“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives” ~ Annie Dillard
This famous quote by Dillard from her brilliant book, The Writing Life, is the quietest yet most insistent of clarion calls: give small attention to the largest of questions about how to make the most of our lives. She goes on:
“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?”
In Making A Life, Melanie Falick takes us on a worldwide journey to experience the creative ways in which people are crafting good lives for themselves and others. Through interviews with potters, weavers, printmakers, quilters and many more, Falick powerfully illustrates a universal truth – that we humans have forever been making things with our hands.
In some cases, this is for expediency and utility: clothes, tools, shelter, transport etc. I am reminded of stories of archaeological digs where human remains are found buried alongside a hand-thrown cooking pot – the most precious item owned by that individual.
As Falick notes in her introduction:
“For hundreds of thousands of years, every object in the world that didn’t occur in nature was made by hand…..The purpose of each day was to do what was necessary to stay alive, which meant many hours of handwork.”
But there are also many examples of objects which had no practical use at all. How long must it have taken to whittle these prehistoric bone beads, for example? Humans make things by hand because they can. And these days, as Falick puts it:
“No longer required to make with our hands in order to assure our survival or make a living, more and more of us now do so by choice. What was once a necessity has become, for many, a joy, a privilege, and a call to action.”
I can relate to this. Regular readers of this blog will know that I occasionally post updates on my knitting and crochet projects. In recent months, I have been turning these lovely skeins into a shawl.
Not particularly remarkable for an avid knitter like me, you might think. But this project has felt completely different from my usual knitting: I had no real interest in the final product. I simply wanted to work with these yarns purely for the pleasure of doing so. In some ways this feels like an indulgent luxury. Who can devote time and money to something for no purpose? But of course, it is in the doing that we experience the many health and life-affirming benefits that making something by hand provides.
Those skeins, courtesy of the lovely Royal Mile shawl pattern, have ended up looking like this:
I became totally absorbed in the meditative process of working the sweeping lines of this pattern to and fro, allowing myself to incorporate the different coloured yarns by instinct. It was a wonderfully organic and freeing experience. I absolutely loved every minute.
Falick’s book arrived in the middle of this project and it proved to be the perfect accompaniment. It is a work of art in itself – richly illustrated and produced to a very high quality.
As a knitter, I was particularly interested to read the interview with Joelle Hoverson, the founder of the fabulous Purl Soho yarn shop. Hers is one of my favourite knitting websites.
It has also been fascinating to spend time with other makers, such as printer Chip Dort, who says:
“The feeling I get when I make something I’m pleased with is like no other feeling I experience in my life. It’s a calm, quiet sort of jubilation.”
And just look at these stunning quilts by members of the African American Quilt Guild of Oakland:
Reading Falick’s book is a joy and a tonic in these difficult times. Turning the pages, you feel such a connection with Falick’s creative community: entirely ordinary yet totally inspirational people, who have literally crafted their lives through daily making. It is a wonderful read to which I know I shall turn again and again.
“There is more to life than increasing its speed” ~ Gandhi