Saturday, November 23, 2019

On deliberate distraction

This weekend I am applying spar urethane to the cabinet work I’ve been doing in the galley. I have been dreading the job because finishing is my least favorite part of woodworking. I hate wearing a respirator, hate the stickiness of the materials, hate dealing with clean up, hate putting on a layer of varnish, then sanding it down, then another layer, then more sanding, and so on, and so on, and so on. It is important to do it right, but I always end up rushing just to get it over with, and the results are not satisfactory. It has felt like I am rushing this project in general (and consequently making more mistakes than I should), and I would rather slow down and do it well. After all, I don’t have to go out to the field for the Proboscidea project until next summer, and while it is true that I still have many tasks ahead of me (not least of which is adding solar power to The Maggie Mee), there is still plenty of time.

So I decided to slow it down this week by finding some deliberate, productive distractions. If anything can take away from the compulsive need to work on a big project, surely it is to throw other, smaller projects into the mix. Accordingly, among other things that I have worked on this past week or so, I have finally finished this painting of the Proboscidea louisianica that a neighbor found and transplanted for me this summer while I was laid up from surgery:

I also went looking for a typewriter I could use to document this project, and found this one, a 1948 Royal Quiet DeLuxe, in a junk shop masquerading as an antique store. It was in terrible, terrible condition—covered in rust, dust, spilled coffee, and seventy years of tobacco tar. All the keys were sticking, and two wouldn’t budge even a bit, and I was not at all sure I could get it up and running again. It was daunting to think about. Still, the price was right, and I do love a good project. It took a lot of patience, elbow grease, and helpful advice from antique typewriters aficionados on Facebook, but it is now a dream machine. Here are the before and after photos:

Finally, I have been looking for a project for an upcoming exhibition on heirloom plants, and on a hunch, I texted one of my tennis partners, whose husband is a cotton researcher, and followed several threads to this, the wild ancestor of modern day cotton, Gossypiodes kirkii:

As it turns out, the evolution of spinnable cotton is more fascinating than I knew, and this plant, one of the few specimens in the world, exists in a greenhouse right here in the 806, where it is tended by a loving team of workers. I’ll do a separate post on it at a later date, but I am really, really thrilled to be working on this. It feels important, you know?

In the meantime, finding all these productive distractions has enabled me to be much more deliberate in Maggie’s cabinet work, and I have spent the afternoon wearing a respirator, applying finish, and listening the sandhill cranes as they fly overhead. It is a good day.


  1. Lovely. The typewriter is amazing!

  2. Oh this is ridiculous. I have the same typewriter. My mother did as well, in the sixties. I thought that if I typed my stories on it, I was published. LOVE IT!


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