Handwork and Brainwork

I spend my days working with words, shaping them, sorting them, putting them on paper or into teaching speech. That’s what I get paid for. Right now, as I type this, I’m thinking fondly about working on airplane engines and making furniture. Both of those activities require brain power, but they also demand hand power, and produce something you can look at and touch.

I miss that right now.

I spent Saturday doing handgun stuff at a local gun range. This was in part a range check-out, and in part to see if I’m still physically limited to revolvers (the answer to that is: maybe.) It was part brain stuff, and then almost an hour of hand stuff. 1. I don’t like shooting off of a bench rest, because I’m short and it is a lot easier for me to hold my hands at shooting position than to rest them on a padded block and shoot while seated. 2. It’s wonderful to have no greater concern than “why is my group a vertical line?” (Anticipating, and taking my finger off the trigger between shots. Don’t do that.)

I used to work in aviation restoration. You can see the results, or lack there of. There are more parts on the bench, or fewer parts on the bench. The sheet-metal is bent, rivets are there or no longer there, and so on. At the end of the day, my hands were dirty, often scuffed, I wore various fluids and goop on my clothes because of getting into the guts of the plane to do what was needed, and I’d accomplished something. I could look at the project plane(s) and see what we’d done that day.

Ditto wood working. At the very least, you’ve made sawdust. At best, you have furniture, or cabinets, or toys, or what have you.

House cleaning and gardening can be like that as well. The dust rag turns from [color of former tee-shirt] to “whatever blew in this week.” A five gallon bucket gets filled with weeds. You can see results.

Brain work . . . isn’t quite like that. Yes, I see the word count for the project, but it’s not the same. I can’t show my word-count to someone and say, ‘See, I did that. I’ve accomplished this.” I don’t turn the bar of soap black at the end of the day when I wash my hands. [I used to joke that you know you’re working when you have to wash your hands before you go to the restroom.]

I need to make something, or sew something, or just produce a tangible thing.

15 thoughts on “Handwork and Brainwork

  1. You could always go back to the “good” (?) old days, and carve your words into a stone tablet using a hammer and chisel . . . Not so much Microsoft Word as Neanderthal Words?


    • You mean Wordstar, Peter? no, got it – ed: the Unix line editor!
      To use Unix, you don’t need to be … never mind. 🙂

      I’m rebuilding the mulch pile(s) with weeds, dead-heading, and spring crop. Also have a bunch of minor repairs, adjustments, etc. needing small tools and fine detail. Lots of grime, grease, and paint to scrub. Handiwork is helping me because the ideas percolate and get in coherent form.

  2. That’s one reason I bead. Not just because it produces a tangible result, but because there’s a definite end point. At X point, you are done. As opposed to writing, where there’s the nagging feeling of, “Maybe I should just tweak one more sentence….”

  3. Yep, those ‘tangible’ results were ‘proof’ we had done something. Lava WILL take most things off your hands, along with at least one layer of skin, but you’re reasonably clean when you sit down at the table.

  4. Yeah, brain work is pretty demoralizing some times.

    When you are learning a new field, the first lecture on a subject, or the first time you read a chapter, you know you didn’t get it, or you find that out as an unpleasant surprise later. After a year, if things have gone okay, you can reflect, and realize that this, that, or the other understanding is new.

    And when you start a new writing writing project, different in kind, scope, and complexity from anything you have done before, there will be a lot of efforts that one cannot judge immediately, only after the whole thing is finished. How does one tell the difference between productive efforts, unproductive efforts, and losing one’s mind?

    • I’m probably not the best one to try to distinguish between those three options, Bob. I suspect my grip on sanity is somewhat looser than what most psychiatrists consider ideal.

      • The writing project I’m stuck on is pretty strong evidence that I’m not myself very sane.

  5. I need to make something, or sew something, or just produce a tangible thing.

    And “dinner” doesn’t count.

    Baking does, sometimes.

  6. I grok this. I completely, and totally, from a soul-deep level, feel you. Much as I love my current job, and I love the fact that it will never call upon me to kneel in a puddle in 36 degree rain trickling down the back of my neck while hydraulic fluid (or is that blood, too?) runs down the back of my numb fingers, I really, really really miss being able to watch a project take off and fly away home, finished and done.

  7. I recall reading that Tolstoy, in his later years, sent his mornings working the fields, his afternoons in craftsman work, and his evenings writing.

    I think you’re lucky to have learned mechanical skills early, and to have grown up with them. They add a dimension that intellect alone lacks.

  8. I miss making things. I’m hoping to soon have enough time at home to be able to tackle some of those kinds of projects, maybe to even have an airworthy airplane again.

  9. Used to work at a Post Office. Working on a sorting belt sucked – it just did not end. Working on the dock, you could at least see a truck get unload or loaded and see progress and feel something had been accomplished.

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