Randy Gafner – Book Journeys Author Interview Transcript – February 18, 2016

Book Journeys Author Interview – February 18, 2016

Dr. Angela Lauria with Randy Gafner, author of Zen and the Art of Making a Morris Chair.

 

“It’s the same principles: acceptance, imperfection, belief, identity, all that.” ~Randy Gafner

 

Angela:

Well, hey, everybody, you are in the right place at the right time. We have an amazing show for you today. My guest today is someone who I think many of you can relate to. When he started the process of writing a book, he didn’t know if it was possible, so if you are thinking about your book and you’re wondering, “Can I do it?” stay tuned, I know you’re gonna love this interview and love seeing the transformation and how that transformation from thinking, “Maybe I have an idea here,” to holding your book in your hands can happen. I want you to follow along with the show by heading over to Amazon and getting yourself a copy of our guest’s book. Randy Gafner is the author of Zen and the Art of Making a Morris Chair, you can go and check that out, over at amazon.com. Randy also has a website over at awakencreativepotential.com, so if you wanna follow along online and check out more about him when you’re listening, if you are not driving, do not do this while driving. I know that you will enjoy checking out his book and his website. Randy, thank you so much for being our guest today!

 

Randy:

Thank you, Angela! It’s great to be with you. Looking forward to …

 

Angela:

All right, let’s start the talk – tell everybody about Zen and the Art of Making a Morris Chair, what’s your book about?

 

Randy:

Zen and the Art of Making a Morris Chair is really about awakening your personal creative potential. So, it’s about creativity and the importance of making something with your hands. I’ve made something – the chair that I’ve made was something I made with my hands, and I realized that there are – it’s really important for all of us, as humans – we have an opposable thumb, and it allows us to do wonderful things, and there’s actually health benefits to moving your hands and making things – knitting, cooking, music-playing, all sorts of different kind of things lend themselves to a healthy outcome and a feeling of, “I can really do this,” so that – that’s what I felt when I made the chair and that’s what I’m hoping to encourage other people to do, is start finding something in their life that they can make and feel accomplished about.

 

Angela:

Now, I know it’s not about the chair, but just in case people are curious, what is – what is a Morris chair? Tell people what that is, and just give ‘em a little sense of how long that project was, how complicated it was, just so they know what we’re talking about.

 

Randy:

Okay. A Morris chair is actually named after William Morris, who was a … philosopher and a business guy, middle 1800s in – in Europe, but my chair is designed and built in the American arts and crafts style, which was part of the art nouveau period, after the Victorian, before we got into post-First World War, and the arts and crafts style was a – a time when many people were encouraged to make things. This is the time when, in 1902, Popular Mechanics started publishing plans for making things, people were learning to take wood shop in their school, they were taking up home economics, and now, in our twenty-first century, we don’t have home economics, we don’t have shop classes. Many individuals would like to be able to balance their work life by making something, they don’t know what to start with, they don’t know if they could do it, they don’t want to do something that they’ll be ashamed of. In my book, I talk about judgment, self-judgment, the judgment of other people, accept in – imperfection, the whole host of other things that wrap around that … idea.

 

Angela:

Love it. Totally love it. So, you made the chair quite some time before you wrote your book. How – how long was it, before you wrote your book?

 

Randy:

I – I built – I built the chair in year 1999 and year 2000. It took me a year to build a chair, it was built out of American white oak, which is the preferred species of wood, and it certainly was not the first project but it – it – actually, the motivation for building the chair came out of a whole series of very unfortunate life experiences. In the mid-1990s, I was working very hard on a – the – re – rehabbing a – a house in a frontier neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I was married, I was working for the city at the time, and in early 1994 of – a man walked up to me, early in the morning, in my neighborhood, put a pistol to my head, and I thought I was going to die.

