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    Wednesday
    Dec242014

    Changing Jobs

    This year, I changed jobs after thirteen years at one employer, Eddie's Wheels for Pets, where I made custom wheelchairs. I joined in their third year of business when the machine shop was in a little metal building at the apex of a hill in Shelburne, across from a swamp full of wildlife and surrounded by farms and chipmunks.

    I knew the work would be hard on my hands, which have never fully recovered form the work I did on the wharf, but what a coooool job! Helping animals was a harm-less occupation about which I could have no ethical qualms (although, it is sad that so many pets are obese because of their owners, and wouldn't need carts if they hadn't been overfed--) and after graduating from SMith I had a difficult time finding work...the almighty degree only left me overqualified, or underqualified, for available positions. Plus, I just didn't have the insititutional mentality necessary to be in a large company or organization.

    Initially I used poetry prize money I earned there to fund a little home business catering bag lunches to private school kids, but rules about home kitchen food prep changed andmy menu ran afoul of new regulations and I had to stop at the beginning of the second school year. At that same time, 9-11 terrorist attacks occurred.

    Shortly thereafter, I was at the temp agency being sent out to various companies for a week or so and experiencing the soul deadening desk jobs that a lot of folks have to endure day after day. While I was at a door and window company scanning in invoices all day into a computer, I was required to where a skirt! To standin a little makeshift cubicle where no one could see me, feeding papers into a machine. Ridiculous! I found the job notice in the paper for Eddie's and was hired and working sometime during October.

    My kids were 11 and 7 at that time! They thought dog wheelchairs were the coolest thing ever, and before long we owned a disabled dachshund, Sarge, of our own. Sarge was the best dog and truley my soul dog if such a thing exists. He made me smile every day that I had him, with his incredible enthusiasm for everyone and every thing and his optomistic efforts to chase airplanes and chipomunks and earthworms--the whole world was to ber caught by Sarge and he never gave up the good effort. Even on his last day of life he wanted to go out to the compost pile. TOo weak to dig anymore he tunneled into the leaves and sadly might have just wanted to die there as his kidneys were giving out.

    We still have his side kick, Pistol, another dachshund with issues of a different kind. Emotional issues from the beginning involved fearful biting as he recovered from his abuses in the pupply mill. He was easily startled and frightened and would bite people coming into the house, or holding things when they came near him. There were times when I thought I would have to give him up. But eventually he stopped the bad behavior.

    Though he never became house trained after years of living in a cage and then living with an incontinent dog ina wheelchar (which I partially dealt with by strapping a sani pad under Sarge;s dick when he was in the cart) didn't help. Now he dribbles all over since having blader stone surgery.

    He will be 16 soon. I know it is geting closer to the time when I might lose him and the thought sometimes makes me cry. I can still cry over Sarge after almost 5 years too. Pistol is my cuddler, the needy one always wanting my lap and the soft reassurance of surrounding arms and petting. Poor sweet boy. ALways underfoot, always reminding me of his presence by lightly brushing his nose against my leg or sniffing a toe.

    Back to the job I left. A machine shop, a small family business, and working with aluminum and other materials.I pickedup the skills I needed and broght in many more. Eventually I designed all their promotional materials, logo, and wrote and illustrated customer instruction booklets. I saw some commercial work they had done elsewhere and was so appalled at the awful design of the brochure that I stepped in and designed a better one in-house. Graphic design was one of the first skills I pickedup when I started going to school in the early 90s, and I thoguht it was the perfect combination of business and art and communication/writing. My years at Eddie's allowed me to grow as a designer and led to other jobs on the side doing the same kind fo work.

    After many years I also provided the blueprint for a more professional web site, although I didn't build it myself. They had been using a home grown site that had no style to it and was more of an informal, unstructured blog than a sales platform. There was a lot of negative articles rightup front knocking competitors and such. It was like walking around in sweat pants and a beater in front of millions oif people. I nagged them about it for years before they decided to change it. As usual I probably sounded arrogant in my earnestness about it. (Whenever I had an outside skill to share it was "arrogant" in some way, I must have some superiority complex that I am not aware of? Despite that some good changes were made).

    As time went out it bacame hard to keep things in stock when my boss was out sick or on the road or too busy with other things. Having managed the inventory of the parts store for many years and keeping a manual and computer inventory of thousands of part numbers I figured I could help out. Plus it is easier for someone who is using thematerials to keep an eye on them and reorder at appropriate time. I had made scientific study of inventory management during my years at Pelham Auto Parts and enjoyed applying it all to the much smaller challenge of restocking the factory. Smaller because the stock was limited in application compared to trying to cover the parts needs of so many models and years of cars and trucks! I had a struggle trying to conform to my boss's order book notations which he was very picky about but which didn't jibe with my notions of logical inventory record keeping. He used his order book as a catalogue of record, and i wanted to create a coded, categorised and seperate parts list as reference for orders. Since we mostly orderd the same items over and over agian writing detailed records seemed beside the point. THe info I wanted to study and keep was frequency and price control which could be gathered from invoicing. But, whatever, kicking up against the system again like the arrogant bitch I am. 

