The latter-day revival of my woodcarving business began with the Clinton/Gore Reinvention of Government. Across the country, government agencies scurried to protect favored programs, cut those not central to their mission statements, and look for handy pockets of budget they could chop while saving their favorites from the ax. This sounds cynical, but it is my observation from within the system and the process.
I had spent about sixteen years working for various government agencies as an anthropologist specializing in small ethnic, primarily urban communities. I was the guy who worked with local communities to create cultural and educational programming centered on their home cultures.
Seeing the writing on the wall, I spent some serious time rethinking my career opportunities. Jobs in Anthropology were scarce. I was in my mid-forties when professional job insecurities caused by age discrimination started kicking in. So what the hell was I going to do? I decided that my first step was to act on reducing my anxieties. A few of my boatbuilding friends suggested that I might start carving again. One suggested that volunteering to scrape bottom paint off a sloop might be healing. So I dug out some carving tools. Having scrapped and painted boat bottoms as a youth, I did not view it as medicinal.
I established a routine at work; at lunch, I’d go to a park with a small box of carving tools and work on a small project like a chip carving for the hour. It was a sort of occupational therapy that also reduced my anxiety. Knowing that my layoff was imminent, I began making small items for Christmas presents. Christmas that year was going to be lean. I carved many small boxes, signs, refrigerator magnets, spoons, and other small items. My favorite bench in the park became littered with chips and shavings. At work, co-workers were busily planning their exit strategies. I began to pick up commissions for quarter boards and transom banners. It was moderately lucrative and was genuine work without the bureaucratic hassles of government.
Following my last day at the government, I started a part-time job at a boat yard. I began recovering lost knowledge from my days working for the Cap’n in coastal Maine when I was younger. And I began identifying myself as a ship’s carver, not a governmental nobody.
A few weeks later, a frantic call came from my former office. They needed this and that and couldn’t do it or find it. I held the phone and quietly counted to ten. Finally, I replied that I had orders to get out and could not possibly get to them before Labor Day. I quoted a price twice what I made as a government employee and told them that my usual 50% deposit was due upfront. Their reply was the government doesn’t operate that way. I replied that a ship’s carver doesn’t work the way the government does, and I hung up.
The next year I ran out of Cobra benefits, and to get a health care package and other benefits, I took part-time employment at United Parcel Service. When not working at UPS, I was running my own business as a carver, calling my own shots, and if anyone deserved to be called an Idiot, I let myself know in no uncertain terms.
A former co-worker described us as displaced workers; I preferred the term, Pilgrim. I am a traveler on a journey, and there is a purpose to that journey.