Sunday, January 9, 2011

First Day of School

Tomorrow is my first day in the Foundation Course at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking.I will be one of six students spending five days a week, eight hours a day there for the next three months, under the tutelage of some of Port Townsend's finest woodworkers. I'm excited, and a bit scared, in that "beginner's mind" sort of way.

At this point, you're probably expecting something like: "It's been my lifelong dream to be a woodworker," or "My goal is to enhance my creative process by exploring new realms of self-expression," or "I've wanted to do this ever since I was six years old and got in trouble for using my father's hammer without permission," none of which are true. (Well, the third thing is kind of true.) But r
eally, it was just a happy confluence of apparently unrelated events that opened up this path.

It went something like this:

One evening a couple of months ago, I was driving back to Port Townsend after a day of  mundane, if necessary, errands. It was raining. I was tired. All I wanted to do was get home, splash some water on my face and jump into bed. I was half-listening to NPR -- an author named Matthew Crawford was giving a lecture based on his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work and I had turned the radio on near the end of his speech. The bit I heard, though, was interesting enough that I pulled over and made a note of his name and book title before continuing home. I ordered the book the next day and pretty much devoured it in one sitting. It is a compelling treatise, wonderfully subversive, and one that anyone truly interested in education ought to read.

I had been doing fundraising and marketing for the Northwest Maritime Center for the past five years or so, spending most of my work time in front of a computer, on the phone, in meetings, driving to meetings, strategizing about meetings, thinking about meetings and forcing my gnarly 62-year-old fingers to work my teeny BlackBerry keyboard way too much. (I also spent quite a bit of time rowing with my friends but that's a story for another blog.) It was a rewarding job in many ways -- we completed a $12 million capital campaign and opened our wonderful new facility here in Port Townsend, something I am very proud to be a part of. Nevertheless, the work itself was sedentary (despite my stand-up desk) and it seemed time for a transition. My brain kept reminding me that I was in no position to retire -- not quite old enough for Medicare and not much of a nest egg. Maybe it was time to focus more on my photography work; to redo our web site; to finally do the paperwork and become a US citizen; to drum up more public speaking business; to fill the nail holes in the trim in our house. My body, however, kept insisting it was time to do something with my hands, however imprudent it seemed to my brain. Reading Mr. Crawford's book only added fuel to the fire.

But what to do? And how?

Around this time, I happened to run into Tim Lawson (a fellow rower, and director of the Port Townsend School of Woodworking) at a favorite morning coffee hang-out, Undertown. There's no rest for the weary when it comes to non-profit fundraising and, though the hour was early, Tim was doing double duty recruiting people to attend the Woodworkers Ball (a black tie and Carhartts affair) as well as talking about the new three-month intensive course they were starting. "That sounds like fun," I said. "You should come," he said. "To the ball?" I said, half joking. "Or the course?" "Both," he said, not joking at all. "I'll talk it over with Jim and let you know," I said.

I checked out their web site and ordered two tickets to the ball. (Working for non-profits makes you a soft touch for other non-profits' fundraising events, which ironically reduces even more your already low salary, but nevermind.) The tuition for the course, however, was just too much. Anyhow, I didn't really want to go. Not at all.

I started picking off tasks from the five year backlog of "deferred maintenance" -- household stuff, financial management stuff, promises made -- and pretty soon it was Thanksgiving and the rains had come. In the stack of mail one day came a brown envelope with a Canadian postmark informing me that I had been included in the will of my uncle Ken Graham, my late mother's brother, who had passed away more than a year ago. He was a wheat farmer who lived more than 80 years in the town of Vulcan, Alberta, where he was born. In the winter when it was bitterly cold and the prairie blizzards made working outside impossible, he liked to make intricate wood carvings -- balls inside of boxes, wooden chains, Chinese puzzles. He never married, and remembered all his nieces and nephews with lovely, unexpected gifts. It was no fortune, just enough to pay a few bills and be gone. Or pay the tuition, buy a few tools, and be remembered for a lifetime, which seemed a more fitting tribute to my uncle. I signed up the next day.

So, Monday morning I will walk into the concrete building at Fort Worden State Park that has been transformed into two well-lighted wood shops -- one for making shavings (the hand-tool shop) and the other for making sawdust (the power tool shop) as Tim said, and greet my fellow students. I have a beautiful set of blue-handled Irwin Marples chisels that have yet to touch wood, reasonably decent hand-eye coordination and, yes, that empty, beginner's mind.

As much as possible, I intend to post my experiences to this blog, with a few photos now and then. I am as much a novice blogger as a novice woodworker -- I hope to gain some skill in both through the coming months.

Thank you for reading -- please sign up as a follower, share on Facebook, make comments, link, or whatever else you're supposed to do with these things.


  1. What a wonderful way to start a Sunday morning! Thanks for the inspiration Dianne and the back story on how the heck you ended up picking this option off your no-doubt exciting list of potential projects for the next 9 months:) Love the school, the instructors, the connection back to your uncle on the Alberta plains and will look forward to following your evolution in wood. Cool. Of course, I see the Pocock cedar and know that a wooden shell or five also has an important role in this story. Touching wood for an excellent adventure! KC

  2. Another inspired life adventure. This is going to be fun to follow.

  3. My first blog comments - how exciting!!!

    Thanks you two - I really appreciate the support.

    Oh, and can I call you at 2:00 AM if I need a shoulder to cry on?

  4. Nice story, I'll check out the blog once in a while. By the way the blue on the right over the wood is hard to read.

  5. Thanks Kees - I changed the blue to a lighter color and I hope that makes it easier to see. The degree of control you have over some of that stuff seems a bit random in the Blogger software and it's hard for me to know what it looks like on other people's screens. I might be able to lighten up the wood a bit also. BTW, you probably figured out that the wood background is the book-matched hull planks on one of the Pocock singles

  6. Have fun tomorrow, Dianne. I have yet to read Shop Class as Soulcraft that you recommended but I will.
    Jim Buckley

  7. Always game for something new. Good for you Dianne. I will follow as time allows. Good looking pile of wood shavings, speaking on the Green side of me.. they look just to good to let go to waste!

  8. Good looking straight edge Dianne, congrats. Look forward to your updates.


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