Thursday, October 02, 2008

OCTOBER 3, 2002

I am a "retired" man today. I have stepped out of a career in printing after 24 years. I turned 55 at the end of August. I have gathered in recent years a big passel of Ben Zen poems; half a book of poems for Plain Poems: A Fairwater Daybook; a memoir, Curlew:Home, published last year; Kissing Poetry's Sister, published yesterday; and a big book of unpublished essays I call The Idea of the Local. I am embarked upon a new adventure: "Vagabond in the Middle: An Expedition into the Heart of the Middle West." I have since December 1997 kept this "Morning Drive Journal," a journal of place - this place - the ten miles between here and where I worked. Now that I don't go to work at the Printers anymore, I no longer have the morning drive as an excuse for meditation. Yet I wish to continue these notations. Necessarily they shall take a different shape, another course. I think I shall focus not so much on this place, but on places - across the middle west as I travel hereabouts, or wherever M. and I happen to set ourselves down for a little exploration. I must pull myself to this task religiously. Without the discipline of a job to go off to, it would be so easy to let this slip. As soon as I start skipping days, I'm doomed. The real secret of this journal is the space it creates for something to happen. Certainly there is no guarantee that something will happen simply because I'm here with pen in hand; but I can be pretty sure nothing will happen if I'm not here making the effort. Over the nearly five years I've been doing this drive journal I've been amazed time and again at what surfaces, at what shines and sparkles on a day I thought I had nothing to give. It is simply the enforcement of this time, this blank space in front of me, that has made these surprises possible.

So let this be a promise to myself that my journal of place shall continue! I so promise, here and now, on the first day of my retirement, the first day of the rest of my life.

I am interested in the landscape, the people, our history. I am interested in what we are here, what we were, what we shall be. I want to record the truth of it before the truth of it is lost. We are a common people, ordinary folk, and most might wonder whatever is there to write about that anyone would be interested in, whatever is special enough to be set down for remembering. Here in the middle part of the country, we aren't the glamorous people that draw attention; we aren't the great movers and shakes of entertainment and art and literature; we don't stand at the center of the financial universe or the world of high culture. We are ordinary farmers and factory workers and owners of small businesses; government employees and teachers and cops. We stand with one foot in the past - we know it - and one foot in the future. We are generally not quick to brag or draw attention to ourselves. We seldom make a big scene, we just put our shoulder into it and do what we have to do.

The land here is not as remarkable as mountains; we don't have the loveliness of ocean. It is seldom desert here, more often it's fruitful beyond imagining. Pretty much the land is flat and straightforward, as honest as most of us are. There is not so much hidden in the landscape, and not so much hidden in our lives. We have sky, but we don't have "big sky." Mostly the land is farmland, not wasteland; something useful, not just something pretty. We haven't come to talk about the plow, we've come to plow. The land demands our attention, yes - even those who work in the factory depend to some extent on the farm economy, I think, or at least on the farm culture. Yet perhaps the land still would be fruitful left to itself, for its a mighty fecund piece of ground we're set down upon.

So I've started the journey already - I've started recording thoughts of place here in these pages. Let it continue tomorrow. Let today be my everyday into a far-flung future.


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