Thursday, September 19, 2013
If You Make Things, You Are My Brother. Or Sister. My Chinese Brother Or Sister, Apparently
I scour the Intertunnel looking for videos of craftsmen of any sort that I can feature on this blog. I make furniture. But you should understand: I don't LOVINGLY CRAFT anything.
That term is a running, inside joke between my wife and me. It's shorthand for someone doing handwork as slow as possible, in order that the (sometimes imaginary) customer can tell all their friends they bought something that's LOVINGLY CRAFTED. Most American craftsman featured on the Intertunnel are running little personality cults. They don't make enough stuff to reach a threshold I keep in my head to be called a true maker of things. They are performance artists; or wish they were, anyway. They LOVINGLY CRAFT.
As I said, I don't LOVINGLY CRAFT anything. I make things with all the intelligence and effort I can bring to bear, as fast as I can, and sell it for as little as I think is necessary and as much as I can get at the same time. Finding that financial fulcrum is deuced difficult. If you charge too little you starve. Conversely, if you charge too much, you starve.
Why do I have to travel the Intertunnel to China to find people like me? These people are exactly like me. They are clean. They are "well-turned-out." They are not slovenly in their appearance or demeanor. They are all sober. Believe me, I've managed hundreds of people at a time. I can tell at a hundred yards if you're lit. They smile at work. They work really, really hard, and someone else ends up with almost all the money, but they make enough to keep body and soul together. I noticed, in the background, a young woman returning to work from outside, and she appears to be holding a better phone than I possess. There is a child hanging around the workshop. My workshop often has one of those.
That workshop has nothing that I don't understand going on it it. It's a very safe place to work, although the State of California would tell you that every single thing in it is known to give you cancer. But they say that about a glass of tapwater. The finish that the woman's applying is shellac, which you can eat after is dries, and the glue pot is filled with hide glue, which is just horses that came in last, and most of the tools make wood shavings, not sawdust, and the sanding is done by hand, so the sawdust isn't copious or particularly dangerous. No one in the video is missing a digit, or has any visible scars from working with their hands all day. They all have fans pointed at them, but that's no doubt because it's too warm for comfort wherever they are. That place is not full of toxic fumes. You'd pay money to smell the smells in there. Shellac and hide glue and wood shavings smell wonderful. I hear laughter in there, and people smile when a camera is pointed at them. It's a sheepish smile I understand. They are not used to people being interested in their mundane life. No one is wearing safety glasses or ear protection, and no one needs them, either.
No one is LOVINGLY CRAFTING anything in the video, although the violins they make will be sold for huge money in Europe, and the customers will be told that their violins were... LOVINGLY CRAFTED. But then again, no one I've seen in five thousand LOVINGLY CRAFTED videos have one-tenth the hand skills I see demonstrated by everyone in the video. It's important work to them, so they do it to the best of their ability. People that do things over and over get really good at them. I wish them all well -- and hope on my best day, I'm as good as they are on their worst.