Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Friday, April 30, 2010

In Spades

As with anything else, the work of the garden comes with bright moments and none-so-bright ones. This morning -- blustery, overcast, heavy with storm-premonitory humidity -- I was spading up some sod, removing it to make a place for planting peas; and I was thinking how gardening implements of iron and steel must have served so often in history as weapons -- so sharp are they, so sturdy, having been fashioned for rough work in the soil. My mind went back to a watercolor I painted back in the early 1980s of some Markrichian characters who were farmers taking up their implements of agriculture for reason of war.

It had to fall after such a meditation that, at last, I did what I long have feared to do, while gardening -- which is to do in one of our most favored garden denizens, genus Bufo. What a moment of horrified realization followed the act. The spade I was using, in common with most of our garden tools, is venerable ... and it has a name upon it, a somewhat suggestive one: "Razor-Lite." The manufacturer was Union Fork & Hoe Company.

I will atone for this inadvertent violence ... although I can hope I have served enough time in anuran habitat support, and in tadpole-raising activities, still to be viewed with sedate impartiality by the Great Toad in the sky -- or in the earth. Yet the idea of raising tadpoles again is far from distasteful: so I might as well engage in that atonement.

Later in the morning I was using another old implement, a cultivator, in removing some violets from beside the asparagus bed, and broke the handle where it fits within the cultivator head. The fix will take some doing. it being so fine a tool, the fix will be worth doing, though.

Near the Hansen's cherry bushes, I saw I had set my white coffee mug on an overturned galvanized tub. To my pleasure I saw it still held cold coffee -- with a tiny cherry blossom petal floating it:

Speck of white upon pool of black within white.

Visually delightful. And delicious.

Cheers ...

Dandelion Wine, Part II

I was staring across a wide, long lawn in Tomah yesterday, thinking that the purpose of a lawn is to provide ample, open space for the raising of dandelions.

The joy stirred in the mind by the eye's taking-in of dandelion floral radiant sunniness, especially when framed by springly green grass blades, is to be surpassed only by the joy prompted by the sight of concentrated yellowness of harvested flowers filling a bowl.

A different portent hides behind the latter vision, of course.

Last year I was dilatory and negligent about making dandelion wine: it must have been a hectic spring. Or I made it that way. I had freshly finished the C.M. Kornbluth biography; and everything else in my life that I had been neglecting and sacrificing for the sake of the book's completion I had now to attend to. So only two batches of dandelion wine ended up making their way into crocks -- and they did so belatedly, too: for those two were our Wine 21 and Wine 22, made in the first and second weeks of May.

Afterwards, I was a bit late in moving them into secondaries. Yet what we have tasted thus far of Wine 22 -- it was a two-gallon batch -- reassures me that the promptness that eluded me last spring did not result in satisfactory wine-making eluding me, as well.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How Scottiedogs Assist Antique Restorers

Lorna, our Scottiedog, has a collection of various and sundry stuffed animals -- some of which she has bought at auction. (She recently obtained, for a quarter bid, two large boxes of stuffies. Her budget is not a huge one; so she is careful with her bidding.)

She is fond of many animals, in stuffy form. Rabbits rank among her favorites; and it is in her treatment of those rabbits that Lorna proves helpful to the antique restorer -- for her habit is to tear an ear off a stuffed rabbit. Not usually both of them, for some reason.

A stuffed rabbit ear, I have discovered, makes a wonderful cloth pad for administering oil to old, dry wood -- especially rough-surfaced wood. I recently have bought a number of wooden crates that are interesting for their advertising: Schlitz Beer of Milwaukee, Atlas Beer of Chicago, Canada Dry from a Madison bottling company, and American Soda Water Company of Milwaukee. As you may know, crates are often indelicately finished.

Stuffed rabbit ears are made of fuzzy-tufted artificial-fiber stuff, stitched around the edges in a double layer -- so that they are perfect for dealing with wood that might send splinters through your average oiling cloth, or that might tear apart your piece of lamb's wool.

So I was happily using a Scottiedog-removed stuffed rabbit's ear while oiling those old crates, yesterday. And of course now I nurse an ambition to buy every stuffed rabbit I find at garage sales this summer.

Cheers ...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Days of Bottling

Two batches of beer received attention they were supposed to have had a week ago -- at last, on Saturday night. One batch went into secondary; the other, into bottles. Martha's first attempt at a peat-smoked porter seems especially promising -- maybe I should say wildly promising. It makes a fine draught beer just as it is. The peat-smoked flavor comes through nicely; the mouth-feel is smooth. The batch was small, resulting in just over a case of bottles, now being basemented for a month.

