Saturday, July 28, 2018
Saturday, July 21, 2018
COURAGE TO TURN
Why this attraction to working with wood, and in this case, wood turning? I think it comes from some of my earliest memories of sitting in my dad’s workshop, watching him work. I can picture the shop, up the short, slightly uphill concrete walkway from the house on Wollochet Bay. It had nuts and bolts and screws in glass jars hanging above the bench, and a fine layer of sawdust was always covering the worktable and more deeply on the floor. He had a small lathe, and as I perched high up on the bench, I was always fascinated to watch the wood chips fly as something unique and round and beautiful emerged, as if by magic, from the starting angular block of wood. Oh, and the smells of cedar, pine, or whatever type of wood he was working would tickle my nose and settle into my soul.
Before I started on this journey, wood working (turning) conjured up safety, fascination of creativity, the sense of being grounded in age-old tradition, the appeal and pleasant scent of wood, as well as the peace of working with your hands. With such strong images, I think that I wanted to recreate them somehow. At least these were my thoughts as I signed up for a week-long class that what would become my Wood Turning Adventure.
But from the very first moment in the classroom, seated with my 3 classmates for the class, some rather unexpected feelings reared up. The first was relief. The other three students were all women. I had worried, for several weeks if I’m being honest, that I’d be in a class filled with testosterone laden he-men who would be loud, gruff, and crowd the space with frenetic macho energy. What a delight to discover that we four women had much in common, and none of us had much, if any, experience working with lathes. Throughout the week we bonded in some lovely, supportive ways. I am still in contact with one of them, as we continue to discover what kindred spirits we are.
One of the most surprising emotion for me was, well, fear. The lathes were unknown beasts that were large, noisy, foreign-looking and sprouting such evil knobs and levers that they appeared poised to attack. Couple that with their seemingly terrifying turning speeds and it’s no wonder that it felt like I had entered a Hunger Games arena, ill-equipped to do battle. What in the world had I been thinking? I can’t do this!! Ohmy heavens, a whole week of torture awaited me.
And the fear didn’t exactly evaporate immediately. After learning the name of all the parts of the machine, and what they did, the numerous tools and gadgets associated with wood-turning, and the safety lessons essential for my own well-being as well as for those around me (what??? I’m responsible for not killing my classmates, too??), we were introduced to the grinder for sharpening our own tools. Oh my! It not only turned at what seemed like horrendously fast speeds as well, then when you finally figured out the correct angle for grinding the particular tool in question (no, they are not all the same), and once you put the tool to the grinder, sparks started flying. This was definitely not in the same category as sitting comfortably in a chair tatting, where the worst thing that could happen was a knot in your thread that you struggled to remove.
And every moment of every day in class, it was all so PHYSICAL. First there was the usual vertical challenge that someone 5’2” faces, trying to adapt living in a world where the average person’s height is at least 6” higher. After several attempts and adjustments, the instructor and I finally figured out a platform for me to stand on, coupled with a foam pad, to raise me to the correct height for working the lathe. (One excellent side effect of this, however, was that standing on the foam helped me and my back to tolerate standing for 9 hours a day - we were a committed class!) Let me just say right here, if you watch any youtube videos on the subject, they make wood turning look very, very easy. Huh. Learning to hold the tools with a strong enough grip to keep them from flying away from the wood, from you, from the room, seemingly with enough speed to travel across the campus and just possibly into the next county, was necessarily coupled with intuiting the finesse of resting the handle against your body, as you learned “The Dance” of pull, twist, and lift (or whatever the specific action might require). Truly, this is a full-body activity. Dancing lessons probably should have been a required prerequisite.
One very important aspect of this entire experience needs to be emphasized. I am completely convinced that I would not have achieved the results that I did, nor learned nearly as much, without the amazing support of the gifted instructor * we had for our class. He was patient, kind and calm, an excellent teacher, and he instilled confidence in ourselves as well as the process. Having the right teacher to accompany us, in anything that is new, scary, intimidating, or complicated, is absolutely the key to success.
So, what started as a touchy-feely attempt to reenact my fond memories from childhood actually became a challenging week of facing my fears, accepting the daily demands of each new project and technique we were trying to grasp (pun intended), and conjuring up - COURAGE. And yes, it deserves to be in capital letters. Each day as we watched the instructor demonstrate what we’d be working on that day, inside my head, not at all mumbling but in a very loud and clear voice, my instinct for survival was pleading with me to just walk away, that I couldn’t do this, I would kill myself. And every day, well, to be honest, sometimes several times a day, I had to take a deep breath, consciously calm myself both inside and out (tense shoulders and fear of dying do not lend themselves to relaxing into The Dance) and do a bit of self-talk to just proceed one step at a time.
