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Why, precisely?

No gardening or paint-stripping got done today...I was learning to make hardcover books and boxes at the Center for Book Arts. My book-in-a-magnificently-coordinated-box came out pretty terrific under the patient tutelage of artist/instructor Ben Rinehart...but making boxes is not for the faint-hearted. (By "boxes," I mean "perfectly joined and ravishingly covered-in-fancy-paper boxes with little flossy ribbons to tie them shut.") The little suckers consist of countless parts that have to be hand-trimmed with the precision of coronary surgery, or nothing sets right. Creating and assembling these components involves gigantic heavy board-whacking gizmos with razor-sharp edges, lots of glue, and lots of pretty materials that will be pretty much ruined if touched by glue (or carelessly board-whacked). As you're assembling one, you start thinking, "So this is why gift stores import these from China"...where piteously underpaid workers doubtless churn out dozens or hundreds of them an hour, with none of the artisanal and archival boxy goodness (and glue sniglets) of mine. At one point, struggling to cut a 5/8" sliver of bookbinding board with a ping-pong-table-sized guillotine and my sticky trembling fingers, I had an anti-epiphany (that is, a totally baffling revelation devoid of insight or inspiration): buster at forge.jpgGiven my incredible lack of ability to perform even the simplest measurements accurately, and my craven anxiety around big, sharp tools, why have I been drawn over the years to attempt mastery of things requiring...extremely precise measurements and big, sharp tools?

There was the woodworking course at Yestermorrow School, which was to equip me to create simple but elegant shelves and cabinets throughout the CrazyStable. (The legacy of this now-defunct dream: a dusty table saw, and a petite recessed-panel-door cabinet that I must have made under hypnosis.) Measuring and cutting wood is Difficult and Scary; they give silly, false names to boards (such as "two by four," which is lumberyard lingo for "some other amount of inches"), and then expect you to feed them through Snarling Blades of Death, and if you make just a teeny little error, you cannot stretch wood at all.

Then there's my dream of sewing--the skill (mastered by my mother but not passed on to me) that will produce a tide of beautiful window treatments, pillows, table linens and even covers to hide the total destruction of the kitchen chair caning by the cats. Sewing machines, unfortunately, operate by plunging a sharp needle up and down rapidly, a hair's-breadth from your fingertips, and fabric slides all over the place when you try to cut it. (The sewing will still happen, I swear; bolts of optimistically purchased fabric patiently await an encounter with my Elna sewing machine, causing BestFriend to quip, "Able was I ere I saw Elna.")

At least I can take comfort in baking. Dammit, not only can I measure flour and sugar with my eyes closed (well, almost), but I am fearless to the point of recklessness with a whirring mixer. Of course, if you screw up a cake, there is one redemptive option left that doesn't work for a botched cabinet, Roman shade, or handmade box:

You can just about damn near cover the thing in whipped cream.

Posted on Sunday, May 21, 2006 at 11:21PM by Registered CommenterBrenda from Brooklyn | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Love that picture of the guy with the anvil. Don't get discouraged!

May 22, 2006 at 04:43PM | Unregistered CommenterDaniel
Thanks, Daniel. Buster Keaton is a wonderful role model for the ambivalent...seems to be asking, "What fresh hell is this?"...but always goes for it anyway!
May 22, 2006 at 05:39PM | Unregistered CommenterBrenda

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