Love those things you hate, it’s good for you!
Good morning you eager recipients of my morning meanderings. I could’ve given this one many titles. But what’s a title anyway. I could just name every piece I write “rabbit trails.” I guess the title is sort of like this first rabbit trail I’ll take you on this morning.
The biggest thing they drilled into our heads when we were becoming teachers was this, tell the kids what you are going to teach them, then teach them, then tell them what you just taught them. The rationale was very simple. First you prepare them for what’s coming, sort of plow the field and make it fertile for the seeds. Then you plant those seeds, you tell them a bunch of things. Then you have to let those kids know exactly what they learned, what the crop turned out to be. So when they go home and their parents ask them what they learned today , they can tell them. That’s one way kids and garden soil are different. You don’t have to tell the soil what you just planted.
It’s damn hard dictating, or writing, looking out this 3′ x 4′ window at all this beauty. Matter of fact, I wrote a song about this window earlier today and I’m going to share it with you. Because you early morning listeners, or readers whatever you are, are privileged to hear a song that is fresh out of the oven. In fact it’s still hot. Careful or it will sizzle your ears.
Right now on the river ice there are two huge ravens pecking at the snow. Except I know what they are pecking at. They’re pecking at an experiment. I had some left over tomato sauce colored oil. Poured it off the top of my greasy organic venison burger and ragu spaghetti sauce. So I dribbled it halfway across the snow-covered river ice. I was doing some research to see whether the local magpies would be first to smell or see this line of red goodie dots, or the big black wolves of the sky, the raven. Well all the data has been tabulated. The results are in. Unless I’ve missed something, which I might have, the ravens are the winners. That’s why most four-legged carnivores look up from the ground and follow the trail of the Raven. Before I leave, I will go and check for tracks to see which four-leggeds are participating in my research. Of course, I won’t know whether they were coming by already, or they were brought in by the ravens. I may have to make up my own conclusions, conclusions I’d like, conclusions that fit my belief system – Even if I have to make up some alternative facts. Can’t have any fake news or research up here on the river.
The partial truth to my title, is the fact that there are indeed things I hate to do that I know will make me feel good. Why do I hate to do them? Because some things are hard. Like getting up early and watching a new day dawn. Like sweating and working out and fully being in touch with your body. Taking up my guitar and writing a song when I would rather read. Why is it that so many things that are really good for us are hard, take discipline? While at the same time the substitutes all feel so goods, like sleeping in, overeating, doing drugs or alcohol, or drinking coffee, yet sometimes aren’t the best for you.
Of course you think that by now I would be smart enough to do it anyway, because I know what always makes me feel good, because those tried and true methods, even though they take more discipline, always give me great results. The answer is, I have no clue. So if you get nothing else out of this, at least think about what you do to make yourself feel good, and if it’s really good for you. Think about those things you avoid doing, not because they won’t have great results, but just because you are too lazy, too undisciplined.
Take this morning. I forced myself to jump up while it was still dark, put another log on the fire and get the cabin warm. While I was up I put on coffee water and made a cuppa coffee. Then I propped some pillows behind me and leaned against the wall. Took up my guitar and got back into my sleeping bag, sitting up of course. Once again I was doing an experiment. Just like dropping the spaghetti sauce drops on the river snow, I was pretty sure what my findings would be, I just needed some reassurance I suppose. You see, I always know that a warm fire, morning coffee, snuggling back in bed, and either writing a creative piece or a song, always puts me in a wonderful frame of mind. I also know that gazing out the window at the spectacular Alaskan view puts me in a wonderful place. So this morning I wrote a song about looking out the window, came up with a creative way of combining all those surefire ways of making myself feel good altogether. Did it work? Hell yes! Here is a rough draft of my song, minus the melody of course. I stuck to my three favorite chords in the key of D. Which are, if you care to know, D, A, and G.
I just have to stick in a little story about one of my singer-songwriter mentors John Prine. Could be a long rabbit trail but I will force myself to cut it short. He once came to Homer to perform and told the following great story.
He was asked to perform at a really important gig up in Chicago. On the way he wrote a new song, minus his guitar of course, because like so many of us, creative artists, we sometimes do our best work behind the steering wheel.
When he gets to the venue he says to himself, “I think I’ll sing my new song tonight”. Then he realizes he hasn’t played it on his guitar yet. Now he’s worried. What if he can’t find the guitar chords that go with the song? What if he wrote a song using some chords that he does not even know how to play? So he grabs his guitar and runs into the men’s room. (A place I have often gone for a last minute yodeling rehearsal. You should hear some of the comments from the stalls next to mine) So he tries out his new song with his guitar for the first time and feels great relief. He pauses just a moment in the telling of this story, as any great storyteller would, and then says, “I was in luck, same three chords I always use for my songs.”
The story changed my life. Some other time I’ll tell you about my son Atz Lee and I hanging out with Prine in the green room (the ladies dressing room adjoining the theater in our local high school), or about the time my daughter Jewel met him face-to-face and acted totally ridiculous, more ridiculous than any one of her starstruck fans ever acted when they met her.
