Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr Moonlight

I heard the shout come from outside the shop. Being a curious kinda guy, I peeked my head out the back door, only to look up and see the moon scowling down at me.

"I wasn't watching where I was going and I rammed my foot right into this cloud here" he frowned. Then he pointed to the cloud.

I was skeptical. "Why would you need to watch where you're going anyway?" I asked. "Don't you pretty much circle the same sky every night? Besides, it doesn't look to me like you have any feet."

"I do, though" he said. "I have feet. And toes. And my big one is killing me."

"Really?" I asked, still skeptical. "I don't see feet but I'll take you at your word. You've never lied to me before. But....a cloud? Aren't clouds really, really soft?"

"Apparently not this one."

"Well, I hope your toe gets better. Your light is particularly pleasant this evening. You are really putting on a wonderful show tonight. I was enjoying it through my shop window before ... you know ... I heard you...before you stubbed your toe. But your toe's pain is my gain. You kicked that cloud pretty far across the sky now, and that means more of your wonderful silvery light tonight. Maybe I'll walk along beneath you for a while. The pots can wait."

"Harumph" he said. But I could see he was smiling at my compliment as he resumed his arc across the sky.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017


This is how the ebay listing reads. (I share it here 'cause it's a pretty good story):

I don't mean for this listing to be confusing, but the images are of two different but nearly identical jugs. One has the blue "2" Bee-stinger decoration and is marked with a large "M" at the back of the base. The other is plain and unmarked.

Obviously they represent the work of the same pottery -- the same shape, the same lip, the same color clay, and the same perfect, luscious salt glaze. That's one reason why I want to sell them as a pair. I could no sooner break them up than I could send twins off to live in separate homes.

Neither have chips or cracks of any kind.

The one with the blue decoration: I was walking out the door of an antique store on highway 12 in southern Michigan when I noticed a man carrying the jug toward the door I'd just exited. The jug was only distinguishable by the shape. There was absolutely nothing of color or decoration visible through the thick layer of barn dirt that completely covered the surface. It was a dull, oily, thick, grey-brown.

But I knew what it was. I couldn't help myself. I asked the fellow what he was going to do with the jug. He said he intended to go into the antique store and see what they'd give him for the jug.

I gave him a price right then and there. I waited outside in hopeful anticipation of what I knew would be a strong probability -- my offer would be better than the store's.

I was right. I handed the man my money and drove home with the jug in my truck. When I got home I cleaned it up. As the grey-brown washed down the drain and the brilliant blue began to appear, I knew I had made one of "those" purchases -- the buy of a lifetime.

Many years later I came across the other, plain jug in the loft of a collector. I knew I had to have it. The two jugs belonged together. 

 They still do.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Uphill Climb

I was the one. 

I was the one who decided to run the risk of being misunderstood as taking a "side" in the debate leading up to the passage of the ACA years ago. I did so to raise the awareness among my artist friends that, because of our inherently erratic income, we were particularly vulnerable to a strange aspect of the way the ACA is set up.

I shouldn't have wasted my breath because no matter how much I pointed out that I wasn't arguing for or against the ACA, that's the only filter through which people have come to understand discussions about the particulars of any public issue. We're tribal now. We don't discuss issues and decide. We know which side we're on and from there we then learn from our tribe's sources how we're supposed to frame the discussion.
But there I was warning about the possible financial dangers inherent in the ACA's subsidy system to my artist friends. Nobody listened. I was just another person who wanted them to die without health insurance.
Well, poetic justice happens. I'm stuck in exactly the situation I warned about.

I've been struggling to get out from under a perfect storm of financial circumstances ever since the big crash of 2008. And, no, it's not that I was invested in the market and lost a bunch (if that had been the case, that would have been sort of self-healing, right? I mean, if that was the case, allI would have had to do was stay invested and I'd not only have recovered -- I'd be better off than ever. TARP was a fix for those who HAVE.). 

No, it's that the market crash marked a decided drop in buying in that final quarter of that year...and like many art fair artists, I rely -- to an unsafe degree -- on making a good bit of income from the sales in the final quarter and a half each year.

