Past, Present and Future

In tales, we read about the hero’s quest—the grand adventure. Ultimately, the hero makes adult decisions and begins a mature and rewarding life.

Having been through one of these, I fervently wish you could avoid it. Fiction does not do the authentic, real-life experience justice. The movie’s enriching and gratifying series of short segments ends with the wiser hero glancing seaward into the bright sunrise. Inspiring. But not true.

Briefly, there was a situation with a woman whose boyfriend ( I did not know about him) took violent exception to my existence. He attempted to terminate me, and I spent several weeks on the run. Afterward, I came to the blunt realization that my life needed some fundamental changes. I’ve deliberately avoided telling the story in detail Here. Why? In this type of story, we frequently focus on the life-changing event instead of how we change life afterward. And it’s the not-so-pretty details of how we change that are important. Anyone can get shot at with a gun.

In my case, the high school dropout went back to school. And began a years-long effort to quit addictive behaviors- it took a long time and was full of Pyrrhic battles, losses, setbacks, and disasters.

Did I backslide along the way? Oh, yes. But in general, I did such an excellent job of burying the old me that I forgot along the path that the rogue was interesting and fun and had talents the new me lacked. A lot of time went by – almost two decades.

Then something happened. One afternoon along the National Mall in Washington, DC, I played some blues with a Mississippi blues musician. Friends thrust the guitar into my arms as a joke. But soon, I was doing a credible “Jelly Roll Baker,” and the years washed away. The rest of that week, I wrestled with two me’s.

In the years that followed, I gradually realized that In saving myself, I had condemned part of myself to the lockup. I had to blend the two back into one. There were and are mismatches. There is no eloquent way to say it. I was surprised when I began this blog because it explores the old, new, and future.

I am still a work in progress.

(the image is public art in Burlington, Vermont)

Lost at Sea

The Saturday after Thanksgiving ( here stateside) marks the anniversary of the sinking of the sidewheel steamer Portland during the Gale of 1898. This year, we observed the 125th. Some 198 passengers and crew lost their lives when a gale with winds of up to a hundred miles an hour overwhelmed the Portland. It’s sometimes called New England’s Titanic.

On Sunday, I read an article about the sinking. Tears came to my eyes even though no one in my family was aboard. I am, however, the son, nephew, and descendant on both sides of my family, for unknown generations, of seaman. As a seaman and sailor, I’ve seen gales, hurricanes, and foul weather. I’ve listened to my father tell about how he survived the torpedo sinking of a tanker. And in my library is a little book issued to merchant seamen titled How To Abandon Ship. I take lives lost at sea personally and seriously.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes on the sea:

“People are always comparing the sea to a woman. That’s a mistake. Even a woman you’ve cheated on and abandoned is more forgiving than high seas and a bad storm.” -Petty Officer John O’Toole, USN.

“Whenever your preparations for the sea are poor, the sea worms its way in and find the problems.” ~ Francis Stokes

“He that will learn to pray, let him go to sea.” ~ George Herbert.

Untitled (800 x 1500 px) (1500 x 800 px) (1000 x 1500 px) – 1

Dream Times

Get me out of bed too early and watch me be belligerent until the second cup of coffee rolls down my throat. About that point, I might start to get a grip on reality, watch the sunrise, and feed the cats and the dog. 

In the past, girlfriends have learned the hard way. Poke the bear too early, and you are heading toward a breakup. Let me have my coffee, and the ordinarily irascible, grumpy me settles down and approaches the point that you could play treacly sweet carols for hours without my biting your head off.

The thought of me operating on less sleep should set off major alarms. But what if you didn’t need the extra sleep, you ask? Fool! It’s not just a matter of need. Last night, my dreams transported me to a place where I was a performer again. It was a hoot! I dreamed up new things to do in the shop a few weeks ago.

