By Alona Elkayam
No One Knows Me Like My Workbench
I bought Sol, my workbench, in March 2017, when I moved back to New York to work for IBM. I name my work tables. I’ve had one in every living space for as long as I could remember.
After 9/11, I’d had panic attacks and was told I’d have them for the rest of my life. “No. No. No. Not me,” I said to myself. I moved to Paris and sat at my Parisian
workbench for over six months and created a series of paintings. I returned to the States free from panic.
A workbench is a place of honesty. Memories are stored in the graphite, cellulose of the watercolor paper, and cotton in the canvas used to create expression. No place to hide.
The workbench I have now is my most distinguished. I call him Sol and he’s made of walnut. A thing of mid-century beauty– minimalist with metal raising girders.
Since the first time I moved to New York over 18 years ago, I’ve had over 13 apartments. Each one, furnished with a workbench. There is no greater joy than arranging tools on a workbench. Every item placed on the tabletop, delicately, as if each X-acto knife and Stabilo pencil were diamonds. Stacked, colored neon tape, Bustelo coffee cans filled with brushes, pencils, pens, and the occasional chopstick or tangled rubberband. Spray paint cans against the wall next to the Krinks in every color, on top of the healing mat. Sitting at my table, I’m Danica Patrick behind the pace car right before the green flag signals “go” –ready to conquer.
In September 2018, my grandmother died. Sol slowly became the place I’d put my Amazon boxes and winter, then spring jackets. This table was a place of honesty and there was no way I could be honest about how much pain I was in. Once, when I was little I went to Israel with my brother and father. I was twelve and loved the water, but it was the first time I ever jumped waves. A gigantic wave was ahead and I tumbled underneath for what felt like hours. I didn’t want to become submerged in grief, like that wave. I had a full-time job, I had a life. So, I stayed away from Sol.
Little by little, I’d sit in front of Sol. Just sit. My heart began to open, and I could feel my grandmother’s love again. Then, I moved my laptop there and worked on my professional stuff. Then, I bought another small table and put it next to Sol and that was where my Amazon packages were placed. Respect for my workbench was respect for myself. Then, I had an art show scheduled and her love came alive more often than loss. Then, I opened up a new agency, the one I have now. Back to Sol. Back to life.
Quarantine gave me time to confront residual grief. The deeper the grief, when dealt with, the deeper the stillness. Time and the mind expand when you work in stillness. I don’t often get this personal in my public writing, but I’m taking a chance. I’ve never been so still, productive, or confident of my voice in my life. It shows in both my professional and personal creations. I wish all of you the incredible gift of stillness.
My grandmother’s name was Miriam. Her husband, my grandfather, his name was Sol.