Why isn’t carpentry something that women learn?
Yesterday someone asked me if the Craigslist ad that I answered didn’t say “women encouraged to apply,” whether I would’ve considered it. I would not have had the courage to say I’m going to throw my hat in the ring.
It’s a 98 or 99 percent male-dominated industry. All the trades [skilled work like carpentry, plumbers, metal workers, roofers, tilers], it’s mostly dudes. My boss [Mary] and I, the two of us, have no real occasions where we haven’t been able to handle something, or to figure out how to make it work. People have said oh you must get catcalls — maybe we’ve been lucky, but it hasn’t been that kind of environment.
My boss has been in the trades for years now, these guys have been working with her for years and respect the hell out of her. Now and then, in the lumberyard, there’s been some skepticism or raised eyebrows. My boyfriend said to me, you’re a curiosity to these guys, They don’t see women on the job.
I do think that it would be cool if more women felt like it was an option. A lot of people say, ‘How do I connect with women in the trades?’ and I don’t have an answer for them yet. I’m lucky that I fell into a relationship with my boss.
Do you have a favorite type of wood?
For the stuff we do there’s this wood called Brazilian walnut, it’s one of the densest woods there is, we use it when we’re making and building decks. It barely burns, bugs don’t eat it, and it lasts.
To pick up a piece of Brazilian walnut, you know that this is something that’s totally different. It weighs a ton, it has a beautiful reddish freckle color to it, and a beautiful smell, this marshmallow cinnamon-y smell. It’s also a total pain in the ass.
How does your work in carpentry and writing go together?
I find that they compliment each other really well. When I have stretches when I’ve just been writing, you have to go inside your head. My brain got cranky and I was much less fun to be around unlike when I was building a deck or putting up a wall. In combination, they work well, after I’ve spent some days working on a carpentry project, I’m ready to do a blog post, and vice versa.
What’s appealing about carpentry to you? What have you learned about work from it?
In those great moments, in both writing and carpentry, you kind of rise above yourself, exit your work, exit your mind. It’s kind of that magical meditative transcendent feeling.
Makes sense. There’s a bit of the Transcendentalist about your memoir, and you’re based in Massachusetts, not too far from Concord.
I’m as seduced as anyone by the Internet, I have a hard time pulling myself away from it, but when I do, my brain is better and, I’m a happier, calmer person. There’s a difference between that sort of quick ego stroke you get from interacting online whereas what you get from building something, finishing up a deck or a kitchen renovation. The pride is more genuine and more lasting. That hasn’t gotten old at all, it’s totally powerful.