Friday, February 16, 2007

The Heart Is A Lonely ... Juggler

I integrated something new into my affairs recently.

I found a new kind of wood to use in my furniture. Of course, it's kinda silly to say it's a "new" kind of wood. I just have never used it before. Western Curly Maple.

Now acer macrophyllum isn't all that different from acer rubrum or sacharum --red or sugar maple-- that I use all the time. But it is different. It's called quilted maple by most, not tiger maple. Its wild grain is wild in a different way.

A long series of things has to happen before I use such an item. It has to exist, in useful quantities, where I can get it. There's a reason everybody doesn't still make blockfront dressers out of Cuban mahogany anymore.

Part of the dynamic of availability is the cost. The price dynamic tells me if there's any around. Western Maple is plentiful enough to be sold here in the east for less than some local wood.

Will it wear out my tools? Dust give me nose or lung cancer? Is it dimensionally stable? Can I get it in wide widths? Can I get contact dermatitis from handling it? Too heavy to lift? Does machining it close the grain too much, called mill glaze, to accept glue properly? Does it split when you fasten it? Does the grain tear out when you run it through a planer? Accept dyes and stains and finishes? Warp when you slice it and release pent up stresses in the wood? Hell, will it release pent-up stresses in me? Of course, before any of this started, the granddaddy of all considerations: Is it beautiful?

I'm only half way through determining if all that and more checks out. And I had to take a thousand dollar flyer just to give it a shot. I can only guess wrong about such things once or twice, and I'd be out of business. Oh yes; or sick or injured or dead.

There is a kind of reverie that comes while you are pushing a lot of wood through machinery. It can be hypnotizing and lulling. You are wearing muffs on your ears, and sometimes a mask over your lower face, and a glasses. Darth Vader got nothing on you. For a cheap laugh, I used to go and see my toddler with it all on. The mock fear and giggling was worth it. At any rate, you have to be careful when you're doing repetitive things over and over with danger very close at hand. You can't get bored and cut your hand off.

There is a kind of inspirational thinking that can happen when you are like this. The front of your mind is preoccupied with the task at hand. In a way, putting the repetitive but dangerous activity in the front of the mind puts other parts of the mind to sleep. Many people distract this "rest of their mind" with music while working. But there is a kind of thinking you can do there, like peripheral vision. Or just plain visions. It is the stuff of shamans and Nietzsche and Jung and the monk's cell. You can see around the corner a little. Many foolish people simply pay the most attention to the bad rock music they're listening to, and little attention to anything else, least of all what they're supposed to be doing, and maim themselves or ruin their work. I think the narcotic effect of smoking, along with the mundane, repetitive kabuki process of having a cigarette, explains its appeal in much the same way. It is contemplative. You're thinking about smoking in the front of your mind. In the back, well, I don't know; I don't smoke.

When you juggle, if you look at any of the balls, all the others drop to the floor. You can't pay attention to what you are doing the same way you do with everything else. You look off into the ether, and your eye takes it all in, and mind tells your limbs to faithfully execute the dull, disparate throws you learned by wrote before you could think about integrating them into juggling.

I'll try juggling new balls from time to time. But I never look right at anything any more.


P_J said...

I tried to learn juggling by wrote, but I kept dropping the pencil.

/smart aleck

P_J said...

Better: As Cal was writing about poetry and guys like Byron and Pope recently,

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance."

vw: erronius. Closest one I've ever gotten to a real word.

amba said...

I don't know why this reminds me of that, but I just talked to a young guy who told of having out-of-body experiences when very drunk. His out-of-body self was perfectly sober.

I love the kind of writing that's lists of names of tangible things and processes. It's a kind of two-way magic that goes back to the origins of language: the names do something for the things, and the things do something for the words.

PJ: See?? They told you enough monkeys with enough typewriters would eventually stumble on Shakespeare! And computers have sped things up! We're on the way!!

amba said...

VW word right now is


Bet that's a word in Lakota, or something.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I spent my summer before I started college working at a Savings and Loan and I mostly fed in ancient paper documents into the microfiche recorder. All day. 8 hours a day for 5 days a week. Every now and then, I could break up the monotony by adding columns in the ledger.

My mind was happily employed and I never tired of the "think time."

Anonymous said...

When I'm spinning, I do the same thing. Oh, sometimes I listen to music or an audio book, but sometimes I just start listening to the soft repetitive rhythm of the treadle and the whispering whorl and soon I'm off somewhere else. Looking at the yarn forming, moving it from hook to hook, but not really all there. It's quiet and peaceful and gives me a soft, calm feeling. Additionally, it's not dangerous even if I zone out too much.

SippicanCottage said...


"I learned to juggle from my father."
"Circus clown?"
"No, accountant."

We always call Byron "Georgie Gordon" around here.

Hi Annie- I know the way but the path wanders.

Sometimes very intelligent people have a large capacity for a certain kind of drudgery, as it frees the mind in an odd way. From now on,Patsy, you and I should call it :Think Time.

KCFleming said...

One summer in college I worked on a ranch in South Dakota, putting in a fence to keep the horses in. In Custer, near Mount Rushmore, there's about 1.5 feet of topspoil, then rock. The wooden posts had to go in 3-4 feet.

Solution? A giant metal bar with a sort of point, slammed into the hole repeatedly until the ground yielded. Over and over and over, I was a very slow jackhammer. I developed that same rhythmic reverie, but had less to juggle. Best to avoid hitting your own feet, but that was the only danger.

I solved all sorts of problems that way. At least I think I did.