Monday, January 31, 2022

Entering the Home Stretch

Entering the Home Stretch 

Not a heck of a lot to post this week. Life here at the Suburban Hermitage continues apace. No events mean nothing bad has hit home.


I'm grateful for that.

I'm trying to think up some clever analogy about the way that progress on a stone project speeds up as the job gets closer to completion. Maybe something about pushing up a hill, and coasting down? No. It's nothing like coasting. Maybe something about dwindling percentages? Too much math. Something will pop up, I'm sure.


I began this stone back in the last week of September, and we're in the last week of January, now. I'm four months into this, and still grinding away. This piece is taking longer than the big white stone.



I've been working hard. I forget that sometimes, because the work is a lot of fun. I can't wait to get started in the morning, and I'm putting in a good five or six hours a day on the project. Yesterday I hit the wall, realized that I've been burning on this thing for weeks without a day off. The skin on my hands is like sandpaper, and  the fingertips are cracked and painful.

 And I'm tired of looking at this damn thing. A good part of the job is just sitting and staring, and I've done my share of both. I'm at that place where I'm so close to the project that I can't really see it. Even the mirror image trick has worn out its novelty. Many times a day I tour the thing  searching for the imperfections, flat spots in the curves, tool marks that ran too deep. And always working the walls a little thinner so the stone can catch and hold the light. It's tempting to focus in on finishing one single feature of the piece at a time, but doing so can throw the whole composition out of whack. The whole thing has to come together as a unit. Progress has to be distributed evenly across the whole stone. So the photos probably won't show a lot of change from last week.

It's the last day of January as I sit here typing. Somehow, I got it in my head that I want this thing done for the show in Brea. That gives me nineteen days to get it carved, polished, signed, and submitted.

So right now, it's time to get away from the desktop, and go play at being an artist.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Progress and Possibilities

 Progress and Possibilities

The weather has been good, if a little too cool for my thin old blood. I've made good progress on the stone. All of the big through cuts are complete, and now we're looking at rounding, smoothing, and hollowing out the details inside the stone. I started cutting a new trough in the forward arch to better bring out the translucence in the material.

I'm a good two thirds of the way done on this project, and I hope to have it done early in February. The city of Brea, just a town over to the east of me, is holding their big "Made in California" show, and I got post card from them with a call for entries. 


Now, I haven't heard anything from the Brea gallery in years. Strange this should pop up just when it did. They're looking for contributions for a solo spot in the show, and they want five entries to apply. If I finish this rock in time I will have five stones completed since I started working again last April.


 This kind of work can't be hurried along, and I won't sacrifice quality to make a deadline. I have until February 18 to make the submission. What the hell, may as well go for it. Very few people work in stone. The novelty alone may get me a spot, or at least get some pieces accepted for the show.

But then again, this is the art world. I looked up the information on the show. They're having a "special guest" juror assist in the judging. She's a twenty something (self-identified) Latinx "photographer" whose specialty is social justice, and overcoming the racism and prejudice against BIPOC artists. She is a fierce warrior for all social justice causes. Chick's got a nose ring, and wears a pair of earrings that are orange plastic discs printed with the word "Decolonize". There is nothing that ensures aesthetic excellence like a fine blend of pseudo-indigenous folk art, fused with anti-White Marxist political rhetoric.

Even so. It's a large gallery with a good following. I'm hoping I can get a foot in the door to generate some interest in The Lost Canyon/ Lost Era projects. I can't shake the sense of mission that I feel toward promoting Pete Hampton's legacy. 

So, anyway, it's almost seven in the morning. Coffee is cold, and I'm gettin' told, that it's time to get back to work. Weather looks good for the week. Let's do it.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Notes from the Bleak Mid-Winter

 Friday, Jan. 14


We've had good weather, so I got a lot of work done this week. It is good to stay busy. I've dialed back on the internet as of late. The news and current events are just too damn depressing. Every story is the tale of one more collapse, one more warning, one more draconian new rule, one more rotten bastard holding office. More idiocy, and more insanity. Individuals and institutions alike are collapsing under the stress. And it is global. There is no escape from it. How long can this go on? How much worse will things get?

I had  a dental appointment Tuesday. They won't let you in the office without checking your temperature, and answering a questioner. So I stood outside, and called the office on the flip phone. The receptionist came out wearing a face shield, and one of those hideous N95 cones strapped over a paper mask. I couldn't hear anything she said. She tried to hand me a paper mask. She may as well have tried to hand me a snake. I said, "No. I'll wait outside instead." I sat in the bed of the truck, and waited. May, the hygienist, opened the door and called me in a few minutes later. The receptionist hid in the back while I went in. May ran the ATM card for me when we were done so I wouldn't have to put my naked face near the receptionist. I am so fucking sick of this. 

