My hands strained into the night. Something stopped me from stopping. Had I stopped I would have lost something so precious that I knew I would never find later. That’s how creativity works in me. I don’t stop when I am tired, I stop when I feel I must. Creativity works inside me at all times and it is not and never has been a nine-to-five day, five-day week. No one will ever persuade me differently. Age will one day stop me. I am contented with that reality already.
Handwork is pleasure at the highest level of working. The day wakes you before the sun’s rise with a sense of anticipation, no, expectation, that something is going to come from your two hands holding and flexing to make whatever needs made. I look to my drawing once more. I missed something and I puzzle over a decision made and noted by me three months ago. Something, a reasoned through thought on paper, something considered deeply, escapes me now. Then, aha! ‘There it is!’ I say it out loud to my own ears. ‘That’s why I made that change!’ I understood the misunderstood and felt constrained by my decision made once more afresh inside.
I know I won’t want to stop as soon as I am alive so I make food for the morning meal, wash the utensils, put them to neatness and stir the shaving-scented air in the shop as I move quickly and deliberately to that place where I have stood and felt firmly anchored for fifty-five years every day. I oil the vise on the same day of the week at the same time of day every week. Like winding my wall clock Sunday mornings, the ritual continues; it never stops serving me, that vise made by Woden, a hundred years past. It holds my wood day on day, year on year. I feel gratitude that it never balks at the weight and force of work I put it to. I don’t need to worry about it. I just oil it each week and it will continue until I die. Such is my confidence, I praise it as I open its wide, cast steel jaw to take my wood for me to saw, plane and chop throughout yet another day.
At 2 am I decide the time is right for me to stop. Twenty, thirty nights in a row begins to take its toll. I don’t tire easily and even even now at 70 a 12-hour day is normal. I have delivery to bring to pass. I make and I have a deadline to make to. Without a goal you never achieve. There is but one day between completion and the delivery and the delivery is but one day before the new President takes His place in the White House. The voices kept saying it cannot be done. My journal date says I delivered Monday 19th January 2009. I remember flashing lights of blue on black suburbans coming and going to to the White House in DC , red break lights in brightly coloured flashes in the darkness outside as I walked through the West Wing with the First Lady’s PA. In minutes I was standing in the Cabinet Room. Security was maxed out. I was just a blimp as the lady tells me that this is where Presidents meet the press and in the morning it would be packed.
Gold coloured chairs, matching brocade drapes, carpets to tie things together gave me the sense that my designs were a big thing in the grand scheme of my life. Would they be dwarfed in their new home against curved walls and the doors leading into the Oval Office? Though I felt out of place and would be more at home by my well-oiled bench vise and workbench, my tools in their places, I somehow managed to stay the course and not run away. A woman told me I couldn’t take pictures inside the Cabinet Room as I was just about to click a record of my working. “Only the official White House photographer can do that!” she said. I felt disappointed but was OK with it too. A lady with a camera on the other side of the massive conference table walked over to me, took my camera from my neck, snapped the picture and handed the camera back to me. She was the official White House photographer. She moved creatively to give me the final picture I would ever own of the White House pieces I designed. Those two pieces were my final pieces to be made in the USA and marked the end of 25 years woodworking there.
Thank you USA! I love you!
This is my very personal message to you. I hope that you read it. I enjoy the challenge of delivering on time; actually pushing for a day ahead. These two pieces were a gift to me. I loved bringing the whole together — masterminding it, I mean. Working details in my head those long and lonely nights were indeed isolation itself. No matter what we go through, there is a reason for it. It’s not because we did something bad or something good. And we do not know what precious things await us when we simply persevere in the face of adversity. I have learned that it is not on the easy paths we choose where our character is formed but, more, it’s on the very anvil of adversity. We go through difficult times for a reason. In 1985 I was told that I had 18 months to live. I signed myself out of hospital and changed my whole lifestyle, migrated to the USA, and started over. The disease was incurable. That is half my current span of life ago. I don’t have any trace of that incurable disease in my body. I am content!
Because of these things, I recall a skinny English youth of 15 raised in social housing starting on a journey to become a crafting artisan who could scarcely read or write and who was told by the school’s head teacher that he could never be educated. He became a man and made mistakes, bought the wrong things, and lost some of his favourite tools. He picked a path less traveled and found himself in the wilderness to think beneath mesquites and amongst the prickly-pear cacti, watched lizards and scorpions scurry and scuttle off and faced up to wild boar with only a 410 shotgun and a throbbing chainsaw.
Go make! Carve your life. You only need a made-up mind!