Martha kept her bottle-sterilizing energies going into Sunday, which gave me all the goading I needed to catch up on more wine-bottling that afternoon. Some of the wines coming out of secondaries seem doubtful -- especially the apple-berry. I have the feeling apple wines will prove challenging to master. Others of the new wines seem more promising. Martha thinks Wine 40, a dry Cherry, may turn out quite fine, by Fall -- while I am less hopeful about the flavor. Wine 42, also a dry Cherry, however, gives me greater hopes. The Elderberry wine flavor was quite nice, at this stage -- but maybe too woodish? Too weak in alcohol? The Black Currant wine, though ... great stuff even now, to judge from our few sips.

We made a few blends with the left-overs from bottling -- with the single bottle combining red and black currant wines at about half-and-half proportions being the one we will likely be most curious about, come Fall.

Cheers ...


What great chaos results from tidying up a house for visitors. I just wasted an hour or two fruitlessly looking for items I thought were safely accessible ... one of which I need to find today ... frustrating!

A bit of progress did occur during the visit, even though elder sibling's stated goal for the visit was to see more of Wisconsin -- which kept our familial rear ends planted in car seats. One morning, though, he and I began weeding the backyard area around the established hop vines. I finished the job this weekend, and made my final decisions on placement of the new ones.

I moved and re-wired my trellis for our pair of Willamettes, which are starting into their second year. Opting to keep the new hops nearby, at five-foot distances I planted the Mt. Hood and Cascade, and, in a corner, the two Sterling rhizomes. We may end up a bit overwhelmed with cones, this fall -- which prospect fails to alarm me.

One decision I had to make was whether to raise more trellises. I finally opted on the tall-pole method of growing, for the new vines ... which means that next year, or maybe even this one, I will be toying with different pole-anchoring methods. Right now I am imagining tall steel posts, with wooden poles strapped onto them.

The poor hops rhizomes had to spend far too long in the refrigerator awaiting their planting, due to the hectic nature of these past few weeks -- but seem none the worse for it.

Cheers ...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ancient Hairlines, Part V

At an auction today, to the north of here, I was just starting to examine a trio of large crocks when a fellow walked up and said, "Are they all right?"

I said that I thought so, and of course right at that moment detected a hairline crack in the one I was then examining.

"Know how to tell if they're good?" said this expert. "You rap them with your knuckles. They sound different if they're cracked." He rapped on the crock in front of him. It gave off a low, hollow tone. "This one's good. Rap on that one."

I gamely rapped on the one in which I had found the hairline. It had a higher, hollow tone.

"See?" he said, and walked off.

The crock in front of me was smaller, however: so of course it had a higher, hollow tone. The third crock had yet a different hollow tone -- being yet a different hollow shape.

I resumed my examination, using my inexpert means, and found hairlines in all three.

I left before the auction proceedings reached that building, so can only wonder whether the expert bought the "good" one.

I thought they all sounded good: the three crocks, and the expert. All four were cracked, though.

Cheers ...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Where To Read Rich's Life of Kornbluth

The aforementioned Dutcher is a librarian -- a not-uncommon occupation among those who feel the writing urge, as he does; and as a librarian Roger knows where other librarians have hidden all their library-related numbers. The other day he grew curious about how many libraries have added C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary to their shelves. He came up with the number of fifty-eight -- a number to be remembered, as Martha just noted to me, for being the year of Kornbluth's death and also, it happens, of my birth. The year fifty-eight of last century, that is.

Roger also notes that most of the fifty-eight are academic libraries -- all but two of them, in fact. This is to be expected, even though I wrote the book with the aim of making it interesting to the reader ... the reader as an all-encompassing type, and not just the academic reader.

Thanks to Roger for the revealing of librarianesquerie.

Cheers ...

Martha's Violet & Sweet Woodruff Bitters (2009)

1 tbsp organic maple syrup
1 cup loosely packed violet flowers, assorted colors
about 1-1/2 tsp dried woodruff
Taaka Vodka -- to fill the jar ...

And the jar was an 8 oz. honey jar -- the sort that is sold as containing a pound of honey. (This should clarify notes earlier here, about small honey jars and one-pound jars.) (And Martha has the memory, now, that the flowers may have been all white.)

Once you combine the ingredients in these magical proportions, you let it sit in a dark, easily-forgotten-about corner for X amount of time, with X being a variable existing in a mathematical relationship to P -- your patience, of whatever sort your patience is. If you are like me, P is not a constant.

