Christopher T. Miller

Issue 1

published January 30, 2018

Most of the time, the first episode of a thing will introduce the thing. It will tell you about the creator. It will tell you what to expect.

Forget that. I can’t tell you what to expect.

This is a journey, and we are travelers together. You’ll learn about me along the way, and maybe I’ll learn something about you as well. Maybe I’ll learn something about me, and by reading along, you’ll learn something about you. It’s a big world…anything is possible.

Don’t worry about the destination. No goal, no ETA, no clear path. We’re going to go exploring the possible things together, you and I.

Welcome aboard.

What Is A Bindle Sack, Anyway?

Look at some old pictures of people traveling about this time last century. See the ones with a small bag tied to the end of a stick, slung over their shoulder?

That sack is called a bindle. No one is sure why; it could be a corruption of bundle or a portmanteau of bundle and spindle. Bindle. Most famously hobos used bindles. In the art of the time, you often saw pictures of kids imitating those hobos when striking off for ADVENTURE. They’d sling their bindles over their shoulders and light out for parts unknown.

That’s what this is. A bindle sack of words and ideas for you to carry with you on the road. Take it with you on your adventures. We are all on an adventure, after all. We should be prepared.

Notes: On The Naming Of Cities

Naming a city seems like a mighty big deal, fraught with purpose and significance. Learned folk would take time to contemplate a name with meaning.

According to most accounts, the city of Medina, Ohio was named by the proprietor of the land, Elijah Boardman. He considered this small town to be the end of the road for many of the settlers from Connecticut, and as a learned man chose a name that would connote such a gathering place.

He named the city Mecca.

Unfortunately, reality would rain on his parade. The Postmaster informed the city that there was already a Mecca, Ohio. There couldn’t be a second.

Since this was to be the county seat, they chose the name Medina (meh-DEE-nah, now mispronounced as meh-DIE-nah) as it was the capital of Arabia.

See there’s a story there. That’s good stuff.

However, in the case of Brunswick, Ohio, the town located three miles to the north…

“In order to select a name, the early settlers put a number of names in a hat and simply drew out “Brunswick.”

Sure. Like you do.

Source: Ohio Town Names by William Daniel Overman

Outside The Walls

The dead of winter is a might be a strange time to get out into Nature, but that’s something I do when the temperatures drop below freezing. I go for long drives in the snow and the wind, watching the drifts crawl across the road. I get out into the local park to walk and hike. I watch the birds pick the last seeds from the herb garden and I watch the deer forage in the brush at the back of my yard.

I consider the contrast between the world as it evolved and the world we create within walls and windows. That contrast is interesting to me. It’s a small example of how mankind seeks to separate itself from Nature.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time outdoors. My backyard as bordered by the woods. In the summers I would spend whole days hiking back there, following the stream as far as could, learning how to read where I was and growing familiar with the natural world that surrounded me.

When I got a little older, I started riding my bike places; to work at the library, with my golf clubs on my back to the golf league. My house was out in a more rural part of the suburb (no sidewalks, dammit), and as a result, nature’ along the roads were less manicured and more barely contained wilderness. The was an amazing variety of plants and trees to look at, many animals to observe.

In the early years of college, I was involved with a medieval reenactment group. We spent time in the local parks, chasing one another around and beating each other with padded sticks. If it was cold, we built a fire in permanent grills the park system had planted near the picnic shelters. If it was hot, we’d bring water bottles to drink from and occasionally dump over our heads.

My childhood and early adult life was filled with nature. We live in it, it is at our borders. We see to tame it in out gardens and housing developments, but wait a season it is will start to revert to its natural state. The world without humans would function just fine, thank you very much.

I often wonder if our tools make us weaker when they make us more comfortable. These days, we move from one climate-controlled box to another, complaining about the small amount of nature we come into contact with, usually the weather.

Our natural world is a closed system. We have an effect on it, and conversely, it had an effect on us. Instead of hiding from it, maybe we should meet it where it lives, instead of trying to wipe it out.