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

The gun didn’t – didn’t – it didn’t kill me, no shots were fired, but it certainly made a very scary sound, and at that point I – I look at that as … catalyst for a whole cascade of unfortunate events, where I lost my house, my spouse and my job in a relatively short period of time. And during the time when I was starting to figure out what was going to be the next step, I was actually meeting with my estranged wife in the library, since we can’t scream at each other in the library, and I noticed the November 1997 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine which said, “Arts and crafts furniture that you can build,” and I was immediately struck by the idea of starting to build things for myself. I had made things before, I’m a musician, I do lots of things with my hands, I love my hands, but I hadn’t thought about building furniture. So, I found a – with the help of others, I found a – a public shop in Arlington County, where I started building furniture. And by no means should someone suddenly step out and suddenly say, “I’m gonna build a Morris chair.” … I started on very small projects at first, and then built to that –

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

– and built a number of different pieces. The chair took me a year to make, I could only work six hours a week in this public shop, and the book chronicles the steps of building the chair but no one can build a chair from what I’m writing about is more of the life experience and what you will experience when you’re trying to make things.

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

And I’ve had so many experiences that I’ve talked to other people, about what they’re making and their – how they handle the imperfections. When they’re knitting something, how many rows back will you go if you see an imperfection? One woman told me, she would go back three rows which, in a blanket, would be an hour’s worth of work to make sure the piece was correct.

 

Angela:

Uh-huh. Wow.

 

Randy:

And I said … “That – that’s amazing,” and in my book I have a very serious error that I made which I didn’t want to admit to anyone, but when the Smithsonian asked me to demonstrate my chair 2010, they didn’t come to me and say, “Show the imperfections of your chair before we let you show your chair to the Corcoran School of Art.” They said, “We want your chair there, and we want you to demonstrate your chair to the – to the art students,” and that’s what I did.

 

Angela:

Mmm. Amazing. So, the same – the same process, the same perfectionism, the same fears, they come up when you are doing a project like a book, so I wonder, for you –

 

Randy:

 

Angela:

– I know you were – I know you were someone who wasn’t a hundred percent sure that you – that you could write a book, when you signed up to work with us, you were very brave and took a leap. What are some of the pieces of advice that you might give yourself – … if you could go back in time and start the book process again, what did you learn, or what do you know now that you didn’t know before you wrote your book?

 

Randy:

Well, one thing I can tell you is that I would not have done it without you, Angela. ‘Cause you had a program that I could follow, and – and ac – I – the – I’ve talked to other people who are writing things and I say, “Well, … I’ve completed my book, and I think that’s great,” and they say, “Oh, I’m a writer,” and I say … “How are things going,” and they say, “Well, it’s sitting in a drawer on top of the other thing that I’ve also written.” And I don’t know exactly what to say at that point, because I feel as though the process is what I followed and – no question, I – I pushed back against that several times, but it – the – the process w – it was what I grew to recognize, especially the ideal reader –

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

– which, I think, at some point, we’ll be talking about.

 

Angela:

Yeah! Let’s – I don’t – no, I actually don’t even talk about that, normally, but you just did an amazing job with your ideal reader, so talk about how – w – one of the things in – in our program is, we – I call your book a love letter to one person, and so, we spend some – considerable time, and very important time up front getting clear about who you’re writing your book for, so for you, how did that – how did that process change what your book would have been, how did that influence you?

 

Randy:

Well, one of the things in, kind of the short form, is that, I’ve learned from the process that, if I’m trying to write a book that will appeal to everyone, and I try to write it to everyone, no one will see themselves in it, but if I write to one person, many people will see themselves in that. In my case, my – I – I developed a complete, fictional person. The name is Logan, he was thirty-seven years old, he liked to go to museums and looked at amazing things that people made in the past with their hands, but he had no idea how he would do that for himself. And he realized that – that he was – he’s really the same person as any of the other humans in his ancestry or any place where he had gone, that we’re all the same people, eon after eon, but he didn’t know how to make any of those things. He also happens to work in IT, where he taps on a keyboard and generates lots of paperwork and things like that, but at the end of the day, he doesn’t really get much to really carry away, where he was really personally invested in what he was doing, where, if he made a mistake, he was learning about it for himself, and – and no one else needed to know unless he wanted to point it out.