I would suggest setting your X at four weeks, perhaps allowing your P to shorten that to fewer weeks -- or to lengthen it to several months.

I offer this elaborate and complicated bitters recipe to satisfy the bitters-making ambition newly a-borning in Roger Dutcher, esteemed editor of The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. He has violets and woodruff growing in his garden and hopes to render them subservient to the after-dinner table.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Earning in the negative amounts seems ridiculous; yet on paper that is what I managed to do last year -- by great amounts (with "great" referring more to my scale of living than yours; I doubt it would seem great to you). The goal of the free lance writer is to earn enough in a year to need to pay taxes -- and, with any luck, to earn enough in the following year to pay those taxes.

If you have grown up on stories of writers who make two dollars their first year of writing, two hundred in their second, and then two zillion in every year afterward, it may seem a bit ridiculous, too, that a writer may still, later in life, be falling well short of the simple goal of earning enough to pay taxes -- i.e., to live on.

The story of free lance writers has been more of the struggle-to-ge-along nature than otherwise. That the ones earning living wages win not only the money but attention, too, is natural. What the public fails to hear about is the quietness of the news of all those years for all those writers when the wells are a bit dry.

Not speaking of the creative wells, of course.

And the irony is that those years are taxing that go Federally untaxed.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Currant Blossoms

This past week the currants bloomed, tempting the bumblebees out of hiding to hover among the stems and leaves. To imagine how the black currant blooms look, before opening ... think of wooden spinning-tops hanging in small clusters, with their tips downward. The stems are slender, and light green. The upper parts of the buds are rounded, and the same color. The lower tips are lavender.

Even when those lavender points open slightly to invite the fuzzy pollinators, the floral display is so tiny and non-eye-catching that it is hard to think of an immense bumblebee taking much interest.

On the other hand, we have been taking interest. The bud and flower clusters are lovely, in a quiet and reserved way.

We were struck during these past two weeks how the new-green leaves of the red currant, as they unfold and develop from the buds, are tinted toward their middles with a slight ruddiness. The black currant leaves are the ones in which we might have expected to have seen such tinting; but they are a bright, light green, exactly the "spring green" we kindergarten-raised children of this Western empire were trained to know by our wax crayon labels. Why do the black currants -- so full of odor and flavor in the leaves, with berries so dark of color and so resiny of flavor -- have these plainer-colored leaves, when they are new on the canes? They are brighter, more vibrant ... fresh-looking, springy, uncomplicated.

Martha and I were hoping to be starting new black currant bushes, as time and opportunity allowed. Not until we noted this difference in the leaves, though, did we realize that the volunteer currants growing in our lower-yard carrot-and-beans patch of last year were not red currants. Wild red currants were growing beneath some trees only a few dozen feet away -- so this was a reasonable expectation.

All of these volunteers have the bright, fresh-looking, eye-catching leaves of the black currant. We have a small nursery of them, now, together with a few starting-out gooseberries, below one of our original strawberry beds.

Cheers ...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Unseasonable Seasons

I commented to Martha that it is only April and we may already have had more hot weather than we did all last summer.

Last summer was a time of cools and wets and sloshes and overcast drearies ... and of course it was a year when we were crazily growing great jungles of tomato vines.

Our vines, typical in their preference for a bit of balmy heat and a lot of summery highs, banded together and handed us a petition demanding that somewhere in the mix of springlike and autumnal days we slip in a few hours, here and there, of torrid summer. Recalcitrantly, we refused. The last thing you want to do, as a gardener, is to give in to your tomato plants. True, I had nurtured hopes of advancing further into the mysteries of tomato wines, that year ... but you must stand by your principles. Just to show them who were the gardeners -- and who, the gardened -- we reserved the balmiest days of year 2009 for the period after the first frosts -- and then laughed with hectic glee that we had not bothered to protect a one of them, but had let them all slump over, frost-slaughtered to the very last pathetic one, by those first few freezes.

Of course, we had been rendered insane by that time -- by a lack of tomatoes ... a mental disturbance common among gardeners living through a summer of overcast drearies. But how were we to know that, at the time?

Cheers ...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Larval Thoughts

Yesterday morning while digging in the garden I turned up a little, smooth, brown pupa of a moth. I reburied it and went on digging.

Which prompted the thought that I have a bit of a double standard, when it comes to Miller Moths ... sort of a catch-all name, I suppose, for the cutworm-type nondescript gray moths of cultivated areas everywhere.

If I see one of these moths, I watch it for a moment with curiosity before going my merry way. For I like moths.

If I dig up one of the pupae, I rebury it. For same reason.

If, however, I dig up a cutworm in the dirt ...

