I’m not bragging when I say I’m good at almost everything I do. It’s a fact. The reason I insist this announcement is not bragging, is because my being good at things has nothing to do with my being intelligent or talented or special. It’s simply the outcome of having a wealth of life experience to draw from. We are all nothing more than the sum of our experiences and I have always had eclectic interests and a willingness to jump in and try things.
As a young girl, I dabbled in crochet, quilting, sewing, tatting, knitting, needlepoint, candle making, and other crafts. I danced, loved sports, and camped. I rode horses, loved sailing, ice-skating, fishing, and gambling. I play a mean hand of cards, and can whip your butt at ping-pong or croquet. I’ve taken courses in guitar, computers, and language – none of which I proved a natural at, but all of which added to my basic understanding of these “arts”. I cook like a fiend and I run. Tried a few races, just to see what that was like. I’ve studied yoga, dance (obviously), taken every workout class in existence and even got aerobic certified. I once got a certificate in publishing from New York’s New School back when I joined writer’s groups for the first time. I earned a BA in business at 40, written articles in magazines, written books and now am earning an MFA in fiction at 47. I ran a business successfully, which forced me to learn more than I wanted to learn about marketing, management etc. I managed a non-profit dance company and wrote grants too. I have a donkey, a llama, four horses and a pile of books on how to raise wild chickens and turkeys, (and you know where I’m going with that.) I’ve taken classes on pottery, chair caning, storytelling, watercolor, and basket making just this year, and have others scheduled.
This are just a few of the “life experiences” that come to mind. The point is, when you are hungry to try new things, and you have no fear of looking stupid, you tend to expose yourself to unusual things, which add to your ever-growing base of understanding.
This means now, in my mature years, I’m good at lots of things.
So, WHY THE HECK WAS I SO BAD A SILVERSMITHING??????
Last weekend, I took a silver metalworking class at the Campbell school. The project was a linked silver bracelet and, time permitting, a few charms. Looked simple.
The teacher said that putting the basic chain together (which wasn’t basic, it was a complicated, albeit gorgeous chain) was a bit like crochet. If you understood the concept of pattern, it would be easy. Well, lord knows, I understand patterns. I crochet. And dance is making patterns in space. So, I’m supposed to get this, right? Wrong. I felt like an imbecile as I struggled with the seven loops made in a special coil system. I kept making a mess of it. Four hours later, my chain (with help) was finally complete. Whew.
The next day, we were to solder each of the 40 loops together so there is a consistent flow in the silver – no breaks. This is for security and looks. Cheap bracelets come from Mexico or other places, and often they are not soldered. We were learning to make “quality” jewelry.
You many have noticed that when I listed all of the above life skills, power tools were not even hinted at in any endeavor. Nope. I’ve never lifted anything other than a screwdriver or hammer – very non-threatening, non-powered, non-challenging tools.
We were taught to use power torches powered by propane tanks to solder. I thought soldering was like using a glue gun with liquid metal in the base or something. Ummm… nope again. You must cut up itty-bitty chunks of silver soldering material, pick up these minute flecks and put them onto the piece. You first slather on this goo to assure the soldering will flow. Then each ring must be heated for the fleck to adhere. You then heat the ring and the soldering material melts and seeps into the fine spaces where the ring is connected. It glistens as if it is crying, then disappears.
Rule one. Don’t touch the bracelet when you have just spent several minutes aiming a blowtorch at it. Umm….. why did I have such a hard time with that rule? Band-Aids took the place of jewelry on my fingers all weekend as I proceeded to burn my skin every time I wanted to adjust the position of my chain. Just because it is no longer red hot doesn’t mean it isn’t hot. Duh.
Now, it is only fair to say I wasn’t the worst student in the class. There were six of us, and three of the women were definitely slower and less steady handed than I. Therefore, this put me in the middle, meaning I was “average” in the silversmith department. I can live with that. And one of the women who was better than I confessed she’s taken many, many silversmith jewelry classes, so she doesn’t really count. So, that leaves the college kid as the only person better than I. She was amazing. She worked fast, accurately and with passion. She had instant understanding each time we were given a lesson and she would squeal with delight as she trotted off to make something grand. Ah, to be young and excited by your own, newly discovered gifts.
She was a natural at jewelry design, and as such, I found her pretty obnoxious. Blowing on my burnt fingers in the soldering room, I told the other woman we should stop talking to the college kid, because she was just out to make us look bad and if we ignored her, maybe she would go away.
The college kid said, “You are just jealous, Mom, now do you want me to help you with your chain or not, because I hate to tell you, but all those links you just soldered didn’t take and they must be done again.” (That would make it my forth attempt, grrrr)
I let her help me. I had long given up the idea that I would leave this class with silversmith skills. I just wanted to leave with a bracelet.
But without help, I would be leaving with a hunk of unsoldered links. I just couldn’t see when the soldering material melted. I couldn’t even see to put it on the right place, and once the bracelet turned black from the torch, I couldn’t see anything.
After quite a bit of help, I finished the bracelet, and it was lovely. I wanted to stop while I was ahead, but Denver kept insisting I make a charm. She had already made three. Sigh.
I put a “G” on a silver disk, planning a simple letter charm. First, you use a drill. I sat at the machine, just staring. Intimidated. Denver came in and said, “It’s just like a sewing machine.”
Ah – that I get. So I drilled some starter holes easily enough. Fun.
Then, I had to put this hair sized metal thread in a saw and start sawing through the silver – and let me point out that a “G” has lots of curves. Too many. Why couldn’t my name have been Ida? An “I” would be a straight shot.
