Back In The Day, Part II

When I went off to college, intending to begin my life, I was glad to leave my parent’s house- who wouldn’t be, it was to be a grand adventure, I was going to conquer (metaphorically) the world, or at least learn Commercial art, and drafting. (OK, maybe a step down from the conquering thing.)

I loved to paint and create beautiful things, but two years into my education, I began to notice something- a tremor, barely noticeable at first, but one that made detail work with a pencil or brush difficult, if not impossible. I thought it was nerves, and I was right, just not quite in the way I had envisioned.

I had palsy- a minor bout, but it was exacerbated every time I tried to concentrate on what I was doing. My focusing on a specific task would cause the tremors to increase. You can imagine my frustration- at that time there were no computers, no photo shop, or adobe apps that one might use to make things easier. No, I was rather like the old scribes before printing presses were invented, and in my case, I was effectively halted in my tracks.

Oh, I went one more semester, doing progressively worse in terms of quality, and my level of frustration rose.
I even took internships at commercial art studios- well, that was a mistake – all I got out of that was an ulcer- between the all but impossible deadlines, and my palsy, I put myself in the hospital for a couple of days, intil the docs figured I had a bleeding ulcer.

The Doctor told me in no uncertain terms I would need to reduce my stress levels, so when I was released, I went back to the one thing that had paid money during my college years- carpentry.

Carpentry is a hard job- it is very physical, but requires no real detail work on little stuff, so my palsy wasn’t a problem as long as I swung a hammer, but writing my name on the back of a paycheck- well, let’s just say I wasn’t going to win any prizes for penmanship. Still, the carpentry was a good thing- oh, like all jobs, there were parts that were better than others, but I was outside, which I have always liked, I was able to build and create something that others would use and like.

Oh- don’t get me wrong- I didn’t respect carpentry at first; I resented it for the fact that this was not what I thought I would be doing for the rest of my life. I had been sidetracked, shanghaied into a career that at first, I thought was beneath me. Heck, this was what I did for summer jobs, this couldn’t be a career- I just knew I had better things to do.

Well, as it turned out, I did not- I couldn’t sit in an office and be cooped up- my irritation would grow, and I wasn’t much fun to be around. I needed the open air. In retrospect, I probably should have been a Parks & Wildlife warden or something along those lines, but just knew that I had to be outside and I had to create, so carpentry it was. I enjoyed the smell of freshly cut wood,and I loved fitting something together so well it looked like it grew that way- well, almost, anyway.

So I learned to read blueprints, and how to know more than the boss. I learned how to anticipate things, and I learned that I have a talent for knowing just how long something will take to do.

In short, I learned the most important lesson- how to be invaluable to your boss. You see, this ability makes you the last to be fired, and I wanted that. Carpentry is an uncertain life, dependent on people purchasing homes, and when there is a recession, people do not do that. That makes carpentry a job driven by the whims of the market more than almost any other career.

I learned to be flexible- if people weren’t buying homes, perhaps they needed their home remodeled, or a deck, or even repairs. I learned to do them all.

I learned, through my remodeling experience, just how older homes were made, the building techniques used, and the tools they used to do these jobs. I taught myself to replicate the older moldings and small artistic work that certain older homes had been decorated with. I have, as my palsy grew a little worse, and I developed arthritis, learned the smaller things, so I could still create- I might no longer have the strength to be able to lift a thirty foot rafter up to the roof, but I could at least create mantelpieces.

And finally, learned to make furniture. The ultimate creative effort with regards to wood and carpentry. And I am good at it- I know, because people pay me to do this- all my business is word of mouth, and while business is slack now, it will pick up. It’s all a part of the ebb and flow of markets.

Now I said that to say this- the old saying that life is what happens while you’re busy making plans is very true, but it is also true that no matter where you find yourself, no matter what you end up doing, you should take pride in it, because whether you know it or not, this is how you will be known. Everything I have done, I have done with the assurance to myself that I would not be ashamed to put my name on whatever I was working on.

It did not matter whether it was a watercolor painting, or a 17,000 square foot home- the only difference to me was one of size, not quality. And I will continue to do this, because this gives me satisfaction, and I can look myself in the mirror every night and sleep well knowing I have done my best with what I have.

In the end, that is all that counts.
Blake

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