I'm quietly "going out of business" or at least spreading that rumor. These seven years of trying to make it in the metal fab business have been.... quixotic? Maybe that's the wrong word.
I had Covid last month and I spent the time doing some reading about entrepreneurship and business operation. It made me realize that I have basically no aspirations of being an entrepreneur. My takeaway is that entrepreneurship is basically channeling your creativity into building a money-making robot. What a soul-sucking endeavor. There are so many more worthwhile things in this world than creating mindless money machines. What does one truly have to give the world? A half-assed metal fab business is not worth shit in the grand scheme of things.
Great, so I welded a bumper for somebody's truck last week, whoop-de-doo. We're still headed to hell in a handbasket. Nothing is really changed.
What if it's a friend who asks me to weld them something though? By helping them, I'm serving my community and deepening my relationship with that person.
What if it's a stranger who asks me in good faith to help them with something they don't have the skills or tools to do on their own? In doing so, we forge a new connection and strengthen society a tiny, commensurate bit.
What if my enemy lays down his sword and graciously asks to collaborate on a project to benefit the world? Who would I be to pass that opportunity to heal a wound in the soul of humanity?
So, I'm confused about what I should do. On the one hand, I've learned a lot about how to make things, how to advise customers on best practices, how to design things for optimal human interaction.
On the other hand, what the heck am I doing with my life? The big question posited by the boring business book that I read during Covid quarantine was, "What do your customers want that they can't get elsewhere?"
The answer, in terms of metal fabrication is, "I have no friggin' idea."
I have no real background in metal fab, industry, welding or design. There's a lot of tradition, institution and knowledge that exists in this realm that I have never touched by transitioning from being a hobby welder to trying to run a professional shop. I have no particular credentials nor credibility in the real world of industry.
What it comes down to is a desire for belonging. To be worthwhile to the world for more than just existing and being a "nice" person.
There might be a place for some metal fabrication in this clarified goal. After all, I still need to make a modest income, and if I can truly help someone in a reasonably lucrative way, then yeah, I'll weld some stuff. Until I figure out something better, it's at least a way to keep the lights on.
But I feel like there's a lot more out there than settling for running a half-assed metal shop. There's some need in the world that I haven't figured out yet that will both provide for the common good and provide me the means for a modest lifestyle.
"Strength doesn't grant us the right to rule, it gives us the ability to serve."
That's a paraphrasing of a quote from my favorite book series, "The Stormlight Archive". It comes from a conversation on being a good human, basically.
In the books there is a group of people called the Knights Radiant who swear oaths to: persevere in life, to be strong and just, and to live well. When they swear these oaths, they form a symbiotic bond with spiritual beings called "spren" that grant the Knights special powers.
It's a story about redemption. At least that's what it means to me. Flawed and failed humans being given next chances to be something better.
Maybe it's silly for me to draw such inspiration from a work of fiction, but hey, some people read the Bible; I read Stormlight. (The author is actually Mormon, and probably would feel weird having his books compared to the Bible).
When I am tempted to give in to apathy and depression, these dang books make me realize it's worthwhile to keep working toward something better.
Looking back, I need to acknowledge my awesome customers. I've had the privilege of working with a lot of really cool people on a lot of cool projects. My service to these customers has been... erratic, oftentimes. I know there have been a lot of times when I've been a crazy weirdo who doesn't return phone calls, blows past deadlines, speaks rudely, and leaves work undone. Thankfully, despite these setbacks, there have been a lot of successes too: The organ bike, the carnival rides, bike frames for tall people...
For what it's worth, I don't feel bitter or regretful at all. Rather, I feel quite a sense of opportunity and optimism about the future! There is work to be done. Art to make. People to love. A world to try to serve.
The main project I've been working on lately has been an artsy-fartsy bench for my friend Rebecca who I met in September 2021. On its face, a park bench seems like a pretty basic project: a few legs, a seat and a back; boom, done. But what she was really asking was for me to help her make an art piece to share with her neighbors. She's got the one prime sunset-viewing spot in the entire neighborhood, and this bench is going to plop down so that the neighbors can share in the enjoyment. Now that's pretty darn cool, and it deserves a cool bench.
Keeping with the neighborly theme, my 'cross-the-street neighbor, China gave me a bunch of sycamore from her backyard several years ago that a friend then milled into 2" slabs. The slabs slowly were given away or repurposed until only this one was left:
Then, after some sketches sent back and forth, we arrived at a rough concept plan:
Here's what the frame of the bench looks like so far, six months later:
It's not quite done yet. There are a couple of branches left to go. The upper right corner needs a bit more fill-in for the design to be aesthetically balanced.
And after some discussion, we decided to go the whole nine yards and do the "river slab" thing with the piece of wood for the seat:
The two haven't been put together yet, but we epoxied threaded inserts into the underside of the slab for bolting down to the frame.
It's been a really fun project. More than fun, because of the intent behind it. It feels worthwhile, where it would be maybe frivolous if not for the fact that it's a gift to the community. I don't know what "art" means (I've heard a lot of opinions), but that feels like art, because it makes me feel a connection.
I'll post photos when it's done. Not too far to go now.