This was the sixth working title of my book, which after another six iterations came to be called Handmade
. Such is the creative process.
I wish that I could write better.
I wish that I could perform better.
I wish that I could [insert physical act of creative endeavor
But I’m stupid.
But I’m not talented enough.
But I’m so busy at my job at [insert physical act of painful boredom, stultifying drudgery, or unsatisfying work at a computer/office/muffler shop
This is our lament, our excuse, our litany each day that we do not wake up and grab the opportunity to practice being creative.
, it is said. A great rallying cry.
When discussing the nature of time using this Latin phrase, I feel I must make the careful distinction that carpe diem
does not actually mean "fish of the day."
This Latinizing does not translate to signify that you can put this work off until you like the menu better, or the door to your future feels more open, or it feels like just the right moment to start your journey. It never feels right. The stars rarely align for you. Clumsy beginnings are the norm and not your special purview.
There is no good excuse for putting work off until tomorrow. Tomorrow, when you will have more time; tomorrow, when everyone will have stopped demanding your attention; tomorrow, when you will really try to push through your mistakes at this stuff that you think you want to be good at. Your time will always be stretched, especially if you’re a curious sort of person. Folks will never stop demanding things from you when you have skills. And you will always be making mistakes, particularly when you’re trying something new.
Disclaimer: I know that sermons like this on what you should be doing with your life can be as appealing as last night’s anchovies and pickled eggs. Okay. Forget about you for a moment.
This is what I know. It was only when I made the decision to take a chance on myself, to learn the skills of my art by practice, and to create my own work that I stopped beating myself up. I had spent a fair amount of time not doing what I wanted and I was angry. I learned to distract myself with various addictions so that I wouldn’t have to face this truth. This need to be creative was rumbling around inside of me struggling to get some air, some light, and I was stuck doing other crap I hated and I didn’t allow myself the time.
Clumsy beginnings are the norm and not your special purview.
Nobody has time. As a student of mine said to me recently, Nobody has time these days. You have to make time.
I find this to be a fine way of seeing things. We don’t have time, particularly in this age of gadgetry. How much easier and better our life was going to get with one of these babies in our hands, a telephone, TV, computer, fax, PDA, cell phone, PC, tablet, iWatch. The gadget-makers sold us distraction and product replacement instead of ease of living.
We none of us feel that we have spare time, and so we have to steal time. We have to make up time for ourselves and be selfish so that we can practice what we want to do. It will, I believe, make us more fulfilled in this parlous life. Carpe diem
refers, then, to time passing, your time passing, when you sell your self and your abilities short. Clock keeps ticking. What is stopping you from being creative?
Movement and Reality
There is a connection I make in my book between movement and our brain. It helps us to get away from that computer and stroll. Not just because we are puddling underneath our desks as our bodies atrophy with disuse, but also because this movement of walking stimulates the brain in ways that nothing else can. Thinking about a walk is not the same as walking. Nor, for that matter, does driving to work or riding a bicycle give us the slow space for thought. The pace of walking allows our brain to sift ideas, to recombine the facts that we may be struggling with. It helps us to synthesize ideas in ways that staring straight at the problem do not. Read The Old Ways
by Robert MacFarlane and understand the worth of walking a path in his brilliant book.
This walking is also a dip into our real world. Too much of being busy today is filled with things we cannot touch or see. There is no pile of digits stacked up at the end of our day as an abacus count of our efforts. One of the values of creating is the satisfaction it brings when there is something real, something palpable, something I can reach out and touch. That at the end of an hour or a day at work I can point to and say, This is what I have gotten done
I believe as well that there is magic in our grip. This grip is as fleeting but as ready as our lap. This grip can handle a tool, pick up a pencil, or thread a needle. This is power. This grip is what helped us learn how to think and to problem solve. It can still help us to develop our ideas. It should not be forgotten as a way to send out a message to the universe. The value of a grip seems lost in the torrent of thumb strokes on a keypad that masquerades as communication today.
Purpose vs. Intention
I tell my students that there is a difference between purpose and intention. A table is a table is a table, be it a plank on two sawhorses or a long inlaid mahogany banquet table. Both are used for the same purpose. But the intention in building them is completely different. One is only purposeful, the other speaks to grandiloquence and pageantry and pomp.
The same holds true for our lives. We are here to live. We do this for our allotted time and then we move on. What will your intention be in the few brief moments of your life? What I understand about my own life is that I need to do creative work and at the very same time I need to forgive myself for not being perfect at this stuff. This notion of perfection and my failure at it was stuck in my head since childhood, put there by priests and religions and parents and then twisted around in my own mind until I could not breathe when I worked.
Forgiveness at the bench, when I make my inevitable mistakes, is what I now believe is the most important thing about learning a craft. Because mistake and error are the only paths to success. To forget that internal critic who hates everything that you try and fail to do well. And with that much failure about and around, it is difficult to keep your dawber up. But this is the way to mastery. To fail again and learn from your mistakes. To forgive yourself and keep on doing the work.
Make the intention of your life to create the work that you are capable of. It will change you, and this ripple will emanate from you into the universe.
Simple as that. Hard to do. Worth it.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” — Rumi
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is a furniture maker and teacher. He skidded off his presumed college path of literature degrees and teaching to pursue something useless and beautiful. He has been writing nonfiction about woodworking since 1989, but is also a playwright, novelist, gardener, and was once a proud Beagle owner. In 1997 he started The Northwest Woodworking Studio, A School for Woodworkers, in Portland, Oregon. Classes, workshops, and the Mastery Study Program at www.northwestwoodworking.com. Handmade
is his first book.