Made By Hand

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway WorldJungian analyst James Hollis speaks of two gremlins that meet us at the foot of the bed each day: fear and lethargy. As DIYers, gardeners, poultry keepers and fermentation fetishists, our worst enemy is a crippling fear of failure and the lethargy that results when we try to avoid challenges by surfing the Internet, watching TV, or just staring into space. To embrace failure is the only way to learn. Hollis quotes Rainer Maria Rilke, “our task is to be defeated by ever larger things.”

BoingBoing co-founder and Make Magazine editor in chief Mark Frauenfelder has a new book Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World that chronicles his quest to do the kinds of activities we cover on this blog: vegetable gardening, keeping chickens, fermentation, beekeeping and more. While Made by Hand is not a how-to book it is, paradoxically, the most practical DIY book I’ve read in a long time. Why? Because it’s all about facing that fear of failure, the single greatest obstacle to actually getting out there and doing things. In the book Frauenfelder quotes überDIYer Mister Jalopy,

“People are afraid that they’re going to screw something up, that they’re going to ruin something. And unfortunately, it’s valid–they will. You will screw up. Things will be broken. But that’s the one step to overcome to get on the path of living this richer life of engagement, of having meaningful connections to the objects around you. It’s that necessary step you have to take–the courage to screw things up.”

I picked up Made by Hand and couldn’t put it down. I’ve done most of the activities Frauenfelder writes about and made many of the same mistakes. In the past month I’ve had an especially frustrating series of DIY setbacks. I’ve also, directly because of reading this book, faced my fear of failure and had a series of creative breakthroughs.

The world does not need more “experts.” What we need are the brutally honest voices of  “practitioners” like Frauenfelder, people who do things and have the courage to fail. As Ulysses says in the Odyssey, “I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship, and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim.”

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  1. A couple of months back, I was hanging out in my local bookstore and happened to pick up Vol. 21 of Make magazine off the shelf.

    When I turned to page 76, I saw the instructions for making a cigar box guitar. Though I’m not really a “guitar” guy, I thought it would be cool to make. Took about 2 months (several trips to the big box store) and now I have five homemade CBG’s that I’m really happy with.

    I love these kind of projects. Last year I came across the book Hat Heads and sure enough, several months later and I am the owner of a bunch of knit hats.


  2. When you posted about this book a few days ago I was intrigued once I read the reviews on Amazons page for the book,they were a bit conflicting to me.Now after reading your review I am making it a point to at least look the book over the next time I am at the book store of all book stores…Powell’s City of Books.

  3. This is a light-hearted comment, but it sounds like you’re advocating for a Julia Childs of the DIY world. Which is totally cool in my book, for what it’s worth.

  4. Well said about fear and lethargy. I am faced with these every day in my DIY pursuits. Thanks for a book recommendation – looking forward to reading it.

  5. How do you pronounce “überDIYer?” über-die-yer? über-Dee-Eye-Why-er? über-Dee-Yer?

    These things keep me awake at night.

  6. True, fear is (imho) humanity’s greatest folly, it prevents us from loving, trying, doing ect ect, I’m a big diy-er so I know the time wasted to fear of failure.

  7. Sounds a bit like Art & Fear for the DIY crowd. I wish I’d read Art & Fear when it was published, shortly after I graduated from art school.

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