"Wet Paper" -- More below
I love the interval between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I love to watch the world pull back inside itself, awaiting winter’s rigors. The lowering sun; the late afternoon blaze of orange through gray clouds; the cheering wood stove (soon to wear out its welcome); the holiday feeds; the Sunday couch-potato football games; the silhouettes of naked trees against the sky, each reaching for the sun in its own expressive way.
I’ve got a stack of receivables that will trickle in over the next six weeks -- enough to see me through the holidays. And I must confess, although I’m excited by the idea of my next catalog, an assemblage of maritime ephemera to be called “Wet Paper,” I have little desire to work on it. The same goes for my next book. I’m deep into the third chapter, but am finding it difficult to bang out the necessary letters, words, sentences and paragraphs. There’s an old saw about writing that has to do with applying one’s ass to the seat of the chair every day. Believe me, after forty-five years of practice, I’ve got the chair amply covered. But in this season, the moment ass hits chair, brain wanders off.
I find myself staring out the window for extended periods, watching my son and his crew work on the new Flatrocks Gallery building across the street – known to all, for obvious reasons as “My Big Hole.”
Occasionally I’ll return to consciousness in the midst of some strange, uncharacteristic activity, like organizing my files or cleaning my room, and wonder, along with the Talking Heads, “Well, how did I get here?” I spend hours wondering who will bat cleanup for the Red Sox next year, or pouring over high end auctions and rich-guy vanity catalogs daydreaming about material that that would cost me a year’s gross income.
I’m reading Moby Dick again. I guess that says it all.
Occasionally, in the midst of my day dreaming, I’ll realize once again how lucky I am to be self employed. No clock to punch, no boss standing over my shoulder, no performance standards to meet. I’m free to spend my time as I wish and, by God, if I wish to stare out the window for an hour at a stretch, I’ll do it.
Thus I puttered through most of November and the beginning of December, not really getting much done, but enjoying the mellow feelings that accompany this time of year for me. Then one night I read chapter XXXV in Moby Dick, called “The Mast-Head,” in which Melville describes a man keeping watch from the masthead, slipping into a distracted, philosophical reverie not unlike my own, and losing himself in a waking dream. Here’s how it ends:
“There is no life in thee now, except that rocking life imparted by a gently rolling ship… But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch; slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at mid-day, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek, you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever.”
That was when it all came rushing back to me with a half-throttled shriek.
Who am I kidding with all this talk of reveries? I’m like a small creature of the fields. I have so little mass that I must eat constantly to maintain my metabolism. Nothing wrong with a bit of sitting around, but if I gobble through that stack of receivables and there’s nothing behind it, I’m going to be in big trouble in the early months of 2012.
Colleague Rusty Mott describes the experience as a pendulum swing between complacency and terror. There’s little margin for delusion, less for self indulgence. One simple jolt of reality is a better motivator than any boss could ever be. These are the true benefits of self employment.
Back to “Wet Paper” for me…
Print. (Currier & Ives). AMERICAN WHALERS CRUSHED IN THE ICE. Handcolored lithograph. Paper size 12 ¼ x 15 ½ inches. Image size 8 ½ x 11 ¼ inches. This is an iconic image of Arctic whaling, capturing a sense of the devastation that resulted when, in 1871, thirty-three whaleships were crushed in the ice north of the Bering Strait. The subtitle reads, “Burning the wrecks to avoid danger to other vessels.” Brewington 5 says the image is attributed to William Bradford. Judged one of the “Best 50” Currier & Ives prints by the American Historical Print Collectors Society (AHPCS). The print is in good condition. Paper lightly tanned, colors strong. In old frame with glass.(Causing reflections in this image) $1750
Kendall, Edmund Hale. THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF ABEL SAMPSON, RELATED BY HIMSELF; WRITTEN BY EDMUND HALE KENDALL. Lawrence City (MA). 1847. b/w engraved frontis. 12mo. 91, (4) pp. First edition of a rare account by an American seaman. He was born in Maine in 1790 and first went to sea on a merchant schooner in 1808. The next year he was pressed on board a British Man of War. He escaped and worked on a slaver for a time, shipped on the privateer Saratoga in 1812, then did a second, more successful tour on the Yorktown before being captured by the British. These adventures were followed by tours in the European, India, and West Indies trades. He swallowed the anchor in 1820, and went back to his original trade as a carpenter. Howes S-59. Not in Smith. Bound in original pictorial wrappers. Some chipping and old sewing loose, but still a good copy of a book that is quite scarce in the trade. The last copy for which I can find a record sold in 1979. $750