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

But, of course, in you – in your workplace, a – a boss will come along and say, “Well, this isn’t looking too well,” hopefully, they will praise you for that, but – and also, this individual lived in Columbus, Ohio. I know a little bit about Colombus, Ohio, but I … picked middle America. Interestingly, I’ve met – at least two different times, I’ve met this fictional person in real life.

 

Angela:

I love that!

 

Randy:

I don’t remember … the names, but it was shocking when – when this started, and I even told them a little bit about this, but I didn’t – I left off the part about where they lived, and they say, “Well, actually, I work in IT and I’m from Ohio.” And I immediately said, “This is too weird,” but it – it confirmed for me that you have to write to a person, and – and that was always a part of the – the program for – that Angela was – was – is prepared, is that it must fit the ideal reader. At any point – later on, during the editor – the development editor had to know who the ideal reader was. When you went to marketing your book, you had to go ba – I found very valuable for writing my cover copy and things like that. So, back to my ideal reader, in as – essentially query that person who you had conjured up and – and ask them, “What was it that they would like to see on the back of the book that they would then be reading?” It seemed a little unassi – I’m a science person, it seems a little odd, … and no question, I pushed back against some of that, but I learned that I needed to follow the process and I’m very glad I did.

 

Angela:

Aww, I love that! That’s a great way of describing it, and I think so many people like you will have a message they want to get to everyone, and they think the – they think the way to get there is by trying to reach everyone, and it’s really hard to fight that temptation to go broader.

 

Randy:

Oh, yes. Yes.

 

Angela:

When, really – when, really, the key is just to go narrow. I love the examples that have shown up in your life that have showed you how that worked. Are there people who have found your book who are not your ideal reader, who have said that the book resonates with them? Maybe someone who’s not a guy, not in the thirties, not from Ohio. Has – has the book helped them, too, or do you have any evidence of that?

 

Randy:

Oh, yes, Well, of course, the review that are on my Amazon page reflect that, and I’ve met some of those – those individuals, and frequently they’re house ma – they’re in their – mothers who stay at home, or individuals that are attorneys, but then I ask them … “How’s that going,” and they say, “It’s going well,” and say, “So, whe – when you were younger, did you have anything that you made with your hands,” and they said, “Yes, I was drawing. But my dad told me that I should real – drawing probably wasn’t going to be putting food on the table, so I should consider something else,” but now she finds that – she’s still an attorney, but her best day – best part of her day is when she’s going back and doing a drawing for herself. And so, again, I find that this is – this is where people are.  They find themselves within that – the readers of the book find themselves in that because there’s probably something in your past that you’ve made and it’s – again, it’s not really about the chair, it’s about what was your perception of the judgment of others on your – on your work, what was your personal perception of your personal judgment on your work? Are you being too harsh? What about acceptance of – of imperfections when you’re working on something? What about the change in identity when you – when you suddenly realize that somebody says, “Oh! I didn’t know that you draw, you’re an artist!” Some – for some people, that’s a hard – new identity to take on, and – and also, I cover all of these under five different headings in my book, including one having to do with beliefs – the importance of believing in your ability to do this, which is a big part of writing a book. (laughs)

 

Angela:

Yeah.

 

Randy:

And when I started – I wasn’t – I wasn’t sure I was gonna do this! I really wasn’t. So –

 

Angela:

And so, what – what changed your mind? What convinced you? I think there are a lot of people out there who have an idea, they’re thinking about doing it, they’re thinking about not doing it, maybe they’ve been sitting on the fence for a little while, what was the thing that pushed you over the edge?

