Thursday, August 28, 2008


More golden days

The final days of August here in Maine have been so beautiful - warm and sunny and blue and gold. I can't seem to get enough of them. I've been adjusting to working at home, the easy way: by working for a while, then running outside and sitting in the sun to read for an hour (have returned to P.G. Wodehouse after my opening salvo toward the works of Conrad), then working some more, then running back outside to sit in the sun with my lunch, then etc. etc. Makes the work, such as it is, go easier. My work at the moment includes photographing all of my paintings from the last several years, then making a list of titles, dates, sizes, then editing the photos for color and brightness (to match the original as closely as I can), and finally choosing which ones are destined for my website-to-be. My friend Joanna is creating it for me, and she even lent me her superfancy digital camera for a few weeks, the sweetie. We hope the site will be up by the end of September, but with days like these ones lately, it's hard to sit inside in front of the little glowing screen and get anything actually accomplished.

Yet work must be done. And there are some big things looming. One of our fall projects around here involves beginning the renovation/transformation of our attic into my painting studio. We need insulation, a real floor, outlets and such. And there's a rotten old dormer window that needs to be enlarged and replaced, so we can see more of this view:

That's moonrise sometime last month, at sunset. The body of water is the point where the Penobscot River becomes Penobscot Bay, the Gulf of Maine, the Atlantic Ocean. We're often fogged in, and I love it, it reminds me of where I grew up. In the late afternoon the air would change and the fog would come in, often when the tide turned.

The attic will be a great studio, once it's finished - in a year or so, depending on finances. Until then, I'm tripping over paintings, boxes of books, empty bookcases with no more free walls to put them on, and everything else from the bookshop - desk, tables, chairs, boxes of files and paperwork, bookends, printing presses, you name it. Most of it's in the living room, with the doors firmly shut. It's a big mess, but I refuse to be discouraged. Considering that in late July I sold a terrific book, and in early August I sold a few paintings, the proceeds of which, combined, were greater than my total income over the previous six months, I'm not doing badly at all. In fact, those sales will pay for the first half of the attic renovation. And then some. But why am I sitting here talking about money? I've got to get back outside before the afternoon's over.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Dark fruit

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been foraging for blackberries. No one else in this town seems to have noticed, but there are gigantic limbs of them reaching out from the roadsides all over the place. Last weekend Ryan and I picked maybe three quarts from a big patch just down the street from our house. We made a blackberry/raspberry/blueberry crumble and had it hot from the oven with vanilla ice cream, for Ryan's birthday dessert on Monday evening. It was so good neither of us were speaking much. Just eating. And yesterday, on my walk to the post office and back (another Amazon sale...), I spotted the motherlode. Location secret. We went back tonight and left only when 1) it was getting dark, 2) the mosquitoes had found us, and 3) we had filled all of our containers. Perhaps another five quarts, now bagged and in our freezer for winter. And the big patch isn't even half-ripe yet. We go back tomorrow with more bowls.

In the midst of all this sweetness free for the taking, I've been reading Joseph Conrad for the first time, courtesy of a friend who sent me a wonderful little book from halfway around the world (thank you, dear Antony). After nearly finishing both novels this volume contains, I find myself deeply grateful for the bright cheerfulness of the sunny day and the sense of bounty provided by nature. I'd always heard that Conrad's books were dark, and now I know how and why. I've been sidling up to his work for so long, books of his kept passing through my hands, and in fact I think I have a copy of Youth hanging around here waiting to be read. I even have a map of the world of Joseph Conrad, framed, hanging downstairs. It was printed by a bookshop in New York City and is undated, but looks to be from the 1940s or 50s. It is a lovely black and white print (a real print made from a plate) showing the globe and the locations of Conrad's novels and travels. Ryan found it many years ago in an antiques shop for $18. They were selling it for the good frame it was in (plain black wood, but quite large). But I digress.

