“Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.”-Michelangelo
When I was very young, maybe 10 or 12, I sat on the beach watching my grandfather carve submarines out of loose pieces of driftwood. His fat hands were like crab claws bent around his knife, a knife so much longer and sharper than a Swiss Army knife that it came with its own sheath he strapped to his belt. That day he taught me a skill I never realized I’d use through the rest of my life: the skill of whittling.
There’s something meditative about carving wood. It’s working with natural, earthly material. It’s being locked in the moment, your mind focused on each slice of the knife. It’s being outdoors where the breeze blows the wood clear of loose cuttings. Most of all, it’s commanding the process of crafting a chunk of raw wood into something stripped what I deem its essential and perfected quality to be. It’s art.
I’ve been putting together the environmental PSA I filmed for class, compiling all the footage into Final Cut and editing it. It’s pretty clear why people hate editing films. It’s more arduous than watching three baseball games back-to-back in below freezing weather. But, I like editing. It’s whittling. That’s what I realized. You take a chunk of raw data, chop it all up, and arrange it into something that connects with the viewer.
Even editing my screenplay for my workshop. Writing workshops are like communal whittling sessions. Everyone takes a turn at taking the blade to each other’s driftwood, carving more detail into objects that are taking form.
Sometimes I think whittling crosses over into my daily life. Cleaning. Whittle. To Do lists. Whittle. Selling shit I don’t need on Ebay. Slice. Choosing what to wear. Cut. Deciding on the events of the day. Chip.
In highschool, I walked away from my immature and destructive group of friends. That was a big carve. A major edit. And like whittling, something dramatic like this can hurt in the same way you might cut your hand or catch a chipping in your eye.
In the end, when the whittling is finished and you have yourself a detailed submarine or car or doll or snowflake, whatever, you can sit back and be proud that you made something out of nothing, that you pared something naturally raw into something simple and affecting.
You’ve created art, out of a stick, a film, your belongings, your social circle, your day. My grandfather whittled his life into something moving and memorable. His presence and daily carving left behind art. It’s his art and that of others in this world, alive or passed to the next, that I take up this knife and carve out my own.