Sunday, December 12, 2010
With my own two hands
For many, building is a commonplace and reliable profession. Kids may learn how to wire, plumb, fix, or build from family or friends, and instead of going to college, they work at what the already know. For me, building is a novelty. I have a mostly academic background, and so I'm entering the realm of building like an academic. I wax philosophic on the satisfaction of working with my hands and having a tangible result at the end of the day. In college, all I did was work with abstractions, pushing ideas around, borrowing from and adding to man's pregnant body of knowledge. I enjoyed it, and grew from it, but I also tired of it to the point where building is a breath of fresh air. Ideas are pliable, forgiving things, but building is ruthless in its exactness. It might be called "manual" labor, but it's just as much intellectual labor too. To complete any simple task, spatial awareness, geometry, and precise measuring are crucial. There are only guidelines for how things are to be done, so if you come to a problem, it's up to you to figure out a solution, and if it works, it works; if it doesn't, it doesn't. There's no ambiguity. Your wall is either plumb or not; your layout is either square or it isn't. These things exist in reality, and they have objective measurements. And through precision, the fruits of your labor aren't abstract notions, but a building--a home, the ultimate in usefulness.
I'm not alone in seeing the novelty of building. When regulars at the coffee shop ask where I've been and I tell them I've been building a house, they say something like, "Really. That's awesome," and they mean it. They get a faraway look in their eye as they walk back to their laptops. On the other hand, if I said I was just starting grad school, I might not get a hint of genuine interest. That's what everyone does in a town like this. Saying you're going back to school is like saying your heart's beating, or that you're breathing oxygen. Of course you're going back to school! The interest people show in building makes me think it's rooted in our genes. A life in academia is noble and respected, yet the urge to build, to work with one's hands, calls out to people. It called out to me, and I can't put my finger on the fullness of why. I try to figure it out, but it doesn't really matter. They're just ideas.