By Hand

Our friends Peter and Sylvia stopped by briefly on Christmas Eve as we were preparing for our holiday celebration. They wanted to drop off our gift and Peter, being from Iowa City, was hoping to catch my Mom in some brief conversation as she spent a great deal of time there at ious points throughout her life.

Peter is an interesting fellow. He is an architect by trade. Curious, intelligent, slightly pushy with an opinion but open to reason. That said, he is most likely to corner you in conversation at a dinner party and keep you from other engagements. But, at least, the trap will be one you will learn from.

But, to me, what makes Peter most interesting is his hobbies. He always has one. They always involve making something by hand. For a few years it was chairs. These chairs were beautifully crafted and were more like art than furniture. When he sold them they were priced more like art than a sitting utensil as well. Good for him.

His latest hobby is hats. These splendid felt hats. They look great on him. Well crafted, wide brimmed, and warm. Perfect in a light Minnesota snowfall. One could imagine him sitting on a cabin porch “up north” sipping from a handmade mug talking about the conversations of the birds. With that hat.

I recently ran into another acquaintance of ours. The father of one of the other girls at the Circus |ekbfk|referrer|rntae
school Beatrix takes classes at
. It was before Christmas and I asked how things were going. He responded honestly in saying they were pretty crazy and stressful. Not simply due to the nature of the season but because they made all of their presents. He explained that not only was it a fun idea and good family creative activity but it was a financial necessity. They were a one income family and simply could not afford to give what they wanted any other way.

I found this to be so cool that I have committed to do the same next year — in part at the least with a goal of in whole. And, if not in whole to commit to purchasing gifts that are hand made by others — preferably locally and direct from those that made them.

I’m really interested in this. Having a hobby where one makes things. Useful things. By hand. While I know it is almost a year away again, Christmas always seems to sneak up quickly. I better start making something soon. I have some ideas of things I’d like to try my hands at making.

Mostly Failure With Light Awesomeness

I’ve been toying with the idea of committing to daily posting on for one of my intentions for 2013. Believe it or not, this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever considered doing. The reason: Fear of failure.

You see, I don’t know how guys like Seth |hiynd|referrer|kynhy
or Randy Murray do it. I don’t know how someone manages to post something great, insightful, inspiring, or otherwise interesting 5–7 days a week. My “muse” does not operate with that level of consistency. Theirs does (or at least seems to). I’m afraid that most of what I post won’t be good.

I’m also afraid that I’ll miss the mark. That by committing to a certain timeline that, on the first day I fail to meet that, I’ll feel incredibly guilty about it or, worse, wont feel that bad and allow myself to skip more. That, by doing so, I’m letting both myself and others down.

Then, there is the thought that I will have to post something long. That 250 words or a paragraph or a single sentence with a thought going through my brain would be met with ridicule or slight (more so of myself than others I’m sure).

Yet, ultimately, these are all excuses. These are the resistance trying to marginalize my art. This is The Fear waging war with The Work — and I’m letting Fear win.

But, ultimately, everything we do involves commitment and facing our fears. Every future moment is one full of unknowns and uncertainty. When we go to bed at night, there is no certainty we will awake. When we set our first foot on the floor the next morning, there is no guarantee the other will follow.

Therefore, the only thing I can do here is to face my fear head on. To allow myself to embrace the uncertainty and to tempt the failure. To embrace the possibility that most of it will be bad but that doing it is the only way to get better.

It starts right now.

Writing: Before Step One

Yesterday, I was standing in line in IKEA. Specifically, I was waiting to check out in the food store which is a store-within-a-store of the main store itself. I’m not sure if all of them are configured this way. This one is.

I had gone first to get gravy. The cream gravy. The same that they serve with the meatballs in the restaurant upstairs. It comes in a packet that you can mix with cream on the stove top at home. It is my favorite gravy and far better and easier than I could muster on my own.

