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Reflections while Carving


My mind was wandering the other day, in a very free and creative way. I enjoyed the feeling. I’m not sure what will come of it, but I expect some kind of clarity or insightfulness will soon appear. At the time this happened, I was in my woodshop carving a wooden spoon.


For reasons that I can’t quite explain, that’s when my best thoughts seem to arise. While carving. It must have something to do with changing my mental space. I took up spoon carving about 4 years ago and it’s been good for me. Here’s what brought it on.


One day my wife, Dayna said to me, “Cliff, you need a hobby.”


I asked, “Why?”


She said, “Frankly, because you’ve become boring. All you ever do is talk about Hartman’s philosophy or talk about your teaching. You are overly focused on work. You need a hobby.”


Reluctantly, I agreed. I asked her what I should do.


She said, “I don’t know. Figure that out yourself.”


Shortly after that conversation, she mentioned how much she had always wanted to go to the Campbell Folk School to take some kind of art class. It just so happened that she had just found an upcoming date when they were offering a class in paper box making. She said she really wanted to go.


I said, “Go for it! I support you in that.”


She said, “I want you to go with me. “


I readily agreed.


She asked, “What will you do when I am in classes?”


“Well,” I said, “I’ll sit in a rocking chair and read."


“No. You have to take a class, too.”


“What should I take? I don’t want to learn to make paper boxes.”


She said, “Here’s their catalog; just find something that interests you.”


That’s when I came across a class in wooden spoon carving. I was warm to the idea, but not terribly excited.


I said, “Okay, you learn to make paper boxes and I’ll learn to carve wooden spoons.”

So we went. That weekend started a very fruitful, fun, and productive turn in my mental life.


I thought this was kind of weird, the way my mind was beginning to work. Then last fall, when I began teaching a course in Leadership, I used John Gardner’s classic book, On Leadership as a course textbook. In it, Gardner was writing about the habits of effective leaders and how they renew themselves. He wrote:

“Having talked with a great many leaders on these matters, I am struck by the fact that most of their solutions [to handling stress] can be summed up in a brief line of advice: ‘Do something nonverbal.’ Music, nature, sensory enjoyment, work with one’s hands, gardening, sports—so goes the list. Contrary to the popular connotation of the word rest, energetic, even arduous activity is not ruled out. But with the exception of light reading, the rational, verbal functions of the organism are rarely mentioned as stress-relievers.” (pp. 134-135)


With Gardner’s words echoing in mind, I must stop writing now. I hear a block of wood calling me to go to my shop and carve it into a spoon.

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