Saturday, January 17, 2009

Numbers versus Words

It is my experience that one is either a numbers person or a words person. Rarely can one successfully be both. I am a words person. I think I have mentioned in previous posts that I am not a math person. My oldest son is very much like me - a words person. He is double majoring in German and Communications. It's scary. I wrote a piece a couple years ago called The Craftsman. I was in an English class at UT at the time - Contemporary Appalachian Literature. The prof, Russell Wilhelm, was an interesting person. He always has this befuddled look on his face and he always sported the "bed head" look. I learned a great deal from him.

Following is The Craftsman in its entirety. Sorry - I haven't figured out how to attached something like this to my blog yet.

The Craftsman

He is a woodsmith. He crafts wood the same way a blacksmith crafts iron. Today, he is standing in his workshop, hands in the pockets of his faded, blue overalls, admiring a rather large piece of wood. The wood appears to be a section of trunk from a huge oak tree. He remembers the tree. It was one of three large oaks that graced the front yard of one of the oldest Victorian homes in town. A young professional couple from the city purchased the house last year. Their renovation plans for the huge house did not include the trees, so they were cut down. He happened to get a hold of several large pieces of the old trees. They have been sitting out behind his workshop, getting seasoned and weathered. This particular piece of wood is quite large. He can’t even get his arms around it. It stands about four and a half feet tall.
As he walks around the piece of wood - looking, touching, listening - he recalls an interview he did last year for a big city arts magazine. The young lady who wrote the piece was writing about several Appalachian artists – a lady who was a quilter, another man who was a blacksmith, and a friend of his, Janice, who was a weaver. He told the young lady he “listened” to the wood, to what it had to say to him. He noted the environment the wood had been in – forest or private land, surrounded by animals or children. He became intimately acquainted with the wood and the life that was in the wood. He let the wood tell him what it wanted to be. The wood even spoke to him in his dreams. When he told the young lady that, she looked at him, raised her eyebrows and quipped, “Really? That’s quite interesting.” He thought she had just insulted him. No matter, she was from New York and had no idea what Appalachian art was about anyway. To her, this was just another article she had to endure on her way to a Pulitzer Prize. To him, the article was revealing the secrets of the Appalachian soul. It made him feel uneasy, the way she did not seem to care too much about what the artists’ work meant to them.
Janice told him once that when she was carding, spinning and dying the wool she used in her weaving, she imagined the sheep the wool came from. Janice was in 4-H when she was younger and raised sheep as her project, so she was intimately acquainted with the animals. She said she felt the texture of the fleece in her hands, turning it over and over, squeezing it and smelling it. She, too, asked her material what it wanted to be. He has a pair of wool socks she knitted him for Christmas last year. They are itchy, but warm.
He places his hand on the wood and feels the roughness of the bark. He closes his eyes and listens. He hears the birds singing outside, the wind rustling through the trees and a woman crying. He opens his eyes and knows what is in the wood. He picks up his tools and begins to craft the woman. She is clutching a folded American flag to her breast. Her head is bowed and her eyes are closed. She is grieving for a son, a brother, or a husband. He gently chips away at the wood as the woman slowly begins to appear. He tenderly carves her face, her hair, the tear on her cheek. He reverently carves the flag.
He stands back and looks at the woman. He feels as if he knows her and he shares her grief. Perhaps he has listened to the wood too long. He covers the woman with a white sheet and turns out the light in the workshop.
Another day, another time, another craftsman. She is a wordsmith. She crafts stories the same way a blacksmith crafts iron. Most people would call her an author, a storyteller. The tools of her trade are words. Her best friend is an old, well-worn copy of Roget’s Thesaurus. Today she is sitting in front of her computer, fingers a blur over the keyboard as words pour out of her heart onto the screen. She stops and looks at what she has written – characters, events, settings. She ponders each word – looking, touching, listening. She is reminded of Luigi Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in Search of an Author”. The characters on the screen before her have come, begging her to tell their story. She hears their voices as she begins to craft the story. Like the tools of a blacksmith or a woodsmith, she uses words to gently shape the sentences, then the paragraphs that will become the story. She stops every now and then to run her fingers over the words on the computer screen. The voices of the characters urge her on. She reverently writes about the events, the situations that shape each character. She knows the characters intimately for she sees them everyday – at the Piggly Wiggly, Gus’s Gas N’ Go, the library, La PiƱata Mexican Restaurant, and the office supply store. They are her friends, neighbors, family members, acquaintances and normal folks she meets in her daily routine.
She stops again to read what she has written. She feels as if she knows too much about her characters and has shared too much in their lives. Perhaps she has listened to the words too long. She saves the story and turns her computer off for the night.
He is a blacksmith. Some folks call him an artist because of the iron pieces created in the bowels of his forge. Sweat drips down his muscular arms into his leather gloves as he uses tongs to grab the long piece of iron out of the fire. He quickly sets the piece on the anvil, hammering and shaping the red-hot metal. “Clang! Clang! Clang!” reverberates through his shop. He plunges the piece into a bucket of cold water, steam hissing in violent protest. He is a craftsman and he listens to the song of his hammer!

September 14, 2007)

My husband tells me I am a word smith. He's the number cruncher. I love to write. One of these days, my name will be on a book in Borders. Stay tuned . . .

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