    At some point we started sending parts out to other machine shops to be made since we hadn't the equipment to make enough of them. Business grew and grew! More and more people were hired, fired, hired again and again. I stayed and enjoyed having flexible hours so that I could deal with the kids school schedules and other issues of life. My hands went through cycles of bad and worse pain depending on what I spent my time doing at Eddie's. While i was doing saddle gluing they were very bad and eventually I stopped doing it, and others were much better at it anyways. But back to the inventory issues that I found so absorbing. Ordering parts made in big batches involved some tracking and analysis, and when the boss became absorbedin building a bigger shop in a different location I added the machining orders to my responsibiilities. The challenge was the lead times and the minimum order of 200 pieces. I was constantlyu changng the priority of the order ilst at the machine shop because we used things at much different rates and they didn't make the orders as fast as they came in. I set up a card file system liek we used to use at Pelham before we computerised it. I didn't want to count the blocks in the bin all the time, since they were all different sizes it was hard to tell how much was there by just looking (later I was able to tape off a level in the bin that indicated 100 pieces so that I coule just look)

     

    Thursday
    Dec252014

    changing jobs and musical journey

    My inventory records were hard for people to use, though it came naturally for me after managing the auto parts business.  However they were valuable when we brought the machining back in-house with a CNC machine in the new, larger facility.  I analyzed the usage and was able to determine the “runs” and stocking quantities now that there was no minimum of 200. It was a steep learning curve for the machinist to program things, and the machining and programing was a mish mash for several years until someone became responsible for the situation and consolidated and organized the program run procedures and the tools, etc. Then an operator was hired who could do it all, and the department has been her domain since with very little help required. 

    My contributions  to this transition to in-house machine process were varied. For clarity, I convinced my boss to adopt an alpha-numeric parts numbering system that was logical rather than random numbers that we currently used that he assigned his mechanical drawing as he made them. Some of the parts numbering systems I dealt with previously had built in coded meanings, so that for instance a prefix would indicated a type of car system and the suffix would indicate a brand, etc. So I built a parts numbering system that would tell the size of the cart, the type of block (yoke ones, axle ones, quad cart, etc) and if a left and right, that too. Now that was FUN. It made the organization and stocking of parts and their programs, much easier.

    The other part of this, which I really am proud of coming up with, was that I cut the aluminum for the CNC machine at home in my basement and get paid by the piece. We had a saw for a while at the shop but the noise and danger of doing it there was a bit much, plus people on the floor didn’t really have the time to cut enough blocks for a big run. The set up on the first saw had the work clamped behind the middle of the blade when it came down and that threw the piece up into the guard. Boss bought a better DeWalt 14” chop saw on a stand for use in my basement and wired the whole thing up on a separate circuit, installed an air compressor for the mister that sprayed cutting fluid on the blade when it came down, and a belt sander to take the edges down a bit after.  This boosted my pay by 5000 a year, and this year I will earn 8000 something with that work, which I have held on to even though I no longer work the floor as production manager--or, M.O.M. (manufacturing operations manager).

    Back to where I started now! I knew I would leave eventually. The hands just wouldn’t stand it forever. I really began to be concerned after starting to play the bass guitar, which has given me much joy over the last 18 months. As readers know by now, I had Lance do the sanding and that helped my hands. When I let him go I could really feel the difference, and I ended up with trigger thumb damage so my boss is now paying for a helper to sand the blocks. 

    It was also a rather lonely work experience. There are many important aspects of my creative life that people just didn’t care about there, and in important ways it wasn’t feeding my art life like it once did. I left on good terms and I am there every week picking up metal orders. 

    I left with another job started too, a part-time PCA position that ended up breaking me down over a six month period and tossing my emotions through a wringer in a crazy-making manner that I hadn’t experienced sine the divorce! I kept a journal which ended up being 32 pages long while I was employed there. There were many questionable things happening and being under scrutiny in an intense way by this employer made me re-evaluate my strengths and weaknesses constantly. It was extremely challenging and frustrating and also rewarding at times. I have changed some details to conceal the identity of this person.  

     

    Here is an opening excerpt from my diary:

     

     LIfe with T.

    The Scene: A small apartment, wall to wall books and records. How many record collections are organized with dividers like at a record store? 

    Kitchen so small that you can’t open the oven door all the way.  There are plastic bags everywhere--balled-up vegetable bags from the grocery store as well as the white plastic sacks for the groceries. 

    Drying on the sink and the refrigerator are zip loc baggies that have been washed out to be reused. There are half a dozen plastic water bottles on the counter and three cases of bottled waters on the floor. Boxes are stacked on top of the cabinets and every cupboard has a hand drawn map or list of contents near it. 

    The door to the basement is covered in three large monthly day planners labeled in dry erase markers three non-sequential months (explain this later). The days are all blank. But the kitchen and the house are old; there is a built in old icebox where some pantry items are stored. 

    A dining room now serving as an office--without a computer--hard copy filing, or the intentions thereof, is what this room is devoted to--scheduling, organizing. Sorting the garbage (more on that later), more book storage, lots of paper everywhere.

