Communion Of Dreams

Now, *that’s* a manly hammer!
January 31, 2009, 3:46 pm
Filed under: Art, Humor, Violence

Sometimes, you just have to shoot Old Yeller.

OK, so what happened is this: the other day we got a phone call.  Not just any phone call.  It was from my wife’s landlord.  This was not a good thing.

See, my wife moved out of her office this past summer, after deciding to call it quits with her business partner.  We moved all her stuff out, but she’s been waiting for someone to sublease the place since.  Earlier this month that actually happened, and the new tenant was due to move in next week.  Then we got the call.

No, not what you expect: the deal didn’t fall through.  Rather, there was, shall we say, a complication.  A complication in the form of one large framing table, about 50″x54″.  Built like a bloody damned toll bridge: massively over-engineered.  And painted the same battleship grey.

This large table used to be mine.  It was in my gallery for the whole time we were in operation.  When I closed the gallery, my wife and her partner thought that they could use it for flat files (it had solid plywood shelves just for such purpose).  When she and her partner split up, the partner said to leave the table and she’d use it.  And now it was left there in the office, and the landlord called us to tell us we had to move it this weekend.  Seems that the ex-partner was unavailable or something.

Now, I never wanted this table.  But, like taking in a puppy, I was trying to do a good deed and give it temporary shelter.  Here’s the story:  Some 13 years ago, as I was starting up my art gallery I had been in talking with the manager of another business downtown which was going out of business.  He sort of whined about how great the table was, and how bad it was that he couldn’t find a home for it, and how it was a shame that it was just going to get trashed.  I think they had gotten it similarly some years previously.  My business partner at the time thought that it would make a nifty addition to our shop, so I said that we’d take it off their hands.  Me and a couple of other guys hauled the damned thing over to my business and got it set up.  This was not an easy task – it is, as noted, completely over-engineered.  Solid 4×4 legs, boxed in sides of half-inch plywood, runners for the drawers made of 1x4s, top of three-quarters inch plywood, et cetera.  You could easily, and safely, shelter an entire family under the thing in the event of a natural disaster or nuclear war.

Anyway, when it came time to close my gallery five years ago, I had the pleasure of dragging this monster out of the basement and over to my wife’s office.  Again, I got several friends to help in the hellish task.  There was much cursing and barking of knuckles.  I thought I was free of it.

And now, at the end of January some five years later, with very short notice, I had to deal with the thing once again.

“Fine,” I told my wife.  “But I’m going to kill the sunovabitch this time. It’s coming apart – I am done moving that bastard in one piece.   If it comes apart in useful pieces, we’ll hang onto the lumber, otherwise it’ll go into the dumpster there behind your office.  But I am not moving it again.”

I loaded the necessary implements of destruction into the car this morning.  Couple of crowbars.  20 pound sledge.  Circular saw.  My good construction drill, powerful enough to twist the tops right off of screws, if necessary.

We called the landlord, told him we were coming.

Got there, he met us.  Opened up the office.  We looked around, saw the critter.  I took a look at it, couldn’t tell how it was held together with just a casual glance.

“Be right back.”  I went out to the car.

When I returned. I had my hand sledge.  I think the landlord was confused and surprised.  He looked at it, then looked at me, and said “Now, *that’s* a manly hammer!”

I said nothing, just took the first swing.  Popped under the corner of the top, testing to see what would happen.

It gave.  I went to the next corner, swung again.  Heard the squeak of nails pulling free.  Hmm.   The landlord stood there, a bit horrified at my brutality and casual violence towards the table.  He didn’t understand.

Six more swings and the top was free.  I examined.  It’d been glued and nailed.  Lots of nails.  But the glue was no longer holding very well.  In about five minutes, I had the thing knocked apart completely.  Ten minutes after that, we had it loaded into the back of my station wagon.  I let my wife talk with the landlord.

So now the parts of the dead table are in my shed.  One of these days, when I get around to turning the shed into a workshop, I might resurrect it in a more useful size.

And if so, I think I’ll paint it yellow.

Jim Downey

So, how crazy are you?

An interesting post on MeFi about survivalists – here’s the lede:

“Civilization is Just a Thin Veneer. In the absence of law and order, men quickly revert to savagery. As was illustrated by the rioting and looting that accompanied disasters in the past three decades, the transition from tranquility to absolute barbarism can occur overnight. People expect tomorrow to be just like today, and they act accordingly. But then comes a unpredictable disaster that catches the vast majority unprepared. The average American family has four days worth of food on hand. When that food is gone, we’ll soon see the thin veneer stripped away.”
posted by Joe Beese (119 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Now, I haven’t bothered to go look at the sites linked there. I know the mindset, and have no real need to read more of it. But I found the discussion on MeFi that ensued to be very interesting and insightful.  Howso?  Well, here’s one comment that stood out:

A lot of this is weird to me because I grew up and live in “flyover” country.

It’s strange to me that some of you don’t own generators because I wonder what the hell you do if there’s an ice storm.

I suppose some of you don’t own guns but in Michigan it’s damn near the easiest thing in the world to shoot a duck or a goose and save the $15 you would have spent at a grocery store to purchase one.

And everyone in my neighborhood has five or six gallons of gas on hand for the generator, truck, wood-splitter or whatever because the gas station is a long way off and unreliable.

So I guess the thing that surprises me most is that “survivalism” has now been relegated to “being able to keep shit running” and that’s kind of depressing. People should at least have something on hand to produce food and heat in case of a natural disaster.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:55 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]

It seems that there is something of a bell curve here – with the complete stereotypical “survivalists” on one end, and the total “everything is always fine in my world, why worry about the future?” types on the other – and both extremes viewing the other as crazy.  Most of us fall somewhere in the middle, naturally, with distributions on one side or the other of the center according to our experiences and where we live.  Few of us have a Farnham’s Freehold mindset, but likewise few of us would trust to fate for nothing bad ever happening to us – we make some preparations to cope with an uncertain future, whether it is only by insurance or savings or by keeping a few weeks worth of food on hand (and I don’t buy the claim that most families only keep a 4 day supply of food on hand – most people shop weekly at most, and could probably subsist on “stuff” in their cabinets for a couple of weeks, even if it wasn’t the sort of regular meals that they’re used to.)

I’ve written about my own attitudes on the matter a fair amount – taking what I see as some common-sense precautions, while understanding that I don’t want to just completely retreat from living my life in the present.  We live in a world with earthquakes, tornadoes, flu, global warming and countless other things which can and do happen, or may realistically happen, which can lead to a period of civil disruption or at least the power being out for a few days.  And yet to read the comments on that thread it shows me that I am further to the side of the bell curve than I would expect.  And yes, of course I see all those who are less well prepared as being more crazy than I am.

Hmm . . .

Jim Downey

(Cross-posted to UTI.)

Getting fixed.
January 28, 2009, 11:38 am
Filed under: Alzheimer's, Art, Bipolar, Book Conservation, Depression, Health, Survival, Travel

“Say, while you’re here, maybe you can take a look at this piece of artwork I have. It was given to me by the artist, a friend, but it seems to be coming away from the frame.”

This is part of the price of having owned an art gallery and having done framing. Friends and family ask these questions. But it could be worse – I could be a doctor.

“Sure, be glad to.”

* * * * * * *

Email from a friend, following my post about depression:

I hope you’ve turned the corner on the inertia and are getting back into it. Got meds?

My reply:

Lets see – yeah, a couple of different ones for my bp.  For the depression?  Nope – the state of treatment there is still less than a crap shoot, in terms of finding something that works.  And since I am not paralyzed by it, and know how to work my way out of it over time, I’d rather spend the time doing that than mucking around with random chemicals on a “try this for six weeks” basis.

* * * * * * *

I sat in the recliner, just enjoying the picture created by the fair-sized window on the wall across from me.  All I could see were trees – no sky, no landscape beyond – just trees.

But what trees!

Coastal redwoods.  And only three or four of them.  About 25 feet outside the window, so I was only getting a partial view, mostly of that rough, somewhat shabby but oversized bark.  With a couple of horizontal branches to make the composition more interesting visually.

“Nice view out this window.”

“Yeah, we sited the house to do that.”

My wife designed this house.  It was good to be staying there.

* * * * * * *

On the flight out I sat and thought.  For a long time.  Listening to music, eyes closed.  The Southwest jet was only about 2/3 full, so my wife and I had plenty of room in our three-seat row.  I could just relax, spread out a bit, and think.

I don’t do that often enough.  Usually, I am reading, blogging, watching something, having conversation.  Or I am working – whether at my conservation bench, or playing house elf, or doing something else.  But I seldom sit and just think.

Or listen to music.  I got out of the habit while caring for Martha Sr.  It was difficult to do, since so often I had to be listening to the baby monitor we used to make sure she was OK.

I used to really enjoy listening to music.  Just listening, thinking.

* * * * * * *

“See, it’s pulled away from the frame.”

I looked at the piece.  We’d hung it off an open door so that I could examine it easily while it was suspended.  Abstract, large pieces of torn paper, colored in pastel tones of blues and greens and beiges.  The pieces had been heavily gessoed then painted with a thinned-down acrylic.  To add some surface effects, the mounted pieces of paper were rolled and folded such that they created a high relief of some five or six inches.  All this tied onto the base sheet (also gessoed and painted), which was adhered to a piece of foamcore.  This was then mounted by construction adhesive to a strong boxed-“H” wooden frame which you couldn’t see from the front.  The whole effect was pretty good, if you like abstract art.  Overall, the piece was about 3′ wide by 5′ tall.

“Yeah, I see what you mean.  The top part has curled away from the frame, peeling away.”

“You can do whatever you need to.  I’ve got some Gorilla Glue – maybe that’s strong enough.  Or, if you want to screw the piece back onto the frame, I can get some paint to blend in and mask the screws.  Whatever you think it needs.”

I looked at the piece again, hanging there.  Pulled a bit, knocked off a chunk of the bead of adhesive.  “Let me think about it.”

* * * * * * *

They tell you to expect it to take a year to recover.  You don’t believe them.

But they’re right.

Oh, that doesn’t relieve you of the duty to try and get your shit together more quickly.  To try and get past the soul-aching exhaustion that comes with having fought the good fight for so very, very long.  You have to do that.  It is absolutely necessary.

But it isn’t sufficient.  It will still take a year.  Or longer.

* * * * * * *

I sat in the chair, looking out the window.  I had changed my position ever so slightly – now, on the extreme right, I could see about half of the large birdfeeder.  We had filled it and hoisted it up that morning.  Now maybe a dozen Steller’s Jays were mobbing, taking turns at the feeder, flicking in and out of my picture.

If you know Bluejays, you know these guys.  Smart.  Stubborn.  Survivors.

Sometimes, being a little stubborn is what’s needed.  Stubborn in a smart way.  While several of their number kept some larger crows away, the others would eat.  Then they’d swap.  Smart.

* * * * * * *

“We’ll get what we need when we’re out.  Is there an art supply store in Ft. Bragg?”

“Yeah, Racine’s.  Downtown.”  My sister-in-law looked at me, a little quizzical. “I’ll be happy to talk with the artist and get some paints and do the touch-up, if you just want to remount the piece with screws or something.  There’s no reason you have to try and match what she used.”

“I won’t need any paints.  Nor any screws.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Well, the problem isn’t the adhesive.  The problem is the lamination.”


“See,” I pointed at the back of the piece.  “There’s just this piece of foamcore.  There’s nothing to balance the force of the paper mounted to the other side.  Rather than trying to force the whole thing back, which will probably result in snapping the foamcore backing, we’re going to dismount it entirely.  Then I will put a layer of stiff cloth on the back, using an adhesive similar to the gesso on the front.  I want to go to the art supply store, since they’ll either have the PVA I want, or I can get some gesso and use that.”