A lot of damage has been done to the planet by those who believe we are put here to dominate and subdue Nature. There is a disregard of the interdependence of all things on the earth, and therefore, a disregard for the consequences. That seems childish and unwise to me. How can a person exist in this closed system and not know that pouring poison into the air will make anyone breathing that air sick?

We cannot subdue or dominate nature. We can embrace it or take shelter from it, but we cannot block it out or ignore. We are a part of it.

We should make a practice of meeting Nature on her terms, even in the times when it is inhospitable. The world we have created is very comfortable, but we are not animals built for comfort. We only improve ourselves, physically, emotionally, and spiritually by testing ourselves against an uncomfortable circumstance. We only grow when challenged.

It’s certainly a challenge to get out in the winter. It’s cold. The parks are snow-covered and icy. Yet, time in nature recharges our brains, allows us to get away from our manufactured lives and see something that we didn’t create. Recent studies have shown that as little as thirty minutes a week outdoors helps reduce stress, improve vision, and results in sharper thinking and creativity.

I think this is especially important given the time we spend at work, toiling away for someone else’s profit. In the words of John Muir, “I am degenerating into a machine for making money.” That doesn’t seem healthy. You are not what you produce for someone else, and you are not a resource to be mined until you are used up. Taking time away from the office during the day and getting outside is a quiet rebellion against our productivity-obsessed culture.

I never appreciate my warm house or my comfortable chair as much as after a walk in the woods on a cold day. The world is a place of sharp contrasts, and the reminder of those contrasts sharpens our senses makes us aware of ourselves and our condition like nothing else.

Be Yourself

“I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I must be myself. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men’s, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth it will bring us out safe at last.—But so may you give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me and do the same thing. The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. But the law of consciousness abides.” — Raldo Waldo Emerson

“I gotta be me.” – Frank Sinatra

Books

The Akron Anthology

Belt Publishing, edited by Jason Segedy

A couple of years ago, Belt publishing made their mark locally by publishing a book then titled Rust Belt Chic. It was a collection of stories about living in Cleveland, Ohio. I really enjoyed reading long-form essays about the area my extended family called Home, even though I grew up in the suburbs. Hearing about the ways the neighborhoods had grown and changed was good for my soul; I still enjoy walking throw those old neighborhoods when I can make the time to do so. To read about people loving a place in spite of (and often because of) the challenges of living there warms my heart and inspires me.

Since then, Belt has put out a number of volumes where local authors share essays and stories about their cities. Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Youngstown, and now, Akron.

The Akron Anthology carries on the tradition of being one part celebration, one part commiseration, and part nostalgia that is the hallmark of the other volumes in the set. It’s a worthy member of the team. Having spent some of my formative years (college) in Akron, I can see the places the authors are talking about. The remind of things I’ve forgotten. Or introduce me to places I’ve never been, and they do it with humor, compassion, and the characteristic bluntness common to citizens of the rust belt.

Even if you’ve never been, these pieces give you a taste of how Akron was, is, and is becoming. It’s not ruin porn, that peculiar fetishization for decaying urban landscapes that are drafted by people not from around here. Instead, it’s a loving look at a place in transition by the people who live there.

The twenty-three essays in this volume covered everything from being a doorman at a concert venue to watching a refugee community grow and thrive to a frank look at a now-defunct Hobbit-themes watering hole. You get history and sentiment with a good dash of wry humor.

I enjoyed it. I recommend it. You can pick up a copy at Belt Publishing’s website.

Warm, Hearty Fare

Martinez-Barnes Beef Stew

(I created this stew on the fly when some friends were coming to visit. It’s held up over the years. Perfect for a cold winter day.)

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil and add the onion, celery, garlic, and carrots. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the meat and the Worchester sauce, cook until the meat is browned. Add everything else and simmer until the potatoes are done. Serves 4.