    The official study space is where the computer lives under protective pillow cases that keep off dust and bad spirits. The walls here are on two sides covered by old oak library catalogue files that are labeled and filled with tape cassettes, recordings of radio shows and performances. The other walls are books, plants. Taking up a large part of the carpet area is a massage table piled with boxes of hats. 

    The front living room has one wall of audio visuals, the rest lined with records, guitar cases, plants, music stands with cardboard extensions, and plastic file boxes full of song lyrics.  A bathroom off to the side of the book and record lined hallway completes the apartment with the exception of a balcony on the other side of the landing that overflows with a variety of potted flowers and vegetables. The stair landing outside his door is full of gallon milk jugs filed with water and labeled “Garden”.  

     

    Out of the Factory

    This is where I now spend my working days as a personal assistant to a creative professional I will call T. I came off the busy factory floor where I worked managing the production of custom aluminum wheelchairs for pets for almost 13 years.  In recent years I pared my hours down to about 20 a week, which, plus some piece work I do for them cutting blocks in my cellar and a few investments that paid monthly,  I was able to make a tidily frugal artist’s living in the former mill town of Turners Falls.  I had kept my eye out for alternative employment, and now and again, over the 12 years I worked at the wheelchair place, I would apply to something and go on an interview or two. Once Craigslist took over the local classifieds, I sent out my resume into the black hole of the internet and stopped receiving responses of any kind. 

    But I did hear back out of the blue from the ad I applied for labeled “Creative Personal Assistant”, much to my surprise. My hands were tired from twisting wrenches, especially    since I started playing bass guitar, and I was really ready for a change of scene after so long. So I went to the interview in his apartment across the river from Turners Falls. 

    Meeting T

    I immediately liked T’s warmth and cheerfulness and the ambiance of the apartment with all the books and records and plants. T had a bad stroke and was fairly far along in his rehabilitation, he could walk, his speech was clear, and he was back to performing his music. He needed help organizing his thoughts and his papers and his time, and cooking and cleaning and shopping, and with driving him to appointments, and massage. He had Type II diabetes from inactivity due to his stroke which led to obesity. 

    This man was big in the old folk music scene and a close friend to WN, who died earlier in the year. Someone who  might have been an iconic 60s performer but for whatever reason didn’t hit it big (although there are strange rumors online about Bob Dylan stealing the lyrics for Blowin in the Wind from him when he was in high school--or about him lying that that was the case--I haven’t asked about the real story yet).  Graduated class of 1963, which put him in the generation of baby boom heroes I’d always envied. 

    Surely a desire to connect with his past and to brush up on the edge of someone marginally “famous” was part of my decision to switch jobs. Little did I know how vexing and hilarious this might be at times and how much it might illuminate some of my shortcomings and force me to acknowledge my self in a whole new way both good and bad. 

     

     

    It will be difficult to pull the threads of discontent out from within this diary of self blame and shame and resentment. I think I was drawn to what I thought might be a useful “music scene” connection and to the intelligence of the extensive library, even thought the hoarding was ultimately repressive and the minute detailed instructions supported an absolutely suffocatingly insane compulsion for cleanliness and frugality that crossed the border to greed. A pathological tendency to lie and justify hid the greedy guzzling of large amounts of food that definitely shouldn’t be on a diabetic diet and provided excuses to resist change in routine to encompass more exercise and other healthy behaviors.

    In retrospect I can see how the scrutiny was initially very flattering to me. I had never been “noticed” so much by an employer, even in a negative way, which he was not shy of expressing.  Though my immediate urge was to lash out defensively to charges that I deemed trivial and unfair, I learned to hold my tongue and absorb the invections and corrections politely. He would become indignant when the validity of a request was questioned, for instance, about precise labeling on files folders, or placement of a dish drainer sink mat, or the position of a spoon or fork in a drawer. The folding of underwear required several lessons to master. 

    All housekeeping was relentlessly micromanaged with the employment of stop watches and timers to be sure clothes were switched from the washer and drier the minute the machine stopped. There was to be no rest time between any chore, and I had to insist on breaks and lunch times when I got too thirsty or hungry. 

    He acted as if my wages came out of his own pocket, when in fact he was granted 67.5 hours of paid assistance every WEEK, which he struggled to use up on the few people he could employ.  

    Never the less, he had a wicked sense of humor and we often spent our time laughing and one-upping on bizarre joke scenarios. I noticed that over time he would insist on embroidering events to suit his the joke he wanted to tell about it, even if it involved my own actions so that I absolutely knew what had really happened was very different from his story. That put a lot of his past in doubt, since many of his stories had a too-perfect-to-be-true nature to them, like a predictable sit-com from the 60s. 

    He would also go through periodic days of real cruelty, where he would criticize me minutely and viciously for perceived attitudes that were just close enough to the truth to cause some real pain, but horribly exaggerated through his sick lens of righteousness.

    I think these occurred when he felt rejected or hurt by the outer world and needed to use me as a whipping boy to feel better. It was a familiar feeling to me in some ways, from previously experiences with male anger, mental illness and abuse. 

