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Sometimes We All Need A Little Break

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It snowed steadily all day, and by evening chores nearly four inches covered the ground. At lunch, we put the winter tires on the truck, and the floor jack wouldn’t roll through the accumulated snow, so I lay on my back, pushing and huffing, trying to position it in place. It was not a pleasant task: The heavy jack, the slushy snow, already soaking through my pants by the second wheel and swallowing the lug nuts that dropped through my numbing fingers. And perhaps worst of all, the lurking knowledge that if only we’d done this the day before, it would’ve been half the job.

That night, just before bed, I walked down to the shed where we keep the freezers. I’d half-heartedly tried to guilt one of the boys into doing it for me, but they weren’t biting, so I donned my still-damp clothing, tucked my feet into my chore boots, and grabbed a headlamp.

It’s not a long walk – just enough to limber the legs and get the blood flowing, is all – and I turned the headlamp off, letting the luminescence of the fresh snow guide me. I passed the cows, huddled under the protective shelter of their run-in shed. I could not see them, but I could feel their presence, their sheer mass, the heat of all that flesh. I passed the newly shod truck and the rows of round bales, smelled the sweetness of the fermented hay. It was flurrying still. Just a little. Winding down.

At the freezers, I made a pouch of my jacket front, filled it with food. Meat and berries and broth. I was thinking about the book reading I’d been to a couple of nights prior, where Brett Stancui read from her new novel.

Brett is an excellent writer and a fine reader, and it was a pleasure to sit and listen for a time. She’d attracted a full house despite dodgy road conditions, and as one who has drawn plenty of half and even quarter-houses to my readings, and therefore knows the particular despair of driving three hours home from a six-person audience (but hey! Two of them bought books!), I was happy for her.

Listening to her read, it was obvious how carefully she chooses her words and equally important, I think, how well she understands rhythm. Or maybe she doesn’t understand it; maybe she just feels it, the way some people can just feel their way into music or dance.

I sliced hot bread, buttered it, and cut the pieces into triangles. Listening to his voice in the other room reading that familiar story about the old man who called children horrid things, I stared down at the bread triangles. My mother had always cut sandwiches in this way for me. I had always eaten the inner points first.

Lucien said, “What a mean old man.”

I put tea, cups, bread, on a tray and carried it into the living room.

“Tea time!” Tansy sang.

Lucien said, “Tea time?”

I handed him a mug of tea. “We’d go mad as hatters in the cold seasons, without some civility.”

He leaned over the steaming tea and breathed in deeply, his eyes closed, smiling. “Mint,” he said with contentment. He sipped the tea. “That’s good.”

His smile drew at the awfulness in me, how near to tears I was.

Tansy asked Lucien to read the book’s table of contents to her. At each story title, she said, “Ooh, I love that one. That one’s so funny.”

Lucien rubbed a hand over his skinny belly, as if he could feel the warm tea settling in.

I handed him a triangle of bread.

He took it from me.

To my thinking, rhythm is one of the most elusive, unteachable aspects of good writing (or maybe it’s just elusive to me, unteachable by me). It’s more than merely varying the length of words, sentences, paragraphs (though there’s certainly something to this); it’s the myriad ways all these units of language and sound interact. It’s the ways all the types of language and sound interact. This becomes especially clear when someone’s reading aloud. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m thoroughly convinced that the easiest way for anyone to improve their writing is to read it aloud, even if only to themselves.

Anyway, Brett’s book is very good and even if you give a fig for rhythm, I would like for you to buy it, in part because I think you’ll enjoy it and in part because I want for Brett to enjoy the success she deserves.

I walked back up the hill with my family’s sustenance. I was glad I’d let the cows into the run-in. I mean, they would’ve been fine if I hadn’t, they’re sturdy beasts. But sometimes we all need a little break.

31 thoughts on “Sometimes We All Need A Little Break”

  1. Rhythm, maybe it’s way more important than we think. Way more present in lots of things than we think. The rhythm of a day. The rhythm of a relationship. Action. Then an interval of nonaction. Sounds of words punctuated by intervals of silence. Sounds of silence…but I plagiarize. Anyhoo, I believe I was conceived by the rhythm method before the pill was invented. So hooray for rhythm!!
    Cute cow pic!

  2. I’ve always said this planet should be renamed The Music Planet. (I’ll tell you in a minute how this fits). Of all our human achievements I think music is the greatest. I’m a visual artist so I think I say this without a speck of prejudice. I also believe music thrills us to our core because we are innately rhythmic, cyclic, metered and that’s why we respond so well to rhythm wherever we find it. Even in literature.

