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Sunday, July 24, 2022

A Different Kind of Summer

Different in What Way(s)?


Somehow a new blog post hasn’t been coming together for me this past week. I started one around the theme of “Falling Down on the Job” (since I was having so much trouble accomplishing the job of writing a post), but though I cranked out several sections, wandering around among local and personal job-related topics, what I got down into a file seemed uninspired. 


My heart wasn’t in it, I guess. As is true for my puppy, Sunny Juliet, my attention has been rather scattered of late. Other than my bookstore and my reading, I focus pretty exclusively on Sunny Juliet and my flowers. 


“Who will we meet today?” the Artist used to ask sometimes in the morning at the start of a summer day. Our Northport summer last year was about the busiest we’d ever seen, with books and paintings practically flying out the door, and in the course of any business day we would have countless conversations, some with old friends, but many also with people we’d never met before. Long, interesting talks sometimes took place only in the Artist’s studio, others stayed in my bookstore, and still others spilled back and forth between our separate spaces. Right next door to each other all day, however, we might only have five minutes together on some days while at work. The separateness of our days gave us a lot to share in the evenings, relaxing during supper on the front porch or taking a slow county cruise out for ice cream -- though sometimes we were too tired to talk much, and that was all right, too. 


This year is very different. There are still conversations during the day, out in the world, but the puppy and I have a pretty nonverbal relationship. Sunny Juliet can be vocal, of course, when she has a point to make, but my admonition to her to “Use your words!” only reminds her that she is supposed to nose the bell hanging from the doorknob, not bark, to let me know she needs to go outside. And in general my chatter to her is unremarkable. Telling her over and over that she’s a good girl and that I love her is not exactly small talk, but it’s certainly repetitious, while my stories about her “daddy” or her predecessors (Peasy and Sarah and Nikki) can’t mean much to her at all. Obviously, I’m really talking to myself….

But she always listens.

Book Stuff

My front porch book at present is Henry George’s Progress and Poverty. The book has been a bestseller since its first market edition in 1880, but if it opened a lot of minds, it certainly failed to change policies. Everyone on the political spectrum, it seems, finds something to love and/or something to hate and fear in George’s ideas. Fascinating reading, nonetheless. I’m almost ready to say I don’t want to discuss economics at all, even narrow questions like affordable housing, with anyone who hasn’t first read Progress and Poverty


…When we speak of labor creating wealth, we speak metaphorically. Man creates nothing. …In producing wealth, labor, with the aid of natural forces, but works up, into the forms desired, pre-existing matter, and, to produce wealth, must, therefore, have access to this matter and to these forces – that is to say, to land. The land is the source of all wealth. 


And thus George traces economic depressions back to material progress, because it is progress that increases the value of land, which in turns leads to land speculation. Land is withheld from production, forcing prices for available land up, checking production, finally throwing people out of work, when demand for goods must fall because though people still desire to buy, they have not the ability to pay.


In the bathroom (doesn’t everyone have at least one book in the bathroom?) I have In Praise of Folly, by Erasmus, an edition with a lengthy and entertaining introduction by Hendrik Willem van Loon (author of, among other things, The Story of Mankind, the very first Newbery prize winner, in the year 1922) and delightful illustrations by same. Any book with van Loon illustrations is a book I will pick up and begin to read – wouldn’t it have been wonderful to receive illustrated letters from him? -- and it’s about time I got around to reading Erasmus, anyway.


I’ve been reading Empire of the Summer Moon off and on at bedtime for what seems like forever because, I must confess, I have set it aside numerous times for something else. My latest detour (Friday night) was a 1953 nonfiction book by Robert Gibbings, a wood engraver as well as a writer, whose books display both talents. The most well known is probably Lovely is the Lee (I say that because it is the Gibbings title I most often see among used volumes), but the one that came into my hands this past week is called Coming Down the Seine, and obviously, were my own Artist still with me, this is a book we would have been reading aloud to each other. The Seine! Magic memories!


