Echoes of a Former Life

Silver, Sand, and Solitude: The Metal a Man Makes Makes a Man’s Mettle , pt. 2

The following is a continuation of my autobiographical account of art pursuance.  Read part one here.


It couldn’t last, of course.

Nothing much does.

I’d not been single when I’d planned the trip but had spent the majority of my time since alone.  Two thousand miles in a car with a woman whose pity was sharply finite and whose youthful selfishness imbued her with a greater sense of self-acceptance than it did of anything apologetic.  My ex and I had planned the trip together and I’d foolishly and shyly not changed the plans.

Once in the desert, the car relinquished to her solely, we saw each other seldom.  We didn’t eat together, she feigned to know me only slightly.  I was honest about what we were until she’d pulled me aside and accused me of trying to embarrass her.  We saw each other less thereafter.  I had more work.  Dale and Judith, my instructors had to force me to meals, had to force me to close shop.  Some nights they knew to leave me, trusted me to shut off the tanks and to work alone without burning myself or the studio down.

I smoked and walked when I couldn’t work.  I never smoked on trails, could never bring myself to throw the butts into the arroyos or stuff their stinking remains into my pockets.  So when I walked it was uninterrupted by any senses other than those of self and solitude. The weekends when the studio was closed seemed the longest.  So I’d walk for hours, leaving the trails and finding sand untrodden.

The three weeks of four I was to have at the ranch were up.  It was time to leave, my next study’s start began before the end of my second silversmithing Jan Term.  I’d get a partial refund for my single room and single board.  I used more than enough of the class time to count for credit and even though I’d’ve done the same excessive work over the week I’d lose, there was no refund on lost potential class time.  I didn’t mind.  I’d gotten enough.

I’d smoked all my cigarettes.  I’d drunk most of my whiskey.  I’d packed and shipped the jewelry I’d made and the tools I’d bought, resold the silver I hadn’t used.  Divested myself of all the things I couldn’t take or felt I shouldn’t need.  All that was left were the few things in my room.  My watch strapped to the hollow steel head bar as an alarm, the dust soaked clothes, toiletries, sand filled shoes.  The desert had crept and slid in, claiming all, and I had let it.

“I don’t think you ought to take Jim on the plane.” 

I was planning to pack the whiskey last, not expecting anyone to see me off, to notice that I was leaving.  I’d spent so much time alone, either in the studio or on the mesas, that I barely knew my classmates’ names and I am sure they didn’t know mine.  Dale had surprised me, coming to check on me and to help me settle with the ranch.  He offered to carry things and quietly watched while I ordered the pasada.  He was eighty-two.  Until he’d told me a few days before, for the year I’d known him, I took him for sixty.

I’d meant to hide the bourbon, fearing judgement or recrimination, or something else, but Dale’s advice was only in regard to my carrying the bottle through airport security.  Dale had once been a drinker and had told me he believed every man has a certain number of drinks he takes in a lifetime and that he’d merely reached his early. He wouldn’t tell me when I’d had mine.

I packed the bourbon in the steel ammo box I used for my toiletries.  Either the steel of the case would defend its contents, or would the caution caused by the uncertainty of the baggage handlers that it didn’t really hold 50mm howitzer rounds.

The quiet, empty, painful, peaceful time was over.  The surrogate family time was over.

My ex drove me to the highway, another one-hundred-twenty miles together in the car that’d brought us to NM from PA.  The conversation was phatic, small and meaningless such that I don’t remember it.

“We’ll still talk after this, right? We’ll still be friends?”

“Of course,” she said, and of course, what she’d said, was a lie.

Flight.  I don’t remember it.  I don’t mind it, save for the confinement.  I’m not frightened or enthused by the heights.  Touching down, home, then gone by car, far North, somewhere new.

In a weekend I’d taken an L-shaped transit across most of the country to begin my internship in Massachusetts.

But the internship I’d signed on for was full, the promised promise more of a ploy, the lack of guarantee reasserted at raised eyebrows, while condescent fingers tapped small print.  The Higgins Armory Museum might take me next round.  For now, I had to pick something else to make use of the twelve thousand dollars my father had invested in something touted as an alternative to a pair of college semesters, which in actuality, was much less a thing than that, a thing which was no more than an apartment and a phone book and a series of excuses as to why the RAs were not responsible for offering any help.

I reverted to art.  Hundreds of miles from home, thousands from where I’d felt so, I needed something familiar.  The only internship with which the program had any affiliation that seemed close to suited was at a glass studio.  Glass was not metal, but it was an act of making.

It was a thing to occupy the constant need for occupation that could no longer be filled in a city of grey and fetid hills where there was no empty sand or quiet spaces. 

It was something.

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Whack-a-Mole as a Metaphor, or the Metal a Man Makes Makes a Man’s Mettle , pt. 1

In my former life I was an amateur artist.  Amateur is an important distinction.  According to the auto-biographies of most teenagers and all Hipsters, the world should be full of artists.  Perhaps dilution would explain the low quality of the lot.  So as to assure you I’m not one of those thinning the stew I’ll keep solidly to my amateur status.  I sold a few pieces and did fairly well as a hobbyist but rather crap as a full-timer.  One really has to put in full time hours to expect full time results.  I studied art at most of the colleges I attended, technically all four, I think, but it was only my major in three and only my singular study in one.  My grades were pretty good, which means next to nothing in an art class beyond that I followed directions when necessary and broke the rules in professor pleasing ways when it wasn’t.

I was always a metal enthusiast.  I started as a blacksmith.  I was never that good, I had no place to work at home and too long in between my classes to keep my skills up.  I took to the material, though, and what saved me from my poor technique was my affinity for the substance.  I could think in the form and that’s necessary for any good art to come of the work.

I had a winter where I could find no blacksmithing courses. I couldn’t go more than a year without standing at a forge and expect even my affinity for iron to keep me functional.  It was also a year I had to take classes or find something meaningful to do, one of those parent-ruled seasons those still dependent on their ancestors experience.  Combing through a catalogue my father had found, I settled on a silversmithing course.  It was the closest thing to proper metal I could find and I thought it might help me with my detail work when I returned to the purer form.

I found I liked silver.  I liked the difference in cutting and piercing something delicate as opposed to something that needed to be blisteringly hot and to be held by heavy tongs.  I especially liked the calm of the desert.  Then was one of the many times I was amidst a listless depression and the empty, scouring, beauty of the high New Mexican desert helped me relax, which in turn made me more productive. I’d spend ten hours a day in the studio some days, eight on most others, leaving only when forced to by my lovely instructors, two people who came to represent a near familial role for me as I grew to know them over the months and later, the years.  The support, the emptiness, and the productivity begat more production, and the cycle continued until I was as happy as I am capable of being. 

It couldn’t last, of course.

Part two to come soon.