Sleep is for exploration. Why would I give up something that offers so much pleasure just to be awake?

image: public art on a street in Nashua, New Hampshire

Social Media

It’s the day after a holiday shared with relatives you won’t see again until next year. Take a mental health day, take a deep breath, and exhale slowly. Now, admit you are your favorite person even if no one complimented your five-alarm chili at the dinner table. It feels good, doesn’t it, just like it did back when you were in therapy, and the therapist was trying to get you a more positive image of yourself. Right? You had wandered out of the wilderness of self-dislike to admit, “Hey! I’m alright!”

Unfortunately, there are places online where people will vividly dissect what was wrong with every dish at the celebration. They have conveniently forgotten that they “friended” everyone whose dinner offering they examined with malicious glee.

Oh, for the good old days! It was just you and your siblings getting together on the telephone. You’d comment on the right-wing crazy uncle’s bizarre sophistry and laugh. But last night, your nephews “accidentally” included you in the text thread where they serially put down you and your siblings. An accident or the work of a sick prankster?

But rejoice! It will be another year before you see them again, and until then, you can block the A-holes on all the social media sites you use.


I grew up in a region of long, beautiful sandy beaches on Long Island and the New Jersey shore. But when I first ventured north of Portland, Maine, I discovered they had beaches, too. But most of the beaches were relatively tiny affairs with blotches of sand and lots of stuff called “shingle.” Nothing like the long sandy beaches of my childhood.

What was shingle? Let’s say pebbles, flat stones, and gravel without going into a protracted explanation. Where I landed, there were a few shallow coves that folks called beaches. My first time at the beach, I looked at an expanse of pebbles and asked where the sand was. The only beaches in that area of the coast would count as mirages.

But I err. There was one spot that might qualify. But it was more of a tidal flat. At low tide, it could attract a good population of people clamming and digging for blood worms. But it wasn’t the sort of place you’d want to sunbathe because a flat could be a buggy place in August with the Greenhead flies darkening the skies, biting you, and the mosquitoes deferring to their more vicious cousins but looking for the odd chance to drain you. So, while living in that part of Maine, I traveled south of Portland if I needed a day at the beach. But if desperate, a pleasant visit to the shingle beach might do. Bring a thick blanket.


I think many people would love to pal around with famous people from the past. OK, I was fortunate enough as a child to run into Dali on the streets of New York literally. He told me to watch where I was going. 

But it would be fantastic as an adult to go out, get coffee and bagels, and head back to the studio. I’d hang out while the Maestro did his thing. You know, nibbling on a bagel, listening to him complain about how the landlord was cheap with the heat. it would be typical New York, but with Dali.

If I couldn’t book with the Maestro, I’d head up to Kittery, Maine, to hang out in Bellamy’s workshop. He was famous for having a sociable workshop. I’d ask him how he lofted the Eagle for the USS Lancaster, and we’d drink coffee from the old pot on the wood stove. Bellamy, with his handlebar mustaches, was quite the fashionista among us carvers. I might get personal and ask what type of wax he used on the ends – my bet is just plain bee’s wax.

Moving along, I could see a more bucolic visit with Van Gogh. Perhaps advise him on how to wrap a dressing around his head.

None of this will happen. So rather than be in the doldrums about it, I’ll grab a coffee and visit with myself as I work. I’ll offer myself some advice that I won’t take.


I get conflicted when asked about my favorite things. Depending on my work, I have favorite tools or books. Months also shift about. It’s not that I flip-flop; it’s more like I carefully consider.

I love December for the holidays. When I was young and on the road, my favorite place to be in December was Boston. The Boston Common and Downtown stores had lights and lovely displays. The lights were a counterpoint for other not-so-pleasant things that were going on. So, a walk through the Common to Downtown was a pleasant junket. The glances at the shop windows were peaks at what the better-off might expect to find at Christmas.

But not long after New Year’s, I cross a sort of Rubicon into a month with little to light it up. The seed catalogs begin to arrive in November and December, but I avoid even glancing at them until far into January when I desperately need the break from winter. I have also created a totally artificial schedule for January in the shop, where I design and prototype new things. It’s making good out of what would otherwise be terrible, and I can’t put a better gloss on it than that.