Last year the robins grew so accustomed to us that we could feed them. Martha discovered this: for if she dug up a lovely little grub, she could toss it toward her current pet robin, which would then hop forward and pluck up the morsel. It was probably one of her pets, too, that soon accepted grubbed-up grubs from me.

And this means that Martha, too, has this double standard -- in this case with regard to May beetles or June bugs. Whatever you want to call them, we are fond of them.

The grass-root-eating grubs she was feeding the robins were undoubtedly June bug children -- alas.

Well, I do the same. That morning, besides the pupa, I unearthed an adult June bug .. or April bug.

I smiled benignly upon it and reburied it.

Cheers ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy U.S. Tax Day

A happy U.S. Tax Day, to one and all. We scatter historical New Year's Days across the calendar, disguising many of them as something else; and of these holidays U.S. Tax Day must be among the last, being scheduled somewhat with the arrival of Spring. This past year, for me, of course, I knew all along that the Fisher King was dead -- to mix my mythologies of Celtic Britain and U.S. Government -- and so of course I look forward to the rejuvenation implicit in the arrival of this festive day.

I will be celebrating Tax Day by further house cleaning -- a traditional way of celebrating Spring -- and perhaps by planting hops, which in name are so perilously close to hopes that I am immediately inclined to favor the theory (hereby introduced to the world) that hopes are, indeed, the best bittering agents to add to the yeasted malt of life.

I was pacing around our small gardens, this morning, weighing the possibilities for where those new hopes should go. These viny plants like ample sun -- what hopes do not? And they need a considerable amount of upwards space to grow into -- ditto. As with our existing two vines, I may resort to a trellis system ... for what hopes will grow properly if left unsupported? Etc.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

... And on to Bitters

Speaker of bitter, as in beer-type beverage, we made a number of the similar-sounding but unrelated bitters two years ago and also last year ... then fell out of the habit. Last night I shook the last couple drops of a bitters into a drink. This bitters' identifying number had come off: but I believe it was Liqueur/Bitters No. 6. (For some reason we started numbering our liqueurs and bitters in the same list; so we have kept up the practice.) This bitters' recipe, from September, 2008, is simple. From our notebook: "Wormwood (Vodka) jam jar. Two pinches wormwood, 1/4 tsp. maple sugar. Phillips vodka, not quite to fill." How big was the jam jar? I failed to note. A half-pint?

We have plenty of Liqueur/Bitters No. 7 left -- "Violet and Sweet Woodruff (1 lb. jar) -- which Martha made last May. We have plenty, in part, because she finds it too overpowering in drinks unless added in the smallest amounts. Sweet woodruff, which grows in our front yard, has a powerful flavor. I myself like this bitters, in the smallest amounts, in a mug of hot water.

Feeling the bitters pinch (we have all kinds of liqueurs, apparently) I started a new one last night, in a small honey jar -- the capacity of which I just measured: it seems to hold 5/8 pint. This is Juniper-Elderberry Bitters. The recipe: 1 tsp. maple syrup, about 1/5 oz. dried juniper berries, 1 sprig of quite dried-up elderberries, five leaves of dried sweetfern, 1 pinch dried wormwood -- and then Smirnoff to fill the jar. Thank you, John Hilden, for the Smirnoff.

The juniper berries have a literary background: for I picked them when we were visiting a delightful little park well to the north of here which celebrates the life of the author of Caddie Woodlawn. Maybe I will go back and change the bitters' name ...

Cheers ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bottling Bitter IV

I should note that neither of the two checks that rescued me from financial despondency (note the usage) had anything to do with the Kornbluth biography. McFarland, being an academic press, is not the normal home for the freelance writer -- for it pays on the basis of sales, only. It pays royalties, without offering an advance on those royalties. I knew this when I put myself into the situation -- and a bit crazily I still relish having done something that is extraordinarily foolish to do as a freelance. From the time I started matters rolling with McFarland, in 2008 at Denvention, to the time when the first few pennies of royalties start rolling, will be a period of two years, or perhaps slightly more.

Had I an income of any sort, this would not seem so long a time -- which is why mostly academics write for McFarland. They can afford to do so.

Much of my life as a writer I have pursued by going down the probably-wrong path -- sometimes because that probably-wrong path has been the one that has looked most open to progress.

Let others take the obvious road, say I.

(In a similar way to the situation noted above, many academics are successful writers -- because they can afford to write.)

