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Why bother?

The front door clicks and I’m left in the abrupt silence that follows intense activity, a theatre after a performance, while the boards are still warm and the floor is yet to be swept. The kitchen floor is peppered with scrambled egg in a frankly remarkable radius. For a creature that can barely hold a ball, toddlers have incredible throwing arms.

Making my way along my commute – 15 steps from the back door to the workshop, ignoring for now the scattered toys, half eaten apple slices that have been stuffed between couch cushions, books anywhere but the bookshelves – I slide up the roller door to be greeted by the sweet, cancer causing smell of hardwood dust.

Around the walls are tools, jigs, templates, bits of wood too precious to discard but too useless to do anything with, all covered in a thin film of dust that is utterly impossible to eliminate in a small workshop.

On my whiteboards I review the ‘I should have been a doctor’-scrawled notes that remind me where I left off the last time I was in here. I can’t remember when that was. I should date my notes.

Depending on where I am in the process you might find my workbench stacked with rough-shaped parts, stickered so they don’t warp. You might find have a finished piece drying, hopefully dry enough to move. You might find drawings and pieces of MDF covered in pencil, overlapping lines from revision after revision. Or you might find a colossal mess: piles of shavings and dust, tools, screws, power cables and busted chair parts that I didn’t have the strength to clean up. The cleanliness of my bench is an excellent indicator of my mental state.

Today the bench is pristine. A commission was just completed and now it’s on to a new design for an exhibition in November. Last year I spent over 300 hours designing and making a chair that sold for $2700. This year I’m making two chairs. Let’s see if we can hit the $10 an hour mark this time.

Two years ago I abandoned a well paid, undemanding career to make a living making Quality furniture. My days, nights, thoughts and dreams, are consumed with the desire to create. Something. Anything. Writing. Designing. Making. I desperately try to carve out time in that most sacred of places – the workshop – time that is so easily wiped out by medical appointments, grocery shops or toddler time at the library. But in my head, even when I’m making dinner, folding nappies or chasing a toddler with a toothbrush, I am still aching to make.

Making Quality furniture is not a logical thing to do. I’d make far more money cleaning houses. Or worse, making MDF kitchens in a factory. Why bother with this ‘Quality with a capital Q’ stuff when it seems, at least at first glance, that the market doesn’t care? Why struggle over the mountain of effort that costs me another chunk of my sanity? That 99% of people still wouldn’t see if you pointed it out to them? Effort that will almost certainly be unprofitable? Effort that may well absorb what little profit there could be, with the sharp sword of the tyranny of financial necessity constantly hanging overhead?

It’s a small number of loonies who can bear to live and work this way, surely. But I’ve done the other way, working a dreary job, making low quality and ultimately meaningless work that sucked my soul, my creativity and my confidence, all in exchange for a bit of money.

I can bear it now because I’ve lived the other side of the coin. And I want to be able to look back on at least half a life filled with meaning and purpose. Half a life devoted to adding something beautiful to the world. Half a life where I can honestly say I finally learned how to live without compromise.

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