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!


I always think it best to start with the disclaimers. I am not now nor ever associated with any intelligence agency. Like most of my ilk, Folkies, I believe intelligence and government agency represents a tactless oxymoron.

That said, my friend and I were fixers, scroungers, and locators in a small way. We were not operating a racket. We were always running a little “commotion.” It was how we avoided gainful employment. We were careful to be just this side of legal and had a good sense of how far we could go and stayed to that line. But we always looked out for things that appeared to be out of place.
So there was a bit of trepidation when Brother Isaac pulled into our booth at the Harvard Gardens one evening.
Brother Isaac should not have been there. He was part of the Church of Revealed Disciples. They showed up once a month on a Saturday morning to attempt to lead our roommate John, to salvation. The rest of us inhabiting the exclusive Grove Street digs were never bothered, which was strange.
Brother Isaac sat down, grabbed the John by the arm, almost spilling a beer, and just said: “Johnnie, it’s all over. Won’t be seeing you again. Keep your nose out of bad snuff.” with that off, rode Brother Isaac into the sunset, and it was the last we heard of the Church of the Revealed Disciples. My friend sat there with a bemused expression. I figured it was none of my business and just sipped my beer.

Over the next year or so, I learned more about my friends. Both of them tasted intelligence operations at some point in their military years. I had pieced that together from things unsaid, said, people met, and uncommonly odd bits of knowledge. Their long-term association, our Folkie Flop House on Boston’s Beacon Hill, our forms of making a living, and our endless traveling habits all said Folkie. But, it did not add up. Pieces were missing from the puzzle, and what I could put together seemed nonsense. That something covert had or was going on became my operating theory about the bits of Theatre of the Absurd that was our lifestyle in those days.

The years passed. Our friend John, has become a conservative shock jock on the radio, my friend dies in an avoidable car accident in Baltimore, and I have begun to morph into a staid anthropologist. Then I went to grad school.
I began drinking with George, a former marine. Who, after taking in enough bourbon to float the ark, started talking about the Church of Revealed Disciples one night. The Church was a cover used by Naval Intelligence for a long-term operation. Not being as sloshed as he was, I coyly asked, ” So, how’s Brother Isaac doing these days?” Suddenly, not quite so high, outshoots: “Who’s Brother Isaac?” I replied, “You know – Church of the Revealed Disciples.” He claimed to have never heard of it, but he kept looking hard and deep at me for the remainder of the night. I tried a shot in the dark – “Have you heard from Mike the Vike recently?” I thought he’d explode – ” Jesu Christi!”
I smiled. The Vike had been another of the continual threads of life on Beacon Hill. The Vike was always in supply, always on the move, and never who he seemed to be. I was trying to dovetail bits and pieces that had troubled me, and I was surprised at how well they all fit.
Over the next few days, I spiced life up by dropping hints in George’s presence that implied I knew more than I did. His paranoia grew, but we became fast-drinking buddies. I recognized others in my anthropology department as former intelligence operatives through him. Being an anthropologist was a plus for employment at certain agencies operating abroad.

But nobody made me. I was an enigma, and George, one night in a DC hotel, pulled a little pearl-handled .32 and point-blank asked me whose dog I was. I flippantly answered, “The DARs.” * Not long after this, George passed out, and I secured the thirty-two where he wouldn’t find it and went back to my room. Our friendship was at an end. And my tiny brush with intelligence agencies and their operatives ended. I thought.

Life slipped into high gear after grad school. I eventually worked only a few miles from the old digs on Beacon Hill, but the cognitive distance was enormous. I rarely thought of John or my friend, Brother Isaac, strange churches that were fronts.

Eventually, I wandered into working for the federal government.
And that’s where it gets funny again. I was a GS-12 programming officer. I did not need classified information, but they required a clearance. I dutifully complied with the request for data, but the inquiries always came back unanswered. What was wrong with me? And I answered that, in truth, there was nothing. That was not wholly true. During my time in the Navy, I’d had a high-security clearance. Not because I was so essential a person but because the work my squadron was doing was, and presumably still is, sensitive. They would not grant me confidential clearance because my top secret was still operational. This item pissed off the local hierarchy. If a secret document came into the agency, a lowly GS-12 would be the only one allowed to read it.

Thinking about this, I realized that the evening in a DC hotel was explainable. Somebody had run my file and discovered I was a total cipher with an impressive clearance. To people of a certain mindset in intelligence agencies, that raised flags. Not only was I an anthropologist ( almost a requirement in those days for certain types of operatives), but I was also a pretty bland sort. Not James
Bond. Whose dog, indeed?

Everyone I’ve written about in this is dead. Convenient. So we’ll never be able to check it out, but if you are out there, don’t ask about the Church of the Revealed Disciples, and whatever you do, don’t get involved with Brother Isaac.

*Daughters of the American Revolution


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!


When you think that everything is going well, you get surprised.
In this case, oriental bittersweet popping up in the woodland garden area behind my house. When we moved in, this area was so overgrown with it that the realtors never realized that the woods behind the house were part of a wildlife sanctuary. Only weeks after, as I took to clearing the yard, did the sanctuary signs appear. The following spring, I spent months clearing as many roots and vines as possible. But it still shows up periodically.

Failure to go out and get it rooted out will result in what happened to a neighbor a few years ago. He failed to pull a few errant sprouts because he liked the “pretty vine” in the fall. This conceit proved asinine when two years later, there was more than a surfeit of bittersweet covering the back of his lot. He was flummoxed when chemical controls seemed to be shrugged off by the vines and dismayed when I showed him my yard and suggested that hand pulling was more effective…for several years to get it under control. He left the problem for the next person who brought the property.

