Dec 19

To shine a light on my thinking

This is where I am on running, on having to sit it out for most of the year: I can now move around a bit. I am not always winded. I have to re-remember how to run uphill. I’m still slow, but then I haven’t been fast since high school, but I can manufacture a little burst every now and then. My foot feels much better, which is the best part of it all. I haven’t taped it up in a few days in a row, and I’m running without binding the thing, too.

And while I’m probably still months removed from wanting to run — it’s funny, I see people riding their bikes and I think “I’m jealous,” I’ve never seen a person running and thought “I wish I could be doing that right now — there is a certain meditative quality of a good run, when you can move the body without too much suffering.

Maybe it was the evening or the circumstance, but I remembered that this evening.

The light is great, mind you. The photo is blurry because I took that, mid-stride, running downhill. Even with all of those limitations, you can still easily see your way. The view is even cleaner with the eye.

The light is this one. You wear it on your head. It’s lightweight, has an adjustable strap and all that. You don’t forget it is there, but it isn’t an encumbrance. I don’t think I could ride a bike with it, which I’d like to do, because you’d probably outrun the light. But it’s perfect for night runs. They cast a brilliant light to see where your feet are going, and it makes you visible to people coming your way — as if they couldn’t hear me huffing and shuffling from a great distance.

Where I also am on running: I’m not yet back to doing great distances. Oh tonight I was going to run four miles. Four whole miles! But then precisely at the 5K mark, or 3.1 miles, my knee felt a twinge. And as I am trying to get my various joints to work happily and, perchance to dream, in harmony, I called it a run. It didn’t hurt — my rationale, that is — that I came to this conclusion just in front of the neighborhood. So I finished my run at the 5K mark, turned off the head lamp and walked home by porch light. It was in the low 40s, which felt like a slight chill after a little run. The crickets are gone, the bullfrogs are quiet, the kids are all inside. That’s also meditative.

I focus on spring, when I won’t have to miss the sound of insects and the aural landscape that comes with a happier season, when the sun sticks around longer, when I can a bike or run, or both!

Nov 19

I made this

I’ve been talking about this too much and showing very brief, inconsistent photographs of my latest project, but here it is:

It’s nothing more than seven pieces of wood, from three larger pieces I bought late this summer. This wood was supposed to be the test pieces as I tried to answer the question: What should a stove cover look like?

The real question is: How do you keep cats off countertops? but philosophers, scientists and theologians have all failed to answer that one. So we’re left with the stove cover thing.

I did a plywood top version for a few weeks. It was really a study of heat. What was safely tall enough to not cause problems as the stove eyes cooled after use? We did some product testing and decided we would like to lower it a bit, to make it flush with the bar in the background. Happily, we decided we could safely do so. I considered different methods for the top portion, ultimately deciding to keep it simple and use wood I already had in the garage. Most of it was straight and true. One piece had a nice twist in it, and I had to use it. So I did. And that’s what makes it artisanal folk art made by a total amateur. Or whatever.

A few weekends ago I got all the cutting and sizing done. And then I trudged through the sanding. It turns out these things take time when you have competing interests. Last weekend we did stain tests and The Yankee applied the chosen blend. Now that has finally dried. Yesterday, and today, I have applied four coats of the top coat, which is a General Finishes product I’m almost ready to swear by. It is a little pricey, but it goes on easy. It cleans up easy. It dries fast and it doesn’t bubble. It seems durable and, the Internet tells me, it doesn’t yellow with time. I applied it to my desk last year and that still looks nice.

Here, I think, is the key: I got four coats of that stuff on last night and today, and finished the project. (Just in time for Thanksgiving, but hey.) Amazing what you can do when you have some free time on your hands.

Nov 19

This was right, until it was wrong

I was going to start with this …

… but that’s not exactly accurate. I did get to play with power tools today. I mentioned on Monday that I was close to wrapping up this one project with a whole series of jokes about how I’m not good at working with wood. Measure twice, cut once, sand away your shortcomings. That sort of thing.

Only the belt sander probably caused as many problems as it created.

Fortunately, I realized, a quick bit of sawing would solve all of my troubles — and boy don’t we always say that. I did that.

So there was fun to be seen.

Tonight, you see, I had the choice of breaking out the miter saw or running a quick shopping errand. It was my job to pick up two frames for some fancy certificates my television gang has received. Only there wasn’t enough time tonight.

We had just the one car between us today, because The Yankee’s car is in the shop. It isn’t a terrible inconvenience. We work at the same place, of course, and our schedules matched up nicely today. It’s really an issue of what you’re accustomed to. You’re used to being independent, but now you must depend on someone in the simple matter of getting from A to B. And, in this case, you must depend on me. And you must depend on people leaving my office at quitting time, so that we may all, you know, quit for the day.

We left late, which changed up the evening. If I stopped off at C, that would throw off dinner plans, and that would keep me from making sawdust, which I wanted to do. And I did! Now I just have to glue it all up, later this week, and then stain and finish the thing this weekend.

So I’ll try to take care of that shopping errand in the morning. Of course, first-thing shopping is a wholly different experience than late-in-the-day shopping.

There will be more fun tomorrow, then.

Nov 19

Historic parchment

Seventy-five years ago today Indiana awarded alumnus Ernie Pyle an honorary doctorate. He grew up not far away, attended school here, worked at the campus paper, left a bit early for a professional newspaper job.

He’d said “(M)y idea of a good newspaper job would be just to travel around wherever you’d want to without any assignment except to write a story every day about what you’d seen.”

