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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Unsettled: Closing Thoughts

It was in June of 2008 that I began writing this Unsettled storyline about the property we’d purchased forty years before. I was prompted by the thought that we needed to settle the estate, as they say, and it struck me as strange that after “settling” this land for all these years there were still unsettled tasks to be done. Days of sitting in the house, still furnished and left exactly as we knew it through the years, reminded me that the settling of this land had shaped my family’s life, and therefore, whatever remained unsettled should be done in the same spirit we enjoyed throughout those years.

What better way to do that than to tell the story as my personal time allowed. What better place to do that than here at Patterns of Ink where others may learn of the unique setting, characters, actions, and conflicts that fueled the plotline of my life during those formative years.

The setting? Mostly the property with occasional glimpses of life in Roseville. The characters? Mostly two parents and five kids (to the neglect of a huge network of friends and relatives who lived through these years with us, but I tried to stay focused on the original cast). The Action? If this were a film it would certainly not be an action movie, but I tried to highlight those "acts" that were most unique to this setting: building the barn from logs; spanning the creek first with logs and again with slabs from I-94; digging a cistern well one crock at a time; salvaging a two-room schoolhouse for the lumber for the house; and then the long process of finishing the house itself. The conflict? Man vs. nature on occasion, and  conflicts I understandably chose not to include, but really… the theme itself is the recurring conflict of change. For mother it was the change from suburban to woodland life. For Dad the change of a family grown and gone just before his dream house could be lived in. For the four oldest kids, the change from the security of the home we knew to the homes we started. And for Jim, the youngest, the change of all the above as seen through the eyes of a young boy.

Oh, there were other conflicts along the way: we boys grew to resent the weeks of digging the well; Mom worried that the well would be salt water and then her putting the car in reverse at 50 MPH. Our dog Duke having to be put down the night we packed for Georgian Bay. Mom's private struggle. Dave and I walking home after wrestling practice in that blizzard. Mom blowing up her kitchen table. Me telling Dad, “Why don’t you come over here and show me how to tie a half-hitch!” The time I hit Dad’s thumbnail with a hammer. There were lots of snags along the way, the kind that bring excitement to a day, but at the heart of it all was the conflict of change that affects all things human. Change is the bridge from what was to what is. We can sit on that bridge and watch things slowy pass, but in time change itself sweeps everything away like the bridge my father built across Fish Creek. It washed away in the flood in 2004 (as the first bridge had done years before). Somewhere deep in the banks of the creek are the some of the slabs of I-94 he used in the foundation. Those are the only remaining parts of the interstate on the property. What about the driveway? Well, in the fall of 2009, we paved the driveway to the house and pulled up the old cement two-track we'd used for over twenty years. Change...and the tug to hold things as they are is one of the silent rhythms of life.

These chapters are not memoirs—not in the truest sense. I’m not sure what genre they fall into. Is there one called “Reconstructed Non-Fiction”? Maybe that’s what it is. The non-fiction applies because, to the best of my ability everything I’ve shared is true. I’ve been careful with dates and all chronologies (often with the help of my siblings). The “reconstructed” term applies because, obviously, the events were not filmed and recorded in real time. They are skewed by my perspective, temperment, and personality. They have also been flavored by the months that elapsed as I wrote the chapters in the context of long periods of real life and the recurring duties related to preparing the homestead for an estate sale. Quite often the seasons during which I was writing also came into play. The final chapters, for instance, were written in the Christmas season of 2009. It was a joy to be reliving those memories while a current Christmas season was happening around me.

The dialogue throughout these chapters is true to the events and personalities and outcomes of the storyline, but they were not transcribed from a Dictaphone. I’ve been told by readers who know my family that they can hear the voices behind the words; they can remember the actual conversations or imagine them while the words on the page play out in their minds. That is high praise in my book, for it is those same voices I hear as I write. Not some strange psychopathic muses, but the actual voices of the characters of my family at whatever age and time the dialogue was included. To be honest, dialogue is the most cathartic aspect of “reconstruction,” because I love those voices, and especially miss the ones no longer here to hear. At times I don’t know whether it’s a blessing or curse to have these vivid details and voices found so undisturbed in my mind, like the letters we found in Mom’s cedar chest in the attic.

