Old men like to tell stories. At least this old man does. I – my knowledge, joy, “wisdom” – come from long experience and my stories are a way of explaining myself to the world. To reminisce is an increasing urge among baby boomers of whom I am a precursor. Hence, for instance, the proliferating memoirs genre. I don’t need to write one. Telling stories to my golf buddies is enough. However there is some knowledge that I will regret never fully expressing and passing on.
I have no children. The lore that I might naturally impart to my children will die with me. The particular category that I have been thinking about lately is woodworking. Though not a master by any measure, I have done a fair amount of furniture making and building in my lifetime. I know how to design for rigidity and natural expansion. I know how to hide a joint, how to glue up a panel, how to finish with oil, how to use tools safely, but most importantly I know how to touch wood. I can feel the mis-sharpened saw pull to one side, the chisel edge resist the end grain. My finger tips feel the grain, the sharp edge of a corner, the resistance of the chopsaw as it cuts through a know. My fingers, tendons, muscles, even feet balanced on the floor, ache for me to touch the wood and this particular joy will die with me.
Since this is a math blog, I suppose I ought to try for an math analogy. Maybe seeing the story in a formula, all the dependencies of an equation or the form of a well-structured proof provide a visceral feeling akin to touching wood. Maybe providing a flowing mathematical argument. Or not. Woodworking is physical and immediate. Mathematics can be thought to be a set of nested analogies starting with the physical and moving quickly to abstraction. I experience joy in woodworking and mathematics – same sensation from very different realms.