Work Brings Life to Masses

I am not sure how many of us can carry on working when our jobs rely on office buildings remote from our homes, fellow staff and then too machines that anchor us to a workplace of commerce. I am not sure anymore how many of us can actually handle the stresses of home life as well as we can a place away from home to work. This is the product of culture. Culture is evershifting and redefining who we are and what we do you see. And when I say all I really mean ALL — the things we eat the way we talk and the speak of life that we do. But more men and women are now forced into what was once a very normal thing to be, a home worker with family life surrounding them. People say they will be glad when things get back to normal, yet go back a hundred or so years ago and working from home, growing your food, animals, making things to support a modest agrarian life, all of this was once very normal indeed. Oh my, how life has changed.

Last year’s potatoes and onions fresh from the garden gave me four
months of food.

Glitzy glam people with pristine dress codes and accents address us with punchy, sometimes quite aggressive tactical information content to show that they are highly informed and in the know and we forget to look around as the power-source comes in via the internet as if actually in the combat zone. We all know now that we are all at risk and the outcome facing danger is more unpredictable than usual. Such cultural shifts through the decades have transformed the way that we both receive and digest the incoming minute-by-minute information and inside somewhere there is always something to make us feel sad, possibly self-pitying, depressed, anxious, happy and upbeat and much more. This method of supplying the need for the consumption of information knowledge of course, leaves us very little time for that which makes information palatable. Too much information always leads to a dearth of what is essential to our wellbeing. Information needs attention. With so much information and then too its entertainment value, we cannot engage our attention to really focus on what we really need to know. Taken down many rabbit trails then, we ultimately find that everyone broadcasting as experts are sometimes equally as confused as those try to find out the right information and to do what is right. But then there comes a point that we realise that we didn’t actually choose this or that and that we have passively allowed change to happen simply by a detachment from the real things that actually surround us.

Just a little topsoil and some faith to grown and then the potatoes come.

I often have asked people why they chose their occupation. I mean they go to work every day in their car and drive to a square box building, extricate themselves from their car and then unload themselves to do their occupation. Usually, they tell me it just, “sorta happened, you know. Usual scenario, college, courting, and kids. Well, I just needed a job!”

From three tomato plants I had four months solid of daily tomatoes.

Rarely do I ever meet someone who followed a definitive career plan mapped out with steps of intent. It is also difficult to ‘do our own thing‘ when work and the work we have has greater validating impetus on us in the eyes of our peers than us finding contentment in our jobs of ordinariness. Somehow we can end up living up to the expectations of others. If we don’t get to university and get that universal degree into future security and that ‘good job’, our parents cannot boast in our (their) success even though we are unlikely to actually use that degree we gain in any future work that we do. University and college certification is now the common filter into finding work and even being accepted initially for even just the interview. Most people, degreed or not, actually learn from the job they do and not the degree they paid thousand upon thousands for to actually own. Often people just kind of stumbled into what they do to. And more, people rarely return to their roots once the separation is successful and they take up residence away from the family hub and exchange it for a single dorm room they pay too much for but gain their independence. The famous song of old pegs it: “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” This, of course, referred to men returning from the 14-18 to the farms across the USA. How on earth could they find farm life interesting after the sophistication of Paris and Europe and all that that had had to offer? It can be something like this for anyone, even makers.

Beans come from bean seed as and then grow to giants in a few short weeks. And I made my seed trays from pallet wood scraps.

Working from home or should I say working for yourself from home and being self-employed takes a goodly amount of self-discipline. I have never been able to drift too far from the anchor of my workbench and vise for too long without knowing every minute I spent in the workshop meant food for my children and clothes to wear. Utility bills must be paid and customer-demands are ever at the forefront. Being self-employed is not “freelancing” as many seem now taught to say in uni. You are self-employed in only one sense of the term and that is that you work to pay your own wage and then too your taxes. No cheques magically appear in your bank account every month. If you are off sick there is no bottomless pit and if you did try to claim some kind of benefit you would be back in work a year before the hoop-jumping stopped, so benefits were no benefit at all, even though you actually pay into the benefits system as I did for 55 years. But the important thing is that you understand that you are not self-employed at all but your customers often become your short term employer week on week. It takes courage for a furniture maker like myself to keep going without the benefits of a long-term employment contract and all that goes with it, be that six weeks mandatory holiday pay and sick pay for if you are of sick. Nope, in the art industry (not service industries like plumbing and air conditioning repairs or electrical work) like woodworking you need gutsy pluck to develop and grow but I realised one day that overcoming difficult times would help me to develop character and that character is best formed on the anvil of adversity and not in living a cushy, risk-free life with guarantees.

