I decided not long ago that I needed a writing desk and a dedicated place to write. I had an office when I lived alone, but now that I have roommates I haven’t put much effort into having a specific place to sit and think and write. I need this kind of space.
Over the past couple of months I’ve on and off discussed with my brother that I might like a custom writing desk. My brother, Kevin, is a carpenter and a pretty damned great one. So when I finally decided what I’d like I had visions of him doing the work and me reaping the benefits, sitting warm and cozy at my desk writing away, but Kevin had a different plan. Wise beyond his years, my brother recommended that I come and be a part of the process and let him teach me how to build a desk.
While it had never occurred to me help build it in the beginning, I like doing things with my hands and the idea of ownership is one that always appeals to me, so I agreed with excitement.
Kevin is second to youngest in our family but the only boy. Sometimes I believe this also makes him the oldest in a way. He’s always seemed to feel a sense of responsibility when it came to the role of protecting and being a rock for the women in our family. He takes after my mother’s side of the family– average hight, broad, started greying in his early twenties so now that he’s in his mid-late twenties he looks handsome in that way that only men who grey early can. One of his most distinguishing features are his eyes. He has one brown eye and one hazel. I think the contrast becomes greater with each passing year because I swear I notice the difference so much more now than I did when we were younger.
Many of the tools my brother uses belonged to my grandfather on my Dad’s side. I didn’t know Papa very well. He died when I was around twenty-three and when I was a child he and I barely interacted. I remember his workshop mostly for the way it looked on the outside because we weren’t allowed to go in and the I remember the way it smelled. I never saw my grandfather working in the shop but I did see the things that he made.
Walking into Kevin’s garage, floor covered in saw dust and the sweet smell of freshly cut wood hanging in the air, almost felt like being granted entrance to a secret world you’d always known existed but had never found a way to get to. I realized then that up to this point I’d never seen my brother work either. I’ve seen many things that he’s designed on paper and then the end result, but I had never been a part of the process. It felt really wonderful to be invited into this space and my mind effortlessly clicked over into its record mode– My subconscious begins to absorb every nuance like a witch’s second sight, while my eyes see what is right in front of me and my fingers memorize textures…
I used one of the very large, very loud saws exactly three times before my part in this whole thing became to simply watch and lend a hand to the master where it was needed. I am terrified of cutting myself and move very slow and, truth be told, probably put myself at greater risk for hurting myself by being over-cautious.
Kevin showed me how to properly use the saw and then stepped back and let me go for it. The first cut was fine. The second cut on a larger piece of wood didn’t go as well. I wasn’t holding one end of the wood the way I needed to and it had moved in a way that was messing up the cut and I couldn’t get all the way through. Instead of jumping in to correct me before I made a mess of things, Kevin stayed where he was and waited for me to realize something was wrong and that I needed help.
He let me make a mistake and then he showed me how to fix it.
If you could really watch music, not watch someone play music, but rather be able to see the music itself it would look something like my brother’s hands while he works with wood. There’s a fluidity to his movements that I can only describe in terms that are musical or like the smoothness of river water running over rocks. Kevin played football, he rode go-karts and he climbed trees. The result: broken arms and broken fingers. His right arm doesn’t straighten all of the way and neither does the pinky finger of his right hand due to pins placed in his arm and wrist after he shattered bones in both after falling out of a tree. Neither injury impedes his ability to build, but somehow adds character to the act.
I watched his hands with a kind of childlike amazement and curiosity. After we (he) drew out our plans I felt I had a pretty decent understanding of how this would all go down, but when the building started I realized that my ideas about what would work to accomplish the end result we’d planned for were ill-informed. It could have been accomplished the ways I envisioned it, but it would not have been accomplished well and it would have come with a whole host of possible problems. I found myself, at times, trying to anticipate what he would do next or how he would solve a particular challenge and every time I wasn’t even close and every time his decision made complete and perfect sense in a way I never would have gotten to.
The light of the setting sun was making the saw dust on the ground take on a soft golden glow, my grandfather’s tools casting shadows across the floor of the garage and I am thinking about how exactly to capture all of it with words while Kevin strategically placed five clamps on one corner of the frame of my desk top in order to be able to hammer in two nails at just the right spot and angle.
Our minds work so differently and it’s lovely.
I learned how to build a desk.