Yes, I am indeed sticking my head in an oven. But don’t worry. The oven is electric. I know, because moments after this photograph was taken I was flung across the kitchen with 220 volts zinging through my fingers.
I’m posting this picture partly because it will look as alien to people who know me as the photos of me sitting proudly on a tractor that circulated soon after we got to the States. I’m notoriously hopeless at all domestic chores, but when the oven’s heating element blew I was determined to install the new one myself, principally because it was apparent that nobody – from my wife, to Randy the repairman who diagnosed the problem, to my children – seriously thought for a moment that I was capable of actually doing it. But I managed it (even if I did nearly kill myself in the process.)
Now, I realize that in comparison with most people this is a pitiful achievement. (I spent last Saturday evening enviously eyeing the beautiful tree house that a friend of mine built for his son, knowing I’d never be able to do the same for Hallam.) I mean, look at these hands, for heaven’s sake. Look at them. They’ve never done an honest day’s work in their life. But, ridiculous as this may seem, I felt pretty good about fixing the oven. It’s working again, and Randy didn’t have to trek all the way out here again to fix the damn thing. It may not be much, but we’ve all got to start somewhere.
I’m thinking about this sort of stuff right now because I’m in the middle of a fascinating book by Matt Crawford called Shop Class as Soulcraft, which is a beautifully nuanced and thoughtful examination of the value of manual work. (Crawford is a philosopher who now runs a motorcycle repair shop.) His book talks, among many other things, about how most people are no longer interested in how stuff works. Economic theorists maintain that it is illogical to spend one’s time, effort, and money fixing something if it is easier and cheaper to buy a new one, but Crawford believes that this misses a crucial point. There is something redemptive and noble about manual labor, something that transcends the kind of cold, impersonal analysis that economists often rely upon. As I watched the oven heat up properly for the first time in a week and blew on my still-tingling fingers, I totally got that.
More on this topic to come, I suspect.