Something occurred to me the other day while I was driving with my daughters in the car. What often happens is they are absorbed in some game or argument and my mind tends to wander, until I snap out of it and turn on the radio. And where my mind wandered this time was on the dichotomy of surface versus form.
You see, we spend our days chasing the surface of things: getting the finishing cuts on spoons to be perfect, having the perfect veneer of a happy life posted to social media, being able to give the right answer at a party to the question of what we do. We obsess about how we look (I'm no different), how our clothes look on us, and how many followers we have. We are constantly snookered by flash and glitter and sparkly things.
The funny thing, though, is that when you really get down to it, the surface of your spoon matters far less than its FORM. That imperfection you keep chasing out only to have a fresh mark crop up? Totally not going to notice it in a week. But you will definitely notice that you made the bowl too thin and it broke. Or that you overcut the neck. Or that you were afraid to cut down enough because you got the surface perfect early on in the process and let that dictate when you stopped, not the underlying form. But make no mistake: the underlying form IS the thing. The only thing.
This is obviously true of your life, too. How many followers you have (surface) bears no relation to whether or not your relationship with social media is a healthy habit that is sustaining your sense of well-being and empowerment in the world and allowing you to do some good in return (form). The way you look in the mirror is not an indication of how hard you can work, how much grit you have, whether you are cool under pressure, good with people or able to think outside the box. It's not even a good indication of how strong you are! Your life on paper is not YOU. It is the surface of you, and it cannot compare with the actual rich, deep, beautiful form of your life, with all its idiosyncrasies and weirdness.
I try to keep this in mind when I carve. I lean towards designs that push me to value form over surface. Looser, more fluid finishing that emphasizes the underlying shape rather than some complex pattern of facets. How a spoon WORKS is the metric of success, how it feels in my mouth, or works in the hand.
I also try to keep this in mind when it comes to how I think about and evaluate and plan my life. It is always worth asking, when considering something, if it is a patch on the surface of things (a feather in my cap) or if it will truly make me happier, kinder, and better able to help others. Sometimes this is just about the narrative I spin of my life, but sometimes it's a reality check on my motives for doing something.
I was going to end by saying that if you take care of the form, the surface will take care of itself. But that's not quite right. More accurate would be to say that my goal, with my spoons and my life, is to concentrate on the form to the point where the surface becomes irrelevant.
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.
One idea is as worthless as another until you actually do something about it, and then it is the action, not the word that matters. --Orson Scott Card