Monday, December 27, 2010

Made By Hand by Mark Frauenfelder

This is a book about Mark Frauenfelder's attempts to make things by hand. He refers to this at DIY, but includes everything from home repairs to raising chickens to building musical instruments just for fun.

At the beginning he tells about moving his small family to a tropical island in an attempt to live a more authentic life. I absolutely loved this set up and his explanation of making coconut milk (which I saw beautifully demonstrated at the Polynesian Culture Center this fall), and how it changed his life. He writes, "I promised myself I'd come up with a "coconut-day" equivalent in Los Angeles-something that would allow me to slow down, use my hands, and become more engaged with the world around me in a meaningful way." I like to make things, but I also see the value of when it's better just to purchase something at Target. So I was really intrigued by his philosophy.
"The purpose of DIY is learning to take back control of your life from outside parties." The way he used DIY as a noun kind of bugged me, but he really is approaching it as a way of life, so it makes sense. He kind of uses DIY as an attitude and approach to problem solving. I found the part where he was building an instrument and went "scurrying" around his house looking for things he had lying around that might work very relatable. There's another part where he doesn't want to have to go back to Home Depot to get the right parts, and looks around his yard for something he can use to make shift. I love moments like that when I can use stuff I have to make something new. I love it.
Now when he starts explaining all the reasons to keep chickens, I could feel myself getting sucked in. Like it was all so reasonable and responsible. I know a few families that raise chickens. But when he says, "Now that we have chickens in our life, we don't want to go back to living without them," it is not as relatable to me.
Later Mark quotes a cartoonist explaining that some tasks require that we only use half our brain, and so the other half is free to wander. He talks about how people may garden or knit to reach a kind of "unusual state of consciousness. Some people might be able to achieve it by meditating, but using your hands seems to do the trick too." This made me think of those moms who knit during their kids' baseball games, but there is absolutely truth to it in my life. I like to have a project to work on with my hands while I watch TV. I used to think out college papers while I mopped the bakery at BYU, so I really think there is something to having something to do with your hands while you are thinking about something else.
Because of his job, Mark meets all different types of people that make things by hand for all different reasons. I thought these introductions were really interesting. I especially liked his mention of Anil Dash who encourages people to use cast-off technology. Not to throw things away just because a faster or better model exists. This makes perfect sense to me, and while I do buy new things, I refuse to just upgrade just because I can. Don't you see that kind of wastefulness all the time?
Some of his ideas and attempts make sense to me, and some don't. But one of the families he meets with was particularly disturbing to me. They embrace the philosophy of "Unschooling," the philosophy of not sending your kids to school, and not homeschooling them either. It's the idea that kids are learning before they go to school, and you just keep that up. Living and learning together. The founders believe fundamentally that school is a wrong idea, and that learning shouldn't take place in a contrived space. So I kind of get those ideas, it reminded me of Whole Language. But here's where they lose me BIG TIME. The family says that their son didn't learn to read until he was 10 1/2, and only then because he was playing Super Mario 64 all the time and wanted to know what the characters were saying when their dialogue appeared on the screen. When he wanted his parents to read the words, they told him he needed to figure it out on his own, so he did. Seriously? Two things here. One, I might buy into unschooling if your child was spending their day working on the farm, building your home, or even walking through museums. But I think you are doing a grave disservice to your kids if you let them play video games all day. Believe me, mine would do just that if I let them, and sometimes I do. The author of the book mentioned that his kids might watch TV or sit in front of the computer all day if he didn't send them to school. The parents said it would happen, but then your kids would get bored and move onto something new. And Two, I couldn't help but think of all the good reading your kids would miss out on if they didn't choose to learn to read until they were 10 1/2. I think of all the things outside of books that my kids love to read. Signs, maps, instruction booklets, newspaper, advertisements. On a road trip this spring my 5 year old daughter was ecstatic when she spotted "Entering ....." signs when we crossed the border into new states. All of my kids love to read maps when we are travelling or just navigating through the zoo or Disneyland. And of course books. Think of all the fun books you would probably never read if you didn't learn to read until you were 10 1/2.
Overall I enjoyed this book. I didn't change my life, or even convince me to make changes in my life. But it did reconfirm things that I already believe. Like, there is value in making something yourself: both in the process and the end result. And we should be thoughtful in our purchasing, and not throw things away just because we can afford a new one. And educating our children goes far beyond sending them to school. I like to read books that make me think.


salty c-snake said...

argh. i didn't realize you had so many posts up here that i haven't read! i'm behind. agree with a lot of points you made about this book. i think if frauenfelder had started up that nonschooling with his family i would have lost all respect! even though he's way more extreme then my family, i liked that he's not so extreme-that diy is to enhance your life-not to just make it more difficult (although sometimes it did for him). now i'm reading (don't do it don't do it) eating animals and between the two books, i'm worried i'm going to have to start buying chickens. don't worry, i'd rather just go eggless i think. i loved his intro too-especially because it showed his failure with the whole getting away from the modern world thing, but that failure make him give up diy all together-it made him adapt it better. i think thats the part of the book that changed my thinking. it didn't convince me that i have to do certain things DIY, it convinced me that i shouldn't be afraid to do certain things fearing i will make mistakes. that the mistakes will be helpful to me. hence, the turning point in me finally getting my sewing machine (come teach me!!) can't wait to read some of the other books, but first thing, must read the may queen!! (love that you sent your list btw. do that every year)

Kammy T said...

You know what? I should have mentioned his philosophy that DIY was about learning, and therefore making mistakes was part of the process. I liked that a lot. Especially with his first chicken coop and how he realized the wood he bought was twisted, but decided to just work with it instead of starting over. Also, I forgot to mention how I liked how detailed he was about his process, including specifics and measurements. I definetly came away thinking he was an interesting person, and not too out there!