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Friday, 16 November 2007


By Rabon Saip of Elder Times

I have written before about my friend and maestro, Juan Espinoza, with whom I worked in Mexico, but I don’t think I could ever exhaust the potential for story he brought to my life. Much of my time with him seems to have been spent in another dimension, a liminal threshold between two different worlds.

He was not an imposing figure, five feet seven or so and slender, but being around him in the context of learning how to build stringed instruments touched me with the easy magnitude and eloquence of his spirit.

I learned from him by osmosis, by witnessing his attitude and the movement of his hands at work. And there were times I would have sworn he was committing magic; so calm and efficient was the grace with which he accomplished difficult tasks. Yes, obviously he was skilled, but more than that, he was "connected."

I suppose one could compare this connection to "the Force," as in the Star Wars movies. But no, it was not so much like that energy related to martial arts; it was more like "the Source," related to the universal energy of creativity. It was through Juan that I learned to let go of the illusion of control and "allow" the work to happen, to trust, to rely on the mystery of "flow."

It was a learning I would try to apply, with varying degrees of success, to areas of my life other than woodworking.

When we first started our time together, Juan and I had few words in common. But, with his efforts to learn some English and mine to learn Spanish, after a while we were able to carry on some degree of conversation. One day I asked him if he had ever played pool, a game with which, due to my eyesight, I’d had an inconsistent relationship. "Por seguro," he said, he enjoyed shooting a game of pool now and then.

To this day I regret that my best games of pool seemed to be the result of "allowing" the game to happen under the influence. There were times I could run the table with ease, in that Zen zone of looseness between caring and not caring, between attachment and non-attachment, but usually with the lubrication of a few drinks.

At any rate Juan and I agreed to seek out an empty table that very evening. We got together around eight and strolled downtown. There was one major pool hall near the main plaza, but every table was occupied when we got there and others were waiting to play. I had thought this was the only pool hall in town, but Juan indicated there was another place we could try.

We walked several blocks away from the main plaza and came to a nondescript doorway in what appeared to be a residential building. There were no signs or other indications of a pool hall. However, when we opened the door and entered, we were standing at the top of a wide, open flight of stairs leading down to a large room with several pool tables, all but one of which was in play. Then, as though a switch had been thrown, everything stopped.

That silent moment, with Juan and me standing at the top of the stairs and every head in the room turned toward us, is forever held in memory. It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening. My maestro had brought me to a place where I should not have been. The pool hall downtown was okay for gringos, but this place was for locals only.

Most of the men in the room were younger than Juan and didn’t seem at all friendly. In fact, they seemed to me like a pretty tough bunch. When I checked Juan out from the corner of my eye, it was clear he was calm and unperturbed.

I can’t say how long we stood there, but the invisible switch was eventually thrown again, in reverse. And everyone resumed their games as Juan and I headed for the empty table.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


That must have been surreal. I have had no similar experience, except that of woprking in the zone, as we call it. Allowing the "force" to work through you is a wonderful state to be in, and I seek it as often as possible.

I think being open to such a flow of energy, as if one's whole being is occupying another dimension, must be an artist's ultimate creative experience. The finished piece from that time is the one I would want for my own. I could sense your awe at being present as witness.

I wonder if you, too, have occupied that "place," and have pursued your woodworking? I have a love affair with natural woods, decrying paint that is slathered all over the grains' lifeline.

Your decriptive words captured well the atmosphere of that unique moment in the locals' pool room.
Thank your for sharing these stories.

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