In any case, now that some ink drawings and a toy-collecting-research job have helped reopen the financial bottle, I seem finally to have enough mental wherewithal to contemplate realistically the promotion of this unprofitable book. Jacob Weisman at Tachyon Publications told me it was almost essential that I attend the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, in March -- for it has exactly the right academically-oriented attending membership ... and of course ICFA came and went, a few weeks ago: the opportunity fell victim to the financial Charybdis even if I did not. Similarly it seems to be the authorially responsible thing to do, to make the Madison convention, Odysseycon, this upcoming weekend, my first foray into book-pushing authorial appearances: it is local; it is relative inexpensive ... but when membership rates were cheaper, I was unable to make the commitment; and now a family visit is impending -- which means I cannot spend two or three solid days away from home (and from the massive home-reorganizing involved in preparation).

The positive aspect of this is that any such promotional activity gradually gets pushed later in the year ... when perhaps a few more people will know ahead-of-time that the book exists.

I have had several dreams in recent weeks, by the way, in which I was explaining to others why I had made no promotional appearances for C.M. Kornbluth. (See the exciting dreams had by authors?)

On the other hand, this morning I had a detailed dream about being employed by the local vineyard. As detailed as it was, though, I cannot remember if I fretted about how I was ever going to finish my next, unfinished, well-overdue book for McFarland ...

Cheers ...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bottling Bitter, Part III

The funny thing, or else the unfunny thing, about this train of thought is that it began not with the actual bottling of British Bitter but with the arrival of two checks (one of them was from the ever-admirable RedJack Books, for some illustration work I did at the request of the ever-admirable Heidi Lampietti). Both checks arrived in a single day, suddenly rescuing my bank account from its constant hovering near the perilous zeroes -- the dragging-down Charybdis which has threatened it for something like two years. Martha has been gainfully employed during this period, fortunately, which enabled us to keep going as a household: but these two years were times that would have been far more psychically trying for me had I not lived through far worse periods -- and had I not learned to cope, mentally in addition to physically, with those far-worse conditions.

One of the causes of this long financial drought is that I embraced the writing of the Kornbluth biography as a way out of the drought's looming imminence, two years ago. After I embraced it, and once I was working on the book, I managed to do almost nothing else -- which means I was taking almost no side-jobs of the sort that would bring in short-term writing income. I was at the C.M. Kornbluth task for seven days of the week -- with a day rarely being as short as eight hours long. During a goodly period it was not unusual at all for me to find myself awake at 2:30 a.m., my mind alive with the project ... at which point I would give up trying to sleep, rise, and start in again at the task. Fourteen-hour workdays were not unusual.

Barry N. Malzberg, by the way, found himself losing sleep, himself, after having read my Kornbluth biography. There was a great deal of personal angst and bitterness running as an undercurrent in my writing of that book; yet I hardly believe it was that which was keeping Barry awake. What kept him awake this past winter was the same thing that had kept me owl-eyed the winter before: the incredible and sometimes terrible nature of that life about which I was writing.

If ever there was a reader to pick up on and fully internalize a bitterness that has been cellared and at long last uncorked to freshen in the air, by the way, it is Barry. I regard him as almost ideal reader of this book. That he could read it with understanding, and hear within it notes that resonated deeply with his own experience, helped me feel that what I had undertaken was worthwhile.

Cheers ...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bottling Bitter, Part II

Quite recently and quite pleasantly I came back in contact with a French writer and translator with whom I had collaborated, by airmail, on a few poem translations back in the late 1980s. Whether we will pick up the activity again is something for the future to reveal: I would enjoy it, since such work is always mind-exercising, in a way different and apart from other kinds of writing. Our notes of re-acquaintance broached the subject of depression -- which subject-broaching, in truth, turned me toward the notion of bottling bitter being a nice phrase for a natural writerly activity. I could say of myself that I was depressed for years or decades even -- and I could say with equal accuracy that I never have been depressed because of my constant effort to internalize -- with internalizing being an activity in which I have been engaged for as long as I can remember. Or, as my old college friend Brian Klein long maintained, and I imagine still maintains, the state of depression is itself normalcy. Any reaction to the world besides depression is irrational. I think he partly holds this point of view because it is is funny, in a depressing sort of way. At least I always find the truth behind his observation to be depressingly funny -- and I agree with it to its full depressingly funny extent.

And it is, of course, depressingly funny that I am, unavoidably, a part of the world which provokes his rational response of depression.

It seems valid to regard despondency as a natural reaction to external events -- so much so that I am tempted to stop referring to wines and beers as "aging" and instead to view them as going through their despondency. Once uncorked or uncapped, they will cease being despondent: and I will them regard them as ...

Well, "open" and "cheerful" are often used together, in referring to personality, are they not?

