aboard the M/V sonofagun, Darwin, Australia, life, philosophy

Working with a thief

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That which stands in the way IS the way.

Marcus Aurelius

After my manager returned from her 6 weeks of annual leave, one of the other staff members at work resigned, and so I am still working 6 days a week and, believe me, this blog isn’t the only thing that’s suffered from it…I have had no time to make anything new or do anything creative; with just Sunday free, I barely have time to keep the houseboat from looking like a pigsty, get the laundry and groceries done, run all those little errands that hold the framework of my life together.

Last Sunday, my one day off, I worked some more: I took all my craft market gear ashore, and a friend kindly loaded the stuff into her ute (that’s Aussie for a pickup truck…from ‘utility vehicle’) and took me to the Museum Grounds for the Dragonfly Craft Fair. It was a good day for me, and I came back to the Dinah Beach Yacht Club cashed-up and feeling triumphant. My friend was curious to see what living on a boat is like, so I invited her to come home with me. We unloaded my tables, chair, boxes of craft market goods, and I went to get the dinghy. But it wasn’t where I’d left it, and more looking revealed that it had not simply been moved nor ‘borrowed’ by a fellow club member. It had been stolen.

When I used to row my dinghy, I could leave it tied to the pontoon for days on end; nobody touched it for all these 5 years. Thanks to the new outboard engine, it disappeared just 6 weeks after the engine had been attached.

I apologised to my friend, reported the theft to a few friends, the marine police, and some people at the club. At first I was a bit upset…with myself, for not locking my dinghy the way everyone else at the club does; but mainly over the loss of the aluminum dinghy, itself, as well as the small but super-heavy anchor that was in it, my custom-made oars (extra long, tropical hardwood, with oversized blades), and the two 15-liter water containers that I carry water home in.

I ordered a vodka-lime-and-soda, rolled a cigarette, and found myself strangely at peace with what had happened. What do you do when something like this happens? Cuss? Start shouting? Cry? Round up a posse of murderous, bearded waterfront characters and comb the harbour in a flotilla of dinghies for signs of the dinghy and/or thief? (Nobody saw who took it, though there are suspicions that a homeless heroin addict that’s been hanging around the waterfront lately did it. Who knows?) Rush off and spend all of the day’s earnings on another outboard engine? Someone told me “That’s why you should always have TWO outboards…so if one gets stolen, you have a spare!” Buy outboard engines for thieves?

Strangely enough (maybe it was the vodka?) in a very short time I accepted what had happened, felt a kind of relief and peace wash over me, and pushed the lost engine out of my mind completely. The truth is that I never did like that outboard…’fast’ was the only good thing that could be said of it. Otherwise it was noisy, smelly, it vibrated the dinghy so violently that parts of it had started to fall off, it was moody on cold mornings, it was vulnerable on rough days at the pontoon, with all the dinghies lurching and leaping and crashing against each other. It was a hassle to buy fuel and oil for regularly. The worry that I would run out of fuel midway through the week, or during a trip home, was a constant faint anxiety at the back of my head. I couldn’t listen to music on my way to work. It scared all the birds in the mangroves away, so that I never saw them. A couple of times I went over rocks in the shallows with it, and the propeller made the most terrifying grinding and screeching sound…it required deeper water than a rowing dinghy and so I found myself stranded by tide levels that I would normally scull right over. But my beloved had bought it for me, and I couldn’t refuse to use it without seeming ungrateful and recalcitrant.

My peace blossomed into joy: I had an excuse to go back to rowing! I laughed out loud at the bar, delighted. Thank heavens for Josh, who is one of just five men (Kris included) at Dinah Beach who have actually done some serious rowing: while everyone else was giving me their two cents on where I should start looking for my lost dinghy, or asking me to demonstrate my knot-tying skills (implying that because I am a woman, I probably don’t know how to tie a decent knot, and the thing worked itself loose and drifted off! To which I found the quick reply “Sure, I’ll show you my bowline knot…can I use your dick as a bollard?”) or offering me the loan of their spare outboard (so the thief can have another one, and I have to buy them a replacement?), Josh simply, matter-of-factly, handed me his oars and told me where to find his own little sculling dinghy (his own boat is out of the water, for now, so he doesn’t need them soon). He knows I like to row. And as someone who’s done it for years, he knows it not as hard or unpleasant as it may seem to onlookers.


I’ve been to and from the boat a few times, now. Josh’s oars were just 6 feet long, awkward and much too short to scull properly, so I bought myself a pair of 8-foot oars at the ship chandlers after the first trip. The blades are still too small for my liking, but at least I’m comfortable rowing now. I’m like a huge water bug, skidding over the surface of the harbour on long legs. I pop my earbuds in and listen to music or an audio book as I row. I skirt the mangroves and the birds fidget when I come near, but they don’t take off in a scatter of panicked wings. I look around me as I row, drinking in the cloudless sky, the sunlight embroidering the edges of the leaves in fil d’or. I’ve been listening to the audio book Vis and Ramin, an 11th century love story. I catch myself grinning as I row. I LOVE this…I feel so alive, so much a part of this world. My body loves the honest work of rowing, my heart beating time to the rhythm of my strokes, and the world isn’t flying by in a rattling metallic cacophony of fuel-scented exhaust. It’s good for the heart, for the body, for the mind, for the soul, for the environment. Why would anyone want to do anything else? I’d like to thank the dude who stole my outboard for giving me back my self-reliance, and so much joy.

