Knowledge Through Hands

Recently, I have found myself in completely awe of the construction workers and hotel gardeners I pass each day on my walk to work. I do not know where this new fascination comes from, but when I walk by and see these workers outside in the warm sun, working as a team to complete a given task, using equipment I would not even begin to comprehend...I have to admit a slight wave of envy.

In light of this, a recent article in the New York Times “A Case for Working with Your Hands,” really resonated with me. The author, after years of working his way through the education system to achieve a PhD, decided to give it up and work as a motorcycle mechanic. The article discusses how manual labor is looked-down upon in U.S. society with a huge assumption that these workers are not as “smart” as the " knowledge workers" who have sat through high school, college and graduate school, and now spend their days sitting in a cubicle and consider themselves as having “achieved” what society encourages every young adult to achieve: “a good, solid office job.” The author shows the extensive knowledge of their skill that manual workers have to have and the joy and sense of accomplishment that they can feel at the end of a day or task.

This article really touched home for me as I have had a serious feeling of just being out of touch with the “real world;” and just exhausted of the “moral maze” of middle management that I sometimes feel trapped-in. Over the last few months, I have been dreaming more and more of a life in which my hands are of more use than typing emails or reports. In my first attempt at gardening, I have been learning, through so much trial and error, about plants. While I could have read a thousand books about how to keep a plant alive, nothing has compared to the lessons learned of actually having to take care of several real live plants. By watching its leaves turn brown and overall sad looking, I learned that my plant needed a new pot. When it turned brown and sad looking again, I learned that I had used the wrong soil when re-potting and the poor plant wasn’t getting enough drainage. In between all of this, I have completed at least two rounds of genocide on several trays of seedlings that, in my over-eagerness, I failed to realize I didn’t have half the amount of pots or patio space to keep them all alive. I have felt so many different types of soil, unearthed worms big enough to eat me, and gone through several rounds of cutting the ivy that seems to be under the impression that it can just invade my space without me fighting back!

In addition to my tiny attempt at gardening, I’ve also had a major learning curve when it comes to my home. Before this year, I had never reupholstered or stained anything. My painting skills had been limited to walls, but now include chairs and frames. I have learned the coolness of spray painting and the importance of actually waiting for the item to actually dry before touching it.

I find such a strange joy in my slow accumulation of all this knowledge; in my new found ability to take two steps out of my door, gather dill or mint or rosemary and throw it in a dish while making dinner (the mint has been especially great in ice tea); and the pleasure in seating on a chair that I have completely transformed. There is so much more that want to learn and do. I want to be able to spend at least half of a working day breathing fresh air (as opposed to shivering in an air-conditioned office while looking at an 80 degree day pass me by, hour by long hour). I want to grow more plants and be one of those people that can look at a plant and tell you exactly what it needs to stay alive and happy. I want to actually focus on learning new information through my senses.

Maybe all of this is just a symptom of not being fully adjusted to office life in the land of the free and missing the freedom and flexibility of field life...in any case, this is where my head has been recently....

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