Touch wood

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Lucky find – my new workshop in Sydney.

By the end of this month, it would have been a year since I’d picked up a chisel in anger, providing some pause for thought. However, for what token boost it offers, it didn’t quite reach a full year – I’m back at the bench doing what wood workers do best, turning wood into smaller pieces of wood.

Located in the hills of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, my new workshop is a 10-minute drive to the beach and a stone’s throw from Ku-Ring-Gai National Park. The two chaps with whom I co-rent the space (and who own the machines) are Gerry, a photographer, and Richard, a local architect. If someone had said to me when I first left for the course in the UK, “Paul, this is where you’ll end up having a workshop when you come back,” I most likely would’ve casually taken it for granted, having no idea how difficult it would turn out to be.

The challenges of finding a workshop were only put in more painful relief when compared to how easy it is in the UK, where the opportunities for young makers appear to be far more abundant. The workshops I approached here in Sydney either didn’t have the space or just weren’t interested. As luck permits (more on that later), my new workshop came from the least expected avenue of a friend of a friend who I don’t know through woodworking.

I’ve recently started reading New Philosopher magazine, and the latest issue (#13) is themed around luck, and a lot of it has resonated with me recently. In one article called “Opportunity Knocks”, writer Oliver Burkeman  says the paradox of luck is: “You can increase the amount of [luck] in your life – but only by surrendering the very urge for control that leads you to want to increase it in the first place.”

He goes on to quote the ideas of American entrepreneur Jason Roberts who talks of the notion of a “luck surface-area”:

“…You can’t directly influence individual lucky events but you can expand the terrain on which they might occur,” he says. “Luck is directly proportionate to the degree to which you do something you’re passionate about combined with the total number of people to whom this is effectively communicated.”

This concept is further driven home when I look back to when I first returned to Australia in November last year. Having been unsuccessful in locking in a few promising workshop leads I’d lined up from the UK, I was prepared to find any job to keep me going until I found a workshop. Only two weeks after arriving, just when the novelty of the homecoming had started to wear off and the unfamiliar insipid reality of the ‘job seeker’ started to creep in, I received a text message:

“Chilly, welcome back mate! Want a job?”

It was my manager from my old job, and he was offering me his job for a 6-month 4-day/week contract. I was in a state of mild shock… Could I really go back to the office… to do my boss’s job?!

One of the reasons I left that career was the assumption that when it comes to the corporate life, it’s all-or-nothing. Part-time or contract work just didn’t enter my consciousness as something that was possible while I was running at the same speed and direction as everyone else. This experience alone has proven that assumption wrong. My 6-month contract has been extended to now working 2 days/week until September, but most importantly it gives me licence to go after similar work to support the early years of setting up my furniture business. One important caveat, of course, is that this type of work arrangement is made all the more easier having built up a certain threshold of experience, something with which a graduate would struggle.

This serendipitous ‘soft-landing’ has been a deeply strange experience. The contrast between the preceding two years couldn’t be more stark. Sliding my arms back into my business shirt and seeing the familiar faces again…it was jarring to my sense of time. My insightful sister-in-law saw this coming and, handwritten on the back of her welcome home card, she quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realise what’s changed is you.”

I haven’t written on here since coming back to Australia until now as it felt somewhat fraudulent until I was back on the tools. You’re either a woodworker or a white-collar professional, I thought, but I’m now realising this is something not to be worried about. And now I’m in t-shirts more days than collared shirts as I recalibrate from typing to tools.

There remains some setting up to do – including making a Torsion box and a cross-cut sled – before being able to dive deeply into making my first Australian pieces, but when I get to the point when those items are finished and all I’ve got left to make is tool-holders, I’ll know that I’m just procrastinating…

The real challenge will be, can I live up to the standard of making and design I set myself a year ago?

As the rules of luck state (or so I’m learning) – the only way to up the odds of this occurring is to tell as many people as possible. So here it is, on the web – my commitment to have a piece ready for the 2017 Australian Contemporary Emerging (ACE) design awards.

Wish me luck.

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