Truthiness

This weekend, we went to the Fluff Festival in Union Square. This event, which is put on by the Somerville Arts Council, is a celebration of peanut butter’s favorite friend. And really, who didn’t eat countless peanut butter-fluff sandwiches as a kid?

Well, it turns out that Fluff is a semi-regional product. Our friend from California had never heard of it, and she ate her first fluffernutter at the festival. I think it might be a difficult product to begin to appreciate as an adult. Just like Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, Fluff is primarily consumed by those of us still in elementary school.

To be perfectly honest, I do have a container of it up on one of the shelves in my kitchen. It is not often used, and I really only bought it out of necessity. The first school I worked at was peanut free, so I tried making an almond nut butter sandwich. People say that it tastes delicious, just like peanut butter if not better. They are lying. It does not. And so, out $6 for the jar, I opted to buy some Fluff to make the whole affair more palatable. We only ate Skippy (smooth, no chunks) when I was growing up, and to this day it is hard for me to eat any other brand. I was a pretty picky eater, and my family is still amazed every time they see me eat pickles or cheese or anything with mayo on it. At Italian resturaunts, I would get garlic bread with no cheese as my dinner and loved it. Sometimes kids do strange things.

And sometimes, those strange things are just fantastically interesting. 

One of the third grade kids in my afterschool likes to make up stories. We start out talking about real things, having an actual conversation, about Pokemon for example. Then all of a sudden he is talking about how he has every card ever made except for one that he gave to his friend who didn’t have any Pokemon cards, and how his best card has 3 million HP and does levels of damage that don’t sound within any realm of Poke-possibility (spend much time around children in middle elementary school and you very quickly become well versed in the language of Pokemon), and how last year he sold all of his brother’s cards on Ebay for $40,000. I know that this kind of behavior is common, but it is just so interesting how he talks about it like it really happened, even as he is making it up on the spot.

It is also a great creative exercise for him. He doesn’t really like writing in school, but it is clear that he loves to tell these stories. In the past two weeks, he has:
- talked to me for 45 minutes about all of his success on World of Warcraft (a game his older brother is very into)
- explained how a science lesson started off by pushing a rubber ball up a ramp (real) and then bounced off several trampolines in the classroom and then out the window and over the school and off roofs and cars and people and then back to the classroom
- told me about all of the fake money he has and has used with success, including a dollar bill on a string that he pulled out of the store’s cash register after he used it to buy some Pokemon cards (when I asked him if that was stealing, he explained that the owner of the store has a fake charity collection jar on the counter for a dog named Charles who is purple and "very obviously drawn with crayons" and is also not the same purple dog that I made up as I was talking to him)

 Now, if I could ever get him to tell me what actually happend at school…

Pinhole

It has been a busy summer, but I did get to play with the pinhole camera my brother gave me for Christmas last year.

Using the camera is still very experimental. Exposure times are just guesses, not made in any kind of scientific way. But that has also meant that I haven’t taken anything too seriously. Normally (well, back when I used a film camera regularly) I didn’t take too many pictures because I only wanted to take ones I was sure were going to be good. With this camera, I can just take pictures, and not worry about them too much.

Posted in Art

We like to move trees around

 

H and I put up our little silver tree tonight, so it is starting to feel like Christmas season. I am genuinely glad that I don’t work in retail, because those poor people have been listening to non-stop Christmas carols since before Thanksgiving, and they must be sick of it. I am mean, and don’t want to get a real tree just yet. Probably by the end of the week I’ll relent, but until then, this is what we have.

We have seen lots of people bringing their Christmas trees home this weekend: big ones on cars, a little one on the roof of a Mini Cooper, some being walked, and even one carried by a biker. That’s how you know you’re in Cambridge.

Speaking of things carried on bikes, H and I went to the Taza chocolate factory on Saturday. There were boatloads of people there, all shuffling along in the crowded space, entranced by the ever-present chocolate aroma. This was no Willy Wonka, unfortunately. No river of chocolate. No soda that makes you float. No oompa loomas. That’s all for the better, though. I was worried I would fall in and get sucked up one of those tubes.

Nahant, part two

I found my card reader, so here are my pictures from bright and early on Nahant.

These are two other submarine-spotting towers.

My polaroid right after developing.

In other news, it was my birthday yesterday (Sunday). Having a birthday always makes me think about what I really liked about the last year and what I want to do in the next one. Kind of like New Year’s resolutions. I think one of them will be to read more. I like the idea Heather, of Walden Street, had, the book club of one. I think I’ll try that. Look for something in the sidebar in the next week, if I get around to it.

Posted in Art

Repurposed

Bright and early Saturday morning, my brother and I drove out to Nahant to get pictures of sunrise on the beach. Of course, rather than waking up at 4:30 am to get there in time, we chose to just stay up and then go to sleep after we were done. We got lots of good pictures, and it brought me back to doing my senior project. The spot where we were taking pictures has had several military purposes over the years, from early American defense of Boston onwards. Most recently, the site – which is now a marine biology lab site for Northeastern University – was part of the Nike missile system surrounding Boston. During World War II, there were gun emplacements and several large concrete towers for spotting U-boats or other German naval vessels.

