leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Sunday, May 29, 2011


It’s 5:43AM.   Sunday.  Memorial Holiday weekend.  Mug of creamy chai tea steaming at my side, I sag into the old leather love seat, ready to blog.  At least I’m as ready to blog as I can be in these trying days.   I’m an exile, an exile in my own home.

You see I’m in the garage.  Yup, that’s where the love seat is.  And virtually the entire first floor of our house.  Our paisley chaise lounges.  Lavender dining table.  Matching blonde end tables.  Two cozy (and construction dust coated) sunroom chairs.  Oversized table lamps.    My tea mug rests upon the lid of our green recycle bin.  And all of this fills the west side of the garage, just the stuff we intend to let go before the house goes on market in two weeks.   The east side is stacked with what we intend to keep---mostly packed boxes (books, sweaters, memories)---and soon  U-haul to the Land, either for our little rented cabin or the shed.    
I just snuck back into the house to make my second cup of chai.  Trying not to wake Linda, I cringed as the house echoed its emptiness; a thousand tinny spoons clinked my mug as I stirred in the cream. The realtor and stager wanted the house cleaned and decluttered.  ‘Lightened and brightened’.  Oh its all of that.  And as a sunless dawn peeks through the windows, the beauty of the freshly painted walls and refinished hardwood floors---not to mention the intoxicating smell of the organic wool carpet spilling down the stairway---make me feel even lonelier, more disconnected.  The living / dining / sunroom say “don’t teach me.  We are no longer yours.”  Save for the details of monetary exchange, they already belong to the new owners.
 I do hope they love these rooms as I did.  As I still do, or at least the memories: Thanksgiving toasts, morning coffee and tea, Lord of the Rings (my Galway-gifted edition no longer rests upon the mantle).  And all with my beloved Linda.  And my friends.  And you.
So its better out here in the garage.  They’ve never been out here---the realtor and stager that is---never turned their possessive gaze this way.  Its mine, mine, mine!  Chairs, tables, lamps packed and stacked.  Elm seeds swirling in through the open garage door.  Cardinal probing the driveway’s concrete lip.  The creativity of clutter!  The joy of filth!  The freedom of anonymity! 
Right!  If only it were that easy.  If exile only applied to my house.  Buts it my whole life that’s taken.  For the first time in seven years I’ve stopped writing my novel.  Not a single scene edited since May 2.  I’ve abandoned Amelan, Elli, Skye, Emo and all my Corridor friends.  My real friends too.  I thought ‘refirement’ would bring breakfast with my buddies.  Hah!  And my community:  Judson church (is it really Sunday already?), my neighbors (we’ve heard Millie is mad at us for leaving).   I struggle to ‘maintain what matters’.
Some might say I chose exile.  It’s all part of leaving this house and entering the next.   Some might say the same of Emo.  Amelan warned him.  “Father, you violate Dego’s 2nd covenant:  nothing in, nothing out.  If you do not change your ways, do not stop running the Fence, even momming Ruth will turn her back on you.  You will be exiled from Beaver Creek and the only life we know.   Will you not stop?  Please?  If not for my sake, then for yours.” 
“Would you have me give up my call?” Emo replies.  “Look at your mother there on the wall.  She’d still be with us if I’d run her medicine from over the Fence.  Dego didn’t intended his covenants to kill Azurine.   He built the Corridor and the Fence around it so that you and I could live our calling.  I’m a healering.   I bring medicine. I bring hope.  I bring life.”
Perhaps I need some Emo passion.   Perhaps I need to rekindle my call.  The only point to all this---leave old job…leave old home…enter new home---is to engage new life.   Like Emo, I’m running medicine from over the Fence, not in a white-capped vial but in words and images.  I’ve received a gift:  a hope for this world, bounded only by the possibilities of the divine.  And I’m called to share this hope. 
For now the shape of this hope is my story.   Emo!  You and Amelan and Elli and Skye.  My teachers, I’ve ignored you far too long.  Please forgive me.  Can we still meet again at 5 each morning?   In the garage if need be?
I’ll be exiled from my house but NOT from my life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Glory of What Remains

