Friday, October 30, 2009

The Craftsman's Raison d'être

Maybe, after many years of being tangled in the midst of it, you remember that the choice of a craftsman's life comes down to what attracted you to the arts and to the biz of making stuff and the biz of selling that stuff you make in the first place.

And it might have something to do with whether you are (as I) a hopeless romantic about the incredibly cool processes that many of us go through in the production of our work...

...the smells of linseed oil and turpentine, just cut wood, OM5 ball clay (it smells like chocolate)...

...the visuals of incandescent lit, late-night workshops, floors littered with sawdust or clay shavings, kilns belching two foot flames out of ten foot chimneys, pouring molten metals, or glass pulled from glory holes...

..blistered or cracked and dry but skilled hands that can take materials of next to no value and turn them into something that could -- generations from now -- still be treasured...

...guided by eyes educated, not just to see what others miss, but also to convey interesting ideas from that which is less obvious...

...the pleasure derived from slaving night and day, sweating for all you're worth, risking everything you have so that you might master the nearly impossible ... just so that others might enjoy your "gift".

Different thinking people on the road less traveled.

That sort of thing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kahuna & Wahine

I have again snuck in a little computer time from the hapless John Bauman, who is off loading a kiln full of pots and not watching the computer which is why I, Breeze, have commandeered computer central to tell about my latest adventures and stuff.

I and Ariel, like, totally won the costume portion of the Halloween holiday proceedings at the training club Halloween party last night. ( a training club is where I and the most mischievous Ariel train the most excellent Dar to run around obstacles screaming at us. heh. )

The shorts tend to ride up a bit behind and then hang on my tail. I was, like, totally ready to bail on them by night's end. And as for standing on the board that John Bauman made out of duct tape and insulation board ... I, like, totally biffed it and stuff. No pictures of that, dude. Just me in bitchin shades, and Ariel in her total wahineness.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Two Mals and an Autumn Afternoon

Breeze LOVES piled up leaves. Aspen (the male mal we had just before Breeze) was the same way. It's been an afternoon of gathering leaves (barely making a dent in them, with five trees left to drop most of theirs) playing with Ariel and Breeze in the leaves, and being just a little pleasantly haunted by Aspen.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


"Can you turn that down!? " Eve said from across the room.

Ed gently leaned his guitar against the wall and made his way over to the TV. But even as he bent to adjust the volume control... suddenly wasn't enough.

Muttering to himself, "For every commercial I've endured - many over and over and over.... - and always at that annoying heightened volume level to make sure I can hear it from the kitchen with the 'fridge door open! Always telling me of the wonders of the latest product that I need to make me happy -- I've bought 'em.....they didn't.

And with that, he reached around behind the TV, and with a jerk on the cord, pulled the plug on the set.

That felt a little better.....but not much.

The TV was quite an armful as Ed hefted it up from its stand. With a few grunts, and opening doors with a shove of the hip, he finally managed to get the thing out to the garage workbench.
A plan was brewing.

He looked around the shop for some rope but finding none, his eyes rested on the 50 ft. orange extension cord hanging from the peg rack. "That's appropriate." says he.

With great deliberation, as one might put into a ceremony, Ed proceeded to turn one end of the extension chord into a noose. After trying every which way to get the noose to stay put around the TV, he finally found that he could kinda wedge the protruding picture tube from the back through the noose twice and, with the TV entirely circled with cord, it was now secure.....enough.

Ed, by now sweating just a bit with the labor of it all, hauled the huge TV into his large back yard and half set, half dropped it on an old wooden chair at the foot of a big old oak that grew there. Throwing the loose end of the extension cord over a big branch, and then securing it to the tree trunk, he said, " ...and here's for every mindless PSA re-informing me either what I already learned in kindergarten, or what common sense taught me almost from the time I could first talk. I don't need some Government or corporate expenditure to remind me of the obvious --- and God save me from the TV viewers who do!"

And with that he kicked the chair out from under the TV and left it to dangle there - hanging until dead.

.....except it wasn't dead, and Ed knew it. And Ed wasn't through...
...the TV didn't know that.

Ed pulled on the extension cord to raise the TV up a few feet. He then walked over to the nearby firewood pile and got a few armfuls of kindling and wood and stacked it under the dangling TV. With one more trip to the garage for some kerosene and matches, he was now prepared to finish the task.

As he lit the match to throw on the kerosene soaked wood pile, he shouted, "And for teaching my kids to, like, talk, like.....whatever...." he said in his best adolescent impersonation (which admittedly wasn't very good). "I'm not going to take it anymore! This is for teaching a whole generation of over sexed, over violent, over entertained youth that there's no difference between smart and smart-aleck........but infinitely worse, that there's no difference between fame.....and infamy!" he said. And with increasing anger in his voice he continued, "And for choosing your right to speak over the good judgement to shut the hell up from time to time!!".

