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honing: necessary delusion

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If you ever come to the little town of Carmeline Creek on the far northern coast of California and do more than stop for gas, you will almost surely find your way to Mona’s, the only café/bakery in town. And if you happen to spend the night in one of the town’s several inns or at the charming Carmeline Creek Hotel, you will undoubtedly hear about honing. And should you be in town on the evening of a honing happening, we urge you to attend. Admission is free and you may leave at any time during the event. No one will mind.

What, you may ask, is honing?

In physical terms, honing is the ground floor of a stately old brick and wood building three doors down from Mona’s, most of that ground floor a large high-ceilinged room. Some honing happenings employ stages of various sizes constructed somewhere in the large room, while at other honing events a stage does not figure into the production. Lighting is an event-by-event adventure.

In terms of personnel, honing is a collective of seven principals—four women and three men—and an ever-growing number of associates. The principals are Elisha Montoya, 53, Paul Windsor, 60, Ephraim Spinoza, 73, Tivona Descartes, 69, Terence Duval, 47, Adaugo Duval, 41, and Florence Duval, 75. Paul Windsor is the only American-born member of the collective. Elisha was born in Ireland, Ephraim in Spain, Tivona in Morocco, Adaugo in Nigeria, Terence and Florence in England.

Philosophically speaking, the honing folks are ever reformulating their philosophical guidelines. The one guideline that has not changed since the collective came into being two years ago is: we meet at least once a week for supper with the intention of catching up with each other.

On this warm summer night, honing is packed—fifty-six comfortable folding chairs arrayed in front of a small stage softly lit by three spotlights suspended from the high ceiling—two armchairs arrayed on the stage a few feet apart and facing the audience. Thirty-one locals and twenty-five out-of-town visitors are sitting in the folding chairs, ten locals and eight out-of-towners standing.

At 7:23, Elisha Montoya, a graceful woman with shoulder-length reddish brown hair, steps up onto the stage to polite applause. Wearing a pale blue dress and red sandals, Elisha gazes around at the many people looking at her and says, “Though this may evolve into something reminiscent of a play, we begin with Terence and Ephraim discussing necessary delusions, or as Ephraim prefers to say: the necessity of delusion.”

“Here we are,” says Ephraim Spinoza, stepping up onto the stage as Elisha steps down.

An imposing fellow with a mop of curly gray hair, Ephraim ponders the two armchairs for a moment and chooses the slightly larger one stage left.

Terence Duval, tall and broad-shouldered with short black hair, steps up onto the stage, settles into the armchair stage right, looks out at the audience and says, “A few weeks ago we had a spirited discussion about what motivates an artist to continue working on his or her creations when there is little or no support for that work from the greater world.”

“Or,” says Ephraim, “what empowers the artist to persist in creating a work of art that may take months or years to complete with no promise of any sort of external reward?”

“Paul suggested, and I agreed,” says Terence, nodding, “that most artists come to believe that the song or story or painting or play she is creating is important and valuable, not only to the artist, but to those who might hear the song or read the story or see the painting or watch the play. Without this belief, the artist will not continue?”

“I wonder if this belief embodies the difference between an artist and an artisan,” says Ephraim, pursing his lips. “Surely the potter doesn’t need to believe each bowl she makes is valuable and important. The process is important, surely, but not each individual artifact.”

“I think we digress too soon,” says Terence, his arching of an eyebrow eliciting laughter from the audience. “Let us finish elucidating our main thesis first.”

“Ah yes,” says Ephraim, nodding in agreement. “The necessary illusion.”

“Delusion,” says Terence, laughing.

“What’s the difference?” asks Ephraim, shrugging. “Illusion. Delusion. In either case, the artist is depending on an imagined truth to engender hope.”

“I don’t think so,” says Terence, shaking his head. “I think once we have poured hours of intention into a creation, that creation becomes our energetic equal, with a will and intention distinct from our own. And with even more work, the creation becomes our energetic master, which is when we come to fully believe our creation is endowed with special power. This is what I mean by the necessary delusion, a psychic momentum that enables the artist to keep going for however long it takes to finish the work.”

“Yet so many creations are never finished,” says Ephraim, sighing. “Is this because the delusion collapses?”

Terence gazes solemnly at Ephraim—the lights fading into darkness that reigns for a few minutes before the lights grow strong again.

