When you sign up for a woodworking class, you don’t expect it to be much more than the advertised four-hour class; I just wanted to meet some people and take a break from working on my novel, which I’ve almost started writing. Is that too much to ask? I used a Groupon for Christ’s sake.
It’s not easy writing a novel, but I’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple weeks. I have a lot of great ideas! At the same time, I don’t want to pigeonhole myself either. My point is I definitely deserved a break from scattershot sociological research, or as my friends call it, an encyclopedic knowledge of daytime television.
However, I am increasingly worried that building that birdhouse in my woodworking class was an ominous metaphor for something.
As the instructor introduced our project, I noticed two attractive young ladies in the class. I needed to set a tone, so with a wise nod I made sure they noticed me hefting a reciprocating saw. I squinted like a farmer gazing over his fields. I was standing tall like a stag in autumn.
Soon after, we started our birdhouses. I was excited to build something with my own two hands—to envision a project and see it through to the end. This was going to be the shit Chevy commercials are made of.
However, before I could even touch a real power tool, I had to mark out my project.
Select wood based on grain and how it accepts stains. Ensure the wood is evenly plained. Check for cracks. Check for knots. Measure everything once. Measure everything twice. And pencil in cut lines.
At this point, I realized my project was really boring and that I needed to Instagram this shit. #myowntwohands #tablesaw #prettymuchalumberjack
Finally, after all the preparation, I was ready to make some cuts—to make some progress. I expected all this manly shit to come back to me the way Jason Bourne suddenly remembers hand-to-hand combat after a bout of amnesia. Unfortunately, it turns out table saws are fucking terrifying. Being a resilient almost-author, I seized this opportunity to ask one of the ladies in the class for some help. You know, to seem vulnerable and casually mention that the main character in my novel works with wood probably.
I cut that conversation short when she started asking frustrating questions like, “What does the main character do with wood?” And, “Can I read a draft?”
Soon, I dejectedly returned to work on my stupid birdhouse. The fun stuff went quickly. You know what didn’t go quickly? Sanding. And it’s how I spent the next stupid hour.
First, I used 80-grit. Then I used 120-grit. Then I used 220-grit. Then I checked how my Instagram was doing and frowned at the lonely six Likes. Maybe Valencia was the wrong filter choice. I was forced to go back to polishing off the birdhouse, but my arms were tired, I was eager for results, and I had been there for four hours. So I skipped a step or two coming down the home stretch.
After gluing the walls together because the instructor said hammers were “a bit too technical” for me, the birdhouse was done. As I looked at the lopsided, half-sanded box in front of me, I became increasingly sure of one thing: my birdhouse was a piece of shit. It looked like an abandoned mental asylum.
Now, a week later, the birdhouse buried ignominiously in the dumpster, my noontime run of Scrubs on TV, I am increasingly worried the birdhouse was an alarming metaphor for something. I’m just not sure what.
Jason Hayes lives in Denver, where he intermittently writes from a continuously alley-facing apartment. His non-fiction has appeared in The Huffington Post and The Atlantic. His humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney's. He has never written humorous non-fiction.