Shop Class as Soulcraft

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Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal introduced me to Matthew Crawford, calling Shop Class as Soulcraft a hymn to the virtues of what he [Crawford] called manual competence and a lament for the decline of honor accorded to work with one’s hands.

My husband, a former high school shop teacher, captivated from the first page — in which Crawford bemoans the disappearance of shop classes from our common education — insistently interrupted my reading to read aloud a paragraph. Thus, he convinced me to read it myself.

Crawford has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago, but when he’s not writing he makes a living as a motorcycle mechanic. (While this is a rare combination, I know several carpenters who are conversant with Kierkegaard and Heidegger. My husband Curt (see photo below) can wield an ax, weld an axle and read Wendell Berry.)

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Crawford’s book is part social history, part philosophy, and part memoir. The altitude of some of the metaphysical  musings were beyond my reach but within stretching distance. The history of transition from craftsmanship to assembly line and the degradation of blue collar work was absorbing. His personal ‘education of a gearhead’ was fun and fascinating reading.

Crawford laughs at the cubicle culture with teambuilding activities and speech codes. He urges learning a trade even if you go to college. Reading this book inspires me to pick up a shovel and dig in my garden.

If thinking is bound up with action, then the task of getting an adequate grasp on the world, intellectually, depends on our doing stuff in it. And in fact this is the case: to really know shoelaces, you have to tie shoes.

 

 

 

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Cleaning before Being Cleaned

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There’s something radically new in my life: a young woman comes every other week to clean my house. It’s pretty weird. But I’m getting used to it.

I was telling my husband about a book I was reading,  The End of Your Life Book Club — the story of Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will, and the books they read and discussed during her final two years. As I explained their background, I said, Well, they lived three doors down from Julia Child. And Mary Anne worked full-time, back when moms typically didn’t work. But she must have hired a housekeeper because all they did was read on the weekends and you KNOW that someone had to clean toilets.  And Curt, bless his heart, leapt into this opening he had been waiting for to suggest that we hire a house cleaner.

So Jamie comes and I gather scattered books so she is cleaning and not picking up. I work on a deep-cleaning project while she’s here. To me, it’s akin to paying a piano teacher when you mostly need accountability to practice.

But, here’s the thing: the instinct is so strong to clean up myself before I get help. It’s neat to clean (Next to Godliness is my favorite soap from Trader Joe’s) but this is more about self-protection and perhaps some self-deception. I see this tendency in my life in other areas. After I lose 15 pounds, I’ll go to the doctor, I promise myself.

Years ago, I participated in a foot-washing ceremony. A group of women circled their chairs and the friend on the right got on her knees and dipped my feet in a large bowl sudsy with warm soapy water, washed, rubbed, and dried my dirty, stinky feet — a profoundly unforgettable encounter. It struck the same emotional response in each of us. We were happy (happy! happy!) to wash a friend’s feet, but our heart screamed No! when it was our turn to be washed.

Getting Paid to Read

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I have repeatedly said, I would love to get paid to read!

What I really mean is: I would love to get paid to read whatever I want on my own schedule. Basically, I want a stipend to breathe air.

Because having to read what someone else has chosen is too close to being back in school.

At times the promise of free books has tempted me to consider pursuing review copies from the publisher, but the obligatory nature of reviewing has slapped me on the cheeks and snapped me out of it.

Because of my reputation as a reader, I am often given books to read. People love a book and they want me to love it with them. Which obligates me to read that book. [This is fitting payback, because I’ve been that friend/acquaintance/stranger who pressed unsolicited books into hands with the words You. must. read. this. book.] Don’t get me wrong: I love gift books and I love loaned books. I love the discussions they engender. I just don’t like feeling disloyal to my books which migrate to the bottom of my pile.

Recently, I started following Anne Bogel’s blog Modern Mrs. Darcy. This girl reads for a living. She is fun and welcoming: a literary, book-loving version of The Pioneer Woman.  Anne’s content is beautifully linked to Amazon and I’m sure she gets sweet monthly referral fees. It hit me one day: She gets paid to read!

