A lot of things happened today, but most of them weren’t particularly thought provoking. But this evening we had a birthday celebration for my dad who is turning 60 in two days, his sister Laura (my aunt) who recently turned 70, and for their other brother Richard (the uncle I am living with, for those of you following along who may have missed the first 40+ posts, haha) who will soon be 67. Now, we already had a small get together (you may remember me writing about it a while ago. But that was really just our family. This party took place down at Millennium Park in downtown Lake Oswego. It is a nice little park, and during the summer it has live music. Now, the park is actually more like a large square or plaza (almost continental European style), and it is where they have the Farmers’ Market on Saturday. It has a stage and some tables and chairs at one end, a long concrete promenade, with trees on one side, and a strip of grass with some large fir trees on the side that faces the lake. So we set our tables and chairs up on the grass under the “Century Tree” which was planted at the Lake Oswego Centennial (and is now quite large). On one side we had the lake, to the other side, the stage with a guy named Todd Habby playing Flamenco Guitar. There was a good sized crowd that had turned out to watch the concert, but we had plenty of space for ourselves. We were able to invite many of Laura’s friends, and thus I got to meet some fascinating people.
I had family, new friends, live music, food (from Baja Fresh), Sangria (of which I did not partake), coffee, regular and vegan cupcakes, and lots of celebration and conversation. Not a whole lot more I could have asked for. Especially because it was cool, breezy, and slightly overcast. To some that might not sound like a good thing, but my body does not handle the heat well, and the recent spell of 80+ degree weather lately has been taxing for me. So to be able to be outside and not wear sunscreen and not have to carry around a towel to wipe the sweat off my face was a blessing!
Kate, Richard, and I got there a little after my Dad, around 5:30 – 5:45 and helped set things up. We had a couple tables for food and for sitting and lots of chairs. We even had a canopy in case of rain and a few blankets for those who were cold. It turned out really well. Oh, and just as we were finishing our food around 7:15, the music ended, giving us a window of time without much background noise so that we could have the birthday siblings open their gifts.
I had Richard help me use some of his tools to create a pair of drinking glasses out of old olive oil bottles and to etch some words on them, and I made one each for my mom (just for fun) and for dad (as a birthday gift).
That was a lot of lead in, but that is what I wanted to talk about, really. Because, you see, I have never really been much good at making things with my hands. Or at least that is what I have always told myself. I no longer am certain if that is true or not. I am someone who can pick up a pen, pencil, paintbrush or whatever, and create a beautiful image. I’ve always said that I couldn’t draw a straight line to save my life, and that continues to be true. However, I do enjoy the work it takes to create something yourself, whether it is a castle made from sugar cubes (a project my dad helped me with in elementary school) or a card made from construction paper, or a LEGO village (another project I did with my dad at a young age) – regardless of what it is, I truly enjoy creating.
When I think about it, I realize that I often am not so much creating as I am transforming. You see, I didn’t actually create these drinking glasses out of thin air. They existed as bottles. But I transformed them from the state of being old, empty bottles into the state of being new, polished, etched glasses that (hopefully) can be useful. Even thinking about my writing and my poetry, which is the ultimate creative craft for me, I think I am not making something out of nothing. Ex Nihilo Nihil – the latin phrase “nothing comes from nothing”. When I write, I use the language already present, and I shape and mold it, sometimes to fit my purposes, and in the case of my poems, often to the words’ own goals that I don’t fully understand.
So no matter what creative act I engage in, I see it as an act of transformation. And although people these days like to praise creativity highly (and I don’t disagree with that attitude, how could I!) but I would go so far as to say that transformation is more powerful that creation. Creation is an amazing thing. But I wonder if there has really ever been true creation since the beginning of the universe, if it ever had a beginning. Because, as one of the most commonly cited natural laws states: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. And since Einstein’s famous equation states Energy = Mass x Speed of Light squared (E=MC^2), that means that all matter can be described as energy. Which means matter is also subject to the principle of conservation. It cannot be created, it cannot be destroyed. It can only change its shape.
I don’t want this to seem like I’m saying that we can’t create new things. What I am saying is that when we “create” new things, what we are actually doing is taking a known objects, substances and materials and transforming them into unknown objects, substances and materials. For example, a computer chip is mostly made of silicon. The discovery of silicon’s superconductive properties was essentially the beginning of the modern digital age. Because before the silicon wafer and integrated circuit, there was no way that thousands of transistors could be miniaturized to the degree that they could fit into tiny space that a modern computer chip occupies.
But the people who invented these silicon wafers did not invent or create silicon. Instead, they looked deep within the material and discovered its inherent potential that had been, at that point, untapped. And they took that potential and used it to transform the material so that the possibilities that had been lying, waiting, under the surface were brought out and utilized.
Sometimes these transformational acts can be industrial and practical, like the silicon wafer computer chip. And sometimes they can be purely aesthetic, such as the transformation of a block of marble into a statue, or the transformation of canvas, oil, dye, wood, and hair into a painting (the wood and hair are the brush, in case that wasn’t clear). But regardless of their purpose, the people who perform these transformations have the ability to see beneath the mundane surface of a given object and to bring out that object’s beauty, usefulness, and sometimes both at once so that others can see.
I think that it is that aspect of the creative/transformative act that most intrigues me. I see that I do something similar when I write, but because writing takes place in the realm of abstract and concept rather than the concrete world, it is not as easy to see the process. When I used my hands to transform these old bottles into drinking glasses, it was easy to watch the change unfold.
Richard helped to first score a shallow cut around the upper section of the bottle. Then he showed me how to use a special tool to crack the bottle at that score-line so that it broke cleanly and evenly (for the most part). Next, we sanded the top where the cut was made to make it smooth and safe for drinking. We used two tools – one was a power drill with a bit that held two grades of sandpaper. The other was an old washing-machine motor he had strapped to a saw-table and put a rock-polishing bit onto it so that it spun and smoothed out the lip of the glass. And then he showed me how to use an etching tool to engrave words or designs on the glass.
It was a really fun process, and my uncle helped me quite a bit, but he let me do most of the work myself – which I really appreciated. One of the best things about homemade gifts is that…well…you made them! So if he had done all the work for me, I wouldn’t have been able to truly say that I had made them and it wouldn’t have been quite as cool.
You can see, clearly, how the process transformed old glass bottles that were fit only for recycling or (if you are old fashioned and have no concern for our planet) the dump, into something both useful and (in my opinion) beautiful. I chose the olive oil bottles because of their color and shape. I saw that their inherent properties would allow them to become lovely, deep green, slender glasses with almost no visible taper to them. And with the etchings, they became not just glasses but, as I wrote on the card for my dad, “mantras, benedictions, and prayers”. So that every time my mom or dad picks up one of their glasses, they remember me, and my love for them, as well as being able to think on the ideas portrayed in the short verse I etched on each glass. Part of the inscription on my dad’s read “with this glass in your hand and peace in your soul” so that he might truly have peace each time he holds the glass. A portion of my mother’s inscription was a modified Shakespeare quote: “there is nothing, good or bad, but wishing makes it so”. I wrote that so that she might think, each time the glass is in her hand, about how her perception can create her reality, in hope that in reading it she will empower herself to create the world she wants to live in.
Now, my battery is dying and this post is long and detailed. So I will leave you all to think about these things. I would love to get some feedback about anything you like/don’t like or have questions about. So comment, and transform this post into a conversation!
I am going to transform myself from the Nathan-who-writes to the Nathan-who-sleeps.
Thank you and goodnight,