Why I Make: To Shape a Life

Why I Make: To Shape a Life

Crocheted wire and crystal bracelet

Crocheted wire and crystal bracelet by Tara Deal

I once read a story about a designer who created a wooden replica of the New York City skyline and inserted it into his viewless windows in Amsterdam. He punched out rows of tiny holes and filled them with lights. Wired up the whole panel and expertly hid the cords. And, I suppose, he lived happily ever after. So why couldn’t I?

Because I lived in New York City already, but I couldn't do anything like that. I couldn't make anything from scratch. That is, I never had. Which made me think that it was time to learn some new skills.

And I wanted to learn a little bit of everything. I wanted to be adventurous, all of a sudden. (Or perhaps just self-sufficient.) I wanted to indulge in manual labor, maybe. Pick up tricks of the trade. Secrets, even.

What I really wanted to be was a dilettante.

Even though my dictionary equates dilettante with dabbler, which sounds sad, I know. Like someone looking for distraction, killing time, waiting for the weekend to be over. Which isn’t what I had in mind at all. A dilettante, to me, was someone crisp and glamorous. I didn’t want to tell people at cocktail parties that I was a dabbler—with hobbies. No, I wanted to describe a life that would call to mind the minor achievements of someone well-traveled and intriguing, with wide-ranging interests, a discerning eye, and a background in art restoration—a Renaissance man, more or less. In the shape of a woman wearing hand-carved jewelry. That sort of thing. That’s what I figured.

Now was the time to learn how to do those things that had so far escaped me. To become more capable, knowledgeable, maybe even accomplished.

And the city was full of choices.

The lure of self-improvement was around every corner: Learn how to play the guitar in your own home. Speak Spanish tomorrow! Drive a cab. Create your own Egyptian mesh necklace. Take a pottery class. Emboss personal stationery. Advertisements for all these things were within my five-block radius.

In the end, however, what I learned was found by trying my hand at bookbinding, metalsmithing, gilding, and glassblowing. Among other things.

And now all that is finished, and I’m back home in my apartment, with my fine linen book cloth, handmade paper from Thailand (with gold flakes), hammers and mallets, mandrels and pixie dust. And I am making things. Making something every day. Making something of every day. Sometimes making things up. Just to see what else is out there.

Although she likes to consider herself a craftsperson, an artisan, and even an artist, Tara Deal is primarily a writer and editor in New York City. She is the author of two books from small presses: Wander Luster is a chapbook of poems from Finishing Line Press, and Palms Are Not Trees After All is the winner of the 2007 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize from Texas Review Press. The shortest story She’s ever written can be found in Hint Fiction (Norton).

Why I Make is a guest series exploring the human impulse to create. Read more posts in the Why I Make archives or submit your own story.