And My Hands Will Carry Me
Thoughts on why analog means of making are a self and community building tool
By: Jescelle Major
“Something happens when you feel ownership. You no longer act like a spectator or consumer, because you’re an owner. Faith is at its best when it’s that way too. It’s best lived when it’s owned.”
Having a broad skillset, a deep sense of self and a willingness to confront adversity is a type of ownership— it is an ownership of body, mind and spirit. This ownership gives us the ability to engage with things we don’t know or fully understand because of the faith we have in what we do know and have learned. Our hands can lead us to this wisdom, especially when engaged early and often. The story of one’s hands is at once one of reliability and uncertainty . More, it is one of whimsy and of pragmatism. It is no wonder hands hold our individual and unique fingerprints, no wonder we use them to hold each other up and express unity or power, the symbolism abounds. The use of the word hands herein is as much about anatomy as it is the analog or practical ability and skillset for building, making and realizing.
Craftsmanship, a commitment to and knowledge of skilled physical building and making, can be freeing. When we invest in ourselves and allow our hands to connect with our minds and the world around us we open up a new set of potentials. The decision to pursue or just occasionally practice a trade is limitless, the effects too are limitless. Embedded in pursuing these skills is the growing familiarity with materials and sourcing, the importance of solitude and collaboration as well as a basic (or masterful) understanding of tools, and problem-solving. We are no longer limited by the unknown because, through our making, we have seen a breadth of situations before and thus have seen there is a way over, around or under them. Through building something else we have built ourselves. We have learned and continue to learn that there is more than one way to get to the finished product. Further, we oftentimes discover that the plans need to adjust and most importantly that we make mistakes and get things wrong but that can be a beginning as much, if not more, than it is an end.
These assertions then make the case that we should always be building and creating and imagining. In our youth we gravitate to the Legos and Lincoln Logs and earth as little ones eager to build and fantasize and play. We oftentimes speak of this as early childhood development. Why do we stop then? Shouldn’t we continue to develop? Continue to encourage this exploration and innovation? We can’t pretend that somehow digital exploration is the same or a replacement for physical tests and building. We need both, or at least it is fair to say many of us do. Because of this we should endeavor to provide the space in our culture that is encouraging of both, even as the markets and enthusiasms shift.
Building, across the ages, allows us to fail and persevere. In essence, perseverance is a muscle, and through trial, error and repetition a muscle memory can be developed to help us continue on throughout the challenges life most certainly will bring. Building becomes a conversation. We tell the materials and tools what we want to make and they speak back about what we should do- learning from their nature teaches us in ways true only to the building process. This connection and dialogue also allows us to optimize for a more sustainable and pointed practice towards resilient buildings and sites. Through building we also afford ourselves the opportunities to see a drawing or dream or image brought to life, we get to see the 2-D become 3-D and a space become a place. This reinforcement and materialization of thoughts is an important reminder in grade school, in high-school and college most certainly as we begin shaping our lives. It is also important as we develop into professionals: we will often need to remind ourselves that a forest only grows because it has roots and because it was nurtured. To conclude the metaphor, it was built.
In a world that is becoming increasingly more digital, in an economy that values technology over manufacturing and traditional trades, analog craftsmanship and methods of making start to feel a bit archaic or impractical. There’s a case to be made however that the opposite in fact is true. Not only is the break from screens and cyberspace often welcomed but the experimentation building affords us is more valuable. The confidence we can employ is at its most valuable, as are the opportunities. The rapid testing we get from digitization should be balanced with the methodical skilled simmer of a physical test. The 4-year university is glamorized at the dismissal of trades school, the laser cutter employed over the handheld blade or saw, the tablet over the paper book, but culture should force us to consider these things in tandem, to find the most correct tool not just the most current and the space to pursue and explore and display the built realm and its builders pridefully.
Investing in a craft isn’t just investing in a skill, it is investing in wellness and preparedness. With this comes the realization that sharing knowledge of building and making early on (to diverse groups of varying genders, races, socioeconomic classes etc.) not only builds the resulting structures but builds up a people. Participating in programs like those hosted by Sawhorse Revolution is a way to encourage skill-building, team-building and ultimately confidence-building.
Self-confidence, as explained by Livestrong,1 means that even if things don’t go your way, you still believe that eventually, somehow, some way, they will. They expound to include the sentiment that it requires a positive point of view coupled with realism. This tells us then that if we are confident we can tackle a very real world and life with its numerous changes and adjustments while staying spiritually and mentally positive that we are equipped for what is to come. It also means that we should keep building! Building the physical world around us, building homes for those who don’t have them, building confidence for others to employ in their daily lives and communities. We learn that a saw is a tool for wood as much as it’s a tool for equality or for professional opportunities design-oriented or otherwise. Most importantly, it is a tool for us to carry ourselves and each other in this crazy life, in this crazy wonderful world.
Jescelle Major is a landscape designer at Mithun. She moved to the Pacific Northwest after finishing sustainability and landscape architecture studies in Florida and Louisiana. Jescelle currently sits on the Seattle Design Commission and Public Art Advisory Committee and volunteers with local organizations like Arcade Magazine and Sawhorse Revolution.
1 Gruber, Karl. “The Importance of Self Confidence.” LIVESTRONG.COM. July 24, 2015. Accessed May 25, 2017. http://www.livestrong.com/article/138172-the-importance-self-confidence/.
Thank you for sharing this piece, Jescelle!