Topsy Turvy Reinventorium

Five years ago I moved my office and letterpress shop from The Guild to the basement of St. Paul’s Parish Hall. It was a helpful move, allowing me to be closer to home—about 45 seconds, if I hurry—to help support teenaged Olivia and ailing Catherine. What I gave up in natural light and culture industry neighbours I gained both in proximity, and in a parish that’s wrapped its arms around me, and my family, in the years since.

The Parish Hall has undergone many laudable renovations in recent years, the extension and repaving of the parking lot, and creation of an accessible entrance most prominently. An unfortunate side effect of these updates has been that my basement office, dry as a bone for the early years, started to leak on every rain storm. While none of my equipment or supplies suffered damage, it was disheartening to find a small flood in the office every time it rained, and eventually the office became inhospitable. At the same time, partly due this, and partly due lifestyle changes, I began to work more from home, from coffee shops, and from the public library (ironically, given all the attention I paid over the years to ergonomics, this was the smartest ergonomics move I’ve ever made). 

After a lot of work by the Parish, especially sexton Clar, the basement leaking was finally attended to this summer: a crew from Nasty Cracks jackhammered a deep trench along the entire width of the office, along the outside wall, filled it with a sluiceway, added an impermeable barrier, and installed a sump pump. We’ve been through several big rain storms since, and there hasn’t been a drop of water in my shop, so it worked!

My shop floor with drying concrete over the sluiceway.

The hold in the corner of my shop where a sump pump would eventually be set.

The new sump pit finished and in place.

The disturbed floor with concrete poured and drying.

As an extra bonus shop-challenge, it was determined on the day the crew arrived that, instead of clearing a path through just half of the room, I’d need to clear out the entire shop, both to afford trench-blasting access, and to ensure dust didn’t coat everything. It took a Herculean effort to do this, by myself, one rainy morning, and the end effect was that five years of somewhat-organized shop contents, analog and digital, became a completely-unorganized morass of stuff filling up the adjoining hallways.

Mass of disorganized stuff in the hallways around my office.

While this was, well, a lot, in the now-dry aftermath, if gives me the opportunity to reimagine the space, both to deaccession the things I don’t need, and to convert the entire space into an analog workshop, for printing, bookbinding, paper making, sewing, and all manner of other creative pursuits.

With Lisa’s help, I’ve started this process this week; today I spent three hours disgorging the buckets of ephemera that gathered unsorted over recent years into organized piles:

A photo of my basement office, with piles of like things gathered together spread over the floor.

The yellow labels for each pile identify the like things assembled, and include Paper, Electronics, Letterpress, Personal Archive, Garbage, Stationery, and, my favourite, Huh? (a very helpful pile that prevented me from getting blocked by hard-to-categorize things that I couldn’t bring myself to just throw away; things like the Apple QuickTake camera that Kevin O’Brien and Peter Richards and I went in on together back in the day). In those piles, among many other things, are old love letters, USB hubs, Tomoe River paper, paint brushes, and a copy of the Journal-Pioneer from 1965.

The next step is to curate each pile: what to keep, what to give away. Once I’ve done that, Lisa, who excels at managing storage, will join me to find well-crafted places to put everything, places that will afford me readier access to things than I’ve had in a long time (or perhaps never).

Once all that is done, I am so looking forward to getting back to making things, and looking forward to having Lisa join me in the shop as a creative co-conspirator.

Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasures”

Steven Mayoff, interviewed in Authority Magazine, in 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist:

5. Follow your fear. On the corkboard above my desk I have two quotations from poets written on an airmail envelope. The first quote is by John Berryman that reads: “We must travel in the direction of our fear.” The second, by Rainer Maria Rilke, goes: “Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasures.” While these pearls of wisdom can be applied to many facets of life, for me their greatest relevance is regarding writing. Digging deep into a character can sometimes be an ugly business. While all of us strive to be the heroes of our own lives, we also have a dark side that is not always easily confronted. This is what I love about writing fiction. How it allows me to think about the human condition and the ways it manifests in various situations and relationships. My perspective is both objective, because these characters don’t really exist, but also subjective, because these characters are my creations. When they do terrible things or think terrible thoughts, I do not have the luxury of judging them. I have to let them exist on their own terms as I want to exist myself on my own terms.

Naming the Surface of Mercury

Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart has produced a new series for BBC Radio 4, Seek the Light. In the episode Out of the Shadows she delves into the intersection of planet Mercury and Scottish folk singing:

All the craters of Mercury are named after famous artists, Burns and Pushkin are there along with Bach and Boccaccio. And it was this dominance of white men that Annie wanted to challenge. The International Atstonomical Union’s naming conventions around new discoveries have proven themselves inherently sexist and exclusionary and Annie felt compelled to do waht she could to rebalance it. In her lifetime, Lady Carolina Nairne was responsible for such staples of Scottish folk singing as ‘Charlie is my darlin’ and ‘Caller Herrin’, yet she’s largely unknown, publishing much of her work anonymously or under pseudonyms. Now there is a corner of the universe that will forever be a testament to her talents.

I think a lot about sexist naming practices, given that I live in a city where almost all the streets and public buildings are named after colonial white men (as I type this, I’m sitting at the intersection of Pownal Street, named after John Pownall, secretary to the British Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary of State, and Richmond Street, named for Charles Lennox, Duke of Richmond).

Ian Petrie’s Wise Words on Land

Ian Petrie, one of the Island’s wisest thinkers on agriculture and land, takes a step back to look at the current zeitgeist, in Money, land and murky violation of the LPA in Island Farmer.

