Slice of BFS’s Life (autobiography)


On What Absence Makes

Lake Superior from Grand Marais, photo by the author

While they do have a frustrating amount of truth to them, the main reason platitudes and clichés are so annoying is that they are downright obvious. More, they’re generally said when that obviousness is staring you directly in the face. So when I tell you what I’m missing in the following paragraph, know that the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” is making its presence known, and that I am wanting to punch that presence in its clichéd white teeth.

I miss water—open water. Water you can sit and stare at and feel small next to, something in the expanse speaking all the words ever written in literature right inside you, without the words ever needing to be said.

I had an embarrassment of riches in open water when I lived in Duluth. The city sprawls along a hillside overlooking southwestern Lake Superior, so pretty much anywhere you go you’ll see at least a smidgen of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world (so large it’s often called an inland sea).

That’s not to say I’m in an area without water: this year is the 20th anniversary of a major flood here in Grand Forks (I’ve driven across the bridge shown in the Wikipedia entry!). I like the Red River of the North where it is in its greenbelt and don’t need it to become an expanse again. But even though the Red River is a presence in the region that should not be ignored, it’s not a presence in the same way as Lake Superior is in Duluth. You can’t avoid noticing the lake in Duluth, but unless you’re right on the river here in Grand Forks, you’d be hard pressed to notice it.

Driving pretty much anywhere in northern Minnesota or down in the Twin Cities, you’re going to trip over a lake without much effort. Despite its slogan of having 10,000 lakes, Minnesota actually has almost 12,000 that are 10 acres or more, and if you count ones smaller than that, the number just goes up and up. If some of the info I’m finding is correct, North Dakota has… 35? And some of those are reservoirs or larger portions of rivers!

Some of this, I know, is the stir craziness of winter. I’ve been inside too much, I haven’t even been able to walk by the Red River much… and that’s enough to make me miss water right there. There’s a little English Coulee on the University of North Dakota’s campus, and it is a simple joy to stop and watch it tumble over a little rock dam with Jessica during her lunch break. Some of the underwater rocks have beards of algae, and one in particular sports a fu manchu look: not common among rock algae formations, in my experience.

Still, it’s not the same as being able to drive over any number of hillsides in Duluth and have the sudden and overwhelming vision of Superior fill your eyes. Nor is it the same as crouching at the edge of the water at Kitchi Gammi Park, feeling yourself as small as can be while waves wash against the shoreline.

Lester River enters Lake Superior on the edge of Kitchi Gammi Park, and it becomes a raging torrent in the springmelt. I can see its rapids in my mind even now, and I can see the surfing fanatics in their cold water gear, riding the crests caused by the river’s entrance. The lake has so many shades of blue: I can’t describe them all, but I can see them.

I’ve sometimes wished I didn’t have such a strong connection to Duluth, as it would make this move easier and less full of longing. But if one needs to move, maybe it is a good thing to have such deep roots to your old home, if it means being able to find its waters when you need them. Albeit with mind’s imperfect memory.


On Guilty Consciences for Somewhat Good Reasons

Despite my best intentions, this blog has been lacking a post in a good while, and it’s making me feel guilty. Which might be a little silly, after all, considering it’s been without a post due to health issues, a semester (and its requisite grading) ending, and yet another move to a better apartment.

But even though I have no delusions of grandeur about how many people may someday be reading this blog, I do want people to read it. Which means updating more on the regular. So I’ll be aiming for at least a weekly update, dear readers, because nothing has changed since I restarted this blog last fall. If anything, we’re in more need of focusing on good things: of talking about what is worth talking about, of looking at what is worth looking at.

Dogwoods on UND's campus, May 2017

Photo by the author

I’ve been endeavoring to do just that these last couple weeks, with spring finding its ways to my more northern climes. New leaves have burst forth and reached their full growth, and the dogwoods in Grand Forks have made me realize just how many of them there are around town, so abundant is their color and fragrance. Their blooms will fall away all too soon (indeed, some have already disappeared), but in the meantime I am doing my best to notice them, capturing the feeling they evoke the best I can with the camera and photography hobby I’ve decided have lain dormant for far too long.


On the Importance of Learning of Tokyo’s Destruction by Godzilla 2 comments

*A small memoir from a trip this fall*

It’s been a long week of teaching classes: you wake up, you do your class prep, you do your teaching, you do your grading, and you go home. At home is nothing in particular. Your wife is living four and a half hours away for her new job; you’ve moved the majority of your things with her. The apartment is strangely empty and strangely full of far too many things you need to pack before you can join her in a couple months.

The wind likes to whistle lonely in the evening.

Today you’re driving home after another day of teaching, but it’s a little different in that you will be picking up your suitcase so you can drive those four and a half hours to see your wife. The first hour is alright as you drive through the forests of northern Minnesota and the setting sun is turning everything golden. Then the trees go stark and two dimensional against the still glowing horizon; the only things with depth are the clouds in the sky. Then there is nothing but the tunnel your headlights carve along the route, a tunnel that is hours and hours long.

Even the waters of Cass Lake offer no comfort when you stop to stretch your legs: the wind blows too cold in your face for you to watch the lights in the water.