Some of my potatoes.

It’s not surprising that we have seen a rise in domestic abuse between partners and spouses since the lockdown from the pandemic.This is the saddest outcome when people become isolated away from the ability to go to the freedoms of work. The saving grace for some is going away to work and not remaining within the hub of the family day in day out for weeks. I would that every person could find the respite of handwork in some crafting or other. The reason for building vegetable growing boxes is not merely to grow things. It is physical manual dexterity in multidimensional tasking, but then too it’s developing the mental acuity to overcome all of the complex issues surrounding making.

To build a veg box is simple enough, planning it and doing it is just a little more complex. But growing! Now that’s a completely different dimension. 95% of people reading this have never grown a veg in their life and yet the ongoing benefits released in the brain can calm the most savage beast inside each of us. So too the benefits of owning a craft. I mean mastering it and making it yours by your own determination. Something changes us inside when we make, grow and cook. and these three things are fundamentally innate to our wellbeing and very much a part of who we are. They can lie dormant for decades, but something stirs deep inside of us when we start to just ‘do’. Try to find some way to go make, bake, cook and grow. Let those creative juices form new furrows in your brain to shape, redefine and mould your life. Don’t be taken too much for a ride by quick talking suits. Measure what’s said and make adjustments accordingly. You are your own person with decisions to make, decide what you feel is right to do and what to own and go do it. It just takes one step.

27 thoughts on “Work Brings Life to Masses”

  1. Good, wise advice, Mr Sellers! You told us once that you’d been a police officer during a difficult time in the U.K. , so all your experience gives your words extra weight. There are harsh realities to life, but time-tested ways of dealing with them.

  2. Richard Harnedy

    Hi Paul

    I reckon this is one of your best blogs to date. It makes people step back and take stock. Spuds look tasty too.

  3. I’m envious. We still have a month or so before we can start planting. We were blessed with about 20 cm of snow over the weekend. (Biggar, Saskatchewan)

  4. Your views on news and news overload echoes what I’ve concluded years ago. So I drastically cut down all news sources. Most definitely no ‘social’ media (apart from this blog and even that under very strict conditions). I spend about 2-3 minutes per day on a news site to stay informed of what’s happening. That’s plenty enough for me. After doing all this I stumbled upon an article by Rolf Dobelli on this topic, it seemed to confirm everything I’d arrived at myself already (“Avoid news. Towards a healthy news diet”, by Rolf Dobelli, 2010, on the internet as pdf-file).

    The vegetable garden is practical and very enjoyable. A quick walk through the vegetable garden is a good way to de-stress. Amazing that out of dirty soil grow those delicious things to eat. I overdid it a bit with the garlic (it was the only thing I could plant that early in the year). The onions and ‘sjalots’ are doing very well, the leek too. Have 5 tomato plants for the first time in years (Phytophtera spoiled them all in the past), lettuce is rapidly growing, will be doing plenty of climbing French beans (want around 25 kg of beans to can), the bamboo climbing racks have already been put up. Chives, parsley, thyme, and will be trying cucumbers too. Never have done potatoes, curious as to how many m² one needs to have enough potatoes for one person for one year.

    Finished the oilstone holder out of pine scraps today. What took you 1.5 hours to make took me 3 evenings… and when it was finished and I stood back to admire I noticed a large crack lengthwise. Glued it up but I suppose another, better one will be in the future. And it all looked so easy when you made one.

    1. Depends a bit on the type and your conditions. I.e. do you have enough moisture (but not too much) etc. I personally like the smaller fingerling types for growing myself. I’ve read about expecting about a 10 times harvest of what you put in, i.e. 1lbs of seed potato giving you 10lbs of harvest. With 12″ between each of the seed potatoes and 3′ between rows. I have 4’x8′ raised beds so I just plant two rows of potatoes per bed. I usually can’t help myself and plant something else in between too, because when you put it all in its all so empty 😉
      Everything also depends on whether you plan to eat potatoes for lunch every day or not so best to calculate yourself from the above based on your habits. And if you’d like to be self sustainable I wouldn’t rely on just potatoes. After all potato blight is a thing. As are those nasty little buggers that just bite off your plants right above the soil line.

      1. Thanks for the thorough and helpful explanation, Alex. Don’t plan on being self-sufficient but as independent as reasonably possible. 3-4 days a week of potatoes is my schedule, figure I need about 40 kg/year. Your ratio of 10:1 yield is a helpful starting figure. Didn’t plan on doing potatoes this year but I may just put a few in the ground in a lost piece of space to get a feel for it and see if it works in my garden. For some reason, year after year of tomatoes rotted away from Phytophtera. Hopefully that won’t be a problem with potatoes.