Back to the sunlit day, the blackberries, the sweet dark words of Conrad. Such beautiful language - descriptions that rival H.M. Tomlinson's, about the same places even, Borneo, Ternate, etc. - but interwoven among all that beauty, painful stories describing the futility of human endeavour. Briars and thorns alongside the sweetness? I can see why Christopher Morley loved Conrad so; he strikes that note that Morley always seemed to be after in his own work. Perhaps Morley's romantic nature kept him from sounding it as deeply as Conrad did. I'm repeating myself - I said much the same thing about Morley and Tomlinson. I don't know, but I will say that Conrad is tough stuff. I wonder if I could have read it through on a cold winter day. Maybe, now that I've got something of summer put aside to temper it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Instead of selling books

I'm lazing around in the sun. It's one of those perfect Maine days - sunny and dry, cool in the shade, hot in the sun, 70 degrees and breezy. I weeded the garden for an hour or two, sketched nasturtiums in my gardening journal, foraged for ripe blackberries, and sat on a blanket reading a few wildly improbable but highly entertaining P.G. Wodehouse stories from The World of Mr. Mulliner (Taplinger 1974; I bought a hardcover for a dollar at a tiny library sale last Saturday morning). In his unpaginated introduction to this collection, Wodehouse mentions the fine art of procrastinating:

"Authors as a class are not men who like to work. Just as, according to Shakespeare, snails creep unwillingly to school, so do writers of wholesome fiction slow up as they approach their desks. I myself have probably sharpened as many pencils and cleaned out as many pipes before getting down to it as any man in the business."

Wodehouse continues by saying that these stories flowed "as if someone had turned a tap." They certainly read that way - easy, funny, chuckle-inducing. Finally, a book that warns that you, the reader, will laugh out loud as you read it (you know those irritating blurbs - "laugh-out-loud funny" - when it isn't) and it actually delivers the goods. I was chuckling. Sometimes simply at his use of names. Places: Lower-Briskett-in-the-Midden; Tooting East; Bingley-on-Sea. People: Sir Jasper ffinch-ffarrowmere; Myrtle Banks, Algy Wymondham-Wymondham. I intended to do book-work today, and here I am, feeling like I am scarfing down bon-bons instead, as I consume these stories one after another. Well, what else are the last days of summer for, I ask you, if not for making hay. If I may mix my metaphors.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Yours truly

I've changed the heading on this blog, now that I no longer have a bookshop. I've also updated my blogger profile and soon I'll have a website for my paintings. Meanwhile, here are a few photos of yours truly. I revisited the two-person exhibit I was half of, last week, a few days before the show came down. My sister Kate took these shots in the gallery. The first two are in the entryway, with our names up in lights, sort of:

When you come in, you look to the far end of the gallery along this thirty-foot wall:

Here's another wall in the gallery, showing more of my work. Of course you can't really see the paintings in detail, but this gives a good feel for the gallery space, at least:

For some detail, here's a close-up of the painting on the announcement I mailed out, The Road to the Meadow, Great Spruce Head Island, Maine:

Overall, the show was a success. Some great folks purchased work. Many more expressed interest, and I've got a few deals in the works. Thus my transition away from the bookshop is sweetened somewhat. Of course I've barely painted at all since June, because of moving, mostly. That, and the fact that I can't clear my head enough to paint when there are piles and boxes and heaps of stuff all over the house. From the bookshop. I'm slowly sorting and unpacking and finding new homes for some things, selling this and that, storing stuff, dealing with the books.

My last carload of things from the shop included all my shop plants (one is a small orange tree in flower, so the car was blossom-scented for a day), old bookshelf-building lumber, the vacuum and cleaning supplies, and a few special items I wanted to be the last things to leave the shop, besides myself: an old framed print of the patron saint of my bookshop, Robert Burns (this hung behind my desk the entire time I was there); a miniature antique printing press named Gaby; the very last book in the place, my desk copy of The Practical Cogitator (the penultimate book to leave the shop was the compact edition of the OED, which presided over my reference shelves); and a tiny slip of paper which I found tucked inside a book, and which resurfaced when I was packing - printed on the paper is a simple little picture of a ship and a shoreline, and the words: "The winds are blowing out to sea. Take up thy life and go." I thought it was fitting.

H.M. Tomlinson update: I took many of his books out of the library. Then spent two weeks moving and sleeping and not much else, so I had to return them all unread but one. Fearing the fines. In my Tomlinson enthusiasm, I forgot that it really is not good for me to have library books out of the library. I begin to consider them mine. I love them too much. I don't take them back when I should. I know this about myself, I don't know why I thought this time would be any different.

A quick aside, about my new blog header. For those who don't recognize the quote, I've slightly modified one of my favorite opening lines in literature. While looking over my first edition of this book, I find the following on the leaf just after the copyright page: Equitare, Arcum tendere, Veritatem dicere, and as I read it I wished for the thousandth time I had paid more attention in my high school Latin class. Well, we can't have it all, can we.

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