Ethan Marcotte now blogs at Unstoppable Robot Ninja.

Weblog entry:

Splinters and splitting

During the summers of my high school and college years, I worked a number of part- and full-time jobs: depending on the day of the week, I’d try my hand at being a house painter, a church organist, a lawnmower, even a soda jerk (quiet, you). Variety being the spice of life and all that, the hectic summers didn’t so much keep my pockets well-lined — it was more about keeping my nanosecond-long attention span in check.

My favorite job only happened once a week — Saturday, 8.00am sharp, he’d say — and though I was willing to help out for free, he’d rarely let me. You see, over the course of a few years, my high school English teacher was in the process of painting his house, a monstrous turn-of-the-century farm house that had more walls than I’d care to count, and more layers of old paint than my scraping arm cares to remember. At some point in the middle of the summer, we’d change gears; he’d get a shipment of wood for the winter, and the entire cord needed to be split and stacked before the winter came. So my then-English teacher would borrow a gas-powered woodsplitter from one of his then-parishioners, and we’d get to work.

For those of you that’ve used a woodsplitter before, I can assure you that it wasn’t half as idiosyncratic (read: “scary as white-hot fuck”) as this one. As near as we could figure, the woodsplitter was forged sometime around the turn of the Roman Empire; it was basically a long iron slat with a large blade on the one end, an engine on the other. To operate, one person — usually my teacher, as he didn’t want to deal with any Frostian unpleasantries on my behalf — would hold the log against the bladed end, while I’d operate the splitter from the other. By depressing a lever gently, a post would slide out from the engine; gliding along the length of the splitter, it’d eventually push the log up against the blade, and cleanly cut the log into two pieces. We’d gather up the remains, walk to the woodshed, and stack them neatly against each other.

More often than not, the woodsplitter would work just fine. But of course, it would get away from us from time to time: whether my hand slipped, or I tried to smash my way through an especially unruly log, the blade would rush out and strike the wood, shattering it into unusable shrapnel and scaring the dickens out of its operators. Thankfully, we never had to deal with any serious injuries; the worst we’d have to deal with was some sore hands, perhaps a splinter or two. Eventually, we’d bend back over the splitter, shooting some glances at each other as we did so; those looks hurt even more than our hands did, as they were often tinged not only with shock and surprise, but perhaps even a little mistrust.

In the past week, I’ve learned the value of a steady hand — even more importantly, I’ve learned the damage it can cause when you try to smash through a particularly difficult point. Whether my hand slipped, or the temptation to be right was too great, it doesn’t really matter: at the end of the day we’re left with some sore hands, perhaps some bruised egos, and more than a few pieces of wood scattered about the room.

At the end of all this, I’ve learned that the best way forward is to issue apologies where they’re needed, reassert your position whenever possible, and allow other folks to do the same. Of course, few positions have changed, some have even been reinforced under duress. But in the end, if you’re ever going to clean up the mess you’ve helped make and stack the woodpile even higher, you’re going to need all the hands you can get.

Additional Reading:
  1. Keith Robinson, Positive Communication


Hooray, technical difficulties.

There’s a WordPress issue that’s currently preventing old comments from displaying correctly. Sorry for the inconvenience, but hopefully we’ll be back online soon.