It's hard to talk to people about beauty and building. Last fall, a friend of a friend came by to see our house-in-progress. He looked appreciatively at our modest but well-built structure -- which I have been ornamenting by cutting curves in rafter tails and support brackets -- and said, "why are you spending all this time to cut fancy shapes when you have a house to build?" Before I could reply, he said, almost to himself, "Oh, you're an artist," as if that explained otherwise aberrant behavior, like a diagnosis of disease. For years I have taken offense at what felt to me . . .