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King Lear and the Common  


Last Saturday I went uptown to see King Lear (w. John Lithgow and Annette Benning) in Central Park. It was a wonderful evening and as I walked to the theater I marveled at New York City's implementation of the age old idea of a public common. A Common, a patch of land, open to all to graze their livestock, and to walk alone amid the crowds. It is both social and private at the same time. People reading, people playing, couples in fond embrace. You are out and about with thousands of people, but your own little space is protected. People are social creatures and even though I didn't meet anyone I know I always feel more connected to the world when I am in a public park.

The weather was perfect and open air theater was packed, but I left the play at the intermission (see below*). By then it was dark, everyone had gone home, the park was empty, I passed only one person on my way out, it was grand in its quiet.

I mention this because one attraction of woodworking to me, back when I was first learning, was the common communal experience of sharing a workshop.

There is an idea floating around these days of "Maker Spaces" where a company sets up places for "makers" usually with some high tech machines, but also with typical table saw machines. These are not just places to make something with tools an individual typically doesn't have of their own, they are more importantly a place to meet like minded people, to exchange ideas and to form a community. To a large extent woodworking schools have always preformed the exact same function. Of course woodworking clubs, rental shops, and also provide this vital place of focus. These are our maker commons. Even if you have the personal resources to own every tool on the planet working with others is so much more rewarding. Just driving with a buddy or two to a lumberyard and loading a truck together makes a truly laborious task go fast and fun. I can't stress how important community is.

The energy you bring to woodworking, the satisfaction of making things, is all very well, and lets face it most of the time practicality means we that work alone, but take your energy and enthusiasm, add it to a bunch of people who also have energy and enthusiasm, and you will learn stuff, you will find friends you never knew you had, and proving Newton wrong, all of you will have more energy than ever before.

Join a club, take a class for the fun of it. Read and participate in the on-line woodworking forums.

*The language is gorgeous, witty, even, dare I say, Shakespearean in both sophistication, exuberance, and understanding. But Lear himself is a jerk. I just didn't want to spend two more hours watching some King, who lost his temper and made some stupid rash decisions, continue a downhill spiral of self absorption and stupidity. And his daughter Cordelia? Would it have killed her to just make the old man happy in the first scene and tell him what he wants to hear, really, did she learn nothing growing up as a favorite princess about how powerful people rarely want to know what you really think? Even I know that and I grew up in a tenement.
Comments: 3
07/30/2014William Brown 
Alas and alack, methinks you cannot appreciate or understand Lear without knowing the whole story. It's a story of redemption through suffering, and IMO, one of Shakespeare's most penetrating and potent plays.

IMO, this play is unmatched in the great literature of Western Civilisation. It's more true to life than life itself, which is why, thank God, it's still valued and cherished. Take a good look at the play - you can dig deeper and deeper as Shakespeare encompasses so many aspects of reality, physical and spiritual. You cannot take anything in Shakespeare at face value. Appearances deceive. All is not what it seems. For example, the wisdom and pathos of the fool is profoundly cast, but you have to look a little beyond the surface. Same with Lear and Cordelia, of course. That's the theme of the whole play - gaining a vision of reality, learning to see. And it unravels gradually, in stages, as all of Lear's layers of veneer get stripped away and the great and mighty king slowly becomes reduced to a naked, blind, wretched creature, pathetically grovelling in the mud. Ie: what we all are, in effect. Lear encounters the truth about himself, and about every man and woman. And he slowly starts to see Cordelia with clarity. The love and hope of the final scene is moving beyond description. Lear sees all of life for what it is and he finds the only real source of meaning and hope. It's what Shakespeare does. Other great artists try to do this, but no one else can like Shakespeare.

--Wm. Brown
Forest, VA
My problem with Lear is that Lear is totally self involved. I just have no interest in spending my evening watching self analysis. First and foremost a play should be entertaining. But there is even a certain artificiality in Lear have so much trouble understanding himself, but yet being able to spout word and phrases of such elegance and wit. Give me Henry V or Richard III any day. Even Hamlet which is longer than I would like is still riveting every time I see it. Incidentally, the general consensus of my party (the rest of whom stayed until the end) was that, even though the second act was better than the first, I made the right move. Other people I know find the play riveting, but since I haven't seen it since I was a kid, I have no other performances to compare it to. I do love "Ran", so it is conceivable that the problem for me isn't the play as much as this performance of the play.
08/29/2014Sheri Holzel 
Great story. Thanks for sharing it.
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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