missive the fifth, 3/17/3, holiday, florida

dear folks. apologies for the long silence. i will explain. but first, an update.

i’m in florida for the month of march, and it’s warm and breezy, and there are THUNDERSTORMS!!! which as you may know are my absolutely favorite kind of weather. there’s one coming at us right now, and i’m so excited.

it’s been a couple of days here; i arrived on tuesday evening, and it’s sunday now. (of course it takes me a week to write one of these missives, so now it’s thursday and i’ve been here for over a week.)

i’ve got 1 painting finished (a courtyard in sitges, spain), and am half thru 2 others (a second version of sand hill cranes on the tennessee river, and an oil painting of the water lilies of the atlanta botanic gardens). i’m in the middle of doing the drawings for a watercolor of the thumbs up diner in atlanta, another koi painting, and a view across the anclote river done from this garage where i’ve got a studio set up. (and since the first writing i’m halfway thru another spanish courtyard and have the first coat down on koi 8.)

before leaving spain, i started asking various friends if they knew of anyone who had a spare garage apartment, or an empty trailer, or a vacation house that needed sitting, or an empty wing in their mansion that i could stay in.

originally i was going to take advantage of a writing residency in north florida to finish my bestselling demotivational handbook, but the residency fell thru. and this is a good thing because the book has had to take the back burner to some serious painting.

in all my time in europe, i finished only a handful of paintings, nothing like what i need to replenish all the stock that sold during my moving sale and bon voyage party. i had anticipated doing a painting a day, which is not beyond my capabilities, but because of the trouble i had in keeping to a working schedule in spain (midnight-2 a.m. dinners do not an early riser make), and the general temperature deficiency(the coldest winter in 20 years, i was assured by everyone), i came back to the states seriously short on fresh paintings to sell.

now, some of you may have tried to respond to my request for a place to stay with either a sorry jeanne or a suggestion or an offer. and i thank you for that. some of you might have tried to respond to missive the third. and you would all have had your emails bounce. and wondered why.

well, i’ll tell you. somebody on my email list decided that they didn’t like my missives, and instead of telling me, or asking me not to send them any more long rambling boring letters, they complained to yahoo that i was sending them spam. so yahoo disabled my email account. it turns out that when you sign up for a free account, even tho it may be your business address, or even tho you may have all your email addresses stored only there, or even tho you may be writing a best selling demotivational handbook and storing your only copies in the draft folder, you have the account at the sold discretion of the service provider, with no recourse should they decide you’ve violated their terms of service.

this turns out to be an extremely precarious position, since you never really know when you’ve violated their terms (they’re vague), and never know when their sole discretion is going to disrupt what you come to believe is YOUR email account. so i was extremely puzzled to find when i logged on the day after sending out missive the third, that i kept getting ‘this email account does not exist’.

turns out there’s no phone number for yahoo, and no apparent physical address for them, either, so getting messages to them is very daunting. but i kept on doing it. at first i panicked, of course. ak! my book! my address book! my drafts! but fear kills the angel of opportunity. so i kept on insisting to my conscious, panicky mind, that there is no real loss in the ideal scheme of things; therefore i couldn’t lose what was mine, and therefore i couldn’t lose my email addresses and the drafts of “lazy is good, quit your day job”.

it’s one of my major tenets that fear and panic ruin miracles, and i depend on miracles to live the kind of life i find myself embarked upon. but a week went by, and then two and three, and then i was back in the states, and still no yahoo mail.

in the meantime i managed to remember a handful of email addresses, and produced a missive the fourth, which i will send to you on request, from my mindspring account. and fyi, i have a paid account that i’m fairly sure of having the right to keep at jcolin@mindspring.com, the same place my website is, www.mindspring.com/~jcolin.

for 3 weeks i was unable to work on my bestselling demotivational handbook, and in the meantime resolved to write it longhand. so my sister gave me a nice leather bound notebook, and i found some lovely handmade paper to put into it, and if i use a ballpoint pen i will have a version that is not subject to anyone else’s sole discretion, or the complaints of annoyed email recipients, or the ravages of accidental dunking.

i didn’t have my yahoo email during my last weeks in europe, and so for awhile thought that i might have problems finding somewhere to stay for the month of march. however, my friend pete tracked me down to my mindspring account, and invited me to stay with him in florida. as his was the only offer, and as it sounded pretty much perfect, i accepted immediately.

