The Value of Things

November 19, 2008

I think one should be very careful when discussing this stuff. This value stuff. It’s not like there’s an arbiter out there. Oh yes, there are bloggers of course who proclaim themselves as the keepers of the flames of truth and beauty and knowledge. There are plenty of those folks about. Ahem.

There are critics too. Those who pronounce themselves smarter, keener of eye and wit than you, more able to see clearly and so discover the truth, the value of things. So too are there writers and lecturers who have pedigree on their side, initials to follow them up. [Personally I prefer the mutt, beagles aside of course, to the pure breed. They have so much to offer than the lily white hands of the preferred.] These must of course be heard if only to get another good head shaking in.

But in truth there is no one way of discerning beauty. In the eye of the beholder? What about in the ear and the lips, the tongue, the nose of the beholder? So many senses, so many ways to create value. But who’s to say that my value is a better one than yours, besides me of course. This is the problem with assigning value. Who is to say?

I know when I studied literature in college that my professors had a sure test for value: longevity. If a piece stood the test of time, it had value. If it could speak to people throughout the years, it had a universality that made it more potent, more valuable, more real. Never mind that Wordsworth was as bad read aloud as quietly, grieving, to oneself. If the work lasted for centuries it had value. Nowadays value is assigned largely upon dollars spent. A piece has value if it grosses so much at the box office. A book has value if its on a top ten list somewhere. Your work has value if you get a grant. But what about next year? Will it still have value then? Or has value become as ephemeral as newsworthy?

But what about value itself? Value I fear comes from within. It’s where we feel it and from where it is assigned. If I do 20 hours of work and I hate every minute of it what’s the value of that? But I spend two hours working on a delicate piece of inlay and I enjoy every minute of it, lost in that tiny little world, how much more value is there for me? And to put a price tag on it almost besmirches it although we must.

I fear this value from within because the inside arbiter can be so capricious. At times loving my work, at others thinking I made another mistake. So we look for validation from others.

I had a student in class once. A big guy, biker type. Sweetheart guy though and we were having a beer one day after class and talking about writing. I like to talk about writing. Here he was telling how important it was to get his book published. And my response was something along the lines of well, it doesn’t really matter if your book gets published does it? The important thing is that you like writing it. If someone else gets to read it and likes it too, well that’s gravy. Just good gravy. His feeling was that you needed to get published, your work has to see the light of day to be worth anything. Who’s right? I don’t know. I have raised more questions. But remember that you’re the one setting the table and eating the meal. Might as well enjoy the making of it too. That’s real value.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at www.northwestwoodworking.com.

Published in: on November 19, 2008 at 8:59 am  Comments (7)  
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Focus

November 6, 2008

It shouldn’t be a mystery. It should come as no surprise. There you are, racing through your life, your day, busy with your driving or driving behind an idiot muttering to yourself. Navigating your iPod or navigating the message from your spouse. [You have so many talents. Maybe both jobs at once.] There you are negotiating a business deal or writing that paper. You are driven to succeed and to do every job well. You move at a pace that is fast and efficient. Sure there’s a hiccup every now and then. A bump in the road put there by the fools who would hold up your fantastic progress. But you know your job and you do it well.

Then you take on woodworking.

Woodworking is not like your normal life. It is not a normal activity. Oh sure, if you’re a carpenter all day, then the shift to the work bench isn’t that hard. But how many of us make our living swinging a hammer? Not many. No, most of us spend our time tapping furiously on keyboards not nails. We spend our time processing information not staring down the crooked edge of a 2×4.

Then you walk into the wood shop.

It’s different there, isn’t it? Stuff everywhere, parts and pieces of projects placed carefully about. Or in the case of the rest of us, strewn about like the aftermath of an experiment in centrifugal force. It’s a place where the pace is different. The expectations higher and lower both at the same time. It’s a refuge, a haven, a place where you think you know where everything is put.

Then you start to work.

Now it’s not really surprising that things do not go well for you. You are too much of a perfectionist for things to feel just right. You want every act, every technique to work just so. When they do not, you are understandably disappointed. What can be done? Learn to warm up. I think it’s the most overlooked aspect of walking into the woodshop and it leads to such disappointment, such continued disappointment.

Why is this? It is because you are not in the flow yet when you walk into your shop. Your head is somewhere else, your hands aren’t used to these operations, and yet you expect, think of it, you expect perfect results right from the start! So it’s a bit of a blow when things do not go well. It’s a bit of a come down when your hands seem to be at cross purposes with your goals. You can’t hold the drill in the right position. Your arm hurts when you do hold the drill in the right way. The screws don’t pull everything in tight, the finish goes on splotchy. All you want is a little satisfaction. [Do not have The Stones playing in the background now, please.] A little bit of forward progress.

You want to pick up right where you left off. Isn’t that a pretty thought. You can’t. You need to bring your head and your eyes and your hands all down into focus. A focus that your normal life does not have. A focus that is relatively precise and very small by comparison to everything outside the shop. If you don’t have that focus, you will never move forward.

But wait. Wait for it. It will come. It just takes time to get calm. To slow down from the world. So go easy on yourself. It may take several hours before you become productive. That’s okay. You’re in the shop. That’s a good thing. Putter, clean, sharpen. There are a half dozen jobs I can think of off the top of my head that  will be well served by you putting your mind to them now. And then these jobs will help you prepare yourself for the important work that you really want to accomplish.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at www.northwestwoodworking.com.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 12:59 pm  Comments (6)