Salvaged-wood, no-plan bookshelf

Summer therapy project, part two

Jigsaw puzzles appeal to many people because the scrambled mess has a decisive solution. Usually, because the path to success is printed on the outside of the puzzle’s cardboard box. Build the edges first and then fill in the center. The strategy is fairly simple. The execution presents the delightful journey.

Building a bookshelf without plans is like dumping several jigsaw puzzles on to a table top, throwing away their cardboard boxes, and trying to create one solution from the many parts.

After selecting boards for the shelves, sides, supports, and legs, I started cutting the pieces to fit.

One of the therapeutic aspects of working with your hands is the tactile creation of the project. So much of what I do for a living is done by proxy. I design images for print and web. But I never touch the art. A pointer displayed on a screen by way of a handheld device that tracks two-dimensional motion allows me to design a variety of material. But it also presents a barrier. Glass, metal, and plastic separates me from the art I created. Should the art maker and the art object be divided in such a manner?

The physicality of this salvaged-wood, no-plan bookshelf presented joy. The smell of the sawdust. The feel of the drill boring into hardwood. The motion of sanding off the rough edges.

Sure, there were some mistakes. A board was too warped to use. Another board split when screwed in place. Four legs that do not match. But that is part of the riddle. Part of the delight.

When the assembled jigsaw pieces from several puzzles were set on the grass one weekend, it resembled a bookshelf.

Summer therapy project

 

It was as much a challenge as it was therapy. Discarded pallet wood salvaged from a curb. The pallets rested there for weeks. One of the kidlingers helped me load it in to the automobile and take it back to the apartment’s garage. The pallets were broken down into boards. Nails were removed. And boards stacked in order of length and thickness. As well as amount of damage. Some boards were broken. Others split when nails were removed. Some boards had mold while others had oil residue.

We formed plans. The kidlingers and I could build boxes. Handy, useful boxes. Boxes with handles. Boxes for storage. A doll house? What about a bookshelf? A bookshelf for schoolbooks.

And I needed something to do amid the quarantine. Something away from computer screens, teleconference video meetings, and email notifications. Americans adapted to local and state restrictions in order to mitigate the spread of the pandemic back in the Spring. Some worked from home. Set up remote offices at the kitchen table, basement desk, or spare room. For me, a window table I built in the bedroom became the office work space. Working and sleeping in the same room became claustrophobic. When the warm days of summer arrived I eagerly looked forward to the time of day when I turned off the computer, changed clothes, and went to the garage to work on a wood project.

I settled on building a few small boxes for starters. Something to get the hands and mind prepared for something bigger—a new bookshelf built from salvaged wood.

Inktober 2020 — #inktober #inktober2020

The #Inktober 2020 Prompt List.

Last days of March

1.

Does it matter if I did not finish writing a blog post on the 13th? How many blogs posts have I written and intended to publish. But left the blog post in draft mode for weeks. . . months. . . years. How many times I have I typed a reply to someone’s tweet or text, and then deleted it? 

People tell me they are busy. They hardly have time for themselves. When was the last time you were invited to someone’s home for a meal in the last five years? There is so much noise. So much tweeting at each other. So much posing, pandering, and posturing for attention. So much energy spent on self-promotion. I do not want to impose.

I typed out a comment to a Youtube chat. And then deleted it. I do not want to interact through a third-party communication interface. Join me for supper. We will enjoy a meal together. No screens between us. We will tell stories. We will learn of likes and dislikes and overcome all with levity and grace.

But now it seems like an entire nation is at home exercising self-quarantine and safe-at-home orders by local and state governments. I now interact with people through video conferencing and other screens of interaction. It is not the same as in person. Almost everyone one I engage with using Google Hangouts, Zoom, or Teams says the same thing. They miss seeing each other in person.

2.

I walked with my kidlinger on a foggy afternoon — one of the last days of March. We walked along a gravel road. Kidlinger chatted with a friend on a mobile phone. We walked more than a mile. Then kidlinger looked at me and held the mobile down.