 

Randy:

The thing that made it possible was that there was a plan, and also – … if you talk to Angela, she will – she will talk to you about your – your – your idea, and, truthfully, I felt supported but I was also a little cautious, because I was being – this – this is a – was – wasn’t – … a revealing sort of thing, to – suddenly you’d start writing about something that is … sort of private, and of course, people liked the chair, but I – was I gonna talk about some other aspects of creativity? Maybe not, but when it comes to deciding what you want to do, at least in this situation, for me, right from the very beginning I knew that I was going to complete. There was no doubt, there was certainly difficulties in between – in – in the month of December, which I was – the month that I was writing, of course there’s holiday parties, my birthday’s in there, my – at that time, my dad was having open heart surgery – it was a whole host of different things that was going on that might have cause you to derail, but I had a plan and I followed the plan, and I had deadlines that I needed to meet and I met those deadlines, and as I met those earlier deadlines I had more confidence to complete the later ones.

 

Angela:

Yeah.

 

Randy:

So, that was – that was a big part of – of it, and I’m very glad that I did complete, because there’s nothing quite like saying, “So, what do you do?” That’s very popular in the Washington, D.C. area, people will say, “Well, what do you do?” and I say, “I’m an artist,” and they say – “Oh, I – I’m an author,” excuse me, “I’m an author,” and they say, “Really?        Have you got a book out?” “Yes. Bestselling auth – Amazon book.” “Really? Do you have a copy?” “Yes, here it is.” It’d be cover, design –

 

Angela:

Well, let’s talk – … everybody – every author gets a chance, at some point to – to – they may or may not take the chance, but every author could say, “I’m an author,” especially if you’ve published a book, I think you earn that right, but you would do that more often than most people on a pretty regular basis. You share your book with people, and you have such an interesting way you do that. How is it that you’ve talked about your book so often to people?

 

Randy:

I have – for a number of years, I’ve worked in the media and done a number of other things, and I continue to be involved in strategic planning in communication. But that’s not every day, and so I fill in some of my days with – I drive in ride share with Uber, and so, I have my car and I have book marks and I hand out a book mark, and if somebody wants to talk about my book, or after I – after they see that I have this book marks and – … conveniently, where people can see it, “Oh, what’s this?” Those are my people anyway, they’re actively involved in their life, they’re interested in what’s going on around them, and so, I have perhaps fifteen to thirty different individuals that I’ve never met before, I get to talk about my book.

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

And it helps me to understand a little bit more about where my mission is, and it’s to help people identify the area of creativity where they can feel very much more connected with their humanity and their humanness by making something. Again and again, I’ve recently been doing some research, the scientific research bes – behind this, and I came across this study that was sponsored by Mayo Clinic that suggests that simply knitting, not just once in a while, but knitting, will reduce your Alzheimer’s risk by thirty to fifty percent. I think that’s significant.

 

Angela:

Yeah.

 

Randy:

I recently attended a – a neurologist’s book event, and he was talking about the importance of playing a musical instrument, and how your ner – the neural plasticity of your brain changes so that it accommodates      the additional stimulus that’s coming from your fingers. So, for example, the left hand in a cello player with the right brain, because those – those signals cross in the brain, is more developed to support that. And the researches out there s – to suggest that it’s really important for us to connect with our humanity and our humanness by making things, or as one of my riders in my car said one day, she said – they said, “You mean, Randy, our – our thumb is for more than just the spacebar on our keyboard?”

 

Angela:

Yeah.

 

Randy:

That was … significant for me. So, I’ve – I’m now – perhaps I – I don’t wanna get overboard here, but it’s really much like some people would like to expand or do something like that, that – that’s useful as well for exercise, but when it finally comes down to it, it’s really, really important to be – from my perspective, from the perspective of my book, I can tell you the – the satisfaction of sitting in my chair is unparalleled.

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

People ask me if I – what’s that like, they said, “Do you still have it?” I said, “Of course!” “It said, “Are you making other pieces?” I said, “No, there’s only one.” I – I – I – … moving on to other things, but – but I … – play – play the piano, I do a number of other things, and when I encounter other people that don’t, it’s sad.