Ephraim and Terence have been replaced by Tivona and Adaugo—Tivona sitting in the armchair stage left, Adaugo sitting in the armchair stage right. Tivona is wearing a brown suit, white shirt, and purple bowtie, and she has a glossy red rose in her short black hair. Adaugo is wearing a billowy white blouse and a long brown skirt, the many braids of her black hair strung with blue wooden beads.

Adaugo: I disagree with everything Terence and Ephraim said. When I make a song, I don’t think the song is more important or more valuable than anything else. A song wants to be born, that’s all. So it comes to me and says, “Hey you. Sing me. Sing me over and over again. Find my parts and put them together in different ways until you know how they go together. And then I will be born and I can live in the world.” I don’t think this is a delusion. I think this is how songs come into being.

Tivona: I agree with you. But I think if we are enmeshed in the egoistic notion that what we do is important to anyone but us, we require a belief system that supports the idea of a hierarchy of value. And it is from the womb of that hierarchic belief system that the idea of necessary delusions is born.

Adaugo: Oh I want everyone to be free from feeling that anyone is more important than anyone else.

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honing: arrival

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In early November, someone from out of town leases the building three doors down from Mona’s, the only bakery and café in Carmeline Creek, a small town on the far north coast of California. The prospect of new tenants in the venerable old two-story building is of especial interest to Paul Windsor, a habitué of Mona’s, and his wife Elisha who is the manager of that delightful café, because they were seriously considering leasing that building themselves and opening a stationery store and tea shop on the ground floor while subletting the upstairs apartment.

The stately brick and wood building was built in 1907 and has been vacant for two years, the previous occupant a photographer named Ormsby Carfax who had an art gallery there called Watt. A middle-aged man with several cats, Ormsby exclusively displayed his own work: out-of-focus snapshots of people who came into Watt stuck with red and green thumbtacks on squares of corkboard framed with skinny sticks of driftwood.

Ormsby and his cats and snapshots held sway in the grand space for three years, having supplanted a sculptor named Darling Madison who also used the space as an art gallery: Context. Darling was there for ten years and hung paintings by local artists on her walls while using the floor space to display her sculptures, all of which were of a similar construct.

A giggly woman with graying blonde hair and two sweet mutts named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Darling impaled unpainted wooden spheres ranging in size from grapefruits to basketballs on three to five-foot lengths of rebar arising from heavy blocks of wood, thus creating bouquets of wooden spheres with rebar stems.

Amy Carlyle, the realtor in charge of leasing the building, tells Paul and Elisha that the new tenants are Ephraim Spinoza and Tivona Descartes—Ephraim Spanish, Tivona French—and they are planning to live in the upstairs apartment.

When Amy asked how they intended to use the downstairs space, Ephraim replied, “We are forever refining our concept.”

On a cold morning in mid-November, two weeks after Amy leased the building to Ephraim and Tivona, Paul leaves his house and walks the five blocks to Mona’s for his morning stint of writing and socializing. A California native of Anglo-Ashkenazi origins in his late fifties with a humble coif of gray hair, Paul is in a cheerful mood and looking forward to seeing Elisha, though they only parted two hours ago.

As he comes into view of the storefront formerly known as Watt and Context, Paul sees a large sign affixed to the outside wall above the front door: the word honing in an attractive san serif font centered on a turquoise rectangle.

During her mid-morning break, Elisha goes with Paul to look at the honing sign. A graceful woman in her early fifties with reddish brown hair, her mother Spanish, her father Irish, Elisha has been very sad of late because her children, Conor, twenty-two, and Alexandra, nineteen, recently moved to Ireland—their absence a profound shock to Elisha.

“Another one-word gallery,” she says, gazing at the honing sign. “I wonder what it is about this space that inspires such brevity.”

“Could be a last name I suppose,” says Paul, honing sounding German to him. “And maybe it will be some sort of store and not a gallery.”

Elisha sighs. “Oh I wish Alexandra and Conor were here to make a movie of this.”

“We could make one,” says Paul, putting his arm around her. “I’m getting pretty good at shooting things with my little camera. Send something to the kids for Christmas.”

“Good idea,” says Elisha, the word Christmas bringing tears to her eyes.

 ∆

When Paul learns that Randy Collins, a local handyman, put the honing sign up, he arranges an interview with Randy for possible inclusion in his possible documentary.

