Rounding Past the Solstice

At the next table, the First Windbag discusses his recent successful speech to hundreds of thousands in which he urged global connection and cooperation in the effort against climate change. He has friends who are friends of Al Gore and Richard Branson. His non-profit organization and his website are imminent.

He will accomplish nothing of consequence to anyone else. He is uneasily unhappy. He needs to get small and doesn’t know how or has forgotten. His friend describes a recent conversation with an artist in Washington, D.C.: “I said to him, what good is it?” (art). I left the coffee shop after that, taking a long look at them. Least said, soonest mended.

A mile down the way, the regular musician outside Trader Joe’s was working through “O Come All Ye Faithful” —single violin, bare pavement, traffic, hurrying shoppers, the plain old tune, his red face—I was suddenly fine again. I gave him enough for a bottle of wine.

“Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas!” We shared a silent moment—equal, small, grateful, if not joyful and triumphant.

 

Beauty

Beauty

Whether it is singing or walking, shimmering or fading, beauty integrates the unique and the universal, our most disparate selves. In its presence we are relieved, reassured, and challenged. There is nothing we do that cannot be done more beautifully.

Waking Late

 

Waking late, rubbing my eyes, washed up on the shore of old age: a tree trunk silvered, a place to sit, coconut palms down the beach.

My past is over the horizon—an archipelago in time, each island a family, friends, challenges met more or less. My poems and stories are overboard and gone by. Time washes away all narrative. Only love endures, passed from one to another.

It is a fine morning with a promise of shade. As my old friend Sylvester wrote (in another context), It will have to do.*

*Entering the Walking Stick Business, Sylvester Pollet

 

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Launched!

The Auk is now floating peacefully by Finn and Shan’s boat in Shilshole Marina. If you scroll down past the “archives” on the right side of the display and click on “the Auk” in the categories list, you will see just the posts describing the build.

Finn & Hannah bringing the Auk from Ballard

Finn & Hannah bringing the Auk from Ballard

Shannon applauds

Shannon applauds

traditional greens

traditional greens

O.K., launch me!

O.K., launch me!

don't forget these

don’t forget these

AukLcarried

Shan's benediction

Shan’s benediction

docked at launching ramp

docked at launching ramp

Auk maiden voyage

Auk maiden voyage

Auk at Shilshole Marina

Auk at Shilshole Marina

Note to Iain Oughtred:

Iain,

We launched the Auk yesterday! She floats high, lightly balanced. Three adults bring her down a few inches, settled and stable. Bone dry. A beautiful design—the boat seems alive, matched with the water, a surface dancer. I once saw a Herreshoff dinghy in Maine, a hundred years old, that had the same quality.

When we recognize something as beautiful, we are inspired and calmed. The harmonies promise or reflect or express a universal order, a higher standard. This order is integrated with the uniqueness of the beautiful object, person, sound… The universal and the unique within each of us are often out of balance. A re-balancing happens when we let out a breath in the presence of beauty.

Several centuries ago, Francis Bacon observed, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” The “strangeness” in the Auk is the sum of my mistakes, irregularities, choices of wood and finish, and the care taken or not taken in small details. No two boats built from your plans will be the same, but each will express the harmonious design.

It has been a challenge, a pleasure, and an honor to build the Auk. Please add my voice to the many who have thanked you for your work.

John

Rewriting/drawing

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dragonfly

My first drawing of a subject usually has the most life, despite its inaccuracies. This differs from first drafts of stories and poems; rewriting, generally, brings life forward. Perhaps this is why Giacometti restarted many of his paintings and sculptures each day from the beginning.

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forsythia, houseboat E

Why Draw?

Language is a prerequisite of civilization; literature is a consequence. Fine writing explores, models, and sometimes leads culture. At bottom, however, literature is talk—sounds spoken or written.

Talk has limitations. Vocabulary is ever shifting and is shared imperfectly. Talk is necessarily linear, one word at a time, excellent for lists, describing events in time, cause and effect, but it is clumsy at describing, say, the New York subway system or the liberation of first love.

I suppose I’m not the first writer to have begun painting in his or her dotage. Perhaps I’ve not much left to say. Perhaps I’m inhibited by the suspicion that our culture has talked too much.

Our schools teach students that the road to success is paved with correct answers, generally, correct words. The correct answer for a power hitting third baseman is a home run. The correct answer for a chef is a sauce that enhances without overwhelming. Correct words are distinctly secondary in most endeavors, it turns out. Schools should develop confident and cared for students who have experience using tools of many kinds. Learning should be through doing—group projects that benefit the community and naturally involve skills that can be built on throughout the students’ lives. Courses should be pass/fail and non-competitive. No one wins unless everyone wins.

The pedagogical underpinning for education should be: all bodies of knowledge and art are models. Models are not the reality that they represent. Teach useful models and the tools used to construct and maintain them. “Tools,” in this sense, include the meta-tools of language, number, musical notation, etc.

Why draw? A camera does a better job of preserving light reflected from the subject. Photography is the tool of choice for archiving. Drawing involves sustained attention: the more you look, the more you see. There is action and reaction as the drawing develops; a relationship forms between you and the subject. Feeling influences your hand. The drawing is modeling the subject and how you feel about it. Your light mingles with that of the subject. A drawing discovers and celebrates; it is both egotistical and profoundly humble.

Finally. Because a drawing stills time, it leads to the present moment, the ultimate reward.

kitchen

houseboat kitchen remodeled

houseboat kitchen remodeled


more light now

more light now

shelves strong enough for Pam's dishes and tagines

shelves strong enough for Pam’s dishes and tagines

We finished remodeling the kitchen: replaced the formica counter and steel sink with butcher block from Lumber Liquidators and a ceramic farm house sink (which required a new supporting structure), replaced the upper cabinets with open shelves—1 x 12 Douglas fir on steel corbels that Pam found made in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin, and refaced the lower cabinet doors and drawer faces with Euro birch plywood.

I cut the door/drawer pulls from rectangular walnut table legs that Pam had been saving. We copied the general design from photographs on the net, published by Sam Correa, a wood worker in the southwest. They are curved on three faces and are pegged in place with hardwood dowels. The tiles in the back splash(es) that Pam made are from Morocco and Tunisia.