Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff — complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah.
The middle of January in 2018
Mild weather, clear skies, no snow.
It’s already a confusing year here. Seems like we’ve gone from late Fall into early Spring, skipping Winter entirely. The apricot trees in the old homestead orchard across the road are ready to bud out. There’s mud where there should be snow. And when I went into town a week ago for groceries, the juggernaut of Valentine’s Day had already hit City Market. Big Love has come to town, and it’s just the middle of January. Weird.
My mind is attracted to the most obvious and nearby aspects of Life.
Often, when I notice a small string and pull on it, the string becomes a chord leading to something wider and deeper. This new essay is an example.
I was sitting in a chair thinking about what to write about.. . . .
And the obvious came to me: Of course!
Sitting and Chairs. Aha!
NOW I SIT ME DOWN
To give credit where it’s due, that’s actually the title of a book I read when I was doing research for this essay. Written by Witold Rybczynski, (Vee-told Rib-chin-ski – it’s Polish, but he grew up in England and Canada). He’s the author of many books, a world traveler, a lively, perceptive writer, and an emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennslvania.)
He began his book on chairs and sitting by considering the chairs he personally uses on a daily basis.
I’ll do the same.
The first sitting device I use every day is a wooden bar-stool with a back on it.
This chair was made by an Amish craftsman from cherry wood – no nails.
There are four like it around my high kitchen woodblock counter.
But the one on the end is “my chair” – the only one I ever sit on.
After breakfast, I take my coffee and go over and sit in another chair, which is the most “my chair” in the house. An adjustable lounging chair, covered in padded brown leather – with an adjustable foot stool. It’s the chair I do most of my reading in. It also leans back far enough to invite a nap. But in the morning I drink my coffee there while listening to music. I say it’s “my chair” because nobody ever sits there but me. Even when there are guests and extra chairs must be brought into the living room, nobody has ever sat in “my chair.” I wouldn’t mind – and I don’t ever say “don’t sit in my chair,” but nobody has or will. The unspoken indication is clear – that chair is special – The Personal Chair of the Master of the House.
Next – The toilet – also a special purpose chair, but I’ll not dwell on its use.
When the weather is nice, I move out onto my east-facing porch and sit in a rocking chair – another product of Amish skills. Rustic in style, made of bent wood with the bark still on it. There are four of these – none of them just “mine.”
I like rocking back and forth – good exercise for the legs and back – and comforting in a primitive way. Sometimes, sitting by the fire on a snowy winter evening, I choose a rocking chair again – for thinking and dreaming.
The next chair in my daily habit is in my writing studio – in front of my computer.
It’s a hot-rod of a chair. Based on the original Aeron chair first produced in 1994.
This latest version is ergonomic – based on extensive research into the nature of the human body. It has several levers and buttons to adjust it to fit my needs – it has a springy nylon seat and back – it swivels – it rolls – it leans back and forward as I lean. It’s a “task” chair – for sitting and working comfortably.
Something like it has become the universal office chair. And more than that –
it’s the perfect dining room chair. I once had four of these at my big dining table in a larger house. Guests were first surprised, then delighted. The chairs made long after-dinner conversation a pleasure. Unlike ergonomic chairs, dining-room chairs are rigid and very uncomfortable. Why not put guests at ease?
I like to vary my working position, so I have a second whiz-bang chair at the stand-up desk I use in my studio. I realize that I don’t sit in it much – use it mostly to pile books on. I write and work as much standing up as I do sitting down.
There’s a backless metal stool in my art studio – good for quick up and down.
And I own a set of green plastic monobloc chairs – one piece construction – made from a single extrusion of pellets into a mold. They are now the cheapest, most ubiquitous chairs in the world. Stackable, weather-proof, endurable, easy to clean and store. Very practical. I have them available for guests at parties outdoors in the summer time. But I never sit in one for long. They’re a bit rigid and wiggly – somehow, alien – not a solution for friendly sitting for long.
