Tom Dooley

The Kingston Trio is responsible for my time in Greenwich Village, assorted dis-epitomable bistros around the States and Canada, numerous barrooms, and many parks and living rooms for sing-ins. Oh, I don’t know. It could have been Coplas, Worried Man Blues, or Tom Dooley. It was probably in 1958 that their influence led to my getting a truly awful Stella guitar and afflicting family and friends with renditions of their songs and my first compositions- early teenage angst.
By 1963 I was performing in third-rate coffeehouses, Washington Square in New York, and trotting a guitar case around where ever I went.

Yes, Tom Dooley is a gateway drug to folk music.


Sometimes the simplest affirmations are the most moving. Yes. One syllable, clear and not open to detailed interpretation. Just yes. Like the morning when my fiance, now wife, said yes.
We reaffirm that single yes every day. For me, it’s like entering homeport after a long voyage. Nothing is better—neither the rain nor the sunshine, storm, or clear weather matters that much when I take your hand.

Making the Scene

Scene? As in making the scene? Digging the scene or maybe splitting the scene? These were essential parts of my life at one point. I have a rather intense memory of a conversation between a group of us who were about to split one scene about where the scene would be in 1988. We decided to meet at that location at that point. It was an intense discussion; so many good locations with great promises to choose from. We never could decide, and the following day, we split the current scene for other places with scenes we were interested in checking out: Toronto, Denver, Frisco, Boston, Philly, and Athens.
Eventually, we lost contact, but on July fourth, 1988, I paused on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to think about my friends and where they might be. Of course, the terminology was already years obsolete. Still, I could almost imagine them wandering the Mall during the Smithsonian’s Festival of American Folklife and agreeing with me that this was one hell of a good scene. We’d casually wander into each other and remark, “Hey man, this is it, isn’t it? Where is the party happenin’ later on?”
I admit that working for the Smithsonian and helping to create just a tiny bit of that incredible scene was incredible, and it was where the scene was at.

If we had met up, the next thing on the agenda would have been – where next, brother?


A lot gets said about disrupters these days. They break old paradigms replace the old with the new, and become obscenely wealthy. For those who protest, I’ve heard the term Luddite used.
The brash genius seems less concerned about the consequences of disruption than the sheer ability to disrupt, validate their self-image of deity-like strength, and then retire behind the high-walled garden that isolates them from the aftershocks.

I seem to recall behavior like this from when my children were toddlers. They were our little genii in constructing intricate constructions with Legos and Brio toys that had to be picked up at bedtime. The consequences of stepping on their unseen toys barefooted at night should be avoided. So as responsible adults, we taught our children to clean up the messes they created and face the consequences of leaving messes on the stairs.

But evidently, the brash genius disrupters never had those lessons or willfully continue to behave like toddlers and refuse to take responsibility for the mess they have made.

Now children, please clean up the mess.


Magazines and catalogs eventually add up. The ones I save have articles, designs, projects, and products that get placed on my maybe list. I don’t know why I do it. But, in the past three years, not one has made it to the benchtop. And, you know, I honestly can’t think of one that’s made it to the bench in ten years.
So why do I save all this potential recycling? Maybe because you can’t tell when you’ll need something and go rummaging for it in the stacks. But it’s like looking for a shiny needle in the proverbial haystack.
So the other day, I emptied the storage boxes of the accumulated magazines. They haven’t gone far yet. They went into another bin for my wife to take to the long-term care facility she works at. I feel good that rather than merely being recycled, they’ll have an additional life before eventually getting pulped to make new paper.

Meanwhile, I haven’t given up everything. There is a stack of at least a year of back issues of Maine Antiques Digest (MAD) that I can’t separate from yet. They are not full of projects. Instead, they are full of inspiration. Roving through the back issues, I find exquisite crafts and art objects produced over the centuries. I have no interest in duplicating these; they are just reminders that craft and art are a gift that transcends years and generations.

Wild Thing

Do you believe in fate/destiny?

Chaos. That’s what life with a cat can be unless we are talking about the order they wish to impose on the household – dinner precisely at five PM, being able to sleep in the crook of your arm at four AM, and let’s not forget the time you are expected to be up for breakfast. Otherwise than that, chaos.

Reading an article just the other day, I was informed that cats have, in the framework of domestication, just been tamed. Dogs have been around for almost ever, but the cat just wandered in last week looking for mice and a cozy place to sleep. My cats informed me of this years ago. “Get used to it; we are wild animals.” Then they remind me that they have domesticated humans and, only more recently, dogs.
They permit small indignities for the sake of altruism. We are, after all, just glorified can openers. Ah, destiny.

