Tuesday, May 31, 2011

rock paper scissors

"A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid."

~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

With the return of pleasant weather and more passable surfaces, the new season invites our travelling dreams. Road-trips may be of any duration- an afternoon or several weeks; ten miles or a thousand. For the moment, here is a place just an hour north of Portland, in the coastal town of Wiscasset, Maine- and a fine oasis loved by its customers: Rock Paper Scissors. The locally-owned stationer is now in its 10th year. Stopping in, as I like to do, for pencils and a friendly greeting, I asked the owner's permission to spotlight her shop on this blog. And we begin right here (below) on Wiscasset's Main Street:

Erika Soule (at left in the photo above) is the founder-owner of the shop. A Wiscasset native, her inspiration for opening the shop connects her commitment to making her livelihood in her hometown, her love of paper and art, and- as she says- being surrounded by things she loves. She began by selling bookbinding supplies, and housewares, and finally chose to focus on stationery and writing materials. "Buy what you love," she added, "and hopefully people will show up." Indeed, we do show up. The good word of an unusual, eclectic, and sophisticated inventory combined with the shop's neighborly atmosphere draws customers from hours away. Erika refers to regular customers who "make the pilgrimage." (In the above photo Erika, her customer, and I got into a conversation about typewriters- somehow- and that's my Olympia SF  visiting the shop counter during one of my road trips!)

A view of the shop's arrays of journals, handmade papers, ephemera, and writing tools.

I asked Erika about the shop's most popular items. She began with pens such as Microns, LePens, "Aquarollers," by Itoya, and Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens- all of which she demonstrated. Greeting cards are also very popular with all ages. In the photo above, Erika described the Apica "Twin Ring" journals which have become very popular, along with standby Rhodia and Moleskine blank books of varying sizes and paper styles. Quattro journals are another newly sought-after item.

Not to be missed, there is fuel for the graphite appetite. Erika's shop has long been my source for Craft Design Technology HBs. Pictured below are some amazing sculpted artifacts entirely made of graphite. These are unique items, each hand-carved.

In the photo below, Erika is writing with a graphite "branch." These tools do not smear or stain hands!

More popular items with customers are Japanese masking tapes (above) and journaling binders (below). The decorative tapes have more of the feel of a thick version of Magic Tape, and can be repositioned, and are entirely unlike what many of us know as painters' masking tape. Erika says these fly off the shelves!

Items such as these are enjoyed by all ages. The shop's customers include elementary-school-aged children, and span the generations.

As it may be evident by these pictures I took, people come to the shop looking for creative ideas. Being a longtime customer myself, I can attest to this serendipitous aspect of visiting Rock Paper Scissors. It seems there is always something new to try and people with whom to talk about the tools.

...and there's the shop's mascot and able assistant, Abby...

Along Route 1, just north of Bath, Maine, Rock Paper Scissors is at 68 Main Street (Route 1) in Wiscasset (the Prettiest Village in Maine), and their number is 207.882.9930.
(As yet, there is no web site.)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

lumen vitae

“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and light to my path.”

~ Psalm 119:105

When grey days outnumber the sunny spells at about 12:1, brightness stands out. We naturally take note of contrasts. In the crepuscule, light sources are sought. Severity generates hunger for splendor. As shining faces, sunflowers pivot and lean toward the light that nourishes their countenances. Silence savors music, and cacophonous racket craves solitude. I’ve just come from providing a consultation for a future museum to be housed in an immense textile mill complex. A major part of interpreting the lives of millworkers and their industries is to understand how these manufactures operated. Resembling the ruins of a walled medieval city, advancing deeper into the labyrinth-like buildings, corridors, chambers, and stairs, the environment proportionately darkened.

Finally, in the cavernous bowels beneath acres of century-old brick, iron, and timber structures I saw the subterranean waterways that were built to channel river rapids. The curators call these “lagoons.” One can just imagine the workers’ suffocating days in such confines, along with the deafening noise-level they must have endured. But now all is stilled, deserted, and somber. Emerging through levels of thick flooring and conveyors, glimpses of sun through slotted portals dazzled. The experience was one of reaching surface to light and air. I’ve needed a good long walk to be able to expel the mill’s stagnant acrid odors.

So stark of a contrast between spaces of thick sightless void and open skies prompts a strong impression in the form of gratitude for natural light. What exemplifies brightness? This has been in my thoughts during these slate days. We image that which we crave. In the absence of strong light, what says “brilliance” to you? This week, when there were precious slivers of time to close my eyes, I’d ask myself to identify brightness. What sparkles through shadowed spans? Yesterday, while writing in a coffeehouse, I looked up from my notebook and noticed contrasts between dimmed exteriors and convivial human sounds. Bright marks against a darkly opaqued canvas. The man who repairs my car was at the next table, dining with his wife. He recognized me before I realized who he was, due to this unusual context. A genuine smile of kindness is indeed luminous. Savory victuals are brightly spiced, as are fledgling leaves that emerge from rainstorms. New ideas that excite have the brilliance of found treasure.

