Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer Reading

Those of us who sew would not be surprised to learn that working with your hands is the new black. Last week I read in Slate that Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work " was the best self-help book that I've ever read" Buddhists have long felt that physical labor helps clear your mind, and the Shakers argued (gently of course) that honest labor was a form of prayer.
Sewing for me is a form of meditation, plus problem solving, with the satisfaction of a job well done. Most of the people that I know who garden or sew or paint are happy people. Yet those people I know who are mainly 'cube dwellers' without outside interests are often very cranky or cynical. I'm sure there is a connection here. Modern philosophers argue that the source of modern anomie is that we work in jobs that have no tangible results. But when we sew or quilt or knit or crochet, when we cook or garden or clean or paint, we have something to show for our labors. It makes us happy and it contributes to our mental health.

When I went to college, we were supposed to learn how to think. We didn't learn anything practical, like how to build furniture, or houses, or repairing machinery. It would be interesting if in the future students could have combined degrees that taught, say, French Literature or Architecture, or whatever, but also a little plumbing or woodwork as part of their education. Don't you think people would be happier if they learned a productive skill alongside a "thinking" one? That's why Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work is on top of my summer reading list. And since we are in the worst recession in our lifetimes, it might be healthy to reflect on the power and meaning of work, and what we bring to our work, and what our work gives back to us. I'd like to add more creative pursuits to my week. I've resolved to add more sewing time, and less "non-happy work" time to my schedule. Also as a nation it would be healthy to think about work as well. Keeping work local. Valuing our workers. Stuff like that.(That's the Berkeley girl coming out.)

I am reminded of those bumper stickers that say "I'd rather be fishing," or skydiving, or sailing. Notice how no one says they'd rather be making a power point presentation or backing up the system, or writing a report?
I'd rather be working in my sewing room. I like making things. It makes me a whole person (and now I have a book to back me up)
What would you rather be doing?


cidell said...

YES! This was also on the SLATE gabfest too! I just added this book to my Goodreads.

Christina said...

Agree! I just put this on hold at the library. Now I'm off to work with my hands (on a very pretty dress...)

JoanneM said...


Uta said...

Great post. And thanks for the book tip - although I gather we sewers have already figured this out for ourselves, haven't we? I consciously decided to sew more when I was so frustrated by my (real life) work that I couldn't sleep anymore. I just needed someplace else to put my thoughts and energy, that gave me a result at the end of the day, and it totally worked! And you're right, we really ought to teach our children the value of manual, tangible work.

Toby Wollin said...

You are SOOOO right. No one says "I'd rather be doing a Powerpoint presentation". They also don't say, "I'd rather be pushing papers from one side of my desk to another" or "I'd rather be taking a meeting" or "I'd rather be on a conference call."

Lindsay T said...

Bulls eye with this one! I am a much happier and saner person since returning to sewing 3 years ago. I'm like you—I need to be making things.

Allyn Humphreys said...

And what really concerns me is that the "younger generation" (gawd, I can't believe I'm so old that I'm using that phrase) isn't being exposed to crafts (sewing, woodworking) and music and hands-on trade skills in school anymore . . . and it seems like so many parents don't have the skills/aptitude/interest or the time to teach their offspring. I'm afraid these kids are going to find a great deal of frustration later in life, as they're not going to have the creative outlets that folks like us have developed and cherish so greatly!

kbenco said...

I love this post. A productive hobby does seem to keep people happy.

CLF said...

Great choice! I discovered this book excerpt last week on the New York Times website and found it so entertaining that I read large portions of it out loud to my husband.

I enjoy doing many activities with my hands, including sewing, knitting and jam making—to name a few. (And I'm pretty darn good at all of them, if I do say so myself).

I find these activities challenging and rewarding. But I'm as cranky, cynical and pessimistic as any cube dweller.

I reject the notion that people who do stuff with their hands are any nobler or on a higher spiritual plane than those who don't.