On the uses and acceptability of tinkering

One of the things I love about our Pender house is that the previous owners left so much stuff behind, giving us ample opportunity to experiment with all sorts of DIY skills without fear. Every new skill teaches you a new facet of how the little bits and pieces of our world are assembled. It is incredible, to me, to be able to look at a thing and begin to understand how it was put together, why it was put together that way, and what that may say about its creators.

Ask ten different people to create an herb garden, with no further instructions, and you’ll get 10 wildly different results, all of which will be interesting for what they imply about the person who made it. The beautifully-finished cedar staircase planter filled with multiple copies of the same four basic herbs could be the work of someone who enjoys the aesthetics or the carpentry more than the gardening and cooking, while the rough pallet-hack planter filled with rare plants might indicate a gardener or a chef who’s either impatient or a carpentry novice.

A collage depicting three wooden planters of wildly different styles.
All three of these are approximately the same item — a wooden planter. None of these implementations are wrong, but they reflect the different priorities of their creators.

It can be difficult to tell, sometimes, whether an aspect of the piece is rough because the creator was inexperienced or they simply didn’t care, unless you yourself are an expert in that field. This is true for nearly any skill, I think.

Some skills are great for random tinkering and that should be encouraged. Other skills shouldn’t be practiced “live” except by those who are already trained up to a certain level of competence, because a wrong step could cause great harm to yourself or others. There is a reason that dog grooming classes don’t practice on dummy dogs with nylon hair, that hair salon schools allow students to (eventually) cut hair in class, and that surgeons are only permitted to cut into a live patient after extensive training.

I have more thoughts about this but it’s late and I’m still percolating.

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