    I began to stop believing in his stated attempts to make changes in his life. He would make organizational vows, dietary vows, nice-ness vows, practicing schedules, only to be bogged down in the minutae of housekeeping and other OCD issues.

     It was exhausting in every sense, to take detailed instruction all day long, to never have autonomy. I discovered a few areas where I could excel without him hovering and instructing, though over time he always found ways to take control of that, too, even though he clearly loved the results that I achieved by myself at the stove or sewing machine. 

    WIth the cooking, he became a nazi about making chicken soup and boiling eggs, insisting on procedures I had never used. I am not averse to new ways so adopted his method of making chicken soup and hard boiling eggs so that they didn’t look green around the yolk. But it seemed odd that he should even need  my assistance when he would  be showing me what to do and when all the time!

    I sewed nice covers for the things he had pillowcases thrown over to keep dust off: computer, monitor, printer, fans, utensils, toaster, bowls, blender, torchieres. It lent an air of orderliness to the chaotic rooms to have matching covers instead of a hodgepodge of pillowcases. Then he started horning in on the design process. At the end,  he was planning to help me measure a lamp because he didn’t trust me to move the lamp to take the correct measurements by myself. It was ridiculous. 

    I did realize how very hard it was for me to follow instructions that did not make sense to me, even when I knew they did to him. I have an inherent sloppiness of action, that I think I have generally used to good artistic effect, and feel I have been forgiven for in many other situations in the balance of my other contributions.

     I had a very hard time not defending myself on those issues where my work was unsatisfactory to him. Partly because he over-blamed sometimes. If things went wrong on the balcony with the plants, it would always be because I didn’t do it the right way! The tomatoes got late blight because I hadn’t watered them correctly. Everything had to be blamed on incorrect procedure by me or another employee. T actually insisted that he was ALWAYS RIGHT. ALWAYS. Of course this as a real symptom of illness and I just couldn’t bear dealing with it after 6 months. 

    It was a morning meeting on November 12, and he started in on one of his harangues about how he was “always nice to me” but I was “never nice to him”. He saw my face stiffen in an attempt to hide my resentment of this untruth and started in on me about what I was thinking. I told him he did NOT know what I was thinking and that he was NOT always nice to me at all. I stood and and said “this is not going to work anymore” and got my coat. He stood in the hallway shaking his finger at me like some huge daddy-baby bellowing  “if you leave now, don’t come back”. 

    I left and didn’t come back. Later that afternoon I got an email stating that “there were extenuating circumstances I need to explain to you” which I did not reply to.  Nor did I answer my phone when he called me two times. He did not leave a message. 

    I unloaded on the woman who had been in my position for 5 years prior via an email after I quit, but did not get a reply, which makes me feel pretty strange. Like maybe I am the crazy one? Maybe she did not feel the way I did at all. Though she was the only one who lasted so long. It is possible that she doesn’t use the email address I wrote to anymore and never got the message. However I feel ashamed for reaching out in that way.

    Because he was so insistent on getting “his due” from the agency that paid for his assistants, if he didn’t have enough workers he would pre-pay the current help by fudging the time cards he submitted to the agency. It was supposed to be “use or lose” but he couldn’t stand leaving anything un-devoured, even when it was free. (For the same reason even though he had me cooking for him and could go out to the store, he had Meals on Wheels delivery like he was a shut-in). Therefore when I left I was ahead by 90 hours! It must outrage him, but he has no grounds to pursue the issue since it implicates him in fraud. I don’t like being involved in the scheme so I’m glad I am out of it. I do not feel compelled to “pay him back”in any way--under the circumstances he should have been careful to treat his employee better so that this wouldn’t happen. 

     

    At some further date I will share some of the very fun times T and I had during my time there so that it will be clear what the possible appeal was for me to stay as long as I did. 

     

     

    Learning Bass Guitar at 53?

     

     

    I have mentioned my musical efforts in previous posts here and there but I don’t think I have explained how it all came about and the benefits it has added to my life and relationships.

    My husband is a fantastic guitar player, but he had not been performing for a long time until the year I started learning the bass. He is a “finger-style picker” which is playing the bass line, melody and rhythm parts at once. He has a degree in performance guitar and minor in voice and taught music at various times; however after his divorce he has worked for a large company in one of those soul sucking jobs in order to pay the child support for his two daughters.  He has a really nice voice and worked in radio and voice over previously too. Stage fright has been a big issue for him, which goes along with anxiety disorder in a more general way, and that held him back big time.

    Learning Bass Guitar at 53?

     

     

    I have mentioned my musical efforts in previous posts here and there but I don’t think I have explained how it all came about and the benefits it has added to my life and relationships.

    My husband is a fantastic guitar player, but he had not been performing for a long time until the year I started learning the bass. He is a “finger-style picker” which is playing the bass line, melody and rhythm parts at once. He has a degree in performance guitar and minor in voice and taught music at various times; however after his divorce he has worked for a large company in one of those soul sucking jobs in order to pay the child support for his two daughters.  He has a really nice voice and worked in radio and voice over previously too. Stage fright has been a big issue for him, which goes along with anxiety disorder in a more general way, and that held him back big time.

