I admit it. I can be easily distracted when something calls to me – and I mean more than just my phone.
The foul and bitterly cold weather in recent days upended the plans my wife, Sarah, and I had made to travel to Florida and visit her mother, who was enduring her first holiday without Sarah’s father. We decided that I would stay to keep an eye on our drafty old house and tend our little menagerie of animals (an ornery conure and a Sato who does not tolerate cold temperatures at all), and she would fly south.
Now as Sarah well knows, leaving me alone in the house can lead to some rather interesting outcomes. With no one around to keep my project-oriented brain in check, I start often-outsized jobs that can sometimes overwhelm both my time and our budget.
Not so this weekend. No, this weekend I determined that I would accomplish two simple tasks: 1) replace the kitchen faucet fixture, which was getting more leaky by the day and 2) clean up my workshop—every luthier’s, and indeed every woodworker’s favorite thing to do. I would then logically be prepped to continue a guitar build that had seen several starts and stoppages already.
In an established workshop, cleanup can be hazardous. Not because of anything particularly dangerous, but because one tends to find things one has forgotten about. In my case, it was a pair of old saw blades—a small, tapered rip blade and a dovetail blade—that I had found in our barn shortly after we moved into our home about six years ago. I had cleaned them up and tucked them aside as a sort of “someday I’ll get to them” project.
Apparently, that day had come. After cleaning one shelf of tools, I discovered my little stash of saw blades and promptly went off to the computer to find vintage saw handle templates. A visit to http://www.blackburntools.com did not disappoint, and before I knew it I had grabbed a piece of scrap black cherry and was happily sawing and carving away, reproducing a pretty Smith Key saw handle. All thoughts of cleaning and plumbing projects had evaporated.
But of course, one handle does not service two blades, and so after handle #1 was finished, and I realized all of my scrap wood was too small to use, off I went to pick up a piece of Maple, several Chicago screws (for affixing the handles to the blades), and some finishing supplies. I returned home fifty dollars poorer, having entirely forgotten to purchase a new kitchen faucet fixture.
Thus, saw handle #1 was finished and mounted to its blade, and carving of handle #2 began immediately. Bric-a-brac cluttering the bench I was using got hastily shoved aside to make room for carving knives, chisels, and rasps. And all the while, the kitchen faucet fixture continued creeping in its petty pace to the last syllable of its usable lifespan. And I didn’t mind one bit.
When something calls to our hearts, it diminishes the importance of the mess and unfinished business that we all carry with us — the things that stress us out and enervate us. And isn’t that the very thing that causes us stress—the magnification of importance of these things that really aren’t so important after all, and yet become outsized in our minds because just thinking about them makes us unhappy? Isn’t that why we end up procrastinating?
And so, as Joseph Campbell said, follow your bliss. Everything will fall into its proper perspective – including workshop cleaning and fixing leaky old plumbing. That’s how we can find joy even in these joyless tasks.