Which leads to the interesting thought that bitter must be left in despondency for a time. True?

Cheers ...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bottling Bitter, Part I

It is a true statement that last night, as I write this, Martha and I were bottling her new batch of British Bitter (and to judge from my sips of the leftovers at the end of bottling, I believe it will be a little bit of all right, indeed ... ) -- a true statement, in a literal sense.

When I thought this morning of the phrase "bottling bitter," though, it struck me as a portmanteau expression for what a writer learns to do. You are often provoked into funks and rages and dumps and sournesses and embitterments by the inability of the world to deal even vaguely equitably with the efforts you expend in trying to make your society a more interesting place to be; and yet you learn that the naked expression of those effs, arrs, dees, esses and ems tend to diminish your public's receptivity rather than augment it or encourage it; and so, by and bye, you learn the Wordsworthian trick of absorbing, containing, and meting out. And maybe it is that you must learn this trick in order to succeed in your expressive, creative business of choice; and maybe it is that you must learn it in order to succeed in finding any ease of mind at all, when you have chosen a vocation (or a set of vocations, as I ended up doing) that consist of mainly batting your head against a wall (or walls).

And so maybe what it is that we learn, in emerging from our hot-headed youths and our flat-headed younger-middle years, is how to bottle bitter.

Bitter offers you moments of pleasant drinking -- if bottled and put away for a time.

How interesting, then, the thought -- that you get your bitter's full worth by proper preparation or bottling or aging; and you get your words' full worth by similar preparation or bottling or aging, not by their instant expression ... which is the approach to writing most associated with Wordsworth. Did Wordsworth like his bitter? No doubt -- but probably draught-style. Flowing from the keg, liberally -- but at the proper length of time after its first concoction.

Cheers ...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ancient Hairlines, Part IV

The fact that hairlines fail to recede must come as welcome news -- and that they never recede ...

A pleased-with-themselves pair of antique buyers at a farm auction outbid us on an intact four-gallon crock, a week ago. Four gallons is a particularly useful size, at our scale of operations; but the price got out of hand, to our point of view.

This self-satisfied couple then bought a crock with an interesting front marking but with notable cracks in the interior that rendered it unusable. I might have bid ten dollars or so on the thing, on the grounds of aesthetics or curiosity; but this couple and someone else bid up the crock's price to more than four times that amount, without much reluctance about tossing their cash into so clearly compromised a vessel -- with the self-satisifed couple winning it.

The collector who buys crocks with so many cracks ... does the crock have multiple cracks, or does the cracked collector who buys them have multiple hairlines? An interesting image ...

Cheers ...

Finding Oz

I have read through Evan I. Schwartz's Finding Oz, a second biography of L. Frank Baum -- and since I commented briefly here on Loncraine's biography, I should note that I find this one more satisfying in terms of its documentation of sources ... although still frustrating in some areas. I wanted to know the page number for a citation of a particular newspaper publication of Baum's, for instance: but Schwartz's documentation tends to be of the general pointing-toward sort, and fails to extend to the level of page numbers -- at least in this one case where that was the very thing I wanted to know.

The informality of language of the book also puts the researcher in me on guard. I jotted down a sentence, at one point, as an example of his frequent imposition of interpretation upon factual narrative. It also displays questionable language-use. "When a good person like Frank Baum performs a deed this bad, he is often overtaken by shadow forces, personal demons mixed with archetypal emotions, the set of primal impulses and instincts that one inherits as a part of being human" (p. 184). Can emotions be archetypal? Reading a phrase such as "performs a deed this bad" stirs up an internal red-penciling editor who jots in: "When people misstep so severely, second thoughts often bedevil them." Or somesuch. As in the case of the other biography, some words seem to appear in this biography because they sound right, not because they are. Is there something about Baum as a subject that provokes people to sprinkle flowers in their language, or to render his story into mythic terms? Baum himself, in my reading experiences and reading memory, wrote in a relatively straightforward manner. What was remarkable was the power of his symbolic imagination -- over which he did seem to have a certain amount of intellectual control.

Schwartz did extremely well in tracing and underlining many sources for Oz symbolism ... although he engages in the rhetorical device of drawing on the MGM Wizard of Oz movie for references -- inappropriately, to my mind -- in speaking of Baum's life and circumstances. (Any such references to the movie could have been reserved for his catch-all afterword.) Where Schwartz is at his best is in his depiction of mother-in-law Matilda Gage, a suffragist and Theosophist. His efforts in this area are laudable in the extreme.

