Good Theory!

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

— Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Abandoned Shed….(What’s it for?)

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Creativity’s Emergency Switch

Kill(ing) Switch

Booze and creativity are a celebrated pairing in artistic folklore. Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Raymond Chandler, Jackson Pollock all drank like hell and produced great stuff, right? The fact that what they drank eventually killed them is conveniently forgotten, because it’s much more fun to believe that alcohol frees inhibitions and helps to access one’s muse rather than slows reflexes, rots the brain and promotes paranoia.

However, before I sound too much like Carrie Nation it must be said that a few belts of vodka indeed can, on occasion, be creatively helpful because muzzling our superficial jabbering consciousness can help release intuitive insight from a deeper well. Saying it differently, without some kind of mental conditioning, (meditation, yoga et al) our minds are rarely peaceful enough. Getting a good buzz-on can numb past regrets and future fears enough to let in the whispers of an heretofore blocked creative direction.

So far so good, but there’s a downside to late night searches for artistic breakthroughs at McSorley’s Saloon. Relying on chemicals to unblock creativity eventually becomes a loser’s game. Creative substance abuse can’t be sustained. The body builds up a tolerance for the drug of choice and more and more is needed to keep a decent high going. Then more and then even more isn’t enough. Alcohol, cocaine, heroin, it doesn’t matter, eventually the stuff kills.

Keith Richards excepted of course.

Living Today (ps…There is no tomorrow.)

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My wife Sarah had a couple of operations yesterday. They took up most of her day. First, a  dermatologist cut off a cancerous growth from her eyelid. Then, a plastic surgeon reconstructed the war zone left by dermatologist. When it was all over she wasn’t a pretty sight and she felt like hell.

Physical trauma seems so random. One minute you’re walking around feeling fine and the next you are in a hospital bed with a needle in your arm, a tube up your nose and a couple of nurses staring at the computer screen above your bed whispering to each other. 

Which brings me to my point for this morning. It’s one Buddhists have been making for thousands of years. Our past and our future are only mental constructs. Neither is real.

The past is over, nothing will ever change anything that has already happened. It lives on only in our minds. Equally important, the future hasn’t happened. It’s not real. We make it up. The present is all we really will ever have. It is now or nothing.

So a bit of advice from one who has lived long enough to see its value. Stop bemoaning your terrible childhood and worrying that you wont have enough money to go to Hawaii next winter. Take a hot shower, drink a strong cup of black coffee, sit down by your window and really look at the world out there. What you see is all you’ve got today, right now, this moment. Be grateful for it and make it better.

PS Sarah is much improved this morning. I am very grateful for that.

The Old Apple Tree

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This photograph is of an old apple tree growing on the edge of my brother’s field near Rockport Harbor. A week or so ago, one of its main branches broke in an ice storm and now lies twisted, touching the ground. My brother’s wife will probably get him to cut the tree down this summer as there isn’t much left of it anymore.

The old apple tree doesn’t mind being cut down now. It’s had a long life and even in the day when there was a commercial orchard on the land, the apples it gave the farmer to sell weren’t what made it happy. Making money was fine but what the tree really liked were the times when all the busy chores were done and it stood alone by the edge of the water in the warm sun and listened to the waves rustle the little stones that covered the beach below it.

The tree’s place in the orchard, when there had been one, was at the very bottom of the row nearest the sea and in the fall and spring when the migrating geese were passing through,  a flock of them would sometimes cluster nearby burbling softly to each other as they ate the grass under its branches. When the birds had finished eating, they would settle down in the soft grass and sleep with their heads under a wing. The guard birds stayed awake of course and if all was quiet and no foxes or people were near, they would tell the tree stories of flying all night above storm clouds in the dull silver light of a crescent moon.

In the mid 1800s the farm had been sold to a rich man from Philadelphia as a summer vacation place, then sold again to someone else and finally cut into smaller pieces for yet more summer houses. The tree no longer was expected to make money for anyone and since it wasn’t commercially valuable, it wasn’t fertilized or pruned or sprayed to keep the worms from digging into its wood or fruit. That was OK because the geese still passed through and told stories of their travels and children of the summer people would occasionally come by to try to climb it or even bite into the small wormy bitter apples it still produced. 

I’ve known this tree since I first came to Maine in the early 1950s. I was one of those children of summer and I will miss it. 

On Baking Bread (By one who can’t)

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I’ve always thought of baking as a fussy, magical, messy kind of enterprise. Part math, part Merlin and part “how did all that stuff get on the floor”.

I’ve occasionally tried baking myself with mixed results. (That assessment is a little generous.) When my boys were young I went on a sourdough bread baking jag and was OK at it for a while. But the problem with sourdough is that you need what the pros call a “starter”. Simply put it is a bunch of bacteria (lactobacilli) that live in a bowl of warm flour and water and multiply like crazy as they feed on it. One needs to replenish the bubbling stuff regularly and use it as a leavener for whatever you’re baking or the little bugs get nasty, smelly and die. This leaves a stinky mass of stuff that needs to be thrown out and making the “starter” has to be started all over again. I didn’t use my “starter” often enough and attend too many disgusting funerals.

My enthusiasm for baking lessened with each baking failure. The coup de grace, while not exactly technically a baking failure, was when my attempt at making pasta resulted in numerous clumps of damp, limp and very sticky extruded flour and water lying all over the kitchen floor. 

The loaf that headlines this article is apple bread. Sarah baked it quickly and professionally to use up some of the applesauce she had put up this summer in our freezer. That temperamental beast died of electrical failure a couple of days ago and we needed to find some creative uses for an overabundance of applesauce. The loaf pictured is still warm and the chunk out of it was my doing. It was delicious! (The fact that Sarah served it with vanilla ice cream didn’t hurt a bit.)

Bon Appetit! May you bake better than I.

A Grubby Maine Day

 

I don’t like the weather today.

So far this winter we have been having lots of snow and bitterly cold temperatures and that’s OK. It’s often been hard to go outside but, it’s winter in Maine and occasionally freezing one’s ass off is the price one pays for living here. However, today is different.

For one thing it’s warm. Warm, 47 degrees to be exact, and that is warm bucko. The snow melts when it’s this warm of course and that’s a good thing. But when warm air sits on top of cold snow-covered ground, fog forms and that’s bad because that kind of fog lays waiting in what seems like almost random places. One minute you’re tooling along at 60 mph on a clear road and the next you are in pea soup fog with a visibility of, at best, 50 yards. Rear-ending someone or getting run into yourself is really easy today.

Maine license plates have the slogan “Vacationland” on them. Really?! Maybe in the summer when the waves sparkle silver on the bay or fall when the leaves of the hardwoods are brilliant red and gold.

But now?

In our dreams.

Nobody in their right mind would come up here. It’s gray, raining like hell, streams are flooding and the roadside snow is turning a grimy greasy brown. Not only that but more of the same is coming tomorrow.

Welcome to “Vacationland”.

Do yourself a favor and stay away.

 

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