From Journal Entry Saturday 4th February 2017
…the More I Receive
Through the years I have been engaged in training new-genre woodworkers from all backgrounds and I find myself ever-learning that communication is more about listening than whatever I might say. Mostly it’s something I’ve learnt from working with my wood and especially that using my hand tools. I have often described what I listen for when I work wood; how I listen for the thickness of the shaving, how the bench becomes a resonator as I saw, things like that. So what I mean by listening to the tools in and on the wood fibres as I work them is more about, well, feedback. For me the art of listening to my wood and the tools and the sounds that bounce around me in the workshop as I work enables me to better understand people too. More importantly, however, is that this skill has become a transferable skill if you like, you know, sensing the unsaid in a way that the sense we have excludes what we say but includes how we sense what we sense to guide and steer or respond to the information the senses are designed to draw from. Working with hand tools has trained me in patience, kindness, gentility and care. Things I both needed and wanted. When you cross over from impatience to patience, and that is very much requisite to fine hand work, you move towards mastery, better health and wellbeing. This is a truth I never want to live without.
Apprenticing adults, both young, very young and older people to, mostly men but more lately that seems to be changing, means I can work outside some of the flawed systems of the past, which I have done now for more around three decades. My way of working and of training too enables me and my work to become a generational bridge for young people to grow into becoming artisans in their own right regardless of who they are. gradually it has become an important rite of passage for those prepared to work diligently and give themselves to alternative spheres where learning has no certificate lure and qualification is purely based on developed ability and nothing else matters. It’s obvious that I work to provide steps for young adults to exit one sphere and enter another. I look usually to those self-starters who, like myself, began taking steps to initiate a path of learning outside of existing systems and constructs that can often be stymied by politics, economics and red tape. It’s working so far and remarkably well too. I have enjoyed seeing some emerge as crafting artisans in their own right. By training directly one on one they grow steadily and progressively, often very quickly too. It’s not simplistic to establish simple patterns. Covering workmanship in key areas of planning and drawing, real sketching with pens, pencils and pages in a sketchbook, these young engineers, for engineers is what they are, design concepts from ideas.
Mentoring is always key.
We all need encouragement and mentorship is the most ideal way to inspire so that’s what I do. Of course, as ever, there has to be reciprocal agreement of fundamental honesty and mutual respect. My work area and what I teach is always very personal to who I am and no invasion is allowed. My space is a quiet place of contemplation even when the work is progressive and even loud. It’s my space to grow myself and when I open it up to include another I can feel vulnerable. But for the personal growth and benefit of others this is the best sphere to share so sharing my personal space, my tools and my work can at first be challenging for me. Respect means that everyone cares for the space and for me this is core to our progress. That being so, we take nothing for granted.
Spheres of work experience
Work experience enables young people to become more familiar with something I hope becomes to them an alternative reality. It’s not a college course, not a school, not a program like any other, yet it moves always towards a structured environment of learning, development and growth. I look to tailor the work of my charges step by step according to the growth I see in them or want to engineer for them. Because of this I too must keep my heart open to change direction. I must listen when we exchange words in conversation. Their questions tell me what’s important to them so I too may need to micro adjust my ambition for them to meet their needs and achieve their long term and short term objectives. Because in most cases they are indeed willing to do whatever it takes to grow I must be sensitive not to force any unnecessary direction. As a fresh outlook this alternative reality makes many possibilities happen and with respect at the heart of the relationship, a more open transparency paves the way forward.
I recall a situation giving an account where a young trainee had a trainer who listened attentively to his questions. Another of the trainers said, “What amazing answers”. Yet another trainer said, “But I didn’t hear him give any answers”. The first trainee said, “Yes, he did, his questions revealed what was important to him. His questioning answered my unasked questions of what is it that makes this young man tick? It is why he is so engaged when others are not.”
So through the years I’m learning to listen all the more as young internees come, grow and leave. It’s funny remembering my first internees back in 1988 and 1989. Both stayed for a year each. The first was a woman wood turner at a time when few women were turning wood, the second a former financial head in a corporation when few executives would have dreamed of swapping their jobs for working wood. These were the first ones from whom I would learn to train new woodworkers by listening. That’s almost 30 years or so ago. Both went on to continue their crafts.
I think by now you will see that though it may be seen that I give up something to include others, I definitely feel I receive back more than I give. You never really know what influence you might have to change lives.