Monthly Archives: February 2009

Ordinary World

I posted another poem on the poetry pages, Ordinary World.  It’s actually a poem that exists in two versions—the one you can find in the poetry pages and the original version.  Obviously the two are similar, but there are differences.

Why two versions?  I’ll tell the story of how I wrote the original version shortly, but the edited version was edited with the help of Greg Teran when I prepared my manuscript for entry in the 1994 MIT Writing Prizes.  With Greg’s help I trimmed a lot of excess from my poems.  In the end I won first prize for poetry manuscript (and $300).  Obviously the edited version of Ordinary World has something going for it.  Indeed, it is a leaner, more distilled version of the original.

I can’t find a written copy of the original version of Ordinary World.  I checked both our desktop and our laptop.  I checked my hard copies of my poetry.  Nothing.  The only form of the original version in my possession is an audio file of me reading the poem (in 1999).

So I attempted to reconstruct the original version.  The words are the same, but the line breaks aren’t.  In poetry, that can make all the difference.  At any rate, here it is.

Ordinary World

In an ordinary world
there are green trees
and rolling hills.
There are no complications.
Life is lived simply and happily.
No one finds the unexpected answers.

In an ordinary world,
poets do not
notice chemists.
For in an ordinary world poetry does not
exist. Nor do impressionist painters.
Miles Davis never played trumpet,
there is no jazz,
no one discovered the minor keys.
No free verse, no surrealism.
Green trees everywhere, but
Robert Frost never wrote about
the path among them.

In an ordinary world,
I would never take chances.

Fancy that,
you and I meeting
in an extraordinary world.

I wrote that poem (or something close to it) sixteen years ago.  It was Presidents’ Day weekend and Valentine’s Day as well.  I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, with all the angst that went along with it.  I fretted over classes.  I fretted over women.  And then, Presidents’/Valentine’s weekend 1993, a poem came to me in a dream, like Kekulé’s structure of benzene.  I awoke and I wrote.  And I wrote.  And I wrote.  When I was done, I had the original version of Ordinary World.  Then I read it to my friend Heather as a sort of birthday present.

This poem remains special to me for how I wrote it and where I was in my life when I wrote it.  Other poems (parts of stories, even) have come to me in similar ways—I really did write Death in Maroon after hearing a news story on public radio after waking up from a nap.  Most of my poems are special to me in some way.  Maybe Ordinary World is more special than most.  Maybe because I remember how I wrote it.  Maybe because I remember the delicious confusion of being 20, in college, and how writing that poem was a moment of clarity for me.  Maybe…

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Wood and How We Use It

I’ve updated my blog site with some pages about my woodworking projects.  I’ve been interested in woodworking for a long time—my dad had a workshop in one corner of the basement in our house in Big Flats (western-ish New York state, where I lived before moving to the idyllic hamlet of San Mateo, California).  I’ve always enjoyed watching shows like This Old House, New Yankee Workshop, and the Woodwright’s Shop.  I demonstrated myself to be handy carpentry-wise in the fraternity house.  And I finally got a sort-of shop of my own when we bought our house in North Andover, Massachusetts.

It was in North Andover that I built (along with a bunch of help from my wife and my dad) a set of built-in bookshelves for our living/family room.  It was the first time I used my router, and I really didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing.  My plans were fine, I was just inexperienced in the use of the router.

That changed in March 2007 when I took a router basics class at Woodcraft in Dublin, CA (Santina got me the class as a birthday present).  In that class I saw the power and potential of the router unleashed.  My workshop sprang into existence in one half of our garage (in our current house in Castro Valley, CA).  I added a workbench, a stand for my router table, a plunge router with a 1/2″ collet (vs. the 1/4″ one in my old router), and a table saw.  And I began to do some woodworking.

I’ve only built a few pieces so far.  Obviously, I have a day job, a family, and a few other hobbies that keep me busy.  But I do enjoy woodworking.  I enjoy the act of creating something new from raw materials.  I enjoy the feel of the wood.  Power tools are cool too.

Probably the aspect of woodworking I enjoy most is seeing a project come togather.  I enjoy drawing up plans, but there is something special about seeing the plans turn into a real object.  Of course I make changes as I go along, but that is part of the fun.  And after all the work, being able to look at a well-made piece of woodwork is just plain satisfying.

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