Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Place for You in Wood. Or Story.

"In most ways," Mr. Bailey said, "you are a nice young man.  Attentive, well groomed.  Good natured.  But I'm afraid there is no hope of a place for you in wood."

You were at the time not all that good natured, but since Mr. Bailey was addressing his remarks to you alone, you were willing to let any trace of cantankerousness slide. Unlike most of your teachers in middle school, Mr. Bailey did not have an office.  Rather, his desk was located at one of the ends of the long rectangle of benches, tool racks, and power tools.  Unlike most of your teachers in middle school, Mr. Bailey did not have all his fingers, a fact that became plain when he demonstrated the use and care of hand tools in the Basic Woodshop course you were taking.

When the matter came to the use and necessary precautions attendant on power tools, Mr. Bailey would speak with some eloquence about mistakes, extending his hands as consequences of such mistakes as lack of concentration, lack of preparation, and failure to observe safety precautions,

"Do you know why I asked you here?"  Mr. Bailey asked.

"I think it has something to do with the way I was sawing that piece of sugar pine."

"It has everything to do with the way you were sawing that piece of sugar pine."

You talked your way through marking the saw line, placing the sugar pine block into a vise, and, properly, you thought. anchoring the block so that it could not slip while you saw it to the dimensions required by the blueprint of your first project in Basic Woodshop, a pair of book ends which, in theory, you could use for your own growing library of books, but could also duplicate for gifts to parents, siblings, relatives, and friends, ratifying your position as a handyman who made rather than bought presents.  "At your present age,"  Mr. Bailey had once said in an earlier lecture, "you could probably make as many as sixteen other persons a pair of book ends, each one reflecting your growing ability to create things from wood."

"Relative to the grain of that block of sugar pine, how was your saw mark drawn?"

You began to see where this conversation would end.  "Across the grain, sir."

"And what saw were you using?"

"I believe it was a cross-cut saw, sir."

"Think again. You were using a rip saw.  And how do we saw with a rip saw?"

"We use a rip saw to saw with the grain, sir."  The words and cadence of the conversation had begun to remind you of exercises in diction you were told to practice in your public speaking class.  As a result, you were smiling at the thought of repeating "a cross-cut-saw,sir" with increasing rapidity, without once slurring or transposing vowels.

As a result of your smiling, you emerged from the interview as a young man who does not take woodshed seriously.  Up to that time, you had indeed taken woodshop seriously, but not in any way that would produce one, much less sixteen, pair of bookends..  Your joy was using the hand plane, which shaved off curls of wood, smelling of the mysterious, pungent, aromatic, components of wood.  Your blocks of sugar pine became smaller and smaller as your appreciation for their curls and scents bordered on the mystical.

Your admiration for wood and the tools for working with it remain at a respectful peak, but you are no wood sculptor as your late friend, Barnaby Conrad, was, nor are you a carpenter.  Wood impresses you for its presence and personality, in many ways as words impress you with their ability to convey personality and feeling.

Some equivalents of Mr. Bailey have spoken of your good nature and wellness of grooming, then gone on to suggest there is no place for you in the world of words.  Such is the nature of the world of words, filled with ironies, tools, and personalities.

One of the ironies is that you sometimes have occasions to discuss such equivalents as rip and cross-cut saws with students when dealing with words, even going to the point where you have told some of them how it is within their power to tell stories that will be gifts for individuals they will never meet nor see.

Another irony is that to this day, you may be called out by the equivalent of a Mr. Bailey because of your metaphoric use of the wrong saw or, indeed, that you drew your cutting marks in the wrong places.  Worse yet, the prospect that no one you know is interested in a pair of bookends, handmade from sugar pine.

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