As he watched the fire slowly disfigure the plastic parts as they curled and buckled slightly, he felt moved to be a little more active in the TV's demise. This watching thing was too passive. Ed retreated to the house and quickly returned with his 12 gauge and upon loading the single cartridge into the chamber took aim. As he did he shouted, " ...and for stealing the reality of life and replacing it with spectating! For every game watched...and not played. For causing me to forfeit my own creative potential - as well as the potential of my own creativity - to the expression of another's.....way too much of the time!" At that, his shoulder was kicked back with the force of the shell blast. And the glassy screen of the dangling TV all but disappeared, leaving a jagged crown in a mal-formed plastic frame.

But Ed was just getting warmed up.

He untied the TV from its mooring on the tree trunk and with a few swings to put it wide of the still burning fire, he let it fall crashing to the ground. He then dragged the TV carcass, cord and all and tied the cord to the bumper of the old pickup truck he used for gathering firewood.

He still had some things to say like, "For the Sunday morning talking heads who parade their professional liars week after week, giving them a forum for their manipulations until meaning has lost all, well..... meaning! And for foisting your pretty-boy political candidates on a public too ready to listen with their to people's desire for a symbol not a substance, an image rather than a reality!" This he shouted out the truck's open window as he proceeded to drag what was left of the TV behind the truck, over the uneven ground of the pasture behind his house.

When the extension cord noose finally let go of the TV, and the TV came to rest appropriately on a pile of cow manure, Ed slowly drove back to the house, and parked the truck. He then walked back in, calmed and refreshed, picked his guitar back up and started playing again.

“The guitar…” said Eve. “I was just wondering if you could play it a little quieter.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It’s Code, Not Cliché

It’s Code, Not Cliché

Chuck, the owner of the local Ace Hardware, has made a practice of tapping a great, knowledgeable but inexpensive workforce -- retired old guys.

One day after I had spent about forty minutes getting one of the old guys to cut me 50 feet of 1/16" cable, Chuck approached me in the aisle as I headed toward the checkout. He wanted to know if the service I got from the old guy was OK.

"You know, Ed's 88." he said, "I like the idea of these guys having something to do besides wasting away sitting on their butts 'til they die. Still, I'm hoping the service they offer here is to the customer's satisfaction."

“It was fine”, I said. For some reason the forty minute wait suddenly didn’t seem to matter as much to me anymore.

The Ace guys talk in old man short hand. They never tire of an old joke or a good cliché. In one short(er) visit to the hardware I heard: “I don’t get mad. I get even”, and “No matter how many times he cut that board, it was still too short -- ha ha”, and, “You don’t like the weather here? … just wait five minutes”.

I don’t think that they think they’re being original, clever, or even funny by these ritual repetitions. I think they believe themselves friendly. I believe they’re right.

My wife and a few of her friends used to take their dogs to the local nursing homes each month for “pet therapy”. The more infirmed older people really seemed to respond well to the affection of a dog. The more coherent ones would regularly launch into tales of the dogs in their past. The reminiscences seemed to bring them joy in addition to helping them pass the endless, empty hours of nursing home life.

In a very short time it was evident to me, in the few times I’d go along with her on her pet therapy rounds, that the old folks had taken a real liking to my wife. By really listening to the old folks on her visits, she showed a kind of interest that meant a whole lot to those people.

I remember a story I read of a woman looking for the right nursing home for her mother who was going to require constant care. She went from nursing home to nursing home – each seemingly loving and caring, but for some reason the woman didn’t choose them. The place she chose seemed little different in any way from the many others she had rejected. When asked about her choice, she explained that it was the first place where they addressed her mother as “Mrs _______”. All the others referred to her by her first name or, even worse, as “honey” or some other sweet nickname. The daughter wanted her mother in a place that respected, rather than patronized her mother. She felt as though a woman who had lived a respectable life didn't stop deserving respect just because she lost the ability to care for herself.

I was standing in line at the post office a few months ago. One older gentleman, probably in his 80’s, was standing right behind me. Another, younger -- maybe 70’s but farm-work rugged -- was almost up to the window. The man behind me said “Hey Jack.” and the fellow up-line turned, smiled and said “Hey Ed. How’s life?”

“Every day this side of the sod, y’know?” replied Ed, and then he added, “I’m just thankful to be on my own still. After seeing Alice into Miller’s (local nursing home) before she passed on, well, I just….well, I’m just happy -- happy to be at home. Glad I still get around on my own.”

