Pete Culler always said, “Experience starts when you begin…”
I’ve written for thirty plus years – not counting school – and most of that time, I’ve written for myself, or a single correspondent. My first foray beyond that was writing Designer & Client. It has had a limited run, and has perhaps, as part of my “career” as a boat designer, confused as many people as it has enlightened. Neither the book, nor the career, was about what its ostensible subject implied. They were instead ways for me to interrogate the world, and learn how to be effective in it. I used the realm of design, specifically boat design, as a theater of operations. In it, one is within the realm of free choice, at least as much as is possible in this world of contingency; while in its practice one can find traction for the widest net of inquiry, from the hardest of sciences to the most ephemeral of subjective experiences.
Unlike Fine Arts, where I began – perhaps more accurately the other pole of a lifelong juggling act between engagement in action, and reflection and subjective response – designing boats, pleasure boats that people don’t have to have, but want; was a way to explore the links between desires and wishes. All that the cruel hard world can throw in their way. Within it, I found, rather quickly, that the biggest limitations were not physical, or even economic realities impinging on such projects, but an endemic lack of imagination .
People, even after they have made the hard decisions necessary to embark on a new boat, find themselves so tied to conventional expectations. Not only of the narrow parameters of how and what, that are contingent on outside forces; but most significantly, by their own most private and subjective sense of why. I discovered, and was then ultimately frustrated, by the way we all tend to jump from a hard earned freedom of operation, a place where we can own our choices and make of them what we will, to close ourselves into stultifying traps of conformity – even in how we “play.” Simply because we view navigating free choice as too daunting, too uncomfortable. We are unwilling to sustain ourselves in uncertainty long enough to arrive at a more fulfilling destination.
Relatively recently, I’ve begun to write fiction. On a visit to my hometown of Provincetown (there is only one, look it up!) in 2002, at the height of the deepest national hysteria since my childhood. I saw something there. A quiet abiding tolerance. Long familiar within a community of self-exile from a world with little patience for this virtue. That was the germ of a novel, Shoal Hope. I could say its writing was “channeled” through me. Certainly parts of it felt that way, but any muse that takes six years to “dictate” some four hundred pages could be considered quite stingy.
Writing Shoal Hope has been work. Long work and a study in priorities. It’s difficult to set aside the time and energy required to inhabit the world of creating a fiction. Still, this was for me a great awakening. Finding a stride and a voice I didn’t know I had in me. I’m now at work on a second novel – in that original germ of a notion, the idea came as a trilogy that would span the twentieth century as it was reflected in that place – the second book, half done now, is Something for Nothing. The third one, High Head, not yet started.
Having found the “long form.” Beginning to find a path to publication – first an enthusiastic supporter within the New York publishing world, and then quite quickly, an agent in New York; has not, as of yet, taken me to the outlet I was looking for. On top of the perennial problems of breaking out a new voice into such a hierarchical and conservative field as traditional publishing. A bittersweet complaint, so much of the draw comes precisely from finding acceptance in a rarefied sphere that is so difficult to get into. There’s an added twist. The collapse of business-as-usual across so many fields of endeavor at this same moment in time. This mini-Tolstoyian moment in my own life’s trajectory “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans…” But it has added another layer of creative tension. One I recognize well. Even as I may not welcome its return, yet again.
Once again, I’ve found the need to re-orient myself, to find a way around a major obstacle. As much as it would be nice to avoid it, a recurring theme throughout my life.These adversities have always brought greater rewards than those it has closed off. This time, I’ve looked in two new directions. Exploring the dynamics behind the blockages, looking for root causes, and points of effective action.
This isn’t the first time I’ve changed course, seemingly back tracking to accommodate a new technology and its implications. Nor am I unique in this. It has become a basic fact of life over the last few decades. Back then, in the late eighties, it was CAD. It was a stretch to learn a new technology, and at the same time attempt to sway its internal habits and ticks – the kinds of things that lead to a generic and cliched sameness whenever a new technique is taken on uncritically. I wanted to confront it with my sensibility. One already formed using the hand. In that circumstance, as in this one, there were advocates for the old, and the advocates for the new. Each held the other in contempt, and only saw benefits on their side. I disagreed. I disagreed then, and disagree now.
This has been a long winded introduction, but this is what’s led me, in this year of 2009, to start this blog. To take up the tools available in “Web 2.0.” To take my first dip into these foreign waters. Unlike earlier forays, this one is, at least potentially, very public. I cannot do this alone at a keyboard or with a notepad or drafting table or at an easel. Accumulating output without a conduit for its dissemination. In this medium content is created and disseminated right away. An alignment I’m finding more and more frequently. A compass needle pointing towards a better direction.
Writing may be writing, but each form shapes how it is done. What its significance will be. There is a lot I recognize in this form. The missive, the short essay, even the polemic all seem ready models for what this kind of writing can be. But, what it is, or can potentially be, needs to be something else if it is to have significance beyond mere busyness.
There is a freedom in this form unavailable to a designer & client. Yet, unlike fine art made in a garret, it is a public act from start to finish. It doesn’t have the long rhythms of inhalation and exhalation found in the long form. It’s not journalism, or any sort of periodical writing in the traditional sense. There are no gatekeepers, no editors, no publishers, no deadlines.
Curiously, and happily, I’m discovering more and more that this is the kind of place I want to be in. More and more, this appears to be the kind of place we perforce have to inhabit today. I welcome the struggles with accommodation and the carving of distinctions my involvement will bring.
Welcome! My virtual – potential – and however disembodied, readers.
Somebody once said that too.
3 thoughts on “First words…”
Tony,Nice start Buddy! Right off the bat, you need to publish your books in the Amazon Kindle Format as well as in paper. I made the switch to electronic book readers at the beginning of 2009 and have not looked back. I'll buy your first book, as soon as you tell me its Kindle-ized!Great sail today, I was the only person out on Pleasant Bay for a while!- d
So far your readers as far as I can tell are known to you. One trick with the pathtree is not only to have it's significance recognizable to the looker but to be seen. Finding our way in a world filled with well mapped paths leading nowhere, where reflection seems in such short supply and historical background one sided or nonexistent, this is the seers problem. Somehow my pathtrees, scullers, Herreshoff, friends, plank house, boat structures, have appeared as shifts in the wind, and recognizing their worth for present use has been in the spirit of extending the trail. I have friends who built a boat they called Swanrad which means swan's road, meaning the sea. The waves we leave in our wake do go on forever, but the boat's trail in the sea is ephemeral, or the sea itself. Are not runes bent twigs?
Thad,I'm speechless, momentarily – I hope!You've hit on it exactly. The key is in making the connections that allow these new paths to become visible in wider circles. This is the promise of this medium, and why I'm taking it up.Your writing is wonderful, I'd love to cross-link with your site, and blog.