Thursday, May 14, 2009

Channeling Dorothy Parker

If I ever find a genie in a bottle, the first thing I'll ask for is an edgy wit like Dorothy Parker.

Parker, whose laser response to the news that President Calvin Coolidge (a quiet, stoic New Englander) had died was, "How do they know?"

Had I a clever mind like hers, I would have known what to say when my friend, a non-woodworker who was visiting my shop, inferred that I was wasting my woodworking skills.

He asked if I make things to sell at craft shows. No, I said.
Oh, so you make gifts for friends and family then? Well, no, not really.
You don't want to help build a playground or anything for the town?
No. That's not really my thing.
So you have this talent, but you're not going to share it with anyone! Well, um, I do have a woodworking blog where I share stuff with others.

He smirked.

I hadn't convinced him that my hobby was worthwhile. He would only see value in it if I built projects for others instead of just doing things that make me happy. Things like handplaning a board for hours.

Where's Dorothy when I need her?

After he left, I thought that I might have compared my hobby to that of someone who loves to read. His belief that I should only make things for others' benefit would be like never being able to choose your own books—letting others decide what you should be reading.

One of the best parts about woodworking as a hobby is you get to build what excites you. The project that makes you lie awake at night trying to figure out the best type of joinery, the order in which it should be built, the design.

It's wonderful to make things for friends and family and your community, but where's the joy if you don't also get to build something from your bucket list?

Maybe I should take up reading as a hobby. And put The Portable Dorothy Parker as my first "must-read."


Unknown said...

I have been building things for others for over 25 yrs, and found I was in the same mind set as your friend. That's why I decided not to open my shop until I have had some time to explore woodworking for myself with no one telling what to do. This hasn't been as easy as I thought it would be.
Motivation has been the biggest hurdle it's like if I am not getting paid to do the work I seem to put it off. That is why I have moved to using more hand tools which I find a zen like quality to the work.
stay on your own path and don't get caught up in other people's expectations, and have fun.

naomi said...

With all due respect to your friend, he's full of crap. I support your right to do things for YOU. However, if he knew about your blog, he would see that you help thousands of people with woodworking! And maybe they build playgrounds and do nice things. And maybe not. But the fact that you take the time to document techniques and are very generous with feedback and your own time, is, i think, extraordinarily altruistic!

Bob Tinsley said...

Do what makes you happy, shall be the whole of the law!

Even if you wanted to earn a living at woodworking, the people who do what makes them happy and don't follow the zephyr of trend are the ones who are most successful. Do what excites you, and the people who are excited by the same things will find you and give you money! ;)


Shannon said...

Amen sister. Whenever I find myself not wanting to go into my shop I discover that is because I have a project in there that I am not really interested in. It is times like that that I am glad I am a hobbiest. Sometimes just making shavings is the most fun.

Dave Griessmann said...

I think he was wanting you to build him something...

Brad Ferguson said...

I get the same questions Kari, my answer is, well if they happen to want something that I want to build anyway and I like them, then maybe I'll do it. It's my hobby, you don't see people asking painter's if they should go paint houses for people, or knitters if they shouldn't be knitting sox for orphans. Why can't they understand that it's the process that brings us joy.

The Village Idiot said...

Does your friend have a hobby or skill that he only does for others?

Kari, is your memory failing? You have made things for others and helped others make plenty. Didn't you make items for your church? Didn't you make children's toys for Christmas presents? Didn't you make that beautiful bookcase for Nancy? Didn't you help me with my shop(building my roof and making my doors)? And you were going to help Habitat for Humanity(building a house) until the breakdown of security in Mexico. And that's only the beginning. Now do you do woodworking only for others benefit, No. But others do benefit by your woodworking in many ways.

will said...

Building things with wood truthfully is an ancient business. Aside from a few royals doing it as a hobby, throughout the centuries woodworking has been about making things for specific purposes.

Generally speaking it wasn't until after WWII, and in particular, in the late 60s-early 70s did woodworking become a big time hobby thing.

Today, I think it's an easy generalization to say there are more woodworking hobbyists than professionals. In fact, if it wasn't for hobbyists, many of tools, jigs and fixtures that are sold wouldn't exist.

Your friend is someone who still relates to the older version of woodworking - the one where employment trumped hobby.

Gary Roberts said...

Zen always works best when answering self important, patronizing statements:

Form is empty of a separate self, but it is full of everything else in the cosmos.

Or you can go the Solipsist route and say:

I can't tell you where you are, but I always know where I am.

Or better yet:
A lung un leber oyf der noz! I work wood because it makes me and mine happy and that is A shtik naches!

Shazza said...

Do we have to have a purpose to everything we do? Can we all be a little selfish once in a while and enjoy our own craft just because?

Do what you love Kari - for yourself! you're #1 grrrrl!

Larry Marshall said...

What an odd view your friend has. My bet is that he's a guy who spends his spare time not creating anything, whether it be for someone else or not.

Kari said: Maybe I should take up reading as a hobby. And put The Portable Dorothy Parker as my first "must-read."

Of that I am certain, Kari. It's one of my favorite books.

Cheers --- Larry

johnjoiner said...

Another nice post, Kari.

I think Brad touched on one of the keys - that the joy for you/us is the process more than the final product. It took me quite a while to figure that out.

I doubt that your comparison to reading would have satisfied your friend. My guess is that you'd need product to validate the expensive tools and shop.

