There was a woman I knew who knitted things. Moreover, she knitted nearly nonstop, even to the point she would knit at the movie theater or at parties. She just liked the way it felt to have the work in her hands, the motion, the creation of something with three dimensions from yarn. It was amazing how quickly she worked and nearly everyone she knew had something she had made, which isn’t very common these days, sad to say. Everyone you love ought to have something you crafted just for that one person, no matter how simple it might be.
Creation was one not only common at one time but required among people. There had to be someone who built window frames and who could make nails. There had to be someone who could make a groom brush of some sort, and those who could carve wood were deemed highly skilled. I’ve always taken exception to the phrase “unskilled workers” when this term was used in reference to those people who worked with their hands. True enough, if you are speaking of someone who is just tossing watermelons down the line like I once did, there isn’t an appreciable skill to this. But a human being who can coax concrete into submission before it hardens is something who thinks a lot about what is going to happen before it does. The fact that this all happens sometimes in hellish heat should make their craft more appreciated, but for some reason it does not.
Before this conversation is over someone is going to mention unskilled means unschooled, without a degree of some sort, and certainly those people are intelligent people and this argument I make takes nothing away from them at all. Rarely, I will suggest to you, very rarely indeed, does a man who writes as a hobby denigrate education for very rarely will someone who is uneducated pick up writing as something to do with most of their spare time. I just happen to be uneducated, and a writer. But I understand how much work it takes, mentally, to do some of the things they cannot teach you on the inside of a building.
This weekend, next weekend, and for more time that I can explain to you, I’m going to be out in the backyard using an axe to get trees into smaller enough pieces that I can move them. Irma left me with enough work so I won’t have to see the inside of a gym for six months. I’ve decided to use some of the logs to ring my compost pile, to help define it, and the logs will be a part of it as well. Using an axe may seem, to some people, as mindless but if you’re just going to hack away at something it will take a hell of a long time. There’s a real skill in wood craft and an axe can be a hammer or it can be a scalpel.
I’ve had people tell me that writing must be easy for me because I write all the time. Writing is hard work, I keep repeating that because it keeps being true. Writing is rewriting and rewriting is writing. It’s difficult to edit something over and over again trying to get it right. It’s boring as hell to read something for the tenth time and still find typos that you would swear wasn’t there the eight time or the fifth time.
There is no way I can watch a movie or go to a party and write, and it just struck me that my knitting friend may have not been going to parties or watching movies while she knitted. She may have been simply knitting and happened to be somewhere else. I can sit in public and write. That’s an odd sensation, to be around people, and write about them, yet be a part from something I am a part of. Does that make any sense to you at all?
Writing is like being a mirror. The person writing may be there, in physical form, but not interacting with anyone, even though everyone is reflected. When I write about the woman serving coffee who is all smiles as she is serving but looks like she had a death in the family when she’s wiping down the counter alone, then you know there is a person there. When I describe the noise of the place, the man two tables over with earbuds in blasting out music that I can hear even at a distance, the couple next to me who are flirting with one another, the woman reading a book, the group that had pushed two tables together so that they can all be together, wearing some sports team’s shirt, and the guy sitting alone tapping away at his computer, suddenly the woman at the counter has a reference point for her grief, alone in a crowd, with only her reflection in the mirror to witness for her. Another customer arrives, and she’s transformed into the portal between the man’s desire for caffeine and the company’s desire for money. Words are exchanged, she smiles, a card is scanned, coffee is made, she smiles at the man and he searches for a table where he can sit, and he chooses the table nearest to the earbud man, and the man fishes his phone out to play a game. The woman reverts back to herself, cleaning spilled coffee and her face is relaxed back into her own personal misery, and no one will ever know of this, no one will ever ask the mirror what she feels or why she feels it, and everyone in the room will leave it empty in time.
This is what I do all the time. I write things in my head, rewrite, plan, revise, edit, copy, paste, delete, create, destroy, forget, remember, but all the while, no matter what is happening, like the woman’s grief and a friend’s knitting, I never truly stop.