It is good to make something. There is a genuine, universally human satisfaction in producing some tangible product of our own labors. Delight at being able to point at something and say, I did that, is a clue to the fundamental dignity of human labor.
Now, I don’t want to ruin anybody’s August (or what little of it they have left us) by talking about labor while we are all wildly pursuing as much recreation and rest from our labor as we can find. But August is when I get a little more breathing room in my schedule to get away from my labors that rarely leave me any tangible thing to identify, and pursue some more material, if also more mundane, endeavors.
Last summer, many of you will recall, it was The Quest for Pie. Seminarian Seith accompanied me in this project as we tried to recover what seemed to have become a lost art. Many pounds of summer fruit and flour later, we both could point happily at the very tangible and tasty rewards of all our labors. I am happy to report that there have been several pies this summer, too, and it is still just as rewarding to take from the oven a steaming, sweet and golden confection that did not exist until my own hands confected it. It is also good to eat, or give as a gift. A Thing I Made! Just like a first-grader rushing home with his first handmade Christmas ornament.
This summer, my project also involves fruit, but is less fattening: I am learning to paint! Rob Burgess, parishioner, artist, and instructor, is giving a class on painting still life, which is where the fruit comes in – or at least, where it will come in, once I graduate past cubes and cones. A few of us jumped at the chance. Now, I did take painting once before, when I was in college. It helped keep me sane while I was grinding through a grueling schedule of upper-level Economics and German Literature classes to graduate. But that was a long time ago, and I wasn’t even sure if I could remember which was the business end of a brush.
But, as I have indicated here recently, I am a big fan of still-life paintings from Cezanne to Zurbarán, and couldn’t resist the opportunity to try to learn to make one. Alas, the results do not come to completion as quickly as pie, but it doesn’t take very much time before you have accomplished some task or effect that you’ve never before been able to do, even if it is not yet a completed painting. So the evenings at the easel fly by in what seems like no time, and as I reluctantly retreat from the object of my efforts, I look and say, wow – did I do that?
So my first effort at grisaille is no more impressive than was my first apple pie last year, except for one thing that they share: they are. They exist because of the work that I did. Neither pie nor painting is perfect, but both carry the unmistakable mark of my impact on the material of the universe. What fun.
It will be a long, long time before I start offering paintings to people with the same confidence that I share my pies. But in the desultory days of summer, it is rewarding and refreshing to labor nonetheless, and to be able to look delightedly at the result, and say, even if only to myself, A Thing I Made!
Speaking of things, I also take delight in upgrading the material condition of the parish, even if not with my own hands. Please check out the new doors on the back stairwell of the church, and at long last, on the Stricker Room. Because it is also good to have a good contractor – in this case parishioner George Angelaras – make something!