They talked a while longer until it was Jack’s turn at the window. Jack wished Ed well and then turned to the postal clerk. “I’ll have a book of those left-handed stamps please.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Shenk Guitar/My Avatar

I've been asked about my Google avatar and if I wouldn't mind posting the story of that guitar. So...

First time I saw it was through the window of Jim’s shop. I was up in Goshen for one of the first of what has now become 5 years of old-timey jams held in the farmer’s market of Goshen.

The guitar hung on a rack between several others – most of those others being repairs that Jim was working on. It didn’t have a pickguard and so I mistakenly assumed that it was a Larrivee (Larrivee’s had clear pickguards back then).

I let myself into the shop and after introducing myself to Jim, I was able to inspect and play the guitar for the first time. It was wonderful. It probably had had its first set of strings put on it a week or two before. Still, it had a wide-open sound – dry and clear. Great for fingerpicking. Stellar for flatpicking.

Jim got busy that year with mandolin after archtop after jumbo order and, as such, the guitar stayed on his wall for months. Every time I went to Goshen for the bi-monthly jams, I’d often spend more of those Saturdays playing that guitar in Jim’s shop than I’d spend across the parking lot at the farmer’s market jam.

Jim and I struck up a good friendship trading stories and tunes over that guitar. We talked for hours about our shared life as craftsmen -- making a living by our wits and learning the finer points (often the hard way) of trying to market our aesthetic ideas in a subjective world. The joys and trials of working with our hands.

And over those months (that ended up turning into more than a year) I watched Jim tweak the guitar – buffing the varnish (Jim hand rubs all of his guitars – it started out because health concerns didn’t allow him poly spray. He kept it up because there is just nothing that compares to a fine rubbed finish) to a fine, warm glow, adding a pickguard – little details.

Eventually, the inevitable happened. The guitar was sold. For me, it was an opportunity lost. I never had the money to buy the guitar and I knew I was playing it on borrowed time all those Saturdays. It went to a good home.
Rayna Gellert’s (Uncle Earl/Freight Hoppers) mom bought it. That was cool for two reasons: Uncle Earl is cool, and I would still have the chance of seeing the guitar from time to time, as Rayna’s mom is part of the Goshen music scene that I bump into from time to time.

Truth is, early this spring the farmer’s market was closed on a jam Saturday and the jam was moved to Rayna’s mom’s house. And I went for one reason. I went with camera in hand, determined to get a few photos of the guitar. Got ‘em too.

Well, I got the heart-breaking email late one night a few weeks ago. Rayna’s mom had to sell the guitar. For long enough she had fought the tendonitis that the big guitar gave her. She loved the guitar but couldn’t play it.

I was broke. I couldn’t possibly get the thing. I can’t tell you how often I thought about that guitar over the past few weeks now, knowing as I did that it was most probably going to be sold to someone I didn’t know and I’d never again see it.

Well, yesterday was a jam Saturday. And I went up to Goshen as usual. I hung out in Jim’s shop as usual (he’s got a freakishly great small-bodied – his own design – walnut-backed guitar he built and that I now play every time I go up there). And for a good fifteen minutes all we talked about was the guitar, it being for sale, the sense of loss in it all.

And it just happened to be a Saturday when so many of the friends that I’ve made in Goshen were all there too. I was sitting there playing “Her name was Joanne, and she lived in a meadow by a pond…” with Joe and Jim. I’m not sure if Jim and Joe were rolling their eyes at my odd 60’s choice in music, but we sure seemed to sound good on it. I looked up to see that Rayna’s mom (and her husband) was coming up the walkway toward Jim’s shop with a guitar case in hand.

The ONLY thing that crossed my mind at the sight of them approaching was that I MIGHT get one more chance – one more song out of that guitar before I never saw it again.

Rayna’s mom walked through the shop door. I smiled up at her and said, “MAN, your ears must have been burning, ‘cause we’ve been talking about you ALL morning!”.

She smiled back down at me (I was still sitting). Then she stepped over, set the case at my feet and said, “Happy anniversary. Dar (my wife) just bought this for you.”

Well, I’m not a man of few words. I became one.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Siskiyou Summit Tunnel #13


Three of my favorites...

1. one of my favorite singer/songwriters (LJ Booth)...
2. provides storytelling (Siskiyou Summit Tunnel #13) ...
3. as background to a video about a superlative guitar builder (Petros -- not the one banned from the baseball hall of fame)...