About an hour from your destination, still tired, your searching radio finds it, the song that will take you the rest of the way. “Oh, no! There goes Tokyo! Go, go, Godzilla!” Before your mind can think about how improbably wonderful it is to find this song out of nowhere (though is it even a favorite song of yours?), you’re singing, shouting along with the words.

You’re halfway around the earth from Tokyo, you’re in the middle of the flat beginnings of the Great Plains and the tallest thing around here are grain elevators, but what else would Godzilla have left to stomp once Tokyo and the other great cities with skyscrapers are nothing but rubble?

You’re on your way, you’re almost there.


BFS Update: How This Fall Just Needed to End and My Cat Is Plotting My Doom 2 comments

Photo credit: Foter.com / CC0

Photo credit: Foter.com / CC0

So I spent the Fall of 2016 just wanting it to be over. Going in, it was already guaranteed to add some more white hairs to my once gloriously red goatee—full class loads as a college professor of writing have a tendency to do that. But then this wonderful year just kept wanting to give:

Here you go, your your last living grandparent is going to pass on. Here you go, your wife is going to land a dream job in a city 4.5 hours away, and while the job is wonderful, it’s also going to require you moving during the aforementioned busy semester—once for her and many of your things in late October so she can start the dream job, and once for you with the rest of your things after you finish teaching your classes for the semester. Oh, and did you notice that? Here you go, you get to find an apartment in a strange city and live apart from your wife for two months, even though you two are pretty much inseparable!

But wait, there’s more! Just when you think you’re all done, grades turned in for all of your classes, both moves completed, sanity about to be restored, here you go… a stupid neighbor will leave a window open in the second floor community room of your apartment building (during a winter storm, no less), causing a pipe to freeze and send water everywhere. Sure, it won’t be directly over your apartment, but it will make the carpet in much of your living room swampy and squishy, and the management for your building will take over a day to get a water extractor in (it being the day after Christmas). A dehumidifier will take two days.

Good times, am I right? See you later, 2016, I don’t miss ya. And it certainly explains the dearth of blogginess around here the past couple months. Yet something more is troubling me, something that makes the events of the past few months pale in comparison: my cat seeks my doom.

Don’t believe all the cute pictures Jessica/the Celt may show you of our cat, Rosie, nor the picture below. She may seem quiet, shy, and altogether adorable, but she is crafty—she plays the long game in seeking my demise. With our living room unusable and our office full of boxes and objects rescued from the living room, Jessica and I must live in the bedroom. And even though we have two (not just one) kitty beds in this bedroom, this is not good enough for our seemingly innocent feline named Rosie. Oh no, she must lie all day on my side of the bed. Not just an hour or two: all day.

What? I'm just lying here innocently, I'm not plotting your imminent demise.

What? I’m just lying here innocently, I’m not plotting your imminent demise.

She’ll grudgingly accede for me to take the spot back when Jessica is home—though I have had to pick her up on more than one occasion—but if I get up to do something? Perhaps to put something away? Perhaps to let the maintenance men in to work on the living room rug? Spring, spring! Lightly does the Rosie leap from wherever she lay before, finding my spot on the bed, curling up so cutely, so innocently, that surely no human could possibly try to move her!

This obviously is leading in one direction. My permanent removal! Rosie had a month to grow accustomed to having an entire half of a queen-sized bed to herself, and she does not want to give it up. Every time I have to move her, she looks at me with those big, kitty eyes, tearing my soul in two… and she knows it.

Soon, I’ll be forced into sleeping on a couch I am too tall for, or on a not very comfortable airbed. Soon, I’ll be so tired my mental capacity will deteriorate, my paranoia reigning supreme, and I will be relegated to the funny farm. Soon…

And Rosie will have her half of the bed all to herself.


On Seeing My Grandmother as Herself

In defiance of (or alignment?) with Twitter’s character limitation, I wrote a long chain about my grandmother, who died early in the morning a week and a half ago.

Something about a Twitter chain feels poetic, with the need for each line (or tweet) to hold its own but feed into the next. It made me want to post it here as well with a couple of additions, where the whole thing can work together outside of Twitter’s sometimes frustrating interface for reading reply chains (and maybe a little editing to work better in this new context).

Grandma Herself

So… my grandmother died last Wednesday. Jessica and I have no remaining grandparents alive.
But there’s more I wanted to share about my grandma than that frustrating bummer of a fact.

She felt like a stereotypical grandma in many ways, giving big smooches on cheeks
(and occasionally pinching them),
and she made good food (I still use her pancake, lasagna, & spaghetti recipes).

But the thing I want to remember,
the thing I wanted to share,
Is her taking painting classes.

About eight years ago, Jessica and I chatted with her about how they were going, and
she was so vibrant talking about them,
so awake and alive,
and she joked about her differences of opinion from her instructor.
she had certain ideas about what she wanted to do, and she was quite firm about them:
she wasn’t backing down!
It’s the most her I ever remember her being. Her her. Not my stereotypical image of a grandma, but herself,
through and through.

Childhood memories are spotty, and I only knew her for less than half her life,
but I’m certain of it.

