taking shape

A chisel that shaves the cedar top flush with the body. I can hear the nascent voice resonate as I hold the body still, as the shavings crunch and fall away, like teeth homing in on a Lucky Charms marshmallow, like revealing the jackpot at the end of a rainbow.

Choosing wood for a ukulele is like listening to a voicemail you recorded from the future.

A voice that takes on the scent of mahogany sawdust – is that it? The clouds of sweet woodiness that coat my nose as I inhale? The voice took on character from the material removed, the negative space. Dust settled, and the voice was embedded in what was lost.

Is time lost if it’s not gained by cutting corners? The sides of a ukulele body are curved all the way around. To fit the neck to it, the neck’s base needs to fit its curvature. Which is subtle enough to not anticipate spending a day meticulously sanding away. Subtle enough that an innocuous desire for a personal touch can lead to leaving all the tools out overnight – just because the thickness of the neck didn’t feel right yet.

Subtle enough to head back outside and give it all a try again, and again, and again, until what feels consistently right is finessing the backyard screen door into sliding shut without slamming it.

Subtle enough to want to leave doors open.

It was a dream where I yearned to be heard. I went about shaping an instrument, drifted awake, and lost myself in piles of shavings and sawdust. But the negative space wasn’t empty. It was crafted – the process of taking shape and “feeling right” that exists outside the bounds of blueprints.

And what if shaping your instrument is more about shaping you?

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