This picture is a 4 x 5 Polaroid instant color print taken with my homemade pinhole camera, a 10 minute exposure in the early-morning light. In it, you can see one of these towers (it is the rectangular thing in the center of the frame). It just so happens that this tower is owned by the family of my brother’s friend, whose house is just feet from the structure. So, after his friend woke up, we went over and visited him and got to go see it from the inside.

It is always interesting to see how former military sites are reused or adapted after they are no longer in service. Some of them get bulldozed. Often they are bought and used by towns, for schools, highway departments, or other public services. If they are abandonded in place, they often become covered in grafitti and strewn with the remnants of teenage partying. This submarine-watching tower is now home to a darkroom, a pinball machine, and a set of bunkbeds, which are on the very top floor.

I’ll put up more pictures after I hook my card up to my computer. Until then, you should go see my brother’s pictures here.

Posted in Art

A bench

After making a bunch of the little Swedish footstools, I scaled the design up to a full-sized bench. This one looks awfully nice in my apartment. I’ll have to build another one, because this one and another one almost just like it are getting sold.

These are pictures from before they get painted or stained. One is now a bright cheddar orange and the other will have a cherry stain on the top and a red milk paint on the legs. I’ll have more pictures after they are all done and in their new homes.

In related news, I had my very first Etsy sale today! Happy Thanksgiving!

If you want to buy one of the little benches for yourself, visit my Etsy shop here.

http://stephenworks.etsy.com

Or, if you want something a little different, send me an email: stephen [at] stephenmaclellan.com

Prints!

Lately, I have been doing part-time temp work at the Tufts Institute of the Environment. It has been fun and has given me a small but steady source of income while I wait to get hired somewhere full time. I’ve been able to do creative things, building them some furniture, designing and updating several websites, making signs for upcoming lectures and events, and doing general office work. Today, I was making some block print cards for renewable energy credits. They want to give these out as gifts for speakers, as an environmentally-conscious alternative. For me, it was just a great chance to pull out all of my printmaking equipment and go at it.

It has been a while since I have made any prints, and doing it tonight reminded me why. From start to finish, the process took seven hours: designing on the computer, transferring the design to the linoleum, cutting it out, setting up for printing, cutting the paper, inking up the block, and making the prints. All of my stuff has exploded over the living room, but I’ll put it all back tomorrow.

I promise.

And it all turned out well in the end. The letters got a little ink-filled by the end, but I now have 22 nice prints.

It is nice to get paid to do this, even though I love doing it on its own. Tomorrow, they are giving one to Erin Brockovich, who is giving a talk at Tufts. I feel famous by association.

Darn those old-timers

 

I am reading a book (well, actually I’m reading three at the same time, but let’s just focus on this one) right now called Walking Toward Walden, by John Hanson Mitchell, in which he and two friends spend one October day making a trek through the woods and fields of Westford, Acton, Carlisle, and Concord. They are vaguely retracing the route taken by the Westford minutemen on the morning of April 16, 1776, staying as far from contemporary roads and housing as they can. They talk, exploring the history of the place in intimate detail, and are constantly looking around at the birds, plants, and landscape. With Concord as their final destination, Mitchell writes frequently about Thoreau, and his walks and forays out onto the land. Their journey is very much in the same spirit as his, and Mitchell is a keen observer. It is interesting to read a book that is set in a landscape I know, some of it quite well. He walked within a mile of my old house, while I was living there no less. In one of the last parts of the book, he and his friends hike through the Estabrook woods in Concord, conservation land that I have been on many times with my family. When he talks about the old Carlisle road with stone walls on either side, I knew exactly what he was takling about. I had seen the lime quarry, the crack in the earth that they sit by for a while, resting up for their last push. In so many books, I am making up my own picture of what the setting looks like, based on the author’s cues but the picture is mostly an amalgamation of places I have been. With this book, which is so focused on his description of the place, I can have a clear picture of where he is, as if I am right there with them. At one point, he says a sweaty man runs by them with a little white dog. Was that my dad?

In my efforts to stay busy and do interesting things with all this time I have on my hands in these days of unemployment, I am trying to go to new places. Earlier this week, I got it in my head that I should hike up Mount Monadnock in southern New Hampshire. So today, I did.

