Friday, 18 April 2014

Woodwork Therapy, the Power of YouTube and Community

The other night I dreamt that I saw a huge blue whale just 20 metres off the shoreline. The dark sand was cool against my feet and the water was calm. And then the whale exploded.

As the burning blubber fell around me, my heart raced and I felt the searing heat flash against my skin. I woke up with the smoky red sky still in my eyes. My heart rate and the pain in my skin were entirely real. The rest of the dream faded quickly with little upset. It was a good morning.

Sadly, nightmares are something I am used to. Most of the time, they are considerably worse than my incendiary sea mammal narrative. Heart rates are faster and pain is often much more intense. It is always harder to shrug off dream images when my physical state is worse. And so, over the years, I have come up with tactics; ways to break the dream cycles.

Almost all of these, barring Freecell, are internet based. I’ve followed in depth blog posts about engine rebuilds, kept up with a hundred different photographers and searched out the best nut loaf recipe in the world. YouTube, however, has been the single greatest success.

I remember years ago saying ‘Why on earth would any television channel worry about YouTube? No one has the sheer resources or ready-made audience of a television company - YouTube could never be a significant threat.’ And yet now, the majority of my televisual experience comes through the ‘tube. And, perhaps surprisingly, one of the most successful groups grasping the potential of internet broadcasting are woodworkers.

There is a large group of individuals who have set up channels in which they post videos detailing projects and tips. Their content and style (and, arguably, quality) vary tremendously, but they have created a very real thing - a community.

I intend to write another blog post detailing the channels I follow and why they are so special, but before that, I’d like to talk about the concept of community and the power found in that. I’d also like to look at quite why this amazing shift in the way I consume media has happened.

I remember a time when the UK television channel “4” was an exciting and individual broadcaster. It had bizarrly addictive programmes like Watercolour Challenge. It would show experimental, student created films early in the morning (which I would carefully video and watch the next day. Even the one about the suicidal fork lift operator). It made television, not with the single aim of matching well known formats and consolodating their demographics, but to give something to their audience to learn with and grow from.

BBC2 was much the same with its now dead Open University slot. My father did a post-grad degree with the OU and I remember all the recorded early morning programmes... although, this being the BBC, there were fewer fork lifts and many more beards. Either way, with the aid of VCR tapes we both learnt an awful lot from these outlets

Learning has gone out of style. Even the best programmes recently (The Great British Sewing Bee, for example, is one we all enjoy) are extremely light on instruction. Much more time is spent on personality, struggle and journey. There has to be jeopardy - people fail and leave a programme rather than staying, learning and eventually improving.

And you can see why this has come about. These massive institutions are expensive to run. They need people to engage in human drama so that they buy the books and matching cookery utensils. They need the phone-in cash, the sponsorship and, most importantly, the fame. If millions don’t tune in, then they’ve failed.

And in pops YouTube. It costs precisely nothing to create your own little broadcasting company. A little cash for a camera and a computer on which to edit and you’re away. A little more money and you can end up with videos which are a little scary in their professionalism. I recently watched a video meme created by a teenage girl about her book collection with special effects on a par with anything a mainstream television channel could do. Astonishing.

So why have woodworkers taken such advantage of this? Well, firstly, woodworking is a very visual process. We’ve recently rewatched Breaking Bad and my favourite scene remains Jessie’s hallucination towards the end of the final series - carefully working on a beautiful wooden box. There’s not much in wood work that isn’t aesthetically lovely. And it really is capable of providing an escape.

Secondly, woodworkers are used to creating groups. My father is part of a woodturning group which gathers mainly to gossip. But if he needed help with a certain project, they could provide it. There are magazine and books. Professionals hold days of tuition and guidance.

Third - woodwork is seldom about doing things in the easiest way possible. Necessarily, then, any wood worker is a bit of a show off. *And there is NOTHING bad about this*. Showing off our achievements and skill is a great thing and people should be very proud of the things they’ve learnt. And the thing about show offs is they often make good presenters.

Now, the other benefit you have with YouTube vs traditional television companies is size. Small, independent broadcasters mean many more broadcasters. I regularly (ie at least once a week) watch about seven different woodworkers. That number rises drastically if you include people who post less regularly - maybe closer to thirty. They all effect each other, causing quick growth and evolution.

Of course, the negative side of individuals acting as broadcasting companies can be significant. Criticism is necessarily personal and must hurt a great deal. It also means that petty arguments can spring up easily. If you’re a huge, amorphous broadcasting being, you are protected to quite a large extent.

But it also means that when things go right, the result is a very personal triumph. I think this video demonstrates this well. Woodworking for Mere Mortals is a fun channel which aims for relatively quick projects achievable with a relatively basic tool set. It is bright, fast and engaging. Steve Ramsey has expanded, creating a second channel for vlog style analysis of his life and what’s going on in the wood working community he sees so clearly from his position in the middle of it. We also get to share in the differences he makes to the individuals that make up said community

Here's a link to the section of the video I'm thinking of if you want to skip the rest.

Well, Steve, along with all the rest of the YouTube woodworkers, help me on a daily basis. I wake up, as I have said, in great pain, often disoriantated and, frankly, a bit scared. I get to share in their creations and skills even when I’m unable to get out of bed. And, despite not being able to exercise my woodworking skills as much as I’d like to be able, I am made to feel a part of the woodworking community, even if I seldom so much as comment. That’s a tremendous thing.

Blogging Against Disablism Day will be coming soon and, as I have the last few years, I’ll be helping Deb with collecting the deluge of posts and getting them all published on her blog, Diary of a Goldfish. It is seldom I feel as much a member of the disability community as I do the woodworking community. But every 1st of May that changes.

There are lessons to learn from woodworkers about pride, showing off and working together as (an at times disfunctional) family.  And I think that there are many people with disabilities who could learn from them. Pride is the key word - It’s hard for some to see how people with disabilities might be able to feel pride given that disability denotes a lack of something.

But think about it - a woodworker is basically someone who finds quarter-sawn oak and birch plywood more interesting than almost anything else in the entire world. They’re people who actually know the difference between a rip cut blade and a cross cut blade. What’s that if not a lack of something fundamental, right?*  But we ignore that and focus on the amazing things they produce. Those things usually differ in style, construction and subject. The only thing that brings them together is the spirit from which it’s produced.

Likewise disabled people do things every day which differ in style, construction and subject. The shared spirit is the thing that can bring us together into a community - a group of people who share pride in themselves as a collective and the individual things they achieve.

And yet pride is not encouraged or instilled in people with disabilities. There is an assumption that if a disabled person is not suffering, somehow they’re not doing their ‘job’. Their disability will be questioned. It’s such a shame - I constantly see people qualify the good things in their life with some sort of limitation just to hammer home the point that, yes, this might be a good thing I've done, but everything else is awfully hard. There is another extreme to this - the phenomenon known as the super-crip - an individual of such superhuman resolve and drive that they overcome the difficulties of their disability and become something amazing. And you don’t have to be following the news that closely to know how badly that can turn out...

We need to overcome these fears and believe in ourselves. And if you struggle to see that, wait until Thursday the 1st of May - Blogging Against Disablism Day is coming and it’s going to be amazing.

* I jest.  A bit.

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