There are two  radioactive thoughts. They are thoughts on which one dares not dwell. They are forbidden because they  quickly generate poisonous levels of rage, and futility:

1) All this shit was done to us, and is being done to us deliberately.  This global disaster is no accident. It is the single greatest crime in human history.

2) We will not see an end to this nightmare in the time we have remaining to us.

But of course you can't forbid yourself to think about something. It's the old kids' trick: "Try not to think of elephants. Try as hard as you can!" Of course you'll end up thinking of elephants all day. Just like the two forbidden thoughts.

And my own mental health is bad, and getting worse. I seldom leave the grounds anymore, except for bike club, and the occasional  errand. I can't bear the sight of the faceless. I see these idiots in their cars, on the street, at the beach, all masked up. I get that slow panic feeling like I'm trapped in a bad movie, and I can't get out. Every goddamn pic on the internet is a masked face. I feel like the main character in that science fiction story, "I want to scream but I have no mouth." And this, of course, feeds into the two forbidden thoughts, It's a feedback loop, just like sticking a microphone into a loudspeaker.

And, truth to tell, I'm scared of getting bad sick, also. My bout with the flu four years ago is still fresh in memory. I was violently ill for a long time. It took out my hearing. I have the hearing aids charging away on my desk to remind me. I don't want to go through something like that again. 

There are times when I can sort of metabolize the rage and frustration into sadness. Sadness is easy. But more and more, it's all filtering down into hopelessness. Futility. Anger.

I pray a lot. Prayers of worship and for guidance open my every morning, and prayers of gratitude for my many blessings close each day before sleep. But Faith has been a strangely lonesome quest. None of my friends is a believer. Some have a vague belief, but most are casual atheists. (not the angry kind) Questions of Faith simply do not occur to them. It isn't a feature of their inner landscape. Mary, my beloved wife, is Buddhist. She is a devout practitioner, not a new age bimbo.

But at the same time, almost all my on-line friends are Christian,  almost all of them are Roman Catholic, and a good many of those are converts. My list of bookmarks looks like a who's who of dissident Catholics. It seems every time I discover a writer who has his head on straight I add another Catholic to the list. But there is no one in person to talk to.

Anyway, let's get back to the stone.

As I wrote last week, one of the rewarding parts of working a stone is that the amount of visible progress per session increases as you get closer to finishing. Now, most of the through cuts are done, the basic form is all established, and I'm working on refining curves,  thinning walls and planes for the light, and  taking out the rough spots, and flat spots. The carving looks just like I expected it to look, and that is a good thing.

Well, almost.

Sat, Jan 15

One of the difficulties in any long term project is that you get so close to the work that you can't see it. You've read, and re-read your story so many times that you can recite the whole thing in your sleep, yet it takes someone else, reading it for the first time, to recognize the flaws. The same thing can happen with a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture. You think you see where you're going, but it's like riding a bike with your eyes fixed on the front wheel instead of the road. Sometimes seeing a photograph of the work in progress will give you fresh eyes.  

In our house, there's a bathroom right off the kitchen, and the bathroom window opens onto the back porch. My table is right off the back porch. When I was working the stones twenty years ago I would often pause, go into the bathroom off the kitchen, and open the window so I could see the table and the work in progress reflected in the medicine cabinet mirror. I had forgotten this little trick until this last week.


Mirror image

 Oh, holy cow. Wait. This can't be. Can it? Suddenly I was seeing this thing for the very first time. Gnarled. Goblinesque. Trollish. It was startling how "new" the piece looked to me. 


mirror image

Not only was it, "new", it was grotesque,  lop-sided, and wonderfully ugly. Seeing this was very much like hearing your own voice on a cheap tape recorder. Holy cow, do I sound like that ? *yikes*


Now, ugly isn't necessarily bad, and doesn't always have evil connotations. Some sorts of ugly have a peculiar, and endearing charm. Think of some of the odd breeds of little dogs, like Pugs or Shar Peis. Think of the weird reptiles, insects, and slimy things things people keep in cages, and aquariums.

On the other hand, think of the mayor of Chicago. 

But art, for me, is about beauty. There is something holy about creating beauty. There is something unholy about adding more ugliness to life. So what shall become of this strange stone troll?  Will it squat triumphant on the pedestal of some gallery? Or sulk on a shelf in my back room?


 Will people find it creepy, and vaguely repulsive? 

Or maybe funky, and endearing. Hard to tell.