Monadnock is a thumb of granite sticking up above a sea of low, wooded hills. On a clear day, you can see the White Mountains to the north, the Green Mountains in Vermot to the west, the bump of Mount Wachusett  poking up in an otherwise flat Massachusetts, and the skyscrapers of Boston on the horizon. It is said to be the second most visited mountain in the world, following only Mount Fuji in Japan. It has its share of pilgrims, from the bible fellowships at its base to our own philosopher and wanderer Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau visited many times, camping for several days at a time and taking the train home to Concord after he was done. There is no more train, and the place has changed significantly since the mid 1800′s, just as the entire landscape of New England has. The fields and animal pastures that filled the region have been abandoned, taken over again by the forest. I have heard estimates that Vermont, for instance, was 70% cleared, 30% forested in the 19th century and is today 30% cleared, 70% forest. The farmers mostly moved west, and industrial production took its place. Reading some of Thoreau’s diary entries about visiting Monadnock, he walked up to the peak through fields, with horses and cows following him, smelling the salt he had with him. Families came blueberry picking on Sundays. Now, there is nothing but trees, in every direction.

When I was three-quarters of the way to the top, just coming up above the tree line, I stopped for a moment. Looking out, further on up the mountain, I saw what I thought were a number of birds, perched on a rock outcropping some distance away. They were making a lot of noise, but looked a little odd. Then I realized that they were people, a large group on the summit. And they were all yelling and screaming. Occasionally, some of them would chant something incomprehensible. They were coming down as I continued up. It was a school group, probably fifth or sixth graders. Not birds, just people.

At the summit, there was a lot of graffitti, names and dates and initials carved into the rock. A lot of it was pretty well done, no sloppily carved letters here. One couple that got to the top just after I did said, "Wow, look at all this graffitti up here! Darn those old-timers."

Exactly. Darn those old-timers.

 

What to do

Seeing as how I have some extra time on my hands these days, not having a job and all, I’ve been trying to do something constructive with at least some of my time, besides sending out cover letters and resumes. Of course, I can come up with all kinds of good ideas that never make it into the light of day because they get sucked away by the evil, destructive forces of The Internet and The Spider Solitaire. I could have such an interesting life if I didn’t get drawn into these semi-mindless, repetitive time-fillers. And yet, there must be more of the internet out there that I missed! I can’t stop now!

Last week, I decided to build some more of the little Swedish stools I’ve talked about before. I made four of them, thinking, maybe someone will buy them on Etsy. I plan on eventually going into production mode and mass-producing them for Ikea (because they’re Swedish, Ikea is Swedish, I see some chemistry…) but I just can’t engineer the flat-pack, which is at the core of all Ikea designs. They’re obsessed with it. I also haven’t worked in any fiberboard or bolts for the ubiquitous Allen wrench that is mandatory with every Ikea furniture product. I’m working on it, though, so watch for them to appear in commercials sometime in the spring.

Here is a nice trio:

They’ve out in my parent’s garage with a first coat of paint, just waiting for some more. Then they’ll be waiting for some nice person (like you) to adopt them and take them home. Just look at their little tails wag. I think they like you!

Ms. H. has also helped me out, giving me little challenges in the last two days. Besides sending out a job application every day, I also have things I need to do. Yesterday there were two things: go someplace new and do something new. My new thing to do was to eat cabbage, which we got in our CSA share. It was pretty good, and purple. We always say that anything would taste pretty good if you sautee it in oil, but hey, who can argue with trying new vegatables. My new place to go was Middlesex Fells, a big chunk of land north of Medford with miles and miles of trails. I hiked up a hill with an old stone tower on it and a nice view of Boston. Clearly, many other people think it’s a nice view, too, because they left all their Coors Light boxes, cigarette butts, and broken bottles up there until they come back to get them. The tower was locked, of course, and someone spray painted "HELL IS REAL JESUS IS SAWIOR" on the door, just so we know. It may be the woods, but it is an urban woods.

The other way I kept it all interesting and new for myself was that I walked there. And not just straight there from our apartment, but all crookedly, going out to Arlington first on the bike path and then cutting back northeast to Medford. All told, I walked 13 miles yesterday, which is a lot. It wouldn’t get me quite to Fitchburg if I was HDT, but it’s a start.

A home for things!

After finally comandeering a car large enough to transport this behemoth, it is here, in my apartment! There was a ding to one of the doors while getting it into the elevator, but that can be painted and it just gives it some character.

It is fun to see it all done and in the space, after thinking about it in my head for all this time. I started designing it back at the beginning of June, and I’ve been working on it off and on since then. I started by seeing how big my stereo and cd player were, and worked around these dimensions. Then I made a picture in SketchUp, to be able to turn the thing around in 3D.

And the design has come some since then. It got doors, more drawers, and different legs. I was originally thinking of making the legs with pipes for a kind of modern look. We saw a table that had pipe and plumbing part legs at the Full Moon resturaunt in Huron Village, and I thought that was pretty cool and tried to incorporate it into this project. In the end, it didn’t seem right for this, but it will probably happen with something, eventually.

Look, there’s stuff inside!

And records, too! 

We now have an entire extra bookshelf in one of the cases, which I filled up immediately, mostly just shifting things around, but there were a lot of books sitting in piles around the apartment. We have a lot of books.