Daily writing prompt
List three books that have had an impact on you. Why?

Among the things I like to do when visiting friends’ homes is to find a bit of time to browse their library shelves and see what they collect. You can learn much about interests, manias, and their life by browsing their bookshelves. Life is about more than one, two, or three books that have influenced you. Those books did their job in leading you onward to other titles. Here is a brief tour of my library.
I don’t have the typical sort of home library. Mine is a series of symbiotic collections. I am a carver of maritime themes, eagles, quarterboards, transom banners, and anything marine for a boat or ship. So the two largest collections are maritime and woodwork/carving. These two collections intergrade and work together.

If my library were in one room, it would have to be large. But I have to keep things in different locations. A friend commented that I could not possibly read all of them. And in truth, all were not there to be read in their entirety but are reference works.
These days, many reference libraries I once used have strange hours and are far away. So it pays to have my material at hand. If I am working on a small vessel built on the Clyde, I have one or two texts I can refer to as a start. It’s the same thing for a ship built in Bath, Maine.
I have books on Maritime art to look up work by Jacobson, Butterworth, or the Bard Brothers. Sometimes one rendition of a vessel is not enough. I used about five works for reference while working on a portrait of the Cunarder Servia.
Is the library comprehensive? Nope. It is far from complete at about 250 maritime texts of various sorts. There are big holes, and thankfully for the holes, there is the internet and used book dealers. So despite the construction manuals for building T2 class vessels, I have almost nothing on the Union Steamship company or their ships.
The carving collection is similar to the maritime collection but much smaller. There are standard texts on technique, books by artists I admire, and books on carving styles I like but don’t do. I weeded this collection heavily a few years ago because my interests had shifted, and I would not return to some of the styles I had carved years ago—the weeding left room for new titles as interests develop.

My third collection is a general library of material ranging from gardening to history, some anthropological texts, and anything else you might imagine.
The anthropological materials are a sorry remainder of when I worked as an anthropologist, and my library was almost solely oriented to topics that touched on my work in applied anthropology. Over the years, as I shifted to other work and interests, that collection shrank until there were a handful of volumes written by former professors and a few favorite works.

Somewhere buried in my library are the three books that greatly influenced me, but they were the seed that resulted in my library and are now part of its heart.


One huge bit of disinformation that’s been kicking around for generations is that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Several of my colleagues living on Boston’s Beacon Hill spent a vast amount of time talking this up and getting sick on weird concoctions that made them ill, and then when they recovered, they would beat their chests and exclaim that they were invincible. The leader of this cult of stupidity was a guy named Tom Armstrong. He was a latecomer to the merry crew at the Folkie flop house we called the Palace. And he was not a good influence on the others.

At this point, I was no longer in regular residence because I was in the Navy. For the time being, I was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, and it was convenient to shift into civvies, catch a bus to Boston, and pretend to be a civilian for a while. Serving in hospitals had given me a chance to observe the adverse effects of toxic materials on the human body, so I tried to establish a position directly opposite that of Tom, stating that harsh and poisonous substances might not kill you right away, but over the long haul they did their damage.
Talking to a wall might have done more good. Instead, every Thursday, there was the cocktail of the week. And the following day, there were satisfied groans about how bad it had been.

Finally, one morning, I pulled into the bus station near Park Square and hopped off a red-eye express to find Tom waiting for me. “Come on, John’s very sick!” I was hustled into a car, and we careened toward Beacon Hill while a panicked Tom laid out the previous night’s events.

The cocktail had included a generous dose of Nux Vomita*. Now just as it sounds, this substance is a powerful and dangerous product derived from the seeds of the tree, sometimes referred to as the strychnine tree because of the poison strychnine it contains. Nux Vomita is not something to play around with. I don’t believe it has been on the USP Materia Medica since the 1930s. It is rumored to have finished Alexander the Great and many others. I asked Tom what had persuaded him to include this in his Thursday concoction, and he replied with a smile, “It’s supposed to give you impressive Woodies.” “So you poisoned everyone for the sake of an extra hard boner? What sort of a fuckin’ idiot are you?” His reply was a snide “Well, it worked for me.”
We arrived in time to see John hauled away by an Ambulance. His girlfriend, a nurse at the nearby Mass General Hospital, had come over and found John nearly comatose in a pool of vomit and called for help. She had brief nasty words for all of us but singled out Tom for a blistering rebuke that left the rest of us in awe of her ability to peel paint off a post with only her tongue.
The Thursday night club continued for about another year until Tom was diagnosed with liver disease. This chilled the enthusiasm for poisonous cocktails and demonstrated that did not kill you immediately could kill you just a bit down the way and not make you stronger.

*Inspiration for this post was stirred by another blogger using a picture of some ancient medications, including Nux Vomita. The photo stirred up memories of an incident close to the one I’ve fictionalized here. Thanks, Doc!


