Past, Present and Future

In tales, we read about the hero’s quest—the grand adventure. Ultimately, the hero makes adult decisions and begins a mature and rewarding life.

Having been through one of these, I fervently wish you could avoid it. Fiction does not do the authentic, real-life experience justice. The movie’s enriching and gratifying series of short segments ends with the wiser hero glancing seaward into the bright sunrise. Inspiring. But not true.

Briefly, there was a situation with a woman whose boyfriend ( I did not know about him) took violent exception to my existence. He attempted to terminate me, and I spent several weeks on the run. Afterward, I came to the blunt realization that my life needed some fundamental changes. I’ve deliberately avoided telling the story in detail Here. Why? In this type of story, we frequently focus on the life-changing event instead of how we change life afterward. And it’s the not-so-pretty details of how we change that are important. Anyone can get shot at with a gun.

In my case, the high school dropout went back to school. And began a years-long effort to quit addictive behaviors- it took a long time and was full of Pyrrhic battles, losses, setbacks, and disasters.

Did I backslide along the way? Oh, yes. But in general, I did such an excellent job of burying the old me that I forgot along the path that the rogue was interesting and fun and had talents the new me lacked. A lot of time went by – almost two decades.

Then something happened. One afternoon along the National Mall in Washington, DC, I played some blues with a Mississippi blues musician. Friends thrust the guitar into my arms as a joke. But soon, I was doing a credible “Jelly Roll Baker,” and the years washed away. The rest of that week, I wrestled with two me’s.

In the years that followed, I gradually realized that In saving myself, I had condemned part of myself to the lockup. I had to blend the two back into one. There were and are mismatches. There is no eloquent way to say it. I was surprised when I began this blog because it explores the old, new, and future.

I am still a work in progress.

(the image is public art in Burlington, Vermont)

Lost at Sea

The Saturday after Thanksgiving ( here stateside) marks the anniversary of the sinking of the sidewheel steamer Portland during the Gale of 1898. This year, we observed the 125th. Some 198 passengers and crew lost their lives when a gale with winds of up to a hundred miles an hour overwhelmed the Portland. It’s sometimes called New England’s Titanic.

On Sunday, I read an article about the sinking. Tears came to my eyes even though no one in my family was aboard. I am, however, the son, nephew, and descendant on both sides of my family, for unknown generations, of seaman. As a seaman and sailor, I’ve seen gales, hurricanes, and foul weather. I’ve listened to my father tell about how he survived the torpedo sinking of a tanker. And in my library is a little book issued to merchant seamen titled How To Abandon Ship. I take lives lost at sea personally and seriously.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on the sea:

“People are always comparing the sea to a woman. That’s a mistake. Even a woman you’ve cheated on and abandoned is more forgiving than high seas and a bad storm.” -Petty Officer John O’Toole, USN.

“Whenever your preparations for the sea are poor, the sea worms its way in and find the problems.” ~ Francis Stokes

“He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea.” ~ George Herbert.

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The rum-soaked fruitcakes are on the porch. They are wrapped in muslin and freezer bags, each with about six ( or more) shots of rum. They should be ready for consumption by December 12. That’s my best estimate of when the fruit, nuts, and cake should have absorbed the rum. Sometimes, I feel like a bit of a magician. The recipe is only a guide, and it’s been altered over the years since I first turned out the Mark I fruitcake in about 1973. 

The Mark I version may still have had some brittle spots because I followed a strict recipe rather than the developed instincts over the years. The idea behind the cakes was to create an anti-fruitcake fruitcake. Mellow, moist, and with just the right amount of kick. We advise people not to eat and drive if they have more than one slice.

A few years ago, my oldest son expressed interest in learning to make what is now “the family fruitcake.” Mindful of what had happened with my grandmother’s Hungarian poppyseed bread, we sat jointly and made the cakes one winter, recording all the steps, ingredients, and possible variations. I didn’t want a repetition of what happened after Grandma died.

When Grandma died, we searched in vain for a recipe. For years, family members would put forward their reworkings of what they thought approached her recipe. They all failed. Grandma had been secretive about what went into the recipe and how she prepared it—decades of failures and recriminations followed over poppyseed bread. With years of research, I was able to recreate a poppyseed bread recipe that most of the family agrees is remarkably close to Grandma’s. Like in the old times, the family can enjoy it at Christmas and Easter.

And if you are driving, it’s safer than eating two or more slices of fruitcake.

Dream Times

Get me out of bed too early and watch me be belligerent until the second cup of coffee rolls down my throat. About that point, I might start to get a grip on reality, watch the sunrise, and feed the cats and the dog. 

In the past, girlfriends have learned the hard way. Poke the bear too early, and you are heading toward a breakup. Let me have my coffee, and the ordinarily irascible, grumpy me settles down and approaches the point that you could play treacly sweet carols for hours without my biting your head off.

The thought of me operating on less sleep should set off major alarms. But what if you didn’t need the extra sleep, you ask? Fool! It’s not just a matter of need. Last night, my dreams transported me to a place where I was a performer again. It was a hoot! I dreamed up new things to do in the shop a few weeks ago.

Sleep is for exploration. Why would I give up something that offers so much pleasure just to be awake?

image: public art on a street in Nashua, New Hampshire


Art and craft don’t seem to be the sort of thing that could get me all in a dither or stirred up into an emotional cauldron of opinion. But I have my peeves!

Here’s a peeve: you may not have heard of credentialism. This snotty behavior implies that one cannot be a musician, an artist, or a master crafter without a degree in art, music, or some other special area. And, no, I am not talking about medical professions, licensed trades, or the like. No legal requirements for a master’s or doctorate in any of these skills are required.  

