on craftsmanship

Too late in life I’ve discovered: I’m a craftsman.

By trade I’m a teacher, and though (on most days) I’d call myself a pretty good one, I’ve recently found that what makes me feel good is not teaching, but making things. Producing tangible things – my latest pet project is carving on rubber slabs with lino knives. I started small, but I am getting better at it everyday. I can see it. As I said, tangible. I also produce educational videos, digital art, which is… less… tangible.

This is what occupies my weekends these days. Only just a couple of months ago my weekends would be exclusively for recharging – my Monday to Friday would be so balls-to-the-wall that if I didn’t sleep all day Saturday and Sunday, I’d start feeling physically ill. Church became an exalted burden.

But that all changed quite abruptly – I forgot where exactly I read this (some Facebook post I think), but it was this quote that said something to the effect of: It’s not how long you spend recharging, but what you do to recharge. So I started doing things that make me happy to recharge – craftsmanship, working with my God-given art talents (and trained by my mom too, love you mom), rekindling that childlike joy of drawing lines with your own hands, making things out of nothing – legionaries, dinosaurs, robots, octopuses, octocorns (don’t ask). This is what I do now on my weekends. I’m a craftsman.

I actually feel rested now every weekend – I can be at my desk from 9 to 5 – working on some video, some carving – bent double, forgetting lunch, eyes going blurry, and at the end of it all, I feel great, not shattered. Spending those same hours on marking or lesson prep achieves the exact opposite of course, but even vegging out on those same hours doesn’t seem to achieve much either.

I’m a craftsman. Kids, I love you, but you don’t bring me nearly enough joy as making things with my hands.

I’m a craftsman.

You know what else I am?

A coward.

Ever think why men have this weird aversion to feelings, getting in touch with ourselves? Why men tend to lose themselves in their work, why businessmen and lawyers keep flaying themselves alive, despite having enough money to live the remainder of their (and their families’) lives in comfort? Why maybe even young men join the armed services?

If they’re anything like me, I think it’s because they’re afraid. I work with people, and people are messy. People are emotional, people are needy, people can lift you to the highest of heights but turn and slit your throat at the drop of a hat. In all my spheres of life, I work with people. I form attachments. Attachments get broken. I disappoint people, people disappoint me. I say hurtful things, I think harmful thoughts, and the same goes my way too. I make good calls, I make bad calls, and there’s no way to tell how a regular day can turn into a hellstorm in the blink of an eye.

That – not the marking, not the lesson prep – is the heaviest burden of my job. It hurts. It’s tiring. It drives you nuts after a while. Feeling all this, feeling for people, helps me do my job sometimes – helps me a lot occasionally – but as often it’s a liability. You keep the brave face on at school, then you go home, except you don’t go home, because the face won’t come off. It breaks your mind after a while.

So I craft. I make things. A lino knife won’t make you question yourself. An iPad won’t hurt you. A pencil can’t haunt you. So I craft. I do what my Father Adam did, I work the ground, following an old, old impulse, demented muscle memory, because once upon a time work and craft was good. But the enemy came, and God cursed the work of our hands.

Yet I craft. Maybe, maybe I’ll find meaning in my craftsmanship.

Maybe the banker and the lawyer will find meaning in the next big contract, the next big deal, the next big case. He’ll flay himself alive, he’ll chase that high, and maybe, maybe that will remind him that he’s worth something. Maybe the young soldier will find meaning in camaraderie, in self-sacrifice, maybe he’ll find a way to prove that he is a man in his trial by fire.

I craft things to remind myself that I have God-given talents that I know how to exercise. That I’m not a gibbering, dysfunctional wreck. I go to church, I wear button-up shirts, I’m respectable, I’m a good man essentially.

Adam tilled the fields west of Eden to chase that old feeling of… perfection.

But the next big deal is not enough. The next big case is not enough. Because there are also the sports cars, the long hours, the neglected children and wives, the mistresses. There’s the torn limbs, the substance abuse, the alcoholism after the war, the pictures that won’t go away.

There are the memories of all the things I’ve done wrong. All the times I’ve been selfish to colleagues. All the times I’ve clearly put my interests before my kids’ and conveniently been in the position not to tell them. I’m haunted by the times I’ve sold out, the pettiness, the jealousy, the times I turned my back on people who needed me, the times I preached high and mighty things and did exactly the opposite, the times I was shown mercy when I really, really deserved none. 

There were the thorns that choked the soil. There was Eve, sitting in a tent, dressed in skins.

Work was good. It’ll be good again. But it’s fallen. Craftsmanship is fallen. I’m fallen. You’re fallen. Recharging is not a matter of finding things to do that make me happy. Recharging is not a matter of sleeping for hours, and hours, and hours. The thorns won’t go away no matter how long you sleep. But they won’t go away no matter how long you till either.

I’m a craftsman. But I’m also a teacher. I’m dysfunctional. I’m a man who must wrestle with demons. Every day. I have talents, I need to use them to help people. I have my kids at school (kids, I love you so much). There are the thorns. There is the soil. There is Eve, in the tent, dressed in skins. There’s no running from that. There is the work. And there is the promise.

So I craft.

2 thoughts on “on craftsmanship

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  1. Beautifully written. Perhaps you are introverted, in which case being in solitude would help you recharge?

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