Communion Of Dreams


Taking the long view.

This framed item has been on the wall of my bindery (at various locations) since I started work in 1992:

pledge

Here’s the same text, taken from the Services Offered page of my business website:

I am dedicated to preserving the legacy of books and documents that we have inherited.  To the best of my knowledge and ability I use techniques and materials that will last for generations.  Whenever possible, the materials are of archival quality:  acid-free and buffered papers & board, inert and reversible adhesives, unbleached linen thread, et cetera.  The techniques I use for binding and conservation work are likewise archivally oriented, non-damaging, and reversible in the event the book or document requires additional attention in the future.  All work is, of course, unconditionally guaranteed.

 

That last line sometimes surprises people. But it is extremely important, and has stood me in very good stead over the years I have been in business.  As I told a client by email this morning, concerning work on a recently-completed project (a 1910 D.A.R. charter on natural vellum which had been poorly framed and stored):

Well, I’ve done all that can be done, I think. The document is flat, the remaining wrinkling is where it was once wet and then dried in contact with the glass.

But as it says on my website: my work is unconditionally guaranteed. I want to wait until you have a chance to see the condition of the charter, and if you’re not satisfied with the work, just don’t send me payment (or if payment has already been sent, I’ll hold onto the check until you have the charter and can judge for yourself). Seriously, it is much more important to me that you be satisfied with the work than the few hours of labor I have invested in this project. I have always operated by this policy, and it has been by far the best thing for my customers and reputation.

 

You might think that people would take advantage of such a policy to try and screw me out of deserved payment. And maybe a couple have in my 23+ years of business. But I think the vast majority of people are honest and well-intentioned; if I think that a client isn’t trustworthy, I just don’t take the job. That has probably filtered out a few potential problems. And the others I chalk up to being a cost of doing business. Because when I tell a client that if they are not satisfied with the work, and I will either do what is necessary to make them satisfied or there’s no charge, they see that I’m not trying to cheat them in any way. And having that reputation as a craftsman is priceless.

Recently I was helping out a local NFP arts organization, by getting information together for some renovation work they need to have done. I met with several contractors, walked them through the facility so they could see the scope of the work, and then asked them to provide estimates for what needed to be done and at what cost, so that the NFP Board and Executive could seek funding.

With the first two contractors, things went exactly as expected. However, when the third contractor went through the facility, he saw something which caught his attention  and he started reconsidering the whole project (one of the other contractors had noticed the same thing and remarked on it, but didn’t investigate further). By the time we were done, he turned to me, shook his head and said something along the lines of: “I’m going to talk myself out of a job, but I think that the problem you’re having isn’t the one you think you’re having. I think you should get a qualified structural engineer in to do a formal check, but I don’t think you need me to do the work you asked me to bid on. That’s just a symptom of what is really going on, and it’d be cheaper and easier to correct the actual source of the trouble.”

This was a construction job which was going to run into the low five-digits, so it wasn’t just some little thing. For a small contractor, walking away from that sort of job isn’t done lightly. Particularly when it would have been very easy for him to just bid, do the work, and then figure the repairs would hold up long enough that nothing would come back to haunt him in the future.

That, my friends, is integrity.

I reached out my hand to the contractor, thanked him for his honesty, and told him that from now on if I knew of anyone who needed the kind of work done that he did, that I would have no hesitation in recommending him as honest and trustworthy.

That’s why I have the policy I do for my conservation work. And yeah, I am convinced that it is far and away the best possible policy I could have.

 

Jim Downey

 



Share it.

The folks at This I Believe have now put up the audio of me reading my essay “The Power to Forget“, as part of having it included in their weekly featured essay podcast, as I mentioned previously was in the works.

And I’d like to ask a favor: if you know of someone who might benefit from this essay, please share it with them.

No, not for any benefit to me. I’m not above self-promotion, but that isn’t why I ask for your help in this case. A decade ago when I wrote that essay, I had hoped that it might help others navigate through their own anger and loss. I thought that it had just disappeared into the foam of internet verbiage, until the people at This I Believe contacted me the beginning of this year. And now it feels somewhat like it has a second chance to do some good.

I don’t expect it to work miracles. Each of us who has suffered a loss — whether of a loved one, or our health, or our dreams, or an opportunity — have to deal with that loss in our own way. But it’s sometimes good to know what path others have taken, what worked for them.  So maybe my essay will help someone.

Thanks.

 

Jim Downey

 



So I wander into this nuclear reactor . . .

I had reason to look up this item the other day, and was surprised that I hadn’t ever posted it to the blog. So, in honor of St Pat’s Day (well, OK, not really, but there is a connection…), here’s a little something from my old archives from a few years ago.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So I wander into this nuclear reactor . . .

This morning’s news that the NRC has declined to force nuclear power plants to take additional precautions to prevent the breach of a nuclear reactor’s core by attack with a jetliner comes as little surprise, given the Bush administration’s attitudes about actual security issues.

But, as always when I hear such news reports, I was taken back to a sunny spring morning some 30 years ago, when me and a couple of college buddies wandered into a nuclear reactor.

It was the weekend of St. Pats day, and we were at the University of Missouri – Rolla to party with a friend of ours who was an engineering student there.  I think it was Friday morning, and our friend had some classes he had to attend, so myself and my two friends decided to just explore the campus a bit (we all attended schools elsewhere).

I had considered Rolla for school myself a few years previously, when I had been thinking of going into physics (a dream derailed by poor higher-math skills).  So when we came across the research reactor building, I wanted to have a look.

We just wandered in.  No, seriously.  We just wandered into the building, through a couple of sets of doors, and soon found ourselves standing at a railing, looking down at the glowing blue core of the nuclear reactor.  In this day and age it is hard to imagine such a thing – and even at the time it seemed more than a little odd.