“Will that work?”

“Yup.  It’s a basic process from book conservation, just applied on a larger scale than I usually do it.  Same thing as getting the balance right on the cover of a book – cloth on the outside, paper on the inside.  It stops the bookboard from warping.”

* * * * * * *

It’s been a year.  Or it will have been next week, when I’m on the east coast.

On the day I’ll meet my co-author for the care-giving book, as it happens.  Talk about serendipity.

Nothing magical about that.  But anniversaries have meaning.

* * * * * * *

I can’t quite explain how it changed.  But somewhere along the way out to California I found something.  Whether it was in the music, or the thinking, or just the quiet place in my head that resulted from an enforced relaxation for several hours, it was there.


Not the stubbornness which saw me through the long years of care-giving.  That was different.  Defiance in the face of the disease ravaging Martha Sr.

No, this was less about simple survival, and more about . . . well, joy, I guess.

I wasn’t swept away with feelings of overwhelming happiness or anything.  But there was a sense that joy could once again be mine.  Not just satisfaction in work.  Not just enjoyment of life.  But joy in being able to create.  Maybe not yet.  But the possibility was there for the future.

A smart kind of stubbornness.

* * * * * * *

We turned the dining room table into a workbench.  I laid down newspapers, then we positioned large jars to support the artwork from the front without damaging the high-relief rolls and folds of paper.  I needed access to the back of the piece, and this was the only way to do it.

First, I cut away the frame.  Some of the facing of the foamcore came off with the frame, but not much.  Then I removed all the remaining old adhesive from both the foamcore and the frame itself.  I set the frame aside.

Then I mixed up the straight PVA I’d found at the art supply store with water, 50-50.  Set that aside.

I took the piece of light cotton duckcloth I’d gotten, and cut it into three strips, each about 2′ tall and as wide as the foamcore.  I laid out more newspaper on the floor.  I laid a strip of cloth on the newspaper.  And using a 4″ plastic putty knife, I poured/spread the PVA across the cloth.  It was necessary for it to be completely saturated, the fibers completely relaxed.  I waited for a minute for this to happen.  Then I picked up the cloth by one edge, and took it to the table.  I draped it across the foamcore, and spread it out smoothly, making sure to have good adhesion.

I repeated the process with the other two strips of cloth, overlapping them a few inches.

“Now we wait,” I told my SIL.

“For what?”

“For it to dry overnight.  If the cloth shrinks the right amount as the PVA dries, it will cause a balancing force to the gessoed paper on the other side, and the foamcore will flatten out.  If it is not enough, another application of PVA in the morning will help get the balance right.  If it is too much, I can spray it with water and let the adhesive relax.  It’s just a matter of finding the right balance.”

She looked at the contraption sitting on the table.  She said nothing, but it was clear she was skeptical.

* * * * * * *

I had been waiting around for something to happen.

Well, no, I had been trying to figure out how to force something to happen.  And being very depressed that I couldn’t do it.

I was being stupid stubborn.  Forcing myself to work.  To write.  To try and find some happiness in this or that.

It was, perhaps, a necessary stage.  Just to show myself that I had the stubbornness I needed, even if it was applied ineptly.

But there was a better path.  A smarter path.  Just relax, and start walking.

* * * * * * *

I poured myself a cup of coffee, walked over to the table.

The foamcore was almost perfectly flat.  A slight rise on one corner where the cloth was stronger than the minimal amount of paper on the other side, but that would flatten out just fine.

I sipped my coffee, glanced out the window.  From that vantage point I could see the whole bird feeder.  There were crows there now, arguing with one another.

Sometimes you just need to understand your way out of problems.

