Tuesday, July 31, 2018

As epilogues go...




One of my milder pet peeves in the blogosphere involves the sudden end of an otherwise enjoyable narrative. It's annoying when I get into a blog, and then it comes to a screeching stop, and I have no idea how the story ends. It's like having someone walk by and shut off the TV, and you miss the ending of a show. "Hey! I was watching that..." To this day, I still don't know how the series finale of the "A-team," ended.

Having now been on the other side of killing a blog, I can understand. But still, it's one of those things. Where did those bloggers go? What are they doing?

In all honesty, it took a while before I was really over this blog. There was a lot more I wanted to talk about and say,  and do... and I kept promising myself that I'd somehow go back and make good on it... And I didn't. At this point, I'm ok with that. I have other priorities. But it felt like a loose end.

I'm aware that I need to do a little bit here and there to spruce up this blog in general, to make it easier to dig through, and just to manage this part of my online presence, if nothing else. As a first step towards that, I've  added my final project, the Auto-Regulator, to the portfolio page, and given it a pretty decent write-up. It was one of the things I wanted to write more about. I'm not going to go into anywhere near as much depth as I'd intended, but I've finally put it up for all of you to see. It's pretty cool, even in retrospect.

But back to the point... how does this thread end? What have I been doing? Well, I have news to report. And hopefully that news will provide closure for those of you who were paying attention, or were curious how things have shaken out.

---

When I shut down the shop four years ago, I was painfully aware that a decade of making sawdust had decimated any marketable skill set I possessed that wasn't directly related to woodworking. And I decided that I wanted to do something else for a living besides working with wood. I wanted something more interesting and educated-sounding, so that people would quit trying to 'help me' by suggesting I work at Home Depot. ("You're a woodworker! Hey, you know what you could do?") So, I decided to pursue prosthetics, and I embarked on a part-time effort to complete all the prerequisites, while also staying home full time to look after our 2 boys. (Well, it was one when I closed up shop. We had the other one soon thereafter, figuring it would be easier to have another one at the time, than it would be in grad school.) It was more than full time. It was a lot of hard, hard work, on top of the long hours that come with having a brand new, second child.

A year ago, I had wrapped up the prerequisites, and I was preparing to submit applications to two programs in prosthetics and orthotics. And out of nowhere, I got a call from a staffing agency, about a ridiculous opportunity. Two days later, I had an interview, and two hours after that, I had a new job. Two weeks later I started working at Terrafugia, in Woburn, MA, building prototypes for flying cars. Odd detail... they're basically across the street from the address of the Woodcraft store, where I worked for two years.

The job itself is as close to perfect as I could have hoped for. My overall skill set is pretty broad-ranging, but oddly well suited to what I'm doing now. I use a table saw and a band saw on a regular basis. Bonding components together, at the simpler end of the spectrum, isn't too far removed from some of the more involved furniture assembly glue-ups that I'd performed previously. There's a lot of problem-solving, and jig designing and making, which I love. And there's actually a call for good craftsmanship and hand-eye coordination: Despite our heavy investment in things like CNC machining and 3-D printing, I work in a prototype shop, and there are times when we just need to fix things in the moment, with the understanding that we'll iterate in the future. It means that skill set I worked so hard to develop wasn't a complete dead-end, and I finally have the opportunity, (if not the mandate) to learn a whole lot of other new, and marketable skills. I'm surrounded by brilliant, hard working people. I'm learning new things every day. And for the first time in a long time, I don't feel like I'm fighting just to survive.

I love woodworking, I do. Desperately. But doing it for a living was brutal. And I watched that vocation destroy and/ or bankrupt more than a few people along the way.

Building flying cars is still a job, and every job has good days and bad days. But even after working there for a solid year, I just can't believe my luck.

And as epilogues go, this is a damn fine one.

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I also have other news, though probably less exciting... Thanks in part to my new-found stable job situation, I've recently moved into a new home. And, that home has a two-car garage, with just enough room in it for me to start tinkering with wood again. I have no plans to work wood for a living again, but having a (really, really cool) day job might free me up to make a little money on the side. I might even try to build some of the speculative pieces I'd always dreamed about taking on, but couldn't justify... when I'm not trying to cajole my 3 and 5 year old into making Anarchist Stick Chairs.

As part of the setting up process, I'm pulling the remnants of my old shop out of storage. When I shut down four years ago, it felt like I'd hit rock bottom. I rented space in that building for storage, trying to hold on to something, and the stuff I kept has been there since. When I went out the other day to start moving out of that building, I discovered something via Google Maps that's only funny in retrospect: The name of the road that goes between the two old mill buildings, in that complex, is Rockbottom road.

How ironically appropriate.

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While I may come back periodically to post an update, or to clean up the overall presentation, grateful is a pretty good note to end it on.

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do what I did in the shop for as long as I was able to do it. I'm grateful for everything it taught me.

I'm also grateful that this blog managed to grow and get the exposure that it did, with little or no real attempt by me to self-promote. Somehow it still gets regular traffic, even after being shut down for so long, and that's something I'm proud of. I blame Chris Schwarz for a lot of that. I blame Norse Woodsmith, too, but Leif added me to the aggregator at someone else's suggestion, and i didn't find out about it until after the fact.

I'm humbled that enough of you were intrigued enough to keep reading.

Happy trails.

James Watriss, 8/1/2018


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