LETTER TWELVE

FEBRUARY 9, 2016
(BUTLER LIBRARY, LOUNGE)

DEAR SAL!

On wood: you're right to pick up on a mild obsession. However, I will say that after much consideration and self-reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that my own personal obsession is not with wood itself, but rather with the act of making and doing stuff. Wood is lovely, don't get me wrong, but I find action—fixing up my table, restoring antiques (a favourite summer pastime along with patio drinking)—the real fun part. The reason is simple, it is a tangible act that I can be good at.

So much of what I do, or what I'm trying to do in my professional life, is so very subjective. Is my work good? Well, it depends who you ask. I don’t know about you but I find that endlessly frustrating. I need reassurance. I need encouragement. I need praise, goddamn it! But it seems the further I get into this whole writing gig, the more the conversation about my work becomes less about whether it’s good and more about how it’s working. The intellectual side of me understands this, but the insecure, attention-seeking child in me just wants to know if I’m doing a good job. I can see all the intellectuals in my life rolling their judgmental eyes at me and scoffing at my desire for praise, but fuck that. Deep down y’all want a little attention too.

That’s why I like woodworking. There’s a start. There’s an end. There’s doing it well. And there’s doing it poorly. I can spend a while fixing up my table, and then when I’m done I can stand back and look at it, and point and say, “I did this”. That’s a nice feeling. You don’t get that same feeling with writing. Writing never seems to be done, the way fixing a table is. Maybe I’ll think differently when I’ve written and published the next Great American Novel, but until then I’ll content myself with fixing on tables.

The other thing that I have to say before I abandon this topic is that doing handy shit—fixing wobbly table legs, changing the loose striker plate on the upstairs bathroom door when the door wasn’t closing right, hanging pictures—it makes me feel good. It makes me feel manly, you know? I am eternally grateful for my mother teaching me how to do all the basic (and necessary) home maintenance.

And yes, the opening chapter of The Lion The Witch, And The Wardrobe, was (surprise, surprise) very impactful during those lonely childhood years when, as an only kid, I was mostly just left to myself with my imagination.

 

Quickly, because I have some actual work I need to get done, let me run through some points from your last letter:

Heating was back. WAS. As I’m writing this letter, from the campus library (a much nicer building than that stupid peacock in Toronto), because the temperature in the house is very quickly sinking towards the single digits. Heat is becoming something of a luxury in my life. I know I have written plenty about my house, and I do still love it, but every time the heat goes out I see it less as a lovely antique manor, and more as a basically condemned, half-fallen-down, shithole that I need to escape. Why is there no heat again? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. It’s not my responsibility, because I’m just a tenant and I’m already paying a fortune (I don’t have) to live there. I just want it fixed!

Running! You went running? I can’t picture it. Not at all. No offense, friend, but I just can’t picture it. You’re more of a sway-and-saunter-type… Did you make it running a second time? Are you going to get special athletic shorts and one of those fitness watches that track your heart rate?

...Okay, I have to admit something. I’ve hopped on this fitness bandwagon too. Since I got back to New York I’ve been hitting the gym hard and eating right. I’d like to be secure in my body for once in my life. We’ll see how it goes… What were you talking about when you said, necessary for your employment? Are you thinking of becoming a professional athlete? You know I’d support you in anything.

So my plan was to keep this short, but here I’ve gone and written too much. Next letter will be a brief one, I swear!

Talk to you soon!

Henry