I’m happy to say I saw more of her this weekend.
One universal good thing about all grandparent funerals I have witnessed:
learning more about them.

This weekend, we heard anecdotes & stories about her I’d never heard before,
Saw pictures I’d never seen before of her as a child, a teen, and in her twenties.
It was the her we saw when we talked to her about her painting.

I love what I saw then and I love this memory.

I will always love it.

We need to see more of the people around us—friends, family, strangers.
Go out and create something, everyone. Connect with others. I’m so glad my grandmother did.
My only wish is that I had shared more moments with her.
But I think we would think that about most people,

if we saw the real them.


I Don’t Think You Know What a Reservation Is…

When you take a trip, particularly an airline trip, it’s common to be nervous. I’m sure there are some travelers out there that don’t have imaginations like the Celt and I do, who soldier through airports and car rental lines like nothing bad will happen, but, by golly, I have to believe they’re few and far between.

There’s a reason this Seinfeld clip is funny. Because it’s true, and it happens.

Reservations get lost, people. Airplanes get over-booked, airplanes break down, car rental companies accuse you of damaging a car you did not damage (*ahem* that’s a story for another time), you name it. It happens. And boy, did it happen to us, almost two weeks ago. The Celt and I were traveling to Vermont and… *shudders* so much happened. So very much.

First, we got up at 3 in the morning, because the airlines charge you a little less of an arm and a leg if you fly before even morning birds are winging from tree to tree and singing. Then, we stood in the fog, waiting for a cab that kept not arriving, even though I had made a reservation a few days before for an early pickup. Why? They had misplaced the reservation, they said (see Seinfeld clip above for the second time). Then we waited some more for a cab that was “on its way,” waiting and waiting as our flight time grew closer and closer and as we grew more and more nervous. Just when I was about to go get our car and drive to the airport–outrageous airport parking fees or no–our taxi arrived. Squealing tires through the fog and fifteen or so minutes later, we arrived, just when they were boarding. But we made it, and what more could go wrong…

Right?

Oh, but our plane in Chicago had a mechanical failure, so we sat for an hour while they investigated and fixed. The Celt and I kept calm, read books, tried to ignore the cramped nature of ever-shrinking plane seats and leg room. And luckily, they fixed the plane and we made it to Vermont’s Burlington airport. We had made it, and what more could go wrong…

Right?

We approached the car rental counter with some nervousness (Seinfeld clip reference #3), but surprisingly enough, nothing amiss here. The line was short, the reservation was ready to go, and we had a nice, little red Toyota Yaris to drive (admittedly a little clown-carish when you saw a Big Frickin’ Swede get into it). I had driven through the area before and we had printed out directions, so we were home free. We ate and then enjoyed the gorgeous Vermont mountain views as we drove to Montpelier. The B & B stay was going to be no problem. I had talked to the owner many times in March and we had made a large deposit on our stay. We were home free for the two weeks, right?

Wrong! *laughs sadly, deprecatingly* So wrong, Mr. Big Frickin’ Swede. So wrong.

No one was at the B & B when we arrived. No one. There was a note for current people staying and a cell phone to call, but the husband that it belonged to did not pick up (the B & B is run by a husband and wife team, of sorts). Backtrack from the country outskirts of Montpelier to somewhere we could get wifi and find some more numbers to call. Finally reached the wife, who was out of state and told us… they didn’t have our reservation listed. Oh, she could remember me from all our discussions in March, but she just didn’t have the reservation listed anywhere (Seinfeld clip reference #4).

Long story somewhat short, they stuck us in another room that night (not the one we had reserved, someone else was in it. …Seinfeld clip reference #5). The Celt and I were panicking, since all the hotels and B & Bs in the area were very, very full, and we didn’t particularly care for how this was going. The husband returned later that night and assured us they would make everything right, as “This has never happened to us before!”

Despite these assurances, they kept talking about how we could stay with them for the whole two weeks, but there would be some nights (okay, every night for a week) where they would have to move us to other rooms in the B & B and two NON-consecutive nights (!) where they wanted us to stay at another B & B because they were booked fully. You know, with people that made reservations after we had (is this really Seinfeld clip reference #6? Egads).

This continued over three days, thanks in part to the wife being out of town (and wanting to play hardball) and her being the one that runs the show and the husband trying to appease us whenever we talked to him. Three days, while I reminded them of my reservation for one room for a whole two weeks (#7). And I reminded them of the massive deposit I had made back in March for one room for two whole weeks (#8). Finally, finally they did the right thing and let us stay in the one room I had reserved (#9), something that was a little essential since 1) we were on vacation for part of our stay and 2) I was attending classes for my degree and the Celt was doing her own coursework online: we couldn’t be moving all over and into rooms that didn’t have anywhere to study.

At the end of our two weeks, the husband said he’d love to have us stay again… after charging us the rate quoted to me back in March (this rate despite our staying in a smaller, cheaper room our first night and having to deal with all the junk they put us through… oh, and Seinfeld clip reference #10!)

Did I mention I was sick for the last week of our stay, coughing and hacking and trying to breath while staying at this place and going to class?

Yeah, it’s good to be back home.