What do these two images have in common?
Yes, they both depict flowers. Good work, Sherlock. Yes, the one on the bottom shows CUPCAKES. Stop getting distracted! Yes, they are both beautiful… and now my point begins to bloom.
I find both these images to be wonderful examples of craftsmanship, which is wot bwings us togethah todaay. Earlier this morning, I found myself reminiscing about when J and I used to go rock climbing. (We’re on a hiatus, because awesome hobbies cost awesome amounts of money, and right now our money is being spent on improv classes. I’ll write about that hilarious disaster someday.) But anyway, I was mulling over what exactly it was that I miss so much. We climbed at a local gym, so it wasn’t the gorgeous views. I did love the physical activity, but we’re still training for a marathon. I adored how much trust it built between us (our lives were literally in each others’ hands while on belay), but – given that we share a marriage, a bed, and an embarrassingly intimate knowledge of each other’s hygiene habits, which could be used for blackmail at any moment – I think we’re already rife with trust.
So. What was it about climbing that nourished my soul? Suddenly, my coffee kicked in, and I found the word I wanted. It wasn’t “focus,” not quite. It wasn’t “commitment,” either… Ah-HA! (Hello, Dark Italian Roast!) My word was craftsmanship. The thing that exists at the nexus of beauty and attention and care.
When you climb, the knot you use to tie the safety rope to your harness is this one. It’s called a Figure 8. It’s my favorite knot, probably because it’s saved my life so many times, but I also find it strangely beautiful. It’s practical, reliable, and simple, and it’s a perfect example of craftsmanship.
I remember when I first learned this knot. I was an instructor-in-training at my university’s outdoor education center, and my boss Dave leaned over my shoulder to give instructions as I struggled to make the knot come right. “That’s it… make sure the tail of the rope follows the first curves exactly as you wind it back through… if they aren’t perfectly parallel, the knot will still work, but it won’t be quite as strong. And, when your life is on the line, you want to go for 100%.”
To me, that is the essence of craftsmanship. It’s doing something – anything – 100%. It’s the embodiment of your grandpa’s favorite saying: “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” It’s taking the time to put a little extra care into your efforts to elevate them from being tasks you have “finished” to creations you have “wrought.”
Non-climbing examples? Let’s start close to home. Craftsmanship is taking the extra five minutes to ensure you’ve evenly spaced all the words and pictures on your latest blog post. You’ll still make your point if that line of text wraps in a funny way, but it wouldn’t be as polished.
In the case of my flower riddle above, the carving is another perfect example. That wooden flower is part of a door. Really, a door only requires a few things: a solid form; perhaps some hinges. Why adorn it with carvings? Because of the belief that if a thing can be made more beautiful, it should be.
Similarly, (almost) anyone can make cupcakes. (Sorry, dear friend-who-shall-remain-nameless!) But very few people take the time to learn how to transform frosting into art the way the baker who created these cupcakes in the photo did. And really, what’s the point? Very little in life is more ephemeral than cupcakes – at least when I’m around to eat them – but someone still thought all that obvious effort was worthwhile. That person is practicing craftsmanship.
Whether you engage in it to protect your life and limb or to fully represent yourself through your creations, craftsmanship is one of the character traits that I regard most highly. Think about it! From work settings to the realm of parenting, when we see people putting thought and research and skill into the thing they’re doing, we admire them. They are the ones who we respect; the one who get the best results. And, I think, these people with their wealth of knowledge and passion for perfection make up a sort of library of human potential. And that’s why you frost the cupcakes with graceful little flourishes before taking a giant bite – because the world, somehow, has to be better for the love you put into that one tiny aspect of it.
Since I’ve been a bit heavy-handed here (I’m quite serious about how important craftsmanship is, especially when I think about future generations), I’ll offer up some expertly made comic relief from master craftsman Ron Swanson.
So, do you have examples of craftsmanship from your life? Please share!
P.S. I was planning to end with that question, but as I sit here outside a coffee shop, the universe has conspired to delight me. A teenage girl at the table next to me just taught her friend how to tie his shoes with a square knot. She learned it while sailing, she says, but then she told him that, if he uses it on his Chuck Taylors, they’ll stay tied better and look good to boot. Get it done, master shoe-tying girl… the care you just demonstrated really is the hope of the future.