Having worked as a journalist throughout her twenties, Nina MacLaughlin finds herself yearning for more tangible work, and applies in response to a Craigslist ad seeking a carpenter’s assistant (despite having majored in Classics and not knowing the difference between a Phillips and a flathead screwdriver). To her surprise, she gets the job, commencing years of apprenticeship and a close working partnership with her boss Mary. Nina MacLaughlin’s transformation from desk-job-journalist to carpenter is the focus of her 2016 book Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter. Much more than a record of a job change, Hammer Head thinks through questions about what makes work meaningful, what it means to make things with our hands, how to know what we need and want from our lives.
In this conversation, Nina MacLaughlin will speak with us—and invite dialogue—about the relation between what we do with our hands and what we do with our minds. In ‘slow time’, we live, observe, and think at the pace of our bodies and the materials they work with, whether the water under a gliding canoe or the sure movement of a knife through wood becoming a spoon. How might working with our hands—whether making a spoon, building a canoe, renovating a house, or writing—teach us to live our lives? Nina will draw on her long relationship with canoeing; her experience in carpentry, carving and woodwork; and her writing practice to offer us a space of ‘slow time’, in which to explore the fertile possibilities of the places where word, wood, and water meet.
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter (Norton, 2016) and Wake, Siren (FSG, November 2019). She grew up in Massachusetts and lives in Cambridge, where she works as a carpenter. Formerly an editor at the Boston Phoenix, she is now also the book reviewer for the Boston Globe. Her writing appears in the Believer, Bookslut, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.