This morning on Twitter I caught a quick note by a friend that made me feel some sympathy for him but also brought back some memories itself. As a refresher I do work a day job to support my family and my sawdust addiction, I work a Surgical Technologist specializing in Orthopedics. Basically that means I'm the monkey that hands the scalpel and other instruments to the doctor.
A few years ago I worked for a different hospital than I do now. I had worked there for a couple years, starting almost right out of school, and it was a good place for a while, I still have people I consider friends who work there, but things changed, some of those changes were the hospital, I think now most of the changes that made the difference were from inside me. Going to work became a grueling experience every morning.
After waking up and checking and double checking to make sure I didn't feel a touch of the flu coming on I would decide it was finally time to man up and go to work. After my drive in I would park my car and just sit in it and stare at the building with my stomach in knots. One thought would cross through my mind day after day. "Maybe today is the day I step out onto the street and another car flies by and hits me. That way I don't have to go in there today, or hopefully, for a while."
It never happened. Wish as I might there was never an out of control car flying down the street, barely controlled by the driver, as fate turned the steering wheel and sandwiched me between its grill and my open car door. My dream, my hope of flying through the air for a brief couple seconds only to crash onto the concrete in a crumpled mess of broken bones never materialized. I was sure the pain of such an traumatic impact would pale in comparison to the repeated, long drawn out pain I faced everyday when I had to force myself to walk through those doors and go to work.
Kind of disturbing huh? As I look back on it now I'm not exactly proud of those feelings and thoughts, I like to think of myself as more of a man than that, but I'm old enough now to understand that everyone hits the bottom of the barrel at least once in their lives, for most of us it probably happens several times. But this is a woodworking blog and what does this confession have to do with woodworking? Hold on because I'm going to get there. I promise.
The woodworking part comes with the decisions I made after I passed that chapter in my life. After feeling that way for the better part of a year, I left that hospital for another. I still have a serene feeling of satisfaction when I remember the look on the face of my manager when I gave her my two week notice. Somehow, almost nobody saw my departure coming. But more importantly it made me really start to think about what I do for a living and whether I could find that thing that would be a combination of work and passion. It's the most important piece of throw away advice you'll ever get.
That time and those feelings are roughly seven years past, but I think they were the catalyst for the rocky times I've had since then, Since I left that hospital in early 2005 I have been on a search that has led me through six jobs and a move halfway across the country and back. I'm very sure I have settled down now and stability is starting to return to our lives, but along the journey I discovered something else about myself. That I had a real talent and passion for woodworking.
For me, my greatest feeling of accomplishment has always been in doing something creative, and woodworking is the ultimate for me in that it allows me to be creative while also providing something that is practical and useful. It's a perfect storm of art and function. In '05 I was really still just a fledgling woodworker. It was something I played at, but it was that one thing that followed me along that journey through the different jobs and different states. When we moved to Maine in the beginning of '09 I really began to take it serious, I began to think about woodworking not as something I sometimes DID, but as something I wanted to DO!
I don't rush into anything, I plan and plod along trying to carefully place one foot in front of the other, doing my best to temper my occasional desire to run with the knowledge that things will work out better if I walk. I have a friend who kind of pokes at me occasionally because I'm so deliberate, but it's the way I am. So for a while I have been walking down the path to finding myself a place where I can make a living, a happy living, in the world of woodworking. In this day and age I have no illusions of making it solely by doing custom woodworking pieces directly for clients. I believe that will be a portion of what the Oldwolf Workshop does right along side teaching and writing. Everything is in the basket, and if you are out there, reading this, and thinking about doing something similar, even if it's not woodworking, then I encourage you to put yourselves out there too.
There are hurdles in your way. I'm fighting those hurdles the same as you will have to, I cannot lie about them. Those hurdles come from within you. That little voice that says "You can't do this." or "It's not worth the effort." or my favorite, "Nobody will like your crap anyway." Those voices don't leave, ever, straight up truth. but you have to recognize where those voices come from and that they are not there to help.
What doesn't help is the voices from the outside that do their best to reinforce your inner cynicism. Recently I was to a show where had a chance to sit down with a couple of other woodworkers, both of whom are more successful and accomplished that me. The ultimate evidence of this is that both of them were working the show as speakers and teachers, and I had bought a ticket to get in there, but one of them knew who I was through my blog and twitter presence and he invited me to catch a few minutes with them on one of their breaks. In a few minutes I kind of described my background and my desire that I could make a living making sawdust. Now I didn't really say these things looking for support from them, but they exchanged a quick look between the two of them, one of those knowing looks, like "oh no, another one riding the pipe dream" One of the fellows, who is a known name in woodworking, and is an on staff, big contributor to one of the top woodworking magazines, pulled out the old line that everyone in woodworking has heard a million times.
"Well, you know the way to make a small fortune woodworking is to start with a large fortune."
"Ya, I know." was all I could muster to answer.
I laughed the first time I heard this line, it's cute and catchy, I'll give it all of that. But over time I have come to recognize it as the most defeatist and cynical sentences I have ever heard, and if there's anything I know about it's cynicism. I guess this attitude is just something I fail to understand. Here is a well known figure in the community, someone people look up to, someone who was touted as an attraction to help draw woodworkers to come to this show. I didn't sit in on one of his seminars, but I know that all the folding chairs were full when he was talking. He makes his living using sawdust, but in a cynical moment he tried to put his foot on the throat of my hopes. If I had met him and had this conversation several years ago while I was still trying to figure things out. Who knows what effect that may have had. Disappointed doesn't even begin to describe how I felt about the experience.
I cannot locate the quote tonight, but I know I've read in one of James Krenov's books something akin to him saying, "Nobody ever told me I couldn't make a living at this, so I went ahead and did." Nobody ever told me I couldn't write a blog and use it as a spring board to make great connections in the woodworking world. I think of the dozens of people I've met now, a couple I can call good friends. None of that is possible without my sitting down and deciding to begin to record on a blog how I decided to go about building a workbench.
Sam Maloof and James Krenov have passed us by. We miss them, their, ingenuity, personalities, and passion. But someone will have to fill their shoes evetually, could it be me? Could it be you? Someone has to be the next Roy Underhill, Chris Schwarz, Norm Abrahms, Charles Neil, or Peter Follansbee. Undertand I'm not calling for replacing anyone of these great personalities, I'm not looking for someone to pick up St. Roy's red suspenders once he lays them down. I'm saying there will always be a need for someone who wants to inspire, wants to teach, wants to be a doorway to let other people into the world of woodworking.
SInce it is Albert Einstein's Birthday today, I will leave you with a couple lines from him that I read and found to be relevant.
“for those who would joyously march in rank and file, they have already earned my contempt, for they were given a large brain by accident when a spinal chord would have sufficed.”
“True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness.”