Category: Salamander City

Sticking to Convictions

What do you do when faced with a disaster?

So many of us tend to disregard the emotional impact of negative things.  As though it shouldn’t matter how you feel.  We make practical excuses to disguise the emotional decision we have made.  But why?  Emotions are a huge part of us, and why should it be a bad thing to acknowledge that they inform our choices?

When faced with a major setback in a project, it is normal to want out. No matter how strong your desire and conviction to pursue your goal, your emotional commitment can be waylaid by a disaster.  Knowing that this is temporary, and allowing yourself to acknowledge the feelings but wait them out before making a decision to walk away, is the responsible way to handle it.  Throwing up your hands and making what could be a solvable problem into a permanent defeat is the cowardly way.

The work of coming back from catastrophe is in itself a confirmation of your commitment, and a reaffirmation of your conviction.  Even if you do it badly, just the act of doing it puts your heart back where it needs to be.

Sometimes that work is made worse by the degree of the disaster.  Sometimes, it’s hard, back-breaking, filthy work.  I wrote about such an event that happened to me shortly after I started work on my log cabin.  You can read about it here.


Touchin’ Stuff

I like touchin’ stuff.  Do you?

I remember the first time I touched a bass guitar with the intent to use it.  I was twelve.  Nothing I did sounded good, and the songs I was learning were ones I didn’t like much.  But there was a complete sensory experience involved in having the instrument strapped to me, and laying my hands on it.  The weight of it.  The finished wood of the neck.  The strum in the amplifier.  The smell of metal on my fingers.

It is intoxicating; the experience of interfacing with a reality that holds a potential for you.  Linking with a corporeal present that you could bend into the shape of an as yet impossible future.

I wrote about this in my log cabin chronicles this week.  You can check it out here.


How do you Deal with the Daunt?

What is it about new beginnings that makes them so exciting?  The thrill of the unknown?  Or, more:  what makes us bite off more than we can chew when we start something fresh?

Let’s say that you love movies.  You watch the special features on new DVDs, you read interviews with the production crews and the cast, you attend new releases the night they come out, sometimes go to advanced screenings.  Or maybe you don’t.  Maybe you just love movies and watch the same old ones you used to like, once in a while when you feel like it.

And you decide to become a filmmaker.  How does that even happen?  Do you start with your phone camera, taking little snippets of things and editing them together?  Do you find a cheap or free video editing program for your computer?  Maybe you want to be the next James Cameron, but you know as much about focal length and lighting a set as a fish knows about toboggans.  Where do you start?

The bigger question is, how do you overcome the trepidation of trying to do something you’re not just unprepared to do, but vastly so?  You have years of work ahead, dedication, perseverance, luck, trials, failures, and work, work work.  How do you push yourself to pick up your little digital camera and start noodling with the buttons to figure out what the heck they do, on a given Sunday afternoon in the hour before you go get groceries?

Have you tried this?  It’s extraordinarily difficult.  Why decide to push a boulder up a mountain when you can just stroll by?

But that is what we do, so often.  That is what James Cameron did, and any other great achiever.  It is also what you do when you enter into a relationship with someone new, or sign a mortgage, or get a new job.  You may consign its ups and downs to a simple daily effort, but it is a much larger scale project than that.  And the projects you see as enormous, like a career in filmmaking, are made much the same way:  with a simple daily effort, over a long time.


This is a panorama of the cabin at Salamander City, not long after I started in on it (click to see a larger image).

I tossed some things in there I thought I’d need.  Gloves.  A ladder.  A table.  Some water so I could stay hydrated while I tried to figure out what to do and how to do it.  I didn’t know I’d need borate salts, or sandable silicon, or rust-proof copper meshing, or telephone pole pieces, or that I’d deal with an incompetent excavator or a quarry deliveryman or an angry retired county clerk, or that I’d learn how to heat a bath using a woodstove or divert water using a french drain or cut curved coping into logs to fit them together.

I just knew I wanted to try to restore and enhance this cabin and property.  And the way to do it was one small step at a time.

This week a new page on this topic is posted here:  Tabula Rasa part 2.

What gargantuan projects have you taken on, and how do you deal with the daunt?