Jim Downey

All’s well . . .
January 27, 2009, 12:21 am
Filed under: Humor, Psychic abilities, Travel

Hi.  Yeah, it’s me.  Got back to KC a little bit ago.  Uh-huh.  Just left the airport.  Should be home by 10:30.  But I don’t think we’re going to make it.  No.  See, the windshield is covered with ice, and the driver doesn’t want to pull over to get it fixed.  No, I mean really covered.  *Really covered.* I think the driver’s driving by E.S.P. or something.  Uh-huh. Yeah.  I’m just laying down because I don’t want to see it when we die.

That was from the idiot woman who sat behind us in the shuttle from Kansas City.  Who felt it incumbent upon her to call several friends and family members and relay that particular narrative of our imminent demise.

Well, obviously we made it home.  But the first 75 miles or so of the shuttle trip were more exciting than I care to have my life these days.  No, the driver wasn’t using ESP.  He just scrunched down in his seat, looked through his steering wheel, through the roughly 1/3 lower part of the windshield which was staying sorta clear of ice, thanks to the combined efforts of the blasting defrosters and the abused windshield wipers.  Which made a “SCHINK-schink” rasping sort of noise as they scraped over the growing continents of ice on the windshield.  Seriously, that’s what they looked like – there was a nice smear of Africa in front of the driver, with a nearly perfect Indian subcontinent over on the right, followed by a general vague outline of Asia as we all more or less remember it from grade school and news stories.  What was particularly exciting was that the light of oncoming traffic would cause the whole Northern Hemisphere of ice to glare brightly, making it impossible to see the road through the thin strip of windshield warming below.  But that was offset by the fact that during the dark periods the driver would *speed up* to make up for lost time.  And there were a fair number of dark spells, since the weather had turned so bad that even the insane drivers of Kansas City were smart enough to get off the road.

Ah well.  We made it.  I gave him a tip for the extra excitement when he dropped us off at the house about an hour later than we should have gotten home.

More about my Northern California adventures later.  After I’ve calmed down and recovered from the drive home.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

I’d pay money…
January 26, 2009, 7:07 am
Filed under: Art, Humor, Joss Whedon, MetaFilter, Science Fiction, Survival

…to see this:

I showed a snippet back in October, but here is the full web pilot I shot during the strike. If you click through to Vimeo, you can see it in full-screen HD.1

For the past few months, the pilot has been shopped around to advertisers and other possible sponsors, but given the economy and my schedule, it’s looking unlikely that a confluence of money and time will lead us to shoot more. So I wanted to let people see it, particularly because it features some actors who should be on more lists. Including Ze Frank, who is now an Angeleno.

The web series business model has proved tough for everyone to figure out. Yes, Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible was fantastic, but even that couldn’t get the ad sponsors it should have. Selling through iTunes is an option for someone with Whedon’s name brand, but I don’t see it working for The Remnants, even given the recognizability of some of the cast members.

Interesting: a post-apocalyptic comedy. Wrap your head around that.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

Of course, just having the *capability* is probably illegal . . .
January 24, 2009, 7:30 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Constitution, Government, Health, Science

I’m a coffee junkie.  I need to have my two cups of caff in the morning, or I am not fit to be around.

But the folks who came up with this are seriously twisted:

How To Free-Base Caffeine.

This footage was prepared recently by a citizen-journalist / advocate in Vancouver.
Contrary to what one might think, it’s a pretty good PSA for crack addicts wanting to manage their addiction … and it’s apparently legal, too.

Legal, yeah.  But my guess is that these days, just having the equipment to do this would be considered to be “proof” of intent to traffic in cocaine, if you were actually doing it.  Yeah, sure, it’s nothing that most households don’t already have around: coffee, a filter, a pan, some ammonia.  What’s your point?

Jim Downey

(Via Sully.)

Let’s do the Time Warp again!
January 22, 2009, 7:07 am
Filed under: Architecture, Art, MetaFilter, movies

(On vacation to the wilds of northern CA for a few days.  So am running some non-current-event-specific posts.)

New Construction circa 1955 — One-owner home that’s never been lived in!

Circa 1955: The best way to describe this awesome find? “NEW CONSTRUCTION FROM 1953!”