....all rolled into one, and all to watch and listen to on a sunny Sunday morning.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thinking About La

“Do” is not a deer, female or otherwise. First, even if she was a female deer, to point that out would be redundant anyway. Right? ...I mean, if she wasn’t a female deer, she’d be a “buck”, right?

But “Do” is not a deer, “Do” is a verb expressing the imperative mood.

“Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?!” –Five Man Electric Band

Besides, if “Do” was a deer, a female deer, I’m just sure that with that misspelling, during her elementary school days she suffered no end to being called “Dew” or “Due”. There’s just no way to get “Doe” (rhymes with “go”) out of the spelling “D-o”. How embarrassing for “Do”. No doubt she constantly had to explain the spelling to her teachers…

"It's French", I can almost hear her say.

And “Re” isn’t a “drop of golden” anything. “Ray” is my plumber. “Re” is a prefix. If Ray could prefix my plumbing, he wouldn’t have to make house calls. But I’m not waiting for my basement to fill with water on that possibility.

And when referring to myself, I don’t spell me, “mi”. And it’s really not a “name” I call myself. It’s a pronoun that refers to me, but that’s technically not a “name”. Technically, it is a referent.

“Mi, a referent by which I refer to myself, but spell differently.”

Fa may be a long, long way to run if you live down south and are given to droppin’ final consonants. Which brings up an interesting anomaly…

A southerner might drop the final “r”, making “fa” out of “far”. But this dropping of an “r” is obviously not because of the lack of ability to actually articulate the final consonant. I’m guessing that it is for clarity. I’m guessing that it done so as to differentiate between the long, long way to run, and observable combustion.

Which brings up another interesting observation:

A southerner would NEVER yell “fire!” in a crowded building.

"So". Again with the unnecessary misspelling. “So” and “sew” are homonyms, even if “sew” looks as though it might be pronounced “Sue”. And yet, it, not "so", is the needle-pulling-thread word. I can almost hear the songwriter….

“So, sue me”

And that brings me to the pathetic, “La”. No identity in herself. She is merely “a note to follow So”.

Totally codependent.

I wonder if there is any kind of support group for co-dependent major scale notes. Going through life only finding identity in the act of "following so" would, I believe, eventually lead to neurotic behavior, if it isn’t already indicated.

And just to function in the musical world? ...I imagine it would be such a burden to ever be wondering things like, "So, how closely do I follow so?". "If it's an oriental piece do I follow further back?". The pressure to perform must be overwhelming at times. At times I'll bet that like most co-dependent relationships, la has almost lost the sense of where so ends and la begins.

Just guessing here, but I’ll bet La has trouble ever being any more than a 64th note

Monday, October 12, 2009

Using cat-like wit and wilyness -- and throwing all seventeen pounds of his cat-muscle into the effort (but certainly no dogged determination), Crush has single-caspawedly sold more than a dozen Cat O'Lanterns.

But Crush's sales success has led to him getting a big head. Moose tells me Crush is getting hard to live with. So, in the interest of equal time and restoring ego-balance around the house, here's Crush's twin brother Moose...

Moose is ever-so-slightly smaller than Crush. Together this pair of bruiser brothers could tag-team wrestle a pair of hundred pound Rottweilers to a draw....that is, if the cats were so inclined, which they're not because they are more into lounging and peace and stuff.

Anyway, the Cat O'Lantern that Moose is uncooperatively posing on, beside, over, and behind, is thrown of high-fired stoneware on my wheel . The stem is clay I've pulled into a handle and finished with a twist. It comes with a candelabra socket that can be plugged into the bottom.

When I pack this for shipping, it fits into an 8X8X10" box (the 10" being the height) fairly snuggly. That gives you an idea of the size. Because Moose, being huge, does not.You may notice that this Cat O'Lantern has a bit of a sardine-ic crooked grin. I appreciate the animation. Moose didn't seem to notice.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Big Week. VERY Big Week

Back from the big St James Court Art Show this past weekend. The show was a smashing success again. I sold out of most of my new items (like the new gourd-topped casseroles), re-connected with old friends and faithful customers (the Louisville pottery buyer may be the most faithful in the country), met some new friends (like Jim Gottuso -- a fellow potter/blogger). It was a great weekend.

We got back home at about 1 AM Monday and then turned around and headed back to Indianapolis Monday night to see the Samoyed Nationals being held there. We attended the nationals because we wanted to see the pottery trophies we'd spent the last 1 1/2 years making. Here's the first public look at them:

Finally, I spent the entire day yesterday uploading pots to my etsy site for sale. The pots were selling as I was uploading them, so I intend to find time today to upload a few more.

The week was huge, it was busy, and we're tired!