“He keeps talking, and sometimes forgets what he’s just said.” 

“That’s okay,” I said. “Keep listening. Be polite. And you might learn something more about what he likes and doesn’t.” 

Kidlinger smiled and held the mobile to ear level. 

Somewhere near the creek I thought I heard the trill of a red-winged blackbird. We crossed one road and continued on another gravel path. The sound of footsteps on crushed rock and an occasional robin were all I heard. 

We walked another mile. In spite of the fog, there was a cold wind. It made my eyes water. From time to time, kidlinger would chuckle and comment to the friend speaking through a mobile phone.

Milwaukee rail service

Public transportation is often the target of complaints. Usually because it is not on schedule. Or the arduous task of connecting with one service and the next. For example, on the East Coast, if the red line bus was five minutes late that meant that you would miss the green line bus at the transit center and have to wait 30 minutes to an hour to get to work. Or continue on foot.

But the Milwaukee street car, The Hop, remains consistently on time. At least that is my experience. For commuters traveling into the city from the south, it is convenient to exit the train station walk across the street and around the corner to catch a ride on The Hop. From there the street car delivers commuters to Historic Third Ward and East Town stops within 5 to 15 minutes.

The cost of commuting by train and street car is the same and sometimes less than the cost of commuting by automobile. And no need to hunt for expensive parking solutions. Avoiding the danger and hassle of traffic congestion on the interstate is a bonus. Especially during unfavorable weather conditions. The train has WiFi and outlets allowing commuters to work while they ride. And, for people like me who prefer no-Fi, the train has a quiet car (like library quiet) for commuters.

There are some downsides. If the first train is late or delayed in some way, commuters have to wait two hours or more for the second train. A difference of starting work at eight o’clock or ten o’clock. One commuter bemoaned the fact that she would like a train that came in from the west, or that connected Madison and Milwaukee. Maybe that will happen someday. Maybe people will see the advantage of commuting by train.

Most days when I commute by rail, train cars are comfortably full. By that I mean, each row has four seats separated by an aisle. Many choose a seat by the window. Like myself. On rare occasions I shared the two seats with another commuter. Similarly, the street car is modestly full during commutes to work. Did I mention that both the train and street car are heated? A wonderful feature for Wisconsin winters.

Public transportation can be a nightmarish hassle. And some days it still is. But for the most part, the Milwaukee rail services, train and street car, are relatively free of stress.

Snow and commuting in Wisconsin

There is something magical about taking the train to work in the snow. Most of the time I read a book or magazine on the way to the office.

But this morning I just looked out the window — watching the snow gently cover the landscape in a soft white blanket.

Live an examined life

If your brain operated like a digital video camera, the playback video would take 300 years to watch. Think about that for a moment. The capacity of the human brain to store data would take almost four lifetimes to view if it were a film. With all that data, how does anyone organize it?

Note-taking is a practice. Maybe an art form. Possibly a lost art form. Here are some handwritten scrawls I found in my notebooks:

  • abiding by one’s principles is getting more important
  • a marketers job is to manufacture consent
  • to be a successful business guru: use faux scientific terms, command attention and speak with confidence
  • “Your head is a crappy office. . .”

Some of these are quotes, paraphrases and scribblings in the fashion, or after the manner, of a commonplace book.

Notes.

From time to time I review these notes and weigh their merit. How does the old expression go? Eat the meat and spit out the bone and gristle. Or, as I suggested earlier, thistles and wild flowers. Some ideas are rubbish. A couple of these notes I have considered off and on during the last couple years. One of these big ideas is productivity and time management. Another concept that captivates my thoughts is guiding principles.

Many business books explore the topics of productivity, time management and purpose. A lot of business books seem full of great ideas. Some are useful. But after a few critical passes a lot of these business and marketing books melt away like cotton candy. Nothing left but a stale after taste.

Weeds & thistles.

