Chisel Chips

RIP, Mom, this life was not for you

My greatest teacher died the other day, at age 91.

For the last 34 years of her life — since retirement — Mom became increasingly angry and bitter. Her disdain for humanity and her smoking isolated her from the rich potential of time and untapped talents.

She talked of volunteering and painting and travel, but did none of it.

She used that talk to buy stuff that would let her pursue those passions, but let them sit in the closet.

Mindless consumerism — manifest most absurdly in the serial purchase of yet another house, just a few blocks from the old one, 12 in that period — filled her days.

Trips to discount stories to buy or return previous purchases consumed the hours outside her Realtor’s office.

She was smart and educated, but off the rails. Her misanthropy further expressed itself in openly cruel comments to strangers, and racist dismissal of black and Asian immigrants.

One of them was with her when she passed.

What a sad, wasted time.

But a great lesson, in how not to engage aging.

The clues all point to Holmes

The young woman checking me in to the Quality Inn & Suites in Twin Falls, Idaho, asks my name.


“Hmm, I had a Moriarty earlier today.”

“Sherlock Holmes fan?”


“Cumberbatch or Rathbone?”

“I love the Cumberbatch interpretation.”

“Pretty out there, right?”

“Yep. My husband bought me a leather-bound complete edition of the Conan Doyle stories.”

“That’s cool. Is he a Holmes fan?”

“He is, but he’s dyslexic, so I read to him.”

Phone rings. She answers. Hangs up. Smiles at me.

“That was a Mr. Holmes,” she says.

One of those days, where life reinforces life.

For art to rise and shine, it needs neighbors who toe the line

What is the link between travel and art? Is a destination, by virtue of its mass appeal, sentenced to a diminished craft community, of tinkerers and self-selected assemblers of earrings and shapers of raku coasters?

Are its painters and sculptors squeezed through a tube and into a mold that produces nothing that doesn’t contain one of the region’s famous birds, fish or antlered ungulates?

Is cliche the inevitable result of mercenary desires? Does a conscious appeal to the masses — that quest for broad acceptance, and a greater chance of sales — lead necessarily to a flattening of risk and edge in the artist’s creative output? Is safe “art” a safe bet for a transaction that lifts the artist above his or her starving (i.e. more adventurous?) brethren?

Can art exist or even survive in a world where the obvious and familiar are endlessly cycled into wall hangings for condos left vacant 11 months of the year?

These questions come to mind, browsing a collection of local art in downtown Hilo, Hawaii. I want to chew the questions, although I’m not sure it will produce a digestible answer. Overlaying the whole exercise sits the bigger question of “what is good — or great — art, and where does one find it?”

I’m not sure there is an answer to that. It costs nothing to look, which is what I do when I find myself in places that have earned some cachet among art lovers, albeit for reasons that beg the question “why?” In Sedona and Santa Fe, Carmel and Aspen, this cheapskate pedestrian has wandered into gallery after gallery, and departed in a fog of confusion about the goal of the artists and their gallerists. If every piece, to show its origins, must contain crashing waves or bugling elk or red-rock buttes, can it fairly be called art, or more accurately decoration?

And then there sits the line between art and craft. If utility is the underlying rationale for its creation, can craft compete with an item that is meant strictly for viewing? Is there greater value in the purely aesthetic, compared to that which has an aesthetic quality and also provides a barrier between sweat from a cocktail glass and the koa wood coffee table?

I love to visit galleries, or shops that represent a mix of talents, be they assemblers of beads and pounded metal, or painters, or whimsical welders and their scrap-metal representations of the local fauna. “Cute,” we say most often, and pass on.

For many people, this is what passes for art, and this is what many people come to think of as art, because they see little else, when they travel, in the shops and “galleries” that come to dominate the retail landscape of their destinations. Destinations, I should add, that ascend to the heights of allure because of the sheer volume of such retail establishments that have come to comprise their landscape.

To be fair, to each his own. Everyone has a right to like what they like. Not everyone wants or expects to be challenged by a creative work, although I do. I recall a visit a couple of years ago to Los Angeles, and some of its art zones. In particular, my wife and I found ourselves captivated by the work on display in several of the galleries in downtown Culver City.

In the instance of our captivation, I recall seeing nothing on the wall that looked to have been inspired by the world outside. There was fantasy, whimsy, humor and lust. We could recognize elements in some of the work, or nothing at all in other expressions. But whenever we stopped and stared and thought that if we had a spare $5,000 lying around, we would buy this, and buy it now, we were staring at a work that neither of us had ever seen or imagined before.

