“You there, my good man,” I said to the employee at Lowe’s. “Please show me to your cheapest fire pit!”
“Right away, guv’ner. Blimey!”
The man didn’t have a British accent. And he didn’t say guv’ner or blimey. But he did show me his cheapest fire pit.
“So I just get some bricks,” I asked, “and set the fire pit on them?”
The Lowe’s employee looked me up and down. He could tell I was a novice firestarter. A boy from the Twin Cities, lost in the wilderness of Central Pennsylvania.
“Come with me, child,” the man didn’t call me my child. But he did lead me to the section of Lowe’s with patio bricks.
“I’d just put four of these on the ground,” my new mentor pointed to the shelf. “That’s what I’ve got in my backyard.”
“Thank you, teacher.” I didn’t call him teacher. Or Chimney Sweep. Or chimbley sweep. But I kind of wish I did.
I put four patio bricks in the cart. Grabbed a bundle of wood. I left Lowe’s with their cheapest fire pit. Had everything I needed to turn my backyard into a hearth.
I added marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey’s chocolate bars to an Instacart order. My grocery boy dropped the items a few hours later.
“Thank you my good man!”
“Blimey. No problem, guv’ner!”
I didn’t have that exchange of dialogue with the Instacart driver. But I kind of wish I did.
I gathered sticks for kindling. My backyard is a forest. We pulled some chairs around the fire pit. Solomon ate six marshmallows. Samson put away seven. They were covered in s’mores. I sipped beer and stared into the fire. A brooding firestarter making a life in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Blimey.
I’m bracing for my return to society. Katie got her second shot last week. I’m as vaccinated as vaccinated can be. Time to go back into the world. Delete Zoom from my computer. No more grocery boys. Will I still know how to act around people? How often should I use the word blimey? Or guv’ner?
My friends and co-founders of Happy Valley Improv are plotting the return of our theatre company. This means a youth summer improv camp. It also means shows and classes and practices. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sick of doing improv virtually. But having commitments to be places? I’ve gotten out of the habit. So that’ll be an adjustment. Especially as we come out of the pandemic and try to build an improv community that is ethical, equitable, and sustainable. What’s my place in that work as people return to the world?
Penn State is promising to return to in-person learning in the fall. Again, I want to burn my laptop to the ground. But returning to the routine of racing from one place to another is going to be strange. Bouncing between meetings and classes and campuses? Blimey. It’s not that I don’t want to get back to that work. But what will it look like?
I’ve become accustomed to being around my family. To accomplishing what I can accomplish through the portal of my computer. I hate living in my laptop. No vitality. Still, I’m leery of my calendar. It has a knack for getting filled with this, that, and the other thing. Say what you want about all this virtual work, at least my boys are stone’s throw away. Or a scream.
I have a history of over-extending myself. A high school English teacher who spent all day teaching and most of the night directing theatre. I kept my teaching job when I was a PhD student. Put in 70 or 80 hours a week. Barely saw Katie. Barely had a moment to breathe. And now, at the ripe age of 40, I have my finger in all sorts of pies. Is that another British saying? Blimey. I have energy and creativity and can’t seem to help myself from getting involved in this, that, and the other thing. And it’s not that I’m complaining. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to do the work I get to do. Improv and creative writing and connecting and thinking with people? Come on. That’s Sam’s groove.
But I’m also an extreme introvert who needs some time to himself. And I probably haven’t gotten much of that over the past year. I continue to push my finger into different pies. Yuck.
Thus the brooding firestarter staring into the flames.
My website went offline last weekend. This website. An issue with the domain disrupted my ability to post my weekly blog. Got me to thinking. Why do I do the things I do? Maybe it is time to do things differently?
Those questions are with me as I shake off the stupor of 2020. Do I go back to being the Sam I was before the world stopped? Do I make some changes? I’m 40 now. Where do I want to put my energy? My boys? Yes. My wife? Absolutely. My job as a scholar? Of course, but I want to be careful that I do that work wisely. Lots of ways to spin your wheels as a professor these days. A creative writer, an improviser, and an artist of (mostly ill) repute? I don’t see how I can stop trending in that direction, even as I want to be cautious about the things I build.
Just processing out loud here. Hearths are good for that. Stare at the flames. Think a little bit. Think some more. Who am I and what am I doing? And why am I doing it? Fame and fortune ain’t coming my way anytime soon, and I’m not sure I’d want them if they did. So what are the things I care about? God, family, and country? Is that the Marines? I’m not really a patriot, and the country seems about ready to go up like the kindling in my cheap fire pit. But those other two things feel important to me. And there’s something of family in building with others. Something of God, too. So improv and writing and teaching and learning keep drawing me in. That’s soul-growing work, even if it means setting foot out the front door, back into a calendar teeming with this, that, and the other thing.
Back into this burning world? Blimey.