That year I didn't. And I was too close to the edge, financially. For the first time in 30 years, I went into the new year already in debt.

And I've been struggling with that ever since. If it's ever happened to you, you're painfully aware that you pay off a previous year's debt with the current year's income. If you happen to be so close to the line of solvency that you barely make it each year, you can figure out the consequences -- when you pay off the previous year's debt, the IRS says that you made that significant amount of income more than the previous year and suddenly you owe the IRS even more than the debt you paid off.

And the perverse thing is that the ACA doubles that problem.

It works something like this:
You get a subsidy based on the previous year's income level. You make more the next year. Now, not only do you owe more in taxes for which, as a self-employed artist you may or may not be prepared, but you also have to pay back the previous year's ACA subsidy. WHAM-WHAM, the one-two punch of higher taxes and the subsidy payback.

It appears from what I read on facebook that many are blithely unaware of how much their subsidy for the ACA is. I'm guessing this only because I witness conversation after conversation in which one party is complaining about the degree to which their health insurance premiums have gone up...only to get the response that the respondent's premium either hasn't gone up, or has gone up from, say $17 to $85 a month.
In other words, blithely unaware that the $17-$85 a month premium is ACTUALLY a premium of in excess of $1,000 -- for which the other taxpayers are paying the bulk.

But should you have the good fortune as I of making significantly more in a year than you have in a previous year -- good for you. But neither the government nor the ACA give a damn -- whether, or for how long, or how it happened -- that you are still in debt. They expect you to pay your increased taxes AND pay back the $10,000 you got in subsidies the previous year.

If you're prepared you may be able to figure out some way to borrow the money to pay both. If you're not, you won't. And god help you if you paid off any lingering debt from previous years.

I can't say I didn't warn me.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Damning With Faint Praise

Now don't I dig the big time rock and roll
To sit in the darkness and be somebody else
A time which after all is under control
Crank out the music
Give me music
Let the music fill the air.

"Did you happen to catch the Kennedy Center Honor show last week?" my friend asked as I folded myself down into the passenger seat of his car and off we drove to Saturday breakfast.

And I was off to the races. His question started up a rant in me that's been boiling for weeks now.

I have been bothered by that show ever since I saw it. Okay, I've been able to not obsess about it for a few days now but, doggone it, now my friend done brought it up again.

I'm sure I wouldn't have been bothered by the honors show except that James Taylor happens to be THE musical idol of my entire adult life (and my teens, too).

Music has always been a passion since I first started playing "Oh Suzannah!" on my dad's harmonica at about age 5. I'm pretty typical for my age. I loved the Beatles and the "British Invasion", Motown....basically, all the music of the 60s. I grew up listening to my parent's big band records and soundtracks from all the Broadway Musicals (and can probably still sing every word to every song of every Rogers and Hammerstein musical to ever be struck to vinyl).

But then came Sweet Baby James. And my sister came home with that Apple record with "Carolina In My Mind" and "Brighten Your Night" and "Something In The Way She Moves"...

...and me a blooming guitar player. I became obsessed.

In my teens I learned to play much of the Taylor catalog wrong. In my thirties I started to relearn that catalog "righter". My chord vocabulary grew and I could make the guitar sound a little more like I was hearing it on the recordings.

But lyrically Taylor was also scratching an itch of mine. I love words. Not just literal, journalistic, concrete words, but playful impressionistic words. Words that say things obliquely and yet somehow end up expressing the concept more accurately that way. 

Somehow Taylor always managed to say things as he saw them....but leave just enough room to shoehorn my own experiences into those words and relate.

So I was disappointed by the profoundly underwhelming tribute the Kennedy Center managed to cobble sloppily together to celebrate the career of James Taylor.

First of all, I get it -- a president acting as the emcee for the Taylor segment of the honor show wasn't nothing. But it was the honor turned exactly on its head.

For one thing, Bill Clinton came off as though he was ad libbing his lines....and that, not even well.