One such business book offers the thesis that leaders should ask why their company does what they do. This starts out well. Purpose is offered. But not principles. Is a purpose-driven company wrong? No. Everything has a purpose. But what about a plan? Is it Benjamin Franklin who wrote: If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail? Many business leaders implement ideas suggested in books without considering the consequences. Is purpose and plan interchangeable? What about a triumvirate of purpose, plan and principles? Plans change. Marketplace adaptation and other factors. Purpose is shifted due to internal and external needs. Principles. Principles are value statements. They are core business doctrines.

Wild flowers.

Many years ago, possibly fifteen years, I read that an international news magazine avoided presenting their news on their web site because the editorial leadership found no reason for it. (Keep in mind this was before the disruption of mobile phones and social media.) The subscriber-based magazine found no need to compete with itself on two platforms: print and digital. When the global market crashed in 2008, a lot of magazines and newspapers ended publication. Permanently. But this international news magazine increased its circulation during that time period. Their guiding principles were not compromised in spite of competition rushing to publish content online free of charge. To paraphrase their mission: you’ve seen the news, now read the story. The editors did not ask, why aren’t we on the internet like everyone else? When the time was right, when the method fit their mission, then they provided content online, in audio and video, on a mobile app as well as their legacy product — a weekly printed magazine.

One of those handwritten notes mentioned earlier was a quote from David Allen. He pioneered a system called getting things done (or GTD). The method offers a plan of how to get stuff out of your head and in to action. The goal is productivity. Each task should have three general responses: do, delegate or defer. Decisions are based on variables like time, energy, resource and others. While listening to one of his GTD audio podcasts I noted: “Your head is a crappy office. . .” A cluttered mind is a cluttered life. One of the practices of the GTD system is to unclutter your mind by capturing data outside the head. Whether you write notes or lists on paper with pencil or pen or email or text message yourself, the goal is to clear the mind. A clear mind provides space for planning, examining purpose and establishing principles.

Closing thoughts.

In the first draft of this piece (which was crafted nearly two months ago), I wrote: “A clear mind provides space for meaningful purposeful actions.” In the margin I noted: “What does this mean? Define the term meaningful. Define purposeful. Rewrite this line. Be clear, direct and to the point. No room for squishy platitudes.”

This is an example of why it is essential to re-examine the notes and ideas presented. A noble task is to live an examined life. The amount of data in a human brain is expansive. If your brain operated like a digital video camera, the playback video would take 300 years to view. Ultimately, how does an individual bring order to the chaos from the stream of cerebral activity?

An acquaintance, many years ago, mentioned that keeping a diary or journal was useless if you did not review it periodically. In other words, it is a good discipline to glance at the rearview mirror of commonplace books, diaries and journals before returning your focus to the front windshield and the task at hand.

Gathering flowers, my mountain flowers


What are the names of the flowers and blossoms that edge the late August roadsides of rural Wisconsin? Cornflower? Goldenrod? Queen Anne’s lace? Or wild carrot? Maybe this is botanical contrafact.[1] Same road progression along corn and soybean fields, but new melodies and arrangements of purple, white and yellow. Weeds and wild flowers remixed along country roads.

The expression “gathering the flowers” originated from a Latin phrase, florilegium.[2] The idea and practice of gathering flowers was to record quotations, excerpts and selections of literature, sketches and observations. Often religious and/or philosophical. These thoughts and ideas collected in a common place[3] provided a field of potential cross pollination. Hence the term commonplace books from the Latin “loci communes.”[4]

But tonight the poetry of Li Po, commonplace books and conversation at the dinner table collided. It is a practice in my home to share dinner together with the entire family. Good food and lively conversation abound. Tonight the topics included rhetoric definitions, friendship, loyalty, virtue, astronomy, Taoism, Christianity, providence of God, Li Po, coffee, heavy metal music, hairless rabbits and so on. Weeds and wild flowers distinguished throughout the animated discussion.

