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. 


I didn’t know that being afraid of clowns existed until a friend freaked out at work. A large package had fallen from one of the conveyor belts carrying boxes to our loading area. At the end of its ten-foot fall, it split open at my friend’s feet. Out of the package poured clown shoes, a mask, and a costume. He freaked out and ran away like a demon was pursuing him.

But being a package handler frequently meant running into people’s illicit, peculiar, and illegal interests. After a few months of doing this, you grew jaded with what people shipped or tried to ship. I was not at the hub where they found live duct-taped alligators. The cardboard box burst open, and alligators fell out. However, we were not strangers to seeing fetishes, pornography, and all manner of things. 

When I became a supervisor, I had to threaten to fire a loader. He became so involved in reading a bondage magazine that he sat down on a crate and started reading aloud from the advice column.

The clown incident was just one peculiar incident in a job full of them. A regular feature of the job was the sudden rush of packages late in the shift. That was our cue for the singing and dancing. We’d go down having a good time.

It was a strange job. It came along just after the Government’s” reinvention” under President Clinton, and I was desperate for a job. As an anthropologist, I saw all kinds of things that would have drawn my attention if I had done fieldwork. But I wasn’t alone. There was another anthropologist on the night sort, and we exchanged notes but never saw each other.


My shop is mournfully calling for me. But the schedule to finish all the pruning and yard work is broken and needs to be fixed. I’ve chopped up all the small branches for composting in the new raised beds. I’ve put aside the larger stuff for making things out of – apple and pearwood can be useful, especially if worked while green. The scrap will be firewood. And there are bags of residue to be put out in large paper sacks for the city to compost; I can only use so much. All this in the interlude before I get serious fall leaves to reduce into compost for the planting beds.

The above is why the shop mournfully calls for me. Inside are bowl blanks, an eagle, some cutting boards, spoon and spatula blanks, small banners, and a few signs. I’ve worked on them all over the past three months but haven’t finished them. I am less than perfectly organized.

I am busy and a bit overwhelmed, but I am grateful that I am able.

In The Darkness

The other night, I realized that I was, shall we say, running off at the mouth. Just moments after the “conversation,” I stepped into my car and realized what an idiot I must have seemed. It was my first opportunity in a long while to talk with another videographer. He has impressive credentials, and I think I was pulling out the stops regarding who I had worked for to cover my insecurities.
Insecurity strikes at the strangest time. And there you are, behaving like a high school kid strutting his minor-league stuff.

I know that I am not alone. I’ve witnessed some world-class meltdowns by supremely qualified individuals. It doesn’t take much when the vulnerable spot gets exposed. We tend to put armor plates over the tender spots. But armor can only do so much.

As I reviewed the conversation, I realized that I had just presented a tactless display of ego but had avoided advancing to being insulting to my colleague.

My theory of insecurity is that it’s like a secret river running through us. We all have weak spots where the river worries the banks and erodes the self-confidence we’ve carefully built up. We can improve our lot with education, counseling, and therapy. But for most of us, at least a trickle continues to flow.
I think the best defense against it is to admit that it’s there, that it threatens us at some fundamental level, and then reaffirm our strengths, achievements, and joys.

But always acknowledge that it is there because denying its existence only allows it to grow in the darkness.


By the time I finish my first cup of coffee, I’ve sat down at the computer and started thinking about a blog post. That’s the typical flow of events. Today is a bit different. Last night I was reading a story that kicked off a sudden bout of nasty recall. Although I regularly mine my past for components to cycle into posts, I don’t often get stuck in the emotions of the past. But last night, it seemed beyond my control. A memory came floating up that set off waves of anger and hate. For me, utilizing the past is a way of understanding it, pointing out the absurdities, and even recasting events or people. Some of what I write is esoteric or absurd; I like the absurd.

But I’d not choose to recast or utilize what floated up last night. It was a reminder that sometimes people are not just casually cruel but deliberately cruel and hateful. In my case, I’d only be comfortable in saying that a group of colleagues maliciously slandered me to gain something that I had earned and that they had no claim upon. They got a scant return on their effort, but their activities left me wounded for years. My feelings for them can’t be described as affection; hate would be a more useful word.

