The dark silhouette of a woman gestured for me to come forward and whispered to me, ” are you ambidextrous?” Somehow the way she asked it didn’t suggest an idle inquiry into my handedness – it was too breathy, too much possessed of innuendo to be taken at face value. I reached forward to embrace her. and wound up in a tangle of my bedding. Just another sad reminder that there was no woman in my life. Much less a temptress in the shadows asking the mundane but accepting only the sublime.
I let go of my hurt loudly, “I gotta get a life!!!”

It had been so real. But maybe it had been the macaroni and cheese with chili sauce I had had at the local greasy spoon last night. It had been tough like it had the tenacity to crawl off the plate to whack me. I guess the waitress could have been the beauty in the dark. Indigestion will do things like that to you.

Looking at the clock, I found that it was only four in the morning. The rain outside was loud enough to sound like it was beating the ground up. I could sleep another two hours.
As I lay down, I deliberately attempted to return to where my dream had let off. There she was, standing in the shadows of the doorway. Her hair is all smooth perfection…her lips…wait a minute…what lips? What’s that smell? Cat food? “Hey! Get off my chest!” Yuck, cat food mouth at six AM!

“You’ll get your breakfast after I get rid of this cat food taste, you damn idiot!” Way to kill a wonderful dream…get a cat…have companionship! Right.


Sometimes find it’s hard to know the difference between love and abuse. In my day, I slipped and stumbled from one bad relationship to another. Some were so bad that comparison to a horrible medical condition, say diverticulitis, is not unwarranted. You become seduced by the idea of love. You see your friends enjoying, or oblivious in, that state, and you badly want some too.

At some point, you begin to realize that there is no cachet to being miserable in relationships and start to mature out of abuse as a form of love. But, of course, then there are those people who don’t.

My friend Tom “got lucky” and “caught” Marcia on the rebound from me. Marcia had been my breaking point. The two AM calls to make sure that I was by myself grew to be too much. At first, I found them amusing, then irritating, and finally almost terrifying. Tom became the recipient of the two AM calls. He found them reassuring, a sort of testimony to how much Marcia loved him. So one night at the Harvard Gardens, we sat Tom down, and several of Marcia’s failed lovers tried to point out the behaviors that she commonly used. As an intervention, it failed. Tom thought her quirks endearing, and soon they married.
My friends and I spent a lot of time talking about Tom and Marcia. We thought he was a schmo for falling for her. Of course, we knew guys with severe control issues, and some of our female friends had fled physical abuse in that sort of relationship. But Tom and Marcia never seemed to slip over into that pattern. Instead, they orbited around each other like an unbalanced planetary pair. It always seemed that they were bound to crash, but then they would whirl away secure in their erratic but common orbit.
They were still married and running a Bed and Breakfast, the last I heard. It’s the ideal occupation for two people who need reassuring contact with one another. Constantly.

Opportunity Too

It was one of those “Don’t you dare, come any closer” situations. It was an after-the-show dinner at a restaurant set on a pier. I had a coffee cup in my hand, and the one breathing beery fumes at me was inhaling the sixth beer. I was being told in no uncertain terms that the new robot-carver his company was selling would cause an upheaval in the industry. I couldn’t essay a single observation into this one-way conversation. To the salesman, it was profits. To me, as a nautical carver, it foretold the end of a good part of my business. Their carving device was just a router on guides. While the quarterboard carved by this Frankenstein Monster was not as pretty as one of mine, it was good enough to steal a significant amount of business.
The non-stop blather began to rankle, and soon I forcibly pushed into the conversation. Finally, when the salesman realized that I was a carver, he hollered, “perfect! buy a unit, finish the lettering by hand and have the best of both worlds.” I really should not have been shocked. Other carvers routed lettering and finished by hand.
I maintained that I could be halfway done with the carving by the time the router was set up. You tend to get fast at what you do a lot of, and in those days, I did a lot of lettering. It wasn’t that I opposed using industrial tools in my trade. I used bandsaws, table saws, jointers, and planers every week. I prepped stock with them, but I didn’t use them to make my product.
Within a handful of years, the salesman proved to have been accurate in his forecast; computer-driven production was like an octopus driving tentacles into almost every area of my business. As a result, I transformed my business, and I am still at work on that transformation. For example, I’m working on combining traditional carving with work done by the laser that I couldn’t do before.

When something transformative happens in your trade, craft, or industry, you have choices: retire, join the new wave, or be adaptive. For example, boatyards no longer use pitsaws to cut planking from logs, but quality boats still get built. Likewise, few shops hand saw, joint and plane every bit of wood, but quality cabinet work is still done. I’ve written about this before. The challenge is to look at the tool as a tool, not as an end in itself.
Carving has been a niche trade for many years now. The changes in it are only shadows of the changes happening elsewhere. It seems that every industry, business, and craft is being challenged by technological change.

Craftspeople and artists have an advantage in that they tend to be sole proprietors. Thus, they are not subject to the whims of a group of investors who may decide tomorrow to automate the entire operation. In addition, they have learned to pivot as the market desires for products change, something at which their cousins in the corporate world frequently fail. This ability to pivot, not to be comfortable with any status quo, makes the small operator light on their feet. A new tool is not a business killer; it’s an opportunity.
As William Butler Yates said: “Do not wait to strike until the iron is hot but make it hot by striking.”

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