When I read Making Things Work by Nancy Hiller, I thought to myself, “I would really like to eet this person.” If you’ve read the book, you likely know why. If you haven’t, you should. And without any spoilers, the book introduces you to a person who has overcome a lot of challenges, has a great sense of humor, sees meaning in the seemingly prosaic, is brutally honest (with herself and others), and is an excellent craftsperson (to name a few). What more could you ask for, right?
This past week, I met Nancy Hiller. She came to DC to teach a short evening seminar and stayed at my home. I got to chat with her about her writing, the writing process, dogs, family, plants, and pretty much every detail on the business of woodworking (which was the topic of the class). We had a beer. It was awesome.
So how did it happen?
One day I read a post on the Lost Art Press blog Nancy had written related to the material in Making Things Work: the life/business of a professional woodworker. Without a whole lot of consideration, I left a comment:
Great post! Love your work on this topic…have you ever thought of doing an in-person class on this topic? Or a webinar? I would love the opportunity to go in depth on this stuff, imagine others would too…
Her response was less-than-enthusiastic, but did not slam the door shut:
I’m glad you find this useful. I must say it never occurred to me to do any sort of class on this stuff. I write reams about it here, in Making Things Work, and in my posts for the Pro’s Corner at Fine Woodworking. I’d be glad to learn more about your idea; feel free to contact me by email.
Now, you should know two things: first, someone whose work I admire has invited me to email them; second, in Nancy’s other, recent posts, she has explained how when she has extended similar invitations (to those looking to take classes, etc.) they have failed to follow-up. So, I got to work…immediately and carefully.
Here’s the thing: I had at that point already read Making Things Work twice…but I was not aware of the Pro’s Corner blog at FWW.
Here’s a peek inside my head at that point:
“Dude! You need to get on this”
“I know, I know…”
“OK, go read that blog…”
“I did! It was full of good stuff, but I know there is more. I still have specific questions she hasn’t addressed.”
“OK, don’t get too enthusiastic, go back and look at the book—make sure you didn’t miss something there”
“Nope…I mean, I spent 30 minutes re-reading the Gavin Pratt chapter…”
“Focus, man!…did you look at the end? Is there like a reference or appendix you missed before?”
“Look again, you always miss stuff like that…it’s not there. OK, search the LAP blog…you don’t want to look lazy.”
“OK, I did that…still not everything I’m looking for.”
“Hmmm…what about FWW—are there articles beyond the blog on the topic? Did you search that? You did? Ok, write her an email about what you think you want to see…it better be good.”
You can read that email here
There is something else that I’d like to share.
I didn’t reach out to Nancy with the intention that a few weeks later we’d be sitting at Shop Made In DC holding the class I had just proposed (Big thanks to the store, whose management quickly and graciously agreed to host the class). I just kinda had an idea…I thought maybe she would take it and use it. I thought maybe it would be a cool add-on to her other furniture making classes. Maybe, one day, she’d come through DC and I could meet her through this class…but that seemed like a long way off.
To my utter shock and delight, Nancy quickly agreed in principle to the class and offered to modify her existing travel schedule to hold it in DC while she was making her way along the East Coast. I helped organize some administrative details (location, etc.) and then tried to help with as much as possible (promo copy, accommodations, logistics, etc.) along the way. The class went off without a hitch, people learned a lot, and I got to meet a really wonderful human who shared all kinds of knowledge with me.
While I’m tempted to round up some lessons from this story, in the fashion of Making Things Work, I’ll compliment the reader by allowing each to take their own impressions. (Please don’t let that impression be an invitation to email Nancy with hair-brained schemes!)