Those things we can’t let go of; those physical things that carry emotional weight are the most annoying things to lug around, in my opinion. Maybe it’s a photo, maybe it’s drinking, maybe it’s an obsession, and maybe it’s a failure. Mine is a pile of bent wood. Nine years ago or so, I won a contest in art school, to design seating using bent plywood. I won, and a local furniture manufacturer produced a full scale prototype. The prototype is a set of four connected chairs, like for a waiting room or an airport. It’s a whole lot of wood. In my mind, at 24, this was the beginning of amazing things. I would get an amazing job with this design. Maybe I would sell the design and someone who produce thousands of these chairs. Either way, I was just getting started, and the future was going to be full of design and success and chairs and woodworking. But then it wasn’t successful. I didn’t get a job in design in that 6 month window after school where you’re supposed to land a job before loan payments kick in. I didn’t try to sell the chairs. I found a job that didn’t care that I had designed award winning bent wood seating. So I disassembled the chairs, and stacked up the wooden panels. And then 9 years went by, and that pile of deconstructed seating traveled with me. To Chicago, to the failed attempt at living out West, back to Chicago. Into the studio that I thought would be my last, before moving in with my boyfriend, and into the next studio in a new state when it wasn’t. Up and down flights of stairs, in an out of apartment doorways like cumbersome ghosts. It’s so heavy, this giant pile of beautifully bent fiber. It was forever a reminder that I had had a plan, and I had worked hard, and that plan failed. I felt sorry for myself. I felt guilty and angry about all of the student loans. I stopped wanting to tell people that I had gone to art school at all, because of that chair that went nowhere. There was this part of my life that I didn’t finish, and it felt like a waste. Memories were wrapped up in the layers of veneer, and they were trapped in epoxy. Each piece got heavier with each move.
Last month, I moved in with my boyfriend. We were taking the last carload over to his place when I remembered the wood. I had hidden it out of sight for the last year, safely in the attic. It’s hard to explain why handing 3×3 panels of smooth veneered plywood down the attic stairs made me cry. I knew I had to explain it though, and I kind of needed to say it out loud, for me. As I spoke, I realized what literal baggage this wooden structure was. I had gone through so much purging and processing in the last couple of years, and this was one thing of which I could not let go. Mistakes, drinking, a failed engagement, and the attachment to the memories and sadness and guilt around it, had been released. This was too heavy, somehow. This chair project started as my first big success, and became my first real failure. What would happen if I just let it go? How would I let this go?
After listening to my mid-move emotional unfurling, my patient and practical partner simply said “you should get rid of them”. He was not suggesting that I throw them away. He suggested that I sell them. I could refinish them in our garage, order legs for them, and sell them. Or we could put them in the living room. Give one to a friend. There are four of these damn things, after all. It seemed too easy, but it made sense. They are chairs. They are supposed to be used for support, not self-abuse. I want them to be beautiful again. And then I want to send them on their way.
I don’t know where these chairs will go. I don’t know how I will feel about them once they’re put back together and refreshed. What I do know, even now, as I get excited at the idea of sanding them down and making them new, is that they won’t be as heavy when I’m done. They will be something I made in school, something that I poured myself into, something that I loved. The design didn’t become what I thought it would, but then again, neither did I. I made mistakes, and I made choices that came from my heart, and I’m here. Now I just need to get these chairs up to speed.
If they could read, I would write them this letter:
I know that I promised you that we would go to amazing places. I know that the places we went weren’t part of the plan, but I never left you behind. You were my dreams, and I couldn’t let you go. I have new dreams now, and a respect for the unknown and unplanned. So, if you want to stay, you’re going to have to live in the present. You’re a 2008 design, but like any good piece of furniture, you feel timeless to me.