Friday, November 6, 2009

Unplugging more than the shop...

It's funny how trying to adjust one aspect of your life can affect others. Take, for example, my attempts at reducing the use of power tools and working more towards using hand tools in my shop. I enjoy the peaceful swish of a plane gliding across a board. I relish the minimal resistance I get from a sharp chisel biting into the corner of a hinge mortise. I must admit, however, I do use a small electronic device more when I'm downstairs - my MP3 player. Whether it is traditional Irish music or the electronic mixes of John Digweed or the classic soul-warming Grateful Dead, I can hear them all in perfect clarity during my power-free sessions in the shop.

Lately, I've tried reducing my plugged-in lifestyle in other aspects of my life. Last week, Dana and I went on vacation to the Outer Banks, NC. For one full week I didn't check voice mail or email. I didn't turn on a TV or a laptop. I used my cell phone to call family upon safe arrival and safe return and that was about it. It was very enlightening and freeing. I plan on trying to do that more often, even when I'm not on vacation.

(I should take a moment here to apologize to Kari. She thought I was mad at her when I didn't respond to her emails last week. Sorry, Kari. I wasn't ignoring you and I wasn't mad at you. I was just relaxing my brain.)

I spent a little time thinking about my woodworking while on vacation. I've stepped back from it over the last month or so, but I'm not really sure why. Probably because I'm still working on getting the new shop in order and things started feeling like "work" and not "play". I get that feeling sometimes when I accept a box order I maybe shouldn't because they've only given me a few weeks to work on it. And I know it will be like that when I accept the job, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge, so I take it anyway.

It's the same way with the shop. Painting walls and hanging lights isn't fun! But I guess I need to look past the immediate tasks to see how much more productive my shop time will be when I'm back to being organized and settled into my new space.

I also have four or five partially completed boxes sitting downstairs just waiting for a bit of inlay, a tartan lining, and a coat of finish. Maybe I can compromise with myself between working on some boxes and working on the shop to more easily get through the latter.

I also got a bit of a motivational boost yesterday when I received a large flat package from Popular Woodworking magazine. It was two free issues of the December 2009 issue! Can anyone tell me what it means when you get two free issues of a magazine? That's right - it usually means you have something published in that issue! In this case, it is my Out of the Woodwork article called, "But aren't you a woodworker?". The original title to the blog that generated this article was, "But I thought you were a woodworker!" I still like my original title better, but other than that I'm quite happy with how it turned out.

If you happen to read that issue, pay particularly close attention to the last bit under my Contributors section, the part where it says, "... his first for Popular Woodworking...". I think we can all agree that means there will be more.

Speaking of "woodworking" I hate doing...

Before we left on vacation, I'd spent six or eight hours on Saturday getting my yard leaf-free. I piled them into my double-sized compost bin until it was overflowing and then filled my 55 gallon yard waste container and 14 yard waste bags with leaves. My yard was nice and clean, just the way my OCD personality likes it.

This is what I came back to - where did they come from? More importantly, are there more on the way? (Yeah, as you can tell from the first picture, they came from my sugar maple and my sweet gum trees - I guess I'm just a little upset I didn't get to enjoy the leaves on the trees as they were changing colors.) As much as I'd love to get in the shop and work on some boxes (or even paint some walls, honestly), I'm afraid most of my Saturday morning is going to be spent raking leaves tomorrow.

It isn't the kind of hand tools I like using, but at least I can listen to Jerry while I work...


Rob of Evenfall Studios said...

Hi Ethan,

Congrats on the great article in Pop Wood, that was great! I have spent many years in the trades making what other people want on a production schedule. It does seem to get done like you are not even there.

It is nice to go into the shop and have what you make feel fun and have meaning. I do a lot of the same things in my shop these days and while they can be repetitious, I know what it means, and the time just being out there in my work space doing something I like is great. It gives some of you back to yourself, if you pause to be mindful of it.

Thanks for your thoughts, they are really good ones!



Ethan said...


Thanks for the kind words!

I agree with you - I tend to find myself in the mundane tasks of woodworking, like sanding and sharpening. Something about the rhythm or the repetitive motions lend to retrospective thinking, I imagine.

But I also like finding myself in the creative tasks, whether it is something as simple as planing a champher with a block plane or trying to figure out a solution to a problem I've created (like when I messed up an escutcheon and had to make my own). I love the roller coaster of feelings I go through when I think I've done something right, then realize my mistake, then find a solution, and then finally push through the challenge to create something better than what it would have been if I'd not made the mistake in the first place.

And I often find myself in my writing, which lately receives much more self-editing and -criticism than it ever did in college. But I enjoy the process of sketching out my thoughts, molding them into something tangible, and refining them into a story others can relate to.

I love that I have all three methods of self-exploration open to me in the one hobby of woodworking.

And I'm both humbled and joyful when I receive a comment or email from someone who said they saw themselves in my story or who thought it, "was lovely". Very few things feel as good.