Sunday, Jan. 16

I'll close this week's post on an upbeat note. Today was one of those rare So Cal days when the sky is overcast, but the day is unseasonably warm, and the air is extraordinarily clear. I put the tools up about ten thirty this morning because Dave from our club, RatRod Riders B/C of Southern California, pulled up with his bike in the bed of the truck. President Troy rolled up a minute later. Dave is making a brave, and totally badass recovery from a bout with cancer, and pneumonia. He rode his electric assist trike on our last couple of gatherings. Today, for the first time, he brought a real bicycle. We packed up, and took our bikes down to the Greenway Trail, and did a slow, sweet ten miles on the bike path. Afterwords, Dave was beat, and just headed home. But he did it. Troy hung out for dinner. We burned a couple of bowls, and threw chicken on the fire. Life is Good.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Settling in.

 Settling in

Thu. Jan 6
Everybody loves Friday because we all grow up with Friday as the last school, or work day of the week. Friday night is for staying up late, staying out late to party a little more, because tomorrow is Saturday. It seems like having Christmas Eve, and New Year's Eve fall on  Friday should add just a little more festivity to the holidays.
But it doesn't work like that. The timelessness of Christmas Eve canceled the "Friday-ness" of Friday. Christmas day felt like Sunday on Saturday. Sunday felt like a Monday, but it was Sunday, and that was excuse enough to sit on my butt, and do nothing. Time just got all discombobulated. Add rain, and cold.


I got a little work done on the stone, but very little. It wasn't until Monday, the third, that time came back into focus. The house was a mess, the Christmas decorations needed to be taken down, and a zillion and six little domestic chores were waiting impatiently for me to attend to them. I was half way through the morning before I realized that I hadn't even written a post for the week. And we had ants in the laundry area. Damn things were all over the dryer, of all things. Luckily, we had the exterminators out a few weeks back, so we got a call back on the ants at no charge. But when I pulled the dryer out from the wall, I found the duct for the dryer vent was in tatters. That explained the foggy windows in the kitchen. One more little task to attend to. All in all those little tasks ate up Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It's Thursday morning as I sit here. Welcome to the new year. (sic) The house is neat again, and most of the tasks have been tasked. Today I'll settle back in to the pleasant routines of daily life. Today I'll get back to the stone.


Friday, January 7.

Today was about as dismal and cold as So Cal gets. We had drizzle and fog all day long, so I got no work done. But the fog kept the stone moist, so I did get some photos that show up the colors in the rock. I got a good four hours or more of work time on the sculpture, yesterday. One of the rewarding things about doing stone carving is that the farther along you get in the project, the faster the progress goes. At this point, every session brings about a noticeable change. But the days are still short, and afternoon gets uncomfortably cool after about 2:00. I cleaned up early yesterday, and spent some time on-line. The news of Jan 6th was horribly depressing.


  I clicked on Facebarf, and learned that Larry, a friend from one of the Simi Valley bike clubs, had just died suddenly. (not from the virus) And  Max, one of the fellows who rode with us when we were founding the club, died suddenly a few weeks back.  Chris, who was the framer at the shop where Mary and I met, also died suddenly on Christmas Eve. (also not the virus) 
And Mary walked in as I sit here to tell me that her brother,  Randy, just died. 
(also not the virus)
Sunday, Jan 9
Randy had been ill. A little over two years ago he was diagnosed with some sort of pre-leukemia condition, and the doctors did a bone marrow transplant. The guy was in non-stop misery ever afterwords. It was just one thing after another. He was taken to the hospital over a week ago. His wife can't drive, so Mary, God Bless her, has been running herself ragged between home, Randy's house, and Kaiser. It's a miserable, shitty drive from any point of that triangle.
The very strange thing is that the signs were all there, but everyone was still totally blindsided. The doctors had shifted from being optimistic to saying "We're gonna' try to figure out what's wrong...". Yet somehow, everyone just seemed to assume he'd be OK...  and then he just didn't make it. He was a year younger than I am.
Mary was with her sister-in-law  when I got back from the bike ride, Saturday. I turned in early, and didn't hear her get home, sometime around midnight. Today it is all beginning to catch up to her. I recommended that she sit on her butt, let me do the cooking, and indulge in coffee, sweets, and wine all day.  She took the  recommendation. I spent a quiet, but productive day on the stone, put up, and fixed dinner for us. We had greasy oven fried chicken. One of my specialties.
So it's Monday morning, and still dark out as I sit here typing. I'll get back to work, but it's going to be slow. I got cracked fingertips, and a painful abrasion between thumb and forefinger. Stone work is hard on the hands. Mary will resume her routines, and life will continue. Despite everything, we have so very much to be grateful for. God willing, today will be sweet, and uneventful.