One special chair is not used daily, but often. I carry a folding canvas camp chair in my car. When I want to stop and enjoy the scenery, I get out and set up my chair and relax. Keeps me from hurrying by and glancing quickly out the car window when I ought to take time to slow down, get out, sit down, and look around.
Finally, out on the porch of my office is an antique wheel chair – made of wood with a woven cane seat and back. I rarely sit in it – it’s old and fragile..
But it’s a handsome piece combining design and utility. And it reminds me that sooner or later, I’ll probably wind up sitting in something like it.
Rybczynski notes there are “Seven Ages of Chairs – baby carriage, high chair, schoolroom chair, office chair, club chair, recliner, wheelchair. Our lives begin and end in chairs on wheels.”
In retrospect, I’ve used many chairs across the years. Some were chosen out of intrigue with design – bean-bags, for example, and interesting arty chairs. But all were discarded because they were hard to get down onto and even harder to get up out of – or else just plain uncomfortable, despite being aesthetically interesting.
It only took one big leak of plastic pellets from a beanbag chair to render it ready for the dump.
Factoids – from research for this essay:
1. For most of human history, chairs were used only by the very rich or very powerful – pharaohs and kings and generals. Ordinary people did not own or start using chairs until the 16th century. Hence the notion of the chairman – one who holds the seat of power and authority.
2. About one-fourth of the human population still does not own or use chairs. In much of Asia, South America, and Africa, people sit or squat on the ground or floor. I tried that while living in Japan – couldn’t manage it.
3. Sitting in chairs for most of the day is bad for the health of your body. In the West, we spend much of our waking hours sitting on our butts. And people who do that have more health problems and shorter lives, so say the researchers. Many of our physical ailments are a by-product of prolonged sitting. They say don’t sit.
Sitting is the new Smoking.
4. Squatting is actually better for child-birth, defecation, and lower body muscles.
But Americans and Europeans are not good at it – our short Achilles tendons don’t allow us to put our feet flat on the floor when we squat.
5. Wikipedia says: “Actual chair dimensions are determined by measurements of the human body or anthropometric measurements. The two most relevant anthropometric measurement for chair design is the popliteal height and buttock popliteal length.
For someone seated, the popliteal height is the distance from the underside of the foot to the underside of the thigh at the knees. It is sometimes called the “stool height”. The term “sitting height” is reserved for the height to the top of the head when seated. For American men, the median popliteal height is 16.3 inches (410 mm) and for American women it is 15.0 inches (380 mm). The popliteal height, after adjusting for heels, clothing and other issues, is used to determine the height of the chair seat. Mass-produced chairs are typically 17 inches (430 mm) high. That’s for the average person – though who of us is standard?
Euphemisms I note in regular use:
We say a suspenseful book or film keeps us sitting on the edge of one’s seat.
When shocked or surprised we say we nearly fell of our chair.
The best players in an orchestra are awarded first chair status.
And endowed position in academia is an endowed chair.
And there is the chair of a board, the game of musical chairs, and if you are convicted of a capital crime, you get the chair meaning you are going to be executed.
And there are religious positions for sitting in meditation – the Lotus in Buddhism, the Vajrasana in Yoga to name two.
Out of childhood memories, I hear my mother’s voice saying, “Bobby Lee, shut up and sit down.” She said it often. I had the ability to do that, but not the inclination. So I spent a lot of time in and out of a kitchen chair she used as a “time out” place for me as punishment for having a big mouth that sassed her. Didn’t work. . . .
I still sit down, but shutting up, as this essay indicates, is not in my skill set.
That’s a whole lot more than you might have ever wanted to know about chairs and sitting down. But it’s an example of what happens when my curiosity goes on an adventure in search of information about something common and ordinary.
As I finish, I wonder about you and your chair inventory and sitting habits.
What would I see if I followed you around for a day or two.
Do you have a chair that you think of as strictly yours alone?
But I digress. One final thought:
In truth, for all that . . . . . in truth – my all-time favorite place to sit is in a playground swing – back and forth up to the sky on a sunny day in summer.
Why don’t I have one?|
This essay has provoked me to get a really big swing – adult size.
Why not? What harm? Why have I waited so long to do something so fine?