So for numerous years, I’ve rarely found any bittersweet shoots. The ones I’ve seen are probably from seeds dropped in bird feces and brought in from my neighbors’ property by chipmunks. In a way, it speaks to the success of my work in the area. A few hours of weeding will set things right, and I can relax, watch the waterfall and enjoy the flowers.

No word from the “happiness” engineers on my issues yet by switching to Firefox as a browser I was able to add a featured image, but I can’t do pingbacks, categories. I had to rebuild tags one by one. WP is too damn big for its own good, and has no clue what it’s own programs are doing.


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.

Manual of Arms

I found it after searching in the 1940 Bluejackets Manual in my maritime collection. It’s not something that I refer to very often. However, I have it on hand when I need to look up obscurities, which was one of those times. I had made some stupid comments that upset my wife, and wincing, I mentioned that I should do the 99-count manual of arms 99 times. She had no idea what I was talking about but appreciated that I was apologizing.

Later on, I thought about my comment. The Manual of Arms was something we trained on in Navy Boot Camp. It was also the favorite punishment assignment if you goofed up. Report to the gymnasium and join the other critters in a rather grueling 99s times repetition of the manual of arms; no options for other assignments. Just do it.
You did this with your trusty 1903 Springfield rifle. You had its serial number blazoned into memory because if a petty officer asked you for it and you gave the wrong number, you’d do the entire thing over 99 more times. If you dropped it, you slept with it in your bunk. Ugh.

So, why did this come to mind as a punishment for an intemperate comment? Because I was assigned to this duty so often. Yes, it is true. I was less than an adept sailor. All my superiors concurred that Carreras was a real drifty shit screw-up. He didn’t mean it. He couldn’t keep his mouth from spouting out some unwelcome opinion about why the Navy sucked. It mattered not the least that his assessment could be described as accurate about the chow, how poorly the uniforms fit or other things. But you weren’t allowed to say that with the hearing of “those that matter.” After a while, I could do the manual of arms and think placidly about other things. If they had the music on, it was almost pleasant.

Anyway, I’m standing in the kitchen feeling penitent about my comments; I grab a broom and start the Manual of Arms, “Come to ready first count…come to ready second count…come to the ready third count, and so on. I did about ten reps when I realized I wasn’t in the shape I was in my teens. But I can see some definite advantages to this as an aerobic exercise. So why don’t you try it – “down and forward…forward and up…up and shoulders…side pushes”, and on through side twists. It’s a perfect complete physical workout.

I think I’ll start an exercise class; the uniform is bell-bottom dungarees, a chambray work shirt, a sailor’s gob hat, and an old broom handle (1903 Springfield is optional, except for the Second Amendment enthusiasts).
OK, let’s all try it in order now. If you can’t remember the serial number on your broom, you’ll start over! On the first count!

Let’s see. A Tik Tok video. A longer follow-up Youtube video on how to do it. And, of course, a follow-up Amazon book. I might make something of my Navy experiences after all. What a surprise that’d be to my Recruit Commanding Officer.


I received an inquiry. Would I be interested in heading up a new not-for-profit? Several previous colleagues mentioned me as a skilled field ethnographer and creator of education and cultural programs. So, would I be interested? Fundraising and staff development were big items for the initial years!
Typically polyloquent, garrulous, and talkative to a fault, I found it hard to push the word out from between my teeth: NO. They both sat back into their chairs and seemed stunned that I’d so bluntly refused. The toothsome one on the right smiled at me and said, “But you are uniquely qualified.” Her partner assured me that the Board had many strong corporate members eager to help, and I wouldn’t be alone. It would be a unique challenge to create an entirely new model of a cultural organization that could become a model for others.
I sat back and digested what I’d just heard. I’d been in the trade for a long time before decamping for a job trotting video cameras around and working weekends in a woodcarvers shop. I’d heard all those catchphrases before; the unique challenge, new model, and strong corporate Board. Behind them, I glanced into a mirrored wall and looked at the greying hair on my head. Once again, but more politely, I said, No.

“Well, if no is your answer, why don’t you give us why you feel so strongly about this?” I answered,” I’ve heard all the terms you’ve used before. I’ve seen more than a few with colossal promises fail many times over the years. Models don’t turn out to be repeatable due to unique local circumstances; strong corporate boards don’t raise funds – they raise havoc by interfering with day-to-day operations, and unique challenges are just jive talk for ” there are some real issues, and whoever takes the job is going to have their hands full. Sometimes the organizations wind up defunct, not because of a lack of vision but because day-to-day operations become so challenged that the staff can’t do their jobs. Promised funding dries up, collections are dispersed, and communities feel misserved.”
Quietly absorbing this, they glanced at each other and responded, ” Well, would you be interested in serving in an advisory capacity to the Board?” I diverted the conversation to another topic, How tight the grant market had become. Later I thanked them for lunch and left for home.

The above is a fictional distillation derived from about five conversations I’ve had over the past 15 years. Luckily I’ve now aged out of the market for these jobs. Always significant challenges, limited compensation to start, an incredible opportunity, and so on.
What would be my model for how to make something like this work? Start very small, say in a storefront, build genuine community-wide support, and create programs that grow organically from the community’s needs and desires. Forget about fancy Boards, models, and significant funding from the government or corporations. Grow from the grassroots. Don’t forget where you came from if you develop and grow bigger. but this is not how many organizations see things.

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