Monday, May 22, 2006

The Center Will Not Hold

It has been a long day and only now have I found an opportunity to sit before my cracked computer screen clicking away at the keypad. I woke to the sound of my wife’s voice and the puppies clambering around on top of me wiggling their tales so hard that you might think their haunches would tumble from their bodies. Most days, there is no better way to wake. Alas, when Michelle mentioned that the car’s Check Engine light had come on and the brake lights weren’t working, I mumbled "uh-oh" to myself and realized how groggy I felt. I went downstairs, escorted the puppies into the backyard, and clambered down yet more stairs through the basement and into the garage. Down there in the low light of a dangling incandescent bulb, I fiddled with the car a little in search of a quick fix. I thumbed through the owner’s manual, and then decided to check the fuses. A burnt out fuse would have explained the brake lights' misbehavior. No luck.

Frustrated, I headed to an auto parts shop where they run free diagnostics and then replaced my gas cap. Hopefully, this will take care of the Check Engine light. The brake lights, on the other hand, need to be dealt with at a shop. Yippee.

So after I’d worked on the car, Michelle convinced me to go to Home Depot and off to a grocery store. At Home Depot, we got a new showerhead to replace one that recently cracked. We also picked up plumbing supplies to deal with a slow drain in that same bathroom. Finally, I picked out a few materials to fix the gate in the backyard and, hopefully, prevent future jailbreaks of the canine variety. While we were in Home Depot though, Michelle wandered off to look at paint. I went off to study the showerheads—initially with the idea of simply replacing the small piece of plastic that had cracked. When I realized that simply buying a new showerhead made more sense, I tried to track down Michelle. Unfortunately, Michelle had gone to look for me.

Now, my wife has a remarkable ability to disappear in stores, particularly larger stores. She isn’t the tallest woman and tends to vanish behind aisles and racks. Worse, she seems to have been involved in a secret government project to develop stealth technology for individuals. I shudder to think what will happen when this is unleashed upon the world.

Needless to say, we ended up spending far, far more time in Home Depot than we’d expected. In fact, by the time we returned from the grocery store, it was past 5 o’clock—the perfect time to retire to my office and write. But that’s not what happened.

Instead, I resolved to make the necessary repairs to the gate. Before I could start, Archie hunted down something in the dining room he clearly should not have had. He sat beneath the head chair, chewing and tearing glossy bits of blue and gold paper. When I crawled beneath the table to take it from him, I realized that an individually wrapped teabag had surreptitiously tumbled to the rug beneath the dining room table. Tea dust and shredded paper was everywhere. I chased Archie away—hoping that the caffeine might work on a high-strung Italian Greyhound the same way that Ritalin works on a child with ADD. It did not.

Before I discovered this sad fact by watching him twitch, jump, and yelp at the slightest of squirrel movements from 100 yards away, I vacuumed up the detritus of his discovery, let the dogs out, and headed into the backyard to fix that gate.

At first, the project seemed easy enough. All I had to do was a dig a hole that would be deep enough for a stable gate post and then attach two hinges to the post and the gate. Even now, this sounds easy. Unfortunately, having to use a wrench that doesn’t generate enough torque, discovering that the metal piping on the gate is likely thinner than the hinges were designed to support, and realizing that one of the crucial bolts has a severe manufacturing defect that renders it useless made the process slightly more difficult than convincing a child to eat every last piece of broccoli on his plate. Of course it took me an hour and a half worth of straining against a 9/16 wrench while the gate teetered occasionally, falling toward my squatting frame.

Ah, it was not a good day. For me, it was one of those days—thankfully rare—where everything seems to fall apart. The entire day seemed, in some ways, like some cruel spiral into despair. But there are days like that. If you ever meet Thom Yorke from Radiohead, ask him about it. I’m sure he knows. And perhaps you’ve felt those same frustrations with your writing on those days when the right word seems just beyond the bounds of your thought.

Thank goodness I’m a poet. I can let simulations of those days spiral on and on all the way down to the sulfurous crevices of despair—simply by transforming them for the page. I can allow characters with far worse problems than such minor annoyances plummet to their lowest points and then track their reemergence. I can sit in my office listening to one of the slowest pop songs I know as I sip a cup of Earl Grey tea—letting its smoky flavors wash across my tongue.


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