    1. Yes. I’m not much for looking backwards, but I do sort of wish I’d spent more time playing music over the years…

      >

      1. Girls and skills
        Go hand in hand
        Be it crime
        or a bit of rhyme
        Play hurdy gurdy
        and start a band
        When the wife sees
        dishes still not done
        Oh, them skills,
        not so much fun

  3. My dear Ben, this is a lovely piece of work.. a lovely writing of a moment, a small laser beam of focus on a moment…I think you are most wonderful in your telling of moments.. that add up to a lifetime.
    John’s mother, an educated sweet Southern nurse, used to say “Ain’t life grand?” and I so agree. a re-connection with you all these many years from way back then.. makes me pause and think “ain’t life grand?”
    xxxxoooliz

  4. 2 in a row with a crazy cow picture. Hmmm, writing lessons. A book for people who like writing, and figs. What is happening here? I don’t know but I can’t stop reading it, and I don’t even like writing. It’s too ‘uppity’ for me. A potty mouth rockin’ farmer guy that writes….go figure.

  5. Funny, but I had the same hair-do as this cow when I came in from chores this morning. Looks better on the cow, for sure! Thanks for this. Your writing soothes me like Lucien’s tea.

  6. writing about writing always works for you. since you shared the tip of reading your writing back to yourself (out loud) i’ve been doing it myself. man, the things you pick up! shared the tip with emily and she’s been doing it too. much better self-editing tool than simply reading through your work.

    thanks for sharing about brett, too. sounds like a great book, as well as new blog to read.

    “We’d go mad as hatters in the cold seasons, without some civility.”

    reminds me of adam’s grandmother and her wintertime soirees over on the ridge. you don’t realize how many people are tucked away living their lives in such a rural area until you extend the invitation for spirits, sleigh rides, and good company.

  7. Glad to see a post from you Ben. Wishing for some snow flurries here – seeing a rhododendron flower blooming in Dec in PA is just kind of wrong. Just reread an article of Brett’s in a back issue of Taproot. Glad you got a bit of a break yourself.

  8. Not sure I know what you mean. I see no lack of rhythm in your writing. But I’m not a writer. What I do see is a man who is willing to put on sodden clothes to retrieve dinner for his family, who is compassionate towards the beasts of his fields and, not surprisingly, towards other writers. Nice little break from the chaos of this crazy world.

  9. Ben, Thanks for the latest post. I just finished two of your books (“Saved” and “The Town that Food Saved”) and can say, most assuredly, that whether it is due to rhythm or otherwise you have a very captivating writing style. I loved both books for the topics, style and incredibly thoughtful and insightful analysis you provide regarding so many topics. I could not put either book down and look forward to reading your other books and posts. Thank you for all of your great work.

      1. That was rude.

        I can’t believe that you equate your cattle to your children, but we run over 1K head per year, so we never get emotionally attached to them. I look at cattle as a smelly and stupid income producing vehicle, nothing more.

  10. Recently read a book of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. Very enjoyable. Not sure about rhythm but I find her writing voice kinda musical. Short stories are one of my favorite forms, BTW. then this week an article by her in the NYer, “Teach yourself Italian”. Written in Italian and translated for the magazine. Amazing. And a lot of thoughts about writing voice and where it comes from and what it means.

  11. I’m intending to make a return to writing once the holidays pass & we begin to settle into the new year. It’s a part of myself I’ve shelved in the midst of babies, moves, businesses, loves, losses & the general busyness of our day to day. Your words here have reminded me how much I’ve missed letting this part of me have some time and space to play. Thank you for that inadvertent nudge.

    (…and I especially loved the part about walking to the freezers. Love those darkened winter walks.)

  12. So often when I read a children’s book to my littles I wonder, “Didn’t the author read this out loud?” because a word here or there doesn’t sound right and I find the errors so glaring. I edit all my husband’s work and always look a bit crazy mumbling out loud in the library or out and about but it is the easiest way for me to hear what is missing/incorrect/awful!

  13. My mum sent me the link to your article “We don’t need no school” and I was hooked by your writing. I am to be home-schooling or “unschooling” my boys and every little bit of encouragement is so appreciated! Your article did that.

    This post is a beautifully descriptive recognition of “real” life and I love it! I hope your friends sells many books, she sounds wonderful! I will of course take a look myself.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

  14. My mum sent me the link to your article “We don’t need no school” and I was hooked by your writing. I am to be home-schooling or “unschooling” my boys and every little bit of encouragement is so appreciated! Your article did that.

    This post is a beautifully descriptive recognition of “real” life and I love it! I hope your friends sells many books, she sounds wonderful! I will of course take a look myself.

    Thank you for sharing your experience.

    P.S. My son did something and it posted without my name, sorry!

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