     

    Yes, I thought of myself as musically retarded for most of my life. Piano lessons in grade school were torturous hours spent crying on the bench at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and frustrating hours at home at the Yamaha piano my parents purchased for my ill fated musical pursuits.  

    Clearly I had little natural aptitude and after three years fo this I was allowed to discontinue. I don’t remember this being a big issue, but just part of  the general transition to junior high school. 

    I think part of this was my lack of interest in the music the lessons revolved around. It wasn’t like we listened to classical music all the time at home. There was a lot of music but it was Simon & Garfinkel, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, etc etc.  Boogie woogie piano might have appealed to me, or folk tunes, or something, anything, that wasn’t the dull worksheets I was presented with. 

    Maybe it was because i was used to learning coming easily. Writing and reading, art were effortless for me, pretty much. I struggled a bit with the math work in school, but could get it done. I was spoiled in many ways: I can see that my reliance on training wheels for such a very long time, and nose plugs for the swimming pool, was related to the ease of my other accomplishments. I simply wasn’t used to having to apply myself diligently and accumulate progress in increments. 

    Being able to both write well and practice art in many mediums, sew, cook, should be enough at any rate. Why venture into a realm where effort proceeded so agonizingly slowly? 

    Caleb and I got together and I warned him that I knew nothing about music. In fact, during my first marriage, for  many years I ignored music. We would blast some stuff on the tape deck at parties. I played old crazy records when the kids were little, like “Bongos of the South”, on an old console record player a neighbor gave us. As the situation deteriorated, and I quit drinking, and then CDs came out and we didn’t have a CD player or CDs, I stopped listening to music and stopped reading novels...as though I could stop myself from feeling. 

    I told Caleb I was musically retarded and to make allowances for me in that regard. Which he was glad to do, being very happy to be with an artist and poet. Though I know he laughs at my ignorance sometimes, it’s okay, I forgive us both on that one. He is the essential snob. I am the essential spoiled child who was afraid to fail.

    Two years ago we went to a traveling guitar exhibit hosted by the Springfield museums, and there I saw my magnificent dick in the form of a natural wood and black Fender bass. I didn’t even know that it was a bass guitar as opposed to a regular six string electric guitar.  I was just in awe of it’s bad bad bad ass look, how big and tough and sweet it was, how bold the tuning pegs were, how long the neck, thick the strings. Whatever it was, my dick supreme. It looked like it would sound, deep and strong and grumbly and booming and resonant and authoritative. 

     I was rooted in front of it and it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I could learn to play it. Could I learn to play that? I asked Caleb. He was immediately excited and encouraging.  Much easier than guitar, he assured me. I had seen the contortions of his fingers on the fret board and knew it would be too late in life for my hands to ever train themselves into such shapes. But these fat four strings were something my slightly stiff old fingers could deal with, and playing one note at a time was a huge plus, it would make it learnable for me. I wouldn’t even need to learn to read music again, I could read “tab” instead.

     

    Within a month I had a used Fender bass from a local store and we started working on songs right away, which was really exciting. To play together and make something so pleasing between us was a blast, I was jumping up and down with joy that we could do this together! “Walking Stick” was the first tune. I bought some Blues books with play-along CDs and worked on those when I wasn’t working with him. At the end of the year, I knew a few songs and thought that working with a bass player would be even more helpful in addition to the lessons with Caleb and the play-along books. I started meeting with Smilin’ Steve for lessons to learn the instrument from another perspective and he taught me from modes to know where the notes are on the fretboard which greatly helped my playing in general. 

    The marvelous part of all this is that Caleb began playing at open mikes in the area and working earnestly on his music. By the end of last year he had been invited to join the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra and is now on his second season with them and has several solo gigs under his belt as well. The stage fright is an issue of lesser importance these days, and we perform together as much as our smaller repertoire allows. 

    It has been quite an experience for me as an adult learner to get up and fail in front of an audience. Got up one year ago last December for the first time, and find it both shameful and exhilarating to be on stage. Previously I have only done public poetry/fiction readings and some cable tv appearances for a little program with a co-host. I don’t crave getting up in front of groups of any kind and do try to avoid it when I can. 

    Some situations I don’t mind playing up there at all! For some reason I really enjoy the Bohemian Kitchen in Orange, they are very funky and friendly there and there is a good diversity of talent playing on any night. I am most nervous at the Luthier’s Coop, where the audience are experienced musicians, some of them professional performers. I feel like an impostor there--such a beginner!--but the sound is really good and I love playing through the amplifier they have it sounds big and low.

    So music has really enhanced our relationship, even though I pay the price of shame to get in and stay in. I can only be so good with the time I have left and the hand problems I endure, but some day I want to be competent enough to improvise and just get up and play along with other people like the experienced players I see at the open mikes who can jump in and play along with a group. 

    This October, we went on an “open mike honeymoon” to Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans. It was a great adventure. We played in places I normally would have been afraid to go inside of, and it was all great. I am an OK player by now, and the mistakes I made are probably not that noticeable to an audience that doesn’t know any better, unless I make one of my faces which announces the error. I am trying to learn to read music which I am slowly learning the bass notation, and working on the rhythm bit, hating the metronome but determined to really learn through it. Often I can put in an hour or more a day playing which has really advanced my progress. It would be hard to make headway if I didn’t work so hard with it.