We celebrate the holiday on Christmas Eve with a large dinner and present opening. As my wife’s family heritage is Norwegian, and they constitute the majority in attendance, we prepare a traditional Norwegian meal. The gravy for the meatballs, though Swedish, is very close to that served in Norway. Close enough for our liking.

I often wonder if I’m the only Black man in America making Lefse (traditional Norwegian potato flat bread) for Christmas.

In any case, I’m standing in the long line with my four items… Yep, four. IKEA is one of those places where you go in to get one thing and, well… Two packages of cream gravy, lingonberry sauce (I wasn’t sure if we had some already — better safe, than sorry), and some moose-shaped pasta my daughter likes. After about 20 minutes, I had only made it up to number three in line. The lady in front of me was clearly restless with the lack of speed. At the front of the line is an elderly lady, slowly taking each of her 20 or so items, one by one, from the cart. It really does look like she is caught in some TV sports-like instant replay. The lady in front of me turns around, looks at me, exasperated, and lets out a long sigh. She throws up her hands and says without saying “Can you believe this?!”

I shrug my shoulders and ask her, “What can we do?” I have a lot of patience for things like this. In fact, in many ways, I look forward to them. Stuck in a line with things I have to buy and no control over the time that it is taking. It is these times I’m forced to do nothing but appreciate the moment. To observe the details of a life that goes by too fast. Mostly because, if not for these forced breaks, we run through it without recognizing that it will be over sooner than we ever think.

What I wanted to tell this lady in front of me was that I was quite enjoying the elderly lady at the counter taking as much time as she needed. That, this waiting was the first break I had had in a very busy day. That, most importantly, it is times like these that, as a writer, I took the time to feed my writing the only nourishment it needs — observation. That she and the instant replay lady and the moose pasta, and cream gravy, and lingonberry sauce were going to end up in an essay written by America’s Only Black Christmas Lefse Maker and she should just shut up and enjoy the silence of waiting but that her doing that would make my story far less entertaining…

It reminded me of the grand opening of the first Trader Joe’s here in Minnesota. I’m a big fan and, before that store opened here, would make a point of stopping at their locations in other states when I traveled and stocked up on all of my favorite items that are only available there.

The place was a zoo. Crazy busy. My wife and I got the things we absolutely felt we needed and got into the long line to check out. The line moved very slowly. Unusually so. And when it was our turn we soon realized why…

The young lady checking us out was named Anastasia. If I had to guess, they flew her out from California to help with the grand opening — likely having rescued her from a SoCal commune where she was a member of a cult. She had long brown-blond hair, several ill considered tattoos, and piercings in places that were, um… interesting. Her blue eyes had that wake-n-bake glaze that I have not seen since my college bathroom mirror.

Anastasia was friendly enough. Too much so, in fact. As she slowly removed each item from our cart, she audibly pondered its greater purpose in the grand scheme of existence. She suggested all of the traditional and innovative ways such a pre-packaged and microwaveable food item might serve us. She then attempted to scan each item, several times. And, if she failed after a half-dozen attempts, just shrugged her shoulders and threw it in our bag and moved onto the next. She did this for each item. Every. One.

I seriously think it took almost a half hour to check out. If was comical. To this day, whenever my wife and I get an especially chatty or spacey clerk, we look at each other and say, in unison, “Anastasia!”

And here I was, in IKEA, alone. If I screamed “Anastasia!” there would be no one else there to understand…

Are you getting the point here? This is where writing begins. All of these experiences, stories, circumstances, details, and observations.

Your life is full of them. Write about your morning coffee. Write about your messy desk. There’s a hundred stories in every seemingly boring moment if you simply take the time to notice them. And all of those stories are connected to each other in beautiful ways. Each one by itself is an essay. Yet, find those woven threads and they just might make an interesting book. Even something as mundane as waiting in a checkout line is an opportunity to spin an interesting yarn or insightful tale (perhaps the title of this one might be Stuck! |keytf|referrer|yyhke
Stories Of Tuning In While Checking Out

Live life. In there is all the stuff you need before step one.

home/ journal/ books/ dash/plus/ archives/ rss