Yes, in shops to the left or right of the one in which we stood, we could find nicely wrought earrings or vases. But where we stood, we found wonder. In the world of all that is possible for people to create, only the rare and unfamiliar deserves such regard. The contrast emerges from the greater context. Without cliche, the magical and revolutionary would have nothing above which to soar.

Or, to put it bluntly, without the junk, the gems would never shine.

All the really good ideas die in the e-mail ‘Trash’ bucket

(Editor’s note: Despite the proliferation of social media, e-mail is still the killer app. It fosters business, and healthy, creative personal interaction. This is a transcript of an actual exchange, conducted between the very talented David Hanson and yours truly. I’ve changed the e-mail addresses to prevent invasion of our privacy by Da Bots. Context: David and his wife invited me and my wife for dinner. He made a lot of pulled pork. Way more than four people could eat. He offered some to us before we left, but we had to decline, albeit reluctantly. We already had a pile of leftover pork of our own at home. That said, is there ever such a thing as too much pork? ‘Dinerguy’ is me. ‘Messopork’ is him.)

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 10:09 AM, <> wrote:

Wanted to thank you both again for a lovely evening — good smarts, good talk, good laughs.
Have fun with the ‘yardening.’

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 10:33 AM, <> wrote:

Yessir. Great to have y’all over. I might install a small pork reflecting pond in the backyard. We have enough leftovers.

See y’all around!

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 10:36 AM, <> wrote:

I like that. It would be a one-of-a-kind oddity features. People would come from all over the country — even Pendleton — to see it. Maybe they’d toss stuff in, for good luck. Coins. Pigs. Garbage. You would eventually have to expand it. And move your house, because the pond would grow a bit, to take over the Heights. It would become a superfund site, and get a slot on “Real Wasteponds of the West” (Travel Channel).

Out of small ideas, big things come. I see possibilities.

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 10:42 AM, <> wrote:

You’re a true Idea Man, and I can appreciate that. I see you going places, big places, in the #PorkPoolScapes empire. Let’s get your people with my people soon and get you on board.

First order of business: rigging a face of the Virgin Mary to **very occasionally** appear in the pool…

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 10:52 AM, <> wrote:

I’ve still got a photo sent out by the AP years ago of a Hispanic woman down in N.M., standing next to a framed tortilla chip. On the chip is a burnt image that someone decided looked like the Virgin Mary. People DID come to her house, to the Shrine of the Holy Tortilla (I am NOT making this up, although I wish I had), to visit it and pray. I’m not sure where I’ve got the thing stashed, but it’s priceless.

BTW, I also have file folders of photos showing dignitaries reviewing the troops. And newspaper stories all talking about various earthquakes in the U.S., but noting that they’re still not “The Big One.” Ahhh, the Big One. That will be an American earthquake, truly epic, unlike any of those measly earthquakes that his Tajikistan or China or Indonesia, where only thousands die, routinely. When American ingenuity gets around to it, we’re gonna rock the world of earthquakes. You will never have seen such destruction, even in movies. It will be awesome. And we’ll all be walking around with our smart phones out, taking selfies and texting them to Boston.

BTW_2.0, I also wish I could say Shrine of the Holy Tortilla spawned a whole economic development boom in that small town, with attractions and amusements like the Guacamole Coaster and the Refritos Banditos and the Queso Cathedral, and musical acts playing Tejano tunes and such, and busloads of blue-haired Mexicans coming in to stay several nights and bask in the whole sordid shit.

But I can’t (say all that, that is).

I wonder if all this would go away if I started smoking weed? Hmm.

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 11:07 AM, <> wrote:

If God truly was Good, Jesus would come in the form of a lard-laden tortilla cooked by a nice hispanic woman in NM rather than a dry, tasteless wafer shipped in vacuum-sealed packages, and our boom towns would be hawking holy edibles instead of fracking gas and water out of the earth. But, you’re right, it’s about time we brought The Big One to America, even if it means drilling til we make one of our own ingenuity. Soon enough India and China’ll beimporting their goddamn earthquakes from US!

On Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 11:25 AM, <> wrote:

YES! Earthquakes as the new, hot thing — an export product to beat all. As good as military invasion, maybe even better. Lower cost — packaging is the problem — but not as much need for military personnel or mechanical things, except one really big low-boy to haul the sucker into place (“REALLY REALLY OVERSIZE LOAD” sign on the back).

But Bechtel and such would still get all the rebuilding contracts.

I like it. You’re a thinker after my own heart. Good to keep an eye on Oklahoma as they refine the technology.

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