Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Butter scraped across toast

"I am old, Gandalf," Bilbo says, his voice withered and soft. He feels, he notes, like butter scraped across too much toast.

Not only is that metaphor so perfect for the situation, it's perfectly English as well, and so hobbity and true-to-tone that I smile every time I read it. Butter and toast: it makes me think of sunny mornings, crumbs on a white tablecloth, the sweet bitterness of marmalade.

These days I am spread a little thinner than I'd like. Between bike training, boatbuilding, hoarding the One Ring, and writing, there are just not enough hours in the day. I snatch moments of work when I can, but apart from bike riding, I've haven't spent much more than an hour or so doing any of these.

Crickets scramble across the boat. Book revisions exist in my mind and on marked pages of research books (shelves and shelves worth) and on scraps of paper and on a typed list.

In any case, after this weekend I should be able to reshuffle -- no, re-balance -- priorities again. But then what will I complain about? Not to worry, I will find something!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It Has Probably Exploded By Now

Yesterday's boatbuilding began with me discovering two mating camel crickets as I was moving plywood in search of a Torx wrench for my bike. I calmly re-swallowed my lunch, selected a long piece of scrap wood, and BANGED THE BEJABBERS out of the other side of the plywood.

A second inspection showed the in flagrante disgusting situation had ended and the crickets were nowhere in sight. Teach them to join carapaces near my boat. What I need are some raccoons, snakes, and wolf spiders to eat up the crickets.

Then I worked more on the starboard sheer stringer: a long, bendy piece of fir that -- in defiance of all laws of physics, wood properties, and sense of moral rightness -- stops being bendy as soon as I clamp it along the frames, and instantly becomes a spring loaded-piece of fragrant (it is fir, after all) death. Every time I struggle to get it into the frame notches I feel like I'm slowly cranking a crossbow into high tension.

Well, I shot a few clamps through the air and dropped a few more on my feet, but finally got everything lined up into a nice fair curve. So far the stringer has not ripped the frames out of the boat. Then, as if things weren't precarious enough already, I drilled it for 30mm x #8 countersunk bronze screws. Now my spring-loaded, just-reached-maximum-bend, did-you-know-a-crossbow-bolt-can-drop-a-velociraptor-at-forty-yards, fir stringer has been further weakened by half a dozen holes.

Despite the mortal terror of the stringer and the crickets, I managed to keep all the clamps in place and scuttle inside. I was afraid to check it this morning before work.

And I never found the Torx wrench.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Neither Fire Nor Ice

Frost's poem about the end of the world notwithstanding, I believe I've found one of the signs of the Apocalypse: Ralph Lauren has launched "the world's first shoppable children's book": "The RL Gang." And somewhere in the world another child closes a book; only this time it's not because the story's no good, it's because Mom (it's always Mom, never Dad) cannot afford the $250 ruffled wool blazer.

Fortunately for my blood pressure their site appears to be down, but here's a YouTube clip of ... what, a trailer? an ad? the "shoppable" experience itself? A lurching hybridized horror assembled by a committee of overpaid ad executives choosing focus groups over the courage of morals?

Maybe I'm not being quite clear enough. I have noted my ambivalence toward e-Books (they're not for me, but what do I care as long as people are reading?); my impatience with the rote vampiromances that I feel like I've read and seen before even hearing about them; my vexation at books that don't try, that don't take risks, that don't carry us to places outside our normal comfortable lives.

But this -- a "shoppable" children's book -- tops them all. "It's never too early to teach kids to shop online," crows one executive. My response? "What you mean is that it's never too early to teach kids there's no escaping the pressure to consume, even in a book."

My god. There's only one vaccine against this sort of thing: to write good -- and I mean good -- literature to stand in opposition to seductive and powerful advertisements cloaked in the still-warm skin of a book.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slow Progress Is Still Progress

A week since I worked on the boat? It's not ideal but somehow the days fill up, from strong coffee to dozing on the couch before trundling up to bed.

But today I came home from work, changed into boatbuilding clothes, and spend an hour or so wrestling seemingly spring-loaded strips of fir and noisy clamps that were intent on leaping off the boat and hitting me in the face.

But I DID succeed in clamping, measuring, checking and double-checking, and finally cutting the complex angles at both the bow and stern ends of the first sheer stringer. This wasn't the old fat-grained practice piece. Nope, it was the real thing, though what 16 rings per inch doug fir was doing at the local lumber yard is beyond me. In any case I snatched it up and now it's MINE ALL MINE!


Not all frames have a close fit to the stringer. That's what fillers and epoxy are for.

Others are nice and flush.

Completed stringer clamped in place (starboard side; do not be fooled by the decoy pieces all around. Some are scrap; most are bracing the starboard frames):

I call this one: "Help, I Am About To Be Run Over By A Skeleton Boat":

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back to the boat

Well, I'm back.

(Special Contest for Alert Readers: name the book whose final line that is.)

Back from mountain climbing under the vast and dry skies of California. Returning to humidity was a bit of a shock (how do people SURVIVE here?) but my sweat glands have kicked back into turbo-mode after a few bike rides. And it's good to be home.

One of the things I missed, without even realizing I was missing it, was the smell of fresh-cut wood, sawdust, spiderwebs; the short scraping sound of sharpening a pencil with a knife; the clean thin vibration of trimming a piece of fir with a very very sharp handsaw.

So it was that I was up at 5, coffee in hand, for a return to boatbuilding. This morning I was wrestling with the starboard sheer stringer. This one piece of wood defines the top edge of the boat -- arguably the most important curve in the whole thing.

It's also so long I had to open the garage door so the end could stick out into the insect-singing darkness. (It'll be trimmed to length later.) So it was clamp-spring-clamp-drop clamp-swear-clamp-bendy wood-clamp-drink coffee.

Altogether an enjoyable way to spend the dawn.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Seven in Black

Driving through the high desert of Northern California a few days ago, I daydreamed a nightmare:

Imagine: the land is flat and immense under a sky like hammered lead. The hard ground almost rings in the heat. Crumpled brown mountains line the horizon, shimmering under the sun.

In the middle of this desolation, near nothing at all, is a disturbance in the ground marked with a crooked stick.

Bad place, you think. This is a bad place.

The hard soil has been lumped and raised into a long grave; the stick its only marker. You approach. Tiny birds wheel far above. The huge space is silent.

There's a fluttering sound, like a flag snapping in the desert wind, and the scene changes: instead of an ancient mound, there is now a long box on a raised bier. Strange shapes and writing writhe around the coffin. Ceremonial sheets of white fabric hang and billow.

Seven figures, wrapped head to foot in black, stand before the bier, unmoving and silent as chessmen.

Bad place, bad place, bad place.

You lean closer to see. The coffin -- closer -- the coffin is empty and you start.

Seven black-wrapped heads snap in your direction. Seven pairs of withered hands appear and tug the hems up. Bony bare feet, grey and pockmarked, and stringy calves.

They run at you, and the tight wrappings blow back, and they are seven old women, and they are smiling.