October 21, 2006
J.D. and I put in two hours last night, nailing chicken wire along the bottom of the side boards. This morning we hit it at eight and pounded up plywood sections for the maternity ward (egg laying area).
While pounding nails, it dawned on me that I’ve been in the media trench for a long time. Earlier this week I was astonished to see J.D. pull out a nail gun. Man, those suckers are amazing. Of course, I had heard of them, but I had never seen one in action. J.D. was somewhat disgusted with my ignorance, shaking his head and saying, “Nail guns have been around for 25 years at least. Where the hell have you been?”
Drawing, talking on the radio, getting a mohawk, buying a magazine, yacking about True West Moments. So I missed a few innovations.
Of course, like most kids growing up out West, I worked summers in my dad’s gas station, on survey crews (rear chainman) and a brief stint on a construction crew (1966) building a Phillips 66 gas station on Highway 93.
As the work progressed this morning, I thought about the fact that there are men of action and then there are men who write about men of action. Many male writers like to fancy themselves as men of action. Hemingway, Jack London, Mickey Spillane and Hunter Thompson come to mind. They talked the talk and walked the walk. But it seems to me that is an exception (also, I think three of them committed suicide, which may speak to unrealistic ideas of self-worth, or not).
This is a tempting generalization (that a good writer might also be good at some line of “work”) and involves other lines of work as well. The Cowboy Artists (who had their opening in Phoenix last night) like to posture that they are real “working” cowboys who also just happen to paint cowboys. Of course this is about half true, with most being commercial artists who sort of know how to ride a horse—but it sure sells paintings!
One of my favorite sayings is: “When all you have is a big hammer, all your problems look like nails.” And that was literally true today as we pounded nails all morning. J.D. got irritated with me because too many of my nails became “bend-overs”, meaning I don’t get them in straight and flush, they have a tendency to start bending over and this really bugs a good carpenter (i.e., man of action) like J.D.
As we worked, I recalled that I was pretty worthless on a construction site when I was a kid and I really hadn’t changed. I wanted to help, but as J.D. was pounding out old nails on an overturned board (the pointed parts sticking out the bottom and he was pounding them down, so he could turn it over and then pull them out with the crow bar part of the hammer), I jumped in to help, with him on one end and me on the other. As we turned the board over, he attacked his end and I yanked the long necked nails on my end, and as I jerked away from myself, one of the nails came loose, and my hammer with a lethal, rusty nail on the end of it, swung up and just missed his face.”
“That’s enough of that,” he said with reserved disgust. So, I ended up watching him do the rest, and thinking about how to write that up.
That, my friend, is the difference between a man of action and the man who writes about action.
“It takes hard writing to make easy reading.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson
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