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Making a Harp - Part 1

Joanna Campbell

extension-996004_1920On the second day of our impromptu beach vacation, Dennis decides to buy an electric planer at a local hardware store. “The oak panels need to be thinner, so they will resonate more once the harp is complete.”

“Uh, what,” I ask. “I thought that was the reason for sanding the pieces before we left.”

“Yes, but thinner wood will make the sound so much better.”  

A parade of images flashes through my mind. Sawdust filling every crack and crevice of the beach condo. Neighbors beating down our door because sawdust has drifted to their condo. Various kinds of bodily harm due to malfunctioning equipment.

I love my husband. We have been married for five years. He is building me a harp because I once played years ago, and it delights him to make things with his hands. As he builds, as the tools and sharp objects pile up, my nerves feel frayed. I have trouble with disorder. My own chaos is fine, but pairing it with my husband’s is an uncomfortable challenge. The older I get, the more I see my own hypocrisy, but this awareness doesn’t prevent it from sprouting like a rogue chin hair.

I sit on the couch and write but mostly stare out the window to the ocean. Dennis is on the balcony operating a planer that sounds like the world’s loudest dentist drill. I try not to watch. Focus on your writing. He pauses and pokes his head in, his curly hair coated in fine dust. “Too loud,” he asks softly, and then,“It won’t take very long.” Instead of saying, Yes, it’s too loud, and this feels crazy, I say, “No problem.” This is what you say when your spouse is building you a harp.

My parents have been married for over forty years, an impressive feat given they were both previously married. They taught me much. I seemed to have missed the lesson about how your spouse’s delight can also drive you mad at times. Not only is it pure joy for Dennis to work on the harp, it is an offering in celebration of my talents. No one told me something so gracious could make me irritable and petty. Our premarital counselor, Stephen, never mentioned this possibility. Stephen was on point when he ended our final session with, “One of you will need to decide who is in charge of opening the mail.” At the time, I thought he was making a joke. At the time, I didn’t realize the full consequences of marrying someone with virtually the same personality preferences.  

This means many things. It means we are drawn to spontaneity and living in the moment. Once, while driving from Arkansas to Washington, we ran out of gas two days in a row. We were caught up in telling stories, and the needle slid past my notice. The inconvenience turned into an adventure, and we loved it. It also means we are reluctant to open the mail, and I usually reward myself with a good cry after tending to home finance. Our similar personalities mean we both love creativity, and we often make messes in the process. Sometimes our creativity coexists peacefully as we write or read. Sometimes Dennis’s creativity is loud when mine is quiet.

I wake in the morning to find Dennis organizing his tools between the dining room and the balcony. “Where will you work this morning,” I ask. “I’d like to write.”

“I feel like I’m running you off,” he says.

“No, just tell me where you’re going to work, so I know where I can write.”

The back bedroom with a closed door and shuttered window turns out to be the best place to write. I’m not tempted to stare out the window to the waves crashing. I will not become an expert in sea gulls. Dennis lends me his high tech headphones to cover my ears entirely, and I begin typing.

Read Part 2