With a little reining-in and reordering of the text, this might have been quite notable. It is certainly a worthy work that ably illuminates a variety of historical crosscurrents.

Shortly after putting down the Schwartz I picked up a recent popular-audience biography of Henry Ford and his motor company ... and rejoiced to find actual footnote numbers sprinkled into the text. How lovely.

Cheers ...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ancient Hairlines, Part III

During the auction at which our fellow auction-goer asked me why I had dropped out of the bidding, I told him why I had done so: and he went off to inspect his purchase. He soon came back and said, "You call that a hairline? You can't find a crock that old without a crack or two like that!"

This auction-goer is my elder by a decade or perhaps more: so of course I hung my head, admitted my error in not compelling him to pay more for the crock, and in subsequent auctions made sure to make him pay a goodly amount for any stoneware with a crack in it. Ever since, he has gazed upon me with a kindly, paternal air. I have made him pay one hundred, two hundred dollars for crocks with hairlines, and as a consequence I am nearly his son and stand in line to inherit his holdings of hairlines.

Not that he will have any left -- hairlines, I mean, as opposed to hairline -- because he buys the things to sell at a profit. Monetarily speaking. I buy the things to employ for profit -- a profit of more personal dimension. I will be guilty of buying to sell at a monetary profit with regards to stoneware crocks one of these days. The problem is that a crock really worth buying is worth keeping and using. Otherwise it seems hard to regard it as really worth buying.

Cheers ...

Rainwater Cooling

When you capture rainwater for garden use in-between rains, and you are limited as to how much you can hold in your miscellaneous buckets and barrels, you often watch as the buckets and barrels fill almost immediately, at the beginning of a heavy rainfall. Then you watch all the rest of that valuable stuff go pouring away onto the lawn, which, being already wet, gives every appearance of ingratitude.

Yesterday during one of the rainfalls we managed to use some captured water immediately. Martha was making beer -- which requires, firstly, spending a goodly amount of time keeping the wort hot, and then, secondly, spending as little time as possible bringing the wort temperature down to a level agreeable to yeast.

Thick snow-cover, this past winter, meant we could cool a wort anytime -- had we wort to cool. Martha only reinvigorated her beer-making late in the season -- and I only fooled around with sorghum beermaking now and then. After she had made her first few batches, a sudden warming hit the region, accompanied by a thorough wiping-away of our treasured snowbanks -- which meant then using tap water and ice cubes to speed the cooling of any worts we happened to have around.

Yesterday, though, I volunteered to bring in some buckets of rainwater to fill the galvanized tub, into which the hot pot of wort would be set. It took only a few trips into the wet to do this; and it felt satisfyingly practical, to use up some rainwater while the sky's taps were still running and apt to refill quickly any container we could empty.

The chill rainwater was quicker at the job than tap water, to boot.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ancient Hairlines, Part II

As I said, a cracked old man has only one option for the future -- which is to get worse.

I mean, a cracked old crock has.

You can use the lower portions of a crock, if it has a hairline in the upper portions, when making wine or beer -- but while you do so you will be haunted vaguely by thoughts of the future, when that hairline must inevitably grow larger.

A stoneware crock in use for winemaking is not a static eye-pleaser in the parlor corner but an active piece of necessary equipment. If it plays a part in the winemaking life, it has no fixed place, physically, in the home. It moves from place to place. It receives cleaning and sterilizings, in the sink or bathtub. It may feel the stirrings-around of a wooden spoon, or the pressing force of hands, masher or muddler, in crushing fruit. The crock will be lifted, turned on its side, upended. It will be carried, tipped, shelved.

The five-gallon Western stoneware crock I bought last summer in a local auction has a hairline, as it happens. In the dirty state the crock was in when I bid on it, I never saw the crack -- which is an extra-fine hairline: "Hardly a crack at all," I can hear a collector say. Fortunately, this crack is located on the quite-fat rim; and the crock has proved itself serviceable during the making of a fair amount of wine and beer already. In fact today, as I am working on this posting, I happen to be sterilizing it for the batch of beer Martha is starting this rainy afternoon.

Cheers ...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ancient Hairlines, Part I

If you are a winemaker you take a different attitude toward old stoneware crocks than do other collectors of crocks. While you retain your ability to enjoy and appreciate crocks for their designs and their history, you gain a much greater abhorrence for the flaw which seems a fairly minor one to other, non-user buyers of stoneware crocks. They find this flaw not so very objectionable, to judge from their behavior at auctions.

The flaw I speak of is known as the hairline.

