Once upon a time I used to think I had it in me to be a writer or some kind of artist, or something. It wasn’t any lack of creativity that ultimately dissuaded me, far from it.
But for one thing, I abhor the process of self-promotion and even more so the idea of “marketing.” Something about me, some kind of Golden Rule ethos, makes it feel reprehensible for me to do a thing I don’t want anyone else doing to me: trying to talk me into buying shit.
For another, I began to re-think the arts as far back as high school (mid-70s) when I was in a fairly strong band program and actually showed some talent and ability. At least in music, one is as likely to end up a journeyman as a master, playing studio sessions of whatever is plopped in front of you to pay the bills, or doing the “on a tour of one-night stands” thing or the “runnin’ on empty” thing and having hardly any life at all unless you Make It, which most who try, don’t.
It took a long time for my work to pay back any creative drives I may have retained since decades ago becoming one of those carpenters who outlives his “I gotta get outa this racket” phase that we all go through, beyond which is that time of life when a guy can no longer imagine himself doing anything else for a living, tedious and unrewarding as it can be (and certainly not exactly celebrated in popular perception as anything but a cliche, “pounding nails” and all that….)
But nowadays I get to create plenty, only unlike the fine arts or the performing arts or anything else known broadly as “the arts”, I get to satisfy my own code of never trying to convince anyone of something they otherwise wouldn’t have wanted (I was once told “an artist is someone who believes the world owes them a living”). I have long since become WAY too blue-collar a person to ever consider trying to sell things to people that they weren’t looking to buy until I came along and tried to pitch them on it.
And yet, it is still plenty creative.
In home improvement work, in a very small town full of smart, self-reliant people with old houses that need all kinds of things done to them, a typical first encounter involves a lot of pointing and gesturing and describing vague notions on their part, whereupon my part is to start organizing their general ideas into finished projects down to the least and last detail, which can be done practically, professionally, stylishly and affordably.
The only selling I do, to people who called me in the first place, is to get them to select from among some options I present them, or that we come up with together, and then make them real. I don’t even have to sell them the idea that I can; they wouldn’t have called me if they didn’t already know I could.
A middle-aged couple is like (lots of hand gestures) “we want a back porch.” (He came from Chihuahua and met a Tex-Mex gal, they had a couple of sons, bought an old single-wide, fixed it up, one son went off to Iraq with the Marines and came home okay, now they own a semi-truck and the entire city block, and it has a little trailer park they rent out for folks from Mexico.)
And I’m like, “Okay.”
One back porch, at your service. In this case the man of the house and I sort of worked our ideas into each others’, an exercise in tact and diplomacy if ever there was one because neither of us always had the best idea, and the other had to know when to persist and when to relent, which any two men can do if they show each other some respect coming in.
Another recently-widowed farm lady is like, “I want a stair rail.” (Smiling, she tells me, “it was his time, and I had fifty-five good years with that man.”)
And I’m like, “Okay.”
One stair rail, at your service. Made of cast iron plumbing parts, for a homestead house first built in 1917 then added on to in 1947 (“the new part”) and lived in by the same family all along. A lady my age who grew up there, the owner’s daughter, told me she felt like this rail had always been there. Can’t think when I was ever paid a more penetrating compliment.
Another gal, one of my first and best and smartest clients (and pickiest, by a country mile, as her husband, two heads taller, can assure you), is like “I want a barn door for my sewing room.” (One of several rooms I had already totally renovated for them over three or four years, on my way to eventually the whole house’s interior being my work.)
And I’m like, “Okay.”
One barn door, etc, etc. This lady did all the research, located all the hardware, picked out some photos of what she liked, and I made it happen.
(I got a grand total one “looks good” from the lady, who keeps the books down at the grain elevator. Her Mister tells me, the one “looks good” from this little gal, pure 100% Texas rancher’s daughter, is cause to celebrate. He’s gotten a syllable or two of praise himself in thirty-four years, apparently….)
That’s creative enough for me, sometimes less, sometimes more, sometimes calling on everything I’ve learned in forty years, other times pretty routine, sometimes I’m everything from structural engineer to procurement adviser, other times I’m a plain old handyman.
But of all the gigs I ever had delivering built things to a clientele, these last few years in this little cow town I have turned out more projects that look like I was the one who did them and got people saying so with enthusiasm, than ever. That’s close enough to being inspiring, sought-after, and mind-blowing, and I never did care for being envied.