Friday, August 22, 2014

A Delicate Balance

There are times when you need to find a paper napkin, a folded index card, or perhaps even a wedge-shaped sliver of wood to restore a balanced life to a table.  You learned the name for this device, the shim, way back in the days when you took woodshop after reading a book suggesting the natural relationship between boys, pieces of wood, and wood-working tools.

Even then, naive and malleable as you were, there still remained pulsing within you a certain cynicism that began with the fact that Mr. Bailey, the woodshop teacher, was lacking at least two fingers on each hand.

You were ready to believe Mr. Bailey about the shim, which, however it was applied, did not seem to put your body parts at risk.  With the possible exception of your understanding of the two basic types of saw, the rip, to saw with the grain, or the cross-cut, to saw against, especially perpendicular to the grain, the shim and its uses seems to have lasted you all these years, to the point where you are comfortable about leveling unbalanced tables, chairs, or other working surfaces, such as a deli counter in a restaurant, which you leveled using the sides of a box that once held Creamo cigars.

Your expectations about the natural relationship between boys, pieces of wood, and wood-working tools never went as well for you as you'd been led to believe.  One young chum of yours was constantly making things out of wood which he gave to his mother with often astounding results, such as her asking him if he wanted to use her car to go out that evening to a movie or a simple drive to the beach at the tail end of Sunset Boulevard.

Suitably impressed, you attempted to make things such as lamps, boxes with inlaid tops into which playing cards could be stored between uses.  You also tried your hand at book ends, napkin rings, and an elaborate device, called a silent butler, with a handle turned on a lathe, and a spring-driven top.  

However good your intentions and your earnest desire to please your mother, your results either looked like Japanese lanterns that had survived the Tokyo earthquake or they looked like some device that was not supposed to remind the viewer of a Messerschmidt 109 fighter plane so favored by the Luftwaffe.

At those times within the purview of these activities, your relationship with your mother had stretched to a point where neither of you was comfortable with the other.  She had the decided advantage because she loved you.  Even you could see that, although you lacked many of the necessary skills to accept the fact of her love nor the ability to understand how to move on beyond some insubstantial obstacles you would both soon grow through.

 It is not so much that you became cynical about woodworking, much less developing an antipathy for things made of wood, as it was your finding other things to have natural relationships with.  Here you are then, either on the extreme edges of middle-age or already having tiptoed into the cranky landscape of the elderly, still dealing with shims, but unlike the occasional table or chair you fidget back to balance, these are editorial shims, ones you use to adjust the often irregular legs of curiosity, pursuit, and surprise.

When a person, place, or object seems out of balance to you in real life, you become curious about the cause, pursue some actual or metaphysical research, then find some surprise in the results of your quest. By your reckoning, much of the information in the world about you, discovered by the consequences of curiosity, then pursuit, has produced surprises that could have as well been unpleasant as pleasing.  

This is neither a bad thing or a good one.  Rather it is indicative of modest qualities of strength in an area that has nothing at all to do with wood or science or well-mediated experiments from which observable results may be presented as fact.  Nevertheless you do appear to persist in presenting hypothetical confrontations among hypothetical individuals, and doing so as though the individuals and their confrontations were real.

You create these hypotheses as though they were tangible arguments, conflicts, and desires experienced among hypothetical individuals whom you assert to be real.  But they are only as real as you can make them.  One of your best 
tools is the shim, which you shove under curiosity.  If that does not restore the balance, you try quest.  Table still wobbles?  Ah, try pursuit or surprise.

Skills in story come from places you'd never have expected.  You are ever testing the potential for wobble, alert to see what you can use for a him, more often than not surprised by what has come about when balance is restored.

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