Monday, November 8, 2010

Basic assumptions

This is a chunk of concrete I found next to the building that houses our shop in Lawrence. The letters for the word are molded into the concrete, and, as I found it laying on its back, the letters had filled in with moss and dirt and water. And the block itself was sitting on top of the stub of a wall that has long since been torn down. I have no idea what prompted the worker or designer or architect to mold this particular word into this particular block, but the fact that it's getting covered in moss, sitting among a part of the building that is essentially ruins, is what really gets me. The notion of the everlasting, buried among the commonplace decay of a city that was once a really great project is pretty striking. Given the newness of the block, I can't help but wonder if it was maybe an art project of some kind.

It's a basic assumption... that this, (this world, this time, this building, this love, this chance, this person) is going to last forever. It's a romance that seems unique to man's ego, and it seems like the kind of aspiration that is all too common. I'm going to [do something, build something, love something] great, and my effort and this love will make [whatever it is] immortal. And then I'll use the four holes in this block of everlasting concrete to bolt this sign up there, just so people can see that this thing that I hold so high is going to last FOREVER.

I can only imagine that the builders of this town had hoped something similar for their project.


I had also been hoping that my love of woodworking, my talent, and my own estimation of my intelligence would build my woodworking efforts into something truly grand. Some of it was ego, and some of it was romance, and a little bit of it was delusion. I'm not trying to wax melodramatic here, I'm putting this down for the sake of any small business owner or aspiring artist. Somewhere along the line, the basic assumption crept in that some of the key happenings would simply happen. And when the business didn't simply thrive, it became a root cause for some serious self-esteem issues on my part.

I've been working on figuring out why, after a couple of years, the business hasn't thrived like I thought it would. The economy was an easy scapegoat. My own non-specific inadequacy was another. The truth is a little more simple: I didn't plan for it to. I don't know how to wrap the words around it, and the mental image is not the same thing as planning for it to fail. But I hadn't really wrapped my mind completely around what success would look like. Because I was so much in love with the work I wanted to do, I just wanted to do the work. I hadn't really made a map of the things that needed to happen.

My lack of self-esteem demanded that I go forward on the assumption that it would all work out. I didn't have it in me then to pick a fight of that magnitude. I didn't understand how it would work out, but various people assured me that I was Smart and Talented enough, surely I'd be fine. I went on, thinking of myself as the big dog in the fight. But there's a saying about the size of the dog in the fight. Going to one of the best woodworking schools in the country only gave me a chance to get into the ring... not to declare myself a champ. And the truth is, the last place in the world I wanted to be was in the ring.

The simplicity of what I remember dreaming about was just a place where I could do the work I wanted to do, and that the people would somehow show up, because of me and my talent. When I thought about what I wanted to see for the future of my business, I saw myself at the bench, in front of a half-finished work of the cabinet maker's art. I didn't see the rest of the work that I'd have to do. I've been beating myself up for the way business has been going. The logic is simple: this should have worked out by now, and so clearly I'm not living up to my talent or intelligence. I'm only now realizing that it's not a question of living up to my talent or intelligence.

In the grand scheme, I'm just a guy. Distinguishing characteristics and achievements aside, I'm only human, and I walk on the ground like everyone else. But I want to aspire to something better. My woodworking career is the mountain I want to climb, and not the point of departure. Talent and intelligence, in whatever quantity, have enabled me to feel entitled to the mountain, somehow, and not simply entitled to the opportunity to fight my way up.

To be fair to myself, I need to write somewhere in here that five years ago, if I hadn't already inherited the money to take the chance at even going to North Bennet, I never would have taken it. I just didn't have it in me. It took a pretty big doorway being wide open to convince me that maybe, just maybe, I could get through that doorway to an opportunity. The problem with low self-esteem is that even little things like making it through a such wide open door, can feel like such major successes that it feels like anything is possible, and that just getting to the opportunity to fight, is an arrival in itself.

The fight I have in front of me is something that I wouldn't have been able to approach before. But with the ongoing process of personal growth, and the recent successes I've had in other areas of my life, I think I'm ready to be in the ring.


Lastly, I have been going through something similar in the shop-space. Until recently I, and my shop mates, have enjoyed a LOT of storage space, since the end of our shop space hadn't been walled in. I liked to dream that we'd grow, and fill the extra space with lumber or something. But a few weeks ago we received word that the space had been rented. So we had to run in and hustle to get everything out of that space before the wall went up to divide our space from that one. The extra space had given me the mental luxury of knowing that all of my someday projects had a place to stay until I'd gotten around to them. It wasn't quite as bad as a hoarding habit, but it's still a lot of mental clutter to carry around.

Now, the back end of our space is walled in, and it's been a good time to do some serious prioritizing, because time and space are getting a little short. The new wall feels a little constricting... and I think that's a good thing. I'm going to try to turn that feeling into a new fighting spirit.