Step in Time

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

This will be so random.

I thought about the Dark Ages yesterday. It’s such a curious term, of an uncertain grouping of decades and centuries. Most respected recent historians attempt to avoid characterizing that Western-based concept of a time of unlearning and no learning as the “Dark Ages”. Whatever. When I was young, the Dark Ages were considered to be somewhere from the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century through either the coming of the Conqueror in the early 1000s or the growth of the Renaissance around the 14th and 15th centuries. A mean, lean five hundred  years, or at least it was in Latin literature as posited by Petrarch.

I wondered if one was aware then that they were living in a stunted time, or if they could perceive without envy that future generations might blossom. Most living in those earlier centuries must have seen their lives, their parent’s lives, and their children’s lives, all far shorter generations on average, pass by without measurable advancement in human and cultural development. Health, medicine, philosophy, religion, living conditions, hunger, disease, pestilence, articles and materials of war or peace, tools, wonders of the world.  

Were there moments of “we can be better”? Were there small tears in the fabric of brutish daily lives that seemed harder than great catastrophe? Did it seem possible to mend or improve the brittle, mundane gauze of the world?

I’m not speaking of the occasional marauding invader hordes, or the nasty upper class-based depravity inflicted on much of the populace of Europe. I talk of tiny things. Well water going rancid on the same day the cow can’t give milk and the tines on the hoe break, or the hens don’t lay. Bad wool quality from the sheep in one wet and rainy spring, or multiples of drenched springs that produce a wool that can’t be dried or bartered easily before it rots, leading to slim and desperate winters for the span of a small child’s life. Small tears, weakening fabric. Hard life made harder.

The small tears I notice are completely insignificant, even to me and certainly to others. They are notable only as a curious artifact of my life. Small tears, blips on a screen.  

Christmases past, I’ve been given two of the best gifts ever and I treasure them still. One I asked for – my Makita drill. A full set of bits and a sprocket attachment came with it and was given to me by a friend some 12 years ago. I love that Makita teal, a sentiment only a tool diva might appreciate. Last week, the drill seemed to develop a short when I was constructing a wooden bed frame and I’ve laid it aside to examine this weekend when I have more time. I have that nonsensical pit in my stomach that one of my loyal compatriots is failing.

My other material treasure is my Cuisinart electric tea kettle. I frankly adore that thing even thought I rarely shine the outside chrome dome-like body. It’s been utterly reliable over the last four years. I use it at least four to eight times a day. Water in the morning for my French Press coffee. Water for my evening teas. Hot water to scour out the bottom of burnt All Clad pans (my daughters see little difference between Medium and High, just fast and faster). It’s the kind of appliance that makes me feel wealthy. I heated water on the stove for decades before my best friend and daughters gave me this magical modern device for Christmas one year. This was a gift not asked for.

It took me almost three weeks to break the habit of putting the sauce pan on the stove. I’ve never liked stove-top tea kettles. Who needs a shrill siren when one is reaching for momentary stillness? Calm should arc around the act of heating water, peace settle around the quiet in steeping leaves.

Since that new year, once I cleaned the shiny thing up and put the first two batches of water through to temper the kettle, I’ve never looked back.

The last few days, when I plug it in to heat the water, the orange light at the base doesn’t light up. At first. I reset the grounded plug, thinking a switch might have tripped. The kettle still didn’t turn on, at least on first attempt. The second or third switching on/off seemed to jump start it, though, and it was still heating faithfully.

Until tonight. I cleaned the kitchen after dinner, loaded the dishes in the dishwasher, swept the floor, fed the cats, fed the dogs, took the garbage out. Ready for tea and some internet time. No orange light. Flip, flip, flip. Reset. Flip, flip, flip. No light. Okay, then.

I went downstairs to change the clothes from washer to dryer. Dryer’s still working – phew! I just changed out the thermostat a few months ago and faithfully clean the vent now to avoid another $15 part and an hour of work (it’s a convoluted setup back there, and another example of why a Makita is a girl’s best friend).

Back upstairs where I stood and stared at the kettle. Are you really done with me? Too soon, too soon. I can’t afford to replace you. I’ve stepped back from so many things lately…a newer 2003 car to an older, but loyal beater Nissan (I almost hesitate to speak of this and so you must imagine hushed words placed parenthetically on paper. Wouldn’t want to go borrowing trouble with a car that needs a tune-up that will cost more than the car is worth). A funky, charming place in the city to a character-less place in a 60’s style suburb. An older face and fatter body in the mirror. I’ve resized the workforce and shop materials, and cut costs and most luxuries completely out, not always in the most elegant or efficient way. I can’t lose you as well, kettle.

I let it sit and imagined that it pondered me. How insane is that? I started the disposal, a prelude to running the dishwasher. There was a rattle and vibration and a shaking from the disposal the likes of which I haven’t heard from that machine (or, frankly, at any time from anything or anyone in these past seven celibate years). Another tear.

See, such little things, and not so momentous as the cracking of a hand-hewn pestle so necessary to grind that tenth century grain for a village.

As the dishwasher rocked and rolled, I reached for the kettle and picked it up. And dropped it down from a height of about two inches back onto its pedestal.

The orange light turned on and the element came to life and the water heated. The fabric’s frayed, but it is a tensile cloth

Not all things dark are grim.

Votes for Women, Step in Time!

I told you this would be random.

(posted, also, at Dailykos)


Skip to comment form

    • exmearden on December 11, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Sumatra, fresh.

    • pfiore8 on December 11, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    your lovely piece at dKos

    nice to see you again, exme.

    • RiaD on December 11, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    strings of jeweled phrasing

    decorating the mundane

    making it sparkle

    thank you


  1. I burn through tea kettles as my studio is upstairs and I put the water on for tea and get so immersed in work I don’t hear the whistle. I finally bought a really good one with a whistle so loud you can hear it next door. It cost a fortune and I love it.

    Are we in a dark age? Our technology may be advanced but it seems to me we just swapped out our problems. If our cow doesn’t stop producing, or the well dry up we now face break downs far removed from our own small world. Then their is the fact that they build the advances to break as the nature of capitalism requires obsolescence. Glad your kettle got a reprieve.          

  2. From interdependent causes all things arise, and then fade away, so teaches the Perfectly Enlightened One

    This Gatha is 2500 years old. It was so incredibly powerful that it transformed a man who had killed almost a hundred people.  But I digress.  It’s the fade away part that’s important: the cars that die, the teapots that don’t heat, the dryers that don’t dry, and on and on and on and on.  If we’re lucky.  If we’re not lucky, our own impermanence wins the race, and our kids or heirs or friends get to decide, probably dispassionately, whether they want this appliance.  Or whether it’s headed for the dump.

  3. your affinity for power tools almost as much as your writing.  Me, I’m scared of them, and lawn mowers too.  That will always be my husband’s domain.  

    The thing I can’t give up is my beater bike.  I bought it from a coworker for $100 in 1997.  I use it as our second car.  It’s heavy as a tank.   I ride it to work and for errands around town.  It’s gone to two Burning Mans.  The alkali in the playa dust corrodes like nobody’s business so I recently spent around $200 for an overhaul to replace the gears, chain, brakes, etc.  My husband said I could have bought something much sleeker and nicer on Craigslist for the same price.  But I couldn’t part with it.

    Here we are on the Black Rock desert.  That’s my shadow taking a pic.  

Comments have been disabled.