Searching for Shawn Johnson

February 28, 2009

(Spoiler alert: the word is man, human, homo, but I don’t really get into it. )

K, our 18 year old boarder, is watching a movie, a loud one, with his girlfriend, in his bedroom. Our 19 year old son, Jaimen, and two college-bound buddies are on a well deserved Cumby’s break after three hours of Ghost Recon on the living room TV. The summer is ending and they are enjoying one last blast of computer-generated mayhem before they leave. Which gives me a chance to claim the tube before they return. I really want to see Shawn Johnson compete on the balance beam. I already know that she wins the gold but I want to see the tape delay. She is the perkiest, pluckiest, prettiest little gymnast I’ve seen in ages and I confess to being sucked into the drama: the anonymous underage Chinese girls, the injured and melancholic East Europeans, and the perky, well-rounded All-Americans.

But I push the wrong button. I hit 6 and get PBS. Instead of Shawn and the gang at NBC I see a lone American man, sixtyish, walking down a street in a foreign city. He is talking to the camera — to me for as long I stay on the channel. There is something light, familiar, and calming in his voice though I know instinctively he is not bringing good news. This is a documentary. He is in Syria and is telling stories of refugees from Iraq who have swelled into the big cities of Syria and Jordan over the past six years. Two million. Two million. I really want to see Shawn on the balance beam but for some reason my finger won’t budge as the journalist continues to walk towards the camera speaking in a thoughtful uplifting voice about the tragedy that has befallen the people of Iraq. I know how it ends. I know where he is going. I read the New York Times online. I listen to NPR. As surely as I know that Shawn Johnson won the gold so I also know about the Iraqi girls who nightly rent their bodies on the streets of Damascus to buy bread for their shamed fathers. I know about the 200,000 Iraqi Christians, members of one the most ancient of Churches who are scattered now in Jordan and Syria. I know this stuff already. But what I don’t know is how this gentle,  intelligent man is going to tell it. Will he mention the prostitution? How will he handle it? How will I?Will he interview any of the girls/women? Read the rest of this entry »


February 28, 2009

“The good news is that it’s not in the joint, the knee itself seems fine, no internal damage. It looks like you’ve strained the muscle, right here, where it attaches to the bone.” Peter pointed to the spot where the pain radiated, from just below the inside of my knee, up into my lower thigh which was swollen to twice the size of my other leg.

One day of scrambling up and down Dave’s roof, on and off ladders, on and off ropes, ripping off old shingles, slinging plywood; two days of sashaying across Anne’s floors, sanding and urethaning; and thirty minutes of a decidedly un-Fun Run on the Montpelier bike path had combined to hobble my left knee — only it wasn’t my knee, it was the muscle. “So it’s the tendon?” I asked, wanting to show that I knew what a tendon was. “Tendon, muscle…. it’s really one tissue. It just narrows down, gets thinner and tougher where it attaches to the bone. Rest. Anti-inflammatories. Stay off ladders. Ice.”

I couldn’t walk or sit comfortably but found that I could stand so I planted myself in front of my drawing board and began working on a bookshelf design that I have been pondering and sketching for years. It is one continuous shelf that snakes back and forth as it climbs up from the ground. It’s a great idea, but actually figuring out how to keep it from collapsing under its own weight (never mind that of the books) has always been the detail that stumped me.

The odd angles of those snaking joints ARE the design, making it both artistic and functional. They are structural and supporting yet each joint itself needs to be supported. It is those secondary supports that have tripped me. How to make them disappear into the design, or emerge out of the desgn, do their work and look, be integral. Gravity. Compression. Function. Art..

I am thinking about art, because of my shelf and my knee and because the root of art means to join, to place things together. Arthritis shares the same root, disease of the joints. An artist presumably is good at arranging and grouping things, connecting them. Composition. Juxtaposition. Look at the Sculpt-Cycle pieces spread out over Montpelier: Janet Van Fleet’s Battering Ram, a fat beam of lumber bristling with nails joined to bicycle rims and a handlebar; Eric Keck’s Celtic Goose made of frames and forks flying next to the Court House; the hyper-neat perfectly spaced silver cube of bike parts and words wired together by Jim Walsh on the Statehouse lawn. All different ways of joining different things, and, somewhere in there (one might hope) ideas. Joyce’s and Smith’s Squashed Bikes: the ideas of trash, recycling, transportation; the ideas of art and anti-art, all jammed together without particular skill by a metal compactor and set out on a pedestal. A rusting tangle of ideas or a bit of unartful arthritic whimsy? Is the question worth asking? Is that the juxtaposition?

And while we’re juxtaposing consider the arthropods, the critters with “jointed feet,” the insects, spiders, crustaceans, known in Latin circles as the Articulata, the Articulated Ones. Or think of the Articulate, those who know the weight and power of words and can join them, end to end, to convey their messages with clarity or poignance, or even outrage. And then there are the ever popular Articles of Confederation, that bulleted list of principled agreements that united the Thirteen Colonies into the Jointed States of America, aka the U.S.A.. Article, as in article of faith, or an article in a newspaper, a piece of the whole, discrete, defined, yet connected.

I think about these things as I consider joinery, that essential woodworking skill, and my zig-zagging shelf, and design, and gravity, and how I am going to make fast and support all its connections and joints. I think how important it is that the shelf not collapse, and how important it is that I not collapse, at least not for a while, and that I learn to care for my joints, my knees, my muscles and tendons (whether or not they are the same thing….) and that I finally find a way to stay off that frickin’ ladder.


February 28, 2009


one leg

February 27, 2009


word and flesh

February 26, 2009

there has been no time when word was not flesh
or flesh word

there is no word which is not flesh
no flesh which is not word

there is, was, no time, no place when, where, the word is not flesh
the flesh not word

bird calls

February 26, 2009

bird calls

last night
I heard you
calling to each other
and it was like the green of the leaves
and the way there are so many
or the blue of the sky
or the clouds

and because it is like these things
your calls become the world I live in
and I don’t always hear you

I slept
and dreamed
of cars and women
and when I awoke
you were still calling to each other

tho I could no longer tell
if you were calling to each other
or for loneliness or joy
or if you called to the green leaves
or the morning sky which was now white and gray
heavy and ready to drop its rain upon us all

surrounding myself

February 26, 2009

surrounding myself
with the emblems of other people’s survival
I turn to dust and blow away