Many spooncarvers go through this rite of passage called finding a makers mark. The idea is that it is a way to sign your work so that people will know it was you that made a particular spoon (or bowl or whatever). Potters do it. Painters do it. I think it is a load of bunk.
At best I find the marks a mild distraction. At worst, I feel like it is symptomatic of a territoriality that marks the spooncarving community. I am sure it is not limited to spooncarvers (for instance I have found the same pissing matches in the scything community), and I deeply hope that as a community we can create a culture where credit is given where it is due but is not demanded. This is a tricky thing, and I have been on both sides of this scenario. I recently failed to give Pat Diette due for a term for wood that has sat around in the log for awhile. He let me know that he felt strongly that I give him credit for the term, largely as an opportunity for folks to learn that he exists. On the other side of that coin, I was asked by a prominent spooncarver if I would make him some blanks which he would then finish and sell. I said I would, provided he mentioned (not every time, just once, in some way) that I had made the blanks. He pushed back and ultimately backed away from the deal. This whole thing left me feeling upset, since it is one thing to fail to acknowledge an idea or shape that you are trying out; it is a whole other thing to fail to acknowledge someone else's work that went into what you do.
Now, as a general rule I am not territorial. I borrow ideas from other makers and expect others to borrow from me and I am fine with that. I don't consider any ideas as being unique to me. Perhaps because of this, I feel like my spoons should go out into the world without a mark. Because ultimately, I am just their beginning. A good spoon has a life that has nothing to do with me. It does what it was made to do, and the relationship built with it and around it are not my story, and usually one I will never know. I don't need to insert myself into that. The act of carving a spoon (and getting paid for it) is the important thing, not the spoon itself.
I would hazard a prediction that what our movement needs is fewer makers marks, not more of them. Fewer designs that are off limits, fewer areas where we need to tread lightly, afraid to ruffle the feathers of someone more linked into the scene. And I would also predict that if we let all of this go, if we stop scrabbling out little territories and carving our name into the barks of trees to say we were here, that our work would be the better for it. I like to think that my work is recognizable because of a million details and an overall gestaldt, not because I sign it. This recognizable style doesn't come from setting out to carve something that is my own style. It is setting out to carve what works, over and over and over again, exploring, tweaking, never thinking I've locked it in, but always pushing forward towards simplicity and function and elegance. It is born of the process and the history of my process. There are no shortcuts to this. You just have to cut your way through.
I have this dog who has lost the use of her legs. We have a wheelchair for her, which allows her to go for walks, but she is not as agile as she was and keeping her safe from cars is a concern. Now there is a dead-end, dirt road that I take the dogs on where I don't have to clean up after them, don't have to have them on leashes, don't have to worry about cars or other dogs and I can just enjoy the walk. The problem is, it's a two minute drive away, and I always moan and groan about loading them into the car, making sure I have the wheelchair, unloading them. The problem isn't that this takes very long- I can get them a good walk in fifteen minutes total- but rather the perceived effort compared to just striding out from the house.
It struck me the other day that this is exactly what happens in all aspects of my life. I moan and groan about the inconvenience of doing things well, convinced I don't have time.
But, as with walking the dogs, the extra effort pays off. My time walking the dogs has become my space for deep thinking, uninterrupted by the surface needs of watching out for cars.
Think of the difference it would make if I could apply this same logic to cooking, cleaning, or posting on Instagram, for crying out loud. Going the extra two minutes would be HUGE. More delicious food. A cleaner, more peaceful house. And, perhaps most pertinent to this space, an Instagram feed that gave more of myself and was of greater value to anyone following along, myself included.
So this is my intent going forward. To make my Instagram feed a useful object. A space for deep thinking. A beautiful walk. Nourishment. I find it all to easy to photograph something because others are also doing it. We are all spinning around each other, but this is the equivalent of walking dogs on a busy road and only being able to attend to the surfaces of things.
I want to walk my Instagram on a dead-end dirt road, where I can think clearly.
Hopefully this won't mean I post less. Hopefully this means what I post will have more value, both to myself and to you. Either way, it's a small nudge in what feels like the right direction.
A long time ago I decided I didn't want to ever be in the position of being fired or laid off. I didn't want to rely on someone and their uncertain satisfaction with my work for all of my income. I gravitated toward farming for this very reason, in that it seemed like a world where even if the income was meager, the farmer, as Almanzo Wilder is taught and asserts in the Little House on the Prairie books, the farmer is independent. Over the years I have ended up doing a whole bunch of things, from editing scientific manuscripts to carving spoons to teaching people how to use a scythe to cut grass. And let me acknowledge outright that I have never been truly independent: I have support from my family, from my colleagues, and from my customers, and I have obligations to them too.
Like many young people, my wife and I faced a choice in our early twenties when we got married: follow a career wherever it took us, or live where we wanted to live and cobble together work. We chose to have a family close to where we both grew up, and while this area is not economically depressed, we have both taken a while to find our path in a way that lets us live here, near our parents. Combine this with my desire to be master of my own fate, and you have the classic recipe for a need for hustle.
The hustle has become a way of life, and I like to think of it in terms of me hustling, rather than trying to hustle other people. Every day, I have projects I push further to completion. I put it out there that I am offering the world what I know and what I make, and the world reacts. If I don't put it out there, the world doesn't react. Hustle.
I asked my older brother if he thought I was more tolerant of risk than he was and he said of course, how could you not be if you are self-employed doing all these things with no guarantee of it working out? Which was funny because I actually feel more secure doing all these different self-employed things than I have when I had a job. No one can ever take them away from me, and because there are so many and they are all so different, each has its busy season and ebb, and if one is not working out the others provide some resiliency to my income as a whole. He thought about that and then also pointed out that all of my businesses have very low operating costs and overhead in general, further reducing my risk.
But the truth is that hustle IS risk. There is no getting around it. My life is one giant trust fall into the world, and sometimes it works out and sometimes it really doesn't. Sometimes four orders flood in in one day, along with a workshop reservation and two manuscripts. Sometimes there is radio silence.
What I've learned is that the micro fluctuations of what does or doesn't happen on a given day doesn't mean anything, no matter how terrified I feel in the moment. Posting the perfect picture to Instagram or crafting the perfect email is not what makes a situation work.
Doing good work, day after day. Being honest. Being REAL. Communicating actively and clearly. These are the things that matter. Putting myself out there, day after day. Doing the things that make me uncomfortable. Doing the things I shy away from because I'm not a numbers or a technology person. Giving a situation time to build, and keeping perspective on how far I've come. That matters.
Luck is the confluence of preparation and opportunity. Both of these things are under our control. In the words of Garrison Keiller, do good work, and keep in touch.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.