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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Craft (as in handcraft) (02/08/07)

TITLE: Magnum Opus
By Kenneth Bridge


The familiar scents of wood and resin comforted him. He needed that solace. Since he heard the offer the other day and had all but agreed to accept it, he hadn’t slept well. That gnawing sense of having misplaced something important kept driving him forward, like a freeway traveler who had drunk too much coffee and was now driving past all the rest areas in a hurry to get somewhere. Except he had no idea where that “somewhere” was.

It had started as a hobby, his love of music and his love of woodwork coming together perfectly. Guitars, mandolins, dobros, painstakingly fashioned by hand. Wood cut from a pattern, shaped, sanded, resin and oil rubbed in, strings attached. Sweet music coaxed from what had been once just an idea. Each one unique, born and nurtured with love and painstaking care. It was as hard to part with them as it would be with his own children. He only let them go when he was sure they would be loved and cared for in their new home.

As his reputation grew and his instruments were prized by the top musicians in the industry he was able to quit his job at the lumber mill and devote full time to his craft. He never knew such satisfaction with living could be possible.

Then, there came the meeting. They wanted to buy his business. More money than he ever dreamed of. A nice home, top music schools for his daughter. He hadn’t signed the papers yet, but he’d given them every indication that it was a done deal.

So why was he putting his tools down and wandering through his workshop, staring blankly across the unfinished pieces arranged on the benches and tables at the unpainted cinderblock wall?

He could hear his daughter practicing on the upright piano in the upstairs guest room. It was a difficult piece and she was struggling with the bridge between two movements. She was playing the right notes, he thought, but she was rushing them. It seemed to him that they kept stumbling over each other until they collapsed on the other side, too exhausted to carry the serene and majestic power the movement called for.

“It’s not just the notes”, he mused, “that make the music. It’s the spaces between them that give it meaning and purpose.”

Sitting down and picking up the mandolin he had been working on he traced his finger around the newly sanded edge of the cavity in its face. “This opening is as important as the material,” he thought to himself. “It’s where the resonance comes from.”

“Ah, yes. What to leave out and what to leave in. The stone chiseled away from the sculpture, the film on the cutting room floor, the finely turned phrase that doesn’t advance the plot. A lot of times knowing what to leave out is what separates craft from kitsch, art from artifice, truth from appearance.

And a well-crafted life is the supreme work of art. It is the choices I don’t make, the prospects I don’t pursue, that shape my magnum opus, my greatest work, my life itself.”

Looking up from her piano, his daughter heard him on the phone saying, “Thank you for your interest, but I’m sure. No it’s not the money.”

A few moments later the sweet dulcet tones from the last guitar he’d finished reached her ears, a haunting, aching refrain of sweet longing that floated like mist in early morning mountain air before it faded slowly into silence.

“Silence,” she thought to herself, and then her fingers began to move across the keys again. She delighted herself as she discovered how the precise and purposeful stride of each note was defined by the stillness that framed it. How easily they ushered her across that daunting bridge and led her into the serene majesty that waited for her there.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Marilee Alvey02/15/07
Magnificent. I learned much in this. My father used to make guitars and mandolins, so I could relate. I love how you spoke of the hole being as important as the instrument...and the spaces...and silence as important as the music. Very creative and insightful. Great job!
Julie Arduini02/18/07
I loved the line of a well crafted life. Very well done.
Kathie Thomas02/20/07
Nice piece, well written. I hadn't thought about how instruments were crafted so it was good to read this.