Being an active Folkie in the 1960s, I get asked if I was at Woodstock occasionally. For the record, I categorically deny ever having been anywhere near Woodstock during that festival. Asking this question is like asking your average Roman citizen alive in 44 BC if they were present when the big guy got offed by his “friends.” No, I was busy picking up my second-best toga from the laundry.”
People who see history through a pinpoint hole make me jittery. They seem to lack the ability to see the bigger narrative. In my case, I was on my way traveling across Canada, a journey that was much more transformational than a drug-addled concert in the mud could have been.
In short, any time a significant event occurs, other contemporaneous and essential events ( if only to you) are also happening. People like to focus on single important events because it helps them create watersheds, moments when history appears to shift into new patterns.

Even if the events are watersheds, the most important stuff happens downstream, affecting individual lives or the further flow of events. History is flow, not a punctuation.

My trip to Canada resulted in an extended stay in Ottawa and contact with people who influenced me greatly as a woodcarver and human. The events of that time continue to affect my life to this day.
I’m on a grand adventure to the future. Excelsior!


Amplitude is a bit more than it might seem. Amplitude in loudness turns a folksingers ballad into a booming, unappealing wave of noise. But, on the other hand, too little amplitude in sincerity leaves an emotional appeal devoid of conviction.
Getting it right, measuring the correct volume, sincerity of appeal, or conviction is much of what life is about. We talk of people over or underplaying their hands, things being too coarse or delicate, too bright or subdued.
In short, amplitude is critical to turning debacles into successes or vice versa. Yet, as important as this seems, we spend little time teaching how subtlety and control effect success, and so many go through life persistently loud or overly quiet.


The wily jungle cat stops by the pool for a refreshing sip of water. Her quicksilver reflexes are finely tuned. Danger will not catch her unaware. Here in the valley, the soft light of morning seems to promise an infinite moment of peace…but there is a thrashing in the brush. Is it the vaunted JubJub bird? Perhaps the wily garter snake or a delicious froglet?

No. It’s her noisy brother, the Hound. Can’t I have any peace?

Still no help on my site issues from the “happiness” “engineers” of Word Press – two oxymorons in a peapod; maybe they’ll fix things for Christmas?


I was parked on a stool at the Harvard Gardens when the kid came in. Evie, the waitress, pointed me out to him. He wandered over, picked up some beer nuts from my bowl, and whispered, “You’re a finder, and I need to find Tulia.” I squinched up, looked away, and said, ” I think there’s a Trulia, but I never heard of Tulia. I focused on the bubbles in the glass. “Look it up on a map. I don’t give directions.”

After ordering beers for us, he mentioned that he knew there wasn’t a Tulia, but he needed to find it. Shit, I let him buy me a beer, and now I’m listening to him spout about some place in NJ that doesn’t exist. Why me? Because I’ve been to Tulia and a dozen other off-the-map shithole towns you’ve never heard of. I usually try not ever to find them again.
Places like Tulia tend to look, act, smell, and work like any other place; just don’t try to find them on the map. Maybe they’d been there at one time, but they slipped off the edge at some point. Kids grew up, married, and died in places like Tulia. They worked in the mill, diner, or carwash. They went to the local schools and had never been to the state capital.

“You don’t want to go there. It’s dull, boring; you can drive through it in five minutes.” He looked at me, ” I’m from Tulia, and I want to go home.”
“Kid, you escape one of the dullest places in the lower forty-eight, and you want to return to work in the diner?” I knew there was more, and he soon said, “It’s about my girl.” Now he had my attention.

So let me tell you a bit about the spots that land off the map. There is always something a bit off about them. Roads run around in loops, so it’s hard to leave. History has slightly different twists. Odd things happen, or people are a bit weird. There are one or two of these places I’d love to revisit but know I’ll never find. Like North American Brigadoons, they are lost along faded-out bits of the Interstate system. One of those was Tulia. I’d spent over a week playing every night in a small coffeehouse, enjoying being lionized by folks who’d never been as far away as Trenton and who imagined New York City as twice as glamorous as it could ever be. Okay, it was the girls. One in particular. So when he said it was about his girl, I knew I’d try to help him. A sentimental sucker I’ve never been, but some things you never forget. I hadn’t meant to leave Tulia forever; I’d just ventured out for a fast run to Philly but found that I couldn’t get back.
” I can’t promise we’ll find it.”

You can’t leave bright in the morning for a place like Tulia. So you go in the evening, a backpack full, guitar in hand, and hat on head. Don’t worry about the route; that won’t matter if you hit it right. It depends on the rides. You won’t accept just any ride. If he’s heading for Philly, turn it down. Take it if he offers to let you off at the Black Horse rotary; take it. That rotary is a departure point for the obscure.

We hit the rotary at midnight, walked to the third exit, and started walking. I figured the kid was from there, and he’d be my compass; I wouldn’t have to decrypt any excess clues or distractions. I’d just let him be my guide back. Finally, around four AM, the right turnout appeared. It even had a sign – Entering Tulia, population 4,682. Perhaps the number was numerologically significant in some ancient Babylonian math, I wouldn’t know, but it struck me that this was strangely precise. Then the number seemed to glow, and I swore it changed, but my eyes were on the lights of a diner that appeared on the right-hand side. Breakfast.