Yikes!  The new house plan came in $40K over budget. Our builder, Tom Fort---who carpentered our beautiful barnwood-clad shed---delivered the bad news.   I'd like to say my reaction was a peaceful and shrugging "all will work out".   Instead, the next morning, I woke before the first robin sang, typed all of Tom's numbers into spreadsheet rows (Concrete:  $41K, Root River Hardwoods: $21K, ...) then postulated line by anxious line cost-cuts.  I managed to wait until dawn before calling Tom.  He was great, engaging in my potential solutions.  "It'll work out.  This happens every project."  But in the end it felt like a bunch of compromises.  Sheet rock where we wanted wood.  No in-floor heat. 

And somehow Linda and I still had to agree on all this.  We'd danced so wonderfully together thus far, she and I in our own ways.  The house design waltz.  The magic of our marriage:  always forward yet always together.  One day perhaps, as our aging bodies surrender themselves to the creation, we'll defuse into luminous beings, dancing and swirling like morning mist above the pond.  But now we'd bumped into a boulder, a mountain it seemed, on the dance floor.  The thought of finding our way around, over or through exhausted us amidst the flotsam and jetsam of refinishing hardwood floors in our current house (we were entering our upstairs bedroom via a ladder through a window like burglars in our own home).  And the mountain of cost-cutting compromise threatened to crush the spiritual core of our new home.

Because ours is The House the Land Built.  Two years ago, at our first meeting with Paul Neseth of Locus Architecture, we didn’t hint at our new home’s style (no mention of ranch, rambler, log...).  Nor did we say green or sustainable or net zero.  Not even a budget.  We essentially said the house had to do one thing:  engage us in The Connection.  The connection to the Land.  The connection to you, our neighbors and the great community.  The connection to the divine.  Fired and focused by our values-driven vision, Paul unleashed his architectural wisdom and revealed to us the blueprint for our new home. 

So inspired were we  by this process (and outcome!) that twice now we’ve delivered a House the Land Built presentation, first to our loving Judson Church community and then before an engaged hundred at a Locus Architecture sponsored 2x2.   Now Heather Bye-Kollbaum, a dear and determined friend, asked us to present at her next Food,  Fellowship and Guitars gathering.  Each time I do one, I know that this is exactly what I was called to do.  So, if you’re so moved.  Call.  We’ll find a way to come and share our journey.

And an amazing part of that journey is the budget.  That $number cascaded down from the high mountain lake---that is our need for Connection---one amongst a dozen lower falls and pooled mirror-like before us.  Oh!  I see.  We need to cost the new house to keep us debt free, unleashing us to engage in our new life.  If not, we’ll spend our days commuting to work rather than splitting wood, chasing Tiger Swallowtails over the buzzing prairie’s burst of color and clinking mugs with you at the harvest table.  The budget became sacred.  Like our new home’s corridor, the wood-lined hallway pulling you from the west porch right through the house onto the east porch, the budget enables The Connection. 

So at 9PM Wednesday, after yet another day of painting, we met Paul at Locus Architecture’s new and move-disheveled office only block away.  Brushing aside the dust of construction, we settled into a round table, poured wine into huge plastic glasses and began.  “We need your magic,” we told Paul.  “One last time.  We don’t want to talk gypsum, spreadsheets and compromises.  We want a design solution that meets our budget.  The first hour felt bleak.  We’d been through this once before, cutting each room down to their smallest (and best!) sizes.  Then inspiration came.  Perhaps it was the beer Linda found in the Locus refrigerator for Paul:  Magic Hat. 

“How about downsizing from a two car garage to a one car?” he suggested.   