So I took my guitar to bed with me and just started strumming and saying the first thing that came to my head. Sometimes you just gotta jump in the water and take the plunge. Since I was looking out of the 3′ x 4′ window at the perfect crescent moon just hovering over the mountain glaciers, that’s what I started singing about. As it got lighter and I could see all the stains and smudges and smashed mosquitoes and the torn window screen scratched by huge brown bear claws over the years, I wrote a verse about that. And since I’ve been out here a few days and I’m missing my wife I also threw in a little of that.
I hate to let you down here little partners, But there’s somewhere I just have to go. No I’m not talking the outhouse, already been there, done that earlier. I got to go do another one of my favorite things that always makes me feel good, and that’s an early morning ski on the crust of the snow in the early morning fox River Valley sunrise. Be right back to tell you all about it, and my new song. Who knows, might have a few more verses by the time I get back. I hate getting out of my comfortable morning clothes and putting on my tights and ski boots. I hate pulling my hat down over my ears because then I can’t hear anything. I hate walking across slippery ice to get down to the river snow. But, I’ve worked through all that before and I’ll do it again. Why? Because I love feeling good after doing what I hate.
Okay I’m back. I could go right on to share with you my morning song, but it’s written down and can wait. Whereas my trip up the river and back might fade. I went up the river on my skate skis to what the old-timers in the area call Brush Creek. Just a little side creek come straight out the mountains that dumps into Sheep River. Two miles up and two miles back more or less. Slightly uphill going upriver slightly downhill coming back. Felt my body coming alive, commune with nature, and changed a line or two of my morning song. I have to say, what a way to greet a sunshiny winter day. I’d guess skiing on the river is about as good as it gets. Actually, out crust skiing anywhere is as good as it gets.
I hated the fact that I slipped as soon as I stepped off the porch onto the slick ice with my slippery ski boots. I hated the fact that I almost re injured my torn rotator cuff muscle when I grabbed myself on the edge of the woodshed to keep from going down. I hated that slippery walk to the river bank and then carefully climbing down to the frozen river snow. I hated the fact that when I came back and climbed back up that bank, trying to get halfway up with my skis on before I had to take them off, that I fell down twice. The big rule of thumb when you’re skiing at my age, especially out by yourself, is DO NOT FALL!
But everything in between was a dream. It did just what I knew it would. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here so I better be serious. I have learned not to hate those parts that are easy to hate, but to sort of look at them as many aspects of life, something you just have to accept and deal with the best you can, to get to the good stuff. I said that in case you don’t know me that well, you won’t go thinking I am a hateful person.
Actually, I’m the kind of person who tries to be funny but many people don’t get it. In school when I tried to be funny to the teachers it always landed me in the principals office where I got swatted with a big board. Teachers definitely didn’t get my funny side.
It’s mornings like this that I really believe how very few people have the privilege of starting a day the way I have, and I haven’t even had breakfast yet. Unless you counted two cups of coffee, three pieces of bread toasted on the wood stove, and now a cup of ginger lemon herbal tea. But believe me it’s about time for hotcakes. The challenge of course, is no matter who you are or where you are, on which rung of the socioeconomic ladder, or where you hang out on the political, sexual preference, or spiritual spectrum, you have to figure out what you love to hate, what gets your day going in the perfect direction at the perfect speed.
I try to feel gratitude every morning. I try as many times as possible during the day to thank my mother and father for life, and for coming to this beautiful land where I could spend my life. But on mornings like today, out here close to the mountains and the river I feel the gratitude more deeply, it’s sort of like I am bathing in it, sort of like my mom and dad are right there hovering smiling, feeling gratified that please all they did and went through was worthwhile.
Since it was almost noon by the time I got back here, the cabin warm, and I was all sweaty, I decided it would be the perfect time take a shower, well bathe, well take a spit bath or a sponge bath. I did it just the way we did it on the homestead. You have soap, wash rag, and you have a pan of water. you wash and then you rinse. Simple. You can get fancy and use two pans of water. You can stand in one pan so you don’t get the floor too wet. I wash my hair, I let it drain down the sink – not my hair, I have way too little to donate to the sink drain. I’m talking the dirty water. For most of the rest of my body I just washed with a rag with soapy water and then rinsed with a clean rag. For those parts of me needing a little more rinsing I used a cup for pouring while sort of semi hovering crouching over a bigger pan I was holding with my other hand – two cups of that rinse water. Get the picture? Or is this way too much wilderness information? It probably can best be summed up in the words of my first wife’s aunt. She had spent years living in the bush (extremely rural Alaska, as in mostly small Alaskan native villages). She used to say, “well you wash up as far as possible, then you wash down as far as possible, and then, well, you wash possible.” I was a teenager when I heard that, I loved it and love it still. And here in this sacred scroll I am scratching on birchbark in the shadow of the mountain, I share that ancient homestead humor with you. Above (and below) all else, remember to stay clean. And love those things you hate.
Part two is coming soon.