I recalled the waitress and the cook from my last visit. She wobbled on her legs, and it was a wonder she didn’t spill my coffee. The cook hummed loudly along with the radio and chuckled, just as he had the last time. The kid was greeted by friends and hugged by the petite blonde who had missed him. I wandered out into a foggy early morning and sat on the edge of the old concrete planter, amazed that I’d returned. I was tuning my guitar when a battered old Ford pulled up, and out of it stepped Roxanne. I smiled, she smiled, and I said, ” Honey, I’ve missed you so much.” Roxanne hauled back with that big old purse and belted me a good one in the face. “Wes Carson, you lying, no good SOB…”

It was about 8 AM when I woke up in the alley behind the Harvard Gardens. My jaw ached, and my shirt had a bloodstain from where a buckle on the bag had caught my lip. Damn, that woman never forgets and never forgives.


My mentor Warburton was more than a bit of a magpie. He defined the term as being curious about all arts and crafts. His specialties were ecclesiastical carvings, but he was also proficient as a chaser and engraver, did a bit of Icon painting, and wasn’t afraid of doing the occasional cabinet work when a commission required it.
In art conversations, he was indefatigable, displaying his knowledge and wanting to stimulate your interests. He maintained that great artists saw art as an encompassing realm. Therefore, your attraction was not to just one form but to many.
I didn’t see things as he did and found some of his interests cryptic. For example, an interest in tonal music left me cold, and working to opera playing in the background did nothing for me. But I respected his opinions, and he opined that I would come to appreciate his point of view in the fullness of time.
While I like carving to quiet music in the background, I never warmed to tonal music or opera. But concerning more physical arts and crafts, I, too, became a magpie possessed of fascinations well beyond the scope of my carving. Over the years, these interests have grown rather than subsided, making me a better person because my focus is not on one point.

A focus on one point. Funny how that comes up. So often, we are told to focus on one thing, but in the Japanese art of Iaido ( the art of drawing the sword), we are told to diffuse our attention and gaze broadly at the mountains. Too much attention on one point may cause us to miss important things outside our focus. In Iaido, these may be attacks coming from other sides, not from the enemy facing us. In the arts focusing on one point means missing different approaches.

The great samurai, Mushashi, mastered poetry, drawing, writing, and painting. His maxim was that we could learn one thousand things from one thing. We were not limited except as we limited ourselves.

People interested in arts and crafts should be magpies, read widely, experiment, and play. I’ll never master pottery, but learning to “throw” a pot enriched me as an artist and gave me an appreciation for what people who work in ceramics achieve.
Get out there, cross over to the Wildside, and try something different.

One-Trick Pony

Robert Browning said, ” A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for.” That single phrase has been significant to many of us in the arts and crafts. Sometimes it excuses our foolish infatuations with muses that we are unsuited for. But, more likely, it explains the flurry of far-flung projects we get involved in. Critics accuse us of mania, but we call it exploration.

Quietly, some evenings we regret grasping this particular nettle so firmly. It hurts. We imagine what life might be like to be a one-trick pony. All you do is one thing, but you do it so well, make money, and sleep peacefully at night with the satisfaction of a day’s pay earned.

Then you do a show, an exhibit, or someone happens to see your work, and they say., ” I wish I could do such lovely work.”
You smile, thank them, and suggest that it’s all just working hard at it. Then, they walk away with their purchase, and you count the till.

Years ago, my mentor Warburton warned me, “Some days you tread the grapes and others you drink the vintage.” To be trite, it can take a lot of grapes to make a vintage, and sometimes you wonder when the next opportunity to tipple will be. But that’s the critical word; you know you can’t and won’t change. So you really pity the one-trick pony who’d love to create but won’t.

Caloric Demand

OK, so what. Yes, I helped Kitty finish her breakfast, my breakfast, and her lunch. We have a mutual assistance agreement. She gets too much, and I finish it for her. She and I have a deal. I clean up after her. It’s not normal to go away and leave food in a bowl. No one in my family would do that. Puppies eat till there is nothing there. I suspect that cats are so skinny because they have bad eating habits.

But the deal ties Kitty and me together. She needs me to clean up for her, and I need the calories; I’m still a growing pup.

Hey! It makes it easier on you, the housekeeper. What do you mean you’re not? I see you picking up the empty bowls all the time. And who else puts my toys away in the toy box? Not me!

Don’t get so angry. That’s only going to…what’s the work the kitty used on me the other day when she was so mad? That’s only going to “exacerbate” the problem. So now do what Mom tells you to do. Please take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Count to ten? Whatever.

Look, it’s just going to happen. I need the calories. The more I zoom around, chase you over the yard, guard the house against the mailman ( you can’t trust those guys), bark at dogs in the street, and beg for dinner, the more food I need! So I have a high demand for calories.

I have Caloric Demand.

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