There is something delicious in doing. Lately, I’ve paused to look on in wonder at the DIY community and how it grows as friends join Etsy, as I discover blogs like The Cheap Vegetable Gardener and New World Geek. All of this comes with a powerful notion: that I can. I can. I can.
Lately, I’ve been doing. Lately I’ve been blacksmithing, wood working, vegetable gardening, sewing, maintaining a vehicle myself. Until fairly recently, I hadn’t thought much about it, but in the making of things and in the using of what I make, it struck me that there’s been a fundamental shift in the way I think of objects.
Growing up, the things I used were formed whole out of the ether. I didn’t think about their construction because my parents suffused them with the myths of modernity: machine-made, these things were somehow better than what people could craft. Even my father, an electrical design engineer and a hobbyist wood worker, reinforced this idea. His daughters weren’t allowed into his workshop not matter what house we lived in, whether it was in the basement or the garage. He put off projects for so long that they seemed to be impossible tasks to a five-year-old, and not being one to overly inflate himself, he often shrank from praise of his hobby projects.
Now, I wasn’t a stupid child. Things literally didn’t pop out of the air and into existence. As a grew, I learned “how things were made” but the hands that made them in every image shown to me were mechanical, and the materials mysterious and unidentifiable, portrayed as though they were unworkable by human fingers. Even when people were included, they seemed dwarfed by machinery. A crayon factory shown in a Sesame Street segment. Images of Detroit’s auto assembly lines. Humans were no where to be found.
It was impossible, then, to make by hand any of the things I used every day. Oh yes, on an intellectual level I understood that these items weren’t always made by cold unfeeling robot arms, and I could imagine such “idyllic” times with all the condescension and longing that the present musters for the past. But because I had swallowed the line from childhood that “this is how the world works now,” I couldn’t envision myself making such things.
I’m not sure when that began to change, but over time, it did. I found myself working on things, helping one of my boyfriends make things, completing projects for others. Maybe it started when I began making food from scratch, curries, soup stocks, chocolate mousse. Maybe the floodgates opened when I watched my love put together our forge on a lark. Perhaps it all came together when I started crafting wands for Pagan ritual, learning the wood and learning the lathe, learning new techniques for carving, shaping, fastening. Whatever incited this mental revolution, I began to consider things i never had before: tools, materials, process, time; details about these, material strengths and weaknesses, limitations of techniques, how to attain certain results with the processes known. And then I was doing. Making.
Part of this sitting back in wonderment is my academic self calling a halt and saying “look!” So in observing myself, I am formulating questions. I want to know how prevalent the notions of my childhood are. By inference, I am not the only one who grew up seeing the doing and the making as fantastical impossibilities. Where are these ideas prevalent? I have guesses that I want to investigate, that present day Western culture posits these ideas, that consumption of objects, that the act of buying and not making, is rooted in Western culture as a marker of identity. Is that what is really going on? My gut says it’s only part of the picture. My mind wants to delve into the research.
I see in this a cycle, not just in the crafting of the objects, but in the growth of my mind. In the end, it’s this hard thinking which has allowed me to fully enjoy my efforts. It’s the reflection at the finish of a process which allows me to appreciate the whole. Is the same true for you?