Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tiling in the Piedmont

One of the joys of the traveling life is the opportunity to visit friends in the interstices. As most of my work (cmty events, FIC business, or consulting gigs) happen on the weekends, that leaves Mon-Thu free for travel, writing reports, and dropping in on friends. The last four days I've been visiting with Ann Shrader—one of my dearest friends—at her home in Floyd County VA.
I've known Annie since 1969, when we met at a dorm floor party at Carleton College (she was a freshman on 2nd Myers and I was a sophomore on 1st Goodhue). After, as they, "getting together," we eventually wound up together in a group house in Washington DC post-graduation. After that we were part of a four-person group which started Sandhill Farm in 1974. We had a kid together in 1981—Ceilee, who will be 27 on Sunday and a first-time father this coming April. While our lover relationship atrophied and died at about the time Ceilee was born, we remained close and lived together as cmty partners until she left Sandhill in 1999. She departed to get distance from Stan (with whom she'd developed a long-term, loving relationship after me; in '99 they were breaking up and it was too painful to live in the same place).
Now Annie lives 1000 miles away (which has an interesting parallel with my wife, Ma'ikwe, who also lives 1000 miles from me and shares Annie's birthday—what's up with that?), and I look for opportunities to get together with her whenever I have reason to be near Virginia.
I helped Annie buy the house and 2+ acres she's been living on at Left Bank Land Trust since 2002. It's in the piedmont just below Roanoke in the Blue Ridge Mts of southwestern Virginia. As happens, one starts to take a different attitude about housing when you own it, and Annie's been gradually upgrading her digs since getting title to them. Fixing up her bathroom has been right at the top of her Home Improvements List, and I had made a commitment years ago to tile her bathroom floor. The last few days we actually did it.
I love doing home construction projects, but over the last couple decades I've gradually moved away from working with my hands and toward working with my fingers (at a keyboard) and my mouth (facilitating, mediating conflict, and public speaking). All of which is to say my hands are blistered and sore today after custom nibbling tile all day yesterday to fit into non-square corners and around the toilet. But I also have the satisfaction of seeing the finished product, and delivering on a promise—for the rest of her life, Annie will walk on the bathroom floor we did together. It'll be one more reminder of our richly intertwined lives. (Physical reminders of connected lives are important icons, helping us evoke the relationships which sustain us. And unlike most of my current work as a cmty networker and process consultant, with construction projects you can actually tell when something is completed!)
This afternoon I'll drive to Asheville, where I'll have a weekend of consulting, followed by several days of catching up with friends: Jo (my daughter), Susan Patrice, Terry O'Keefe, plus ex-Sandhill members Jess Mund, Michael Penniman, and Jessie Thornwaite. But before I depart, Annie and I will grout the tile, re-hang the bathroom door (now a bit shorter), clean up the tools, and have a batch of homemade waffles.
As I think about it, tiling is a great metaphor for my life, which I piece together one person at a time, fitted into a whole and cemented by social connections. Sure, there are blisters from time to time and occasionally I break a tile in the wrong place, but these things are always reparable if you're willing to pay attention. It's a great life.

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