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“I Like My Hands. They are My Work.”

What is it about working with one’s hands that can be so satisfying, even joyous in quiet ways?  Here are four satisfying, even joyous excerpts from Making It Right: The Simple Philosophy of a Working Life, by Ole Thorstensen, a carpenter in Oslo.  I’m tempted to call him a “Norwegian Bachelor Carpenter,” but that might be rude as I’m not Norwegian; I’ve just long aspired to be one.  A proper and much better way of describing him is as a “Master Craftsman” who also writes simply beautifully.

  • “I like my hands; they have been formed by my age and my work.  Some scars, none of them large, all the fingers intact, they are my work: carpenter’s hands.  The skin is hard, yet free of calluses; it’s a long time since I have had them.  The skin on them is like a thin work glove.  My history can be read in them, I think; my hands look like what I have done and do in life.  They are a testimonial, my personal CV.”
  • “One of the nicest things I can say about another person is that we have done some heavy lifting together, and I mean that literally. To hold one end of something heavy and be aware of another’s movements, feel them transmitted through the object, is an experience all its own.  I can tell if the other person is adept at carrying, if they show me consideration or just think of their own burden, and I can sense when they are getting tired.  Fatigue is reflected in their step, in imprecise motions.  It is expressed by silence.  Anyone who is able ought to lift something together with another person from time to time; it is a good way to get to know one another.”
  • “Good precision in craftsmanship is not dogma but necessity. I have met a few people in the course of my job who have had a bewildering attitude toward accuracy, almost viewing the need for it as an attack on their personal liberty.  They often conceive of themselves as having a particularly well-developed sense of freedom.  The “mix it all into a gravy,” as we say in Norwegian, and think the customs of good craftsmanship is the same as submitting to authority, as kneeling to power.  They want to be free to improvise, or as I see it, to do what they want.  They will never make good craftsmen.”
  • “I never feel a greater pride in my profession than when carrying it out alongside [other craftsmen] like these. I know them like I know no one else, in a way I could never adequately explain to anyone other than others like us.  They feel the cold, suffer the dust, the same as I, and have a good understanding of what I do.  The mutual respect we have would be difficult for outsiders to understand.  This cooperation is one of the best things about being a craftsman.”

Making It Right was published in Norwegian in 2015 and first published in English in 2017.  I came across it several months ago while working on a now, almost finished book of my own, tentatively titled, Education Roads Less Traveled: How America’s Fixation on Four-Year Degrees Limits Careers and Economic Prosperity.  Reading books and other things you likely never would is one of the perks of writing a book.  Or, I should say, reading something wholly unexpected is more likely to be a satisfying, even joyous perk if it’s a good read, as Making It Right very much is.

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