By Anita GarnerBe still my heart.
They’re back with a new season Sunday, April 7th on DIY network.
I have a crush on these hillbillies. Barnwood Builders started a few seasons ago and since then I’ve watched every show in repeats while waiting for new episodes. (Repeats are still airing on Discovery Network.)
If you love old buildings, American history and tradition, you’ll enjoy these guys. It’s men with big hearts and muscle and their commitment to keeping some of the old ways alive. It’s fun to see good people loving what they do and doing it well.
Now my dvr on Sunday nights includes CBS 60 Minutes, whatever series I’m watching on PBS/Masterpiece – and Barnwood Builders.
Places to write become places to live. I like it that way. Even in a big house, I’ll end up in one room, in one corner with a comfortable chair, a small table, a light to turn up or down. A few old and much-loved tchotchkes here and there. A window is nice.
I like looking at tiny houses. Converted sheds in the back yard draw me in. Little outbuildings turned into offices with a single bed or comfy couch in case of company. Or in case the occupant needs a nap. That’s just about perfect.
It’s clear this is now a lifelong pattern. Whatever the size of the place, I live mostly in one room. When I’m tired of it, I go into another room. That’s two rooms so far.
The concept of small spaces seems normal for a writer. Less distractions. It’s cozy enough to be filled with thoughts, or in the absence of them, it’ll contain the angst.
Turned on TV Thursday night to watch a favorite show, A P Bio on NBC, and there’s Mother (Sister Fern Jones) singing “Didn’t It Rain”
It’s a funny show about a naughty-to-bad teacher. Love the cast. These two pictured are Glenn Howerton and Patton Oswalt. Everybody’s at the top of their game. The classroom’s filled with young talent. The teachers’ lounge is charmingly off-center and the school office has its own quirks.
I’m glad the writers and producers and music supervisors invite Sister Fern from time to time. Her feisty rockabilly/gospel fits right in.
California wildflowers poster series from artist Gompers Saijo**
When Spring arrives, most people feel awake, alive, excited. For me it comes with a twinge of melancholy. Right now we’re in the flannel-to-flowers transition in Northern California which puts me in mind of a song, one that haunts me at unexpected times through the year, but always at the start of Spring. And always this song brings to mind a dear friend who shared my love for this ballad. Yes, I’ve written about him before, and may again. That’s what happens when you’re unforgettable.
Ed Wetteland was a keyboard genius in a giant body. He played most of his life in the Bay Area, in clubs and concerts, putting on the tux for big band gigs, working with just about everybody in music who came through The City. When he wasn’t working, he wandered, with some of us in tow, into clubs down hidden alleyways in The City, sliding onto the piano bench, playing a little, slipping back out and on to another club. Everyone made way. Everyone knew Ed. Mercurial. Tender. Then mercurial again.
Home was his country acre in Sonoma County where the other part of his life was spent coaching singers in his studio and holding forth on the deck outside his honest to goodness log cabin in Sebastopol, indulging in very good wine provided by his Bohemian Club buddies, telling stories, stopping to name the notes played by the wind chimes and whistling back at birds.
We were friends from the first hello. We had our little traditions. Wherever he played, when I came in, he’d weave away from the song he was performing and slide into the bridge of one of my favorite songs, It Might As Well Be Spring. This bridge slays me. Melancholy. Plaintive.
I keep wishing I were somewhere else Walking down a strange new street Hearing words that I have never heard From a man I’ve yet to meet – Rodgers & Hammerstein
One Sunday Ed promised friends he’d play at their church in Santa Rosa. He was distinctly un-churchy. He insisted I come and he’d buy brunch afterward. I arrived a bit late. Ed was playing a hymn. I wish I could remember which one. I didn’t think he’d seen me slip into a pew in the back, but obviously he did because he created a seamless segue from the hymn into the bridge above, and right back into the hymn.
He never recorded It Might As Well Be Spring, but here’s another favorite he played often. Sophisticated Lady comes from a recording session in the home of a friend. A few of us gathered in a wine country estate to hear Ed record some of his favorite songs at a spectacular Boesendorfer grand piano.
About this time of year, just before the official start of Spring, Ed would be on his deck, holding forth at length about flora and fauna and especially about California’s native plants.
Left: Charles Schulz in his Santa Rosa studio
Right: Three geniuses, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank & Henry Ford at Luther Burbank’s Santa Rosa garden.
When inspiration can’t find me, I go in search of it.
I don’t need to go far. In Northern California’s wine country there’s much to inspire – the roads that wind for driving or walking and bicycling past heritage hydrangeas climbing up tall barns, past wineries in all shapes and sizes. I’m on a quest. I’ve traveled these roads many times and I know where I’m headed.
I’m headed to Sonoma County, to Sebastopol and Santa Rosa. In the same way that reading biographies of achievers opens a window into their process, so do these field trips. It’s uplifting to walk where genius walked and talked and worked. There’s always the possibility that if I stand where they stood, something might rub off.
I visit the workplaces of two undeniably brilliant individuals. The Charles Schulz Museum is, of course, an homage to everything Peanuts, and the Luther Burbank Cottage is Mecca for garden lovers. Both are in Santa Rosa. By necessity, guides deal mostly with the overview. They speak of awards won, of the subject’s ties to other famous people, of the work we know.
I’m looking for more. I want to see how they endured the days that were spectacularly unproductive. Moving away from tour groups, I look for the minutiae that tethered each of these famous men to earth. Was he an early riser? How many hours a day did he work? What did he eat? Did he have hobbies? Who did he love? Who loved him?
I want to know, did the realization of his goals offer even a small degree of immunity from strife? Or did he bump into his own saboteurs; the insecurities and loneliness and even the near-crippling fears encountered on the path to making something.
When we look at a creative icon who’s now departed, we’re always looking backward. We see a whole lifetime of output, an entire body of work. I want to know how he handled the chunks of time when things didn’t go right. I ask about the dry spells.
Charles Schulz used ice skating and long walks to cheer himself. He built a rink near his studio and his visits there were a vital part of his routine. Every day he sat at the same table in the snack bar, ate the same food, and watched the skaters. Merchants at the nearby mall report Schulz as a frequent visitor, not so much a shopper as an ambler. They grew accustomed to the lone figure walking around, deep in thought.
His real office/studio was in an unassuming building steps away from where the museum is today. One day I went to the empty office, found someone working around the building and asked if I could go in.
“Nothing in there. The furniture’s in the museum now.”
I knew that, but I thought if I could just be where he worked… It was magic and humbling to be reminded once again we’re not all created equal in terms of talent and abilities.
Luther Burbank grew himself an escape route. He took leave of his greenhouse in Santa Rosa and traveled the bumpy road to his experimental farm in Sebastopol to work and sleep in the modest cabin at the site. He walked and thought and wrote in his notebooks and on his way to bringing to life plants we now know he documented days when nothing bloomed the way he had planned.
Charles Schulz said he was driven to make cartoons because it was all he was good at. It was his form of self-expression. Charlie Brown, he said, was the manifestation of his own vulnerability. Luther Burbank didn’t consider himself a visionary, but rather a hard-working scientist who kept experimenting until something good came of it. The museum in the carriage house adjacent to Burbank’s cottage is suitably informative, but I return to the tiny room at the rear of the greenhouse and to the desk where he kept his notes.
Both Schulz and Burbank fit the definition of genius. I feel it when I’m in the places they once were. It’s comforting to know that in the midst of lives filled with so many accomplishments, each of them put great store by the one trait they prized above all others – discipline. They kept showing up. I can do that.