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Knife Rack Death Trap (Fear of Tools)

In general, I have fear. I’ve always been a pretty cautious person, thinking ahead, aware of my surroundings. My feet tingle when I’m near a cliff, I picture myself falling over. I use an x-acto knife, I picture myself slicing off my thumb. And I hate our knife rack. In our old apartment it hung comfortably on the wall in a recessed niche between cabinets over the sink. In our new apartment, the only place it fits is right by the kitchen door. Any direction I point the knives (up, down, angled) I picture myself impaled on the tiny, gleaming blades.

This fear is especially powerful when I’m working with new tools or technology. I’m afraid of physically hurting myself. I’m afraid of looking stupid. And with things like new software, I’m afraid of clicking the wrong thing and deleting hours of work. I hate it. I wish I could use new tools without fear. It is dangerous to have this fear. I am a liability. (Actually, this could be why I do user research, because then it’s not the user’s fault if the thing won’t work, it just wasn’t designed right in the first place. Ha!)

I greatly admire those without fear.

My old roommate Leina does not have fear. She would wield a blade like she came out of the womb with it in hand. Need help cutting into that hard plastic “clamshell”  packaging? Carving a turkey? Tearing down that wall? No problem. She could do it. Be it with a saw, knife, sewing machine, nail gun, didn’t matter. She’s 100 pounds of pure brawn and balls. She also loved putting together furniture. Best roommate ever!

My friend Courtney does not have fear. She makes art, installations, and crafts of all kinds. Give her any challenge and she’ll make it a reality. You want an 8 foot tall giraffe made of paper and plaster? A hanging mobile of thousands of flowers made from old plastic bottles? Glass, metal, light, wood, it is all putty in her hands.

My mom does not have fear. Fabric melts to her touch. She’s teaching me to sew right now. Unlike her, I let out a little squeal the first time I ran a piece of fabric beneath the needle. “Pull yourself together,” I imagined her exclaiming, shaking me by the lapels. She didn’t do this of course. She just giggled a little and said that I shouldn’t be afraid. “There’s nothing you can do with a sewing machine that can’t be undone,” she insisted.

I think that’s key. Knowing that you have the power to make things right if they go wrong. Having the knowledge to prevent the bad things from happening in the first place. Watch one, do one, teach one, right? And so I force myself to use new tools. I took a glassblowing workshop, even though I was sure I’d burn my face off. I’m making a skirt even though I’ll probably sew my fingers to the fabric. And I’m going to sign up for a butchering class – fear of knives be gone! I’ll never be as good as the fearless makers I mentioned above, but I hope to be able to pass the knife rack one day without fear.

7 thoughts on “Knife Rack Death Trap (Fear of Tools)

  1. Are you really signing up for a butchering class? I so want to do that!

    But humans need some fear otherwise we would all be wielding knives and sledgehammering through walls. The fear is what keeps you smart and with all your fingers, you just can’t let it stop you from doing things you wanna do.

  2. Caveat, I’m a little extra cautious around knives. But, I would add that power comes from knowing that you can change things, and create new things (in addition to fixing them).

  3. I just came across this quote that reminds me of your interaction with your mother:

    “You must become familiar with your materials so that they are no longer intimidating or precious.” – Susan Rothenberg

    1. That’s a quite eloquent way of putting it and so true!

  4. I have such a love/hate relationship with fear. In design school I super-feared (and loved) the shop. Wanted so badly to use all the big tools to make wonderfully unique special things. And I had a serious crippling fear of large sharp metal blades spinning at high velocities. So I got in there and let the 8 fingered shop dude (yep!) teach me how to use band saws and table saws and other saws whose names I have long since forgotten.
    In the end, it’s a compass, pulling us in the directions we reluctantly acknowledge we want to go in.
    Now you’ve got me thinking about joining the Tech Shop here in SF….

    1. Yes! There is definitely a love/hate tension I feel with fear. It gets in the way but then overcoming it feels so good. As far as joining the Tech Shop, do it! I’m sure it’d feel great to be back in the shop again.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Magnificent web site. Lots of useful information here. I am sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And naturally, thanks for your sweat!

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