 

Angela:

So – so, when you’re – when you’re driving, and someone wants to talk about your book, w – what, for you, do you think, has been the best thing to come out of that experience? Most people don’t get – I don’t know if you drive every day, but most people don’t get daily or weekly experience … pitching their book, and I know you actually even sell it. People can actually buy their – buy your book if they’re – if they’re in your car for a ride.

 

Randy:

Autographing.

 

Angela:

How do you think that has changed – oh, and you’ll autograph ….

 

Randy:

Sure.

 

Angela:

How has that changed you as – as an author, or enhanced your marketing skills? What do you think has come out of that?

 

Randy:

Well, one thing that I’ve grown to really realize is that the mass of humanity and the – the need that people have. Everyone is highly stressed, there’s huge differences between day of the week and the weekend, many people are turning to alcohol or something else, which is fine. It’s great. That – maybe – what – the reason that they’re taking the car, but when it finally comes down to it, people are – I believe – are looking for – frequently, sometimes – are looking for something that will change that – their personal trajectory, and I’ve had people say, “I am so glad that I met you. After talking with you, I am so glad that we had this conversation, because I’m either revived,” or “I have – I’m gonna pick that up again,” or … “I was thinking about giving back to my – to my cooking.” I’ve had men and women who are cooking. I say, “What do you cook? What are you making?” … I had one guy who makes soap.

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

… very reluctant to talk about it. I said, “Wow, making soap!” So, we talked about the importance of … where was the – where did he find his glycerin and all the other different kind of things, and it’s fascinating for me because I don’t know about soap making. But, again, it’s the same principles: acceptance, imperfection, belief, identity, all that. They’re the same things. These are – this is about personal creativity, and a lot of people are trying to be creative in their work and they don’t find it. I’m not suggesting that anyone stop their full time job if it’s working out for them, and suddenly go live in a hut someplace and spin pottery, that would not be my objective. But if you can find some way to do something that will … become your project, where you really have – you are … something that is your thing, then I will have felt as though I’ve made a difference for them.

 

Angela:

And have you gotten feedback from people who have said they have done projects, or that your book made a difference for them?

 

Randy:

Yes. I – I have – I’ve met – I’ve met – it’s actually the – of course, the people around me, people that know me and know friends, they frequently will buy a book or know about it, and my – my nieces’ mother-in-law is open to a number of different ideas, yoga and things like that, and she was – she was very impacted by the idea that she would be – it’s – sometimes, it’s – it’s a reminder that – … people just need to be reminded that this is another option.

 

Angela:

Yeah.

 

Randy:

Something for you to do, before the kids came along, or something they used to do. I met a guy yesterday, he’s trying to learn to play the guitar and I was telling him about music theory while we were driving along, and he said, oh, and his wife is spinning pottery. We didn’t have the time – enough time to really chat …, and of course, he wasn’t there. My first question would have said, “How do you feel when you’re doing that?”

 

Angela:

Mmm.

 

Randy:

I can tell you, the first word that everyone says is, “I feel accomplished.” What kind of … during your day, do you feel accomplished?

 

Angela:

Right.

 

Randy:

If you can – if you told somebody that you would feel accomplished by making your own stuff, I think that people would move toward that.

 

Angela:

Yes. Well, I love this. Randy, your work is such a great metaphor for, or parallel to, writing a book. Obviously, the work of your hands is different, because it’s usually on a keyboard, but the sense of accomplishment from finishing a project like a book, I think, is very similar to these projects, so –

 

Randy:

 

Angela:

– I’m so grateful you shared your message with us today. Randy Gafner is the author of Zen and the Art of Making a Morris Chair, you can find that on Amazon. Check out more about – about Randy at awakencreativepotential.com. Randy, thank you again for all your insights and congratulations on your book.

 

Randy:

Thank you very much, Angela, and you can also check me on Facebook at Awaken Creative Potential, I have a community page there. Thank you very much!

 

Angela:

I love it, Awaken Creative Potential. Guys, we will be back next week, awakening more creative potential of our own, here at Book Journeys Radio, thanks for joining us.

 

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