My journey into woodworking has been a rather circuitous one. While I grew up tinkering in my father’s garage workshop and earning cash as a builder’s laborer in high school and during summers in my college years, I soon left the trades for academia. I spent much of my twenties and thirties in post-graduate study of anthropology and international public health, and was privileged to travel the world doing research and (hopefully) contributing some to the public good.
After year five in my PhD program approval for my research (for a somewhat controversial study on China’s public health aid to African nations) was yanked out from under me. I would have had to start an entirely new dissertation and I realized at that point that I just didn’t have enough interest to warrant following that path.
I spent a while wandering in the metaphorical wilderness until I found myself in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, marveling at George Nakashima’s work in his reading room in their Asian Art wing. I went downstairs and picked up a copy of his book “to give to my father.” Which I did when I returned to the west coast that Christmas, and then promptly “borrowed” the book as the prospect of a life spent making beautiful, useful objects began to coalesce in my mind.
Knowing that I’d need some instruction if I wanted to make that idea a reality, I looked up the woodworking program at Laney College, where I began taking courses in standard western methods as well as studying with Jay Van Arsdale, one of the few instructors of Japanese woodworking in the area.
A few years later I’m making my living as a finish carpenter, renting space in a woodshop, and am in the process of starting a design line with a friend of mine from Jay’s classes.
While at times I miss the life of the mind that I cultivated in the academy, and I certainly miss the travel, I am finding a deep sense of happiness in the tangible, creative process of taking an idea from inception to completion. The ability to look around at the end of the day and say “I made that” is proving much more satisfying than banging my head against the wall of international public health policy ever did.