Random Thoughts on Writing, ‘Apprenticeship’ and ‘Cabinet Making’

‘Writing’ as a way to bring those ‘disembodied’ ideas, thoughts, intuitions, concepts, images, etc., out into the open was a key theme running in my mind while listening to some practical advice by the ‘Masters’ of academia to the young PhD Padawans.  


I have scribbled ‘tons’ of notes since February, mind-mapped all over the place, and even tissue or napkins have not escaped the obsession to ‘put things down’. But I think what is more significant, is that when I scribble or mind-map I’m in a conscious awareness of being in ‘dialogue’ with the material before me. 


During my initial reading of the empirical material I have collected, I found myself giggling, humored, upset, and at times flabbergasted by the turn of phrase here and there as well as the parodic tone of some of the utterances. Malaysians are a creative bunch, but reflective and thoughtful. Never underestimate the intelligence of the man and woman on the street! In my case, before a ‘screen’. 


* * * 

I think I keyed in “* * *” because I wanted to signal a change of topic, unconsciously it naturally came up. So, the next turn is actually linked to the theme above, but taking a step back. It’s the notion of ‘apprenticeship’.


A wise man whom is more like a big tall Rugby sized ‘Yoda’ once told me that this season is a time of ‘apprenticeship’. To draw in an earlier metaphor, I’m learning to make a ‘cabinet’ and not build a ‘house’. So far, the ‘cabinet making’ has involved learning the tools, getting the material, accidently hitting the fingers (ouch!), wrong placement of the nails and so forth.


I know we live in a world of DIY IKEA-like mentalities. But, the apprenticeship to be a carpenter or ‘cabinet-making’ in the good old days, was full of trials and errors under the keen guidance of a master carpenter. No clean looking manuals, perhaps some sketches in the sand, or rough paper. 


I keep the notion of ‘apprenticeship’ and also picture of ‘cabinet making’ clear and loud in my consciousness, because the urge to build a ‘house’ and I know for some a whole ‘city’ is there especially in the ‘imagination’. And to rein in someone imaginative like me, I always need to return back to this ‘cabinet’ I’m working on. So, Rugby-sized ‘Yoda’ is right, and he was affirming. I felt good just listening to him. 


Another Master in the Academia seconded this approach, and we laughed over coffee talking about the danger of over-rating brilliance over plain old hard work discipline. Discipline involves sweat, struggle, pain, and simple focus. I’ll call him, Master ‘Bushy Beard’ (MBB?). MBB smiled and told me, the idea of a ‘second file’ is where one parks all those grandiose or even brilliant ideas, then get back to the ‘main project’ during this time. Brilliance can be distracting, and then nothing actually gets produced. Good advice.  


So, these were two memorable ‘coffee’ sessions with Masters in the ways of the force in Academia. What I remember most was not only the substantial content of the dialogues, but also the walks through the exibition hall collecting pens and freebies, wading through the crowd in a big mall, and a simple conversation where I was ‘seen’ as not someone ‘great’ or ‘brilliant’ or ‘dumb’ and ‘stupid’, but as a young padawan – ‘apprentice’ – fumbling and learning the ways of the ‘force’.


This has made me appreciate even more the appointed (and chosen) Masters guiding me through this fast moving process. There’s also the informal ones on and off that’s a blessing too.


Though I noticed sometimes I look as if all is well (it’s the smile!), the reality is it’s a smile that also emerges from struggle and pain. The learning curve has been steep and slippery. I’ve fallen, tripped, crashed and picked myself up again and again. I’m fortunate to have another Master not in Academia but accompanying me in the ways of the force in ‘life as a whole’ who keeps me sane! 🙂  


The Christian word we use close to this notion of ‘apprenticeship’ is ‘discipleship’. My Chinese genes are now bubbling with Kung-fu images and the ways of Martial arts. But I’ll leave that for another day, and to your imagination, if you are reading or eavesdropping here. 😛


* * * 

One more sip of the nice coffee. “Ja, Jeg drikke kafe!”.


Now the eyes moves to the pancakes.


And we’re gearing up for a family outing.




About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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