Last night I took a thirty-minute shower and thought long and hard about restraint and reward.
I’ll get to that eventually, but first let’s breeze through my day yesterday.
I wake up.
I stand in the morning sun, blinking.
I walk around, stretch a little.
More standing in the sun. More blinking.
Then I read. I’m not quite ready to dive into The Overstory just yet. I’ll start that tonight. Instead, I read a few pages of Toms River by Dan Fagin, a horrifying portrait of the small town in New Jersey where I grew up and where the water supply was poisoned, deliberately, by a chemical dye manufacturing company. It’s extremely hard for me to read because I remember just how bad the water smelled and tasted when I was a kid. I think of the thousands of times that I put a glass under the sink, filled it, and chugged.
But one can only think so much about poison in the water they grew up on before one must start thinking about something else.
I write a trivial thing about a trivial interaction with a cop. I wonder, yet again: Why am I doing this? Why must I publish something every single day? I make a short list of great answers to these questions, on post-its, and stick them to the wall. One says: So you don’t have to think about whether or not you are going to write today. One says: So mom and dad, and everyone, know what’s happening. One says: Practice makes perfect. One says: To find the cheat codes. And the last, best one says: Just because.
I make scrambled eggs with a bunch of veggies. First I dice everything. Then, slowly, stuff goes in the pan, in a very specific order: oil, onions and carrots, broccoli, 3 eggs, spices, pepper, salt, diced tomato. Served drenched in hot sauce, over romaine, with a big yank of ‘everything Italian loaf’ fresh baked at Walmart for $1.00. I eat slowly, on a blanket on a stage, watching a small crew, including one woman in tie dye, put lines on a softball field covered in mist.
Ishpeming has more than just a public library. It has a Carnegie library, and at least one of the residents, the owner of the local antique mall, is particularly proud of it.
It’s true that Carnegie libraries are a cut above the rest. Of the fifty or so Midwest libraries I’ve been to in the past few months, many of the most glorious have been Carnegies, replete with ornate architecture, reading rooms with high ceilings and dramatic views, stained glass, interior archways, etc. Apparently, late in his life, Andrew Carnegie decided to be the Johnny Appleseed of Parthenon-esque libraries in rural towns, so he gave out a bunch of grants for these behemoths to be built and his name is all over the place.
I took this photo a few months ago in front of the Carnegie library in Defiance where I first started noticing his name everywhere:
Unfortunately for me, the Ishpeming Carnegie library is closed on Mondays. It was quite a blow to show up, backpacked, caffeinated and ready, to a locked door.
So, instead, I got the second-to-last rhubarb muffin from the one cafe in town which was attached to a head shop and a health food store. The place had good wifi and great vibes, and it’s where I first started thinking about restraint.
I realized that what made my muffin, my laptop, and the wifi so profoundly enjoyable was that they were special treats. To save money, I go to libraries instead of cafes. And I have plenty of treats on Sputnik. And, of course, I’m almost always without internet access.
The thought isn’t fully crystallized, but I’m starting to get it: If you don’t always give yourself muffins and wifi, it’s feels more divine when you do.
In the late afternoon, after a short, heavenly nap, I had yet another euphoric trail run that started in downtown Ishpeming and involved getting semi-lost on a network of snow-shoe trails that wrap around several beautiful lakes. I stopped for several staring contests with deer. Black and white butterflies surrounded me. The knee issues I experienced in June are ancient history. I’m flying again.
Sweaty and dirty, I change my shirt and decide to drive. Three songs in a row, performed live, by Lee Ann Womack, including one called Bottom of the Barrel which is basically my anthem. Then, a jam by Sheryl Crow and Stevie Nicks called Prove you Wrong, one that I need to remember to send to E. And finally, like a grand finale: Africa, by Toto.
I decide to stop in L’Anse, because I see a huge lake and the sun getting low on the horizon.
Reader, I can’t keep telling you about these sunsets. But I also can’t not. I watched it from the L’Anse town campground which sits on a high bluff that looks out across the lake. I thought. In my journal, I wrote: I need to write more poetry. That is the only way to close the gap between my words and these colors. The gap is infinite, but that is okay. I’ll never succeed, but that is okay. The attempt still matters. It is ALWAYS the attempt that matters.
As darkness fell, I decided to poke around the campground looking for a shower - something more than a hose, hopefully. Through the trees, I saw white light emanating through glass bricks. I was in luck.
But first I cleaned the heck out of Sputnik. Because who wants to take a shower and return to a sloppy camper? Not me.
Then I gathered my toiletries and towel and began to pray. For the entire walk to the shower, I asked God for hot water. The mantra was: “Please God. Please God. Please God.”
So when I turned on the shower and the room filled with steam… well… I felt like God had answered my prayer. I too filled up with steam. With joy. With life.
Blue paint was chipping off the shower door. Cool air was coming through rotten wood planks in the floor. A cloud of moths swarmed the single light bulb hanging from the cob-webby ceiling. But for me, this was a spa. I wouldn’t have traded that shower for any other shower in the world.
The hot water melted my brain. It was a standing meditation. I massaged my head, shoulders, face. I realized that I was now under the exact same water from the lake that the sun had just turned orange and pink. I could feel that the magical glow on the water was passing through to me, by way of a hot water heater. I realized that everything, everything, starts with the sun.
I realize, again, that the water in the town where I grew up has been poisioned.
Who knows if I cried when I turned my face up into the spout? And what would be the difference anyway? I was immersed in a waterfall of hot tears.
When you withhold something from yourself, you learn to appreciate it a whole lot more. Some of the things that we do every single day are utterly sacred, but it’s so easy to forget. I used to take a hot shower every day. Now that I don’t, I see the experience as a spectacular gift. It made my night.
My dinner was lentils with carrots, broccoli and romaine. Since I don’t have a fridge, I eat fresh veggies like a machine, before they have time to rot.
As I cook, I realize that food has something in common with showering. This principle of restraint applies to so many things. Right now, my love for food is at an all time high, not in spite of the fact that I cook extremely simple meals with intention, but because of that fact. I feel bad for folks who always have too much. They’re missing out on the awesomeness of just enough. (Insert another plug for Lee Ann Womack’s Bottom of the Barrel.)
And, alas, this explains my undying, euphoric love for technology in all forms. Wifi is a beautiful beast, an absolute adventure, every time I tap in. My flip phone is a miracle. The radio, a hot water heater, a guitar, the internet. All of these things expand our happiness and conciousness.
The absolute magic of what is happening literally right now – as you, reader, take in these last few words – is not lost on me. I am hundreds of miles away, in the future or the past, however you want to look at it, connecting my brain to your brain, moving my thoughts into your skull.