When I use the term in this context, I mean tools and machines that do things, that we use to get jobs done or to amuse ourselves or to enrich our lives. In the years that I wrote films I was fortunate to find my place among those who make teaching and training films, informational and educational videos, and public relations publications. I have learned, from the people who do the work, how automobiles are made, how glass is created and shaped, how to bake loaves of bread by the dozen, and even what it takes to create and stage a ballet. In researching and writing about so many subjects, I’ve learned words, and how to use them, and tools to share that knowledge with wide audiences. And down at the core of all of these, whether about agriculture or art or history or politics, there have been tools; things that work.
Words, for me, are tools. I find fascination in learning new words and new meanings for old words, and using old and new words to tell my stories. So it is that I find myself rejecting patterns of speech that speak to me of lack of imagination, of lack of consideration for what is said, as well as how it is said. Every era, perhaps every generation, has a cliché-speak, so to speak, that identifies the speaker or writer with a time, if not place. It seems to me that today we have far more, propagated no doubt by that swift courier of thought, the internet: phrases such as “Just saying,” and “Who’da thought?” and of course those well-worn verbal spaces, “like,” and “you know.” Actually, I usually don’t know, and often don’t like, but there seems little I can do about it beyond correcting the speaker. I would be annoyed by that from someone else, so I refrain from trying to change those habits in others. There have been times when I have actually taught the art of public speaking, and in those situations I have tried to correct my students, too often without long lasting success.
Words are not the only tools I enjoy using, however. I love “real” tools: hammers, saws, drills, wrenches and even more exotic examples. And I love the things that need tools to be able to do the jobs they supposed to do. Old tools, often made by hand rather than by a machine, always catch my eye in an antique store, or at a yard sale. I have a hand saw, for example, that belonged to my father. The wooden handle shows that a craftsman made it, decorated it with lines and curls let into the wood. I can’t use the saw because whoever made it was a person with smaller hands than mine, and I cannot securely grip the tool to make a cut. Still I keep it because it tells me of an earlier time, when the maker and (hopefully) the user found pleasure in work. I admire new tools, too: sleek, strong, fashioned to fit my hand, designed to make work easier or to extend my strength and reach. I have a tractor that dates from 1949. Not old, not new, but still strong and useful. I love to drive it and feel the connection to that simpler time. My neighbors have bigger, stronger, easier to use tractors, and they need them, but this one fits me fine. Keeping old tools in working condition and finding use for them, I find deeply satisfying.
For years my days have been divided into the three categories, beginning with words, followed by work and ending with why. That is, I write in the mornings, find things to do that require the use of tools in the afternoon, and indulge in learning (reading) in the evening. There are interstices that allow for time with family and friends, of course, but the three main categories define most of my days.
I hope you have enjoyed today’s work.