A decade after that he got to go on the road and write all of those columns that made him mildly famous before the war. It was there that blogging began.

Anyway, when the war came, one of the most well known domestic reporters would become the best known war correspondent, first in Africa, then Europe and everywhere he went, really. He was beloved, because he wrote about the GIs and the Marines, and not about all the generals. He lived it with the soldiers and sailors. It was tough for him, just as it was for all of those in the fight. They loved him because they thought of him as theirs.

And in November of 1944 his alma mater gave him a lovely little sheepskin. He belonged to Indiana first.

He would become something more than an accomplished and famous alumnus. The journalism people at IU, over the years, essentially canonized him. For decades they worked in Ernie Pyle Hall. Outside the new building is the famous statue. And his desk today sits one floor above my office. (I used to be one floor above that desk, but they moved me for reasons that still surpass understanding.)

On this floor there’s a display with some of Pyle’s personal effects, on loan from owners or university collections.

Here are his medals, and a not-often circulated photo of Pyle and Generals Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower.

Of Bradley, Pyle wrote in September of 1944:

He is so modest and sincere that he probably will not get his proper credit, except in military textbooks.

But he has proved himself a great general in every sense of the word. And as a human being, he is just as great. Having him in command has been a blessed good fortune for America.

Here’s Pyle’s entrenching tool. They said that the writer was the foot soldier’s best friend. But they also say that a soldier’s best friend is the earth. And this is what Pyle would have used to dig holes for cover, for sleep and so on. It’s not difficult to see that spade, in hand, digging frantically into all different types of soil and sand. It’s easy to see the wear on that handle and wonder about the fear and worry that any man would have felt when they had to dig and dig and dig.

He wrote about being a part of the tragedy of Operation Cobra, which brings home the importance of all of that digging.

In 1943 Pyle wrote a column calling for combat pay for members of the infantry, airmen, after all, were granted “flight pay.” Soon Congress voted for an increase in pay of $10 a month for combat infantrymen. The law was entitled “The Ernie Pyle Bill.”

Pyle was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Correspondence that year, for “distinguished war correspondence during the year 1943.” He typed some of his work on this very typewriter:

Of course he also wrote in his letters, and perhaps in his columns — it gets hard to recall directly from memory, because his style was the same in a letter to his friend or to readers or to his colleagues — about his typewriters. A true devotee of his craft, he thought of his tools.

This is what he wore in Europe. The standard issue field jacket. He didn’t have a rank, but on the left shoulder was a simple patch: war correspondent.

And his passport is there as well.

He received that honorary doctorate 75 years ago today. The next April he was killed in the Pacific, and we all lost a talented scribe.

Nov 19

The one allows for the other

Tuesdays are the longest days. Spend a day at work. Get home just in time for dinner, which is later, because there are TV productions to monitor. So I get home in time to change clothes, make an ice water (it isn’t as easy as they say) and dip some food onto the plate. I’ll spend a few minutes after dinner just sitting still, and then it is time to do the dishes, perhaps attend to the recycling or some other very small chore. And by then it is 10 p.m. So it is time to iron clothes for tommorrow, and then bed, because while Tuesday runs long, Wednesday arrives at the normal time.

But you get to hang out with fun people:

There’s a gif, somewhere on my Twitter account, of this infinity effect. It’s a great little moment. The monitor on the wall is showing program and the floor director moves camera one over for that shot and before they get a graphic into the system … you get this really trip image. And look closely. Charlee, on the right, is smiling, except she isn’t.

To be fair to both of the co-hosts, I think I shot that picture just before both were about to say something clever during their mic checks.

Today was another day of blue skies. That makes five in a row. We are tied at five over the last 10 days, but we know which condition is going to win out, in the end. And yet we still do it. What else would you do? You can’t change it, as my grandfather said to me on the phone this evening. You just accept it.

Do you ever talk to your elders and wonder if they’re still trying to teach you things? Maybe this isn’t casual small talk. Maybe he knows there are still plenty of metaphors I need to learn from. Maybe I’m now old enough to accept that. Which is a lot like saying that you accept that maybe you do need to be taught new things. And maybe that conversation tonight wasn’t about the weather.

Which is an awful lot for a regular old phone call, if you think about it. It’s getting cold and damp for him. It will be exceedingly cold here. And he laughed, a lot, at my latest tale of getting old. Like you’d know anything about it, he probably thought, I’m still teaching you about the inevitability of the weather.

He doesn’t think like that at all, I’m sure of it. He mentioned my great-grandmother’s house in passing, part of a story about a water heater. He still refers to his mother-in-law by an honorific and her last name and she passed away 15 years ago. Things and habits and routine and niceties matter. That’s not just a generational thing, but it certainly stuck in him and with his generation. Also, he’s perhaps the second kindest man I’ve ever known. His father is the kindest man I’ve ever known. It must have come naturally to most of that family.

I’ve been thinking about his dad a lot, lately. He was born 100 years ago this week, and he died several Octobers ago, now. Plus there’s the upcoming Veteran’s Day, and we’ve talked about his role in the war a fair amount here. Probably right about now, I don’t know for sure the date, he was getting ready to sail to Europe. His war started 75 years ago in December.

You can read a bit about it on this map tracing the unit history, if you’re interested.

This weekend I’m going to pull out a pocket knife he gave me and polish it up once again. It’s beautiful, rugged, used, purposeful. He found it on the roadside somewhere. I’ve never been able to bring myself to carry it, lest it be lost.

Anyway, Tuesdays are long, but Wednesdays make up for it, somehow.

Probably the blue skies, definitely the phone call.