     I just really really love my bass, the look of  it, the heavy feel of instrument hanging against me, the thick hard strings denting my fingers, the ability to make that big deep sound supporting the melody. I like to tell people that it is my dick, that power symbol I have sought in various forms, in the wharf work, the class II license, the big 4x4 truck, the motorcycle, the big bad men, the black leather, the booze, the fighting, the bloody bad mess of power’s pursuit. Does that make sense? My sword, my savior, my voice, my connection, Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth. To speak in singular and communal at once. To be joyful and badass and major and minor and whatever, I love my bass. To be there with my husband making music together and seeing how he is so joyful and having fun when we play together--even taking risks like playing an electric guitar for first time on stage!--makes me so happy. I know the songs we play together are for the most part very easy for him, so he is relaxed and having fun instead of being challenged on a difficult piece as he usually likes to do or feels compelled to do...I am sure it helps him a lot.

     

     

     

     

     

    Within a month I had a used Fender bass from a local store and we started working on songs right away, which was really exciting. To play together and make something so pleasing between us was a blast, I was jumping up and down with joy that we could do this together! “Walking Stick” was the first tune. I bought some Blues books with play-along CDs and worked on those when I wasn’t working with him. At the end of the year, I knew a few songs and thought that working with a bass player would be even more helpful in addition to the lessons with Caleb and the play-along books. I started meeting with Smilin’ Steve to learn the instrument from another perspective and he taught me from modes to know where the notes are on the fretboard which greatly helped my lessons with Caleb and playing in general. 

    The marvelous part of all this is that Caleb began playing at open mikes in the area and working earnestly on his music. By the end of last year he had been invited to join the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra and is now on his second season with them and has several solo gigs under his belt as well. The stage fright is an issue of lesser importance these days, and we perform together as much as our smaller repertoire allows. 

    It has been quite an experience for me as an adult learner to get up and fail in front of an audience. Got up one year ago last December for the first time, and find it both shameful and exhilarating to be on stage. Previously I have only done public poetry/fiction readings and some cable tv appearances for a little program with a co-host. I don’t crave getting up in front of groups of any kind and do try to avoid it when I can. 

    Some situations I don’t mind playing up there at all! For some reason I really enjoy the Bohemian Kitchen in Orange, they are very funky and friendly there and there is a good diversity of talent playing on any night. I am most nervous at the Luthier’s Coop, where the audience are experienced musicians, some of them professional performers. I feel like an impostor there--such a beginner!--but the sound is really good and I love playing through the amplifier they have it sounds big and low.

    So music has really enhanced our relationship, even though I pay the price of shame to get in and stay in. I can only be so good with the time I have left and the hand problems I endure, but some day I want to be competent enough to improvise and just get up and play along with other people like the experienced players I see at the open mikes who can jump in and play along with a group. 

    This October, we went on an “open mike honeymoon” to Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans. It was a great adventure. We played in places I normally would have been afraid to go inside of, and it was all great. I am an OK player by now, and the mistakes I made are probably not that noticeable to an audience that doesn’t know any better, unless I make one of my faces which announces the error. I am trying to learn to read music which I am slowly learning the bass notation, and working on the rhythm bit, hating the metronome but determined to really learn through it. Often I can put in an hour or more a day playing which has really advanced my progress. It would be hard to make headway if I didn’t work so hard with it.

     I just really really love my bass, the look of  it, the heavy feel of instrument hanging against me, the thick hard strings denting my fingers, the ability to make that big deep sound supporting the melody. I like to tell people that it is my dick, that power symbol I have sought in various forms, in the wharf work, the class II license, the big 4x4 truck, the motorcycle, the big bad men, the black leather, the booze, the fighting, the bloody bad mess of power’s pursuit. Does that make sense? My sword, my savior, my voice, my connection, Ariadne’s thread out of the labyrinth. To speak in singular and communal at once. To be joyful and badass and major and minor and whatever, I love my bass. To be there with my husband making music together and seeing how he is so joyful and having fun when we play together--even taking risks like playing an electric guitar for first time on stage!--makes me so happy. I know the songs we play together are for the most part very easy for him, so he is relaxed and having fun instead of being challenged on a difficult piece as he usually likes to do or feels compelled to do...I am sure it helps him a lot.

     

     

     

     

     

    Thursday
    Dec252014

    The Un-employee?

    Not exactly an "ex-employee" at Eddie's, I still chop up the metal once a week, and it pays some bills. When I first quit the PCA position, I wrote out a big list of chores every day, treating myself exactly as T had treated me with every minute accounted for. It took a few weeks for this to wear off. I got some over due household chores done like cleaning the oven and bath tub and raking up some leaves, though I never got them all up before it snowed on Thanksgiving.

    I re-did my Etsy store and created an inventory system for tracking the things I have in various stores and online, including organising photos in files on my computer. I made good use of my time and didn't worry too much about replacing the job, since I trusted something to turn up and thought I could make it work financially if I were extra frugal.

