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November 5th, 2003

Whittling wood

I remember once as a boy that I got a block of wood for whittling purposes. I believe it would be safe to say that I am perhaps the least crafts-oriented person on the face of the planet, although my orientation is arguably one of genetics rather than choice. The wood block was a nice oblong thing, perhaps 8 inches long and a few inches wide.
It has a mark or two on it, perhaps as a hint for how to make one of those little pine derby cars. I mostly remember that while I could shave wood off it without undue trouble, the thing that resulted after wood was shaved looked more like an oppressed block of wood than any carved marvel. At least with wood-burning, the wood shows a transformation, that one can call progress--little burn marks are scalded into the right parts of the pattern. There's something liberating, moreover, about the feel of the burning wand going into the wood. I always felt like I was remolding reality, one scalding burn at a time. The fact that the woodburner would inevitably touch skin at some point in the process merely added to the experience. Art should requie some suffering, the theory goes, not to mention more than a bit of hopping around, grasping one's thumb earnestly.

Last year when I made my chess set from soap, using guidelines from a 1930something book I got on eBay for under five dollars, I must admit that the results were not, by conventional standards, particularly effective. Through creative use of pipe cleaners, the pieces could all be made out. But I posit, in hindsight, that if one is to use cheap dollar store soap, one should go with unscented for maximum
chessfectiveness. The mail art call to which I donated the chess set, over in one of those European countries where everyone is by definition cooler than I am, perhaps got more fascinating entries than a soap chess set (or the styrofoam other set I sent). I remember the call originator charitably telling me my set was "aromatic", or some such.

When I was in high school, my brother and I had the local ceramics shop cast us a chess set, which we then painted. It looked so good! It's still at my parents' house today, though I believe one pawn has gone walkabout. I cannot carve, or burn, or sculpt, but I can spray paint.

I sometimes say "play to your strengths", although in fact I have many hobbies that I am not strong at doing at all. But my suspicion is that it is much easier to whittle oneself into something workable than it is to whittle wood. I feel sometimes that I am a crafts manual, only instead of making doilies for Xmas, or building flugelhorns from PVC pipe, I'm intended to make something interesting out of myself. I'm not sure what that something might be, but lately I want to read the directions a bit more carefully, and see if I can
carve something without burning myself.
"When you're asleep they may show you aerial views of the ground"--an old Genesis song

I rarely recall vivid dreams anymore. Sometimes when a dream disturbs, I awake with an image or two. But the images fade soon after waking.

I've read the grocery store vivid dream books, saddle stitched little pamphlets that sold for fifty cents located just by the self-hypnosis guides and the television guides. They prescribe carefully written logs, and advise that one can even seize control of one's dream. I imagine that if I had control of a dream, I could go to really interesting places. But I'd hate to be like Demi Moore in the Euroesque art film, never sure which set of images was real and which dream.

Imagine Pol Pot, for example. Surely he is a creature of nightmare, directing the slaughter of millions in the name of ideology. The wild animal who attacked Roy--can this really be a waking moment? The gorgeous red maple leaves the new Fall brings--how can this be "real"?

Ennui among these dreams and visions which comprise real life intrigues me, even as I experience it sometimes. Tomorrow I go see a doctor, who will probably put me on blood pressure meds. I hate the idea of meds of any kind, of another mandatory obligation, like breathing or drinking water. I think of it as a lifeline to my mortality--another drifting towards the abyss which physical decline brings.
This is surely not a dream, but it has a gauzy, dream-like feel to it. But my blood really pumps, and now I need to medicate its pressure. It's not a dream--it's just a matter of simple biology and lifestyle and genetics. I don't remember actual dreams, those finicky places I go each night and leave behind, forgotten.

So tomorrow, when I awake, I may not remember flying over fields. I won't see the green murderous aliens of my childhood dreams, nor catch the mud-cats from the local town drainage creek from other dreams.

But I'll step out into a real day, that seems somehow dream-like. I do not know how to interpret these dreams, but I know I am to face them with courage, with hope, and perhaps with water tablets to depressurize my blood.