I bought the wood for this bookshelf at the salvation lumber yard around the corner from my house, and while I was working with it I kept thinking about its imperfections, and how I liked them. I learned to appreciate imperfections by reading poetry—or, being taught to read poetry by Donald Revell—and thinking about Jackson Pollack paintings. Pollack said, “I don’t make mistakes, because I deny the existence of mistakes,” or something. Then I thought about what a silly rubric I was using to judge my wood: How could a pice of wood be considered in terms of perfection? What does a perfect piece of wood look like? Certainly not straight and smooth, like a metal beam or a sheet of glass. Then I thought of my favorite woodworker, Sam Maloof, and his crazy curved designs. Then I measured and made a cut.

There’s a culture of building in New Orleans—not surprising given it’s hurricane territory, but there’s something beyond that. Besides the perpetual building and rebuilding of houses, New Orleanians are at work all year creating costumes and floats for Mardi Gras, and poverty is always a good incentive to repurpose something you already have rather than buying something new. Quintron has been building his own instruments for years, and there’s no shortage of homes around here that people have transformed into event spaces, speakeasies, or elaborate tree houses with spiral staircases, rope bridges, and water slides. Add to that the rebuilding after Katrina that’s still very apparent, and the lively gentrifying/remodeling of my neighborhood, and one can hardly help but feel the urge to grab a saw and a sander and go at it. There’s also a communal effort to use salvaged materials, so much that the area I live in has been dubbed the “re-use district.”

I’ve always joked that if this whole writing thing doesn’t work out, I’m going to become a furniture maker. I told this to a friend once and she said that furniture maker is pretty much the sexiest occupation a man could have. So, that didn’t discourage me much.

My grandfather fancied himself a woodworker. He made some decent pieces, a few of which I hope to own once I stop moving around so much. He died before I knew him well, but he apparently had an affinity for wood. A native of the Plains, he moved to Wyoming’s mountains to work in the timber. He came into some money once and bought a lumber mill, which he mismanaged and drank away in a little more than a year. He built a house in the town where my Dad grew up that never did sit quite right. When he and my grandma moved out of the mountains into the house in which they both died, he built a woodworking shop in the basement. I remember rifling through it as a child, handling his tools, smelling the sawdust, playing among the stacks of planks of cherry and cedar and ash.

The bookshelf’s basic design came to Akasha as we were drifting off to sleep one night, and in the morning she drew a rough blueprint. I added the final touch—the triangle design in the back, which also keeps the whole thing from tilting—and began to gather supplies. I got the tools from the local tool library, of which I’m an incredibly proud member, although since my car’s not running properly I had to bike across town in the summer heat with a circular saw, a power drill, and other heavy miscellany in my backpack. The bookshelf only took two days to build, and everyone is happy with the way it turned out. We didn’t even wait to stain it before we filled it with books. Once we did, we arranged the living room around it. Akasha, our friend Jenny, and I sat in a circle admiring it, and discussing its plentiful merits.

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