The Sundial Ring
It is said that ideas will come to you when you are not really looking and that has never been more true for this ring. This idea came in the form of a podcast that I listened to back in April.the podcast: S-Town. Most likely you've listened, but in case you haven't I'll quickly summarize. There are minor spoilers here, so I would suggest listening first before continuing.
The podcast follows the journey of an eccentric antique clock restorer named John B. McLemore who has contacted Brian Reed of This American life in the hopes that he will look into an alleged murder that has taken place in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama - or as he calls it, Shittown, Alabama. John has many grievances large and small and was disgusted with the goings on within his small town.
The story is complex, beautiful and tragic all at the same time and many of us can identify with John in some way. Regret, missed opportunities, fear of loneliness, and frustration for things that we feel we can’t change are all very real parts of life that we deal with at one point or another and they are themes that crop up in the podcast.
Given my line of work, I initially connected with John’s technical skill and passion for fixing old clocks by hand and his fascination with Horology (the study of time). I had heard of Horology a few years ago while working at a large scale jewelry repair center that also serviced high end watches and clocks. Around that time I also inherited a box of old pocket watches from my great uncle Joe. All of this sparked my interest.
One of my favorite parts of the story is when Brian connects with one of John’s former chemistry professors who shares with him a Sundial that John made for his birthday. Not only is it a beautiful combination of hand made brass and wooden components but it’s also perfectly functional in accordance to the specific latitude and longitude of the professor’s home. He’s so moved while explaining the one-of-a-kind gift that he’s almost brought to tears.
I have a great appreciation for people like John who have that skill, patience and knowledge to work on watches and clocks. They are getting harder to find as technology replaces many timekeeping devices. I decided that by incorporating a sundial into a piece of my jewelry I could create something showing that admiration. It could also relate to the value of time and what John described as living a “worthwhile life defined”.
“Take cognizance of the number of waking days he has remaining, and use them prudently.” John B. McLemore
Life is made up of moments in time, some boring, some sad, some unforgettably joyous and everything in between. Everybody is trying to “be more present” in life and I think that is what John is talking about in a small way. There is a point where John is reflecting on his life and despite his dismal demeanor, many of the highlights that he describes are simple and humble moments where he “spent hours entranced by the exquisiteness and delicacy of tiny mosses and molds, entire forests, within a few square inches. I have also ran thrashing and flailing from yellow jackets.”
Throughout the podcast John refers to sundials and explains that they typically have mottos engraved on them that are sad or depressing.
- “Use the hours, don't count them."
- "Even as you watch, I'm fleeing."
- “Tedious and Brief”
The top of the ring incorporates a floral pattern similar to the one on the sundial that John made for his professor and Roman numerals are laid out like that of a clock face. The sides are engraved with the hands of a clock and a rose which appropriately comes from "A Rose for Emily", the short story by William Faulkner that John loans to Brian for "bedtime reading". It is also the song that plays at the conclusion of each episode.
I know that so many found S-town to be enlightening for various reasons. With all of John’s gripes and complaints about his small town, or his outrage regarding climate change or politics, he thrived at being a sort of “outsider” and never tried to be someone that he wasn’t. We were able to get inside his mind and experience his struggles, frustrations and motives for why he was the way he was. It is easy to place judgement, but much more difficult to try to try to understand how a person got that way and reach out to them.
“I think trying to understand another person is a worthwhile thing to do.” Brian Reed