A few minutes after we came in, a nice fellow who fit the stereotype image of a science professor came over to us.  Short, grey, bearded, balding, wearing a white lab smock over his shirt and jeans.  He sort of looked us over, asked what we were up to . . . and then gave us an impromptu tour of the place (after tagging us with personal dosimeters).

It was fascinating, to me at least.  The reactor core at this facility sits at the bottom of a large swimming pool, about 20 feet down.  That provides all the necessary protection from the radiation generated from operation of the fission reactor (which doesn’t produce much power, and doesn’t use the sort of fuel used in nuclear weapons).  Herr Doktor explained all this to us non-scientists, and also explained the eerie blue glow coming off the reactor (which was then in operation).

It was a color like I’ve never seen before or since – a soft electric blue that was both intriguing and repulsive.  I knew what it was, having been interested in physics:  Cherenkov radiation, caused when the radioactive particles generated by the fission reactions are faster than the speed of light in the water.  But it’s the sort of thing that lasts in the memory, embedded there in a way not unlike a religious experience – hard to describe, or explain, or convince others of, yet extremely vivid for the one who experienced it.

Now, I’m not religious.  I’m an atheist, in fact.  I understand what that blue glow is – yet, whenever someone claims that they have had a religious experience, I can tie it to that same feeling I had on first seeing that other-worldly blue glow.

Well, anyway, I had to share that personal experience, and add a bit of perspective on the changes we’ve seen in terms of security over the last 30 years.

Jim Downey



Because I was not the President.*

First they flew to watch for illegal immigrants, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an illegal immigrant.

Then they flew to look for marijuana farms, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a marijuana farmer.

Then they flew to watch the White House, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not the President.

Then … and then … and then …

 

Jim Downey

*With apologies.



“A lesson we cannot afford to forget.”

I said this recently:

But while that is the case, I also believe that the horror which is/was Nazism cannot be easily dismissed as aberrant. If one of the most humane and enlightened societies known — one which gave birth to brilliant scientists, philosophers, and artists — can turn into the Third Reich, then any society can. That is a lesson which we cannot afford to forget.

 

This isn’t that, but it is a sobering revelation:

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’

The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago’s west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights.

* * *

“I’ve never known any kind of organized, secret place where they go and just hold somebody before booking for hours and hours and hours. That scares the hell out of me that that even exists or might exist,” said Trainum, who now studies national policing issues, to include interrogations, for the Innocence Project and the Constitution Project.

 

Again, I want to emphasize: this is not Nazism. This is not equivalent to the Third Reich, and all the horrors which it spawned. But as someone said on one of the sites which has covered this:

I remember when the KGB were the bad guys.

Back in the ’80s, we used to ask how a populace could tolerate people being disappeared, and so much happening extrajudicially. Now we know.

 

A lesson which we cannot afford to forget, indeed.

 

Jim Downey

 



The metaphysics of presence

Excellent essay. Excerpt:

I venture that when it comes to the best of these paintings, mammals have never been rendered better in the history of our species. These are the paintings of people who looked at mammals for over 30,000 years — far longer than all of recorded history combined. I was seeing visual wisdom, the hard work of looking and taking the time and trouble to make exact renditions of what one watched. Looking at these images, I began to know things we don’t know anymore but still know in our bones. I felt the narcotic power of this naturalism, what Norman Bryson has called “the metaphysics of presence.” I gleaned the carnal pleasures of painting textures, surfaces, and fur in variable viscosities; the vision of a world unfolding yet held in exactly these moments, and not framed by drawn lines but within geology.

 

Jim Downey



You say toe-may-toe …

Interesting discussion about how the online culture has changed the nature of reviews, and what that means for both authors and fans:  BLOGTABLE: The Positive Value of Negative Reviews  Here’s a good passage about the topic:

I think a lot of fan coteries miss the fact, as they rally round their authors and go after the so-called bullies, that we all exercise critical judgements every day. Something as mundane as ‘I prefer apples to oranges’ is a critical judgement, but I’ve never noticed orange-lovers hounding apple-lovers because of it. There is a clear understanding that a preference for one fruit is not a judgement about the people who prefer another kind of fruit. And yet, these days even a slightly less than totally stellar review can have people behaving very oddly, trying to suppress reviews or silence an errant reviewer.

As I noted in one of my earliest blog posts here:

It’s OK if you don’t like my novel. No, seriously, if it doesn’t do anything for you, that’s fine. It could be that you don’t care for Science Fiction. Or maybe you just don’t like my writing. Sure, I want people to like it (or at least respect it for being well-done), but I long ago learned that tastes differ widely – what I like in art or literature may be completely at odds with what you like. And that’s OK. To argue otherwise is to basically come down to saying “you can’t like blue. Red is the superior color.”

In the eight years (!) since, of course, I’ve published two books, written a couple hundred freelance articles and reviews, and churned out something in excess of a couple thousand blog posts for here and elsewhere. And trust me, *none* of those were universally liked, and even the ones which were generally well received also garnered critical responses, sometimes very nasty responses. It happens. You’re never, ever, going to make everyone happy. Worrying about it will drive you nuts, and stop you from writing anything more.

You can’t let that happen. You just have to decide whether or not you think the critical comments and reviews are valid, and what you can learn from it if it is. Yeah, sure, sometimes a “slightly less than totally stellar review” smarts, no matter how thick a skin you develop. But that is part of the process of creating any art, of choosing to take the risky path of putting your work before the public.

It’s also part of being human, of taking the risky path of living in the world. Embrace it.

 

Jim Downey

 




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