  5. Great post Paul. It will be interesting to see how things change/reprioritize for some (not most) after this event is over. My grandparents got married during the great depression in the 1930s in America. Their dual incomes needed to support six others who were without work. Even when grandmothers was well into her 90s, you could still see how she was heavily influenced by that time in her life. No doubt this event will impact many. I am growing a garden for the first time in earnest. Lately, I haven’t thrown away anything that could be useful.

  6. This post is interesting to me because I have always thought, if money weren’t an issue, and all “jobs” paid the same, i would be a gardener. Because even when its a chore, and on Sunday I am out mowing the lawn and pulling weeds, and planting this and pruning that, its all so therapeutic. It really calms my soul. I tried keeping a Bonsai tree at work but the windows have too mich of a tint and the tree didn’t get enough light so had to bring him home.

  7. The work needing to be done to make our civilization work is ever changing.
    Trades used to require much skill and years of training. Of course this was expensive and so technology was applied to make the jobs less skillful. I had 7 different jobs in my 44 years of working and all of those jobs are obsolete now or have changed so much as to be unrecognizable except maybe my first job which was washing dishes.
    The impact of technology on civilization is only going to increase more rapidly over the coming future. I fear that meaningful work will disappear and I mean what were once considered great careers like being a doctor, repairing cars, working as a loan officer or being a tailor, as examples. Everyone of those jobs will change drastically or disappear some day, many sooner than most people realize. This COVID 19 thing is going to accelerate the process as we are forced to change the way we interact as humans. After all this wasn’t the first virus/disease to threaten our society and won’t be the last.
    Not everyone finds fulfillment becoming a crafts person or gardener, thankfully I am!

  8. Paul a great post. I just renewed my garden allotment and also volunteer at farmers market’s as a Master Gardener answering questions. I have so many questions about your gardening practices but that’s for another time. I fully understand your point about being self employed my first 20 working years were in the are Arts.

  9. The only trouble with a garden is that you could spend your whole life out there and never be finished. I long for a rainy day to start using the workbench which I built through the winter. I am now looking at the pallets which brought in gravel for paths last year with renewed interest…

  10. First off, i hate to read. I love reading this blog though. Its one of the first things of interest i enjoy to read. People say to me, things will go back normal. If you work retail, or service it may go back normal. As far as the corporate workers, the separation of work and home has been narrowed. I agree with the above, the way people interact with each other will be different. Doctors and other service businesses will not go away, they are essential. You just may interact differently with them. Never knew i could do it, but i planted a very small garden and grew the ingredients for a recipe and made the recipe. This whole thing has made me think is where does my faith lie. In the things that matter and provide or do i have faith in things that do not last like a brick and mortar building to provide my stuff. Some of it will go, and how will some make it without that stuff. Some won’t because they are so dependent.

  11. My two cents.
    If reading Paul’s blog teaches us anything, it should be that we each have a choice about our own lifestyle. Certainly most of us won’t be able to choose a lifestyle woodworkers life, but we absolutely can take action to insulate us from the soul sucking aspects of modern life.

    Paul’s thoughts and words don’t have to be restricted to woodworking. It doesn’t matter what you do there will always be something that needs sharpening. There is always a grain. There is always the opportunity reduce friction and unneeded effort.

    Thanks Paul for the encouragement to adopt lifestyle habits that bring harmony between ourselves, our actions, and our social and physical environments.

  12. My raised bed options is becoming more limited over time. Most of the soil here has a hefty grass and weed layering and mostly sand. The stuff sold in box stores is mostly just shredded wood chips cleverly disguised as soil on the label so it typically takes a few years to decompose properly into actual soil. Fun, huh? To top it off I’ve had a heart attack recently so lifting can be a struggle as is just cutting up wood, but not impossible.
    I did run across a large load of discarded cedar apparently from a sawmill. There’s quite a bit of rot and decay in it, but I can still trim out smaller pieces to re-glue back into boards.
    Gosh, I just wish I were a tad younger and stronger when this all kicked off. We do have enough land to plant pretty much anything we want and a lake to water everything. It’s just the old body that doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with all my former plans..

