Friday, January 5, 2024

A Number of Ones


I’ve been thinking of a number lately. No, it is not forty-two, but that would be an excellent answer, I’m sure. I guess it’s rational, but it feels irrational – neither known nor unknown. I’d say it’s fungible, but I am not really sure I know what that word means. Maybe it is finite, that’s a thing, right? Or infinite but infinity frightens me.

The number is definitely place and time-specific and it is certainly wide-ranging. It can seem arbitrary and perhaps is. When you bottom-line it – math reference – it is a very personal number, but I suspect we don’t all have one.

The number answers this question: how many people do you need in your audience?

Mine may or may not be thirteen.

Let me try to explain what I am getting at here. Many folks I know – you perhaps – are writers, musicians and singers, printmakers, painters, potters and poets, dancers, directors, actors and chefs. 

Artists all.

And, although some may argue against this, all require an audience.


When I was a waifish, hopelessly sophomoric, perpetually high college, well, sophomore, a group of us left our hip and happening, infamous partying university for a smaller and hipper and partyingly superior small college here in Southwest Ohio. I am not sure what brought us there now, other than the aforementioned partying.

The college town there was, and still is, a hippy enclave with little craft and book shops, and glassblowers and, just off the street behind the weird little bakery, was a blacksmiths workshop. Well, at eight in the morning, I was looking for coffee, and, after procuring some sort of vegan mud, I wandered down that alley and his sign said ‘open’ and I ding-a-linged in.

(Just to clear things up this is nineteen-hundred-and-eighty-one, and the town is Yellow Springs, the college Antioch.)

He was a bear, I was, frankly, bear fodder. But he looked kindly, and I asked what was going on.

Now, to make an already long story less long, he took a shine to me and me him and we hung out for a few visits. He was a welder and artist who worked with iron mostly - abstracts on a large scale - a hanger-on alum and one gruff and wise dude. He also fashioned tools for fellow artists at his forge. Tongs and holders and picker-uppers and bangers, hammerheads and auls and augers – honestly, I’ve not the vocabulary to be more accurate.

I thought it was vaguely interesting that he, an artist, made tools for other artists. When I asked him about that, my brain, although imaginative, was hardly prepared for his answer. He went on about the duty of the artist (I giggled at that) and making things for the makers and much more heady stuff – he had a master’s degree. Through it all, though, I did hear this:

“Art is for however many need it.”

He made art, the hand tools, and gave them to a single person, an audience of one.

He made grand, rusty behemoths in public squares seen by many thousands as well.

He said they were both the same audience.


In my fiftyish years of playing guitar and singin’ songs, I have played for numbers of crowds of varying numbers. A couple of friends in a college apartment, a kitchen full of folksingers at a summer party, a beautiful wife, two soft and tender little boys beside a campfire. I played to the endless stars, a moon, and a Milky Way, to the desert wind and the city snow, alone? Maybe, probably not.

I’ve played Christmas carols for my dying father and I’ve sung at funerals, church services, and weddings. I still feel special when I play for my mother and my brother and his lovely wife.

I played one night at an open mic, a very late slot, and the soundboard glitched and the mics were screeching and the whole thing had to be shut down. I said I could do without it all and sat at the edge of the stage and began to play and sing. A pool of light from above shone on me and into the front few rows of tables where the last of the crowd lingered. Midway through John Prine’s “Paradise” I looked out and counted thirteen faces, it was positively Rockwellian, every face different and warm and kind and patient… eager. Eager to hear me play. I played five songs that night and it remains the best set I’ve ever played.

When I think about an audience and what that all means, I often think back to Bear the Blacksmith, and I reckon I now understand what he was getting at – an audience is built a member at a time.

The answer, it seems, might simply be one.

It might be thirteen ones or seventy-thousand ones.




My sons, who I am no longer writing about around here, have inspired me to start up the old blog again. Some of you might remember them from many years of considering and watching and sharing their stories and such in the back pages here. One son took on the challenge of writing a poem a week last year and sharing them on Instagram. The other has listened to an album a day for all of that same year and shares his brief thoughts on them on Discord, is it? Both have decided to do it again this year.

So, I am going to do an essay a week and publish that on Fridays for the rest of the year… wish me luck.


Peace to you all in this New Year, thanks for stopping by.


(Nick’s poems can be seen here and, well, I dunno where Z’s stuff ends up, I think it's just for the youths...)


  1. Thank above comment was Viergy

  2. I'm glad you've started writing again. I very much enjoy those personal stories and your thoughtful comments.

  3. So happy you are back writing for us, your audience of however many, and I now have another gift to anticipate each Friday. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  4. Glad to have you back! I so enjoy reading your stories. Laurie

  5. I love your writing, Bill. Cheers to 2024 and Fridays!

  6. From one old blogger to another, your writing has resonance for me, so count me as a member of your audience. Best wishes for the new year, and a blog per week. ❤️