These were tranquil days in the boat. There were mornings when, casting off at dawn, I drifted through long cool shadows, watching the sunlight on the trees creep down to meet the water, hearing no sound but the tremolo of the aspens, seeing no one but a chance sportsman and his dog. There were noons with cooling breezes when the forest rang with bird song and the river was a sheet of moving glass. There were nights when, looking skywards, the passing clouds seemed like new continents and islands marked on the inside of a mighty globe.


Neither is everything description. There are digressions into history and observations on what an artist must know.


I incline to think that one of the earliest and most important lessons to be learnt by any art student is the recognition of those qualities most suited to his particular medium, or alternatively of the medium most suited to the qualities he wishes to express. 


As a wood engraver, Gibbings finds little he can use in the “lavender haze above the water … typical of many dawns.”  Precise lines and contrast of light and dark are what an engraver needs. He tells of refusing a commission once for a stone carving because the subject “could only have been carried out in bronze.” 


Gibbings, an Irishman, author of many river books, is buried on the banks of the Thames, another river David had a chance to explore years ago. All in all, I can’t help feeling it not quite fair that we never had a chance to enjoy this book together, but such is life.


The library has been presenting their summer author series this month, and I’ve gotten to the second and third events. Betsy Emerson talked about her book, Letters from Red Farm: The Untold Story of the Friendship between Helen Keller and Journalist Joseph Edgar Chamberlin, and the next week Karen Mulvahill interviewed Gregory Nobles, author of The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom. The fourth and final event in the library series will be next Tuesday, with Soon-Young Yoon and her book of memoir essays, Citizen of the World: Soon-Young and the U.N. Quite the stellar line-up this season! And it looks as if I may get around to a book launch come September, so stay tuned for exciting developments on that front. 


About Jobs


Here’s a question unrelated to anything in the rest of this post, a leftover from the post I’m not publishing. Have you ever quit or walked out on a job? If so, why? What to you makes the difference between a good employer and working conditions and something unbearable?


The Artist Remembered in Arizona


Before I left to start back to Michigan at the beginning of May, one of the owners of Source of Coffee, our hangout in Willcox, Arizona, asked if I would bring in one of the Artist’s hats so they could have something to remember him by. This past week the coffee house posted a photograph of the resultant memorial, the work of hatmakers Josh and Theresa – and I need to get a more complete reference for Josh and Theresa’s business. Must add to that to my to-do list.... But I love, love, love that our friends in Willcox are thinking of David and remembering him with love!

Dana in background; presumably Theresa in foreground



Dawn said...

I understand the hat thing. When my dad was killed a neighbor who used to walk with my parents asked for dad's hat to remember him by. Made me feel good too.

P. J. Grath said...

It means a lot, doesn't it, Dawn? Having the person you loved also loved and missed by others --knowing he left traces of himself in the world. Yes.

Karen Casebeer said...

I wonder whether your chatter to Sunny Juliet is really unremarkable. Over time, smart dogs absorb so much of our talk with them. I know Gracie has and SJ will too. I bet she already cocks her head to show she's listening when you say something to her. I loved the story about David's hat in the Wilcox restaurant. Definitely not forgotten.

P. J. Grath said...

Sunny definitely appreciates having attention paid to her, so maybe how much she understands is beside the point. And David's hat! That really gives me shivers and warms my heart, both.

Jeanie Furlan said...

Oh, how wonderful! David’s hat and remembering him in Wilcox. Your ghost town has kind people. Jobs! Over 50 years ago, I had a job at a sandwich alcove in a car dealership….in El Paso, Texas! The owner didn’t like my granny glasses or long hair, and I didn’t like his disapproving twang. Fortune barged in with a motorcycle accident and a cast. Too bad, so sad - not! 😆

P. J. Grath said...

Jeanie, Willcox (2 L's) is not the ghost town but the nearest place ghost town people have to find a post office, gas station, restaurant, library, coffee house, etc.

Who was in a motorcycle accident? You? Should I remember this from our long-ago letters? Glad you weren't sad, anyway!!!