I bought an old lamp the other day. It’s a table lamp. Stands about two and a half feet tall but has a narrow base. It’s in mint condition and it’s got style. A small tag on it next to the price said "It Works." I found it in a thrift shop so it came with a history, albeit a blind one. It had no shade but the one on my old table lamp does nicely and it looks quite handsome on the table next to my reading chair. The old lamp whose place it took was too low. This one is perfect.
“It works” is a good recommendation for anything and the words got me to thinking how they pertain to me. “Works” is not a passive verb. It means any number of things. In my case it means that I keep house, drive a car, sculpt faces, play the piano, sing, read, do laundry, shop, serve in a Reading Room and as usher in church, and write blogs. I am speaking loosely when I mention playing the piano, because I should have tagged the word “infrequently” onto that and “not too well” would be even more honest. You’ll notice I didn’t say that I cook. I’ve gladly retired from cooking now that I have no one but myself to cook for. Well, bacon and eggs for breakfast now and then or a sandwich or packaged meal, but nothing fancy and almost never for company. Although it’s an extravagance, I eat out whenever I have someone to do it with. All that said, I can say of myself, "She works."
My main working projects these days are sculpting and blogging, if you call these working, that is. I call them play and, like Robert Frost, I see work and play as “two eyes ... one in sight,” a perfect combination. Sometimes the work is easy and occasionally it’s hard. In the past two days I worked on two sculpting projects. The first one came so easily I saw him with the first pinch in the clay. He turned out to be a young fellow with an engaging smile wearing an Austrian hat. I’m delighted with him. The other work is made from something called Sculpy,” a new modeling substitute for clay that is not as messy, stays moist and can be fired in my kitchen oven. I’m not used to it and probably won’t go on trying. The face that came out of it is not yet finished even after working all day on it. A young mother with her new baby’s face pressed to her cheek. She has the spirit of new mother love but when I try to smooth out her cheek or re-focus her eye something happens and I lose that spirit. She’s just a lump of clay again.
I can stay focused on something like that for hours on end because, I imagine, it’s something like midwifery. Someone is in need of getting out, urgently but some births are slower than others. I must be patient, thoughtful, get myself out of the way and gently help the process along. Once I think I’ve got it I lay it aside but then go back to fix up some little thing and boom! I’ve sabotaged the work and must do some repairs to get back that look of mother love.
Sculpting is a patient, meditative work, yet exciting at times. Blogging, on the other hand, is a more communicative activity. Neither of the two require the engagement of anyone else, although it’s more fun to have it. I was at the gallery yesterday sculpting on the front porch. Our gallery’s owner likes to have the artists at work on the property and whenever Robin serves at the desk I enjoy porch sitting with a lump of clay. A man came and sat down in the other chair next to me. His party went in but he was not interested in doing anything but resting his feet. Soon we got to talking. He was from North Carolina and, since I’d lived there myself for a couple of two year tours of duty with Wally at the Cherry Point Marine base, we talked about that for a while. The train rumbled by across the lot opposite the cottage and when it passed we talked about how fun it is to travel that way. People milled in and out and when he took a look at my work I asked him if he’d like to see more of it. “Yes, I would!” he said and practically leapt from the chair.
Inside there was quite a crowd so I showed him my spot and left him in the little room. Robin was hurrying me. "We need to leave now, Mom, because I'm not supposed to park on the street." So I got my porch studio packed up and when I went back in the gallery I saw that my man’s party was in the room talking about my work. I had to say a hasty goodbye. I was sorry, yet not sorry. I'm shy about selling and if I’d stayed they might have bought something out of pity for me. I didn’t want that. Yet rushing off was not good either. I’m curious. Did they become my first buyers? I’ll find out eventually.
In both my principal activities, blogging and sculpting, there’s an element of communication. In both, I can be communicating with myself only. If someone else likes my work I suppose you could say. “It works.” Does that mean they have to buy it? I don’t think so. I’d like to think of myself as a working person without a boss and having no pressing need to get others to see or buy my work. My income is sufficient but I'd like to be able to cover the rent in the gallery and supplies and transportation expenses. That much seems fitting.
The new-old lamp works just fine. Blogging too. When someone says, “I love your blogs,” or “Your Old Souls are great,” does that mean I’ve worked or played? Do I need someone to lay down cold cash for the things I’ve done in order to say they work? I’m letting the question hang in the air, but I think I know the answer. Money has little to do with it. If it pleases someone, especially the one working at it, that’s good enough in my book to say "it works." Even if that someone is me.