Posted on November 10, 2010


[Disclaimer: please read this with a few bags of salt – I have no empirical research to support any of it.]

I’ve always thought of ‘craft’ as something other people did. People with talent, people with practice, people with passion. I just looked at/read/experienced their work jealously and tried to date them or make them my friends so I could live vicariously through them. This is all true. Even today.

But my understanding of ‘craft’ has started shifting over the years, and has recently been pushed further by reading the frist chapter of Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, “The Troubled Craftsman”. I’ve come to realize that ‘craft’ is a term that can be applied to many different aspects of human existence. The more I think about it and the more I examine these ‘crafty’ people I have gathered around me, the more I realize that what drives them to perform this craft and immerse themselves in it, is a deep and lasting passion for their craft. A love for what they do. A need for doing it as much and as often as they can.

Of course, this spelled out further doom for me. I fancy myself something of a magpie: I spot a shiny object and it’s all “Oooooh, shiny!” Then I’m all over it, then I bore of it, and then I move on to the next shiny object. This isn’t true of all things, obviously, but definitely of things I have tried to DO with my life. Because all my life I’ve been told that it is important to find something to DO – some craft with which to occupy myself. Idle hands and all that.

As luck would have it, I find myself in a PhD program – something that forces you to commit to something for long periods of time. Obviously, I’m having a hard time of it, but I’m… practicing. And apparently, practice makes perfect.

As I’ve progressed through academia, I’ve gotten a glimpse into what my future academic life could look like. And it’s not always pretty. In fact, it’s sad. There are those academics who seem to have found their niche, their little corner of happiness and/or fame. But at what cost? From the outside, it looks like they’re all happy and friends and supporters of each other and great collaborators and such. But sometimes, underlying all this is bitterness, regret, isolation, and conflict. The constant requirement to produce something, be brilliant, prove oneself to one’s own community is omnipresent. Does this a community make?

Right now, as a doctoral student, I work hard at creating and maintaining my community with my cohort and other cohorts. I organize get-togethers, meet individuals when I can, talk about my research interests, ask them about theirs, create online spaces for us to communicate, and so on. We also share insecurities, admit to gnawing self-doubt, talk about our impostor syndromes, and discuss family problems. We are as much colleagues as we are each other’s support group.

This will be my community of peers as I progress through academia. These are the people I will reference when I teach, contact to come speak at colloquia, and speak fondly of while lecturing. But they will also be my competition. Will I be bitter if a colleague, for whom I wish nothing but amazing success and happiness, does better than me? Will I hate and envy her when she gets more recognition or publishes a paper on something I am writing and gets it out there before I do? I absolutely don’t want to feel that. I absolutely don’t want to follow the patterns of academic competition and forced congeniality that I sometimes see around me. I feel much despair.

But then I realize this: people are my passion. My ‘craft’ might be my ability to connect and create community, to nurture people. All the shiny things I have done along the way have served as settings in which I could practice and hone my craft.

And what I do now, allows me to study my craft while I continue to practice it. I will be crafty after all.

Posted in: school