It seemed like a good idea at the time: when my friend and I were moving his old and unwanted piano to the curb and happened to break it open on the way down the driveway, I spied the “harp” inside and thought it would make a great coffee table. It would, too: later I Googled “piano harp table” and found plenty of images that matched or exceeded my imaginary project results. I wanted to make it, but not for myself: I live on a not-big sailboat, so even if I did have space for a coffee table – especially one that takes at least two men to lift – on a sailboat it would be ridiculous and dangerous. No, I figured it would be great for either of my nephews in their college apartments.
I called my nephews to see if they were interested in making strong legs and mounting a glass or plexiglass top, and then I claimed it from my friend’s curb. I deconstructed the piano at his house and trucked the harp to my marina, where I tucked it away in a shed.
Weekend after weekend passed, and before I knew it, the piano harp had been sitting there for months, still attached to its backboard and not looking the least bit closer to becoming a coffee table. With my nephews’ busy term breaks, part-time job schedules, and the 100 miles between us, we accepted that it just wasn’t going to happen, and about that time the marina owner asked me to get rid of it.
To take it to the recycler, the harp had to be separated from the wood backing, and that turned out to be more work than deconstructing the rest of the entire piano. The fine-threaded tuning screws had to be loosened one by one before the strings could be cut (a piano-tuning friend of mine warned me about the danger of an unequally stressed harp!), and the wood parts were strongly glued and screwed together. It took a couple of hours over three afternoons to get it ready to throw away!
The reason for writing about this? As I was turning the small wrench on those 88 finely-threaded and very tight piano wire adjustment screws, I started thinking about the day I conceived this project. It would have been cool, but both of my nephews and I were a bit too busy to start something none of us really needed. Ya, it was a cool project, but it was also much more of a want than a need. That’s what I learned (again, dammit!) from this: sometimes you have to say no to things you want to do, no matter how cool it might be, so that you have time to do things more useful to the rest of your life. The thought might have jelled in my head because I heard something about Steve Jobs saying no to a lot of good projects so Apple could focus on the best projects. Focus is not about only keeping your eye on the target; it’s also about narrowing your field of peripheral vision. “Wants” have a seductive way of distracting you from your more important goals.
So, I killed a piano, and from it I harvested not a coffee table but a reminder to use what I already knew . . .