The unbearable weightiness of becoming.
On Thursday we got our plywood, and yesterday we got our second delivery of dimensional lumber. That means the boat is in the barn — plywood, epoxy, lumber, glass — now it’s simply a matter of assembling it.
The below was written and published somewhere between 1999 and 9/11. I know this because it makes reference to Crumbling Empire Productions. My first project after 9/11 was a small documentary about that day and the months after, and my commissioners asked that I not use that name on the film. It turns out I never used it again.
An e-mail exchange with a friend brings the piece to mind.
In the Summer of 1999 I bought the book “Instant Boats”and a set of Phil Bolger’s Teal plans from Dynamite Payson. Before the paint was dry on the Teal I was studying plans for Bolger’s Light Scooner [pictured above]. It wasn’t long before I realized the the Scooner wasn’t any more complicated to build than the simple and satisfying Teal, just bigger. I began to dream.
That may be the most seductive aspect of Phil Bolger’s work. When you look at plans for any of his oversized “instant boats” you can actually imagine building them. Sit down with a pad a of paper and a calculator, and you can actually imagine being able to afford to build them. You start to believe you could actually have the boat of your dreams for less than a Korean station wagon. It’s tremendously exciting. It’s even a little scary. You start to think there must be a catch. We’ve all had that moment when we imagine being halfway through building the “boat of our dreams”, lumber littering the yard, bank account drained, only to realize that our half baked shortcuts and slap dash efforts have irrevocable put an end to our dream, leaving us only with the shame and ignominy of having made a foolish effort.
But I’m also sure that all of us have had that moment when we reached for the Interlux paint for our Brick, or kelvar line for our Windsprint, excusing the excess with the phrase “If something’s with doing, it’s worth doing right!” or my favorite “You’ve got to put a value on your time.”
Well I’m here to call “bullshit” on of that.
One of the best bits of advice I ever got was “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.” Now I know this is going to raise the hackles on some of you craftsmen out there. But relax, pour yourself a scotch, sit down in your moaning chair, and read on.
I’m not a boat builder, I’m not a carpenter, I’m not even a craftsman. I’m a producer, sort of like an architect/general contractor for film and video. And not (usually) for the kinds of films or videos that people go out of their way to see. No, I’m the guy who produced that “Welcome New Employees” video you suffered through when you got your new job, or that surprisingly touching retirement video for Ralph down in accounting (admit it, you got a little choked up.) Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at making these kinds of videos, and I like doing it — except when projects go bad. There are lots of reasons this happens; not enough time, not enough money, sometimes just plain old bad luck. But the number one reason that projects go bad is that THEY NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE IN THE FIRST PLACE!
These projects are losers from word one; weak concepts being employed to achieve questionable objectives, destined to be utterly unwatchable crap. But for one reason or another (usually someone’s ego) they’re going to get produced by someone, and the next thing I know I hear myself saying something like, “I’m so excited about this project. It’s a uniquely cinematic idea!”
Of course it’s not a “uniquely cinematic idea”, it’s a dog. So we start piling on the frills, hoping people will notice the “gilding on the frame” and not the lousy painting. We’ll shoot it on 16mm, no 35mm film! We’ll get Dustin Hoffman to do the voice over! And so on. But no matter how much money you spend it’s still a dog, only now it’s a very expensive dog. And now that it’s a very expensive dog no one will dare say it’s a dog. Panic sets in, and it only becomes easier to throw more money at this lumbering, drooling beast hoping to fix it. I know! Dustin’s voice never really meshed with the concept, let’s see if we can get Susan Sarandon, she’d be perfect! And while we’re at it, let’s rewrite the voice over and get new music. Oh yes, the whole thing will have to be re-cut.
Of course this is all being done last minute, thoughtlessly and at time and a half. Most of all, it’s not helping. The premiere date approaches and the film is more unwatchable and more expensive than ever! So we start cutting back on the finishing touches hoping to save a little face, but it only makes things worse. If this dog had gone off at the original budget it might have been excusable, but now someone’s head is going to roll. Everybody start running for cover, e-mail flies back and forth, and I start checking in the mirror to see if a bull’s eye hasn’t magically appeared on my forehead. With all this talent and money at our disposal, how did we ever get into this mess?
It comes down to three things, three things that are all too common visitors to the backyard boatshop: bad ideas, dishonesty, and fear.
Fortunately as a Bolger boat builder I usually only get into the realm of bad ideas when I start proposing our own hair-brained modifications. Has PCB designed some losers? Sure. But he’s also got a tremendous track record of matching concept, objective and resources.
Dishonesty? Well that’s between yourself and your gods (or wife). Bob Wise told me of an LMII that was built with gilding and modifications that pushed the budget over $100K and the finished boat was unsuitable for going to sea. Did this poor fellow really want a “cheap looking” Bolger box? Or was he trying to to turn the LMII into the $250K boat he couldn’t afford? Did he ever even want to go to sea? I don’t know the answer, and I don’t expect the fellow’s going to read this column.
As to fear, well fear I know all too well. I very nearly sent away for suit of sails for the Light Scooner Margaret Ellen, fearing that all my “hard work” and “craftsmanship” would be spoiled if I tried to make my own. I very nearly bought cleats, but as it turns out my obviously handmade effort is one of the more admired features of the boat. Better yet, they work.
There’s nothing so awful as the moment you realize your dreams are within reach. I have literally been reduced to tears by the sudden epiphany that the only thing standing between me and living the life I want is the doing. When I look at the plans for the the Loose Moose II, or Illinois, or Wyoming, or Breakdown Schooner, I am faced with the terrible knowledge that they are all within reach; that if that’s what I really want, it’s something I can do; that my day of reckoning has arrived.