My next thought was But. She must read newly released books to get Amazon referral fees. You can’t recommend Anthony Trollope (whose books are free on Kindle) and make money. And I am quickly back to contentment. I get to read the books on my shelves, yay!

Anne has a podcast called What Should I Read Next? While I am probably 38% compatible with Anne’s picks, the moment I wait for is when she describes her guest’s reading pattern, based on 3 books loved and 1 book hated. These diagnoses are often Aha! moments; guests use words like uncanny, crazy, I’ve never thought of that before!  It’s as close to book therapy as you get. Here is a sample analysis:

You’ve chosen books about women who had to learn to be strong, because life threw some stuff their way. And they had to rise to the challenge. And they did. And whether the story is written in first person or third, these books show us these women’s lives through their own eyes. We get their side of the story, their version of events, and we, as the reader, have the privilege of walking alongside them as they get a little older and a little wiser and really come into their own.

I have my own What Should I Read Next? dilemma, but not in the way of needing a book recommendation. My question stems from having far too many choices staring at me from my bookshelves. I want to read them all. The job doesn’t pay well, but there are benefits.

We Were So Poor Stories

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I’m tempted to pity my grandkids whose life is bereft of We Were So Poor stories. When such stories are impressionistic paintings from the past, they surely are delicious memories.

A coworker of yore bragged about getting SIX. TEEN. cups of tea from one tea bag. He was so poor.

My friend asked her husband what kind of meals his mom made when he was growing up. He thought and said, We ate a lot of Spanish rice. She asked, What did you have with it?  Just rice. They were so poor.

Before we married our weekly date was splitting a $2.25 plate of chow mein. We were so poor.

After we married our grocery budget was $12 a week. My farmer uncle gave us a few bushels of tomatoes that I canned, Curt put a deer in the freezer, and tuna was on sale at $0.33/can. We were so poor.

A young couple moved to California from the midwest. When their folks sent a dress shirt from Sears for a birthday gift, they quickly exchanged it for cash to feed their babies. They were so poor.

One Christmas, we prepared our boys for a skinny Christmas. We didn’t have money and refused to go into debt to buy toys. That year ::takeabreath:: our boys wrote a note and put it in an envelope with twenty dollars from their savings. We hope this helps. We were so rich.

I’m pretty sure you have some We Were So Poor stories. Won’t you share in the comments?

 

Reviving A Comatose Pencil

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Curt and I, young and pre-children, had moved and were getting to know our new pastor at our new church in our new city. We explained that we’d loved to involve ourselves, but were burned-out and needed a season of rest. This wise man replied, “Take time. Sit down. Be still.  When the urge to serve comes back—and it will—, call me.” 

While I am not overburdened with my writing schedule (cough, cough) the urge to write is back. It’s time to revive A Living Pencil. Beginning with a few random thoughts.

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Has there been a decline in blogging? I think Facebook/Twitter/Instagram is to blogs what Walmart is to downtown boutiques. I find it oh so easy to post a photo to Facebook or write a sentence about the irony of including Man-Pleasing Chicken on our Mother’s Day menu.

The problem: so much content on Facebook (read Walmart) is generic and/or derivative. Most blogs offer a unique perspective. And most of the small blogs have closed up shop.

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I made it through the toughest weekend of my calendar. The anniversary of my mom’s death was on Saturday and Mother’s Day was Sunday. I also remembered my friend Carol, (my surrogate mom’s youngest daughter) who died in January, and her beautiful daughters experiencing their first Mother’s Day sans Mom.

I never want to drum up grief because of the day on the calendar. No. There was no need for drumming.

But this is what I realized this cycle: I always—for 48 years—carry grief with me, deep in the warrens of my soul. But May 7th is the day I give sadness permission to surface. I give myself permission to acknowledge the wound. I think that is a good, even healthy, thing to do.