My eyes widened as I gasped out.  “Of course!”  And as we explored what that would mean, we loved it more and more.  Car storage does little to enable The Connection, other than ensure that anyone with physical challenges could easily enter our home, and a one car garage can do that as well as a ten car.  My Prius will gladly rest under the stars and come to know the touch of my ice-scraping hands.  Linda’s CRV will snuggle in the garage, always ready to carry her weekly to and from her Grove Psychotherapy office on the Minneapolis riverfront.

Then the change revealed its full and thrillingly unexpected benefits.  An entire side of the house, the two bedrooms and bath north of the corridor, keeping all interior spaces the same size which  shrinking both the east porch and west.  Now all important porches became cozy rooms rather than wide frontages.  While they’d always looked wonderfully big and beautiful on the drawing, we’d always struggled to imagine ourselves out there.  Not now!  And one porch faces south and east toward the wide expanse of the Land, and the other north and west up the road waiting for you to come driving over the ridge.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that downsizing, selective pruning, could unleash such creative wonders.  The novel of hope I’m writing is based largely on this premise:  that the great change coming to our world will come less from our tinkering and more from the divine, whose creative energy will be unleashed when we selectively prune, like sledgehammers cracking cement. In my novel, the Members created the Corridor not through new technology and rules, but by downsizing, trusting to their faith, actively making space for the creating, that divine energy of creation, to  root and bloom a life-enriching home over the long eons of time.

Sometimes I’m so slow, so reluctant, to trust my heart and soul.  Under stress, I easily fall back upon the spreadsheets of my little mind.   My heart needs the Connection.  My heart needs the Land.  My heart needs you.  Then she flourishes.  Granting me courage to downsize, to prune all that is between me and the divine and then experience…

… the glory of what remains.


Sunday, May 15, 2011


To Members of the Corridor---that mythical, meandering, fenced-in land where I live from 5 to 6:30 each morning---their house, especially their winter home, is their hearthing (the 'ing' designating only their greatest commitments).  Eating.  Singing.  Healing.  All before the moutainous wood-fired stove, warmly wrapping them like a buffalo blanket.  Seventeen-year old Amelan, my tale's outcast hero, loves how his Beaver Creek Village ancestors adorn all walls of momming Ruth's hearthing, folding back layer upon hanging cloth layer through parents, grandparents, all the way back, seven generations to Dego, grandfather of the Corridor.  And now as I sit by our cold fireplace---after two bicep-building months prepping our house for sale---I feel like Amelan.  Outcast in my home.  Learning what it means to fold back layer upon dusty layer.  Our 26 amazing years here.  And beyond.  To those who ate, sang and healed upon these floors before us.  And inward.  To my own ancestral images.

The house itself taught me much.  As Linda and I endured six weeks scraping glue off our floors---hand and knees and that nauseating stench---we couldn't help but ponder what drove some house-ancestor to hate their hardwood floors so much that they smeared them with black glue and suffocated them with carpet.  Tarred and feathered.  I imagine a wall hanging depicting the horror of the hardwood and the triumph of carpet. 
We finished painting the main floor, save the kitchen.   I hope the colors, white trim on seaspray walls, will give the new owners some joy.  And perhaps one day their little boy will smack the wall and chip!  To the everlasting bewilderment of the new owers, will be our old colors:  lavendar upon lavendar.  I wish I had the quilting skill of my friend Pam Joern; I'd make a wall hanging depicting Linda and I, painting until 3AM with our early 30's vigor, then collapsing in each other's arms.

Yet the most impactful learning arrived as I packed boxes: the proverbial decluttering.  On a top closet shelf, lost admist ten years of Frankly Covey calendars, I rediscovered a scrapbook.  My childhood through my mother's eyes.  Report cards.  Gory poems.  Honor roll clippings from the Albert Lea Tribune.  Then, stuffed in the back---though I can still hardly believe it---I found the makings of my novel. 

My St. Cloud State freshman's notebook.  On the cover the word 'journal' is scratched out and replaced with 'Biology'.   While the journal is certainly interesting (Linda harumphed as I wrote about meeting a nice girl, Laurie Lippold, who became my passion for 4 years), but its was the biology, of all things, that stunned me.