I like to splatter mud on his attitude. The great masters primarily trained in the equivalent of craft shops and production studios, not a classroom. Regarding crafts, I belong to a generation of self-taught artisans whose tuition came from books. I enjoyed mentorships with older, skilled artisans who were self-taught or trained in craft studios, not art schools.

An associated peeve is provided by the critics to whom this sort of idiocy is essential. They scan “artists’ statements” for pedigree as a sort of sine qua non. Joan or Josh in the corner may have superior work, but the grand finale must always be the credential. 

My final peeve is the artist’s statement itself. It is a marvel of contorted writing. It is an esoteric art. But you don’t have to do it yourself. The internet offers several sites that will generate it for you.

My cat Xenia spent a lot of time scratching my office door. She insisted that it was as much art as what I did. So, we created an artist’s statement for her:


As a carver, I like to carve. I’m not too fond of joinery. Darn it, I want to carve wood! But when you make lovely things for people, you sometimes have to make things that close: box and chest lids or tops. A box or chest that doesn’t close properly is not functional, and you won’t make any sales. When someone orders a special case, the person who buys it will be mad when they discover it won’t close.

So, the carver must learn enough carpentry and joinery to be successful.

This is good: your creative abilities stretch, You expand your practical skills, and people order things. You make money. And you are artistically satisfied and financially better off.

All from doing what you’d prefer not to do. 

Research- a flashback Friday offering from November 2021

Although I was an anthropologist, few of the people I met knew what I did once I left the university. If I mentioned that I studied culture, I’d get a knowing wink and this reply, “Yes. But with a big C or a little c?” Others made veiled jokes about the sort of work I did. And asked me where my pith helmet was. I guess one woman who had taken a survey course in anthropology asked, “Who are your people? Where in Africa did you go?” 

When I replied that she and others like her “were my People.” That I studied American culture. She looked distraught, put her arms akimbo, and stated that she did not require study. Then, off she walked, highly insulted.

I’ve run into this sort of “Colonial” attitude towards anthropology, not from my peers in the field but the well-educated, well-to-do layperson. It’s OK if I am studying Native- Americans, Hispanics, or other groups within our nation, but not them. The intimate details of other people’s culture are open to voyeuristic examination, but not how they behave at work or play. I find this amusing because neither the coastal community nor the urban ethnic communities I worked in seemed to mind. One Saints society I studied possessively claims me as “their anthropologist,” a sort of role reversal of the “my People” trope.

I see it as an elite sort of thing. Everything is fair game for examination. But not the Country Club, the concept of “legacy” university admissions, or the kind of privilege that opens doors to political and economic positions. As Deep Throat might have said, “Follow the influence.”

The patterns of privilege and power in our society may be one of the best areas for future doctoral dissertations. But these days, I’d barely have to go too much farther than the pages of the Washington Post, New York Times, or the cable networks to see the bones of privileged patterns laid bare for examination. It’d hardly be research, would it?

Social Media

It’s the day after a holiday shared with relatives you won’t see again until next year. Take a mental health day, take a deep breath, and exhale slowly. Now, admit you are your favorite person even if no one complimented your five-alarm chili at the dinner table. It feels good, doesn’t it, just like it did back when you were in therapy, and the therapist was trying to get you a more positive image of yourself. Right? You had wandered out of the wilderness of self-dislike to admit, “Hey! I’m alright!”

Unfortunately, there are places online where people will vividly dissect what was wrong with every dish at the celebration. They have conveniently forgotten that they “friended” everyone whose dinner offering they examined with malicious glee.

Oh, for the good old days! It was just you and your siblings getting together on the telephone. You’d comment on the right-wing crazy uncle’s bizarre sophistry and laugh. But last night, your nephews “accidentally” included you in the text thread where they serially put down you and your siblings. An accident or the work of a sick prankster?

But rejoice! It will be another year before you see them again, and until then, you can block the A-holes on all the social media sites you use.

Turkey Lurkey Day

Most people in the States will refer to today as Thanksgiving. But the Teamsters local in our home refer to it fondly as Turkey LurkeyDay. It’s when the dog and the cats supervise the preparation of the feast and, are given bonus servings of turkey.

I’ve tried to point out to them that as Teamsters, they are not supposed to supervise anything and should be working to the “Contract.” In the heat of the discussion, they asked me to point out where in the contract it says this, but of course, they are the only ones in possession of copies of the contract. Dog and cats- one, Supervision – zero.

Turkey Lurkey Day began in primordeal times, the days of my Canadian cat Clancy ( AKA The Grey Menace). He gleefully adopted stateside holidays. After all the fireworks on the Fourth of July? In Celebration of his birthday. Thanksgiving? People in the States are thankful he journeyed south to celebrate with them. Bring on the turkey! Don’t serve up enough turkey…he’ll draw the balance in O-negative blood.

So, today is the day I work in the kitchen side by side with my favorite animals.

For more details see:

Liar, Liar

My almost friend John was duplicitous by nature. If you asked him where he came from, he’d tell you Natick once and Framingham the next time. When confronted with the duplicity, he’d calmly explain that he was born in one but grew up in the other—sincerity dripping from his replies. We liked him otherwise, so we avoided asking questions like which way was north or where the sun went after sundown.

Why did we allow him to hang around? Well, being a crooked grifter, he knew the lines of other crooked grifters. Sitting around watching the evening news with him was an absolute howl. A clip of a politician would come on, and Senator Stilldumb would speak about his new anti-something initiative. John would simultaneously translate what he truly meant and how the senator’s nephew would profit from it. Some beer and chips, and you had an evening’s entertainment.

We lost track of John during the Nixon years; a senator hired him as a speech writer. The evening news has never been the same since.