Sustainable Listening

I take the album from its paper sleeve which I had pulled from the cardboard sleeve in which it rested. The vinyl is forty-seven years old. I set it on the platter, switch the turntable on, and brush it. The amp hums. I swing the tonearm over the record and lower the lever. (My fingers were never steady enough to lower the needle on their own and now I'm even less steady.) Crackles pop in the speakers, then Neil Young sings about packing it in, buying a pick-up, and taking it down to L.A.

Across the room I sit at an HP laptop reading work emails going back and forth between a couple of the directors. I signed onto the job thinking I'd just write grants, but it has turned into something more interesting because I want it that way and the people who hired me encourage such things. It's a sweet thing. About as sweet as Neil's voice out on the weekend.

My daughter is teaching me about sustainability. Because of her I've committed to never drinking out of a single-use water bottle again. Small steps.

Records are sustainable. I can feel it. The paper sleeve. The brushing. The crackles and pops. Sure, vinyl is pretty nasty petroleum stuff, but it's forty-seven years old and I'll keep it the rest of my days (having learned the mistake of ditching the albums from my childhood).

The job feels sustainable too. My old one was like sitting in a running car in a closed garage. I wrote a note this morning to an old colleagues. I keep wanting to break a window, open the door, something before he suffocates. That's how it was with me. And the effects of that linger. That place was poison to me. I'm only now just beginning to recover.

Over coffee I read Neil Young's Lonely Quest To Save Music and his idea that the compressed digital music is doing something bad to our brains, kind of like the mind-suck of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever else feels necessary but disconnects us. That ain't sustainable either.

The record's almost over. Even that can't go on and on. But there's the other side and there's another record and another after that. Just the feel of the record, the act of putting it on, and the restorative sound flowing across the room, yeah, it's enough to sustain me. It all feels so good.

Walking To Work

This morning it was raining gently outside. Seems as though everyone is complaining about it. I shrugged. For whatever reason the rain isn't bothering me. Our basement is dry. I had no picnic planned. My umbrella and raincoat keep me dry enough. I pulled the door behind me and walked from home toward my new job, thirteen minutes up the road. Yeah, I've timed it.

Walking to work is a change for me. Until yesterday I drove nearly twenty minutes to school on the highway. It wasn't bad and was an improvement on the hour-long commute I had before that. I'd put on music or podcast or ride in silence, but it wasn't fun. It's no fun to commute to where I was going, but even riding home I felt blah about it.

This morning, though I was tired, I didn't feel blah. Even if I had felt blah, the walk seems to change things. The exertion, slight as it is, feels good. My mind wanders or turns off in a way that would be too dangerous in traffic but is fine on the sidewalk. I feel the commute from toes up to my head and it feels good.

There are books about walking and writing, the connection between the two. Maybe this daily walk will rub off on my writing (as I suppose it has here). I felt almost as if my feet and legs were writing on the short walk this morning. I'm just not sure yet how to read what they've set down.

When the workday ended, I packed my things and pulled the bag over my shoulder. The weather had cleared. I stuffed the rain coat in the bag, pulled the umbrella down from the hook, walked downstairs, and headed out into the world. I found myself smiling as my legs carried me one step at a time back toward home. My mind and heart had already arrived where they need to go.

Leave It Better & Better Leave

Our supervisor at school bought us a Keurig machine. I'm grateful even though I don't use it often. It produces too much waste and only average coffee — I'll stick with the Aeropress — but every so often on a tough day I'll make a cup. Most always, I find a spent pod in the machine. I shake my head at that.

In an old interview, James Carville talked about always leaving things better than you find them. He borrowed a friend's cabin and before leaving, cleaned it and set a fresh bottle of good bourbon on the kitchen table. That image appeals to me. No note, just the bottle and an understanding of how things should be done.

I'm not the best at leaving things better at school, but I put the toilet seat down, remove the coffee pod, and am supportive of my colleagues. These seem the most common of courtesies.

A few of us encourage courtesy and collegiality at school, but it's an uphill push. I called in sick and received a group text from a co-worker complaining about picking up my slack. I understand the frustration — the organization should provide coverage but can't get it together — but her text was anything but collegial.

How will I leave this school I'm quitting? Not with a bottle of bourbon on the desk, much as those left behind will need it. I didn't a cabin from a friend. I've worked a punishing job as well as I have been able and was paid for my efforts. We're square. I'll go out the door leaving nothing behind but the job which has been like a Keurig: convenient but wasteful and unsatisfying. I'll miss a couple people. Others leave pods in the machine or complain about me when it's the organization's fault. And those in charge have inadvertently encouraged me to run away fast as I can.

A new teacher will take the classroom next year. I'll have cleaned out some stuff, left things I think might be useful, and leave, in lieu of bourbon, a wish that things work out better for them or that they figure things out much faster than I did and get the hell out of there fast as the Keurig brews a bad cup of coffee.

Soul Coughing

I'm tired from being sick, a little tired of being sick, but kind of okay that my body has forced me into a bit of a stupor. Two days this week I have spent on our living room couch, largely confined to soul coughing, reading Anne Lamott, napping, reading The New Yorker, thinking, sniffling, blowing my nose, reading The Sun Magazine, listening to a bit of music (but not much because my ears are stuffed and muffle the nuance of most anything), reading Laurie Halse Anderson, napping a bit, and then reading Donald Hall. I've mostly stayed off my phone and been on the computer only to write and read a few good articles. These have been my days. Well, all that and the usual amount of existential panic. I get that whether or not I'm sick.

This panic (which a more reasoned observer would likely call anxiety) stems in part from the fact that I'll soon quit my job and need another job. I can't think of much I want to do for a job. This apathy could be the sick and tired talking or me just being so burned out by the job I have, but it is a feeling and way of thinking that I have had for longer than this illness, longer than this calendar year, longer than my daughters have been alive, longer than I have been married. It doesn't help to have so enjoyed these days of being sick on the couch, to have savored them more than most any other days this year. I've read an absolute ton, done some writing, and had some ideas become maybe a pixel or two clearer. I still live with my usual panicked anxiety, but if I could live like this, even with the terrible, wet cough, I think I'd be happy.

There are jobs to which I will apply, even some teaching jobs to which I might send applications out of desperation. My hope is that one leads to something more interesting and something more interesting after that. Maybe I'll trip into some connection with writing. It could happen.

This sickness started over a week ago and continues. I stopped taking medicine for it. Rest seems the only cure. I'll get better. That or I'll die. Those are the two choices. It will take some time to figure out which way things turn out this time. To quell my existential panic about these things I remember that I've always gotten better and that evetually we all die. It will all happen.

For now I'm going out for a slow walk. Winter, like this cold, is hanging on longer than it should. The sky is too blue for the cold, and yet there it is. I'll pull on a hat and my fleece. The dog will get excited and whinny. Yes, I'll tell her, let's go together. She won't care where we are headed, whether spring has truly arrived, the quality of my wet cough, or jobs. She feels not the least bit of existential anxiety. Not ever.

Home I'll return to the couch. She will stand next to it, lick my hand or feet, and wag her tail. I'll pet her neck and scratch her behind. She will go lie on her blanket, I'll read more. Or maybe I'll stare out the window, perhaps into the future. When it's all too much, when the soul coughing wracks my chest and will, I'll lie me down to sleep and pray for something my soul to keep.