Today, I was eating my lunch and I wanted something to read and so I googled “knausgaard” and found an essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books by Nina MacLaughlin. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve finished reading Book Two of Knausgaard’s My Struggle and still I find that I want to return to that place, that destination, that world which I slipped into each time I opened his book. Not that I want to be Knausgaard or even live his life, but by being with Knausgaard the narrator, I entered into my own quotidian existence equipped with a clean lens and a bright light. Nina MacLaughlin’s essay says, “He [Knausgaard] opens our eyes to meaning.” Every act, every choice offers the possibility of meaning. How many of us even think about our choices? Especially those small choices?
When I reached the end of the essay, I read the couple of lines about the author. “Nina MacLaughlin left her job at an alt-weekly to become a carpenter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s working on a book about it to be published by W.W. Norton.” A writer of books? Another quick search yielded Nina MacLaughlin’s blog, Carpentrix with the teasing subtitle “Tools, Sweat, Building, also Books and Sometimes Sex.” I read a few posts and found that we have something else in common: mothers who knit. And in the cooler months, hardly a day goes by when I don’t have the opportunity to say the words, “My mother made it.”
I talk with my mother each week on the phone. She lives on the other side of the country, in the Pacific Northwest. She tells me about her knitting and I tell her about my writing. The two activities are not dissimilar. Writing novels might seem like an artsy way to pass the time, but the nuts and bolts of word work is a precision craft like knitting or carpentry.
There’s a practical, crafty side to my life. When I put away the tools of fiction, I strap on my rubber boots and head down to my brewery. Leaving the writing desk is always difficult for me. I want to keep writing. I want to keep reading. And as I pull on those brewery boots I think, I want to live a more literary life. But then I get to the brewery which is less than a half mile from my house and I start my work, the labor of beer making, and I wonder how I could ever give this up, this craft, this honest labor, this making of something that brings joy to myself and to others.
Yesterday, Mike and I brewed another batch of pilsner. As I was filling the last keg from the fermenter we were about to refill with the wort in the boil kettle, Mike brought me a frothy glass of the hefeweizen we’d made on Friday. Fresh, malty, tart, balance of clove and banana… a host of beery words bubbled up as I took in the aroma. Other associations like the approach of summer and afternoons on the beach came to mind as I drank in the crispy, prickly liquid. Summer in a glass.
A couple of weeks ago, I met a fellow brewer at a crafty gastropub in Manhattan and we talked about the brewing business, its trials and tribulations. You don’t go into the brewing business to make money, at least not small scale craft brewing. Eventually, my brewing colleague asked me how I got in to commercial brewing in the first place. Why did I give up homebrewing for the headaches of commercial brewing? Or why did you leave the comforts of your career-track job that guaranteed a steady income and benefits? Why turn your hobby into your career? “I thought it would be something to write about,” I said. Another life experience. Some men brave the subzero temperatures of the South Pole. Others scale the oxygen deprived heights of Everest. But I chose beer making. A possibly less lethal choice.
Thinking of Nina MacLaughlin’s blog and its subtitle, I wondered about my own blog. Should I adopt a teasing subtitle. “Kettles, Kegs, Brewing, Also Books and Sometimes… what?” I usually save the sex for my fiction. Very little sex in the brewery.