It’s Pronounced MUR-leh

My wife is a kind soul. She understands that every week or so, I need to get away from things for a few hours. We call it my Off The Grid time. I shut down my phone and go spend a little time alone.

My usual M.O. is to pick a place I’ve never been and drive there without using highways. I like the feel of the road under me, listening to music or podcasts, not speak, not needing to interact. I’m able to take in the sights along the way and contemplate whatever I’ve got on my mind.

This past week, I took off from work and drove southwest. I took the state routes through tracts of farmland and hills for about an hour or two.

Eventually, I found a good size town I’d never been to before. Marlow, Ohio.

Marlow’s the home to Marlowe University, a small college. I noted the misspelling of the town name…I figure there must be a story there somewhere. I’ll probably head to the library in town sometime to learn about it.

Marlow has one of my favorite features in a small town: a town square. The college takes up one-and-a-half sides of it, the rest of the square is small businesses and government buildings. I park my car in an open spot on the square and start exploring.

The signs vary between new and colorful and ancient and faded. I walk along, past an Indian restaurant called Krishna’s Blessing, a candle store, a bar called The Reckoning, a used bookstore whose sign is just BOOKS, a law office, a nail salon, and Louis Di’s Pizza and Music. At the end of the block, there’s a coffee shop, The Prince of Cups. Coffee is always my first stop of choice when I come to places like this: I head inside.

I swear I’m the oldest person inside by twenty years. College kids, man. There are small clusters of college students at the tables, some seated at four-tops chatting away, others basking in the glow of their laptops, alone with their headphones in their ears. There’s something about seeing books cracked open that makes me feel good…the world isn’t 100% digital yet. Some things, you’ve got to do the old way.

I approach the counter, put in my order (medium coffee, black) and start chatting with the dude behind the counter. He’s tall, lanky, clean-shaven. I’m pleasantly surprised at the lack of hipster vibe.

“Nice place,” I say. “I’ve never been to Marlow before. Nice to find a good coffee shop here.”

“It’s pronounced MUR-leh,” he corrects, setting my mug of hot coffee in front of me. He’s kind about it, but it sounds like he’s said it before.

“Ah,” I say. I get it. Ohio is a weird place as far as city names go. I live in Medina. Meh-DIe-nah, not meh-DEE-neh. Berlin, Ohio is BER-lin, not ber-LIN. And Mantua? That’s MAN-a-way. I kid you not.

Like I said, Ohio’s a little weird sometimes.

“And the college…?” I ask

“MAR-lowe, like the writer.” He shrugs. “It’s a little weird.”

“Any idea why?”

He shakes his head. I guess I’m going to have to go to the library after all.

I take my coffee and find a two-top where I can sit, sip, and read my book for a bit. I’m not there long. It doesn’t take a long time for me to either kill a cup of coffee or make a good dent in a book. Still, it comes as a little bit of a shock when the barista is standing over my table. I guess I got more involved than I thought.

“We’re closing in fifteen. You done with that mug?” he asks. I nod. He takes it away, and I pack up my things.

It’s a Monday night…I’m surprised the place closes down so early, but I suppose 8pm is about the time most of these kids (shut up, old man) start wandering back to their dorms or out to hit a late dinner or drinks. I envy them, a little. I’d be lying if I denied missing my college days a bit. Everything is rosy in hindsight.

I walk slowly back to my car. The night is cold, but not so bad that I need to hurry. I think I’m done for tonight. Time to head home…it’s about an hour drive. Time enough to listen to my audiobook and get lost in my thoughts for a bit.

Nice town, though. I’ll be back.

What If

Influences On This Issue

Messages to Certain Readers Without Context

Endnotes

I’d like to thank Tina Bell Vance for her assistance while I was trying to remember how CSS worked. You should visit her gallery. It’s quite good.

I would also like to thank the denizens of The Secret Lair. You know who you are.

I want to hear where you are on the road. Drop me a line at chris@bindlesack.club. If you allow it, I’ll share your letters in future issues.

Thanks for your time and attention. See you next month.