After the conversation subsided, the table cleared and dished washed, I reflected on a poem by Li Po. In the poem he referred to himself and a hermit friend as “mountain flowers.” Remixing gathering flowers and mountain flowers intrigued me. One of the children placed John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Art Tatum records on the stereo.

John Coltrane’s “26 2.” Charlie Parker’s chord progression from “Confirmation” reimagined with Coltrane’s melody and arrangement. Later, I borrowed Li Po’s four-line structure and motif and added my own melody, images and theme. Gathering flowers and blossoms. Poetic contrafact.

NOTES:
[1] Discovering Jazz, Episode 46, Stolen Chord Sequences (Jazz Contrafacts), accessed September 7, 2019. https://player.fm/series/discovering-jazz-2150622/archives-episode-46-stolen-chord-sequences-jazz-contrafacts
[2] “Florilegium – gathering literary flowers,” August 27, 2019. https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2019/08/27/florilegium-gathering-literary-flowers/
[3] Loci communes: Not an easy Google search, but an example of its usage is here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Loci-communes-rerum-theologicarum. Additionally, here are some Latin root words that make up Loci communes.


[4] Commonplace books is a subject explored here. “Best reads of 2014 (or what I found in my notebook),” December 31, 2014. https://coffeehousejunkie.net/2014/12/31/best-reads-of-2014-or-what-i-found-in-my-notebook/

Florilegium – gathering literary flowers

Ever have one of those moments when you realize you are not what you claimed or thought you were? Where an illusion of yourself, either self-imagined or externally imposed, dissipates.

Well, an interesting thing happened to me on the way to the Intermodal Station. While I had thirty minutes to spend, I lost my way through the labyrinthian shelves of Downtown Books in search of a Latin dictionary. Instead, I found a used English dictionary.

Knowing that half of the English language is built on the foundation of Latin, I found a delicious word: florilegium. Culling flowers is the literal definition. But “a volume of writings” reminded me of something else. The idea of gathering literary flowers or collecting the flowers of one’s reading. Somewhere between the Middle Ages and Renaissance the practice of writing quotes and excerpts from other texts began. Later it manifested itself in European culture as commonplace books.

For years I considered myself a modernist of sorts. Writing down quotes, excerpts and notes on or from influential artists like Jackson Pollock, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Jack Kerouac, and Ezra Pound. But there I was, standing in Downtown Books searching a dictionary for English words with the Latin root word “loci.”

When did this happen? When did I begin act and resemble a classicalist? Maybe this is part of the great conversation. Connecting the dots. Reading the ancient writers. Comparing them to modern literature. Maybe this is part of gathering literary flowers. Legacy informing legacy.

I boarded the train. Found a seat. Opened a copy of Gary Snyder’s Left Out in the Rain. And gazed out the window at the setting sun.

Analog desk, mostly


This is a story about fighting for something that is worthwhile. It starts with attention fragmentation due to disruptive media. Data explodes across small and large screens. Time confetti. Tools designed to build stuff now maximizes a user’s attention. Algorithms exploit weakness.

A CEO of an internet technology company once told me that the best way to prevent a data/security breach is to unplug from the internet — air-gap. Does that work for your brain?

Last year I built a desk from salvaged materials. The idea was to create a retreat by the east window. Books, Boston ferns, dwarf palms, pens, paper and a manual typewriter populate the desktop. Mostly. A smart phone routinely finds its way to the desk. And a laptop computer. Vigilantly I try to maintain low-tech/no-tech policy with the desk by the window.

The space has allowed for a renewed energy for illustration projects, writing efforts, and — most importantly — reading and thinking about books. The discipline of maintaining this sanctuary is more difficult than initially perceived.

NOTES:
“Air-gap” According to a Wired magazine’s article: “An air-gapped computer is one that is neither connected to the internet nor connected to other systems that are connected to the internet.” https://www.wired.com/2014/12/hacker-lexicon-air-gap/