MAKING A LIFE, BY HAND, with MELANIE FALICK
Melanie Falick is a maker of many things by hand – from gardening to knitting, welding to baking – she explores the connection between what we do with our hands in our own lives and our quality of life and sense of wellbeing.
In 2015, Melanie – a maker, a writer, a creative - left her 15-year corporate career in the publishing world without a completely clear sense of what she would or wanted to do next – her intuition told her that whatever it was, it would involve engagement with the handwork – knitting, sewing, time in the garden – that she loved but that she had moved away from personal direct contact with in her career.
In the course of making many things following her retirement-of-sorts, it was after crafting a simple folded paper box, a box of incredibly basic utility, that she had an epiphany: “in a circuitous way” in all her creative making, she realized, she was "trying to connect to her own survival" – and that impulse was tied inextricably to her own sense of self, capability, and connection to others – her ancestors, her descendants, her community.
In these past few months of shelter in place, I think many of us, male, female, old and young across the globe, have had a renaissance in our own psyches of this same impulse.
Melanie and I actually chatted in February, before the shut-down, which seems prescient somehow in hindsight, and I think speaks to the fact that this growing global dissatisfaction with what we have been told/sold “success” is, has been in the making for a very long time.
Enjoy our conversation about her newest book, “Making a Life, Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live” (Artisan Books, 2019), in which she explores how others have been manifesting this impulse and leading lives of great connection and meaning long before Covid-19, and how they might be role models for any one of us in making or remaking our own lives.
"When we understand how things are made, we have more empathy for the people who make those things for us, and we have more care about the makers and the made. "
Melanie Falick, Making a Life
In this moment where our convenience society is being asked to reevaluate and re-structure, the handmade has comes back into sharp focus. In our conversation, Melanie describes her process for charting the paths of people she's admired and who've centered their lives around the handmade by choice for many years - and encouraged and taught others to do the same thing. Her section headings speak volumes as to the many layers of value in the work and what it has to teach us/how it can grow us: REMEMBERING, SLOWING DOWN, JOINING HANDS, MAKING A HOME, FINDING A VOICE. These are all embodied metaphorically and literally with others through the hand made in our lives.
Join us again next week for our first June episode, in which we speak to the floral creative, Philippa Craddock. June is traditionally a month in which many many weddings are celebrated with family, flowers and food. With many of these weddings on hold this year due to Covid, we catch up with Philippa, and reminisce a little about the lovely florals from epic arches to the most romantic of bouquets, Philippa designed for Prince Harry and the lovely Meghan Markle, now Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
There are soooooo many ways people engage in and grow from the cultivation of their places.
(TOP IMAGE: Sarah Jareth, Potter. Excerpted from Making a Life by Melanie Falick (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Rinne Allen.)
RELATED EPISODES INCLUDE:
- UNABASHED GRATITUDE & STRUCTURES OF CARE, ROSS GAY
Thinking out Loud this week...
So here’s a little known story from my place quite a while back now. In a past, past life I met Melanie Falick in person.
It would have been the fall of 1995, Seattle, Washinton, a city my former husband and I moved to for his residency program. I was working at the time as the office manager for a small knitting shop and wool importer/exporter, ML Mallard, owned by a kind couple, Stuart and Kerry Ferguson. Kerry was a remarkable knitter and knitting designer and she was being featured in Melanie’s very first book, "Knitting in America" (1996). They asked me to model one of Kerry’s designs for the book. I tell you this story not because I was ever model material, but because I remember that day - captured in that picture - so vividly.
I had been studying intently for an exam I had taken just the day before for entrance to the Masters in Writing program at the University of Washington in Seattle. I was really tired, and we spent the morning before the shoot itself sewing in the ends of the intricate and lovely color work sweater that I modeled that day. Sewing in ends is not my favorite part of a knitting project, but it is part of the process.
I was a good knitter, a happily possessed and passionate gardener, not yet 30, not yet a mother. I thought I would be a teacher, I thought I would be a writer - of fiction or poetry perhaps, I thought a lot of things, don't we all?
Fast forward 25 years, a great many things did not work out exactly the way I had thought or hoped. But a lot of other things have worked out in ways better than I could have imagined, my daughters, my current work, and my partnership with John top among them.
In the midst of some of those things not working out the way I had intended - for instance I was not accepted into the writing program at UW in 1995, which was devastating at the moment, if someone had told me to "trust the process," on receiving that rejection letter, I would’ve said "OH SHUT UP." I am still not a patient person, and so in the middle of chaos and deconstruction I still might tell you to" shut up" if you tell me to trust the process as we move towards reconstruction.
But I also know in my quietest mind and my most open heart that Melanie is right when she reminds us that the plants and natural world around us have lessons to teach us and that if we are open - especially over time – to those lessons, we become more wise.
And at this point in all the things I think, I think that a goal to always work towards being more wise in the process of life is the best goal I can hold – in mind, in hand. As a gardener, as a mother, as a human. Even if my first reaction to such thoughts might be: "oh my goodness just stop talking!"
We all need time to feel - not just be talked at....
This shelter in place stretch of time, has been both interestingly focused, and interestingly busy - connecting with new people, learning new skills.
How do you think the podcast is sounding? Maybe as of this week I have gotten it dialed in a little better with my sound recording from home and my editing skills. What do you think? It’s still a pretty slow process for me, and I make new mistakes each week even while I master some of the mistakes I might have made last week.
But that’s kind of life. And gardening season to season.
I did my first Facebook live in conversation with my local public library a week or so ago, and while it’s not my favorite way to connect with others, it wasn’t too bad. The good thing about such presentations is that you might have to wash your hair, but I didn’t feel compelled to shave my legs – so there you go. Silver linings.
And I was proud to support the library.
I have a couple more of those coming up for those of you who have asked, including being on Facebook live with Katie Dubow of The Garden Media Group this coming Monday the first of June talking about "The Earth In Her Hands" as Katie kicks off a women in hort week.
I will also be in conversation on a live webinar with the San Francisco Botanical Garden on the evening of June 9. Link to invitation to register coming soon on the website.
On July 2nd, you can join my plenary session on behalf of the American Public Gardens Association annual Conference Re-Crafting our Gardens For a Changed World.
You can always keep up-to-date on these kinds of happenings at Cultivatingplace.com/events I generally try to give a heads up on such things over on my Instagram account, where more than 10,000 of you are now in conversation with me on all things cultivating place.
If you’re not with me there, pop in and follow along, say hi. It’s definitely the platform on which I’m most active with pretty much daily views on place, plants, plantspeople.
I love how in any setting, the podcast, the book, and social media we can connect, but as Melanie reminds and the stories and lives charted in her book reflect- there’s no substitute for real hand holding of other people or the materials from which we each craft our lives.
I consider it a lot like holding each of your hands in acknowledgement and greeting each time I put my hands into the soil of my place over here - knowing that you are putting your hands in and on the soil of your place over there. It’s a long distance: "oh! HEY THERE! " It's me.....;)
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