All I Needed Was a Hood

My last visit to Home Depot – one of many recent runs there during my project of converting an 1865 Maine barn into an apartment – turned into a sweet and odd reminder of my writing life. That writing life that often gets sidelined as soon as I have “more pressing” things to do, like move, get a kid off to college, build a home…But the sales person who helped me navigate the dizzying ventless hood options quickly revealed he was an avid journaler with a penchant for storytelling.

A man in his 50s, he was a far cry from the “Home Depot Guy” one might expect;  his tall and lean figure with thin, delicate gesticulating hands and animated and dainty facial expressions produced an energy loaded with charmingly feminine affect. His lips pursed just so every few seconds and his eyes would widen and roll while his eyebrows rose and fell or frowned to give more expression to his speech. He would lean in or sway back while elaborating about his own ventless hood fan home renovation story, that soon enough included references to his father’s voice chastising him from the grave about not installing it correctly.

He had me at how hearing his dead father’s voice commenting on his activities was such a meaningful part of his experience, or how his dad was still an influential and lively presence, despite having been gone for several years. I know what that feels like.

From talking about his own father’s opinions, expectations and disappointments, the conversation (which was mostly a monologue) quickly turned to his own experience of fatherhood, and how his own grown sons were so hard to reach, both physically and emotionally. So, he said, he journals in order to be able to one day leave them a document where they can, when they are ready, learn more about their dad’s inner life. The painful time leading up to the divorce (I suspected he had decided to come out in mid-life, since he made some indirect references to that effect, and this had caused a domino effect of challenges for both him and his family), the misunderstandings, the things unsaid, the things that can’t be undone…the love. The need to tell ones story.

I finally left Home Depot with an affordable yet sleek, stainless and Italian-designed hood, sure to make my cooking forays more pleasant and less stinky. That felt like a relief. But the part about that early morning Home Depot run that truly felt gratifying, was having spent a few minutes listening to Barry, my fellow storyteller, which in turn inspired me and reminded me of my inner calling, which in turn brought me back to my keyboard. Here. Now.

I live and love my life of “yang” – of movement and action – as much as I love and strive for more “yin” – stillness and meditation. The first is easy for me; it’s in my blood and having the shpilkes is simply part of who I am. That energy is often the catalyst for all the practical “stuff” I am so efficient at getting done. As a kid, I’d run around my Oslo neighborhood and either help people or got into trouble. I didn’t sit much. I didn’t read much. Sitting and writing – or just sitting – is not so obvious for me. But the storyteller in me reminds me to, is constantly tugging and nudging me in that direction, again and again. Sometimes it just takes a little listening to remember.

Home Depot

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The Red Lights & the Radio

Haven’t you also had that uncanny experience when all the red lights turn red, as you drive through town from point A to point B, and you can’t help but wonder, “is this for real? Why is it that I am getting ALL the red lights on this brief, innocent journey of mine?” Of course, this usually will happen if you are short on time and that annoyingly predictable and rhythmic wave of green-orange-red tries to patronizingly remind you if its importance and social standing (much higher than yours, and with the law in its back), while you might feel your heart rate accelerate inversely proportionate to your car decelerating, and you hear yourself quietly mumble obscenities under your breath. Or perhaps that’s just me.

This morning, however, I had a delightful red light experience. I’m out driving at the ungodly hour of 6:20am, taking my youngest son and his car pool to their high school to catch the team bus for their all day State’s wrestling tournament. This is the kind of serfdom parents of high school athletes are reduced to, but ok, it was a beautiful morning…and I love my son, and I have even come to be fond of his teammates too. A lovely bunch, really. The roads are peaceful and almost empty of cars, and as the sun is just rising in the east, peeking up through the buildings of downtown Hartford spreading a soft pink light in our direction to the west, the boys silently greet each other while settling in the back seat as they are sleepily recovering from last night’s first round at the tourney, anxious about the day’s next round of eliminations, but already dreaming of the end of the season when they can again resume what teenage boys do best: sleep past noon, eat junk and have time to chase girls.

A quick drive ahead is expected, once all the four boys are collected. While we stop on the way at the local bagel shop where they want to stock up on snacks for the day, I put my head back on the headrest and reach for the radio dial and turn on NPR, the public radio station. I am happy to discover that the Irish author Roddy Doyle is being interviewed about his latest novel The Guts, which I had just bought a couple of weeks ago, and had already giddily made my way into the first couple of chapters. The reason I had ordered the book in the first place, was because when I recently heard it reviewed on the same radio station, the critic had been quite impressed by Doyle’s knack at writing dynamic dialogue, and this is something I am curious learning more about. So I thought, why not learn from a current champ. I didn’t care that the youthful wrestlers took their good old time getting their chow orders filled inside, because I was in no rush and more than happy to quietly sit like this, seat warmers up and running, my ears being graced by the charming Irish accent of Mr. Doyle elaborating on his artistic choices, character development and authorship.

To the boys’ dismay I am not willing to switch to their iPhone music once they re-enter the vehicle in order to listen to their choice of hip and pulsating EDM (Electronic Dance Music), because I don’t want to miss any of the literary goodies. After all, a driving serf has to stand up for her rights, for this job has no union. Boys safely deposited at the school grounds, I pull back out onto Main Street, and begin what is normally a quick cruise home. I’m guessing about 8-10 lights between the end of the school driveway and my house, and when things go smoothly, when the stars are aligned, it’s a trip completed lickedy-split. But not this morning: oh, no. Every single light at each intersection turned red as I approached. By the third or fourth light, I began to notice; by the sixth or seventh, I was smiling incredulously; and by the ninth or tenth I had a sense of divine intervention, or a beshert or something meant to be. Because this delicious early morning string of delays, which under normal circumstances would have made me antsy and cynical, was instead creating a space where I could unhurriedly enjoy the treat of listening to the fascinating radio program.

The wave of turning lights was like a symphony played under the direction of the most ingenious maestro; or a film sequence where the carefully directed domino effect of a beautiful action scene is shown in slow motion, perfectly timed, and filmed with an eye for the poetic evocative powers of cinema well done; it was like reeds bending and rolling in the wind reminding man about the importance of flexibility and movement in a life where if we remain static and rigid we might break. Absent were the normal distractions of other cars, buses, pedestrians, and noises of your typical busy day, and with just myself, the red lights and the radio it was as if I existed in a tunnel of delight; my own private universe somehow created just for my enjoyment and my noticing at this particular point in time. I relished the realization that I probably would not reach home before the program came to an end, and sure enough, just as I turned onto my street, Bob Edwards wrapped up his interview, while the sun, now shedding a more golden warm light a bit higher over the horizon than it did half an hour ago when this morning’s journey had begun, seemed to remind me that with each new day comes new possibilities: perhaps the option of seeing the sometimes inevitable wave of green-orange-red in a new light.

Red LIghts hanging