Fabulous Water

*And for those who are always concerned about Time and argue that rowing takes too much time (though they don’t complain about sitting in front of a television for a couple of hours every night), I have timed each of my recent rowing trips, and it has consistently taken me 35 minutes to row from the boat to the yacht club or the other way around. That’s 15 minutes longer than it took by outboard.

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art journal tricks, journaling + mail art, philosophy

Out with the old…

planting broken and bent needles in a bed of soft tofu

“All the things have their own soul.”

From a combination of aspects of Buddhism and Japan’s traditional Shinto religion comes the belief that both living and inanimate objects have a spirit and soul.

The idea is that objects that have had a hard life can, having reached their 100th birthday, awaken to life and acquire souls. These monsters or “artefact spirits” are called tsukumogami, and are largely considered harmless, though many of them can band together and turn into a dangerous mob when they reflect upon how badly they have been treated after so much hard work and loyal service. They then set out to punish people who are wasteful, ungrateful, or who throw their tools away thoughtlessly. Wikipedia has a list of “known tsukumogami” that includes a “possessed tea kettle”, an angry-looking “animated umbrella”, and “A furry creature formed from the stirrup of a mounted military commander that works for Yama Orochi.”

tsukumogami

To prevent any of this from happening, Jinja ceremonies, such as the hari-kuyou, are performed in Shinto shrines of Japan. Kuyou are usually held for the spirits of dead people, but have also been held for things such as toys, weapons, and tools that were used for a long time and have been broken or rendered useless.

The hari-kuyou is a memorial service specifically for old sewing needles (hari) and pins. Prayers are offered to console the bent and broken needles. Each year, on February 8th, broken or damaged sewing needles are stuck into slabs of soft tofu or jelly—sort of as a reward after years of being pushed through tougher material—and these are offered to a Shinto shrine (or taken home and buried, with salt, in the garden). No needlework is done on this day, to give one’s needles a holiday of sorts. This ceremony still brings needleworkers and women together, today; in addition to the original purpose of consoling and thanking their tools, women are urged to take some time to console themselves, as well, and bury secrets too personal to reveal.

An old journal is a somewhat different matter…

Unlike broken needles and tattered umbrellas that have become useless, I think a journal becomes more valued and important with time. It is, after all, time and the act of writing in it regularly that transforms an empty book into a treasured record of life, and an heirloom for future generations. Not so much a useless corpse, your journal is more like your amazing hundred-year-old great-grandmother. She’s been a force of nature for over a century, and what she could really use right now is a cozy, everything-taken-care-of, bells-and-whistles retirement.

A home.

With this in mind, I think that a nice way to retire your used-up journal is by making it a special container of its own to live in…buy a decorative box that fits the book well, or try your hand at making a clamshell (or any of the other boxes bookbinders use to house precious volumes). If you can use archival, acid-free materials, so much the better…preserve your journal for your descendants, if you’re at all into that sort of thing.

A book box too bulky for you? If you’re one of those people that goes through 6 journals a year, perhaps a wooden chest or trunk to store them all in would be better. Or how about wrapping it in a knotted silk scarf, or stitching a simple calico bag with drawstring closure? Just something to keep the bugs from eating the paint off the pages, to confer some dignity on it, and keep it clean.

Any last words?

There’s not much point doing lots more writing in this journal—you probably don’t have any space left to write in, or (like me) your heart is already set on starting the next journal—but if writing a good closure makes you feel better, here are a few things you can use those last pages for:

  • An index…this doesn’t have to be a tedious page-by-page account of what’s in the journal, but you could write down major events and other things you’re likely to need someday (Ex. “Trip to Penang, p. 56-97”, “Peter’s death, pp.48”, or “Sabi’s roti paratha recipe, p.11”) My own journals only feature a practical list of schematic diagrams or design plans for book binding, so I can find them quickly without having to read through all the pages of blah-blah-blah. Which is why I still can’t remember the exact date of Peter’s death…

“Don’t talk about the things you care deeply, or feel intensely, about to every friendly stranger or fair-weather acquaintance. 1) Their insensitive questions or frivolous reactions may hurt, 2) your attempt to put the intangible into mere words will cheapen it, and 3) exchanging confidences in order to “win friends and influence people” is despicable.”