Sometime around the middle of February, I turn a seasonal corner with the sapping of the maple trees for syrup and planting the first seedlings for the garden. Late nights in February are filled with musing as I watch the sap boil down into syrup. In the mornings, I carefully record how many more moments of light come with passing days. It’s a kind of make-do with what you have month. Please note that I avoid talking about what can sometimes be the endless job of snow clearing. But by the end of February, I had turned the corner on the season and now can look forward to spring. Spring crowns the year for me.

Show And Tell

You probably know what an elevator talk is. It’s the sort of snappy two-paragraph description of who you are, what you do, and where you’ll be in five years. You can whip it out like a display of neon signs. There you are, lit up like the main drag on Broadway. You have dazzled them with all you can achieve between the first and second floors.

But you see, not all of us are like that. Me, for instance. I’m a cultural anthropologist. No, I don’t do fossils. No, I haven’t done any digs in Eygpt. So by the time I get past that, we are on the fourth floor, and you are getting off; so much for the elevator talk.

After many experiences with this, I was relieved when I slipped into marine carver mode. There I stood at the boat show, with a large carvings display. All I needed to do was assure them that I had carved all of those by hand. There was no elevator talk to give the first impression I wanted them to have. It didn’t matter that I stood in jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt with wood shaving in my hair.

It’s just simple show and tell…like in second grade. Ahhh, nostalgia!

I’m not fussy

Home. Sigh. As you know, a place to hang your hat is not necessarily a home. And I’d solemnly abjure, deny, or recant any youthful statements made in my twenties about living in New Mexico. It is a nice place to have a second home. But I am a coastal boy. Being so far inland that most people wouldn’t know the difference between a stockless anchor and a sea anchor might make me stay up sleepless at night.

I’ve often expressed my wish to return to coastal Maine. But I already live in a locale that requires a whole squad of snow removers to make my walkway and drive clear. And I’m not so young anymore that I relish clearing it all by myself. Besides, I’d have to regrow my mustache to keep my lips warm. I’ve become fond of seeing my upper lip in the mirror, and I’m not sure I want to hide it again.

 So I guess I’m not ready to relocate…

But the idea of toying with a few new locations appeals; let’s see, it can’t be too hot, not too much snow, no whack job politicians, no weird climate change, that’s good for starters.

Well, I guess I just exploded the myth of there being a perfect place for everyone. I’m off to the carving shop. Oh, that’s right, I need a lovely large shop for carving – no basement! 

I’m not fussy.

Grumble you may

I could do without one part of the morning routine: the six in-the-morning purrs and licks from the kittens and the accompaniment of growls from the dog—the call to breakfast. But I protest too much. I recall an old seaman’s saying, “Grumble we may. But go we shall.” I heard this refrain from my father, my first father-in-law, and senior petty officers. Eventually, I caught myself quoting it to my children. 

The saying reflects a sense of duty, obligation, and responsibility to something other than oneself. It’s getting your sorry bedraggled ass out of the rack for the mid-watch; one of my least favorite memories!. Perhaps it’s doing the dishes you’d prefer to leave in the sink, or going out in the snowstorm to load in the needed wood for the stove. Whatever the situation, it is part of what you’d prefer to avoid, but it must do.

The construction of the old saying leans on the word “shall,” not should, but shall. If it were “should,” the unpleasantry would be optional, but although it is phrased politely, it is obligatory.

Life is full of stuff like this. Some of it heaped upon us from outside authority, but much of it our additions. Unlike addictions, we gain from our duties to family, self, and community. Now, you can have no duties or obligations, just like you can have no family, friends, or community. But I’d argue that that alternative is unworthy of a well-lived life.

So next time the kittens need to eat in your house, get your sorry carcass out of bed – Grumble you may, but go you shall.

%d bloggers like this: