Some nights, later in the evening, when he isn't working in his shop or practicing or writing a grant until one a.m., Warren will visit some favorite woodworking websites, sometimes watching videos he finds on those sites. I am often in the same room—our downstairs study—albeit usually reading a book or writing. His videos do not interrupt me, but neither do they interest me.
One caught my ear the other night, though. The video was an interview with Curtis Buchanan, a man who has been making chairs by hand, one at a time, for almost thirty years. He talked about how he got into the business, about how he learned to build chairs, about the art of working by hand with hand tools.
I started listening and then took some notes. Buchanan talked about why he used hand tools instead of power tools, which would undoubtedly speed up the process of making the chairs. Using an electric drill "doesn't add anything to my day." He liked "the pace hand tools set—it allows me to keep control of my day."
Buchanan is satisfied with his life and his livelihood. He used the word "contented," adding that he thought "contendedness was vastly underrated." He hoped to make chairs for another thirty years. The key, he said, to making a chair or anything else for that long a timeframe was to "just go down to the shop every day and work and eventually it'll work out. Eventually, it'll get there."
As I looked over the quotes I'd jotted down, I recognized that they also applied to writing. I'd just had an email exchange with a colleague who was incredulous to learn that I still did much of my writing longhand. "Loose (sic) the pen and paper!" he exhorted.
I penned out this post on a late Wednesday evening while Warren was at rehearsal. As I type it up tonight, he is at dress rehearsal for the opening of the season tomorrow. The first two of four pies are baking. It is quiet. I am sitting in our small downstairs study, typing on a laptop. My notebook with the draft of this post is close at hand.
Buchanan is right. My pen, like his handheld tools, allows me to keep control of my writing and my pace. I could use the computer, the equivalent of an electric drill, to draft this post or any other writing, but it wouldn't add anything to my day. I suspect it would have the opposite effect and diminish my day. For me, the physical act of writing both soothes and stimulates me.
I am contented, a word I recently used to describe myself. And being contented is vastly underrated. It's not exciting, it's not active, it's not partying or shopping or carrying on. When coworkers ask me what I did all weekend, I know many of them are baffled when I say "I had a great weekend. I stayed home and didn't do much of anything."
I have yet to adopt on a daily basis the rest of Buchanan's advice, the piece about going to the shop—in this case, my notebook—and working every day. I have no doubt it would make me a stronger writer. It would, I am sure, also make me a more contended one.
My colleague meant to tell me to "lose" my pen. By inadvertently typing "loose the pen" he may have been on to something else entirely. If I would loose my pen daily, my writing would eventually work out. And I would be content.
I'll stake my hopes on Buchanan's final words: it'll get there. His chair, my writing: it'll get there.