I don't even remember taking Biology.  But there it is, obviously copied word for word from some journal.  "In recent years it has become apparent tht some slow, persistent diseases that do not superficially appear to be infectious diseases can be caused or triggered by unusual, slow viruses.  Kuru and Creutzfeldt-Jacob neurological diseases are almost certainly of the type."  Now its strange enough that fifteen years later, doctors, probing to understand my mysterious case of chronic fatigue, found I carried the marker for Creutzfeldt-Jacob.   But to me that pales compared to the role of disease in my novel. 

Amelan's father Emo, while illegally running goods, unwittingly brings a pathogen, the Orator, over the Fence in a vial.  Orator first infects Amelan's grandmother Skye.  She passes it on.  The boy, beloved by all, turns blue and dies.  Fear grips the Corridor.  Faced with possible pandemic, the Members of the Corridor feel forced to choose between death and their values, the very covenant upon which the Corridor was built.  Meanwhile their ancestors watch from their walls of their hearthing. 

Perhaps mine do too.  Maybe some ancestral freshman self is watching me.  Guiding me.  Whispering in my dreams, "the virus...its all about the virus".  My house didn't have a wall hanging of that freshman me, but it did have a scrapbook.  And an old notebook. 

Now its harder than ever to think about leaving this house.  Its so much more than a house  So much more than a lavendar turned seaspray home. 

It's our hearthing.


Sunday, May 8, 2011



I thought I knew what that word, that greeting, meant.  Ever since that novel-writing morning when Amelan lifted it from grandfather Emilio's map of the Corridor, I accepted it like so many other gifts from my characters:  grudgingly.  But now after my first week of 'refirement', I wonder if rah-dur was intended less for Amelan and the readers of my future novel and more for me and my new life.

Everything AND nothing went according to plan.  As planned I woke Monday on the Land, lying in the hayloft next to Savanna the Wonder Dog's warm black body.  But sleep had eluded me (perhaps due to a dog on my feet) and had gotten it all wrong.  The bright rim of day rising over the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area, reneged its sunny promise behind the gray curtain rushing in the northwest.

Thank goodness for the stacks of oak waiting for me to split.  Wrapped in at least seven layers, I left the shed and crunched south across the prairie, bright green stubs daring to rise again from the black ash left from the April 12 burn.  The west wind, propelled by some artic memory of March, scratched the right side of my face like shards of cold glass.

And then, halfway through splitting my first stack, there it was.  I squinted to be sure.  Yes!  Flakes.  Sideways spitting snow.  Just a few.  Yet I felt lied to, betrayed, by May. 

But not Savanna!  There she lay, in the shade (or whatever you call the slighter grayer grass beneath an oak).  Plopping down on the moist grass, my leather gloved hand soon found itself rubbing a warm black belly.  And the smile!  That smile that only a black farm dog can shine.  The pulsing essense of love.  No expectations.  No conditions.  No restraint.   Just her...and me...and the oak above...and the grass beneath...and the wind fluffing her fur.  The connection.  The great connection.

As we meandered back to the shed, splitting maul over my shoulder, Savanna sniffing fire-exposed fox dens, the wind did find the left side of my face.  But I didn't feel cold anymore.  Or perhaps I was, but I don't recall it, or even minding.    I do remember feeling grateful.  To the creation.  For allowing, asking me to engage my new life, the creation, the creating.  Tin foil camp fire hobos---featuring fresh dug wild parsnips and fresh cut stinging nettles---never tasted so good, nor so enfused my body with the body of The Land.

Now, at the end of week one of refirement, I've devoted perhaps 1 minute 10 seconds total thinking about my old job.  Instead their loving faces---those who I worked with for so many years---floated through my heart like June afternoons, reminding me to maintain what matters.  As for leaving the old home, Linda and I triumphantly finished painting the livng room last night, the first room that will soon greet our home's yet-to-be discovered new owners.  The creating.

I'm a lucky man.