Directions, Not Places

The other day I let my fingertips travel to the website of a small regional newspaper that covers the community on the coast that once was a focus of my life. I observed that some small things remained the same. But that many had changed. I chuckled when I noted that two grandchildren of folks I knew were now Town Clerk and a Select Board Member, respectively. Other things were eerily the same or different.

The internet saved me the six-hour drive that would only prove what I already knew. It’s true; you can’t go home again. Or, in this case, the place that almost became home.

I don’t think there is anything pathological about regret like this, provided you don’t dwell on it. But unfortunately, romanticizing the past is an easy trap to fall into. I had bookmarked the site but then deleted it.

Driving into work later, I recalled a favorite quote: “Happiness is a direction, not a place.” (Sydney J. Harris)

What Rita Taught Me

I was a grad student when I met Rita. She was a nurse, and one of the things that allowed us to hit it off from the beginning was that we “spoke” the same language, that specialty dialect of people in healthcare. So many things didn’t need repeating with lengthy explanations. I came by my knowledge because of the time spent in the operating room and on hospital orthopedic floors.

For several weeks it seemed that we were both winners. We communicated easily, had common interests, and in other ways, seemed compatible. So with the relationship gaining a bit in longevity, it seemed natural that we should begin introducing each other to our friends.

I invited Rita to a couple of parties my friends were having. At first, everything seemed to be going alright. Then the fights started. My friends talked in senseless jargon, couldn’t say a single sentence in plain English, and were stuck up. I didn’t even try to defend my friends from the charge of being stuck up; a few were overly impressed with themselves. But the jargon comment hurt. It was true. Put a bunch of anthropologists in a room having a conversation about our areas of research, and you’ll be lost in a few minutes. The number of common English words declines in direct proportion to the depth of the debated issues.
I tried explaining, apologizing, and then compared it to a similar type of discussion healthcare professionals might have. Maybe that last was what blew the lid off the pot. Over three days, we went from being lovers to being angry with each other to breaking off the relationship.
Much good came from the breakup, although I didn’t see it that way for a long time. As I transitioned from grad school to “civilian” life as a practicing anthropologist, I learned to listen to my trade talk or jargon and filter it out. You might know I was an anthropologist, but it wouldn’t interfere with our conversation.

As far as Rita is concerned, I never heard from her again, and that’s not bad. But from her, I did learn a valuable lesson: too much jargon complicates communication.


I received an early indoctrination from my father on volunteering and management. He had a sort of pragmatic wisdom from having served in the Maine Corp and the Merchant Marine. He’d say that ” the conventional wisdom says don’t ever volunteer. However, sergeants and bosuns Mates know this and will “volunteer” you for the duty. Protesting too much can get you extra duty later on. Volunteer smart. Keep the bosun happy, get your buddy off hard duty occasionally, and gain credit from your shipmates.” My father’s take was this was a wheel; you had to keep it spinning.

The spinning wheel only works when everyone pitches in once in a while. In other words, you don’t wait for an appointment to do your part. And in a pinch, everyone gets together to keep things working. The time to argue about the duty roster was not while the ship was in danger of sinking in the storm.

As my father used to say, all this was in a perfect world; but the world is not perfect. He maintained that you needed sergeants, bosun mates, and officers because some people are lazy and won’t contribute their energy, effort, or money to keep things working. So you have to have people who manage things, and that’s where the real skill comes in; just the right amount of encouragement, the correct amount of discipline, and a knowledge of the personalities involved.

When we had the final conversations about this, my father was a maintenance supervisor for a large real estate company in New York City. He had to oversee several crews, contracts, and sites. His attitude had not changed. After a while, he stated you knew from a historical view how things might not work. He understood that the one person in the crew who shirked his share torpedoed the team’s efforts. So he managed lightly, but diligently and kept an out for who was slacking.

Without thinking much about it, I’ve adopted my father’s methods and thoughts on management. However, over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to view others. The worst is a system sometimes called ” management by ambush.” In this system, you ambush unsuspecting workers even if they’ve done nothing. The thought behind this is that they’ll never know when you are watching and will always be working hard. But, of course, what happens is that they game your system, resent you, and try to derail things in revenge.

In discussions I’ve had with adherents of the management by ambush method, they maintain that my lazy system allows smart slackers to control the system. I respond that spending your energy where needed leaves most of the crew alone to finish the job. They understand that you are watching, but know that if they do their part, you will leave them alone- in other words, treat them as adults.

Well, not everyone can be left alone and treated as an adult. But if you want to be a manager, you should invest in learning enough about the people you supervise to know who needs mentoring, who you leave alone, and who you manage closely.


Ask different crafters and artists what’s most important. The answers will be all over the map: innovation, creativity, mastery of the media, balance, attention to the details, or on the opposite end, not missing the big picture. So you could spend time playing detective to find out who was right. My old mentor in Baltimore, Warburton, would have shrugged his shoulders.
Of course, you should be a master of the media. Innovation and creativity? Well, that kind of goes without saying. Balance, attention to detail, and the big picture? Let’s not get caught up in the details; we do an excellent design job before we start, and that takes care of itself.

Warburton took pains to inform me that the tortoise, not the hare, won the race. A rushed job was just that rushed. The client might be oblivious to the shortcomings, but every time you passed it by, you’d be ticking off on your fingers the shortcuts you took that reduced the quality.

My current carving is a case in point. It’s a portrait of a large schooner sailing on the starboard tack; she’s just a bit heeled over to port. The sails are all carved, and the surrounding groundwork ( the flat background behind the ship) only needs final sanding. The hull now needs shaping. A critical part of this part is the portion of the ship’s interior revealed since it is heeled over to port.

