago, bear in mind I haven’t ruled out a future in politics—the ability to keep a straight face while having two mouths is earned through practice, not at birth.
- How do you heat the Tiny White Box?
I’ve got three different heat sources at my disposal. (Four, I suppose, if I were willing to start a trash fire in the corner of the box.) Please bear in mind I always keep one window open in the box, to allow Sam (is a dog) and my aromas to escape and also to bring in fresh air. Although it’s crazy, in any small space I start to worry that oxygen is at a premium, and that I need to prevent asphyxiation.
- A tiny electric blower heater, smaller than a bread box, that an office worker might use to keep her feet warm. Given that the TWB has only 120 cubic feet (picture a closet six feet high, five feet wide and four feet deep), this tiny element is plenty to take the chill off a 40-degree morning
- A larger, oil-filled electric heater, about the size of a standard house radiator. Nowhere near as quick as the tiny one, this takes five or 10 minutes to heat but at its lowest setting has kept the box warm so far. So far, though, it has not gotten much below freezing, and that is unlikely to continue much longer.
- A Big Buddy propane heater, along with a bunch of fuel. When the electricity was out for three or four days, I used this—designed to keep a winter garage warm—and found it WAY too powerful for 30 degrees outside.
- When will you have the next Veterans Writers’ Retreat?
Some time in January. Details will follow. Really.
- How do you deal with loneliness?
By not feeling it. I know that’s a glib answer, but it’s true. While some humans apparently are either gregarious or solitary, I appear to have been gifted with both qualities.
For five years, I was central to a beehive of activity at Liberty House. Each day, I interacted with four or five staff members, 10 residents, a dozen donors and 15-20 folks coming in for help. While I may be remembered as eccentric, I don’t think I was seen as reclusive or antisocial, although my experience shows me many of us don’t really know how we’re coming across. Likewise, my previous career (or at least the successful and gratifying parts) was composed of leading small- to medium-sized tribes of people, for how else can being principal of alternative schools be described? In short, I can be outgoing, can work a room, can dance a number of social waltzes.
For the last three months, I’ve lived a solitary existence, save the companionship of my heterosexual canine life partner, Sam (is a dog). While I carry on correspondence, talk with my daughters and various others on the phone, go to one or two secret-society meetings each week and go south monthly for two or three days, the bulk of my time is spent alone. I hike at least four or five miles a day–sometimes listening to music, audiobooks or podcasts, sometimes in silence—write for five to 10 hours per day, nap and generally live a life without stress. Barring the cold, which has finally started to be a constant rather than a fluctuating variable, and the occasional loss of electricity, which can be solved with propane heat and batteries, my life is pleasant and too full to admit loneliness.
- Are you available to talk to my school, gardening club, church, recovery group, parole officer, etc?
Sure. Perhaps. Send me the details of what you’d like, and we’ll try to make it happen. I should warn you, though, that my practice is to prepare like hell before a talk—writing out notes, drafts of speeches, playing around with openings and closings. Once the preparation is done, I chuck it in a corner and then talk about whatever pops into my head. You might ask me to speak about life in the Great North Woods, and I’ll talk about being a homeless drunk. You might expect a talk on homeless veterans, and I’ll give you 30 minutes on the Georges Orwell and Elliott. Each presentation is guaranteed entertaining, but not on topic.
- How do you like your toast?
Buttered on both sides please. When I drop it, this offers me the choice of cursing the greasy spot on the floor or expressing joy at the butter side up.