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February 14, 2005


Wrote Herman Melville to Nathaniel Hawthorne on June 29, 1851, in the final months of Moby-Dick's production:

Since you have been here, I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one) and likewise some shanties of chapters and essays. I have been plowing and sowing and raising and painting and printing and praying, -- and now begin to come out upon a less bustling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farm house here.

Much has changed, these past one hundred and fifty years, and few moderns who share Melville's vocation will have any experience with such things as plowing and building shanties. (Far too many have little experience with praying.) Those among us who are conservative of temperament inevitably wonder what has been lost. What disconnection from raw reality does the man suffer who is multiple steps removed from tangible life, whose every good is constructed by others? What human sympathy drains from a person who has transcended the hardships that the past century has unevenly worn away?

We who make a craft of thinking can string together ideas, and if we write, we fashion them with words. But this painstaking labor raises mere ephemera, and often in desperate throes we cry for the recognition that makes our efforts real. Strange, then, that so many who build only shanties of thought consider themselves above those who construct such things as only a fool would deny.

Today I begin work as a full-time carpenter, and I expect the benefits to my soul to be worth well beyond their weight in the lumber that I will cut and hammer. Being somewhat green, I'll be the least in every way that matters throughout the workday. With that perspective, perhaps my evening labor will be worth more than the vanity of its author. And when I slip into bed, my children's house heated and the next day's meals awaiting in cupboards and on refrigerator shelves, with the sense of prayers answered because heard, the prospect of things will be calm in the only ways that truly matter, now or one hundred and fifty years from now.

Posted by Justin Katz at February 14, 2005 12:06 AM

Congrats, Justin. It's been a long time coming.

Posted by: Sage at February 14, 2005 9:01 AM

May your thumb never find itself under a swinging hammer. --ancient Chinese proverb

Posted by: Mike S. at February 14, 2005 1:29 PM

Amen to that. Congratulations Justin!

And on the bright side, it'll be one more thing you have in common with our Lord.

Posted by: smmtheory at February 14, 2005 1:30 PM

God bless you in your new endeavor.

Posted by: ELC at February 14, 2005 3:36 PM