  13. Awesome post Paul.
    Even though this time is stressful too with the kids around all the time because the schools are closed, I’m actually very much liking not to have to commute, no boring office socializing instead of actually getting work done, more sleep and more and better family time. I haven’t spent this much time with my kids after work during the week ever. 5 second commute from the basement office is just awesome 😉

    Love the garden pictures! I’ve been busy too and without the current situation I wouldn’t have been able to turn the compost pile over after our long Canadian winter this week with the kids helping to distribute the fresh compost to the raised beds. I won’t have potatoes this year but looking forward to completely unplanned garlic. I had forgotten to pick a few last year and when they poked through this spring I broke them up and distributed them around. Will be just as many as I had bought in last year and I didn’t even plan for it! Other than that I only have the spinach and sweet peas in so far but can hardly wait to put in everything else. But around here I still have to plan for night frosts for a bit more than a month.

    More time to plan and build the roof for the kid’s play house I built last year.

  14. Since retiring over 2 years ago, I have found that vegetable growing, ukulele building and woodworking have kept me sane and grounded. My globe artichoke plants are my pride and joy and so productive I have had surpluses.
    Being a keen guitarist, I have built four ukes from recycled mahogany, two of which I have given to friends.
    Having started watching your videos , I have recently made the plywood workbench, fettled a few of my old tools, made a frame saw and even bought a ‘vintage’ #4 plane on eBay and reconditioned it.
    Watching TV and playing golf aren’t enough for me – even though I enjoy doing both.
    Your blogs and videos inspire me and I’m sure many others to be the best and best informed woodworker I can. Thank you.

  15. You are right about gardening. There is something very fulfilling about growing your own food. I am really looking forward too a garden this year (vegetables and herbs). I am tired of the rat race and ready to live life.

  16. One of the past Popes wrote a letter entitled “On Human Work”. In it he speakers of the myriad dimensions of work on the human person. I see much of his thinking reflected in your reflections. Work has value far beyond the product produced.
    Thank you for reming me of this.

  17. A lovely holiday. So calm and largely sunny. Jobs ahead are limited only by imagination, which is too huge to satisfy fully. The quiet is unbelievable. Was all that transport really necessary? Now just the occasional, quiet delivery van and a smile. Woodworking slowly fixes 40 years of deficiencies. The internet is limitless distraction. The garden demands untold exercise and ingenuity. Money rolls in regularly with little need to spend. Though protection is donned to go out, it’s a small chore and there are ways of sterilising it for re-use. Life is good, though it’s like a war with the infinitesimal. Happy in this quiet, small heaven-on-earth, should I really wish the virus gone?

  18. Can you post your tomato “greenhouse” plans? I too grow most of my own food. In the southern USA it is a year round thing. Just grow for the type of heat each season has. I have a green house but your tomato one is just what I need. Would be so much easier to let the wind and bees in during the warm mid day. Thanks!

  19. Reading this post made it feel like life advice coming from a father who was absent in my life. Now, being a father myself I have some seeds to sew and nurture into my own children. Not sure if the words here express exactly what I’m trying to say. Anywho….

    Thanks Mr Sellers.

  20. What you spoke of about each customer being your employer is so true.
    I’ve been a self employed blacksmith here in the states for 50 years and often people would comment how easy my life must be without a boss. I often times responded by telling them that this week I had five, each with a different agenda and needs.
    People would also tell me how lucky I was to be doing something I enjoyed. They were sometimes put off when I told them it wasn’t luck but a choice that I did this work.

  21. Home life and simple living are an ideal to me, one I have lived for periods and one my father lived throughout his whole life.

    Sometimes I ponder the odd, apparent dichotomy of our modern lives. Government, entrepreneurs, engineers and programmers working in cubicles have given us the internet which has enabled us to find and connect with each other, so that we can re-learn how to grow veggies, turn a log into a chair, and make our own clothes again, skills many of us had lost over the course of the last century. The knowledge of our doctors and our current medical technology now enables many even to overcome cancer, a death sentence in the past.

    I would never trade the prosperity of the present, our medicine, our secure food supply, our relative freedom from war, for any of those times in the past that look so appealing in hindsight. And yet, our lives feel empty when we’ve forgotten how to grow our own food and shape a piece of wood.

    It seems the challenge facing us now is to figure out how to have our cake and eat it too. I’m an optimist. I think we can do it.

  22. I second what Betty said. The greenhouse and a horizontal Georges de Layens beehive is what i want to see on Woodworking Masterclasses. I can plow a groove but haven’t figured out a good way to make the tongue on board edges to make T&G. In Missouri, USA there’s a beekeeper Leo Sharashkin who offers free beehive plans for Layens horizontal beehives so you can catch then house a swarm of feral bees. I would love to see how to build the insulated Layens hive which is a box within a box of plywood but made from real wood i can cut on my woodlot and turn into hives. Too many times we adopt practices that are for industrial setting in our farms and gardens and workshops.

    1. If you are up for it you can buy T&G matched planes on eBay easily enough. Look for this size thickness you need.

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