  • Finally, it might be nice to write a short paragraph at the very end, thanking the journal for the time it has served you and the ways it has helped you.
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I can’t wait to see this. I love Noam Chomsky, and Gondry’s animated film/documentary of a conversation with him is the sort of thing that I can watch once, and will feed off of its inspiration for the next 5 years. There are too few films that do this for me, these days.

found via Booooooom!

life, philosophy

The world, breaking its own heart.

 A man beat from a bunch of men in the city center. Athens, Greece 2012 Photograph by ENRI CANAJ

A man beaten by a bunch of men in the city center. Athens, Greece 2012 Photograph by ENRI CANAJ

Portrait of the world, breaking its own heart. Again and again and again and again.

Poring over some haunting photo journalism by photographer Enri Canaj, following a link that a friend shared.

Sobering. I almost titled this post”A wake-up call”; but, to be honest, I believe it may be too late for that.

A eulogy, then.

During the election in Greece. The Golden Dawn members which today are deputies in the Greek parliament. Athens, Greece 2012 Photos by Enri Canaj

We are so cruel to each other.

We are sloppy sacks of misery and intolerance and hate. So fearful of what we don’t understand. So quick to condemn, so slow to show compassion.

So alienated from the spirit of the universe that we have had to invent our own gods and tell ourselves stories about being chosen, righteous, better than, saved.

Scrunched up all the time…like fists, like cramps, like wads of worthless paper thrown together, on a planet that is increasingly like a compost heap.

We chase entertainment and material goods as though they were of lasting pleasure and importance…loathe to admit that their effects live only briefly…the flare of a matchstick, and then gone again, leaving us in the dark once more.

Even the most wealthy, the most beautiful, the most famous, the most powerful among us seem to hover always on the brink of hysteria, anger, despair, madness.

We think ourselves superior to animals, but the most ordinary earthworm is happier than any of us, knows its place and purpose better, and is more assured of grace.

Humanity. Our viciousness and ugliness and stupidity…

Fine.

So let’s get it over with, then…the sooner we’re all out of the way, the better we’ll all feel.

And here’s a funny thing: I don’t feel like discussing this with some online Pollyanna, so I won’t.

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Mr X Stitch screenshot

Holy crap, cocoaeyesthestitcher works fast! She asked me a handful of questions for the Mr X Stitch blog last month, and I think I only sent her my answers to the last couple of questions on Saturday night.

Browsing my feed reader tonight, I did a double-take to see that the interview was up and live already.

To be featured by the totally hardcore, cutting-edge, crest of the wave, stuff-of-the-moment embroidery website Mr X Stitch is a HUGE honor…it’s like acceptance and acknowledgement by every über embroiderer on the internet. I am flushed with pride.

Olisa, in particular, is a marvelous interviewer in that, before she threw me any questions, she first took the time to actually look at my work and read my blog. It is wonderful that she is also a perceptive museum goer and reviewer who can actually discuss craft and making critically and theoretically. I can’t begin to tell you how refreshing it was to be asked questions relevant to my own work, and not just a handful of pre-made questions that run roughshod over my own practice and ideas like a steamroller, mashing everything I say to fit into a limited and ignorant set of misconceptions. A sensitive and intelligent correspondent, she was, and the fact that she is an über embroiderer, herself, made it so easy to communicate ideas.

She was also very patient with me, as I think I rambled on for waaaay too long!

I will forever be grateful to her for the attention she paid to my answers, and the care she took to craft the follow-up questions. Pure gold.

Un abrazo grande y fuerte (como un oso!), Señorita Olisa. Mwah!

Inspired to Stitch – Nat Uhing.

blogging, blogs and sites, embroidery and textiles, philosophy

Oh, wait, what? Woohoo!

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music + film, philosophy

To your craft, be true…

Sharing this, because it cheered me up just now. I needed cheering up because I just watched a few (TV?) episodes of Martha Stewart “learning bookbinding” from some poor little intimidated bookbinder—who obviously agreed to work with the old bag because he couldn’t say no to the dough—and it depressed me so much…

He wasn’t explaining the principles behind anything he did (you would never really learn to bind a book by watching him), he rushed through everything, he simplified or parsed the process to the point of actually allowing bad practices to pass and doing things that bookbinders would never do…in other words, he betrayed his craft to abide by a miserly thirty-minute slot and to make some frump with her own television show look good.

And I watched her, making her own book as he made his, and you know what? She was heedless, careless, and clumsy. Even with everything prepared and pre-made for her, she slapped her book together so that it was crooked, and sticky with glue where no glue should have been. Seriously, all these years of Martha Stewart Living, and a public image that actually presents her as some kind of crafting master, and she can’t work neatly with a bit of PVA glue? Martha Stewart makes herself look good by paying other, skilled, people to make beautiful things for her, but seems, herself, to be a complete schlub. A lummox. No feel for the craft, no intelligence in her hands. Sausage fingers and the onscreen charm of a bulldozer.

She didn’t give a shit about book binding. The whole objective was to take an old and venerable craft—guild apprenticeships used to last 7 years—and render it down for material that could be used to plug up a thirty-minute crack in her program.

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