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Zen in the Season of Busy

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Tim Kreider is a cartoonist who last June wrote a much-quoted column for the New York Times about “busyness” and its glorification. “A boast disguised as a complaint,” he said of the quick, thoughtless reply (“Busy!”) to any question of how one is doing; something not often heard from the working poor dead on their feet from double shifts and routinely from them who’ve staffed-out their precious hours to a multitude of tasks taken on out of “ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.” As is probably pretty clear, among these frantic doers Kreider does not count himself. “I am not busy,” he says. “I am the laziest ambitious person I know,” going on to describe an idyllic daily regimen comprising a few hours of morning work, long bike rides and errands done, evenings consumed in watching movies with friends, having drinks, et cetera et cetera. Reading this, you–if you’re me–surround all of a sudden a feeling in your belly like a pinch and a punch and a warm glow of covetous pleasure all at the same time, because you, like me, are, if not a deeply lazy person, at least someone who places a steep premium on leisure time, who has somehow gotten off track, veered into a lane where the traffic is faster and tailgating rampant and highway noise loud enough to disrupt one’s train of thought. (Although, to be honest, it is usually less a “train” of thought than a listless, colorful regatta, or a twilit-sky-filled-with-hot-air-balloons of thought.)

“It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this,” Kreider goes on, brilliantly, “any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.”

To pick one nit, it does seem sometimes to happen all by itself–independent of a person’s anxious desire to be occupied. Day follows day follows day, a box of To-Do appears behind this door, which, son of a gun, was that even there yesterday? And what about this list in my hand? Who put that there? Hold on, wait, I have to answer this…  You rise sore into the day that keeps you on your feet and going until you collapse into the night’s sleep equivalent of a Megadeath concert however many hours later, then rise sore into the day… And you (you, who like sitting) didn’t ask for it. The days were longer, before…idler, more free…less productive.

Well, boxes of To-Do have indeed been proliferating around our rickety old barn by the stream, lately. There’s a crate with a canning line in it, a newly leased space, a just-installed mother of a brite tank that, freshly packed with IPA, sprung an alarming leak, a swirl of roster changes around which we’re all learning to dance (with new partners and the tune unknown)…this on top of the gradual incorporation of the grain augur that’s redeeming the elbows’ and backs’ of our brewers from their many batches of toil (though not without its hiccoughs) and the systemic alterations made front of house that necessitated last month a three day furlough for the Tasting Room. Commerce, we disorganize and rebuild ourselves around you.

Also: listened day before yesterday to an excerpt from a keynote address given by the late David Foster Wallace to a class of college graduates. I forget what college, but I feel enormously envious and protective of their experience, ’cause this excerpt flat knocked me down. Click the link, please! I will not demean those nine plus minutes with summary, but will say that they involve consciously practiced thought. They involve the lame truth that our default mental state is woefully small and self-interested. It speaks to the intelligent person’s capacity, however, to substitute for this automatic childishness a wider, more adult awareness: the world does not exist for me; the people in the world do not exist for me; neither my comfort nor my convenience are the point of the human day. This is good!

So let this be a quality of the busy season: that we occasionally sublimate ourselves to the great, shifting abundance of folks and needs and places that clutter the day and the unseeable vectors of cause and effect that put us where we are, next to who we’re next to, doing things. Let our engines churn but our minds find time to idle.

I’ll take mine with a pint, if you please. And how are you, after all?




No animals were harmed.

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

A drizzly Easter Sunday, bucket’o’paint, puttering around the brewery making amendments to the draft system and such, counting the minutes to our re-opening Thursday 4 April, all spic-n-span. We’re still in headscratching mode about where to put the cask and beer engine . . .

Populist Rant (Largely unrelated to beer) (Friday Edition)

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Growing from infancy into childhood we are introduced to illusions that we collect and refine. The rest of aging seems to be a process of dealing with our roster of illusions: either by shedding them when they no longer work for us or seeing them actually assaulted and defeated. Also there’s substitution. And collaboration. And prostitution. And eventually we are hopefully old peeps adorning porches and happy just to still be ticking.