i met pete when i was on vacation with allison last june. allison helped me sell my paintings during virginia highland’s summerfest, and we did so well (thanks mostly to her brilliant ability to sell things) that i bought a bunch of camping equipment and we went to the beach. the first beach we went to was jekyll island, where it rained constantly and i learned the mosquito slap dance.

so we stayed for 2 days, and then went to myrtle beach. in the midst of all the sprawl and commercial nonsense of myrtle beach, there’s a state park with primitive camping. mile after mile of condos, gated communities, amusement parks, shopping centers, restaurants, gas stations, etc., and in the midst of this there’s a nice sized little wilderness park where the shoreline is like it used to be – mangroves, marine trees and wildlife, sandy grass with those little sharp burs which is why everyone but me wears shoes there.

we got a campsite in the woods, put up a tent big enough to stand up in (at allison’s insistence, thank you kid), gathered wood for a fire, and then marched off to the pier (allison developed a passion for fishing) and the shoreline (i love to walk).

on the way back, i saw someone at a big huge campsite, taking up only a little small corner of it. there was a bicycle leaned up against the picnic table, and a little bitty one man tent shaped like half a hoola hoop. so i stopped and talked to the guy for 20 minutes. his name is pete. he’s in his 60s, 9.5 feet tall and thin as a rail. he gets loads of exercise and eats just enough to keep himself going. he’s led a very active life and has the scars to prove it. like me he’s done just about any kind of job you can name, and has been all over the universe several times.

when i met him at myrtle beach he was biking from florida to new york, and giving himself 30 days to do it. this is the kind of person i like to talk to by definition, so i got his email address and we’ve been corresponding since. turns out he’s got a house on a river, with a garage, and a spare bedroom, and doesn’t mind guests at all. so here i am.

it’s a cool little house on the gulf side of florida a bit north of tampa, with a view of shuttle launches 150 miles or so to the east (not that there’ll be any while i’m here, but i’m assured it’s a wonderful sight). it was built in the 20s or so, a little yellow bungalow with brown trim on 3 or so acres right on the river.

it’s in a working class neighborhood, which is why he’s got so much waterfrontage, but even in this comparative backwater, the price of a house is nothing you could carry around in your back pocket. cruising by skiff up and down the river, it’s apparent that he was wise to buy in a crummy neighborhood, because it’s not that crummy anymore, and all the other neighborhoods have million dollar houses in them.

there’s no affording million dollar houses if you live the kind of life pete has lived, and yet here he is, on choice riverfront property. cool. there’s something just too big about the other houses on the river, and i’m much fonder of the neighborhood i find myself in, because the houses are little and cute and old, and there’s nothing pretentious about peoples’ lives here, no expensive boats at the dock, no security fences, no landscapers, no impression that people don’t really live there. and the people who can’t afford or choose not to have the expensive houses also seem to have a certain pride in doing things their way, with individual design schemes and wild solutions, things that would be disallowed by any neighborhood association. like the house built out of salvaged windows and barn siding, or the house that started out as a single wide trailer but now is on stilts with additions and panelling and sun decks and is quite palatial as well as being very cheap to build and maintain.

pete is a craftsman, so everything in the place has been refinished, or handbuilt, or gone over – the roof, the floors, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the deck and stairs, the chimney, the seawall, 2 handbuilt outbuildings, even the front porch light (a replica of the house itself, at 1/20th scale). he claims that most women don’t like his house because it’s so tiny, but i think it’s perfect.

it’s a bachelor pad, to be sure, but then so was my loft in atlanta, really, set up to please me, with a nod to allison. there are magazines everywhere, going back years. knick knacks with great sentimental meaning, and pictures documenting the family tree and special places, and everything arranged just so. pete actually never cooks, and claims not to know how. but he’s a pack rat, and so his kitchen has at least one of every kind of implement. two of every kind of implement, i’ll be honest. and 3 different sets of dishes, and a whole closet full of plastic grocery bags, and another closet full of empty plastic containers. just in case.

and he actually uses most of these things. well, not the kitchen things, just the bags and containers for his lunchbox. but you should see his garage. he’s got a mechanic’s shop, a woodworking shop, a metal shop, a paint shop, a marine supply shop, a masonry shop, and whatever other arcane things guys get up to, in his garage. and he’s got at least 3 of every kind of tool in each of these areas, all arranged and in niches and perfectly orderly.

