Commentary

Editor’s Notebook: A workshop for fixing things

August 11, 2021 5:45 am
Trees are visible from an old window in a rustic workshop

Random screwdrivers and a lovely view from an old window. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

It’s early afternoon, and Cannonball Adderley’s “Autumn Leaves” drips out of a small, cheap CD player atop the workshop’s hand-me-down mini fridge. A laptop rests on a workbench that was cobbled together, presumably long ago, by a no-nonsense tinkerer. The rough-hewn beams and planks that form the frame are topped with low-grade plywood, most likely placed by another no-nonsense tinkerer of a later era. Two windows, also old and just as mismatched, provide a southwest view of maple canopies, bits of sky, and invasive weeds on the march. 

I’m not blaming Cannonball, but I see now that some of the August leaves are turning a mottled red and yellow.

The tools within reach are unimpressive – random screwdrivers, a pair of rusty hammers, an unnecessary number of utility knives, a pickle jar filled with reclaimed nails and screws awaiting a new purpose. These are the instruments of a person who can fix a few things in a pinch but is nobody’s idea of craftsman or even a handyman. I’d bet my life on that verdict, because the tools are mine.

I don’t spend much time in the workshop. It’s big enough but there’s no insulation, which means that temperature-wise it’s an exaggeration of whatever’s happening outside, and I don’t do much work that requires a workshop. But it has a good vibe, and that’s why today the primary tool of my trade – a computer – is on the bench between an inherited Porter-Cable chop saw and a swivel vise I picked up a year or so ago mainly because my grandfather had one on his bench. I might even use it someday.

As much as I enjoy taking in the greenery beyond the timeworn windows, my favorite part of the workshop is the northwest corner. That’s where all of the canvases are stacked.

I’m married to a painter. If you ask her what she does for a living she’ll tell you she battles insurance companies over the phone, but really she’s an artist. She just doesn’t get paid for it anymore.

Stacks of paintings in the corner of a workshop
The paintings are boxed and stacked in the northwest corner of the workshop. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

I say “anymore” because she used to travel around to bars, restaurants, and sometimes private residences to teach people how to paint. Not randomly, because that would be weird, but as a part-time worker with a national company that specialized in hosting paint nights. She would come home close to midnight and tell stories about the surprising talent of a shy first-timer or the drama between a young couple during the color-mixing segment of “Owls in the Moonlight” or some such piece.

A lot of times, the paintings she taught were created by another company artist, so she would have to teach herself before teaching others. Most of the canvases stored in the workshop are those dry runs, and she plans to paint over them someday. I get it, but I’d rather she didn’t.

I used to sit with her in our former home’s makeshift studio on a Saturday night and attempt to write while she honed her forgery skills, music and wine flowing. The girls would be upstairs in one of their bedrooms, loud and happy, as they imagined worlds. The four of us, separate but together, just creating. 

She still paints, but not often. I still write, although during the workday, with coffee instead of wine. Our daughters are as imaginative as ever, but without the beautiful tumult.

We’re creating less and waiting more, but for what I don’t know.

Cannonball Adderley’s sax fell silent a bit ago, and so I’ve hit play again. I’ve straightened out the tools of repair, and in doing so it occurred to me that I might have most of what I need to build a bookcase. And I asked myself why I haven’t used some of the pickle-jar nails to hang as many of my wife’s cast-off paintings as the crooked walls will hold – and received no good answer.

I wonder if she and our eldest daughter would set up their easels in our lonely workshop on a late-summer Saturday night, and whether our youngest would sit next to me at the bench, she with her sketchbook and I with a blank page and the thread of a story. I could string lights, pour drinks, and play Miles and Trane.

And I wonder if some of that, all of that, might make everything a little better during this inert moment on our fleck of earth – just creating and fixing things in an old workshop, separate but together, until the autumn leaves drop.

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin.

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