In Provincetown, at that time, there were many writers, poets and artists flourishing among the flower-children of the day, living a golden-age, of sorts. I journeyed there summer after summer with my son Antone (Tony) who loved to roam the beaches with his guitar, playing songs and writing poetry. I spent many a sleepless night waiting for him to come in during the early hours of the morning. Having nurtured a poet and free spirit, I had to learn to live with the same.
At the East End of town, LandsEnd, we camped, we Summer People, in a community of Pro Musica musicians. Here we met folks like Toby and Amy, Joel and Jeremy, Lorn and Glen, Jonathan, Max, Rhoda and Wendy, and more. When the musicians returned from their concerts they would gather, one at a time, by the sea and a bonfire was begun right there by the lapping waves. A flute would sound, then another instrument came out of the dark and gradually from many corners musicians appeared as the group gathered to play for themselves and to be with family and friends. We listened there beneath the stars as luminous squids danced below the surface of the bay . No wonder there was magic in the air.
THE SHOP has remained in my memory over the years and though it can not be found on Commercial Street at this time I think of the place as being alive but existing on some other plane of space or time, a traveler in dimension, if you please.
In setting out to create a spiritual model of the shop I found myself drawn mentally and emotionally into the project. Indeed, there were other role models who seemed to coexist in the same sphere of existence as the shop, The Old Curiousity Shop of Dickens, A Shop on Go by Street by Lord Dunsany - which is - as we all know - a gateway to the "Fields We Know" and "The Fields We Know Not," and the pawn shop from Bergman's Fanny and Alexander. Of course the worlds of Tolkein, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were also guides.
I began thinking about THE SHOP project when our Connecticut air was still ice blue, and the sky overhead radiated steely, winter light; but, then, as the trees and bushes of Spring flickered back to life, the project began to breathe. At first the idea took the form of a book with writing and drawings, but then things changed and the book became "a physical place" to collect writings, collages, other books, or objects, found things, pictures and stuff that was interesting.
Rather quickly the mechanics came together; the cover was two wooden machinist trays found at Harold Bradford's junkshop in East Hampton. The lion and goblin came from a former drive-in movie theatre on the Hartford Turnpike, now a flea market. Hinges and stuff were found on the ancient shelves of Smith and Bishell Hardware in Middletown. The computer board, cast out, obsolete lay on a Wesleyan scrap heap, crystals came from Frank's Garden Shop in North Haven. An old watch. . . Well that came from someplace, I forget where, a book of magic from Star Books in North Haven.
I think the wizard came from there too, and a witch found her way in from Middletown's Games & Stuff, that store which lasted maybe a year. Some strange drawings, uncovered at Whitlock's Book Barn in Bethany, fit in nicely. From the ancient Cutter Collection I copied old etchings from a forgotten book,"Magasin Pittoresque" which was published in the early and mid 1800's. I had to be quite careful with the pages as their edges were subject to crumbling.
Now THE SHOP was almost ready but it needed its first storekeeper. On Sunday, with friend Clementine Valentino, we wandered among several flea markets and bookstores looking for things to go inside, in particular a storekeeper. At the first stop on our trek we found a wooden friar and from the same table a bell; there were two bells really, but only one whose tones were right for the shop. Later in the week, Phyllis McGibbon, an instructor at Wesleyan, suggested that the bell be hung on a string or chain over the friar's head.
And so THE SHOP was built and its merchandise put on display; the friar-storekeeper was ready to open shop. Tenants took their places on the upper floor, the resident wizard and his apprentice, and the resident witch and her minions were eager for business.
At THE SHOP'S opening ceremony, a talk in front of a student group, I suddenly felt the enormous power of that little wooden world. At that moment, in my mind, it became clear that THE SHOP had a life and a destiny of its own, and I realized, at that instant, that my own life was channeling through it. I could feel my emotions connecting to a power grid; indeed, there were many forces at work in my own life and THE SHOP was acting as a conduit for energies greater than I. It was Spring and almost a year since my son Tony's death at the age of 38. And more... 17 years since the death of my wife and lady, Evelyn, who died on the 1st day of Spring many years ago. THE SHOP for Dreamers, then had produced its first magical spell, cast on the builder himself, me.
As I began to connect to that flood of past memories I struggled with great effort to maintain my decorum during a talk I was giving on THE SHOP before a writing class at Wesleyan. But, come now! We're talking about a mere box of wood and metal, some bits of glass and paper, hardly that powerful; not even any holy water or herbs. But yet, the box had become, for me, a magical totem by virtue of the fact that it was now in existence - it lived, it was. The myth now had dimensions.
I thought about magic later on during the next week, and read several books and articles on the subject. There was Israel Regardie's The Golden Dawn. Here were spells, rites and ceremonies of some ancient secret society; but that was not for me. David Carroll and Barry Saxe wrote on The Magical State of Being, in their Natural Magic. And with their words, they were closer to what I was looking for. Still, I had my own views on the subject as nothing I'd read so far had the ring of truth.
What did I think magic was? Well, I guessed that there are many types: hocus pocus, religion, Tarot cards, crystal balls. All these are magic; but I wanted to find the kind of enchantment that causes the poet to create, the painter to bring canvas to life, the dreamer to sail away on clouds. Yet this form of "energy" can't be put under a microscope or dissected without destroying it. Magic has to be lived, felt, encountered by the sea on a foggy morning beach with dragons frolicking in the bay.
THE SHOP was a way to explore that dimension, but it needed to have independence, a life of its own. So, What if I put within the shop some of those things that I found magical, unique, and interesting? Then, after enjoying the shop for a while, if I sent it off to a friend elsewhere in the world, with the instructions to: "Please explore the box for as long as you like, then add something of your own and send it on to a friend. At the same time, write in the SHOP’s log, adding your name and address, tell a little about who you are and what you think about and perhaps some of your dreams and hopes." What if I did that?
Perhaps THE SHOP would never return to any of the senders, but they might hear via e-mail from those who received it, and in that way, learn of its voyages. Not a chain letter, but a continuing letter. The shop might change, it might grow bigger, or smaller. Compartments might be added to it, or removed from it. The shop might duplicate itself or create a family, a village. The powers of darkness might destroy it. One never knows for certain.
I began to think of who I might send THE SHOP to.. May 15, 1991.
Hmmm! That was almost a decade ago when I gave THE SHOP to my friend Clementine. Now, when I visit her in New Haven for dinner, once a week, I look over at her dusty piano and there is THE SHOP which she seems not to want to part with.
Well, that’s okay too. It’s in her hands, not my property anymore, if indeed it ever was. So next I built a second shop and it now sits on my workbench, almost finished, but not quite. Could it be that I don’t want to part with it?
So! A 3rd SHOP was built and this time I made it from a cardboard box, with an electric clock sticking out.
I put in some drawings, writings, collages, and “stuff”then gave it to my friend Sybil Paton with the instructions to: “enjoy the SHOP for as long as you like, add something to it, write your name and e-mail address on it and pass it on when you feel that you want to. ”
Now! We’ll see how far this one gets . . .
Return to: A Shop For Dreamers
Rob LeBlanc: Wesleyan University, Middletown, Ct. USA. 06459 alias Captain Redbeard, alias “Grey Baird” etc . . .
<email@example.com> website of stories
and illustrations at: <http://www.wesleyan.edu/av/gronican.htm>