When I was approaching 30, I left a job in Seattle and moved to Portland to become a woodworker. I spent the last of my cashed out 401k on a table saw, hung my hand tools neatly on pegboard and slowly and with great discipline became a master carpenter. Not true. I spent about a month dressed in overalls, creating little more than sawdust before stopping to admire my tools with a self-congratulatory glass(es) of wine. And then I panicked and signed on with a temp agency to do mind-numbing office work.
Nina MacLaughlin carried out what I only fantasized about. After spending much of her 20s working as a journalist in Boston she realized that somewhere along the line, the work that had once inspired her, had grown oppressive. Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter is her memoir of what happened when she quit her desk job and traded in her cubicle and computer for a hammer, a tile saw and a 50lb bag of grout.
Picking up Hammer Head, I felt an immediate kinship and let’s face it- envy for MacLaughlin. We share an enormous satisfaction in mastering a new tool and an appreciation for the unique history and warmth that radiates off of a freshly-sanded plank of wood. But by the end, it was her boss Mary that I fell in love with. It was Mary’s Craigslist ad: Carpenter’s Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply, that started MacLaughlin’s journey. Not much of a talker, Mary offered only the simplest instruction and encouragement (“Be smarter than the tools”), but abundant patience and quiet humor. McLaughlin's inspiring memoir is as much about her own leap of faith towards meaningful work, as it is a love letter to her straight shooting and unflappable mentor.
Oh why weren’t you in Portland in 2001, Mary?
Check out this list for more memoirs that will inspire you to follow your bliss.