Both the Irvings and Bliss and Wisdom have access to almost unlimited capital, but their intent and goals are quite different. The Irvings were following a business pattern established by K.C. Irving almost a century ago. Buy land for its inherent investment value and use it to produce the raw materials to supply other Irving companies. Bliss and Wisdom bought land and built temples for worship and teaching facilities that have attracted thousands of novice monks and nuns, about 90 per cent from Taiwan.

The LPA — the Lands Protection Act — is a piece of legislation I know intimately from my days with L.M. Montgomery Land Trust: the lands on the Island’s north shore that the Trust seeks to preserve are as subject to the LPA as any other, and it quickly became apparent that it was an imperfect and blunt instrument for keeping land available for appropriate-scale agriculture. Smart bureaucratic elders who were around during its formulation characterized it to me as a temporary stop-gap, a finger in the dike until a richer and more well-thought-out solution could be found. But that richer solution has yet to arrive: the amount of political courage it takes to confront the centuries old land issues bred into the bone of this Island is something no administration has been able to muster.

So the moment you start making the pro-con list, it’s almost like you lose…”

Jonathan Fields interviewed Elizabeth Gilbert for The Good Life Project, and they touched on the irrationality of creative endeavours:

Fields: But can we take this a sort of like a level deeper though? Because, like, if. If somebody feels it that viscerally when they’re just talking about this thing, then why do so many and so many of us do? Why do so many of us then kind of say no? What is it in your mind?

Gilbert:  You talk yourself out of it and you, I have to say. The reason you talk yourself out of it is because you get rational, and rationally, what you’re doing doesn’t make any sense. And there’s no argument that can ever hold up against that. Because you’re right, whatever the rational part of you is that says this doesn’t make any sense to do, this is absolutely right.

Fields: So the moment you start making the pro con list, it’s almost like you lose.

Gilbert: It’s absolutely, you’re absolutely right. Which is why you need to have a mystical or spiritual dimension underneath your creativity to combat the rational thought. Because the second that… I mean, I always say this because I always marvel at this… any act of pure creativity is the most irrational thing you can possibly do with your time. So you’re going to have an existential crisis because it doesn’t make any sense. Essentially what you’re doing. Like here, let me break it down for you what this guy is about to do. If he says “yes” to the thing that ignited him, he’s about to take the single most precious thing he possesses, which is his time. We’re mortal; we have a very short amount of time here. And how you spend that time matters and what you give it to has enormous consequence in your life.

We’re deeply aware of the ticking clock. So he’s going to take the one thing that can never be replaced, which is his hours and days and months of his short, mortal life. And he’s going to devote an enormous amount of energy and resources and power and trouble to creating something that nobody wants or needs, that nobody has asked him to do. It is a fundamentally really weird thing to do. So why would you in the world do that? And I guess it’s because when the moment that you do leave the party comes, you’re not going to be lying in your bed saying “Man, it was so short, my visit here on Earth, and why didn’t I do the thing that ignited me to life? ” Because that was actually the only thing. And the rest of it and all those rational ideas of stuff that was more important, I don’t even remember what that stuff is now. Why did I do that thing? Why did I do that thing I was called to do? I never want to be in that position.

 I want to be in the position where I can say, “I did all that stuff.”

I said yes again and again and again to the irrational plan rather than the rational one.

I am not particularly motivated by the prospect of deathbed regrets — by that time, who cares, as I’m about to die. So it’s never been a great motivator.

But I am motivated by the notion that, as Gilbert says, “any act of pure creativity is the most irrational thing you can possibly do with your time.” Realizing that helps me unlock all manner of possible futures that are, on the pro-con list, completely indefensible.

Brompton Folding

Last summer I became the owner of a folding bicycle, a Brompton C-Line Explorer High Handlebar, ordered from Dutch Bikes in Burlington.

It’s simply a marvel of engineering: I love how it folds from a rideable bicycle into a package that will fit in an overhead compartment of an airplane. It is ingenious, and I love ingenious things.

Here’s an animated GIF I made, after going for a morning ride with Lisa over to Stratford and back, that shows the ingenuity in action:

Animated GIF showing my folding bicycle

Need a Bin? Say No to Drugs. Be Happy.

FERO is a waste management company based in New Brunswick (the name, at least for marketing purposes, stands for Friendly, Efficient, Reliable and On-time). If you’ve hung out in the back allies of New Brunswick restaurants, you’ve likely seen their dumpsters, which, in addition to a large FERO and their toll-free number, are emblazoned with seemingly-random slogans.

Like this one, in the parking lot of the the Cranewood Bakery in Sackville:

A FERO dumpster with the slogan "Smile" painted on it.

(I love the “Tony’s Pastries Only” add-on: this is presumably a dumpster once used by Tony’s in Moncton).

This weekend I stumbled across the pinnacle of FERO slogans, behind McCready’s Irving in Coles Island, NB:

Photo of three dumpsters, each with a different slogan: Need a Bin? Say No to Drugs. Be Happy

Need a bin? Say no to drugs. Be Happy. Poetry.

A decade-old CBC story tells the story of the approach:

Fero, which operates across the region, puts its name and phone number on each dumpster.

But it also leaves space for messages, such as: Never Give Up, Seize the Day, Don’t Do Drugs, Stay in School, Smile, Be Happy and Safety.

Andrew King, the company’s director of special projects, said the staff draw up the messages on a computer and then print each one onto decals.

The messages are added to the dumpsters when they are returned to the shop for repairs or a new paint job.

If we can have an effect on somebody, somewhere, at some time, we thought that would be a great way to do it,” King said.

King said there’s no agenda underlying the messages or major commercial benefit to display them.

He said it’s just something that helps Fero — Be Happy.