Then something profound happened. As I succeeded in perfecting the techniques of beads and coves and so could create a candlestick, I realized that not only had I survived the first two days of wood turning, I had also made something so very solid (unlike lacy needlework pieces) and of which I was actually quite proud. But even more than that, I hadn’t quit. And I didn’t die, nor did I maim anyone around me. I had faced an almost unnerving fear, and not only lived, but thrived. Having found my courage doesn’t mean that I wasn’t afraid throughout the process. Oh, I very much was. But I found that I could acknowledge that fear, and then do it anyway. So unexpectedly, I understood in a very personal, emotional, as well as on a visceral level, what being courageous means for me.
Am I rushing out to buy all the tools and a lathe and set up a wood shop? Nope. I’m absolutely delighted that I took the class. But I learned what I needed to know. I can turn wood, but it’s not something that I need to either perfect or keep working on. The greatest gift is that I know that I can deal with my fear, assuming I have the proper support and instruction, calm myself as needed, and not only survive, but succeed. That alone was worth it. Plus, I can still Dance, just not necessarily in front of a lathe. One additional and unexpected gift from this experience I just discovered was my heightened confidence in working with other power tools, such as my handheld cutter and sander. Previously I used it but with a bit of trepidation. Just recently I started working with it and realized that I held it differently, I almost instinctively knew to brace my arm against my body for support (part of that Dance) and felt comfortable and sure. I respect the power tools, I just don’t fear them anymore. Personal growth and confidence weren’t listed on the class syllabus, but perhaps they should have been.
Hard to tell, but I am Dancing.
My treasures from the week.
* Tom Jeanes was our instructor at the John C. Campbell Folk School. He has my sincere thanks for calmly and patiently guiding us through our week-long class. He’s an amazing teacher.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Well, first of all, how wonderful to find a 'scholarly' name for anything that I do! Secondly, in the midst of my year (s) of exploration and discovery, so odd to find a little rabbit hole through which I fell and decided to start a button collection.
There is something so satisfying about collecting, storing (doesn't take much space at all), playing with, sorting, and pondering these small, useful and at times antique little gems. I'm not going hog wild into buying or obtaining just as many as I can. I'm just enjoying the feel of them sifting through my fingers, appreciating the mother-of-pearl, bone, or wood as well as the lovely colors available. It's also entertaining to ponder just what the history of one little button might be - who wore the garment, who lovingly sewed it on, how it got lost and but was somehow saved, how they came to be preserved (with numerous others) in Grandma's button jar. What a surprising way of connecting to the past.
And don't forget functional! What started all of this was finding a photo of some tatted pieces - wait for it - around a button. Lovely.
Simple pleasures, for sure!
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Watching the pen flow across the page, the nib leaving a smooth trail of ink, is mesmerizing all in itself.
Yes, I've posted before about my personal and arguably old-fashioned predilection to fountain pens. But if my posting of this encourages even one person to try it, I will be happy.
My favorite pens? Not the most expensive nor the most gorgeous. I'm interested in how the nib hits the page. Pilot has an awesome selection of inexpensive fountain pens. My current favorites are the Pilot Prera and Pilot Nimiki Retractable, both with a fine nib - they fit my hand beautifully, balance is excellent, and the nib is of their usual superb workmanship.
The advantages of using a fountain pen include:
- they are less disposable
- there is a plethora of ink colors from which to choose
- your handwriting will improve
- using less pressure to write heals issues with carpal tunnel
- they are more economical and environmentally friendly
- fountain pens are more personal and more expressive
- they offer a smoother writing experience
- they feel good in your hand
- and let's face it, they are pretty cool.
And I'm not alone in my preference. Not surprisingly (and just like almost anything else in this day and age) there are many societies, groups, and associations dedicated to the use, collection and love of fountain pens.
I suppose that, for me, the reason that I use a fountain pen is because life is very, very busy and very, very short so I want it to be filled with very, very beautiful handwriting.
More sensual - There's something about writing with a fountain pen that enters the realm of sensuality. Maybe it's the sight of the ink forming letters and words beneath the nib. Maybe it's the buttery smoothness or if you prefer a different feel, "bite" of pen against paper. Whichever pen, ink, and paper combination you prefer, writing with a fountain pen will be a noticeably sensual experience compared to writing with a ballpoint or rollerball or gel pen.
With a pen, I feel fully immersed, me, my thoughts, and my thoughts communicated through colorful characters flowing from a pen.
The Pilot Prera: