Saturday, January 21, 2012

Connecting with the past

I’m sitting at my antique desk with my laptop and the distance between them astounds me.  The desk was made by my great-uncle around 1880; over one-hundred thirty years before a nameless bunch of people put together this computer.  I am a woodworker and I appreciate the details of the desk.  I can tell you what kind of tools Uncle Dan had at his disposal.  I can tell you a lot about his character based on the way it was constructed and the finished product.  When I slide my hand across the warm wood with its rich patina, I feel like I am almost touching the man.  When I put my hands on this laptop I feel the hard complexity of an enormous industry grinding away.  Urbanity; conveyer belts, packaging, trucks, retail networks, salespeople - and of course, plastic. 

There is part of me that wants to open one of the little drawers inside the desk and get out a fountain pen, pull some linen paper from one of the slots and write in beautiful cursive script something inspiring.  If not inspiring for the words themselves at least for the art of the medium.  Like books of old with their engraved frontispieces and gilt lettered bindings.  But I want to get this done sometime today.  I don’t have time to be artsy or masterful.  The public awaits and doesn’t really care if there is nothing outstanding or exceptional.  All the added detail would seem unnecessary; just wasted time and space.  Facebook is waiting!  Emails need answered.  There are games to be played and phone calls to make.

I imagine Uncle Dan in his barn-shop.  A loving man, he made a desk as a wedding present for each of his four sisters.  There he is, carefully cutting and shaping wooden boards.  Sanding, inspecting and sanding some more.  Fitting each piece into place; pieces that will fit no other desk.  That have no use but this one.  Gluing, nailing, making corrections, revising the plan as the work progresses.  Taking mental notes about what to do differently on the next one.  Preparing and applying the shellac.  Attaching the pull rings to each of the eleven drawers and four doors.  His labors slow but steady.  The way the desk itself has survived the years.  It just continues to be itself and so Dan continues to be himself.  He had no idea that over a century later I would be writing about him.  But as a result of his many hours of work and my many hours contemplating it – I am a better man.  Not better than he but better than myself.  And if not better at least happier!  I don’t know ol’ Dan’s shortcomings.  They don’t matter.  And my own failings won’t matter as much as I fear.  When I sit at this desk, my heartbeat slows.  My body relaxes.  My thoughts become more cohesive.  Time almost ceases to exist.

OH, CRAP!  I’m going to be late for work!  Catch you later!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Enough of Holidays!

I thought I would write about the HOLIDAYS.  But I just can’t.  It’s such a superfluous part of my life.  What is it about decorating the house (and for the really obsessed, the yard)?  Putting up all those lights and glitter and more lights and trees and more lights and don’t forget the statues!  Statues!  Fantasy statues like flying reindeer, elves and the obese guy all right next to something that is supposed to be meaningful like the Son of God in a manger.  Whatever possesses people?  OK, now I’m started and I can’t get stopped.  I didn’t want to offend anyone and I’m sure I already have so I may as well go with it.

Every year some yahoo writes the same story about peace and love for our fellow man; especially the less fortunate.   The hope we can have in the coming new year and why we should make resolutions we know we won’t keep.  Somehow we will all be better people this next year.

No.  I’m not going to be that yahoo. Because I don’t really care!  Christmas was the same as it always is and next year we’ll recycle all the same sentiments.  So I’m glad it’s over.  I won’t have to listen to silly, obnoxious Christmas songs at every store I walk into.  Or smile at some guy in a Santa suit ringing a bell in front of it.  It’s over.  Finally.  One last time. All that’s left to do is take the tree down and drag all the decorations back to the attic.  I’ll make the same resolution I make every year new year; clean out the attic!  Once the house is back to normal, I’ll be able to get myself back to normal.  (My wife, who is really a very warm, gracious person, laughs when I say that.)  Maybe I’ll get to work on some of those unfinished projects that clutter my shop.

Just to be fair, the season does provide a distraction from the hum-drum of the everyday.  But beyond that it’s mostly noise.  I do remember one particularly memorable Christmas; the year I bought my wife a horse.  It was a little appaloosa filly.  She wasn’t my wife at the time but I think that filly had something to do with her becoming so.  Oh, and I remember our oldest daughter on her first Christmas.  What a let-down!  I was waiting, camera in hand for that wow-moment when she opened her first present.  But all she wanted to do was play with the stupid wrapping paper!  It was her second Christmas that I finally got the picture.  Although, that wasn’t near as good as the third year; when she was trying to make her six month old sister play with the toy instead of the paper.

That makes me think of the year we had all the in-laws over for Christmas dinner.  I mean all of them.  Nieces and nephews, sister and brothers, Moms and Dads, a couple strays; thirty-some people in a house built for four.  What a hoot!  Took a week to clean up.

You know, if nothing else Christmas is at least an excuse for doing crazy stuff with people.  Stuff we wouldn’t otherwise do.  And I did get some pretty cool gifts.  I suppose I may go ahead and do it again next year.   Just don’t start thinking I’m some yahoo.