    For the most part it has all worked out. I still have money in the bank, sold some work at all locations, and found another part time job that is more to my liking and doesn't make me feel insane. We have an excellent little weekly newspaper in our town and I have started easing into the job of features editor. Publication deadline is Wednesday night, so the crunch of work comes on Monday-through-Wednesday when I am, indeed, available.  Although I over-edited my first story to the great dismay of the writer, I think I understand my error and know I need to approach things with the aim of fostering these unique and  individual voices rather than homogenising it ala the work I did with the Greenfield daily, the Recorder. (confusingly, the little paper is the Reporter, which gets mixed up alot when talking to people locally who know both papers).

    At the Recorder, clarity trumps style, the effort is to get information across in a way that the commonest person can understand. I thought the writer's piece did not do this properly and re-worked quite a bit of it, which considerably changed the tone of it all. It's a different goal, one I will try to get used to, of varying standards in style and structure according to the individual writer.  Strongly differentiated voices don't really occur in the articles of the New Yorker, for instance, unless they appear in the humor column, and sentence structure never obfusciates the information for the sake of style. 

    It is very little money, but it is definitely enough for groceries every week and provides a spot in an informational hub, which I very much like. Now information is the new "inventory" to be managed. It is odd for me to not have to write the stories myself, but find writers to take them instead. But, once I know them it should make sense. 

    I have achieved a happy, busy life, with a nice balance of work, play, and rest. There is always something to be involved in, and I have energy and health to carry me through whatever project comes up. Sometimes my fears direct my path but not anywhere near how they once shaped my life. I would be very happy to sell more work, particularly the fine art pieces rather than the craft work, but my expenses are covered by the gallery sales so I am not desperate, only somewhat lazy in the marketing department. I would love to have an agent who would pick up that part of the business, but there are so many like me, making lovely things and hoping to be chosen. 

     

     

    Saturday
    Jan162016

    Skipped a Whole Year!

    Wow---must be that I got a job that entails writing, and I can't manage to fill a newspaper and a website at the same time. They are, rather similar, in that you throw your work out into the void and hope to hear a faint echo in return. 2015 is gone already without posts from me int his journal. The whole PCA job has finally receded in my memory and I have recovered fromt he experience. It certianly shoke up m senmse of self and my confidence about how competent I am. Perhaps it has helped me be less aroogant. 

    The Nook looked very nice this past year. In January 2015 when I was closed up, I repainted the walls. In the summer, I put up a cute litle red and black tent in the cranny about half way down. It made a nice cozy place to ahng out, and I wasn't so very far away from the people inside tne shop. 

    Twice, I had a clothing sale at the Nook. The first one was really successfuyl in the summer, but less in the late fall. It was strange when the clothes sold really waell. Started to think I was on the wrong track selling art, things were flying out of there so quickly.

    I have been healthy, although sweet little Pistol died recently after a good 16 or 18 years. Expired in his bed. 

    We aren't doing the SSS show this year, I just got a little tired of the exhibit after four years in a row. Perhaps I will bring it back some other time, but I feel it has had it's run. Instead, I am having a "thrones" exhibit of toilet seats that have been artfully done up, in May.

     

     

    Monday
    Jan022017

    Art During the Apocalypse, 1977-1986

    Perhaps dropping out isn't quite the right term, but I left school and didn't go back to finish up my credits. What was to be a summer onthe cape with friends turned into an assimilation into another culture and a nine year long abusive relationship with work and with a much older and crazier man, Jimi. 

    There was a visual, cartoon like journal that I kept during 1978 that was left behind somewhere and lost or lost in the fire in Jimi's apartment in Ocotober 1979. I remember that it had a drawing of him asking "Head?" with an erection: during a period in 1979 when I had escaped from Jimi, gone back to my parents and applied to art school at Swain in New Bedford, this was part of my portfolio. I remember the admissions person commenting on the traingle of head and penis or something like that. 

    A proud achievement for me was this spoof on the Ptown Advocate newspaper, centered on my workplace at the Seafood Packers plant at the end of the wharf. Raunchy and specific, it was hilarious to a certain audience. I laugh at it still. 

    Unfortunately, I did not devote myself to making much art. It was all self destruction, mayhem, chaos, fueled by abuse of all kinds. I was lost, and bad things happened.


     

    A few years ago, I found online the photography book, Working Men, WOrking Boats, by Milton Moore. In one picture, I appear in the doorway of Seafood Packers operating the winch that lifts the fish from the hold of the boat. This was the world I immersed myself in, and it had a compelling hold over me. Those boats, that industry, is gone from the town now, and I feel deep gratitude to have known it and been a part of that life--depsite the fact that I was lost, drunk, abused, etc--it had a profound effect on me in so many ways.

     

     

    This Wharf Rat sculpture personifies many of my more positive feelings about myself in that role, as well as the central addiction of my life, alcohol. Here, my hands dominate life, as does the strength of those arms. My tits were never so pointy, but as the only woman working there, they may as well have been and in one memorable confrontation they were grabbed by a boat captain. Buried in my throat, a barrier between heart and mind, lies the whiskey bottle. A box of fish, thigh high rubber boots folded down at the top, and my dragging hook completes the piece. 


