Earlywood: 'We're All Frauds'
But I have one thing going for me.
Publisher’s note: It’s Saturday morning, and that means it’s time for Earlywood (wait, isn’t it always time for earlywood?). Every Saturday we publish an excerpt from one of the thousands of pieces I’ve written since 1996. Sometimes it’s from a magazine article. Or a book. Or (in this case) an old blog entry. This one is from March 24, 2018. Each entry has been updated or annotated with some modern context or point of view. We hope you enjoy it.
The book that became “Chairmaker’s Notebook” began as a chat with chairmakers Peter Galbert and Curtis Buchanan. We made a plan to produce a video of Curtis building a chair that would be accompanied by a pamphlet from Peter illustrating the construction details.
In the end, Curtis’s detailed videos ended up here. And Peter’s “pamphlet” became the best book on chairmaking I’ve ever read.
But that’s not why I remember that meeting with Peter and Curtis. Instead, I am continuously struck by something Curtis said to me in that cabin in Berea, Kentucky. Curtis began talking about teaching woodworking.
“We’re all not as good as people think we are,” he said. “We’re all frauds.”
This was Curtis Expletive Deleted Buchanan. A guy who has more skill than 10 magazine-grade woodworkers. And he was sitting before me explaining that – like all human beings – he has insecurities about his work.
If I ever get a tattoo, it’s going to be that quote from Curtis.
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So this blog entry is a public service announcement. No matter how effortlessly you think another woodworker operates, know that he or she spends a significant amount of time in personal freak-out mode.
The week that I wrote this blog entry was an example of this. I had a magazine article due on Monday about a simple chair with tricky geometry. I spent the entire week ruining $200 worth of perfectly good pieces of maple. And on Friday afternoon, I built the chair for the fifth time, and it actually worked.
I am a fraud. The craft of woodworking kicks me down the stairs and steals my lunch money on an almost daily basis. The only thing I have going for me – my only superpower, I suppose – is that I get back up. I take a short walk to calm my mind. And I build the damn chair for the fifth time.
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It
This! And this is why I twitch every time I finish a project and someone says “wow, you’re so talented.” I’m not talented! I just try to do things they don’t try to do, and when I screw it up I keep trying. “Talent” misses the months of mistakes along the way. I wish they’d say, “wow, you’re so persistent.” That’d be true.