There's an interesting and sad article in today's Palladium-Item, Main Street struggles for survival. Articles like it are being written about struggling downtown areas across the country, so of course it's nothing new in "this economy," but because it's about the downtown in my community, I take special notice.
The article contains some interviews with downtown business owners, some perspective on the history of the Main Street organization there, and some talk of renewed activity from merchants and business owners (myself among them) in helping make the area thrive. But there's something missing from the picture the article paints.
The "do it yourself" (DIY) movement is sometimes talked about as a new or emerging phenomenon, but when you reduce it to its essence - "people creating or repairing things for themselves without the aid of paid professionals" - it's clear that DIY is just a new label for a way of living that is as old as human existence itself.
Our culture likes to take the old and repackage it as the new so it's more exciting and engaging. I don't have any problem with that per se - there can be something creative and innovative in finding different ways to present ideas, world-views, ways of living so that they're more accessible to more people. We all go through different kinds of personal discovery about what we're capable of, so why not have a "new movement" that helps support and nurture that for folks who are in that place right now?
This is what I thought I was being pitched when I got an invitation to subscribe to Ready Made magazine, which presents itself as "the only do-it-yourself (DIY)/lifestyle magazine for young people. It entertains and informs through DIY projects for fast-evolving lifestyles." It sounded like a good support resource for learning more about self-sufficient living. I showed the invite to Anna Lisa and we both agreed that it looked like it would be useful, AND that we were excited such a publication existed at all. But when the first issue arrived, it only took me a few hours before I knew we'd be canceling the subscription. Here's why:
I think one of the more dangerous ideas prevalent in our culture is that "you can't do it yourself, so you always need to buy something or pay someone to do it for you." As our society becomes more and more dependent on complex machines, systems and skill-sets that fewer and fewer people understand, individuals become less and less equipped to have any real control over their livelihood. When those who do have the control and power aren't available or have different priorities or cost too much...well, things can get bad.
I had a moment of awakening about this a number of years ago when I was sitting in a local hair stylist's chair having my hair cut. On my recent visits I had been observing the process more closely than prior haircuts in my life, and partly out of resentment for the $15 I was paying per 10-minute haircut, partly out of an engineer's curiosity, I starting asking questions about where her equipment came from. Together we concluded that she was using a trimmer I could get at a local store for about $20, and therefore that the main value she brought to the process was the ability to see the whole of my head to trim it when I could not. Ah-ha. Continue reading "On Doing It Myself"→