Casual cruelty, I understand. You lash out in anger at a comment or overreact to a situation. It’s the carefully plotted maliciousness of some people that I do not understand. It’s the torturous twists the mind must go through to justify the actions.
I see this as the root of most vicious prejudices. Someone else has or wants something. But you feel it’s yours through your innate superiority, class, ethnicity, religion, race, or college degree. You feel incensed that they’d dare seek your prize.

Instead of using their energies positively, they agonize, twist, and mutilate reason with hate and lies. They especially find ways to justify thoughts and deeds.
I see this as sociopathy, a narcissism of the soul, a blight.

I don’t think there is any easy way back to the light once you muddy yourself this way. I remember something Tom Paine said: “Character is much easier kept than recovered.” 

A Muse

Musing is good for the soul, but depending on the muse, it can be “not good” for other parts of your life. Musing leads to speculation, speculation leads to thought experiments on what you might have done differently, and what you might have done differently leads to dissatisfaction with your current state of affairs. You know, you muse on the results of that one-on-one debacle with some gross jock at the prom when you were sixteen. Or how you could have won the Powerball if you had bought the ticket rather than the pack of smokes.
Keeping your musing non-judgemental is the way to go… color shapes, the beauty of the flowers in the garden, where the hummingbirds that visit every day are nesting, and stuff like that. Safe things.

Who am I kidding? Angst-driven reflection can lead to some pretty essential revelations. Remember that you are (hopefully) thirty years more mature when you look back thirty years. Of course, you’d do some things differently. You are not the you that you were ( thank God).

Now wait a minute. Talking about God. What if you were granted Deus Ex Machina ability as used in Greek Theatre? Why there you’d be marching right in, shoving your sixteen-year-old self aside and telling the punk off in the sort of wise-ass fashion you’ve honed over the decades. Or walking into the store, pulling yourself aside, and explaining that buying the smokes or the Powerball ticket was foolish – put that money into your 401k instead.

About this time, you’ve wasted an hour, and the dog is begging to go out, and that piece in the shop needs varnishing. Time for another cup of coffee.

Cardinals, Popes, Saints and Prophets

In my “on the road” days, I hung out with some very dis-epitomable maestros of the louche living style. These folks were paragons of what not to do with a wasted lifestyle. But they were fun to watch…just as long as you didn’t try to match their ridiculous exploits. And I no slouch myself took the advice of my close friend and learned from their example rather than trying to keep up with them.

The clearest example I can think of is a drinking game they always tried to conquer; Cardinals. If I recall the game, you sat at the table with a beer and recited, “I drink to the Cardinal Puff for the first time tonight.” You then picked up the glass, banged it once against the table, and chugged the contents making sure to drink every drop. Well, even I could do that. But it got more complicated. Somewhere around the fifth repetition, with five bangs and the five repetitions of puff, errors kicked in. Every time you made a mistake, you chugged a fresh glass and started over from scratch. Well, these idiots were hardcore. Those of us more sensible played cards, monitored from the background and held the heads of those who yielded to “worshipping the throne” to get rid of all that beer.
Then one night, it escalated to a new form, Popes; I forget the drink they used. Fewer made it to Pope, and the record seemed to be set.

It must have been a month later that someone proposed new levels beyond Pope – Saint and Prophet. Luckily the debate raged endlessly over what the drinks should be beer, wine, or booze and what the record holder would get. From the other room came the clear soprano of John’s fiance, a nurse in the Emergency Ward of the Mass General Hospital. She declared the winner would get cirrhosis and die of alcohol toxicity.
Somehow that put the damper on the game, at least for then.