For many years after my father’s death, I could only write of mourning and grief when it came to family things, and to be honest, I wrote very little. Mostly I wrote on scraps of paper kept in my Bible or nightstand and filed away for future use. It was these “endless patterns of ink” that prompted a short poem and eventually the title of my blog in 2004. Only then, did I gradually begin to feel comfortable writing about my father. Only then could I do it with the full range of healthy feelings beyond grief.

I treated Patterns of Ink (POI) as a private journal for a few years, sharing only with friends and family. For the first four years, my mother printed off each post and began gathering them in manila envelopes beside her dresser. We found these after her death. That is a manuscript copy of Bringing Home the Duncan Phyfe which she helped me write that last year before she died. That was my first experiment in “reconstructive non-fiction,” and in that case, Mom and I talked on the phone Sunday nights and then I’d write a week or two until I needed more details. It was a delightful process, and I was grateful to give it to her for Christmas a few months before she passed away (though she had read each unfolding chapter in real time at POI for over a year). This Unsettled story would have been equally rewarding to write with her on the phone, but instead my siblings helped me here and there.

I remember the strange feeling I had the first time a reader left a comment. But as any blogger will confess, the fear of comments soon becomes an unexpressed desire for feedback and motivation to continue writing. I thank those of you who take the time to do that, and I apologize for not leaving comments in the blogosphere as often as I did a few years ago. This year I have failed at the "social networking" aspect of blogging. But with the help of a “counter” at the bottom of POI, I find some motivation in knowing that sometimes hundreds of people visit here in any given week. Since the beginning of this Unsettled series, the counter has been tripped over 15,000 times. I know many blogs have that kind of traffic in a week or month, but I find it amazing, and I’m honored. Without that sense of anticipation, that vague sense of “deadline,” I’m not sure I would have been as motivated to return to writing  these chapters whenever I got bogged down in real life or in the storyline itself. If you are reading this, you are one of the people who helped prod me along simply by stopping by to read. Thank you.

What now? Well, I have transferred  the 60+ posts into one long manuscript. I will now begin re-proofing it, streamlining it, trying to eliminate about fifty of the current 250 pages. That will take a while, but I am sure there is a lot of repetitive deadwood that needs to go. You also know I am prone to typos and spelling errors. I tweak those even after posts are up for weeks. Reading from a printed hard copy is still the best way for me to find my own mistakes. At any rate, once the manuscript is pared down to a presentable size. I’ll make a few copies for friends and family, saving one copy to leave in the house as was my original intent. Depending on how it “reads” on paper, I may also consider printing more copies for interested parties. We’ll see.

I'm going to close with a poem I wrote for my dad for Fathers Day 1994. It is probably the most structured piece I've ever written (8 syllable lines followed by 4 syllable lines), but it reads comfortably. The presiding pastor read it at Dad's funeral about a year after I wrote it.

Before the poem, however, allow me to share one last snapshot I've been saving for the end.  I took it in December 1979, on day before I left home to fly to Kansas with a diamond ring in my suitcase and plans to propose to Julie on New Year’s Eve. I was eager to leave and carry out my mission, but I was also aware that life as I knew it was about to change. I happened to have the ol’ Kodak instamatic camera in the car as I turned into the driveway. This was way before digital imagery; I had no idea whether or not this picture turned out until I developed the film months later. The house is in the background and I am in the rear-view mirror of my 1965 Oldsmobile Delta 88. (My first car which I later sold because it had the biggest gas-guzzling engine GM had ever made, and I heard a rumor that gasoline prices might go above $1.00 a gallon by the end of 1980.) I like this picture because it foreshadows the feelings that prompted me to write Unsettled thirty years later.

My Father's Hands

I see my father’s hands in mine—
not in my clasp
but in the flesh and form and line
of span and grasp.
It’s not the look that came with age.
I see that when
my lamp-lit fingers press a page
or hold a pen.
But when my grip takes on a task
or holds a tool,
my palms and fingers seem to ask
if as a rule,
hard work alone gives hands their worth—
not just their pain.
If so, then sweat must mix with earth
as well as rain
to dampen new-sown dreams and seep
...into the soil
where hope takes root in things that keep
and call for toil.

