Thursday, March 20, 2008

The photo at left shows my stump table, part of chapter 3 of the rustic furniture book I'm working on. The simple birch frame holds the chunk of spalted maple at a height which offers a possible use as an entry table. Or you could stretch things and call it "art". Unusual materials can be the key to the launching your creative imagination.

I published this to the wrong blog. But then I realized that this piece does say something about Zen. The stump is a simple expression of nature, its beauty and simplicity. The birch frame is spare, using mortise and tenon joints and short dowels to lift the stump, suspending it in space between the supporting legs. Publishing in the wrong blog also says something about Zen. When I say oops! Can you hear the sound of one hand clapping?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

While in the US the media can't seem to get away from discussion of the economy and possible recession, the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is marching to a different drummer. Instead of Gross National Product, they measure quality of life rather than the economy alone in tracking their nation's progress. From Wikipedia: The term was coined by Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck in 1972 in response to criticism that his economy was growing poorly. It signaled his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's unique culture based on Buddhist spiritual values.

I offer this on a Sunday afternoon to assure readers that there is some wisdom in the world, and that not all peoples are driven by mindless wasteful consumerism. There is hope to be found in the restoration of values expressed and discovered through craftsmanship and service of the human hand.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Yesterday Courtney broke a nail, just a small tip, but it was something that had to be announced to draw the sympathy and attention of the class. The amount of special protection nails must receive as young women engage in woodworking (or anything else)is amazing to me.

This may go back to Socrates and before. Men and women of the upper classes were not to engage in the real work and creative efforts of the lower class. Their spirits were to soar unencumbered by fleshly form as they indulged in mastery of their slaves. Physical form was for adornment and sensation, nothing more. Dirt on the skin, grease under a nail, were evidence of betrayal of class values

The hands themselves are a source of status recognition. Beautiful long nails that have been colored and tended so carefully are a statement of idleness and indulgence being encouraged over other human values of creativity, industry and effort.

Our hands are much more an expression of personal identity than our faces. Our faces are only apparent to us when we look in mirrors and reflections, but our hands are always there when we pause from the internal chatter and look down.

In action and service the hands disappear as we engage in skilled manipulation of material. The man at the lathe skillfully shaping wood takes no notice of his hands. The tool and the hands holding it in well-practiced form, become an extension of his intellect as his consciousness engages directly in material and the creation of form.

Let’s consider Zen for a moment. The hands are the primary method of human engagement with essential reality. Extract the hands from their explorations of material and form, withdraw them from their essential role as the creative extension of intellect, force them to become mere expressions of idle reflection and adornment. What do you get? Is it the sound of one hand clapping idly in space and time with no noise and no noticeable effect? Let’s consider putting our hands together and see what we can do with two… Or how about you and I with four?

When Courtney broke a nail, I asked, “Is there blood, do you need a band-aid?” When Peggy broke a nail, I showed her how to fix it with sandpaper. You can see that in some things my heart is hard. But I have a soft spot for kids getting over the things that keep them idle and prevent the unfolding of creative self. I have a soft spot for broken nails, bent ones too. Let’s get more kids working with wood.