Sunday, September 25, 2011

Into the Wooden Heart of Darkness.


The unaffordable initial inspiration

We're slowly winding down from our home purchase (we may even move in one of these days...) and all its ancillary purchases (new furniture, power tools, yard equipment, etc...). To say that our bank account has seen a lot of action is putting it mildlyi. Even in the financially exhausted state I find myself in, there are still a few things we need, including new desks for our study.


Our new study, picturing the previous owner's furniture

While out shopping for other furniture, I found a desk I liked, but the price tag was far more than I was comfortable with. In fact, after months of hemoragghing money, with hands in my pocket at every turn, dealing with amounts of money that are far beyond my comfort range, it was the final straw. I looked at the desk, looked at my hands, looked back at the desk, and said..

I can build this...ii”.

I've never really shied away from doing something myself rather than spend money on it. It's an ethic I'm pretty drastically in favor of in general. What you create will always be more satisfying than what you consume. I know it's become the trendy thing in some circles, but regardless, I still think the recent boom of back-to-the-earth, handcraftsy, brew-your-own, revival of traditional skills is pretty damn cooliii. I never had a very solid grounding in practical skills. My grandfathers were able craftsmen, but I think around my Dad's generation, those skills started to dwindle for suburbanites. By the time I came around, the shift from working without your hands to working with circuitsiv was already in full swing. So what I have is either largely, and poorly, self-taught, , some dim and angsty memories of high school shop class terror, or a result of the fantastic reawakening enabled by the internetv But in the new house I have a small shop area in the garage, and I have been inspired by some of my more serious DIY friends, so I am feeling ancestral urges to make things with my hands.


Previous oddities – Pottery Failure, wine cork board failure, Firestorm! - the sum of my current toolset.

My previous, limitedvi projects have had mixed results. My current desk is a solid affair, made completely from unfinished pine lumber straight from Lowe's. To my credit, it's lasted 9 years now, and is going strongvii. However, it's based primarily on the Apocalypse Now school of technique:

(Willard: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound.
Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don't see any method at all, sir.)

You get the picture. This desk is designed only to keep things off the floor. When you look up utilitarian in the dictionary....well, it gives a definition for utilitarian, but it would be REALLY applicable to this desk. It's so unassuming I didn't even take a picture of it to post anywhere.

My next furniture based outing was a guitar stand for my guitars. Like the desk, this is pretty utilitarian, but in an effort to grow, I tried to make it a bit more aesthetically..well, “pleasing” would be reaching, let's go with “acceptable”. Despite epic staining failure, it actually turned out nicely enough. Sadly, these two adventures gave me probably more confidence than I deserve.


Mutliple Guitar Stand, or, “how not to stain”.

Which takes us back to the present. I need a desk. After measuring our space, and looking around online, I had a basic idea of what I wanted to do. The rational approach would be to find some plans, follow them to the letter, and finish the project sometime before the sun goes nova. Too easy. Enter Google Sketchup. I had back-of-the-napkin'd a general design, based on a couple trestle desks I had seen. Sketchup fueled my unfortunately creative urges by allowing things to get..complicated. What went from a simple pine lumber affair is now gussified up to include exotic hardwoods, complicated latching mechanisms, and pocket-hole joinery techniques I do not understand but will be mercilessly applying to the piece.



Evolution of a design, from someone's else's idea, to my final plan(s)

So now I'm at the cusp of starting the project. I've picked out potential woods (curly hard maple as a reminder of home, walnut trim for contrast), picked out new power tools (orbital sander, Kreg jig and compound miter saw), and found local places to secure it all. I still need to decide what the final layout of the top will solid maple top, or alternating broad maple and narrow walnut strips. But I'm pretty excited, with a completely unfounded confidence. And I think it will turn out well, regardless....I will have a solid wood deskviii, and the tools to make it and other things, for far less than buying the new desk. And I think mine will be generally cooler, and will certainly have more satisfaction attached to it. I may tell grandkids about how I made that desk...I can't imagine regaling them with a tale of going out any buying it at pottery barn. Now the fun begins.



iThe two words that best describe my debit card are “en fuego”.

ii And, in my head, “..I can make it better...faster...stronger....we have the technology...”

iiiEven if some of the participants are doing it ironically while drinking PBR. Ironically.

ivI can build you a new computer in nothing flat. However, making a birdfeeder completely stumped me.

vIt never fails to amaze me that a virtual medium has largely resurrected what is more akin to an oral tradition...informal knowledge diffused and passed directly from people to people.

viLimited by skill first and foremost, but also by limited space and a set of tools that includes : 1) hammer, 2) cheap cordless drill/jig saw combo unit.

viiThough, let's be honest, when something is made of 2X4's and has even a rudimentay support system, it's not exactly a fragile flower.

viiiThere is absolutely nothing these days that isn't veneers over generic hardwoods. Even in the pricey places. The only true solid hardwood without veneer I found was in an Amish place, and the price reflected it.

Friday, September 16, 2011


 The Dark is
The Dark is Rising 
Without wanting to be too terribly maudlin about it, I've been reflecting a lot lately on the permanent and the transitory. As a child, the walls of my world were a bastion of solid permanencei. We had always lived in that farmhouse by the creek and the woods. Mom and dad had always been married. The dense forest and meadows of our tiny landscape had always been forest and meadow. The old scratchy sofa had, and always would be, our old scratchy sofa. None of these things could change any more than the sun could drop out of the sky. Even as the minor details of childhood life swirled around in the constant sensory flux of a new world, those outer boundaries were stone, unyielding. In that sense childhood is a paradox; a fragile, constantly evolving thing that, at the same time, needs so desperately to cling to the unmovable. 