So I am moving at a snail’s pace here, determining how I’ll do this. I almost hear my old mentor, Warburton, whispering, “didn’t think about how you’d handle that part, did you? Stop, think about it, have some coffee, and then return to work.”

I have stopped. I am thinking about it, and I’m heading to the coffee pot now. Warbuton always gave great advice, but my coffee is much better than he boiled up for company.


Old toothbrushes don’t get trashed; they get second lives in the workshop. There, without too much ballyhoo, they clean out dust and chips from the inconvenient hollows and flats in a carving that you just can’t reach.
Since everything is available from some vendors as a specialty tool, I could buy a tool designed to do this challenging task. But, amazingly, this wonder of twenty-first-century technology can’t do the job as well as my old toothbrush. But, of course, this does not stop the tool vendors from trying to sell you their goods; nothing timorous about their approach!

A Shipcarver’s Rant!

These days a maritime carver is lucky to get a quarter board, transom banner, or an occasional billet head for a commission. But, of course, eagles have uses other than on boats, so you can still get orders for them. But vinyl is king for boat bling, and I no longer try to compete for the work remaining. So let the vinyl cutters have the job of festooning that Chlorox bottle of a power boat – the Party Boy III. But how did this unfortunate thing come about? Once upon a time, ships had elaborately carved quarter galleries, fancy transoms, and much more. So even a lowly fishing boat might have a tiny bit of bling.

At some point in the nineteenth century, the bean counters decided to begrudge us poor woodcarvers our just and due income. Maintaining and carving all the carved knick nacks we liked to paste all over ships was expensive. Although I’m sure many a carver took up quill pen to complain about the plain nature of the vessels, the accountants had their way.  

Pretty soon, even the figurehead was reduced to a mere bust, then a billet head, and ultimately to nothing. It got so bad that sailors on some ships refused to sail without a figurehead and may have resorted to surreptitiously adding one without the shipowner’s knowledge.

You can imagine the back in forth at the bar: “that tub you sail on is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. Not even a little tiny bust on the bow!” Being ashamed, the other sailor tries bluffing and replies, “yeah, but our ship’s cat can beat your ship’s cat!”

Some of my brethren dream of the day boat and ship owners will realize the folly of their ways and turn away from the silliness of vinyl lettering. A new day of wooden carved adornments will dawn, offering enormous employment for carvers. Nope, never. I’ve moved on to carvng portraits of shops and boats, doing an assortment of other stuff, and discovering that there is life beyond hanging off ladders measuring dimensions, attaching boards, or dealing with petulant clients who want unobtainable wood species for interior carving.

I’m waiting instead for digital computer graphics to light up boats with vulgar displays of color and images. Then I’ll have my revenge on the soul-less vinyl cutters and the glitzy taped-on trash! They can belly up to the bar with the out-of-work carvers and moan about the world that was. For them, I depart, leaving this quote from Napoleon Bonaparte: “Glory is fleeting. But obscurity is forever.” 


Imagine giant creatures being propelled along the strand by wind power. Their many legs move in response to the power of the wind. These are Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest. At one reach, a bit risible, and at another, a meditation on how evolution might go under other circumstances. I had seen video clips of Jansen’s creations online for several years and wondered what their actual scale and construction were like.

My opportunity to see strandbeest in person came when the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, hosted an exhibit of Jansen’s strandbeest. Strandbeest are large articulated constructions, almost too large to be contained in an exhibit area. Jansen designed them to move about on the beach powered by the wind. In a museum setting, people provide the energy to move them about.

Periodically I like to watch the clips I recorded at the exhibit and the construction details. I enjoy thinking about what might happen if a herd of strandbeest suddenly appeared on a Massachusetts beach one day, moving in the wind and striding about.

Straandbeest from Lou Carreras on Vimeo.

Panic? I imagine the scene from a horrible 1950s Sci-Fi movie as beachgoers scramble to leave the beach, hauling little children in their wake and abandoning tubs of beer and food…screaming. Hmmm, I’ve been watching too many old movies, I guess.

The Director’s Chair

It was supposed to be a modern family remake of War and Peace. But with this crew, it will likely turn out as a middle school version of Waiting for Godot. It would be my master’s work as a director, my entree to Hollywood—instead, bitter ashes and a showing on local access television.
The dog, incapable of even barking his lines, my father – constantly ad-libbing – no, no, no, you idiot!
Perhaps I should have taken my mother’s idea of doing a Tik Tok cooking show.

No, No, you buffoon, it’s apricity, not apricot. Do you see what I have to deal with?


Game On! the first chipmunk of the season has been sighted. Yes, he was not one of the chubbier chippies that are so appealing. He appeared this morning on the ice near the stone wall. Father rebuked me because I did not chafe and bark at the door or howl with outrage.
Mine will be the long game this year. I will keep my peace until the furry little rats come up on the porch within range of my mighty lunge.

Last year I was young and inexperienced. I barked and then chased. The chipmunks dived into their little chipmunk holes and chittered with amusement. It was merely a type of entertainment, and I was just a barking Buffon ( a word I recently learned from the kitty).
This year will be different; kitty has suggested chasing before barking. She has also recommended her sort of yowling hunting cry. But somehow, every time I try it, she rolls on the floor and behaves like she has had too much catnip. She can’t be laughing at me…only humans do that.
Quick! There is another one. Open the door; the hunt is on!

The Mountain Ash

The treetop gathering of cedar wax wings and robins was called off this year because of last year’s drought. The few berries on the mountain ash tree were picked through in an afternoon. Not the usual joyful and noisy convocation heralding spring.
We don’t tend to look up to the treetops or watch the robins looking for the fruits of last year’s blooms.

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