Monthly Archives: August 2012

Pass Me My Blog

“Blogs make it hard for me to read full articles. Now tweets make blogs hard to read. Soon, I’ll only be able to consume shapes.” Aaron Levie, cofounder and CEO of Box

This is good news I suppose for cave painters. But as writers we have to tremble. Many of us have every intention to write books. In the meantime, we are blogging….

My daughter advises me to keep blog posts short and brisk, “perhaps no more than one or two sentences per paragraph.” (I have to listen to her. She’s the one who helped set up my blog in the first place).

OK, so I am trying. (How am I doing, honey?)

I have to be concerned about my manuscripts, however. Will there even be an audience for book-length works? Then I remember that I read, every day and every night. There’s little blue tin and tint of television light ever emitting from this house. That’s my tribe, and as endangered as it may be, I write for that.

So I see blogging as a literary linking of arms. A pat on the back that we are still here.

I’ll confess, I rather like the regularity of a weekly blog. I also like to imagine that I am E.B. White writing in my boathouse on the saltwater farm in Maine, sending my pieces off to The New Yorker. And although there is nothing particularly hurried to each day up here in Maine, it is amazing how rapidly that weekly deadline comes around. That’s a good thing for an old man like me.

I like the feedback in this too. Look at how one blog can start others writing, and how readily their comments are published. Does anyone remember the odds and the wait with “Letters to the Editor”?

Blogs are accessible. So much so, it’s become the new noun in my weekly writing workshop for seniors. In our workshop we write in longhand, read aloud what we have written at the end of each session, and many of the seniors  refer to it as their “blog.”

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The Gods Amongst Us

When I was in my late twenties and living in San Diego I was fortunate to land a position in an interior design firm that had a highly acclaimed name in Southern California. The name was the owner’s, Gerald Jerome. He was considered a master, and no one knew it more or believed it more than himself and his staff. Looking back, we were almost like a cult.

Working for meager salaries we thought nothing of staying until midnight if that’s what it took to meet deadlines. And that frequently happened because Gerry, quite the salesman, made promises he wouldn’t have kept otherwise. None of us could have possibly had a child or a marriage and survived that employment. Still, we were for the most part young and told ourselves that we were the fortunate ones, that there were hundreds of designers out there with portfolios under their arms who would love to have our jobs.

So we worked for the association with Jerome, the hope that some of his genius would spill over, and that one day too we might be on our own. Such is the nature of the field, it is almost medieval like the apprentice system. Gerry Jerome relished that. He had a larger-than-life persona, and oftentimes while we were under the gun he made himself at home in our office, sitting back with a vodka & tonic, telling tales. Meanwhile we were at our drafting tables working, flying down the hall to make blueprints, organizing all the materials he would need for his meeting with the client in the morning, and driving home half dead.

His genius, the look we became so good at, was over-scaled and custom-designed for the most part. His interiors favored textures such as wood, stone, wool, leather, hide, over pattern, unless it was tribal, an ikat or a primitive rug. He combined contemporary with primitive, with little to nothing in between. His color palette favored the naturals, and we tended to steer clear of color with the exception of “Jerome red,” a brick/rust red. Everything Had to Make a Statement. It was design with a man’s hand. And his signature at the end of a job was often a custom designed door that stood twice as tall, twice as wide, made of copper or carved. One had to marvel at how easily it swung.

I knew I was over the edge when one day my brother-in-law, a Boston based writer and filmmaker on assignment in LA, came to visit, and I tried to explain to him that Jerome was “like a god.” All my brother-in-law had to do was give me that look and I knew. Not that I was going to do anything about it. You have to remember, I was in heaven.

Looking back, much was not right. All those hours without overtime pay, the chauvinism we endured, the salaries that might have been better but for the fact that Jerome was fond of making deals with his clients, and often took payment in the form of a rare Pre-Columbian sculpture, a Tamayo or Francisco Zuniga painting, or a large piece of quartz, all of which were showcased in his home in Mission Hills.

And then one day, after he had turned all other clients away so that our small firm could oversee an enormous convention hotel project in Mexico with Westin, we woke to find that the Mexican economy had collapsed overnight and the government had imposed a freeze on the American dollar. I didn’t understand the economics then and I don’t understand it now, but Westin pulled out and Gerry Jerome laid us all off. Just like that.

For years afterwards in whatever I did in the arts, I felt Jerome over my shoulder, bellowing if he didn’t like what I was doing, or laughing that I “designed like a woman” (the ultimate insult).We put up with such behavior in a person that extraordinarily talented or bright, and here he wasn’t even around. I was married and at home with my first newborn when I received a call from an old associate in our firm, informing me that Gerry Jerome had died. He had come home, slipped out of his Italian shoes, and suffered a heart attack while sitting up in bed reading “Architectural Digest.” There always had been a matter with his heart; I seem to recall it ran a little fast. His memorial service had come and gone—while I was in labor and in the hospital giving birth–and I never had a chance to say goodbye to this man who had meant the sun, moon and stars to me. How many people can be that significant in a lifetime?

Later when my life took a decidedly literary turn, I assured myself that I would always have a hand in interior design so long as I had a shelter to live in. I think it was only in writing that I didn’t feel Gerry Jerome lording over me. It is in writing that I would find my own voice, and what looks like my own design style while I’m at it.

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Rock-Paper-Scissors

Rocks. They sit here so patiently on my writing table. I don’t know where it all began, but by now it is a collection from various places I have been and loved (where I have left a part of me). A rock is a piece of the place, or the experience, that I can bring home with me. And the memory contained in each one speaks volumes.

One rock I picked up in Argentina. We were leaving a winery in Mendoza and stones such as this were shimmering on either side of the road, so I asked the driver to please pull over. One of them is with me now.