But who am I to talk of such…
hard work I mean…
I’ve not attempted half as much
as what I’ve seen,
and what I’ve done is only more
or less child’s play
(like completing a morning’s chore
that takes all day).
Occasionally, however,
I’ve had to rise
to the call of some endeavor
that otherwise
I’d never do…or even try.
And when It’s done,
I stretch my arms toward the sky
and setting sun,
and in the glow I almost see
my father’s strength—
his hands are there (or seem to be)
from an arm’s length.
 © Copyright 1994, Patterns of Ink
Next weekend, I will resume blogging, but I think I am done with Unsettled for now.


Blogger the walking man said...

Well then, that completes this portion of the story. A well told, well written, entertaining and oft times tear bringing piece of work you have accomplished Tom.

What I would do for now is breathe. Put the whole thing away for a minimum of 6 months and think no more on it. Spend the summer and fall in real time and play with Julie and the girls and grand kid.

Then in the winter when it is cold and you're pretty much more ready to be chained to a lap top, do your revisions then.

Your parents were amazing people who lived an old style life that so many have no feel for anymore. They remind me much of my mothers parents who had much of the same ethos.

Best part of it is that in what you all have learned from them about honorable living keeps not only that ethic alive but in your hearts they live on as well. While they sleep waiting for the end of time and a life with no such thing as death in it, you in your lives keep theirs alive.

In the Shinto tradition it is thought that them who have passed on remain unseen but alive as long as someone remembers their name and honors them.

Your entire family will live as long as one person in the chain of it remembers and works the great attributes of your mother and father and their forebears.

You have done your part in keeping that life alive sir. Well Done.



18/4/10 10:13 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

That is good advice. It's what I did with the Duncan Phyfe story (although I never quite picked it up again so I'll try not to let too much dust gather). You are correct about my parent's type of life being a forgotten ethos. That is also something I wanted to record for posterity. I have nephews and nieces and my own children who knew them, and I want them to remember--especially to whatever extent that past example serves a higher purpose in the present.

I am not very familiar with Shinto traditions but I know you know a variety of world religions. It was tempting at times to include more specific elements of the living Biblical faith my parents modeled for us, but I chose instead to season the story with that aspect of our life rather than make it the main course. I am confident that Dad and Mom would agree. There door was open to a wide variety of people through the years, and those who knew them never wondered about the "tie that binds" and bound our home together.

Thank you for being an encourager and patient reader of this long process that has occupied my writing time for a couple years.

18/4/10 12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have been writing this a long time. I am not a writer but I enjoyed reading along. Parts of it seemed like short stories within a larger story. I liked the part about the magic shoes. I know why you included the epilogue to complete the house but you may find that the story ends better at an earlier time so it is not so final. Not sure where but it was as sad to read about your parents passing as it was for you to write about it. I'm not a writer but I think a happily ever after may make a better ending. Feel free to ignore this. I loved reading this and I am sad it is over. Maybe that is what I mean. End it in a way that it does not feel over. Can you do that?

20/4/10 9:38 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

First of all, thank you for reading and letting me know you did. I'm on my way out the door to work, so I'll have to get back to this comment. I think it is a good suggestion. I would still want the copy for the house and family members to include the epilogue, but you are correct that the story needs a more clear beginning, middle, and end without necessarily ending as the draft does. Mark, pointed out something a long time ago when I mentioned that we ate in the barn on the old Duncan Phyfe. I'm thinking about a way to blend that theme into this more clearly since it was that tabel that I brought home before the estate sale. I'll think about this some more.

21/4/10 6:13 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Continuing the thought above...
I remember the first time I saw the final installment of Lord of the Rings. It seemed like the movie ended about four times in the last ten minutes--like the directors weren't sure which ending they liked best so the did them all (ending on the doorknob). This was sort of like that and even the "final thoughts" weren't a good ending. When I come back to this manuscript, I will find a way to end it without it being a downer. Have you ever seen Avalon (the movie from 1990)
I love that film and it reminds me of our family in many ways. It also ends on a sad note as one generation passes onto the next, but it ends with some artistic finality that this is lacking.

I will give this storyline, theme, and conclusion more tought in the future. This draft will serve for our purposes in the meantime. Thank you for your input.

21/4/10 6:25 PM  

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