it’s an amazing museum of what a guy can get up to in a garage. the thing about being a relative loner is that you get to arrange your life to fit you, and don’t have to make compromises because your spouse doesn’t like stuff in the living room, or the smell of car grease under your fingernails, or stacks of reading material everywhere. if there’s nobody around to criticize you, then your little habits seem like wonderful expressions of your personality, instead of pitiful evidence of your failure as a human.

so, even tho it can get lonesome at times, as long as you have plenty of hobbies, and as long as you talk to yourself, you never get really lonely and you don’t tend to question your every motivation.

anyway, i fit right in here. pete gets up and leaves for his dayjob at 6:30 (he’s retiring in a couple of months, and boy is he looking forward to it. his story is going to be an illustration for living the lazy life). myself, i don’t tend to get out of bed until 8. then i’ve got until 4 to work in the other garage, which had nothing in it when i came, but now has 1 finished painting, 3 half finished ones, and one just started, with another one to be started tomorrow, and so on. so that’s a million hours a day of working by myself.

i roll up the garage doors, both of them (one for a car, the other for a boat, theoretically), bring a huge cup of tea with me, and start in. the wind is usually up, and i paint right next to the garage door that overlooks the river. there’s some weird duck with a red mottled face cruising around in the yard looking for seeds or something, a completely still river 5 miles as the crow flies (8 taking the twists and turns by boat) from the gulf, and opposite – an entirely untouched shore. alligators, too, and manatees, but that’s only a rumor to me. evidently this untouched bit of land goes on for several miles because it’s too swampy for the developers to have considered despoiling yet.

and this is cool for me. because it’s reeds fronting the river, and then some bright green scrub trees (bright green because it’s only spring, and there are seasons even in florida, much to my surprise), and then some palmlike bushes, and some live oak trees, and some huge big palm trees, and a dead snag of a tree where ospreys perch and call and dive out of it into the river to catch their lunch.

and no traffic noises, and no barking dogs or other signs of civilization in that direction. every time the wind picks up everything on that side of the river clacks, rather than soughing the way a northern forest would. it makes the tremendous noise of palm branches bashing together, and the trees bend and sway, and i almost drop my brush as i stand there watching it.

of course i’m painting the view, and every now and then i’ll go sit in a rocking chair and just look at it. it’s amazing i get as much painting done as i’ve managed so far. when pete gets home at 4 something, he heads straight for the garage, and then out to his dock. he’s building a seawall by hand: making his own cement form, mixing up portland cement, pouring it; all this by completely manual labor, and he’s taking his time about it. neighbors put their boats on slow when they cruise by so they can watch the progress, and they all complement him until he starts in about how easy it would be to do something like it to their own docks, and then they hem and haw and say something about contractors and having no time.

but in pete’s mind, time is precisely for accomplishing labors of love, and not to be wasted working for others’ goals. after he gets home and putters around for awhile, i put my brushes up and we go off and do something, either going for groceries or touring places like tarpon springs, where a whole bunch of greeks still dive for sponges, and a whole bunch of tourists throng to buy them, but a place that’s quite charming after all the shops close around 6. there are some cool old houses, as well, and the azaleas are out and all the oaks are blooming, and it’s quite beautiful.

since pete doesn’t cook, and since i’d had enough restaurant food for awhile in barcelona, i’ve spent my break time cooking up something intrepid during the day, and we eat around 8, and then he’s off to bed early so he can get up at some ungodly hour. i sit and read; i love to read. and then i go off to sleep around midnight.

this morning, with one week spent and only two to go before i have to be back in atlanta, i found myself awake at 4, and still awake at 5:45 when pete got up to go to work. so i got to watch the sky lighten and the sun come up. the river is at low tide and the birds are active. and there’s a good chance of thunderstorms later.

i went out and invested in a walkman and a set of speakers, so i can play my cds in the studio, which keeps me both dancing and happy. getting up early means i can paint more, which is important, because i’ve got so many paintings i want to do and am now fully in the rhythm of producing.

life is wonderful, it’s paradise, and i’m happy. i’ll go now. i’ve got work to do. i hope every little hint and statement of spring is touching you and melting away all your troubles.

love jeanne

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