    Earlier this year I wrote and illustrated a story about Ice on the wharf, intending to do something with it but it ended up on Facebook and nowhere else. I will present it here.

     

    This is a story about ice and fish. It is not about ice fishing, however, or about ice harvesting, but about unloading commercial fishing boats, and icing down the fish to keep them cold while they sit on the wharf and then travel in trucks to the market. From 1977 to 1981 I helped unload boats and pack fish at Seafood Packers, Inc. on MacMillan Wharf in Provincetown, Mass. 

    My primary duty was to operate the winch that brought the fish up from the hold of the boat and into the building where it was weighed and iced down, sold as soon as possible, and loaded into trucks at the end of the night. 

    Central to the operation were wooden boxes and ice. There were two small refrigerated coolers in the building, but they were rarely in working condition and for some reason it was cheaper to bring in trailer loads of ice blocks and grind ice there on the wharf, then get these freezers running and use them, and anyway they could only hold a fraction of the thousands of pounds we unloaded every day. There was always a trailer backed in at the far corner of the building, its refrigeration unit humming, full of large blocks of ice. 

    I never participated in working in this ice trailer, though I did just about every other job at Seafood Packers in addition to running the winch. It was obviously an extremely dangerous job, and I couldn’t look at the grinding operation there without inwardly wincing. 

    First of all, the boats (which at that time were mostly 40 to 60 foot long wooden draggers of the 1940s) had to go out to sea with their holds full of tons of ice to keep the catch fresh. An assortment of wooden ice chutes were hooked together from the outlet of the ice grinder down to the boat, which at low tide could be far below the dock, so they could take on ice before going out. 

    The grinding machine looked like some sort of metal dinosaur and roared with a noisey motor that turned a drum inside the body of it. Large metal spikes on this drum chewed up the blocks of ice that were thrown into it’s mouth. The scary and dangerous part was that the men would have to hold the block of ice against the drum by hanging inside of the machine with their feet on the block of ice. There was a smooth metal pipe above the chute that they held on to with their cold benumbed hands; often their hands were also wearing slippery rubber gloves. 

    Ground up ice was brought into the building in giant metal carts. These carts, a good ten feet long by 4 or 5 feet wide, had wheels attached to a central axle, so that the ends tipped up and down. This didn’t seem to serve any other purpose than smashing the workers toes as we dragged and pushed them from one end of the enormous building to the other. The wheels themselves were entirely made of steel, so that over time they pounded potholes into the cement floor which required approaching them at a run to avoid getting the ice cart stuck in the holes. 

    Supplying ice to pack the fish inside Seafood Packers was also crucial. The wooden boxes the fish were packed into had a preferred weight for each box of 135 pounds of fish, with 15-20 pounds of ice on top and bottom; a wooden lid was nailed on to close it and then these were stacked four or five boxes high. In summer, ice was shoveled on top of the stacks if the fish stayed on the floor overnight. 

    There were times when ice wasn’t enough, and maggots appeared. If the fish was an expensive catch like swordfish or halibut, it wasn’t uncommon to wash it off and re-pack it; then it got sold at a discounted price. The wooden boxes themselves could become maggot farms if they retained a lot of slime and the weather was warm. Everyone eventually got a maggot shower from pulling one of these down off a stack and turning it onto oneself by accident.

    About midway through my time there, the boss decided to make his own ice by starting an ammonia-process ice generating plant in a separate building on the same wharf. There was some complicated machinery installed and an insulated room was built where it “snowed” large granular flakes of ice. An auger ran through the middle of the room that carried this ice out and into the waiting boats with a screw type action. 

    To fill the ice carts, the ice was shoveled up into  huge plastic tubs which were moved around via a pallet jack and then lifted into the other building on a forklift. This was better than the toe crunching ice carts, but the pallet jacks often got stuck in the potholes of the floor and the tub had to be pushed and pulled into position by brute force.

    The fishermen hated the new ice; the flakes melted quickly and the slippery mass was hard to shovel. I’m guessing it was cheaper to make it this way or they wouldn’t have done it. As it turned out, putting ice on the boat took a longer time with the auger delivery arrangement, and the workers inside the ice room would take up the grates that covered this turning screw so they could get more ice into it and speed up the process. 

    Once again, this wasn’t a process I was willing to be involved in. As one of the few women in the industry there, I had the prerogative of choice. The men weren’t so lucky; they did as they were told, or else: in some cases they were roughed up for not following orders. 

    I wasn’t too surprised when someone’s foot got caught in the auger and red ice started coming down to one of the boats. I was haunted for a very long time by memories of the screams coming from the ice house that day. But, there was no change in procedure after this incident.

    At any rate, such archaic processes are also now a thing of the past (at least in this country – I think), and in Provincetown today the fishing industry has pretty much disappeared. Seafood Packers is long gone, and MacMillan Wharf was condemned many years ago as unsafe to tie a boat up to. 

    The sounds and smells of those years on the wharf, and memories of the unceasing labor at Seafood Packers, are what comes to my mind when I think about ice.


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