E. Thetford cemetery, Vermont. Just a little patch on the side of Rt. 5. Say there awhile and watched the occasional logging truck rumble by. This is a detail from the stone for Elizabeth Sawyer, d. 1780. It's propped up by a rotting log. "Stop my friends and drop a tear," it reads, "think on the dust that slumbers here."
Friday, November 14, 2014
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
A guest post by my wife, Julie Rabig, who learned how to fix our stove: In his 30s Andrew worked in insurance, in his 40s, he earned a divinity degree, and in his 50s, he took a church in Hartland, Vemont, and there he found his true calling. A pellet stove. “They’re so simple—the design—and yet so complex.” He still has his church, but now he is a technician. // Andrew is short, efficiently built, with the sinewy forearms of a much younger man. But he’s 74 now and his body doesn’t move like it used to. He says that ours may be the last stove he cleans. He says I should watch him take it apart. He says I will need to learn for myself. “Take notes.” He says most technicians won’t tune-ups anymore; it doesn’t pay. Some of the younger guys don’t even know how. After today, we’ll be on our own. // He might still fix a stove for someone. If that’s all they have for heat. His work sends him on urgent calls in the coldest stretch of winter. “It’s amazing the way some people live—just shacks.” Warmth is his calling. // His hands tremble as he manipulates a rusted bolt and a ratchet wrench. “Are you active in your community?” he asks. “Not yet,” I say. “Maybe now that our daughter is in school.” He asks what church we attend. I tell him my husband is Jewish and I’m Catholic. “A good combination,” he says. “How are the children being raised?” My evasive response takes advantage of his hard hearing. He fumbles with a new gasket that comes apart before he can attach it; so does the next one. “Never buy this brand.” Two hours later the stove is reassembled and ready for the bitter winter forecast by the Farmer’s Almanac. But winter is not starting today: It’s a record-breaking 78 in mid-October. I turn the stove on. There’s the breath of the fan and the soft clatter of pellets. An ember glows, but the pellets shooting down the shaft overwhelm it. We wait and stare, side by side. A small flame appears, then a short ridge of fire. Andrew can go. #pelletstove #heat #fire #vermont #winteriscoming #working #warmthishiscallingA video posted by Jeff Sharlet (@jeffsharlet) on
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Another late night drive across the mountains. It’s easier that way. Dark isn’t the absence of light, it’s the presence of ink. The stuff from which letters are made.
“I like the night,” says James Peck. “Time-and-a-half.” Time is $12.59 an hour. “I haven’t figured out the half.” He’s had this job four months. “Best job I ever had.” Only job he’s ever had. It’s harder than it looks. To get it he had to take a test. The test asked, What do you do if a car doesn’t stop? I ask, “Does that happen?” Peck says, “Last night.” Drunk driver, mowed down a sign. “What did you do?” “I got out of the way.”
A car throbbing with bass rolls up, four girls looking for the party on a Monday night in Rutland, Vermont. Peck flicks his sign. They have to stop. He waves. They laugh. It’s a good job.
“What did you do before this?” “Nothing.” He’s 20, came to Vermont from South Carolina to be with his grandparents. They were dying. Now they’re dead. He’s still here. The job’ll be over soon. No blacktop in winter. He doesn’t know what he’ll do. But he has a dream. “I want to move to Alaska. They give you land if you increase its value ten times.” That, and the nights are long. “More time-and-a-half.”
#nightshift #vermont #timeandahalf #truestory
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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Even with the guidance of a local poet Singapore seems to me less like a city than an architectural rendering, an idea stripped of a soul. The poet, who is a patriot, tells me of two separate cities, interlocking: that of “sophisticated men,” of which he is one, and that of the “great unwashed,” who vote for “sophistication.” The quotes are part of the quotes; the poet uses such terms ironically and in earnest. “The noble lie?” I ask. “Yes,” he says, smiling. “‘We’”—more irony—“believe the great unwashed cannot handle the truth of Singapore. Our ‘vulnerability.’” More earnestness. We stroll in silence. The poet considers. He loves Singapore, but what is Singapore? Its water is imported. Its land is imported, sand poured into the ocean to make room for more skyscrapers atop which the gardens of this green city are grown. And those who build the skyscrapers and tend the gardens, they’re imported, too. They are not part of the “great unwashed.” They are not part of anything. They do not vote, they serve. They do not have bodies. If they insist that they do—if they report being beaten or if they become pregnant—they are sent away from the island. The island remains clean.
“Do you know what we do with troublemakers here?” the poet asked. “We export them!” He laughed. The AC was cool, we were drinking prosecco with rhubarb. “Seriously,” he said. He explained that there are always study-abroad scholarships for the best students so that they can work out any radical ideas elsewhere. Under the watchful eyes of each other, that is. “When I was ready to go for my scholarship,” the poet said, “they called me. ‘What do you need, P__?’ they asked.” “They” were one of Singapore’s myriad state security branches. “They” just wanted to help. Anything the poet needed. Anything the poet wanted. “In return,” they told him, “perhaps you could write home.” By “home” they meant to them. “With news of your thoughts, your ideas. And your peers -- let us know how they are. Their thoughts, their ideas.” “Did you?” I asked. The poet chuckled.
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Monday, September 15, 2014
“I love God,” she said shortly after we met. Su-lynn was my student minder for the American Writers Festival in Singapore. I’d read a story about a church, so she told me about her church. She told me about spiritual war, about being slain in the spirit, about demons and deliverance ministries -- aka exorcism -- and about everyday miracles, the gifts of the spirit.
“Tongues?” I asked.
“Serpents?” A stupid joke; that’s an American thing.
She thought it puzzling. “No snakes,” she said. “Gold dust.”
“Gold dust?” I asked.
She showed me her hands. They looked like hands. “God’s manifestation,” she said. “Can you see the sparkles?” I couldn’t, but I lack faith. “Gold dust,” she said again. “It’s on me all the time, God is all around me. Some people get gold teeth. Some receive gems. I’ve never seen one.”
It’s not the prosperity gospel, it’s not about getting rich. She loves shopping, the national pastime, but to her the material promise of the “air-conditioned nation” is not enough. She believes in the kingdom, greater than any nation. She studies miracle videos from American churches. She searches for grace.
“I did get an angel feather once. I brushed it off! I thought, ‘just a bird.’ But my friend told me it was an angel. They are worshipping among us all the time.”
Over two days she tried to find light in which I could photograph the gold dust on her hands, but although I did see a few shiny specks -- she swears it’s not glitter -- I couldn’t get it to show up in a picture. So she suggested I photograph her tattoo. It’s a laminin cell, a crucial binding protein, shaped like a cross. Gold dust outside, the cross within.
Su-lynn slipped her strap off her shoulder, her classmates at Singapore Management University milling around her. “Can you see?” she asked.
I felt awkward, but she did not; she was showing me God, scientific and divine.
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