Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Just Make It

Our parents oohed and ahhed over our paper, crayon, and glue creations, even if they only decorated the fridge for a week or two before getting tossed while we weren't looking.  For many of us, that’s the last time we experienced the sort of pride and satisfaction that comes with using our own two hands to make something.  It’s likely that our skills haven’t progressed much since then, and that's a shame.

Humans are happiest when attending to our own direct needs, but we’re also inherently lazy. Continually offered an increasing abundance of manufactured goods, we’re easily robbed of both the knowledge and desire to make anything for ourselves.  A quarter of us now have mental health problems.  10% of us are on anti-depressants.  Could our idled hands be a factor?

In a world where cheap, disposable, and quickly outdated consumer goods rule, it would seem as if there’s no longer a need to make anything.  The opportunity cost of the time spent making far exceeds the cost of just purchasing.  There’s no contest when our own wages (and value for time) are competing with those of someone at a sweatshop in China.  No longer the core of home life or an occupation, hand crafts are painted with the demeaning label of “hobby”;  i.e. something to be done after we “retire”, when there’s nothing good to watch on TV.

I suspect most of us have long forgotten the joy of making, compounded in no small part by the fact that we no longer know how to provide for ourselves.  Suckling at the teat of industry is comfortable enough that most people I know are incapable of contemplating the inevitable demise of this arrangement.  

Flip to any television news channel, and you won’t have to spend too much time waiting to hear the word consumer pounded into your psyche yet again.  That’s our job.  We’ve become the dumping ground for the industrial machine that has consumed us.

In light of these thoughts, we’ve been encouraging our 9 year old son to work with his hands as well as his mind.  He started simply -- flattening bottle caps with a hammer and pounding steel wire into odd shapes.  He then mastered origami, folding complex shapes that take hours to complete.  Lately he’s been making shell jewelry, and recently exclaimed that he “LOVES wood carving!".

Though we still save for his college education, I’d have to say that I don’t feel any great need to push him towards a university system that increasingly resembles an extortion racket.  In the world I see emerging, a university degree will not hold the same weight it did when I graduated, and will likely represent little more than time and money lost in perfecting skills of greater value.  

 Rachel has been fine-tuning her skills with fiber, doing everything from cleaning and processing wool to dyeing, spinning, knitting, felting, and weaving.  I probably enjoy wearing the clothes she makes almost as much as she enjoys making them.

When I can spare a few minutes from my passion for cow-squeezing, I’ve been trying to improve my knowledge of leather tanning, sewing,  blacksmithing, spoon carving, timber framing, bow making, and bowl making (both carved and turned).  I keep studying leatherwork as well, in hopes of learning to make shoes at some point.  Check out Robin Wood's website for someone who has done an excellent job of making his craft a career.  The video of him competing with an electric lathe is quite impressive.  

For now, the unfortunate fact is that I’m finding it much easier to acquire tools than to find the time to use them.  The rule of thumb I see tossed around is that it takes about 10,000 hours (about 5 years of full time work) before any craft is mastered.   Guess I've got some work ahead of me.

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