July 2010 Archives

Fingertip

Soldering can be hazardous. A wayward finger found the barrel of the soldering iron yesterday. It hurt for hours, and then as quickly as it happened it stopped hurting. The damaged skin pulled away from my body, and has already started to crack. It will soon fall away, replaced by new skin without a trace of damage. Of course, most people wouldn't make a big deal about it. But I started thinking about something in the shower this morning.

Drug addiction is inextricably entwined with nostalgia. It's funny that it captures so many more young people than it does middle aged/old people. The theories I recall hearing most recently have to do with certain pleasure centers in the brain that are stimulated by some drugs, that become scarred by over stimulation so that the user desires more and more of the chemical to replicate the original experience. That's nostalgia, I think.

In high school, I had a bout with barbiturate addiction. It became fiercely clear that I had a problem during summer school of my junior year when I gave a friend a couple of my pills at nine a.m., and by the break at eleven he had passed out face down on his desk and some friends and I had to tactfully lift him up and carry him outside. I had taken over twenty of the same pills by ten. Not good. It hurt a lot to give them up, and I think it probably helped me avoid similar mistakes in the future. In fact, for all of my messing around, there really aren't any scars that show from those days. I seldom get nostalgic.

My longest bout with addiction was with cigarettes. I smoked a lot. The biggest revelations upon giving those up around five years ago were that cigarettes were really making me sick. Who knew? I mean, you light up a cigarette when you feel anxious and want to calm down, when all the while it is the lack of the cigarette that makes you anxious to begin with. I'm much calmer now. Smoking is not a weakness, nor a crutch (as many smokers rationalize) it is simply a lifestyle choice— you live in the nostalgia of the last cigarette you smoked. Can we do it again, please?

I decided I wanted to clean up my oft-posted photograph of myself tinkering at the kitchen table so that the edges would be pure white today. It dawned on me, looking at the scan, that a kerosene lamp that you can see behind me in this early sixties photo now resides in my basement:

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I broke the shade about a month ago. I can tell by the vague shapes that it was the original shade, which depicts dancers dancing around the flame. I can buy a new shade, but it won't be the same. Realizing just how long I've been hanging around this lamp makes me much sadder than when it happened. It was just a piece of glass to me then. Now, it's something more.

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Building things

Lately, I've been trying to learn more about electronics lately, getting genuinely excited about soldering and such. With the state of the economy, it seems like the best thing I can do is just sit still and try not to spend much money. When I was a kid, perhaps my fondest memories were of little project kits like electric motors and magnet kits that my oldest brother David bought for me for Christmas. Before traveling this summer I bought this kit and am now finally getting around to working on it.

The freakiest thing is that I've been soldering while listening to Merle Haggard (a Bakersfield phenomenon) and really enjoying it this time around. It reminds me of those times at the kitchen table way too many years ago, only this time I'm not bitching a blue streak about the crappy country music my dad used to listen to. I never wanted to be like my dad then, as far as I can remember, so why am I interested in embracing him now?

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My dad had nothing to do with my interest in electronics, of course— he was not interested in them at all beyond being able to keep the music going in the house an the old style console stereo. But thinking about just what I would like to remember the most, I think the most about his attempts to make things. He wasn't particularly good at making (though he was really excellent at fixing. There's a significant distinction here, explored amply in Shop Class as Soul Craft (the book, not this teaser article). I always wanted to make, and my dad often ended up fixing my attempts. He wouldn't go anywhere near electronics though— if it couldn't be fixed with a belt sander or a welding torch he left it alone.

Like most kids, I didn't like my dad (or my home town) most of the time. It took a long time to get over that.

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