They say that older people are happier than younger, which seems counter-intuitive for a moment and then makes perfect sense. Illusions are heavy baggage, and the strain of fitting the world in them is a crippler. The denial or suffering required to deal with the damage done to them by brute reality exacts psychic pounds. But who is illusionless expects little and so’s happy with what comes. Expecting nothing is only jaded if you’re bitter about it; if you’re cool with it, well, it’s like what the brilliant and peculiar Darryl Zero says in the brilliant and peculiar film Zero Effect (1998) about looking for things: “When you look for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad, because of all the things in the world, you only want one of them. When you look for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good, because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them.”

Sometimes, though, an illusion is so appealing that it’s impossible to flush it all the way down the toilet. You start flushing it, then reach in and save it and say, hang on, I can do something with this. Take the idea of meritocracies, for instance. We grow up thinking that if we work harder than the next guy it will translate into success. We grow up in thrall to the idea that every generation does a little better than the last owing to equality of opportunity and hard work. The cream rises to the top, the early bird gets the worm, blah blah blah. Some of us see through this illusion earlier than others. Some cleave to it out of necessity. (I heard a one-percenter interviewed on Planet Money or something who said that a person with a cell phone isn’t poor. “If you have a cell phone, you aren’t poor,” he said, chuckling.) The truth is that equality of opportunity is a myth so long as schools are unequally funded. A smart kid from a poor neighborhood can reach the same finish line at the same time as a middling kid from a rich neighborhood, maybe, but she’s got to run faster and harder and the wind’s against her and someone’s shooting at her and there’s all this crap in her way.

It’s childish to think that society at large will furnish conditions in which merit blindly determines success, but it’s grown-up to look to your own. It isn’t an illusion if your own actions bring it forth.

There is much that we at the French Broad Brewery do not have. We are not shiny. We are not controlled by millionaires. We are limited. We are the old horse, the small claim, the bowling shoes, the gift wrapped in newspaper, the battered car with a busted odometer, the sweaty collar, the strong back and its ache at day’s end.

But we’re running hard. And our beer? Our beer is pretty damn good, y’all. Come on over and get you some this weekend. We’re here every day.

This van has a hole in it and I'm not even kidding.

This van has a hole in it and I’m not even kidding.


Musings on Equinoxes

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Maybe it’s indicative of how exhausted people become with winter that Spring has so many different starting pistols.

Puxatawney Phil gets his annual fifteen minutes every Candlemas. Later on we “spring” forward. Some people (I just learned this) mark the start of Spring from the day after President’s Day. Pitchers and catchers report in February for Spring Training.

When the calendar and astronomical reckoning declares Spring, it’s one of those things where you’re like, O.K., but where’s the beef? My feet are cold. This wind cuts. Sure I bought oil for the lawnmower and cherry trees are budding, but let’s not kid ourselves: half of Asheville grilled out in the first week of January, too, and nobody planned then to be lawnchair sunning the next day. Winter isn’t finished–it’s doing the same “Not…Dead…Yet!” routine we see every March into April. Like the German fancypants dancer out for vengeance against Bruce Willis’s John McClain in the first Die Hard.

Saturday’s supposed to bring snow, and them who plant before Mother’s Day will know better next year.

But it is a joy kept in a shelf all its own to see the days get longer, and few things in life can compete with the happiness of the year’s first shorts-outside.

At 7:02 A.M. this morning Spring officially kicked off in the Northern Hemisphere. What for us is the Vernal Equinox is the Autumnal Equinox on the other side of the equator. In Iran and other countries with large Persian populations the new year is being celebrated. Here at the Brewery and in every other working Brewery on the globe we’re celebrating (wittingly or un) the ancient Mesopotamian festival of Akitu, or, the cutting of the barley. Someday, soon and finally, winter’s last chilly gasp will thaw and recede into the deep earth, beneath the booming flowers and unruly lawns, and we will yawn into the warmth, beers in hand, beers sweating on hands, game on the radio and neighborhoods buzzing with lawnmowers, kids splashing in pools, kids sprinting through long, long days, winter a memory impossible to feel. We will wake up in the dark and turn on air conditioners. We will sleep under only sheets.

It’s going to be great.