Later in the day, I asked a writer friend to express brightness. “The beach on an August day,” she replied, as we both looked across Commercial Street at a fog bank. “And tulips,” she added, “that’s bright.” Then we compared notes about ice-glazed trees, candles, and windows with sweeping views. Bright as delicate pastries flanked by utilitarian coffee; beaming lighthouses on beaten crags. Images to sustain souls and refuel lanterns.

Friday, May 20, 2011

like a river to the sea

“I asked not the reason for this grief,
understanding well that it was unknown.
For grief is ever begotten of Time that, flowing,
has not shaped its fruit.
Grief is there for the mere flux of empty days.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Wisdom of the Sands.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

to the quiet

“O holy solitude, happy beyond measure,
who may tell your praises!
O life, sweetness, rest, shelter,
path of retreat.”

~ Paul Giustiniani, monk of Monte Carona.

Penobscot Bay, Maine, has long had a personal connotation as a place of solace and wonder. An opportunity to reside astride these shores presented itself, and I am gratefully here. In this part of the state, I am somewhat north of spring’s progress. The only green trees are the pines, and the tourists are yet to arrive. It is quiet throughout, and the aromatic woods and vast waters are beautifully lonely. Knowing how vital the solitary silence would be, ironically I cashed in my earned sick time at work. I am here to be consoled and strengthened, and it seems to be happening in that order. During hard winter months of multitasking, I thought of Penobscot Bay’s expanse.

With the small cabin along the sands, the Atlantic is ever before me. This panorama is such that I am often distracted from my writing. Even better than that, distracted from my self. The cabin thankfully has a canopied porch, allowing me to write and read through all sorts of weather. Rain ticks on the covering. Wind-blown waves embrace the land, and buoys chime the elements’ changes.

There is a strong sense of being away, yet also very much at home. Portland and Casco Bay are only a few hours’ drive south of here, and the scenery is but a wilder, vaster, much less built-up rendition of my usual environment. Even the city of Belfast, always my favorite Maine town after Portland, is very familiar- yet distinctly different from my workaday. Belfast, like Portland, is a working seaport of tiered brick buildings and streets of Victorian houses. But unlike Portland, it is still quieter and more intimate. An old hospitable perch; I had stopped in Belfast for a day, shortly after September 11, 2001, to collect my thoughts along the waterfront.

This entire stretch of coastline has long illustrated a continuing history of Divine consolation for me. This is the region between Rockland and Mount Desert Island. Belfast compacts small city streets with a wide-open waterfront. Even Main Street’s incline tilts into the municipal boat landing.

As with all such sojourns, I hope to bring the peace of this travel back with me to the world of fulltime work so boldly interrupted. Practicing a balance between intensities required to meet work demands and calmness derived from retreats amounts to an exercise of conscience. Remembrance occupies many manifestations in life. Of course I want to bring this week back with me to inspire the future- both the rainsoaked and sundrenched alike. And of course all that awaits me will threaten to drown this out, if time itself doesn’t. Yet I have the written and photographic record to remind and to build upon. I am as grateful for the moment’s preservation as I am for the present itself. At the ocean’s edge, all is near.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

clear joy near

“Some clear joy is coming
on some slowest trains.
Do you hear
that it’s coming again.”

~ The Innocence Mission, Some Clear Joy is Coming

With the beginnings of lengthened stretches of daylight, dovetailing winter’s last breaths, scenery changes again. Circumstances remain as they’ve been, but ways in which they are perceived may represent the difference. A season’s transition directly affects sightlines, as it does the landscape itself. Early spring reminds me of how much less needs to be expended in order to be mobile. No windshield-scraping, or path-shoveling, or garment-layering required. Bold heel-landing strides supercede iceshuffling babysteps. And to go with that, roads and trails become more inviting. These familiar conduits are the same as before, yet now more passable, more seasoned by another round of elements.

The view is a peculiar one of hopeful prospects in a sea dotted with barriers. Trying to perceive beyond passthroughs and valleys, an incalculable gulf between now and the way-yonder lies before my steps. Where the present is immediately going remains as uncertain as before, yet it seems not to matter so much today. Following an uninterrupted six-month span of continuous work, a few days of rest are upcoming.

An instinct that visualizes open-ends must often do battle with the immediately tangible. Naturally, I want to know what to expect and how to be prepared. Between fulfilling quotidian obligations and connecting all the points, I try to get outside to simply notice the change of air. Through the old samenesses, wider and brighter skies draw burdens upward. As much as intuition informs, sense without consciousness mystifies. Some days, grace seems out of reach; on other days, goodness is innately imminent. Which is the mirage? Looking forward without straining ahead, perhaps the clear joy is seen without staring.

Some respite time is near. Admittedly, it’s good for morale to run the daily gauntlet with a vision of relief within reach. Now as each day arrives, thoughts of the woods, ocean, and winding roads increase in their prominence. Traffic intersections and hallways are already resembling trees and trails. To simply reach ahead is sufficient, and that is clearly felt- in the short run. In doing so, I continue writing as though my handwritten lines and rollered typing paper pave toward the future. Preferring the promising over the prohibitive, forward-looking is an impatient pursuit. But that’s no reason to wish away time. Now to muse the maps and gather provisions for a retreat.