When I was a kid, the tooth fairy didn’t bring me cash – she brought me craft supplies. I remember waking up with crayons, pipe-cleaners, puffy paint, T-shirt art kits, stickers, and small lego kits under my pillow. The same thing went for Christmas, birthdays, and any other gift-giving event. Throughout my childhood I had a big toolbox of craft supplies, and a bigger box of Legos, Knex, and Erector Sets – both of which I spent hours with, not only creating, but carefully organizing.
In junior high and high school I started making tie-dye T-shirts, and until the end of my college career I made and wore shirts of my own design. And later in high school I started to get into electronics – I got a prototyping kit and a bunch of surplus electronic components off eBay. Starting with simple circuits, I played around with LEDs and a variety of sensors, eventually making a line-following robot. I even had a short lived eBay business refurbishing broken Nintendo machines for resale. Then I got into college, and my creative side started to die. At least, that’s what it feels like sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong, I have done a lot of interesting and fun things since then. If I had made different choices, I may never have had the opportunity to live, study and work abroad in Asia – something I never would have imagined except for a chance encounter at El Camino College. But this whole time I’ve had nowhere to put my creative, inventive energy.
What’s even stranger to me is how easily the spark died. There is no single event I can cite – in high school I talked of pursuing science related careers – maybe some type of physical or genetic engineering, maybe some artistic track – visual arts, culinary arts, or design. In high school I joined two clubs – ceramics club and science club. I also voluntarily took photography and art, spending not just class time but significant time after school painting and learning to use my dad’s old manual camera.
But then in college, I dropped all my creative classes and just focused on the required courses, I suppose in preparation for transferring to a university as quickly as possible. But in my entire time at college and university I only took one physical science class (astronomy), despite science being my long-time favorite subject. And I took no art classes (except for the cultural classes I took in Korea).
Of course it’s natural to outgrow one’s youthful ideas and hobbies – but I wish I could think of the moment I rejected these interests. After college I eventually rediscovered my impulses, and I felt a certain horror and regret that I had never considered science, manual labor or art as realistic career paths. They were just hobbies, apparently to be pushed aside when more ‘serious’ academic work presented itself.
I first began to change my way of thinking when I started volunteering after graduation. I worked with Habitat for Humanity building low income housing, and GRID alternatives installing solar panels, and I got my first taste of physical work. And I loved it. Working outside, staying active one whole day, even doing something as simple as shoveling dirt around, was more rewarding than the weeks of office work I had done for my internship.
And even weeks after a project, I could look at the houses I helped build – I could remember installing insulation and siding in the houses on Whitney Young circle in San Francisco, and digging backyard gardens near the Daly City Bart, and mounting the solar panels (which are still there) on the roofs of houses in the Bayview and East Bay. Every time I rode by ‘my’ houses on the bus or BART, I had a tangible reminder of my work – and that felt good.
It reminded me of when I was a kid – and my dad, who works in architecture and construction, would point out every house with a foundation he had poured, and every gas station he helped install, or building where he remembered climbing scaffolding to put up siding and paint.
I realized that if I had an actual job doing these things, I could get that feeling all the time. I still value the city planning, urban design, statistics and government that I studied at university – but I do regret not exploring more options. It was clear early on that my heart was never in it. As most of my classmates made plans for their future studies and careers, going deeper into the field, I didn’t know what I wanted to do – but I knew it wasn’t urban planning or policy.
But inspired by my volunteer experience, I signed up for some vocational classes at SF City College. I get certified in solar installation, took a class in electrical wiring and basic construction techniques, and signed up for a pre-engineering program where I got back into my electronics hobby – building increasingly complex circuits and little robots.
Then I once again I got side tracked, going off to explore another potential passion by teaching in Korea. I don’t for a minute regret that trip – I learned a lot about myself, grew in many ways, and hope to return someday. But this time I didn’t quite lose my creative impulse, and when I returned from Korea, Techshop was waiting for me.
This brings me to today. The past year has been a long, bumpy, road for me. I first joined Techshop a year ago, but I haven’t gotten to do all the work I hoped to do. In part this is due to the complex recent events in my life. But it’s also just been a really steep learning curve. When I started Techshop I didn’t even know how to use a saw or hold a welding torch – but I had dreams of creating fine furniture, my own bicycle frame and full-blown electronic projects. At time it’s been frustrating, but step-by-step I’ve learned to take it slow, experiment a lot, and ask for help. And so I’ve made progress.
Simple projects like my cutting boards have given me a LOT more confidence in working with power tools and hand tools, and I now think I’m ready to start getting more serious, and more creative.
New Passion Project
That’s why I want to make my time at Techshop the second leg of my Passion Project, a series of jobs and life experiences aimed at discovering my personal goals, skills and place in this world. My first passion project was Teaching, which I completed by teaching in Korea and Thailand. I will call this passion project “Making,” because over the next few months to a year I hope to immerse myself in all aspects of making things. I want to work with a variety of materials, and let my creative side fully flourish.
I want to change my time at Techshop from a hobby into a lifestyle, I want to try and support myself with my work. I want to continue teaching workshops, start teaching classes, and eventually try offering creative products and services. Starting next month, November, I will have a chance to put all these goals into practice, with more chances to teach, and my first opportunity to sell my work. I’ll keep writing about my progress right here.