You may be familiar with the term Chain of Command. Although I’m sure that it started as a military euphemism for the order of authority in a military organization, It’s spread to civilian life. But think about it. It’s not the more appropriate “flow of authority” or “who to call when things go wrong”; no, it’s the chain.I think the whole thing is just a bit fascist. But then, when it comes to me, you’re dealing with a 1960s counter-culture survivor in deep recovery.
Yup, a chain. Jerk on the chain when something happens. Yeah, you can tell that I was a troublemaker. When I got out of the Navy, little love was lost between the two separating parties. Officers did not like some smart ass politely asking why we were doing some dumb ass thing, while procedure clearly stated to do the opposite. My last thirty days were marked by my ceremonially trimming off a knot on a “short-timers rope.” I burnt the final bit in a little ritual at the local Blue Anchor bar.
It’s true; I thought I was done with petty officiousness. Instead, I found it alive and well on the civilian side. I admit it. It was immature of me to suspect that things might be otherwise. So I just learned to tie knots in the devil’s tail without getting caught. And guess what? I eventually wound up back in the belly of the beast working for the federal government.
My teeny little appendage of the feds was located and attached to the National Park Service as part of the Department of the Interior. Nobody had any real idea of what I did or why the feds were spending money on the cultural programs I was in charge of.

For some reason, the folks in charge began to think that they should start behaving in a more polished, regimented way…kind of like the military. So it was stiff responses and everything but salutes and short-arm inspections. The funny thing was there were only three veterans in the organization, and we were amused and confounded by the pomp and circumstance the leadership put into this.Our lack of respect for these activities didn’t win us any joy. We were a former paratrooper, a tanker, and me very late of the USN. We understood that the actual military did not run continuously on protocol, inspections, and reprimands; sometimes, you had to get work done.
As a small group, we’d gather mornings for coffee, snicker over the goings-on, and recall military idiocies we’d participated in. We were sure these people’s ideas about the military came from the movies, not actual veterans. Unfortunately, if you haven’t served, you probably don’t know lots that you need to survive, much less flourish, in the military.We started an informal educational forum over coffee. We taught them parables of military thought, such as – ” problems pass up the chain of command, but the shit always drops down.” From the movies, they know the more common acronym the military was fond of, but we taught them the one that would allow them to cope and survive. It was BOHICA – “Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.”
Bohica sums up the military life for the enlisted. It advises that you duck and cover to avoid the worst or unhappily accept your fate. It outlines how frequently the nasty stuff falls on the innocent. Of course, you must also learn to tie knots in the devil’s tail.
I’ll leave you with one final anecdote. Because of my degrees, I sometimes get asked If I served as an officer. No, I was a lowly enlisted. The normal response I give is one many enlisted veterans deliver: ” No, I worked for a living.”

Rock Wall

You can’t go far in New England without running across the stonewalls that demarcate the old field boundaries of the area’s agricultural past. The edge of my house lot lies along the stonewall border of an abandoned farm. By turns, the land behind me was cropland, pasture, and at last, an orchard. 

The rock boundaries are one of the defining traits of New England. It’s a history of people trying to feed themselves, make a living on the land by whatever means, and finally move off for better land in the West or greater opportunity in the city.

I’ve understood the situation’s dynamics since I came from New York City to New England. But gardening on the top of a hill heaped up by glaciers gave me an intimate understanding of the old New England saying that its soil yields a crop of rock every year. Creating a relatively rock-free garden was the labor of years.

We’ve found creative ways of incorporating all the rock, mini-boulders, and gravel we’ve removed. All that glacial debitage forms a hillock and even small stonewalls. The stonewalls we created are a minor reflection of the larger one at the back of our lot. The larger one was built as early settlers attempted to get the stoney soil to yield food, and ours was created for the same purpose.

Climate change may alter our human impact on the land, but New England will always be rock until the epochs grind it into soil, something I am incapable of doing.


There has been a tool ban in effect since before Christmas. No new tools are allowed in either shop. It just reached the point that organizing was getting impossible…OK, I admit it…finding what I had reached crisis proportions. I did it because I had to.

The co-enablers, my wife, and my kids were warned not to provide me with new toys that would promptly go missing somewhere in the downstairs machine shop or outside the carving shop. Inventories, you say? Huh. You have no idea. I’m a carver; I have many, many small tools.

In any case, last night, I got around to the unpleasurable process of making more permanent frames for the most recent three or four ship portraits. The big miter trimmer has been pulled from storage and the boards rough cut. But something was missing. I couldn’t find my digital bevel gauge. I searched both shops twice, got down on my knees and, looked below the benches, checked a storage box or two. It was absolutely absent.

This morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down to write this, and there it was, sitting on the shelf to the right of me by the computer monitor.

This migration of tools into the office has to stop. There is now a ban on tools in the office. That should resolve the problem.

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