But what I mean by the honor turned exactly on its head is that Clinton left the impression that somehow Taylor was the one graced by the attentions of two presidents (Clinton and Obama). It's exactly the opposite. Taylor graced them. Taylor's art will have more, and a more lasting effect on our culture than will presidents. Politicians reflect the culture that the Taylors of the world create.

But beyond that personal annoyance (yeah, I get it that nobody else will understand what I mean by the Taylor and the presidents thing. Maybe I'll take another stab at it some other day), the whole segment was strangely produced as though they had little or no idea who James Taylor was -- or, more to the point, who was the audience he created.

Darius Rucker? Garth Brooks? Are you KIDDING me?!

My boss's husband and I had been talking and speculating anxiously about the program for well over a week. We had gone to a JT concert this past summer and when we heard about the Kennedy Center show, hardly a day went by we didn't talk about it.

We speculated who they might have honor James with performances. After all, James honored Paul Simon -- peers if ever were. And Aretha Franklin honored Carole King. Again, peers if ever were. 

And if honors shows in the past had performers who weren't exactly peers of the honoree -- they at least always seemed to have some obvious and long-standing connection to the honoree. 

But Darius Rucker? And Garth Brooks?

So, Mr Disgruntled Bauman, if you're so smart, how would you have done the Taylor honor segment?

The stage would be dark. The audience quiet. A single spotlight would illuminate a chair sitting at center stage. A lone, anonymous guitarist would walk out into the spotlight, sit down on the chair, spread some papers down on the stage in front of him, lean over the guitar as if reading the sheets of music on the floor....

....and launch into the guitar part for "Fire And Rain" -- just exactly like millions of young men were inspired to do the first time they ever heard the song.

That would be the perfect intro to the segment because that's an important -- almost critical -- part that James Taylor played in our culture. Inspiration to make music. I'll bet James Taylor is responsible for the sale of more guitars than Martin. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration. But THAT is a big part of James Taylor's influence on our culture.

The other day, Dar, my boss, and my boss's husband were talking. I was kidding around saying "I kept waiting for Taylor (at the concert) to say, 'man are my fingers tired tonight. I've played so many dates in a row, I'm just not sure I can play tonight. Is there anyone in the audience who can do my guitar parts for me tonight?"

Before I could finish with "...and I raised my hand and Taylor said, 'well, come on up here, then"...

...Dar, my boss, and her husband said, in almost perfect unison: "...and half the men in the audience raised their hand."

And they're right. Assemble 50,000 guitar players from age 40 to age 70 and ask them what inspired them to take up guitar. You won't get very far in your inquiry before the name James Taylor will be brought up.

Oh, and a short list of people more appropriate than Darius Rucker or Garth Brooks to be honoring Taylor in music:

Paul McCartney
Carole King
Paul Simon
Ben Taylor/Livingston Taylor/Kate Taylor

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fox On The Run

I looked up from my work at the trimming wheel yesterday just in time to see a fox running across the frozen lake. For sure it was a fox. It was too low to the ground to be a coyote and far too fast to be a muskrat or groundhog.

Even from my vantage point on a distant shore, though I couldn't make out any details of color or anatomy, I still sensed an urgency to his gait. He was in a hurry and he was going somewhere.

I was immediately more unsettled than amused. Why would a fox be running across the lake in the middle of the day? Was he running to or from something? He was dead center to the lake -- equidistant -- quite distant -- from the safety of any shore. And sure, he was small, agile, and light, but the ice was not only thin in some places -- some of the lake wasn't even yet frozen.

What if he was running from some danger and the lake was his only -- and equally dangerous -- option?

And even if he had just set out into the unknown to forage, it was just as likely he was leaving slim pickins behind for even slimmer.

I started to try to imagine a narrative that might comfort me. Maybe I had looked up just in time to see him returning from mid-lake rather than crossing it. That helped some. If that was the case, most of the imagined fears and dangers of thin ice and unknown territory would be ameliorated. Maybe the fox was returning home.

Or maybe I was simply projecting. It's the beginning of the year. There's a lake to cross. I don't know what's on the other side. I don't know where the good ice is -- or if it is. And I'm running like mad. Like a fox on the run.

I wonder if there was a fox at all?