Sitting at a table in Mona’s enjoying a peach scone and a cup of coffee, Randy, red-haired and freckled, tells Paul that the sign and eight enormous black screws were shipped from Zurich to his house via UPS.

“And about ten minutes after the sign was delivered,” says Randy, sipping his coffee, “Ephraim called me and told me exactly where he wanted it to go and how to attach it. He’d had the holes pre-drilled, which was lucky for me because that sign is solid steel a half-inch thick, four-feet-wide, two-feet-high, and incredibly heavy. And here’s the weird part. They wanted me to put it up at midnight on the night of the new moon, so I had to set up two big ladders and flood lights and hire Diego to help me lift the sign up over the door and hold it in place while I sunk the screws.”

At 6:20 in the morning on December 2, a light rain falling, Elisha arrives at Mona’s to get the café ready for the daily seven o’clock opening. Mona, the owner and baker of Mona’s, is bringing forth trays of just-baked scones and cinnamon swirls from one of the ovens, while Carlos, her boyfriend and able assistant, is loading the largest of the five ovens with forty-eight loaves of French bread to be baked in time for the morning rush.

Mona, fifty-five, has curly brown hair and red-framed glasses and speaks with the faintest of Danish accents. “Did you see the honing people are moving in?” she says to Elisha. “They were unloading a little moving van when we got here this morning.”

“I offered to help them,” says Carlos, forty-four, a burly Mexican guy with raven black hair and many tattoos, “but they said they didn’t have much to unload.”

“They seem very nice,” says Mona, smiling as Elisha picks up the phone to call Paul. “And they’re definitely artists.”

“How do you know?” asks Elisha, waiting for Paul to answer.

“Everything about them,” says Mona, nodding. “Sensualists.”

“The way they dress, you know,” says Carlos, closing the oven and checking the temperature. “Casual, you know, but sophisticated. And the way they move, you know. Like they’re dancing.”

“Maybe they’re dancers,” says Elisha, hanging up the phone when she realizes Paul must be walking the dogs.

At 9:53 in the morning on that same December 2, a hard rain falling, Ephraim Spinoza, seventy-one, a handsome man with olive brown skin and dark brown eyes and an impressive mop of curly gray hair, sits at a large table in the center of the otherwise empty room formerly known as Context and Watt. He is making sketches of OPEN and CLOSED signs with a black-ink pen on a six-foot-long piece of white butcher paper. He’s wearing wire-framed glasses, a long-sleeved peach-colored shirt, black corduroy trousers, an emerald-green belt, and beautiful red shoes.

Tivona Descartes, sixty-seven, a striking Moroccan with short black hair and brilliant blue eyes, gets up from her chair next to Ephraim and goes to an east-facing window to look out at the rain. She is wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, blue jeans, and black boots.

“I love it here, my darling,” she says softly. “I loved driving across the bridge into town, how huge the waves in the bay.”

Ephraim looks up and smiles at his wife gazing out the window. “I love it here, too.”

“How lucky we are,” she says, her way of saying so a song.

“We were wise to follow our dreams,” he says, his reply a song, too.

Now someone knocks on the front door and Tivona goes to answer—several packages expected in the next few days.

“Hello,” she says, smiling at the man—Paul Windsor—on their doorstep. “I’m sorry but we are not yet open for business.”

“I didn’t think you were,” says Paul, returning her smile. “I’ve brought you a gift, apple yum my wife and I made from this year’s Goldens.” He proffers a small glass jar. “Welcome to Carmeline Creek.”

“Oh come in,” says Tivona, taking a step back to allow Paul to enter. “I am Tivona Descartes and this is my husband Ephraim Spinoza.”

“Paul Windsor,” he says, bowing to her. “My wife is Elisha Montoya, the manager of Mona’s. She can’t wait to meet you.”

“Apple yum, you say,” says Ephraim, coming to join them. “To spread on toast and put in our yogurt?”

“Or eat it right out of the jar,” says Paul, laughing. “Not too sweet, yet wonderfully sweet and gently spicy.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” says Ephraim, shaking Paul’s hand. “Come sit down. We’ll have some tea.”

“Our first visitor,” says Tivona, giving Ephraim a meaningful glance.

“A special moment,” says Ephraim, going to find another chair and put the kettle on.

“So…” says Paul, looking around the big room. “What will honing be?”

“Ah,” says Tivona, taking Paul’s hand as if they are old friends. “That is the question.”

fin

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