I promised to tell the story of my coffee table in this post, but when I started to write, I realized that the coffee table evoked more than one 400-1000 word story. Therefore, the We Could Totally Make That series is not going to end at #2. In fact, it may not end at all, as long as I am still blogging, and as long as we are still totally making things that have good stories behind them.
Last week, I found myself at home alone with the piece of furniture I have been working on side by side with my father for over two years (normally, it would not have taken so long, but I decided to begin this project at the same time I decided to begin graduate school – sometimes the coffee table came second to final exams.) I was struck, as I ran my hand over the top and remembered all of the many days of hard work that had been necessary to make it, by how happy I was with the finished product. The table is not what some would consider perfect; I can draw you a map of every flaw we either built in, covered up or decided to simply accentuate. But looking at it, I could not find a single thing I wished we had done differently. What a strange and beautiful feeling, I thought, to be totally accepting and at peace with a thing.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this way about I thing I’ve purchased. There is a certain unfortunate pattern of emotion for me that is linked to buying things: First, the blissful indifference in the moments just prior to seeing the object of my desire for the first time, followed swiftly by the urgent need for acquisition once it is in view. Then, the wild swings of uncertainty between the price tag and the knowledge of what else can or should be done with that money, which give way to the illogical pleasures of entitlement as I reward myself for nothing at the checkout counter.
If I’m lucky, by the time I reach home with the item in tow, I remain confident in my decision and perhaps admire it once or twice upon further use in the coming days or weeks. But never again will it have such a hold on me as it did in the showroom. Soon, I begin to notice the flaws I overlooked during the buying process, particularly when I compare my new object to something even newer that is not in my possession. I may regret my purchase or even come to regard the object as being unworthy of my ownership. At the end of its journey with me, the object finds itself given or tossed away without a second thought, and life goes on. It’s a cycle I’ve completed many times, knowing that the void I seek to fill with these things remains wide as ever.
Things I make do not share these qualities in either extreme. At the inception of a project, I am neither zealously overtaken by its potential to change my life, nor am I disappointed in its failures at the conclusion. I am simply, and happily, aware of what it is, and grateful, not only for the final outcome, but for what the process taught me as the piece came together. The pieces I’ve made, or that friends and family have made for me, follow me from place to place and age with me. My perception of them does not degrade over time, and I wouldn’t think of getting rid of them, no matter what fancy looking comparable object shows up in the local Pottery Barn.
During the two years my coffee table took to complete, people would frequently tell me that for the amount of time involved, it had better be the best coffee table ever. Now that the table is sitting in my living room, I wonder if I am putting my feet up on the best coffee table ever. How l would possibly make that determination, I have no idea. What characteristics and specifications should I be comparing in this absurdly pointless contest between my coffee table and all coffee tables ever built?
My coffee table, I conclude, does not need to be the best coffee table ever – it is the best coffee table for me. It is beautiful to look at, it holds my coffee, my books and my cats upright, and it has a useful drawer to put things in. It makes me smile when I come downstairs in the morning, and it reminds me of stories I can tell about how it came to be. It is quite enough to know that once it was not in existence, and now it is. It is no more and no less than exactly what it needs to be, and in that way, it is perfect.