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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Friday, June 04, 2010

Shop Class as Soul Craft - My Review

I grew up in a working class family. Throughout my childhood, Dad always had me working at his side completing various project and side-jobs. He saw the beauty in his children being to work with their hands and believed it was the best hedge against starving to death. He had a strong work ethic and loved to tinker around his shop. He also drew great satisfaction in seeing a job come to completion and admired ingenuity over wealth. There was a certain beauty attached to something that came out of the creative process arising out of some tangible need called for by the task at hand.

While I protested all the way and failed to appreciate the process, I do recall the sense of accomplishment that came at the completion of whatever job we were doing. I have come to appreciate the wisdom of my Dad's' unrelenting insistence that I learned how to work with my hands.

Matt Crawford makes some excellent arguments for earning a living with your hands. Crawford is an academic but he hasn't forgotten where he came from. He was an electrician who worked his way through university. His education culminated with a PhD after completing his baccalaureate studies in the hard science of Physics.

To some, his decision to step down from the pinnacle of working in a high powered think tank in order to pursue his love of tinkering with motorcycle repair, was sheer folly.

I disagree.

Crawford experienced the sense of accomplishment and
gratification associated with working with his hands. In this book, he honors people who earn a living by the sweat of their brow.

He makes a cogent argument that intelligence and vocation are not mutually exclusive. It is particularly impressive that he could be be so articulate in honoring the workers whose contributions are so necessary in any society. He doesn't dumb down the writing because he reflects what blue collar workers know; they are not dumb.

Unfortunately, social demands and value placed on 'brain powered' jobs tends to marginalize the people who are the back bone of this nation. It is no longer a commonplace notion that high merit should be placed on physical labor. The result for such convention is creation of a world where the predictable outcome is standardized and made ever more precise using measurable data, true craftsmanship and ingenuity are slowly being diminished in the interest of progress.

While I can proclaim my deep sense of satisfaction to be linked with creation, and working with my hands is an integral part of my life, I would be remiss if I did not add this caveat; we live in a mean world.

You see, banks don't give a damn about how good I feel about working with my hands. They tend to rank my credibility in the world according to whether I can pay my debts. That attendant value associated with work earned by sweat of the proverbial brow is substantially lower than say, work done by day traders, doctors, lawyers and actors.

I suppose the most frustrating issue for me is that - like most people who have traveled this road of subsistence versus the path lined with monetary success - is that it is tough to make a sour grapes argument. Plainly put; it sucks to be poor.

I want more and I want to enjoy a life where I am disencumbered enough to do what I really love and that is to be a writer. The upside is I have my dreams. The down side of it is that I have to pay my bills.

Dividing my time between what is necessary and what I desire is what life is all about. Meanwhile, I bust my butt every day in order to meet whatever demands I deemed important at some earlier time in life - important enough that I committed my name to dotted lines.

Undoubtedly, the sense of accomplishment I feel - whenever I create a piece of furniture, complete a remodel, build a beautiful door or gate or some stone structure like a fence or fireplace from scratch or even when I just figure out how to do something, that brings great satisfaction. Finding people who appreciate the same is becoming daily less common. Being a craftsman nowadays is tantamount to living a life of servitude and while I am not convinced that the future looks bright, I am nonetheless committed. I keep building and I keep paying my debts and I keep on dreaming of better days ahead.

Yes, working with my hands is a charmed life. Like it or not, I am committed and even if I could change things, I doubt that I would. Romantic inklings aside, here's hoping I don't end up living under a bridge any time soon.

Thanks Matt and Thanks Dad.


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