When the Reading Gets Thin


Finally finished the south wall clapboards. The cats are pleased and frankly, so am I.

Last week’s short-but-serious thaw reduced the snowpack to scant and intermittent patches, in the process revealing a strange assortment of items lost or misplaced or intended for winter burial. In the shadows of the barn, I found the pair of choker chains I’d long assumed had been sacrificed to the woods, and the pleasure of this discovery mitigated the revelation that the cats have spent the winter masticating rats and leaving their half-eaten corpses to mingle with the accumulating snow. I’m glad for the catching, less glad for the gruesome remainders, the long, slick tails like frozen baby snakes. I found three bucket lids and one tape measure, all well-preserved and in perfect operating condition. Now, everywhere is ice, glare and glistening under the rare moments of sun, and every step is fraught with peril. I fall at least once per day, grateful that I still have some bounce in my bones.

I have been absent this space a long time, fallen right out of practice, which puts me in violation of my very best writing advice, which is simply to write. Though in truth, I have been writing, just not here, and perhaps not with the recommended frequency. I’ve also been teaching, and I love my class, I love the students, and the conversations we have, and I’m repeatedly struck by their maturity and openness, which I can’t help but measure against their youth, and think damn: I wish I’d known what they know when I was that age. But I didn’t, and in some regards still don’t, and I suppose that right there is a big part of why the teaching is so fun: Because I’m the one being taught.

I’m gonna try to keep up with this space a little better. I like the connection I feel to it, and also to my readers, particularly those who’ve stuck with me for so long. Thank you all for sticking around, even when the reading gets thin.

Music: Tyler Childers doing Whitehouse Road. For you locals, he’s playing Higher Ground tonight. For ten freakin’ bucks. We’re fired up. 


31 thoughts on “When the Reading Gets Thin”

  1. I want that house! Gorgeous. My version will be one story so I can live in it until I croak. A simple lovely structure. Are you going to let it weather or are you going to do something to the boards?

    I’ve been teaching, too. I teach art to elementary school kids. Mostly 4th grade. What age do you teach? The only thing I don’t like about it is standing for hours which is hard on my 67 year old body. Otherwise it is so much fun! The kids are wonderful.

  2. Looks great Ben!! You will enjoy Tyler, he’s been a favorite of mine for a while now. Gets me pumped during occasional commutes!

  3. Choker chains . . that find beats the discarded unwashed socks that turned up in my yard last week. Thanks for hanging in with this very loved site!

  4. Dear me, it’s becoming more and more clear that a person with a phobia of rodents should not live in the country, after all! Why don’t the cats eat the whole rat?! Lovely home, by the way.

    1. Sometimes they do, and sometimes, they eat none. I think we feed them too well. Cats are like children: Best to keep them just a little bit hungry😉

      Sent from Mail for Windows 10

      1. Ours have been catching vole: leaving body parts strewn around the front walk, sometimes whole ones and even a rat. I suppose that’s normal when the wildflowers start up again. I love reading here, Ben, and seeing the great progress on your home. I’m also glad you’re enjoying teaching- do what you love, learning is everywhere.

    1. And a pleasure to know you’re out there, reading. Saw you at the Co-op the other day, but you were in deep conversation, and I wasn’t in an interrupting mood.

      Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  5. The joys of using a RSS Reader – your posts show up without delay. I always enjoy reading your work. Hope you keep it up. 🙂

  6. Hi Ben. I started following your blog after reading your book about unschooling when it was first published, which gave me the courage and confidence to homeschool my kids. You haven’t written about the boys and their education in a while. I’d be interested in hearing how they are doing, and some of your thoughts on their education at this age.

    1. Hi Lindsey,

      Thanks for reading my book. I don’t write about them as much these days, in part because they’re deserving of their privacy, and in part because I don’t want them to feel any pressure to prove themselves. I will say they’re doing great, each in his own way. I still have plenty of thoughts about education, particularly as I embark on doing some teaching (and possibly schooling)… maybe I’ll get back to that sometime soon. Thanks for your interest.

  7. How cool would it have been to have a writing teacher like you! I did not take any writing classes at the college level (though all of our classes had a writing requirement) but did in HS. Mr. Ingalls was short and stocky with a beard and wore the sport coats with suede elbow patches. Rumor was that he was Buddhist (confirmed) and always kept a bottle of liquor in his desk (unconfirmed.) He let us sit on the floor, on top of the tables sprawled out like cats, sideways across several chairs, whatever. He didn’t care as long as you were writing something. If you were screwing around in class, he didn’t get mad, he would quietly slip a strip of paper in front of you that said something like, “Dawn is having a difficult time connecting with her inner voice today.” Or, if you wrote a short story about a quiet young man who was riding a bus to visit his elderly and abusive mother in a nursing home and just happened to have a knife in his pocket, he didn’t send you to the principal’s office or call the police, he simply said, “You enjoy the work of Stephen King, I take it.” (and suggested putting that story in the class publication at the end of the year!) He didn’t grade your work in the traditional sense. You had a meeting with him toward the end of term and told him what grade you thought you should receive on your report card. I’m not quite sure how he managed to skip detection by the powers-that-be in the public school system but he was there forever. He was the best and I’ve never forgotten him. Something tells me you are this cool, too. 🙂

      1. The interesting part of that, I later found out, was students very often would give themselves a lower grade in the consultation than he ultimately gave them on their report card. Lack of confidence? Expectations of what a “good grade” requires? Not sure but interesting to contemplate the reasons behind that one.

  8. Buddy, the house looks great. I really envy your siding… Especially the fact it’s attached to your house…
    Thanks for keeping up the blog, I enjoy it.

  9. Ben,
    FWIW, I like when you write about your family, your life in rural Vermont, and your interactions with both the colorful and dull denizens of Caledonia and Washington counties. Your stories about farmers Churchill and Rockwell are particular favorites and I have long wondered how Jimmy and Sara Ackermann are getting along. Three things that I know about Vermont are that the Snowsville Store is worth 30 minutes of your time, Colatina Exit has the best Italian clam and mushroom soup known to man, and as much as I dislike the ambiance at Killington, it is worth a trip to Charity’s for their French onion soup.

  10. Speaking of reading getting thin – awhile back you mentioned a book about “coming-of-age” rituals for boys – or maybe about how to “come of age” in an age without rituals. Can you remind me of the title? Thanks so much!

  11. Your sentence about teaching–being the one who is being taught–might be the single best sentence I’ve ever comes across that perfectly captures why I keep coming back to teaching every single year. Thank you.

  12. You were teaching long before you wore the title. Through your writing.
    Curious about your present view of academia, now that you’ve crossed over.

  13. Ben – saw Tyler Childers in Portland, Or last night! Oh man, so solid! Thanks for the heads up on this dude. He played with Lillie Mae who is also tight. Have a great weekend…Sorry to say its 70’s in Oregon…Spring has sprung, cows and calves on grass, chickens getting greens..

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