Sometime last year during an outdoor auction, another auction-goer came up to me after buying what I recall was an eight or ten-gallon Red Wing crock. He asked me why I had dropped out -- puzzled by an act which had allowed him to win it so cheaply.

"It has a hairline on the lip," I said.

"It does?"

He went off to look at his new purchase.

I had bid on it only because I thought it was ridiculous to stand there and watch it sell for less than $25 or $35; and I bid it up that far because I could have used the crock -- up to a point. The hairline, being on the lip, was above the line to which you would fill it, in winemaking or beermaking.

So I did my little bit of bidding and then, once the price had risen beyond screaming-bargain territory, dropped out -- because of the hairline.

A couple inches long, it detracted to a zero degree from the overall attractiveness of the crock. All the same, it was a crack. Crocks are unlike most people, and most wines, in that they would rather not improve with age. Crocks with cracks, especially.

Sometimes an undamaged crock will remain unchanged into its dotage. Yet crocks, by and large, embrace the entropic tendency of the physical universe to fall apart without getting better -- as opposed to the deferred-entropic tendency of the biological universe, which is to first grow better, second to believe itself to be getting better, and, thirdly, to become an ordinary physical object in falling apart.

If you see a crock with a crack, the one certainty that is there for you to observe is that the crack will get the better of the crock, some day.

Cheers ...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Small Press, Internet, Letter

I was writing here the other day about the small press -- which spurred other thoughts.

The Internet offers a picture similar to the commercial press vs. small press model -- with differences, it seems to me. I have no idea how many ambitious, "professional" attempts at electronic, web-based publishing have come and gone. What seems to be the case is that they have come and gone. Whether any have lingered in memory I have no idea. I tend to think content must suit the medium; and the medium of the Internet seems akin to the mimeograph and offset-press productions of earlier decades, the small-press and micro-press and personal-press efforts that resulted in tiny-circulation magazines and fanzines and personalzines that had impact upon their readers all out of proportion to their importance in the "larger" economic sphere. The Internet enables the souls who feel drawn to the kind of expression the small press allows. Commercial literary endeavors on the Internet seem to fail out of the necessity of thinking in large terms -- in trying to be of significance, economically. They need "numbers."

The model of the small press, I sometimes think, is the letter. One person writes the letter; the other reads it, and is changed by it. The letter's ability to change the reader -- even if it is no more than the change of learning one is in another' person's thoughts, in the all-purpose wish-you-were-here postcard -- measures its success. The letter may have one reader, or may appear in a newspaper and be read by thousands: but the overriding goal in either case is not to win a living wage, but to be read.

Cheers ...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nuts and Bolts of Artistry

And what did we buy at the auction? A few minor antiquish things -- and quite a lot of nuts and bolts -- pounds and pounds of them -- for use in upcoming projects. A woman nearby looked down at our pile of cardboard trays full of old hardware and said, "Are you an artist?"

To be an artist ... is that what it means, these days, to buy nuts and bolts?

I haven't weighed all this iron ... but when I piled the trays for carrying toward the car, Martha refused to lift the piles three-trays deep. When I was then loading them into the car and expecting its back end to sink down, I noticed that the hardware would be joining the weight already there.

We still had the 75-pound bag of sand in the back -- against the snowy, icy roads that we have not had for a month or more.

March came in like a lamb and it left like a lamb ... or perhaps like a toy lion.

Cheers ...

Clippety Thicketry

This past weekend we were wending down the ever-winding Highway 33 on our way to an auction, when we again passed through the village where Leo and Leona formerly owned a tavern (Leo and Leona were and still are locally famous for that tavern); and there we saw that the rows of grape vines, unruly-looking only weeks ago, are now trimmed and ready for the new season. The vines are obviously older than ours. This makes the contrast even greater than it is in our vines, between the twisty-gnarled trunks and the spindly remaining branches.

It was hard for me to accept how severely a vine is to be pruned, to maintain vigor. The vine's incredible growth during the summer seems a wonderful achievement: so how ungrateful and unappreciative it seems, to take the steel nippers to that boisterous botanical accomplishment, that wild-hair tangly jumble of vines ... and to do so sneakily, just when the grape is for all purposes looking the other way -- during that long winter nap.

To the eye, the thickety unclipped wildness looks like it will burst forth luxuriantly in spring -- which it will, indeed, given the chance. Yet you discover that the spareness of the pruned-back vine bursts forth with luxuriance enough -- and in fact with an appropriate luxuriance, since the vineyard's reason for being is the growing of fruit as opposed to greenery.

I grew abundancies of leaves on some vines, last season. As opposed to fruit. In other words, I was still in the process of accepting this necessity.

Cheers ...