Monday, December 1, 2008

Why refinishing furniture is like writing

I'm an old school tightwad (thanks Gram!) and one of my favorite hobbies is refinishing furniture I pick up at thrift stores or from salvage yards, like Earthwise or Re-Use. A couple of weekends ago I found a table at Goodwill for $5. It's solid and made of hardwood, but it's also dusty and smudgy and coated with a dull shellac. So most nights, after writing and dinner, I go out to a corner of the basement, slip on a mask and work gloves, and work on the table. When I'm working on a piece of furniture, there's usually this moment where it transforms from the grubby piece with good bones to something with actual potential. With the table, the moment struck when I was working on the legs. I was sanding away, sweat dripping into my eyes, my arms getting tired, when suddenly I saw it, the grain of the wood, silky and voluptuous, emerging from beneath the thick, ugly old shellac.

Writing is like this. You have this awkward mass of words, and you know that somewhere within lurks the gem of an idea, but how to get to it? You tinker, you edit, you think and chop and put things back. And if you do this long enough, and thoughtfully enough, there is this moment where you see it, the thread, the beauty, the idea you were writing about and you didn't even know it.

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