“To him all good things-trout as well as eternal salvation-come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.” ― Norman Maclean.

Art does not come easy. It’s also, at times, vastly over-rated as a kind of spiritual entry point. If your art is good, your salvation will be assured. I’m not certain it’s all about art, however. Sometimes craft is just as important.

Consider the simple act of writing. Good writing can indeed be art–and much of it is. Much more of it, of course, is slop–even journalistic slop such as the kind your humble correspondent dabbles in on a regular basis. It’s times like these when one realizes that this slop is, in fact, craft–and hopefully, good craft-the kind that earns a few bucks, yes–but it also tells a simple story and does so in a society that, though it doesn’t always realize it, has story in its lifeblood.

First amendment prattle, yes–I assure you. But the liberty to say and do as we wish is not as American as apple pie or baseball–it is the standard by which those latter two are measured. What good is baseball without Babe Ruth’s story or Jackie Robinson’s or Roberto Clemente’s? What good an apple pie without the story of the orchard and the recipe that grandma got from the German immigrant couple next door? It’s their stories that live on and it’s their craft, the one they practiced everyday from childhood that makes them who they are. Art? Maybe. Craft? Yes.

Telling those stories, though perhaps they won’t last forever, is still a vital function and I feel bound to it in a way. It’s digging in this particular soil and tugging at these particular roots to see where they grow that allows me to somehow feel connected. The craft is constantly there, but the art is indeed hard to come by. I have assignments that are beyond me at times and I start to slide away from them because what I want isn’t the same as what the editor wants or the goals get turned upside down. It happens.

But it doesn’t change the overall charge to keep the craft going. And I think the reason for the craft is to aim for art, knowing full well that you may not arrive there very often. It’s all the smaller sculptures sitting on tables, counters and desks that add up to the great statue admired by the public. It’s nightly dinners, crafted carefully, chopped, diced, sliced, cooked, steamed and baked that lead to the rustic perfection of simple gracious goodness that appears one evening with the perfect bottle of wine.

Norman Maclean has been one of my favorite writers for many years, now. His spartan use of language in simple detail and perfect description without sentimentality is something of a cross between honest journalism and novel originality. But it’s also a constant reminder to me that my own craft’s salvation will probably not come in the form of one poetic license writ upon the page that changes lives. Instead, it will come by grace–and that means it won’t come easy, either.


Breaking Spring

Spring break a year ago was feverish. Literally. Shannon’s birthday arrived and with it, a gift of the flu for me. I only mention it because it doesn’t seem possible it was fully a year ago–more now, actually. This year so far, germ free thank God, and enjoying myself.

The smells coming from the kitchen this afternoon are otherworldy and divine. Replete with homemade chicken broth simmering down to a concentrated savory aroma and rounded out by a fresh apple crumble with peeled granny Smith apples, oats and gluten-free flour, it’s like a delicate and fine restaurant has implanted itself in my kitchen. The smells remind me of spring at my grandmother Doney’s house in Ohio when she would cook or bake or both. That was the time when we would be outside playing, walking to the local convenience store to get our share of processed sugary sweets and play with rubber band-powered balsa wood airplanes as wispy white clouds rolled by to make way for the spring rain that would inevitably follow that evening. As I write this, the smells have sent me directly back to Massillon, again.

We’re having a guest in for dinner, a former student of mine and one of Shannon’s all-time favorite former babysitters. The two of them still do things together. Today, Mel took Shannon to Golf ‘n’ Stuff and Johnny Rockets–a good day. Sue decided she wanted to cook and so I helped by making a simple citrus marinade for chicken thighs, while Sue began the magic that she does so well. It’s a gift to live with a person who can cook like Sue. It’s a gift of memory, time and dedication, aroma, taste–and ultimately, love. It’s a thrill to watch and even a bigger thrill to be a part of it.

There’s the timer–have to go shut off the oven and the stove top.

My spring breaks of the past few years have either been spent writing and reporting, or as in last year, writing and reporting and with the flu. But this year, I’ve got a couple of nice writing gigs to keep me busy and I’m cleaning up my office/bedroom (Sue has the only real office in the house. I have a desk and chair in the master bedroom which is fine, since I’m not much of a desk person anyway) without a fever, chills, sneezing and hacking.

But my room/office is one big moving project. Thank God for paint because without it, the feeling of perpetually moving in would be overwhelming as boxes, covered in nick-nacks and dust line the walls. Like a college freshman, I bring stuff home and begin using it–or portions of it–and leave the entrails in the form of direction booklets, packaging, boxes and paper along the walls. I’ve begun clearing them out today and throwing away un-necessary items and recycling others in a half-hearted attempt to be green because hard as I try, I just don’t care that much.

There’s an assortment of old Blackberry and Motorola phones-keypads worn through from overuse and covered in dust. The collection of  shoe boxes is evidence of either a person obsessed with foot fashion or–rather, a person like me who has really sore feet and is constantly looking for a pair of comfortable kicks. There are books I’ve read or have and don’t care to read, old toys that Shannon and I used to play with, pens, pencils and markers–some of which even work and shopping bags–and for some reason I felt compelled at the time to keep them along the wall in my room.

The battle for my foot goes on, though the new orthotics are very helpful. While I still get tendonitis pain, the fascitis pain has all but dissipated. But there are times when the electric shock of pain runs through my left foot and up into my shin and causes a wincing I have not known since discs in various parts of my spine began blowing out and pressing against nerves, shoving them up against the flotsam and jetsam of tissue in my otherwise unknowing body. OK-not that bad. But, perhaps you get the idea.

I’ve been writing more for the San Jose Mercury News and Bay Area News Group and I’ve never been happier with writing assignments. I spent a lot of time in the Bay Area in my 20’s and 30’s and Sue and I were engaged in Sonoma, while brother Doug got married there in 2011. I don’t suppose at this point that I’ll be moving to the area, but it sure is nice to have work there and take jaunts whether by plane or car that allow us to enjoy San Jose and San Francisco.

Had in mind to do another essay here and this doesn’t quite meet the criteria, but I’m too busy smelling the smells, enjoying the cool breezes and sunshine and a chance to be able to share with my family. Heavenly. Just heavenly.