Petoskey Stone
Petoskey Stone exceeding 25 pounds where the stairs used to be. (Ben Falik)

Welcome to the Stone Age

I have previously persuasively argued that the greatest gift the Jewish people ever gave the world was summer camp. In the anguished absence of camp — shoutout to the HW Backyard Boys for their Saved by the Bell-caliber scheme — we still have something invaluable to offer this year.

The opportunity to end it early.

Let the fresh wheels and neon lights of 5781 transport us away from the bottomless pothole that is 2020, just as Olivia’s Newton John magically ushered in the last 80s on rollerskates. While the Jewish New Year does not relieve us of our civic duty in November — or whatever comes after murder hornets — we need not wait to pop out the Nintendo cartridge and blow off the grime that has made this such a glitchy year.

Which brings me to the sage advice I offer for anyone seeking to overcome the paralyzing entropy of this angry, ill, cynical world.

Lapidary.

Go polish rocks. That may sound like a Depression-era insult at first, but you, pally, are no afternoon farmer.

The two steps to rock polishing are 1. Get rocks. 2. Polish the rocks.

Rock Gif
Ben Falik

Unlike, say, reasonably priced mid-century modern furniture, rocks are not hard to find. Rocks are everywhere. If you had “shoreline erosion” on your Bad News Bingo board for 2020, take as consolation the outstanding geological diversity resulting from the changing water levels. 

Rocks that had been encased in the earth since the ice age sparkled along the shore of Lake Michigan, free from zebra mussels and indifferent to the much larger rock that is presumably hurtling toward earth.

I did not violate the Michigan law limiting removal of any rock, mineral or invertebrate fossil from state-owned land for personal or non-commercial hobby use to 25 pounds per year. But I came close. 

We’ve all been there … you fill your fanny pack with rocks whose colors and patterns catch your eye, only to lose interest once they’re dried off, dull and scratching up your Laser Discs. 

Don’t throw them out, especially if you live in a glass house. That Petoskey Stone is 350 million years old. It feels the same way about dinosaurs maybe dismissive, maybe unaware that you do about TikTok.

Let’s talk about grit. You should be proud of the resiliency that has fortified you during these trying times. You can’t buy grit. Unless you are talking about sandpaper, in which case you need to buy the right kind.

As units of measurement go, grit is it. Grit would make SPF blush … make Richter quake in his boots … make olive oil clutch its pearls. Far removed from coarse double digits that “rough up” surfaces (skin is a surface) and even the very fine (or just fine) triple figures, I feel super like Mario going from 3000 to 5000 to 7000 grit sandpaper, all while retaining my finger prints. 

You can also get a tumbler (or, if you’re me, three) and work your way up from 80 to 1200 grit, powder into slurry. It’s gratifying to set and forget for a week at a time, but I prefer getting stoned the old fashioned way: get my damn kids to go to sleep, turn off my phone and rock out with some quartz, ultrafine paper and mustachioed reruns of Jeopardy.

Resolved: Rock polishing is the trivial pursuit for our time. Fidget spinners were all well and good way back the Before Times (2017), but they lack the gravitas this moment demands. Rock polishing is less obsessive compulsive (and more grown up) than adult coloring books. Constructive like knitting but with less carpal tunnel. And stones are not slime or unicorns, which makes them inherently preferable to slime and unicorns.

We have the power with a keen eye, a decent grip and a little bit of patience to create something beautiful. Not by glossing over its imperfections or diminishing its core, but by refining rough edges to reveal an essential, immutable value.

Consider it a metaphor for what we carry into the new year, for how we carry ourselves.

And don’t take it for granite.

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