Another rock is from a spa where, in the course of a Native American Hot Rock Treatment, I learned that rocks are alive, and wise, having been here longer than anything else on earth. I slipped one into my robe when the massage therapist went out of the room. That treatment had given me an idea for a scene in the novel I was working on, and it would help to write it if I could hold the stone. Those hot rocks gave me the scene.

During a visit to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate in Lenox, Massachusetts, I picked up two lovely rocks that today sit one upon the other, stacked like a cairn, on my writing table. I imagine that they were there in her day too, when she strolled the gardens before slipping back into her writing room. I also like to think that some of Ms. Wharton’s magic might rub off.

In the summer I pick up rocks in The San Juan Islands the way I used to search for shells on other shores. In the Pacific Northwest it is all about rocks and logs. Which brings me to paper….

I am a paper person and can’t remember ever being without it in one form or another, be it sketchbook, notebook, journal, index cards, or a roll of plain white shelf paper. One of the most creative things my mother did was supply us with shelf paper when we were young, which we would roll out before us on the rec room floor. Lying on our stomachs, propped up on elbows, our crayons spread across the linoleum, we drew like this for hours.  Shelf paper had it all over coloring books. No one had to stay between the lines because there were no lines. And we drew as we thought, not in frames, but in streams of consciousness, as in dreams and movies.

Such are my earliest paper memories. So it came as a shock of late when, after being outfitted for hearing aids, my biggest complaint, the noise most annoying, was the sound of paper! What I had always known as silent and contemplative turned into crackling thunder when papers were rustled or turned. I made an appointment and had the volume turned down. Accustomed to my quiet time, I had grown quite fond of it, especially when writing. Just ask the rocks.

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Beyond Broken

When we first dropped anchor in Roche Harbor all the boats were pointing in the same direction, as they should, in formation like birds. As we sat and looked out toward the setting sun, some of the boats spun around one way, and others another, until we were all pointing every which way and there seemed no rhyme or reason to it. The sun disappeared and there we stayed awaiting the next shift of our boat, like the calibration or orientation of a compass.

I mention this because before we left San Juan Island another odd phenomena occurred, this time from above. While setting out on a walk in the woods, hundreds of birds—mostly seagulls–swarmed in the sky, circling at random, looking like white confetti against the blue. An hour later as we rounded a point, another swarm of birds was in the sky before us, the same random scribble. Whatever could this mean, we wondered.

I have become very good at doing nothing out on the water. Aware of yet another tragic shooting, this time in Wisconsin, I think my heart is beyond broken. If we can’t get a handle on the assault weapons at least, I am afraid for us.

At the Northernmost point of land in the continental U.S. sits a little white lighthouse, straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. The humbleness and innocence of it—my country is losing that.

On we went into Canadian waters. Salt Springs Island B.C. is where many of our draft dodgers found open arms during the Vietnam war. Many of them stayed and raised families, ran small businesses, and have slowly, happily aged. Our loss, their gain. It looks like it’s been a good life on Salt Springs. Our very institutions are under siege at home: theatres, schools, shopping centers, churches and temples. I’m thinking now if our lawmakers can’t stand up to the NRA and get a handle on our war with ourselves, might there not be another wave of Americans to other shores?

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Ain’t Crabbin’

Another weekend bobbing about in one of North America’s biggest bathtubs, The Puget Sound. Azure skies, crayola clouds, and snow-capped mountains surround us. Sailboats by the score with their sails in full, and Washington State ferries looking for all the world like Starbucks cups: green and white and hollow. Seals’ heads poking up and dolphin jumping waves with delight. Buoys that have been converted into high-rise bird hotels. We could take up birding on the upper helm of a slow going trawler like this, for we see everything. Much like going for a walk rather than a run.

With the crabbing season underway we left every entrée open for the weekend and just packed around it with greens and berries and such. Crackers and wine, leaving the cocktail hour open for crab as well. I wish I could say we always only hope to do better than the year before, but it’s a bit more than that. It is in crabbing that I have had my first experience with compulsive gambling. The season is short and trappers have to hustle right out of the gate.

After getting outfitted the first year with a trap, bait, and licenses, and catching a mere two “keepers” (females and undersized crabs are thrown back), we wolfed them down with wine one night at sunset, our eighty dollar apiece appetizers. And that was that for that year.

The next crab season a poacher went off with our trap, or it was dragged off by a boat or whatever. In any case it was gone when we went back. So, back to get reoutfitted. I’ve forgotten how many crabs we caught that season, but we were seriously behind in our investment.

The third season we purchased a second trap. Another investment made, and a smattering of crabs, most of which had to be thrown back. But we were on a roll, and the cost of each crab began to average better than eighty dollars. Plus we had enough that we could now begin to invite others over.

This time, the start of our fourth season, we went out to place the two traps in the water close to shore and one went under and off, buoy and all. One hundred feet of line and it went under, when other traps were all around, their buoys bobbing. One of us thought we had found middle earth or a vortex. The other was sure a seal must have gone off with it, relishing the salmon bait. Both of us were resigned to never seeing that trap again, and I knew I could no longer do the math. But come low tide, when we went back, there it was, back again, not too far from the other one. We feasted that night and the next day on nine large Dungeness crab, with enough left over to make a couple crab cakes. Almost too much at once.

I am going to relax about crabbing…. by going fishing. An older, wiser woman I know has the fondest memories of summers spent fishing when she was young. “It’s not about the catch,” she tells me, “but about the time between the bites. The long and quiet moments when it’s just you and the lake. Catching fish actually interrupts that.”  That’s what I’m after in fishing. I am not going to calculate a thing and I may not even catch anything. In this I may do well.

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