Sunday, February 11, 2018

Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction by Gary Rogowski

I came across this book a couple of weeks ago while scrolling through the e-book section of the library website. It looked like my kind of thing, so I reserved it and it was available the other day. I downloaded it and started reading. I was hooked from the start. The next day, when I was settled in with my vat of tea expecting to read on, I got a message that the book could not be opened and would have to be downloaded again. I attempted to do this and was informed that the download failed for 'an unknown reason.'  Several attempts throughout the day simply resulted in the same message. The following day I thought I might be in luck because instead of that message, I just had one that said the download had been paused with an option to resume. I was disappointed when tapping the resume button resulted in nothing at all happening. I was resigning myself to simply never finishing the book, which was a shame because I really liked what I'd read up to then. Last night I decided to try one more time and I was in luck. I held my breath as it downloaded again and even opened to the spot where I'd left off. I decided not to push my luck and finished it last night.

The author is a woodworker and furniture maker who lives in Portland, OR. He has taught various classes and written for woodworking publications. He started his adult life as an English major, moving to Oregon to attend Reed College for his last two years of higher education. One of his classes was taught by a professor who felt that students should have a practical understanding of some of the ideas of William Morris and so they were required to build something. That was a turning point in his life.

As the author points out early and often throughout the book, his thoughts about creativity, the creative process, life as an artist, and the trade-offs that choosing a creative life requires, apply to anyone who chooses a creative path, no matter the medium in which they are working. So much of what he said resonated with me.

The book is a combination of memoir, philosophical musing, and a celebration of nature. He tells the reader how he started as a woodworker and how he learned and evolved. He talks about his relationship to his tools and his relationships with people who were important in his life. He is very clear about the role of nature, hiking, walking, and taking time to enjoy these things in his work. Here is how he puts it: 'This is the story of a life given to a craft. I call it memoirable because it talks a bit about how I got here. It is also a discourse on the philosophy of Quality in a life...this book is a pronounced statement about the value of Quality in today's world.' (p 13)

Here are a few passages I liked well enough to jot down. Page numbers are from the e-book as I read it on my device. Other devices or the print book would be paginated differently.

'The cacophony that is the internet keeps us distracted, impatient, anonymous, and searching, but rarely satisfied. When we can see the results of our labor--paring with a chisel, using the needle and thread, creating with paint brush, soldering gun, or pen in hand--there is a different sense of accomplishment. It is a needed blessing in a hurried world to be able to say at the end of a long day, "I did this. Here are the results." It may only be an attempt to create something that feels solid in a world of impermanence, but this kind of progress means something to me in a day. Perhaps to you as well' (p12)

'I believe in the value of Quality, for the maker, the artist, and for the recipient. There is a resonance felt by all who come into contact with it. This idea swims into a cultural current that is strongly set against it, where Quality is currently more of a shapeshifter and less a beacon to steer by. The word is now used as a branding strategy, recalling an imagined better day gone by. yet I believe Quality has value in the life of the maker, for what he or she does to create, and for the recipients and users of this work. There is Quality in the making.' (p 13)

'We are still humans, for all our digitizing of the world. Our needs, our desires, remain the same. We need to use our hands. We love to create. We can become very skilled. How we do this is both personal and universal.' (p14)

I am so glad I was able to finish reading this book! I highly recommend it to anyone who is engaged in art or craft as a way of life or who wants to include more creative activities in their life. The author has some good things to say. I found good food for thought, encouragement, and some timely reminders about why it is I do what I do, and that's always a good thing. The book reminded me that creativity is a way of life. Part of that involves creating things, whether these things are furniture, clothing, meals, books, paintings, jewelry, pots, or whatever. But we also create our lives as we go along and many of us have choices with regard to how we do that. Choose wisely.

1 comment:

NanaDiana said...

That sounds like a fascinating book---and even more so for you because it is set in Oregon, I bet.

That is so frustrating about trying to download something. Just plain aggravating really. I am glad you were able to get the whole thing downloaded and were able to read it.

Have a wonderful Sunday- xo Diana