This awesome 50’s bungalow, located on a quiet, cul-de-sac street on the Hill, has seriously never been lived in… at least on the main level. This ONE-OWNER home was resided only in the lower level during their stay here, so the main level has been frozen in time and perfectly preserved. The vintage Magic Chef gas oven had a head-count of 28 turkeys cooked in it for 28 Thanksgivings — that’s IT. The other meals prepared in this home were in the lower level kitchenette, where the family resided full-time. The quality of the 50’s shows, as everything is in great working order, the original wooden sash windows are in perfect shape, the tile is impeccable, the hardwoods are pristine (they’re there under the wool carpet)… the list goes on and on. There is an entry foyer, large living/dining combo, large eat-in kitchen, 2 bedrooms with hardwood floors and double (large!) closets, and bath on the main level. Downstairs, you could eat off the floor it’s so clean, and features an additional full bath (offered as-is). The yard is neat and tidy, and fully fenced, and has a 2-car garage with electric opener. Newer low-maintenance siding has been added to the home.

Offered for 129,900 — seller open to negotiatng furniture/furnishings to remain. Truly one of a kind to find. WILL NOT LAST.

Incredible.  And in a cool part of St. Louis called The Hill, an area which still has strong roots to the Italian immigrants who settled there, and where you can still find the finest Italian foodstuffs.  I would think that some smart movie company should buy the place and archive it for use in sets in the future – probably cheaper than having to recreate it later.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi.)

And all will turn, to silver glass.*
January 20, 2009, 9:16 pm
Filed under: Bipolar, Depression, Sleep, Travel

Off in the morning, to northern California.  Visit family, relax.  Walk in the redwoods, and on the beaches.

Not a cure for the depression which dogs me.  It wouldn’t be depression if it could be resolved so easily.  I don’t think people who have never experienced it can quite understand that.

But it should help.  Help, as today’s quiet observation of an age passing helped.

Passing.  Like light on the water.*

I have scheduled several new items to show up here while I’m gone.  So don’t be a stranger.

Chat with you when I get back next week.

Jim Downey

*From this.

So, what are YOU doing?
January 20, 2009, 8:30 am
Filed under: Constitution, Politics

OK, sound off – what are you doing this morning? Trying to get any work done, or have you just given up and are paying attention to the Inauguration?

One of the luxuries (also one of the dangers) of working for myself is that I get to set my schedule. And I long ago decided I wasn’t going to try and get anything done at least this morning – I wanted to celebrate the removal of Bush from office. I admit, I would have preferred to have it happen with him either leaving in a box, or being dragged out in handcuffs, but you take what you can get – there are worse things than a constitutional transfer of power. I was going to get drunk in celebration of that bastard being gone.

But sometime in the last few days, that attitude changed. I decided that I was more concerned with observing Obama coming in. No, I have no illusions about his being some kind of semi-divine character who is going to make everything better instantly. That’s absurd. But it really is something remarkable that he is going to be president in a few short hours. I never believed I’d live to see it. So I’m going to stay sober and watch. Yeah, Bush will finally be out of office. And that is cause for deep happiness. But I don’t want him to taint this moment in history.

How about you?

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

Into the valley of Death, Rode the six hundred.
January 19, 2009, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Feedback, General Musings, Writing stuff

No, not more poetry.  But you know how it is – your brain gets working that way, and soon you can’t escape making such references.

Rather, this is post #600 for this blog.  That works out pretty well to 100 posts every four months, since I launched this blog right at two years ago.  Of late I have had some thoughts about the natural lifespan of a blog – whether I should be considering a good point to close it down.  But there’s no hurry – I’ve not yet accomplished getting Communion of Dreams published, and I still find plenty of things more-or-less related to it to write about, though the primary focus of the blog does seem to have shifted yet again.  Oh well.  For now, I will be sticking with this venue, and I promise plenty of warning if I give serious consideration to shifting over to something else.

Anyway, happy 600.

Jim Downey