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Looking: After The Bell Convention…


“How do you rest your eyes when you’ve looked so intensely?”

My friend Jane Tolino was asking me the question while we walked twice around the Sheraton North Baltimore with Gala, her guide dog. I was learning to trust the simple skill of signaling to her hand on my arm which she was teaching… communicating changes in direction or width of path with my elbow’s attitude.

We were attending the annual convention of the American Bell Association, where the lights went out for several hours one stormy night… just as we were about to close the sales room. I quickly packed-up the gold bells, which I always carry with me unless they are being displayed at my tables, & we headed for the bar.

The hotel’s generator obviously wasn’t working. Hotel staff were unprepared… finally they came meandering through, carrying candles like befuddled characters in some play. There were confusing recorded announcements broadcast about evacuation. Rumors about reports of people stuck in elevators. No one seemed to know anything, so we milled about inside & out a tall glassed space which allowed the ample amount of illumination ambient to any American city… it seemed to be just our building with the problem. So, we still could see more than does Jane.

Yet would we?

I mean, do we? This group is a throw-back through fifty years of tradition… Let’s just say it’s rather last century. They have a certain churchy charm against which some of us are continuing a gentle resistance. It was a very small convention… only 200 souls. We have long observed that shrinking membership, aging & ossifying does not promote growth… but few are young enough to make necessary changes. Many my age are also content to remain & complain…

Me? Well, I only am there for the sales. Or am I?

How do rest my eyes? Jane’s question comes again into presence…

I am several days into re-rooting at home after a weighty trip. Stephen went on, before the convention ended, to his next meeting. He was presenting a session of Media That Matters, one of his current projects, at the Media Giraffe Conference in Amherst. He spent another week on the East Coast.

I am thus enjoying a rare solitude. As I rest my eyes now, I am resting lower & deeper than that…

Actually, I suspect I rarely rest my eyes. Oh, I close my lids & sometimes gently massage my orbs. I do, after working close, take in the long views over the Puget Sound’s ever changing watery surface toward our mother mountain, Tahoma [Rainier]… I remember using the eye pillows which still hang around. But Jane seemed to be asking something else.

I have made it a joking practice for years, as I think about the creative ways to use & to rest my eyes, to be able to simply ignore clocks. To thus attempt to ignore time. I can easily look at a clock face without registering what it says. It works really well, except when such function ultimately really doesn’t work. Still… that’s the point… the disfunction of time is common, yet, few play with it. Or do we?

“STOP” is not a word used much these go-go times… so any attempt which brings one against that notion becomes good practice… most people seem not know how to live in the eternities between the hands of their clocks, whether they think they are paying close attention to time or not.

I need more to rest my brain… my psyche. I rest my eyes best by relaxing the inensity behind them. I rest my eyes by allowing them better to see in a truly generous moment of the present.

As I reward myself with this rare opportunity of having a particular quality of time in solitude, I settle into a bit of a puddle. I let my eyes fuzz sometimes while I explore the rooms in my mind with the only mission to look at myself in reflection of the recent period of activity & focus of energies toward the goal of rebuildig my stock of finished bells for these shows.

I will have my booth set up at the Island’s Strawberry Festival this weekend. Probably I will sell as much there than I did at the ABA Convention… without hauling myself onto a plane & traipsing across the country to stay in a less than convienient hotel. So I hope to find a bit of balance between these two venues.

So you can realize why I am happily soaking in the rarity of this quiet week of time with no schedule, while Stephen is still working on the East Coast.

During these recent sunny days I’ve been spending many hours in our garden. Sitting quietly enough to invite hummingbirds close. Lazily watering & grooming… trimming errant plant growth to facilitate the exuberance of the season. bringing in big, blousey bouquets, sometimes in the real… some others as stimulations in memories to decorate one of those deeeply interior rooms of my mind. They will be there when I have another opportunity & need to visit appreciatively, perhaps during winter’s dark.

I’m not so much “gardening” as simply being another grazing critter enjoying this healthy environment. I will return soon enough to all that other truth’s environment & schedule requires. [I doubt that it is really a “larger” truth, except that it perhaps involves more concensus.] I certainly did not have much of such deluxe time during the six weeks before I packed all those bells. I’m making up for that.

In harness for travel I bagged 45.5 pounds of metal in my carry-on luggage: one hefty back pack with the sample line attempting balance with another big canvas briefcase, filled with the densely packed back stock, shoulder thrown… side stride banging much to front.

I check the two other items I haul: a wheeled bag with duds & show-time details like the the necklace cords, sales books, calculators… tool kit, tweezers & scissors. Finally, a flat package of display boards, light weight… but particularly awkward.

Of course I was examined at security, but they have a far more professional attitude these days. I am gratefull they seem to know from the images on their screen that it is silver I carry. Most times they ask if I’m carrying coins. They don’t need to paw through my careful organization any more. Previously I had often been left with quite a mess to organize & repack after putting my shoes back on.

Th convention schedule contains much of the usual milling about between programs & meals, followed with more programs… with several hour or two sessions of time inserted into the schedule for shopping in the sales room. Bell people arrive in wild variety, even in a relatively narrow type to suit this niche of collecting. I share only part of their entheusiasm, not being such a collector myself. I am instead collected by them…

I find much of it a rather tedious mix of too many days of socializing surrounding the too few hours of work tending my business. There are many things I would rather be doing, if I could concentrate those ten hours into half the number of days in an expensive over air-conditioned hotel. Still it is stimulating in other ways.

We did get away several times during the free periods. We visited the Museum of Visionary Art… a trio of remodeled industrial buildings near the inner harbor in Baltimore. Its collection includes many pieces doing social commentary on ways we celebrate… & limit… the variety humans exhibit. Race & ethnic identity, gender & political strife. It was exuberant & somewhat glitzy, with a mirrored mosaic ’round the entrance continuing throughout the building details. Much was “Folk Art” in the true sense. There probably were few “masterpieces” in the usual sense, which was part of it’s thrust to educate & delight, even as many of the stories told were quite sad.

We had seen the new Native American Art Museum on the mall, plus parts of the Holecaust Mueum while we were in Washington DC for several days before getting to the ABA in north Baltimore. We resolve to get back with a week’s worth of days to do better justice to the vast riches in the museums at our nation’s capital city.

That would be a trip without the responsibility of all my weight of bell stock!

By the time I got to the top of the hill, which is a fair climb on Vashon Island, from the ferry to the car, I could feel ecstatic relief, lifting those bags for the last time & to finally be home.

Mostly, Jane, it seems I’ve best rested my eyes with a practice of better looking…