Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Reading at Sullivan's Pub

I'll be reading tonight at Sullivan's Pub in shady downtown La Honda. Terry Adams, La Honda's poet laureate, will be there, too, as well as special surprise guests. Come listen. Come read. Food, beer, wine, and Jane Sullivan's manic magic. Doors open around 5, reading starts around 6:30 La Honda Time.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Clamps and peanut butter

Teasing, I said, "Are you sure you have enough clamps, Jim?"

James Adams replied, "A cabinet maker can never have too many clamps."

And you don't want to run out of peanut butter, either...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A plane for curves

I just love the mechanism of this plane. Beautiful, simple, precise.

The plane belongs to my friend James Adams. He's a cabinet maker, a soccer coach, and an engaging curmudgeon residing in La Honda, California, a town where curmudgeons come home to roost - and work with wood.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Babcock: The podcast

I have to apologize. I had the podcast of Babcock all ready to go a month ago with a theme song called "Papa's Blues" that comes straight out of the book. Just as I was getting ready to upload, I happened to be talking to my songwriting partner and we had one of those "aha!" moments - and suddenly a new song emerged, called "Dragonfly." If you're a creative person, these are the moments you live for when it seems like all the meandering threads of your life, and your partner's life, converge for one moment and something divine happens.

As with "Papa's Blues," the song "Dragonfly" also comes straight out of the book. Now I have to integrate it into the podcast. Sorry, but it's worth waiting for.

If you follow the links, you can listen to a preview of the songs:


Papa's Blues

That book cover, by the way, is by a very talented artist named Shane Evans.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Living With Wood

Never argue with a redwood tree. Just build around it - and leave a little space. This is the rear of Apple Jack's Saloon in La Honda, California.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Colleen Mondor of the blog Chasing Ray reviewed Clear Heart back in May while I was on my book tour, and I just found out about it. I'm proud because she's one of the most insightful reviewers out there, and she loved the book. You can read the entire review here. The conclusion is:
By the time I closed the final page I thought wow - this is the book every 17 year old boy needs to read. It's about men and women (and how to treat each other); it's about choosing your friends wisely, and it's about work which is something we are all supposed to plan to do but no one ever seems to teach us how to do it well. I simply thought it was wonderful. Highly recommended for discerning teens and anyone interested in a good read about some good people.

Colleen reviews YA titles, so that's the slant of her review. Funny how every time I write a book for and about adults, it ends up appealing to teens, too.

There will always be laundry

Laundry of Shanghai...
So what's this got to do with construction - or writing - or anything?
I've never seen an architect's rendering of a proposed building that included laundry hanging out to dry.
But laundry happens. I have a passage in Clear Heart that goes:
“If I lived here,” Abe said, “I’d erect a telescope here. Great platform for stargazing.”
“And daytime,” Juke said, “you could check the downhill neighbors. Some lady of leisure. Watch ‘em sunbathe nude and rub up with coconut oil.”
“They do that?”
“I know for a fact. All them rich ladies.”
“If you say so,” Abe said, shrugging. “They’re also mothers, you know. They have children and laundry and stuff.”
Somehow we never include laundry in our sex dreams. Or our fancy plans. Do you think the Chinese architects and builders who drew up scale models and spiffy drawings of those high rises in the background included laundry hanging from the balconies?

There will always be laundry. Including bright red jammies.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

There will always be laundry



There will always be laundry.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Beppe Sebaste: Panchine

If you want to buy a book, first the dog has to approve you. If you smell okay, this little store in Lucca, Italy, might sell you a copy of Panchine: Come Uscire dal Mondo senza Uscirne by Beppe Sebaste, a lovely book of meditations on the subject of park benches (panchine) and how to exit the world without really leaving. Beppe looks like your grandfather and is the kind of guy you want to sit down and have a beer with - on a park bench, perhaps, while playing a game of chess.

The epigraph at the front of the book is a quote from Richard Brautigan:

Why is a short story short?
Ask that man sitting on a bench
in the park, any park, but be prepared, for he might
tell you a story longer
than you would want to listen to.

Beppe did me the honor of reading a passage from my Le Famose Patate to an audience in Piacenza, Italy. It was a passage about hitchhiking in an old pickup truck banging across the fields of Illinois. Maybe thoughts on the bench seats in old pickups are an American equivalent to meditating on a park bench in Italy. The last lines of the passage were:
"You got kids? How many?"
"Eleven! Wow! How do you feed them all?"
"With a spoon. Haw haw."
Haw haw. A good answer to an impertinent question. Of course the children would be fed. As we bounced between the fields of America in a dirty old farm truck, I had no doubt that the children of this land would always be fed.

But he used these words:
"Hai figli? Quanti?"
"Undici! Cacchio! E come fai a dargli da mangiare?"
"Col cucchiaio. Ah-ah."
Ah-ah. La giusta risposta a una domanda impertinente. Certo, vuoi che non desse loro da mangiare? A mano a mano che avanzavamo sobbalzando tra i campi d'America nel vecchio camioncino sidicio, mi si stemperava ogni dubbio: i gigli di questa terra avrebbero avuto sempre qualcosa da mangiare.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Work and Play

I like it when a stonemason combines work and play. This whole wall is playful.

I guess his name is Muccia.

Another example would be Limey Kay, who I wrote about here and here.

Limey and Muccia would have liked each other.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Living with the Past: the Naked Remodel

It's a modern school housed in medieval stone, patched here and there with brick. I know how difficult it is with schools: There's always a balancing act with the budget, and the physical plant is usually the first cut. Still, they're doing a nice job. They've kept the walls from crumbling while adding a graceful modern door here, removing an old window there, even adding a glass roof and suspended lights over the little piazza.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Living with the Past: the Naked Remodel

They started building this church in the year 870. Eventually, even with brick and stone, things fall apart. I can count about six different repair jobs in this small section, involving at least three different tradesmen using different bricks and different styles. When you work with brick, your workmanship is your brand, and it really stands out - sometimes in a good way, sometimes not.

As a tradesman myself, I try not to be too critical of other people's work. Heaven knows I've made my share of sloppy repairs - but usually the sloppiness was because the owner wanted it quick and dirty and cheap. Eventually I stopped taking those cheap jobs because, like the bricks in the upper left of this photo, your quick cheap repair might last for centuries, insulting your reputation each and every day.

(You can click on the photo to see more detail.)