Sunday, July 8, 2012

Two Hands

I think the longer we continue in the workforce, the more we need to do things with our hands, just to feel like we know a little bit about the real world.

I've lost count of the articles I've churned out freelance in the last nine years, but I can count on one hand the few I considered truly decent. Even tutoring - as down-to-earth as it claims to be - is often full of bullshit. Teaching, after all, is a constant performance. In the classroom I am hyperactive, darting from table to table, hamming it up shamelessly, trying to will some energy into the exhausted teenagers slumped in their seats. One of my students said recently: "Don't you get tired of explaining the same old thing over and over again?" (Rare moment of empathy.) Of course. But I make sure they never see it.

In the last two years or so I've retreated inwards, surrounding myself with small activities that hold me fast, and offer a form of meditative peace I never knew I needed before. Spending an afternoon preparing a meal, gluing glass-fronted fridge magnets, making shitty jewelry, hand-stitching silver sequins onto a navy blue Uniqlo T-shirt. I'm not great at any of them - quite lousy, in fact - and I often get bored halfway and abandon the projects, but I do feel better after a few hours spent huffing glue and scattering sequins all over the table and floor.

My next planned project is far more physical in nature. I am going to sand down and repaint a large chest of drawers that my parents are giving to me. I'll replace the knobs and hopefully manage not to saw off any body parts, or damage the chest itself. (The last time I did any sort of woodwork was in 1998: I was very enthusiastic about making the perfect wooden paperweight and ended up sanding my entire block of wood into sawdust. It just kept getting smaller and smaller, but it still wasn't perfect.)

A good number of my family and friends belong to creative industries. (I think I'd count myself as a semi-creative.) I write. They make photographs, edit videos (for now), do graphic design, even censor TV shows and movies. All of us work in the ephemeral: our pictures and texts and films exist in recorded form. The most solid any of our works can ever hope to become is a sheet of paper. Just paper.

Life on screens has gotten richer and incredibly more consuming over the past two decades. But when we die - what do we leave behind, besides our loved ones? A hard drive, filled with virtual highlights of a lifetime? Too fragile, too easily broken or forgotten in a drawer. And God knows there are only a million other writers, photographers, digital artists and designers ready and standing by to take your place in the world, to overwrite the past.

There are two ways to leave behind a legacy: either you publish an idea that outlives you, or you make something with your own two hands - a painting, a table, a dress - that confirms you were here on earth, every time it is viewed or used after your death.

So perhaps I'm hedging my bets, clumsily working up enough steam to put together a physical reminder of my existence. (I don't know about you, but big, society-changing ideas have been hard to come by for me.) It's probably also why I still like buying physical books. I don't re-read the ones I buy and download; there's always something else better and newer on the online bookstores. But a physical copy sits on the shelf, and I see it whenever I stare blankly at my walls (common occurrence), waiting for inspiration to slide in. I remember, and I read it again.

Having said that, I really hope my final legacy isn't going to be a T-shirt made miserable by two crooked lines of sequins, an unravelling yarn necklace and a handful of kindergarten-level fridge magnets. I don't know what it's going to be, but - very naturally - I hope I have an idea soon.

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