I was the kind of kid who would take apart a pen to see how it worked. The mechanics fascinated me, but more the liked taking it apart and putting it back together.
This interest pushed me to toys like Lego and Constructs but my attention never lasted. I was more interested in playing with the objects that were already built.
This is one of the reasons I got into theatre. In most cases you’re working with something that already exists. There’s already a box to play in.
During undergrad I was sitting in an art lecture with a printmaker. His whole philosophy behind creating was setting up boundaries. A printing press has specific things it can and can’t do. He loved to see how far he could push that boundary. The press provided resistance. It was inside this resistance that he found he became his most creative.
Creativity is a buzz word that paints a specific picture. I want to stay away from that word for the moment.
Instead I want to talk about the value I’ve found in connecting back with my interest in taking apart pens as a kid. Working with my hands and solving problems within a very physical space.
Most of the work I do has no physical result. I look at spreadsheets with numbers. Those numbers are students. The spreadsheet outlines the process we help students navigate. It’s not until orientation that I see a physical result of the work my office did for the whole year. Even then it can be hard to connect the dots.
What I put in does not always equate to what I put out. There is a lot of other kinds of problem-solving. Running a large team, budgeting, bill pay, personnel demands, training, HR, meetings (so many ruddy meetings).
Sometimes I just want to be productive. I want to produce something. Make something better.
Thanks to my year at art school I rediscovered art and more importantly the concept of craft. This idea that I work on a skill for so long that it becomes second nature. I can produce a repeatable result with my hands.
I am reminded of a monologue I used to audition in college. Biff from Death of Salesman:
Well, I spent six for seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another.
And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer.
To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off.
And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still--that’s how you build a future.
Hap, I’ve had twenty or thirty different kinds of jobs since I left home before the war, and it always turns out the same. I just realized it lately, In Nebraska when I herded cattle, and the Dakotas, and Arizona, and now in Texas.
It’s why I came home now, I guess, because I realized it. This farm I work on, It’s spring there now, see? And they’ve got about fifteen new colts.
There’s nothing more inspiring or--beautiful than the sight of a mare and a new colt. And it’s cool there now, see? Texas is cool, and it’s spring.
And whenever spring comes to where I am, I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I’m not getting anywhere! What the hell am I doing, playing around with horses at twenty-eight dollars a week!
I’m thirty-four years old, I outghta be makin’ my future. That’s when I come running home. And now, I get here, and I don’t know what to do with myself.
I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and everytime I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life.
Working with my hands resonates with me.
This weekend I took a plunge into a new kind of fix. The screen on my daughter's phone (it’s an old phone, that’s not connected to cell service).
Tiny electronics is reaching into the unknown for me. It has the potential to be disastrous. This is the kind of category that my monkey brain can grab a hold of and run wild. It’s for this very reason that most people don’t venture into it. It’s an impassable boundary.
When I first got an iPhone I was on a work trip in Denver. I stepped out of my hotel my phone slipped out of my hand. In a Tarantino-esque slow-motion sequence, I watched my screen smash into a million pieces.
I found a local kid who repaired screens and paid the obligatory $100 to have him fix it. It was hard to stomach. And when I say kid I mean kid.
I walked into the shop and this barely out of high school kid came out the backroom shop took my phone, worked his magic, and then gave it back to me later that day. It was like magic.
Now, years later, this phone isn’t worth the $100. When I found a new screen on amazon for less than $20 and this YouTube video:
I thought, “I can do that!”
Spoiler: I did it.
Here’s the results:
There is something incredibly satisfying about working with my hands. About taking something that was broken and working on it to make it not broken. To physically see the results of the time, energy, and effort that I put into it.