Everyone is wired a little differently. And for some the process is irrelevant as long as the desired product is produced. It takes all types. But I consider myself lucky that I'm able to enjoy just making shavings.

(Writing, on the other hand, I'd find more joy in just producing a better (coherent) product.) ;-)

Kari Hultman said...

It sounds like all of us can relate to this. Probably most hobbyists are people who love the process AND product (as John points out), not just the product.

I do wish there were some way to convice him (and others with his mindset) but maybe that's not possible. Maybe I should just hang out with woodworkers!!

Ethan said...


Does a car buff buy a 68 Fastback to give the kids at the park a ride around the block? Does a couple learn ballroom dancing to entertain the other dancers at the KC hall? Does an avid reader spend their Saturday mornings at the library reading books out loud to children?

Nothing wrong with doing something for yourself because you enjoy it.

Stephen Shepherd said...


I can actually see where your friend is coming from. While what we do is personally rewarding, we can also make a contribution. That can be a free gift or just selling something because someone offers you real money for what you did. You can always make another.

We can get too attached to what we make, and is it the object or the process?

I like the idea that a lot of my stuff is out there and I am not too humble to proudly mark my work.

I am only going to be around for so long but what I have made should survive for centuries.

Just another opinion.


Kari Hultman said...

Ethan, good points! Especially the car analogy--something a lot of guys can relate to.

Stephen, opposing and other opinions are always welcome. I see your point, too. Our projects are part of us and will hopefully be around a lot longer than we will.

Jeremy Kriewaldt (jmk89) said...

Dorothy might have said:

"It is the difference between an artist and an entertainer - an artist works for her art and her self and is fulfilled by that, an entertainer works for the applause of people who are never satisfied."

JERM said...

Most of my hobbies have no external purpose. I climb because it is fun, work wood for the same reason, and go flying with my other half on many occasions just to go flying.

Hobby: noun, an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure.

Otherwise it is work =)

Charles said...

What is it with non-woodworkers?? They always assume we're looking for work.

I'm newer to woodworking and thus first reactions with friends and family may be fresher for me than others... I'm sure others experiences were similar to mine though... as soon as you mention that you do woodworking, I think it triggers an almost-Pavlovian response in family/friends. I swear I can immediately see the gears turning before the words "you know I need..." inevitably spill out.

Maybe we should have t-shirts made something to the effect "Woodworking Hobbyist. Please do not crush my creative outlet with your expectations of how I should spend my time. I probably (i.e. definitely) will not take your advice or make anything for you and we'll just be left with an awkward moment." This may have to be made more concise for sizes under XXXXL.

Woodbloke said...

Kari - interesting. What you do in your time, in your 'shop, is your affair and nothing whatsoever to do with your 'friend.' If you choose to make stuff just for you rather than the be it.
Personally, I'd have put on a Manilo CD to get rid of him a bit quicker...either that or a bit of the good Old English vernacular - Rob

Kari Hultman said...

An acquaintance once asked me if I'd make a living room suite for her (and this woman had no intention of paying me). I simply said "no." Her jaw dropped in disbelief. I don't know if she thought I was just sitting around waiting for someone to give me a project or what.

My neighbor once said "I should have you fix my outdoor bench." I said "It would probably be less expensive to just buy a new one." He said "Well, I wasn't going to PAY you!"

It helps to know I'm not the only one dealing with this kind of stuff.

I'm all for coming up with a tshirt, as Charles suggested.

DonP said...

I am very fortunate to have a wife that runs interference. When someone suggests that I build something - she sits them down and gently explains to them that - Don and his shop existed in a different time-space continuum were the outside worlds laws of physics are not relevant. I am also lucky to have little talent.
I am also blessed to have a grandfather who taught me that hard work is its own reward. A truth I was reminded of by reading your line “ Things like handplaning a board for hours.”
I would hate to be a professional - as it is the list I answer to is short. First is ME, am I doing the best I can. Then My Wife, who helps me get all the nifty toys and can be counted on to speak the truth. Last the Tree, I am not going all George Nakashima but its not nice to waste mother nature.
As for doing for others - your Blog and the people it attracts have provide me with much wit and wisdom and Broadened my horizons.

Mitchell said...

I have friends and I have a dog. I prefer the company of the dog - it knows when to keep its mouth shut.



Doug said...

Sanctimonious little p****! Never mind the rapier like wit, Kari, you probably should have done him a favor and ran his big, fat head through your thickness planer a couple of times.

It's a hobby. You enjoy it. Nobody else is required to like it, nor are you required to share it with anybody. If it had been butterfly collecting would he have said the same thing? I doubt it. You do it for yourself. 'Nuff said.

Sorry. Touched a nerve.


Kari Hultman said...

Don, my partner runs interference for me on woodworking....but for some reason is happy to volunteer my graphic design capabilities. I'm with you on not wanting to be a professional woodworking.

Mitchell, I spend all day every day with my dogs (home office). Maybe that's why I never have a comeback when someone catches me off-guard. ; )

Doug, yeah, I will never understand their way of thinking. Seems like a lot of us have encountered people with this mindset.

David Cockey said...

Another version of the classic question: Is it the journey or the destination?

Yesterday evening I spent time making shavings with two new planes. I enjoyed it and found it quite relaxing.

Folks differ. And folks who by nature are judgemental usually have a hard time accepting the validity of being different than them.

Hank Gillette said...

Why should you have to justify yourself to anyone (except perhaps your partner)?

What does your friend do that is so special?