Hell respected man…

Last week I found this great TED-talk by Emilie Wapnick:

It’s something I have had many experiences with in my relatively short life. There is just so much to explore and so little time. How do you find a profession that suits you? Especially when you’re interested in and have knowledge of almost any subject available?

I found out that a lot of my passions come together in lutherie. History, technology, art, design, working with my head ànd my hands… This is one of the reasons that I work as broad as possible, making historical and electric instruments, but also the tools required. And it is the same thing that drives me to look beyond the horizon, always looking for new techniques and crafts to learn and incorporate in my work.

Beside lutherie and general woodwork I can tell you everything about a vast array of subjects. From the life and work of Gerrit Rietveld, Piet Mondrian and Stradivari to archaeology, art, ancient Egypt, painting icons, calligraphy and printing, to local history, brewing beer, baking bread, pottery, tools, blacksmithing, Dutch poetry, etc. And even more subjects that have my attention. Yes, there are a lot of people who call me crazy or insane, and they’re probably right.

It always was – and is – hard for me to imagine how other people manage to do just one thing in their life. Study just a single subject, stay in the same job and have just one (or none) hobby to fill te time in between. Some have chosen such a life, some were forced there by societal pressure, but most people never felt the urge to do more or look further than their own nose length. In many ways ignorance is bliss (but also boring as hell)…

An image of hell

At school we were told stories about hell. Like a place were the souls of people were eternally tortured, with fire and brimstone by devils and demons. Like the paintings by Hiëronymus Bosch or Dante’s “Inferno”. And they tried to scare us with visions of never-ending pain. But what they didn’t tell us was that it could be worse than that.

To me hell looks different. It’s a cubicle, or an assembly line with an endless pile of useless, soulless, mind-numbing work. Like in the myths of Prometheus or the Daughters of Danaus. It’s not the work that’s the worst, but the knowledge that it’s useless and will never end. Never making something substantial, adding real value to it, but just walking the same old long well-worn trail others took before. The soil of which is so trampled down that it’s impossible to leave a footprint or any mark at all on it.

I have been trough such a hell. I tried to live the simple, run-off-the-mill life. Trying to conform and fit in. Be the “Well Respected Man” the Kinks sing about. I’ve pushed myself on and on to go trough; up to – and far beyond – a point that I couldn’t go any further. But in the end it only got me a burn-out at 25 and severe depression. It literally almost bored me to death. And it’s still hard to do it differently, even though I know it’s the only way for me. All my life I had to go against the grain, swim against the stream. People still try to push me back into that straightjacket of the 9-17 job. But whenever I try to go along with that, everything falls down again and I’m right back to square one.

Todays society is not helping. Despite politicians who say that we need innovative people, those who push human knowledge and redefine borders. They’re just hypocrits; the reality is that our society is pointed more and more towards conformity and fitting in. And in the last couple of years our view only narrowed. Especially here, in our tiny Calvinistic Holland. Creative, innovative people are being discouraged and told they have to “act normal” or “don’t be a fool”. But here is a little secret; there is much more wisdom to find in foolishness than there is humor or wisdom in most political programs.

It’s hard, but good to know I’m not the only fool out there. I’ve met people who are just as crazy. Some here in Holland, others on the other side of the world. It’s a very small group, and surprisingly enough the majority of them makes and/or plays musical instruments. But they all MAKE something; guitars, harpsichords, prints, books, quilts, metalwork, music, poems. They are what I earlier called the “Alchemists of our time”. Unfortunately most of them also have experience with not fitting in, burn-out and depression.

Over the last couple of years there were two songs that pulled me trough. One is “We Shall Overcome” by Pete Seeger, the other is “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen. Simple songs, but with a very powerful message. Some day I will put the complete text up this blog. For now, please just enjoy the music.

“I’ve done my best to live the right way,
get up ev’ry morning and go to work each day.
But your eyes go blind, and your blood runs cold;
sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode…

Explode and tear this whole town apart,
take a knife and cut this pain from my heart;
find somebody itching for someting to start.”

“I don’t give a damn, for the same old played out scenes;
I don’t give a damn, for just the in-betweens.”

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