BY CHRISTINE WOLFE
Crafting a solution to stress at Harvard.
As college students, we spend most of our time creating and discussing ideas. Whether in class or on Twitter, our day-to-day experiences largely play out in our minds or in cyberspace. The closest we get to physical production is typing, or, for the most archaic among us, writing. We call this freedom from labor a privilege, as the release from work provides us time and effort to learn. Of course, we should not take these opportunities for granted, as these insights will no doubt lead to our abilities to succeed in the modern world. But there’s something lost in our world of ideas and discussion, and we sense this lack with a subtle yet profound discomfort.
I believe this anxiety derives from an absence of conclusiveness in our lives. When we live only inside our minds, we can never succeed. We will never wholly live up to our philosophies, completely resolve intellectual discrepancies, or totally eliminate intangible ills. Our imagination is boundless, and in the interminable, there will always be something left unachieved. As Tyra Banks once said of her stint at HBS, “Once you get done reading one assignment, you get another.” Truer words, Tyra.
It’s not just assignments that are endless: the entirety of academia is structured so that one intellectual success (or failure) will lead to another. And if “doing” something necessitates arriving at a finite point, let’s face it: we’re not really doing anything. We can get to the end of a “busy” day without having anything to show for it. Most of us would count our inability to finish schoolwork among one of our greatest stressors. And while negligence certainly contributes to unfinished work, the nature of our experience here necessitates that we never feel “finished.” But humans are goal-based by nature, as are all organisms. We feel satisfied when our efforts on a project lead to its completion. Even better are those products that can be used in some future context: a stone tool, perhaps. Or a mason jar.
Here’s where crafting comes in. I sincerely believe that a campus-wide mason-jar-painting initiative would improve our mental health. Crafting isn’t only creative and fun; making or modifying an object is also a tangible process with discrete start and end points. Cooking also falls into this realm of production-oriented activities. It’s the same logic behind exercise’s positive contributions to our happiness: execution and completion of a physical task makes us feel we’ve accomplished something. Crafting, while not as good for us as running, gives us a tangible outlet for the mental exercise we desperately need. I always feel refreshed after sewing, painting, and coloring: these activities are wonderful respites from the existential angst the intellect can cause.
What follows are some crafting suggestions for you and your friends. I hope they will ground you in a space where success is possible and the stakes are only as high as a well-decorated room.
Mason Jar Adornment
Mason jars aren’t just for at-home distillery (though a well-painted row of wheat is a necessity to any fermentation jar). Foods, pencils, and toiletries can all call a glass jar their home. Of course, the decoration should match the contents: dark coffee grounds go best with bright colors, whereas dried petals belong in jar adorned with flowers (if you’re not keeping dried flower petals in a jar, just get out). Michaels — your go-to store for the widest craft selection, located in Porter Square — sells all-surface paint for glass as well as decorative stationery for jar-lining. Ace Hardware, also located in Porter, sells mason jars in bulk for your group crafting sessions, and Dickson Bros sells a variety of jar sizes individually.
More embarrassingly known as “scrapbooking,” there’s more to the paper crafts than giant stickers and weirdly shaped scissors (though who doesn’t love those?). Stationary and high-quality papers can serve as desk-runners, invitations, backgrounds for photo collages, or convenient cover-ups to those mystery holes in the wall. Bob Slate Stationer and Black Ink, both located on Brattle Street, have a wide range of papers to suit both your eccentric and classy moods.
Yes, really. Coloring is low risk, high reward: it’s art for people without much talent or creativity. Coloring is the perfect way to relieve stress: you can concentrate and complete a task that doesn’t have any ramifications in the real world. The Curious George Store, on JFK, has a good selection of coloring books. Just tell the person at the counter the books are for your niece, and you’re set!
Harvard has plenty of opportunities to get your hands on some clay. The Ceramics Studio is located across the River in Allston, right behind the athletic facilities, and provides lessons as well as resources for experienced sculptors. The studio also hosts Clay All Night, where undergrads can pinch and spin for free. Mather also hosts biannual woodcutting/pottery-making classes in their pottery studio.
For those of us who can’t contain our inner lumberjack and (totally don’t) have some knives lying around our rooms, whittling is basically the most badass (and definitely the most Amish) way to craft. Mather is the best place to find woodworking guidance, though a careful hand and some Youtube videos could have you on your way to a doghouse or canoe in no time. You can bring out the all-surface paint you used for mason jars on your wood products as well.
Christine Wolfe ’14 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is looking to start an Elven Bladesmithing Club on campus if anyone’s in.