‘I Compare it With Yours’

A poignant scene – Chris packing up his tools.

I’ve been at our parent company, F+W Media, almost as long as our soon-to-be Editor Emeritus Christopher Schwarz. And even when I didn’t know him very well, I thought he was a pretty cool guy. He drove a red Karmann Ghia that I’d have given my eyeteeth to own…except I’d already pawned those to pay for graduate school – but unlike Chris, my graduate school did not make me into trained journalist with a master’s degree in…JOURNALISM! (Sorry. Inside joke.)

But before I joined the staff at Popular Woodworking almost six years ago, I was writing the direct mail packages that I hope convinced a lot of you to subscribe to our magazine. That’s how I met Chris (I think he was managing editor at the time, or maybe executive editor) and then-Editor Steve Shanesy (who is currently the publisher and editorial director, but soon to become a senior editor. My head. It spins.).

Every couple of (yes Chris, that “of” is for you) weeks, I’d pop down to the shop with a DM package or other marketing copy for Steve to look over and (hopefully) approve. And I’d give him a deadline of two days or so. So three or four days after I’d dropped off said materials, I’d come storming back down with what I thought was a mean scowl on my face (though it was likely risible) and demand that my work be reviewed NOW! I no doubt loudly delivered a condescending lecture or two over the years on the sanctity of deadlines.

I was thus shocked – no, gobsmacked – when, after seven years of enduring my attacks, Steve and Chris asked if I’d be interested in the managing editor position for Popular Woodworking. All they knew of me was that I was loud and pushy and not afraid to get in anyone’s face (that’s actually in the ME job description as it turns out, if in different words). And I guess they must have thought I was an OK writer, even if a lot of what they’d read from me was of the, “But wait – act now and you’ll also get…” variety.

I’d just turned in my resignation to F+W in order to pursue another graduate degree, but Chris (who was promoted to editor just days after I’d accepted the position), kindly agreed to allow me to hightail it to campus as needed for the rare mid-day class, so I took the job. And when I finished my coursework and had to prepare for comprehensive exams, Chris allowed me to take the bulk of my 2008 vacation at the end of December, and the bulk of my 2009 vacation in January (my exams were in early February). I wasn’t in the office very much for almost three months running, which meant Chris, who used to have my job, had to pick up my slack.

I know from experience how hard it is to do two full-time jobs; I doubt I’ve ever properly thanked him for that great kindness he showed me as I pursued my dream of one day teaching Shakespeare. If I’ve been remiss in that Chris, please know how much I appreciate in particular what you did for me those long months.

So it’s selfish for me to be anything but happy for Chris as he leaves Popular Woodworking as a full-time staff member in pursuit of his own dream of making Lost Art Press into something more, with even bigger dreams down the line.

But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss seeing him at work every day.

After I decided that I wanted to learn woodworking in addition to my ME duties, Chris has had to endure my endless questions (as have the rest of the guys – but I’m particularly fond of hand tools, so Chris has borne the brunt of it). I wanted to know what every tool did, and why. And how to use it. Why is bevel-down better than bevel-up – or is it, and when? What’s the difference between a sash saw and a carcase saw? Doesn’t that breast drill hurt? (Yes, it does.) And for the bazillionth time, what is fleam? (I’ve got that one now – promise.)

Chris patiently answered my every query. He allowed me to use his tools, and taught me to choose good ones of my own (but man, does he have expensive tastes!). He even came in on a few Saturdays to help me with some projects. And he built two benches with me. In short, he’s been instrumental in helping me to become a woodworker, and far more quickly (and better) than I could have hoped to learn on my own.

I also owe him for at least a third of my music collection, for Chris has been just as generous with his music as with his woodworking tools and knowledge. (I thank him in particular for introducing me to Todd Thibaud, Middle Brother and Serena Ryder.) I’m also mighty thankful he never got tired (or never said that he did, anyway) of listening to my litany of complaints – without Chris as an almost-daily lunchtime sounding board, I’d have probably long ago started on blood pressure medication (which reminds me – I’d best call my doctor).

Unlike me, Chris did learn a lot about woodworking (and photography and computers and cooking and cars and music and…) on his own – by reading, by experimenting, by listening, by being driven by a boundless curiosity about everything (and boundless energy), and by never being afraid to try something new. And he’s always done just about everything with good cheer, a quiet voice and grace.

There’s a line from Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” that comes to mind when I think about Chris: Marianne, while speaking about her behavior with her sister, says, “I compare it with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours.”

Chris, I’ll miss you – and hope you’ll stop by for the odd Starbucks from time to time. I’m buying.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

11 thoughts on “‘I Compare it With Yours’

  1. Kevin Fitzsimons

    What a great commentary. I’ve been to a couple of your Hand Tool Days, and it’s kind of fun to picture everyone at PW in their work spaces jabbering away. I really love each of your writing styles too. It’s almost a conversation. Although at opposite ends of the magazine world, I enjoy reading Popular Woodworking and Vanity Fair. Very different, but as top quality as it gets. (There are several car mags in between those two, too). Thanks everyone!

  2. dlosey

    Megan,
    Thanks for the great article, and thank Chris for all his fine work at PW.

    Doug

  3. Fred West

    Megan,

    Thank you for the great write up. I could feel your emotion in your writing. Chris will be heavily missed by so many of us but not nearly as much as those of you that had him there every day.

    Fred

  4. joeliwest

    Very nice, well said, err wrtitten.

    Thanks to both of you for hours of enjoyment and learning

    Joe Anderson

  5. samson141

    Nice piece. And yeah, Middle Brother! Their album has been in heavy rotation in the shop of late. Rock on!

  6. Jonathan Szczepanski

    Well said Magan.

    “…he’s been instrumental in helping me to become a woodworker, and far more quickly…”

    I’m sure your not the only one.

    Jonathan
    ==============================

  7. Swarf

    Beautiful tribute, Megan. I will miss the almost daily knowledge, wit, and encouragement coming from the pen of Christopher. Thanks Chris. Best wishes to you as you ascend the road less traveled.

    Gerald

  8. glamers

    Megan,

    hats off! Must have been daunting even for you to use a quote from JA! But you lived up to it; Great article and well deserved, no doubt, by Chris.
    Thank you!

    Gereon,

    who thinks we could do with more quotes from that great English writer!

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