It wasn’t long before I sliced through my index finger. Blood gushed all over. As I was attending to it at the medicine cabinet (my home away from home), Denver came out and shook her head.
“I broke six of these saw blades already.” I complained, holding up my wound so she would feel ample pity for me. We took this class because making jewelry is HER passion. I was thinking that my drawing blood for her should earn me extra “good mother” points.
“Did you spit on it?” she said.
“Why would I do that?”
She rolled her eyes. “Because Dori (the teacher) told us to. You weren’t listening. You were staring out the window thinking of bees again.”
Another class that weekend was bee keeping. I thought that subject fascinating. I mentioned to Mark that I would love to try keeping bees on our land – you know making natural honey and bee’s wax soap and candles and all. But he hates bees and wasps – has a thing about them. He runs screaming like a little girl from anything that buzzes. So he isn’t about to condone my bringing 4000 bees onto our land. Drat. I spent the weekend looking longingly at the area where the hives were kept. Everyone in the class said it was terrific – amazing –they learned everything about keeping bees and it’s easy.
Well – maybe next year.
Anyway, after struggling with the chain for two days straight, I had no intention of making a charm for my bracelet so I didn’t pay close attention to the charm portion of the class. Nevertheless, Denver made me feel guilty for not trying, and we did have six hours left of class, so I muddled through and I have a nice lopsided “G” for my bracelet now. It rests beside a book charm that Denver made for me. It’s actually nice. Unfortunately, these charms do not come out on my photograph, but my G is a sunken carving – it rests on a second disk to give it depth, and Denver’s book has the word “book” carved on it, and it has pages and textire detailed into it too.
I do not see myself returning to this sort of jewelry course again – but I must admit, it was a novel experience. I do plan to take a lampwork bead class, which requires using the same propane blowtorch to melt glass, and I’m thinking I won’t be so bad at it next time, considering I have this experience to draw from. The more you do, the better you are at doing. There was also a class on silver clay charms at the school that weekend and Denver and I visited the studio a few times to check it out. That looks more my speed – maybe next time, I’ll try that kind of silversmithing.
I’m thinking I’ll just add charms to my bracelet over the years as I try new courses. Next to my “G”, I might add a glass charm, one of clay, maybe a wood one, etc…. My bracelet will be a testament to my artistic bravery (even if it is full of slightly imperfect charms).
Denver has a true gift for jewelry making. I’d love to see her study seriously just to see what she is capable of. (And just think of the great Christmas gifts I would get!) Our teacher was a very impressive and inspirational professional who designs one of a kind jewelry that has this mechanical flavor. She uses minuet pulleys and things that roll to add movement and special interest to her work. She also happens to be a fascinating woman with a generous artistic attitude. She lives on a farm and talked about the importance of leisure and calm in fine-tuning your artistic awareness – lovely attitude – one I admire at this phase of life. Anyone interested in seeing her amazing work can check out her website. It’s cool. http://www.FuturisticallyArchaic.com
When I got home, I noticed I could barely read my book- the words were all fuzzy and I was holding the book an arms length away. ( I do homework every night before falling asleep). I checked my glasses. They are 125 strength. Humm….. I rummaged in my collection of glasses and found a 200. These were better. The next day, in a store, I tried a 250. Wow –it is possible to read without getting a cramp from holding a book three feet away? Now, we’re talking.
So, apparently, I couldn’t see the solder melt because I couldn’t see. Anything. Maybe I’m not as bad as I think I am. I mean, I wouldn’t presume to call myself a good silversmith, but I’m not a total dismal failure. I just need better glasses for that kind of work. So, today, I am cleaning out my various assorted glasses (damn – there goes some of my favorite wild designs) and I’ll begin collecting stronger glasses. Do I need to point out here that I hate that I am getting old?
I keep thinking about how awkward I felt with that torch. I need to learn how to manage tools. I’m thinking I should take a class on building something out of wood next time. Then, I can learn to handle a saw and power drill. Mark will have an entire woodturning studio. I should learn about what is in there, just to better understand his world. How can I nag him about safety if I don’t know what is and isn’t dangerous? And if I learned to handle tools, I could build my own chicken coop and not have to beg my husband when I want a favor, like a rabbit hutch.
Independence is a great thing.
I missed blogging this last two weeks. Wanted to be here, but couldn’t. Life was out of control (some of which I’ll share later) and what time I could carve out for the computer was devoted to finishing my schoolwork for this term. I am now on a month long break, but I have to write two original stories in the next two weeks for the upcoming residency. Yikes. I’ll share them here when they are finished, but I can’t promise they will be entertaining. I am reading my teacher’s book, “The Good Negress” and then I’m on to some other recommendations from staff. I have to find time to work on my book before turning it over to a new mentor too. Gosh, I’m tired just thinking about it.
It’s odd – I gave up my business to have more time for living, but I have less time to write now than I ever had before. How is that possible? Part of the problem is driving. We spend at least 4 hours a day in the car, driving back and forth to the land, the house site, the schools, Wal-Mart. There are issues with living in this transitional situation that are hard to cope with. But the house will be finished in August, and life will change then for the better. (It must.) And the kids get out of school next week, which means my life will no longer revolve around their drop off and pick up hours. Yippee. My life is an adventure – and that is good – but I miss routine and the time to think. Breathe.
Now, I must use my time productively cause the day is slipping a way. I need to think of a place to start a story. I am writing about concrete. Trust me, it sounds stupid but it’s a good idea. Anything solid makes a promising foundation for a story, I’m thinking.