Eye on the Prize

We get deluded by prizes. After a bruising year at a job where management doesn’t “give a dead rats ass” about you, we are mollified by a good review and a tiny raise. Then, six months later, we were ejected because the business environment had changed. 

After being told for three years, we were all part of the big Stodgy Enterprises family, the family turned dysfunctional, and we are scrambling to put a healthcare package together for the family. What we had saved for retirement was now part of calculating our grocery bill until we found another job.

Damn! And employers wonder why people walk off, ghost them, spend time on the job searching for the next good deal, steal pens, and generally behave as though there is no loyalty to the job. That’s because there isn’t.

I believe in reciprocity as a necessary feature of an equitable society. Moreover, reciprocity is essential since most organizations like to see themselves as societies or families in miniature. The general rule in reciprocal relationships is that what one gives is balanced by what the other gets. Don’t expect loyalty where none is given.

I once worked for a large organization where we, as workers, assumed that management’s job was to treat us like mushrooms- keep us in the dark and cover us with bullshit. Management always suspected the worst of labor. So you might say that everyone had low expectations, and we observed each other. Surprisingly this situation worked well. Better than my prior employment, where a prize always dangled enticingly, only to be snatched away.

I am wary of prizes and warm and fuzzy assurances of friendship and kinship. After all, prizes are not always what they seem, and families can be the cruelest of environments.

Octagonal, and proud of it!

As a sixteen-year-old, I once prayed that my life be unconventional. No, I didn’t pray to be successful, wealthy, or well-known; just unconventional. But, as they say, you should be careful what you wish or pray for because it might be granted. In my case, someone was listening, smiled, and said, ” we can do that!”

So I’ve been a folksinger, surgical technician, sailor, anthropologist, and carver. Between those, I’ve had bits and pieces of waiting on table, washing dishes, loading freight, teaching as an adjunct professor, a writer, editor of a community newspaper, encyclopedia salesman, teacher of media and television production, videographer, creative confabulist ( bullshit artist), and many other things that I can’t recall right now. But not conventional. I’ve done many of these things well enough and often enough that they can start with pro as a prefix.

Detailers and job counselors pulled their hair out by the roots or had it grow prematurely gray as they attempted to clean up my resume. Developing a classic “elevator pitch” was impossible. Who I was, how I did it, and why I thought it was important wasn’t a matter of a single sentence or a three-minute blurb. I’ve even had a few girlfriends give up in frustration because I “just wasn’t serious about doing one thing.” Luckily my wife is tolerant of me, but she came from a family of similar men and women, so maybe I was the norm for her.

After all these years, I have finally grown comfortable with myself. I have lost my tolerance for people for whom I fail to fit into the requisite square or round holes; I am octagonal and proud of it!


Perfection may be the enemy of practicality. Let me give you an example. For years I made a line of cherry and maple cutting boards with carved details – leaves and stems. They were popular show items, and I always kept a few in stock. If you do boat and craft shows, you always look for popular things to sell from your booth. But being mindful that these were cuttings boards and subject to heavy use, I kept the carving bold and not very detailed. You don’t want a bit of carved maple in your salad.

But there are people who think that something like a cutting board shaped like a pear or strawberry should genuinely represent a pear or strawberry. At first, I tried to explain that that much detail in a heavily used item was not great. After that, I stopped trying to explain the apparent to Captain Oblivious. I shrugged and accepted payment for the not-perfect but lovely cutting board.

Now, comments and suggestions from customers are frequently the impetus for new products or changes in the old. So I listen carefully to suggestions. The only ones I outright reject are requests for inappropriate perfection or those that are impossible to achieve for the price point at which the item has to sell. Sometimes notes about improvements sit waiting until I figure out how to do a technique. But perfect, I don’t do. Instead, I aim to achieve lovely, fantastic, attractive, and useful.

In terms of things, I carved for boats and made for people’s kitchens, perfectly practical and lovely was the goal.


I’ve had a thing with boxes. So when I restarted the woodcarving business, boxes with a nautical theme were among the first product lines I developed. I made boxes with sailboats carved on them, compass roses, small chests with carved boats on the lid, dolphins, and so on. I had an entire line of them at boat shows.

But they sold inconsistently. They did sell, but sometimes they’d stay in stock longer than I’d like and travel from show to show without selling. Not an ideal circumstance since my business plan has always been a small inventory and custom work. So eventually, I was forced to think outside the box and stop making them.

Only one problem. I still really like boxes, and despite my internal objections, I have purchased several jigs and appliances for less labor and time. After all, the carving is my interest, not the joinery.

Several designs, box blanks, and templates sit in the shop, waiting for the mood to move me to make some more. And I fear that I am fated to never really get out of the box.

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