On a small enough time scale, most everything is permanent.

Growing up, then, is not just the gradual loss of fragility as we stack filters like walls between us and the sheer sensory overload of the world. In equally paradoxical fashion, it's also letting go of the illusion of permanence; learning to cope with a constant cycle of creation and decay at all levels. My parents have passed on. I have a new house and miss the meadows and forests. Our new sofa will eventually wear out and be replaced. On the adult time scale, nothing is permanent, and everything is transitory...especially those sun-fallingly large things that were the cardinal corners of our younger world.

This is not a new revelation for humanity. It's not even a new revelation for me, but the older I get, and the more of life is strung behind me, the more that inescapable cycle of transition peels away layers, and I see a new piece of it, a new facet, and I get a glimmer at least of a different understanding of it. Our time here is not marked just by the inherent smallness of our lifespan, but just that even within that time, everything is fleeting. I think it puts us at odds with our basest instincts. We don't want things to change. We want something to hold on to, to build our home on solid earth. But in a sea of shifting sands, our "mature" adult brain eventually realizes this isn't the case. Somewhere in the middle of our base animal rage and our cool intellectual acceptance is where most of us pitch our flimsy tents. I guess that means really being at peace with life can only mean accepting each bit in its own right. Enjoying things in their time, even though you know those bits are floating, like autumn leaves in a brook; small blazes of color that will pass one by one in the greater swirl of the waterii. It's not the endless happiness of our Madison avenue fantasies, nor is it the nihilism of zen buddhism's void. If anything, things mean more because they are both real and transitory at the same time.

Years ago, in college, in an inexplicable burst of creativity (or a reasonable approximation thereof) I sat down and jotted off a poem. I'm sure it was only half-realized at the time, fueled with too much Yeats and angst and NY fall scenery and unrequited lust for some damningly unobtainable coffee house alternagirliii. But as I was mowing my new lawn today, it came back to me, and I found some bits of glimmer in its awkward and clumsy versesiv. Just like everything else, I think the meaning of the things we make, the words we put down, they can be just as fluid. So here's a look at where I was a decade ago. And also where I am now, I suppose.

Racing, blows the growing gale
through hidden autumn's greying vale
of dancing boughs and shifting space,
as heralded o'ervi the valley's face,
the western wind is rising.

Across our stippled, sun-swept plain
the gusts show naught but cold disdain,
as every creature, man and kin, 
feel their passing cool the skin.
The western wind is raging.

Sturdy walls and fires warm
are built with care to thwart the storm.
Yet, even nearvii the hearthstone's light,
we cannot long postpone the night.
The western wind is changingviii.

Dark seeps through cracks, comes under doors;
and bearing passion's new amours, 
drives us wandering from our room
to seek our place in evening's womb.
The western wind is ebbing.

Storm asks no quarter, nor does give, 
for things must change if things should live.
Mad chaos is our blustry bride,
our transient restix, personified.
The western wind is laughing.

As the ether stills the course,
the storm departs in no remorse, 
for wending ways lead on to day,
and morning's light allows no stay.
The western wind is fleeting.

Yet, even leaving, part remains;
the soft, ethereal refrains 
that mark the passing wind's goodbye.
More like sidhex dancing than a cry,
the western wind is singing.
Cloud Study
Cloud Study #14

iI say “my” because I know not every childhood was like mine, for all its angels and demons.
iiYes I realize I completely failed at capturing what I meant there, and ended up spewing out the prose equivalent of a Thomas Kinkaide painting.
iiiAlso, in grand tradition of poets, real and self-imagined, before me, possibly also beer. And for those who may not have come of age in the 90's, coffee house girls (before they sold out and became corporatized “baristas”) were a magical, mythical creature that occasionally one could approach but never quite grasp them, like mist in the air. They were just short of the word for God on the lips of all young angsty poetic college men of my generation. Which, given the sensitive man movement of the time, was most of us. For better and worse.
ivIn my defense, it is more of an homage to Yeats style. Which, not in my defense, is a way of saying I wrote like someone else because I couldn't find a way to do it in my own voice. That being said, the mimcry came from an innocent rather than jaded place, so it doesn't bother me quite so much. I wrote what I new...which was wooded vales and the first pangs of change and loss. I just happened to do it in more of a pseudo-19the century lyrical romantic sort of way. Though honestly, I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.
vLeaves/leaves..The leaves, or he leaves. Fun with Homonyms!!
viYes, “o'er” sounds incredibly archaic and pretentious and makes me cringe. But in my defense again, it really does sound better than “over” or anything else I could think to replace it with.
viiI did change this from the archaic “midst” to “near”. Though honestly, I'm not sure it has the same connotation. I really was trying to create a sensory image of being enveloped in light, being warm and safe and cradled in it. And the dark seeping in through the cracks, spreading out its tendrils inside our safety.
viiiI still like the endcap for each stanza, with “the western wind is (X)”. But the middle ones don't make as much sense as the starting and ending ones. I have it ebbing while I'm talking about storms, etc. Need to redo that at some point.
ix Another change I'm not happy with. Originally, “our fleeting stay, personified”. Buyt I use “fleeting” in one of the next stanzas, and I was trying not to repeat. Especially since it was important to me where it was, marking a change in the “western wind” snippets....all those before are actions...the western wind is doing x, the western wind is doing y. This is a description....the western wind is fleeting. An adjective, not a verb. Not sure why I think it's poignant, but it is to me.
xAhh Yeats and his sidhe. This is where the influence not just is apparent, but slaps you in the face and says “HEY, IT's YEATS. YEATS YEATS YEATS....did you get that this is like Yeats?”.