First and foremost, I am a family man. I am a proud father of two beautiful daughters and husband to an equally stunning and wonderful woman. My wife is incredibly patient and supportive of my hobbies and hair-brained schemes, of which there have been quite a few.
Now, here’s a story.
One Saturday, about a year after we got married, my wife woke up to find me pacing in the living room. I told her that she needed to get dressed, because I had been reading some articles online and, by God, we were going to the pet store to buy a fish tank and some African dwarf frogs. She groggily rubbed her eyes and said, Okay, before trudging back upstairs. That afternoon, I sat at our kitchen breakfast bar, feeding bloodworms to two aquatic frogs with a turkey baster.
Those frogs eventually died.
The last one died from over-feeding (a blocked digestive tract). He was given a proper, albeit not-quite-Viking funeral: ceremoniously wrapped in a paper towel, put into a bag I had lying around from a recent trip to Burger King, and thrown in a dumpster.
I should say here that while I may sound cavalier about this, and I can talk about it in retrospect from a lighthearted perspective, I was devastated. I’m one of the most empathetic dudes on the map, and I took it pretty hard when my frogs died.
That empathy helps with my job for sure. I’m a teacher. I teach high school English and creative writing. It’s an incredibly rewarding career, but it leaves me with a lot of free time during the summer. And while I haven’t yet mustered the heart to condemn any more amphibians to uncertain death by bringing them into my house, I’ve been able to indulge in other hobbies in my off-time to keep my (apparent) bloodlust for murdering frogs at bay.
In the summer of 2016, while on a walk with my oldest daughter and our family dog (he’s seven years old and I haven’t inadvertently killed him yet, knock on wood), I found a pine branch on the ground. My hair-brained scheme gene started vibrating, and I decided to take said branch home to whittle.
I stripped away the bark and cut off a piece with a hacksaw.
Then, with the passionate disregard for technique that comes with being an amateur anything, I started bludgeoning the hell out of it with a dull pocket knife. The result was this monstrosity:
And deciding that it wasn’t horrifying enough, I gave it a once-over with a wood burning tool I had (because of course I did).
Look at that frightening piece of shit.
Yes, it is scary. Yes, it lacks any evidence of method, skill, or shame. But “finishing” it, and holding it in my hands, and knowing that I created it, with just a bit of curiosity, a blunt pocket knife, and a superfluous wood burning treatment, I’m still proud of it. I don’t display it anywhere, but it stays in my toolbox as a reminder of my earliest attempt.
This little tiki was my first small victory. And, as any hobbyist knows, the small victories keep us going, motivating us to keep investing our time and money in them. They work like checkpoints in video games before save files were a thing. If you could get that hyperactive blue hedgehog or his androgynous fox friend to the spinning goalpost, it didn’t matter if you fell into the bottomless crevice in a few more steps, or got killed by the mechanical piranha jumping predictably out of the waterfall. You could just restart at your checkpoint.
Each carving I’ve done since this first tiki has been just that—a small victory to celebrate. A checkpoint to look at and say, If the next one doesn’t work out, I still have this. Yes, sometimes your work ends up looking like something from a crayon-illustrated child’s nightmare, but it’s yours. You made it.
Much like the macaroni art from childhood, work we do with our own hands, what we create, no matter how horrible, makes us proud—and rightfully so. It comes down to this: we need hobbies. We need to craft. We need to create and build and be able to say, with pride, Check out this thing I made.
Because, no matter how stressful your job can be, no matter the contention you might be dealing with at home or within your social circles, you know that you can sit down for a little and carve out a small personal victory to carry with you (no matter where you actually decide to store it).
Remember that beautiful and stunning and patient wife I mentioned? For my birthday, the same summer I whittled out that little nightmare, she bought me a proper carving knife. It may have been her way of saying, Yo, that was horrible, hopefully this will make you better, but I like to think she was being supportive. I’ve worked on seventeen different projects since that time, and celebrated seventeen small victories (some smaller than others). I’ve learned a bit along the way, and look forward to using this blog to not only share my small victories, but also to hopefully pass on a bit of what I’ve learned along the way, and learn from others, too.
So, check out some things I made.
Better yet, make something yourself. Share it with us. Or keep it hidden in a toolbox. Either way, you’ll have your own small victory to carry around with you.