The Triumph of Tranquility

New York City.  A symbol of human achievement.  Countless busy souls have spent their lives here, crafting.  Building the engines that make the world work

If I were to ask you what your idea of bliss is, what would you say?

I asked a few people, and the answers tended to fall into a few categories:  financial windfall, tropical relocation, and sex with an ideal partner.  They all make a kind of sense we can understand.  Who wouldn’t like to have these?  But for the most part, when asked what bliss meant to them, folks presented a version of inactivity.  Being someplace special or having some kind of amenity at their disposal was wrapped up in it, but they mostly just want to relax.  To sit in place in the sun on the beach as the tide rolls out.  To recline in an old chair by the fire and read a good book.  To leave work so they can travel overseas and just see things.  No labor, no projects, no purpose except to enjoy.

But for me, pursuit of a purpose and enjoyment are inextricable.  My idea of bliss is to choose a thing that I want to work on and accomplish, and to be able to do it, unfettered by responsibilities that interrupt and steal time.  The idea of total inactivity does not appeal to me, except after a long day of work.  Doing nothing, experience has told me, is actually awful.

This empty bird’s nest at my camp in the Adirondacks is also a labor, but one to create a space for peaceful safety.  A toil to escape toil.

I have been wrapped up in the race of purpose my whole life.  Every day, finding the motivation to pursue, pursue, pursue.  Imagine the great things I can do, then fall in love with the work of doing them.  Then, exult in the accomplishment by imagining the next thing.  I have disconnected with the part of me that slows down and finds solace of any kind in relaxation for the sake of relaxation.  Relaxation that is not just a relief from some labor of some kind, but is an intentional act.  An occupation of itself.

And I have chosen this.  But I did not know how deeply this disconnect was affecting me until recently in my life.  Until I forced myself to experience the other side of the coin.  As it turned out, doing this was extraordinarily difficult.  But the rewards are many.  I am still trying to grasp the triumph of tranquility, the purpose-that-is-unpurpose.  And it is not bliss, at least not to me.   But it is valuable, for a different reason.  It is a widening of one’s cumulative intellect:  There are whole worlds of perception and understanding within lengthy, peaceful repose that are invisible to the eternally goal-driven mind.

If you’d like to read about how I came to this understanding, and see some pictures of the setting for the experience, click here.

Welcome to Salamander City

Greetings, everyone. Thanks for dropping by The Octopode today. If it’s your first visit here, I hope you’ll take a look around and see what’s available. There’s music, and fiction, and this blog, which contains many discussions, rants, and explanations of things that have worked their way into my brain and begged to be worked back out of it and into words. In the months leading up to this post I’ve talked a lot about psychology, morality, and goal-oriented thinking. But now I have a new topic to present to you, that I have long anticipated discussing here.

Today’s blog post will be the first in what I hope to be many, though mayhaps not consecutive, posts about Salamander City, which is the name I’ve given to a couple acres of forest in the Adirondacks that I came to own in 2015. The plot has on it an old, unfinished log cabin that has been neglected for a long time. It is my goal to complete, restore, and build out the property into a getaway, second home, and emotional oasis.

I know that a lot of you out there can relate to my desire to do this. You may also relate to me in that I have very little knowledge of woodworking, landscaping, or construction. Aside from a few simple projects I completed in woodshop way back in high school, I came into this challenge with no know-how. What I did know is that I was capable of learning. And the rewards for tackling something this huge and so far from my working understanding would be enormous. I just had to focus, think, plan, work, and learn by trial and error. We’re all capable of this, but I find that not many of us are willing to admit that.

It’s my hope that you’ll delight in reading about the project and what it means to me as I move forward with it and, in time, reach my goal. Along the way I’ll discuss the work itself. The tools, the materials, the practical methods. I’ll describe the problems I encounter, the plans in development, and the accomplishments, as they come. I plan to share pictures and even video to better transport you here and show you what I’m up to. And of course, foster discussion. So many of you can offer me real advice and helpful instruction. My course is often altered and improved by comments that come from unlikely places.

So, let me wrap this up by sending you to a new page set up here at The Octopode for Salamander City, where you’ll find an introduction, some pictures, and over time a growing menu of blog entries like this one that are about the project. I hope you’ll return again and again!

Click on the cabin to go there now: