Big expectations are a two-edged sword, er, wood chisel

Edge of a chisel blade, detail.
CUTS SO GOOD: Edge of a chisel blade, detail.

Well, the Siren hasn’t been calling over the past few days — too much playing catch-up with tasks and goals for the new year.

I’m sure that plenty of you can relate to that (although you have been far more faithful to your blogs than I, my dear friends).

Yesterday, in the middle of a hectic day, I dropped everything and turned to David Esterly’s book for some mental relief. I wrote about Esterly in my last post — he’s a carver who tackled some daunting restoration work and wrote about it in his lyrical semi-memoir “The Lost Carving.”

I just needed a mental palate-cleanser, and this passage did the trick for me:

Now when I break something the wood is usually sending a different message: the problem here, it’s saying, isn’t your technique but your design. The composition you’ve drawn asks too much of wood, no matter how adept you may be with a chisel. You’ve persuaded yourself that a spray of leaves has to arch across the grain just so, because it answers to that other spray over there, or because it adds richness to effect, or simply because it’s beautiful; but an aesthetic triumph can’t change the temperament of wood. When writers use similar arguments to justify an unneeded beautiful sentence, editors famously tell them to “kill their darlings.” If you’re a carver, the wood sometimes kills your darlings for you.

The grace of such writing is its metaphysical quality. Sure, it’s about a woodcarver’s experience, but the lessons he’s learned can apply to any of us.

There’s a temperament to more than just limewood: This realization comes easily when you’re in the midst of filling out a to-do list (as yours truly has discovered).

So, as you’re planning out a busy 2013, and piling the work on your plate, just remember: Be reasonable.

That’s my advice to you, my readers. Take it easy on yourself.

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