Saturday, January 30, 2010

Beards on the Bayou

Last week I found myself living in makeshift dormitory at the First Methodist Church of New Iberia, Louisiana, a small town outside of the roaring metropolis that is Lafayette.  Well, it might be anyway - I didn't make it up to Lafayette.  We were there to work, courtesy of our AmeriCorps program with Rebuilding Together. We were there to rebuild houses.

And we did.  We did siding, decking, demolishing, painting, roofing, framing, nailing, screwing, sawing and some people spent a lot of time playing with caulk.  No caulk for me though.  I had my hands full screwing on the porch.  We screwed that porch right onto its frame!  Bam!

It was a blast.  By the end of the days our hands were dirty, our hair was sloppy from sweat and hard hats, our muscles ached, our skin was burned, and some people even shed blood to ensure a better life for these homeowners.  I'm sure they'd just as soon as not have shed blood, but ask me if that two-inch long splinter through my finger was worth it, and I'll proudly nod (while cradling the wound, which I can still make out).

What's a splinter compared to a family with a severely disabled daughter being able to move back into their home which was all but completely destroyed when Hurricane Rita got mad and threw a tree into it?  As we finished securing the ceiling joists and roof rafters, I caught a glimpse of the happy couple walking through the newly re-framed middle portion of their wrecked home, picking out spots for furniture.  The few words I overheard then kept me warm all night.  Which was good, considering I didn't have much of a blanket in our over-stuffed barracks.

Some of us waited for hours to shower each night.  God bless our hosts who cooked for us every evening, went shopping for fresh fruit and bread every day, and arranged a field trip to Avery Island, home of Tabasco.  We spent way too much time at each of downtown New Iberia's four bars just about every night.  An elite crew of us explored the graveyard behind the church one night, and then climbed through a not-quite-entirely parked freight train to get home afterwards.  We danced, we wandered, we made out with each other (just a little), and made friends with the locals (Pete - I hope things work out with your girlfriend leaving her husband in Dallas and all).

Most importantly, we deepened friendships that already were far more important to each of us than the short amount of time we've all spent together would normally suggest.  It's a rich incongruence of which I am a lucky part.

There is no word count bloated enough that could suitably convey the sensations of that week, so rather than understate the case myself, I'll borrow from a tombstone that never existed outside of Kurt Vonnegut's books.

"Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt."  Thank you, everyone.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Have I mentioned that I totally failed NaNoWriMo 2009?  Yessir, in classic mattjosh fashion, I was quick to start, slow to finish.

Oh yes, I am a force in first gear, a gallop out of the gate, a booster during blast-off!

But as the time went on, and my life intruded into my writing schedule, I took my mid-month trip to Washington for my organization's national conference and endured long days, intense partying, and hard nights on various floors and beds in the circa-L'Enfant Plaza area.  I wrote on the planes, but could not recover my initial momentum once I arrived home in Albuquerque.

It didn't help that I launched into a project that had sat for two years, after a blitz of inspiration birthed and raised it in two days time into a bouncing baby step outline for a screenplay.  Now I was trying to adapt it into a novel as I went, dismayed constantly that I was not capturing the tone I had envisioned.

It's a difficult project.  A satire on Islamic Terrorism in middle America.  It has to be funny but not too funny, serious but not too serious, real but not too real.  My tone was alternately farcical and melancholic.  Maybe it will work.  Maybe, taken as a completed whole it will reek of genius, rather than simply reek.

Most importantly, I need to return to it because I won't be able to die easy without having completed it.  But there are a lot of those project sitting around my world, and maybe it's better to keep a few unfinished just so I don't get too comfortable with the notion of my own demise.

I'd like my last work to be an autobiography, its closing words, dictated because my hands have grown too feeble to type, quoting Polonius emerging from behind the curtain, "O! I am slain!"

Monday, January 4, 2010

Honey Bear Dying of Exposure

A problem and a plea today. 

Honey Bear does not handle the cold very well.  Every morning I wake up to my 40 degree or, on a good morning, 50 degree living space and find that the honey inside of Honey Bear has cemented into a sweet honey stone.  His guts are blocked.  His lifeblood no longer oozes freely around his body cavity. 

Is Honey Bear still sweet if you can't get sweetness out of Honey Bear?

He needs to be kept around 70 degrees, I think, to function as a Honey Bear should.  What's a boy to do?  Any suggestions?  Help!