Monday, October 09, 2006

sailing the bay

When Frank called me at my studio Friday afternoon and asked me to go sailing with him on Saturday, I had to say "yes". Frank bought this junky sailboat, the "Del Corazon", two years ago for $1800, docked it at the Berkeley Marina, and went to work restoring it. When a man buys a junky boat and says he's going to restore it, buys any junky thing and says he's going to restore it, the women around him will always doubt him. Women generally don't spend a lot of time restoring things. I know I love the idea of restoration, but the reality is I'd rather spend Saturday afternoons having tea parties with my girlfriends. Men, on the other hand, don't want to have tea parties on Saturday afternoon. In fact, they need somewhere to get away from the tea party. And so there you will find Frank working on his boat week after week, Andrew working on his VW's or bicycles, et cetera. When the men finally produce a restored product after a week, many months, or a couple of years, the women are delighted. So when Frank called me up to go sailing on his newly restored boat, I could only say yes.

Andrew was out of town that weekend, and Sidney was teaching a Saturday course, so it turned out to be just me and Frank and Florabelle the dog. The day was pristine, a real California fall day. Clear blue skies, a little searing edge on the temperature, and a breeze. Frank picked me up in his blue-smoke belching work van and very sweetly put a mat down over the layers of Peet's paper coffee cups and other effluvia of the past months. We laughed hysterically on the drive to the Marina as Frank menaced society in his usual fashion; buzzing joggers who have the nerve to jog in the road when there is a perfectly serviceable jogging path off the road, threatening a little kick dog and its cell-phone-talking-mercedes-driving-owner in the parking lot, nearly clipping another mercedes when the owner threw open his door without checking the rearview. I know I'm a bad influence on Frank because I find these things hilarious, which only encourages this behavior.

As Frank and I were readying the Del Corazon for sailing I asked him casually how many times he'd taken the boat out. Since I knew its maiden voyage was back in July, I figured it hadn't been out much. "Well..." said Frank, eyeing me out if the corner of his eye, "I've only taken it out twice so far".
"Okay", I said.
"Are you scared?" he asked.
"Of course not!" I said. We continued getting the boat ready as Frank gave me a rundown on terms and things I would be doing. I have sailed many times but usually in boats where I'm not expected to do much. This time was going to be very different since we were two on a 31-foot boat. I tried to absorb the information he was throwing at me and then asked, "Where did you learn how to sail?"
"Where?" Frank asked.
"Yeah, like did you grow up sailing or what?" I asked.
"Ummmm..." Frank said, choosing his words, "I'm just learning how to sail... on this boat".
"Oh", I said. Pause. "So you've really only sailed twice?" I asked.
"Yeah!" said Frank in this really positive way, like, "it's so much fun and here we are about to do it again!"
I sat with that for another minute. I really wasn't concerned about Frank's ability; Andrew is quite large and would happily kill anyone who brought harm to me, and my friends know it. Not to mention my sister who would scratch the perpetrator's eyes out. And my mom who would wail horribly at my funeral and make everyone wish they had never been born. I was actually way more concerned about my own ability. I know on a sailboat you have to move fast, and when I don't know exactly what I'm doing I have a hard time understanding English and following directions. The next question I asked him, "What inspired you to buy a sailboat when you don't know how to sail?"
"Well," said Frank, unwrapping the last of the jib sail (I think that's what he said it was called anyway), "I thought there would be a lot to learn", and if you know Frank, then that is the perfect answer.

We headed out into the Bay. It's Fleet Week in the Bay Area and the Blue Angels were going to be doing their thing over the water near the San Francisco marina. It was a big party on the water, tons of sailboats and raceboats and yachts. And sailboat races. And probably some race boat races too.

When the Blue Angels came out, I was so excited. I love air technology--jets, space shuttles, rockets--and the Blue Angels are so fast, they are completely silent. 10 seconds after they go by..."BOOOOOM!" I'm not into military stuff at all, and I think about the people around the world who have bombs dropped on them by these planes and whose homes are already on fire by the time they hear the jets go by. That said, human ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. It fucks with my head that it is used to hurt, maim, and kill, but I am impressed and thrilled to witness it nevertheless.

From where we were we saw the Blue Angels make an incredibly dramatic entrance over the Richmond hills, and then head over to the Marina area to do their stunts. I pointed and said to Frank, "I want to be over there". I wanted to be in the middle of the action. We sailed over and spent an hour or so dodging through boats as we watched the planes. A huge C-130 flew so low and so silently over the water, just yards above the tops of boats. The Blue Angels flew amazingly tight formations, peeling off, flying upside-down, and coming together again. Other jets flew straight up into the air, seemed to stall, and then twisted back down toward the bay, pulling out at the last second before hitting the water. I was actually steering the boat while Frank manned the sails and I finally had to say to him, "Tell me if I'm going to hit something because I can't take my eyes off these jets". I took a hundred pictures but the planes were so fast it was hard to get anything good.

Finally, the show was over. We set our course for Berkeley and I immediately became seasick. Frank gave me instructions on where not to puke, where I should puke if I were to puke, and then asked several times if I still felt like puking. I finally had to tell him to stop saying the word "puke" or I really would. He fed me some ginger candy and I fell asleep. When I woke up I felt well enough to pretend to puke on Frank's computer, eat the cupcake he'd been saving, and help steer the boat into harbor. On the map to the right you can see most of our course for the day as mapped by Frank's GPS, which is always strapped to his person. We are the green line. Can't wait to go again!


My life as a full-time artist is, in many ways, an ideal one and the life I imagined for myself when I was still a kid. I'm one of those people you see lounging around cafes in the middle of the day. I listen to music or the radio station of my choice all day. I take long breaks to go to the farmer's market or walk around Lake Merritt, and I definitely take more than the standard 3 weeks of vacation a year. It's a life of freedom. But when I'm engaged in the business of actually making pottery, it's all about getting the most amount of work done in the smallest amount of time. It's all about efficiency.

I'm always looking for ways to do things faster. It's a constant challenge and it sometimes takes years to work out a complete solution. Once a problem of efficiency presents itself, it stays on my mind and I work it over until I find a answer. Since I tend to be an obsessive sort of person, the examining of a problem over and over is totally satisfying to me.

One problem that I worked over recently is how to deal with the sculpted dogwood flowers I attach to some of my work. There are two problems of efficiency here. One is the process of attaching the flowers to the work in the first place. Each dogwood flower is made up of four individually made petals that are attached to the pottery one by one. To make it look "natural" the flowers need to overlap in a seemingly random way. It doesn't always look right and I can end up dismantling work and re-doing it, a huge waste of time. The second problem is glazing the piece. The dogwood flowers are always a different color than the pottery underneath it--what it is attached to-- and the time it takes to glaze around the flowers adds up. On bigger pieces it can take an hour or more just to glaze.

I've been thinking about this problem off and on for weeks. On a drive home to Oakland from southern California the other day I started seeing a solution. I could stamp out a tiny pad, less than 1 centimeter across, and attach the dogwood flowers to it. I can then attach these "flowers pads" to my work, and since the flowers are already assembled, I can tell ahead of time how they will overlap, thus eliminating the need to pull apart the work I've already done. On some pieces I will be able to attach the flowers to already glazed-- but still unfired pieces-- using Magic Mender (a type of clay glue), reducing some of the time I spend glazing pottery. I won't be able to use this last solution on everything, but I can use it on a lot of things. Maybe. I hope.

The flowers have been made and are waiting to be tested. I can't wait to see if it works!