Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shop Class as Soulcraft

Book: Shop Class as Soulcraft
Author: Matthew B. Crawford
Like/Don't Like: Not enough to sustain me. I made it about 20 pages from the end and decided I was done.

There are times when I'm sitting at my desk and working on the computer that I wish I had gone to trade school to learn a marketable skill, like flower arranging or hair cutting or basket weaving. Because there is something so much more rewarding about physical work then desk work. There's a process to it and problems to fix and a product at the end and you're usually supplying a need for people. This is why I have the World's Largest Felt Collection. Because you can't just sit and think about felt, you have to actually do something with it. Same with the skeins and skeins of yarn and the mountains of fabric and the ribbon drawer that barely closes anymore. When my mind gets too full of thoughts that don't get me anywhere I head to the felt collection and make something with my hands.

This is also why I like recipes and patterns. It's satisfying to follow the instructions, step by step, and come up with the intended product. And if it's not right I don't mind at all going back and figuring out if it was me or the pattern. I love that feeling of being able to find the problem and work on it until it's fixed.

What I'm saying is that I like work. I like making things and fixing things with my hands. I think a lot of people are like this.

This book explores that desire to work and societies push to get people out of jobs that require them to work. How many of us were told in high school to skip college and become a welder? None of us, right? Because somewhere along the lines manual labor lost its honor and cubicle labor became the way to earn a living. But the problem is that some people are just better suited for manual labor - that's how their minds work - and most people actually find joy in doing some form of it, and everyone requires that labor to be done in order for our world to move smoothly. Imagine if your plumber had taken his guidance counselors advice to go on to a 4 year college and study liberal arts?

Crawford actually did go to a university and studied physics, and then ended up getting his PhD in political something or other. But before he went to school he was an electrician, and that's the work that supported him through all of his schooling. He also worked on cars and motorcycles on the side. But after he got his degree he decided that he need a job that reflected his education and he got one working at a think tank. Which made him miss physically working. So he quit and opened up a bike shop.

The premise was great. But it seems as if it was written for academics to explain how one of their own could up and leave the field for a greasy shop. He has some truly fascinating takes on it but in the end it felt ironic to be sitting on a chair, reading about working. It made me want to get up and actually do something instead of thinking about the philosophical reasons of why I wanted to.

So I just stopped reading it. Not because of what he was saying, it all made perfect sense. I just think I was the wrong audience. I went into it not needing to be convinced.

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