Model shipbuilding (the last one I fished—a Pirate Corsair—is pictured)is an interesting past time for me. And like just about everything, there is some oddness as to how I came to do it. Part of this is what being a writer does to me, how it mixes up motivations.
First, I was just plain awful at building those car and airplane models as a kid; I never could get the dang things to stick together right and often melted the plastic with the testors glue, and then painting them was a whole ‘nother mess. Nothing ever went right. Now, one of my younger brothers made great model cars, so superior to mine, they made me want to fill them with gunpowder, spray ’em with white gas, insert a very long fuse, light it and run, watching the ensuing explosion or at least fireball with pleasure—but alas, this also was about as likely to happen as for one of my models to be presentable and the ones that went up in flames were mine.
Then, the year I was to graduate college, I bought a plastic model kit for the U.S. S. Constitution. What I thought I was going to accomplish is beyond me, because I was working two part time jobs and carrying 17 hours that semester. Sleep was iffy, and time for modeling even more so, but I bought it anyway and succeeded in getting what I thought was a really cool paint effect on the hull, trying to make it look like it had seen a million miles of sea and was encrusted with barnacles. (When I saw the actual ship in Boston a few years ago and saw how clean the hull was, I realized I was a rank amateur.) Anyway, I graduated, passed the CPA test and my daughter was born, and the time for models was gone, so I packed it away for another time, which was about five years ago. I found the box and it was crushed and mice had gotten to it and about half the parts were gone, so went to the hobby store and saw wooden kits.
One weird thing about commenting on life, about being a writer, is you get all tangled up in observation, even of yourself: how does this look to others?
Before I started counting beans, I wanted to teach English and Writing and to so, pursued a teaching degree. I didn’t know then what I do now (did we ever?) about what teaching writing entails—I have friends who do this, and, well, I am not sure I could do it. Guest lecture, sure, but grade all those papers? Whew. Anyway, part of the concept of being a teacher was wearing an old crumpled tweed jacket that was more comfortable thrown in the floorboard of the car than on a hanger ion the closet, with blue jeans and sneakers, possibly matched socks, a wrinkled linen shirt with a seriously outdated tie. The imagery fascinated me.
I could drone on about other aspects of life and my motivations behind them, but won’t. I do like building the ships. I can get lost in them and time evaporates, but I am not what you would call a fanatic or anything. I work on them for hours each night for weeks, and then the project will sit for months. The hardest part for me is the hull and the planking. I originally thought it would be the rigging, and while this is challenging, it does not wear me out like the hull work.
So, here’s the thing about the ships: when I started working on them, I thought it would seem cool to grandkids to come into my workplace and help with them, that it would be something they would associate with me forever. Imaging again. And I know what will happen: the kids will grow and have no interest in the ships and it will be iffy if I continue them. I know it is not imagery that kids get close to; it is the reality, because they can see through all pretense and illusion and see exactly who you are. Maybe we can hide our real selves form co-workers or the folks at church and maybe even most of our family, but our kids see through us and shatter the distance a lot of writers feels when thinking about their lives and why it is they do what they do.
Do I talk to everyone I meet because I genuinely like people, or is it to get their stories? I could easier pass the time with my nose in a book. So why do I do it? Well, you do hear some amazing stories, but I hope it is more than that; I hope it is because I care.
So I build boats because I enjoy them and it is good for fingers suffering from thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis that can no longer play any of Chopin’s Nocturnes and because of this image of a kid seeing grandpa sitting at his workbench and sneaking up behind him, and the scene I play out where I help my grandchild build a small boat to play with in the pool.
I have found I am fascinated with tall ships too. I want to be on them. Possibly the only thing on my bucket list would be to join the crew of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria for a few weeks as they sail the Gulf of Mexico from New Orleans to Miami. When the Nina and Pinta came up the Arkansas River a few months ago, of course I had to go see them. I looked at how every joint was made, how the knots war made, how the sails were rigged and even had someone show me how the rigging is really supposed to be tied off, which I will put into use this fall when I start rigging the current model.