Under the Bridge

A few weeks ago I received some comments on the ‘French Connection’ series. The reader stated that he wasn’t “convinced” by my approach and that I had wandered off from “real world” carpentry by making a bend in the beams of the three-legged bench. He then said he was not a trained carpenter nor “a skilled and knowledgeable joiner” but that “surely” the solution to the leg-beam join issue was to “simply reduce the width of the legs.”

I came to this message after having come back from the shop where things were not looking especially good with my SCM planer and I was worried I might have to spend a bunch of money I didn’t have. So, with that squatting on my mind, I didn’t exactly take the comment in a spirit of expansiveness, rather as a bit abrasive and confrontational, and implying that I was stupid for not considering such a “simple” solution to the bench problem.

I posted his comment and then replied to it with a point-by-point rebuttal of his contentions. I then suggested he might want to consider that after the extensive study and drawing I have done on this piece over  the past several years, along with other examples from the Mazerolle book, that he might want to consider that fact before posting. Yes, I probably would have been better off leaving that bit out. I also said I didn’t much like the tone of his comment as I perceived it.

A couple of days later, came the return from the same fellow, which stated that while he enjoyed my blog and admired my work, he suspected I was desperate for approval and admiration, which was demonstrated clearly because I posted pictures of ‘dial gauge readouts’. He concluded with a remark that he would continue to visit my blog, then tossed in some name-calling and dared me to post his comment.

This reminded me of the sort of situation where you are walking down a hallway and see someone coming the other way who is clearly walking so as to be a little bit in your path – deliberately so. Male territoriality, that sort of thing. Though you don’t know who this person is you decide to hold your ground as you pass and shoulders are bumped. Kinda like a scene out of junior high school I guess. Then, next thing you know, the guy you bumped rapidly and surprisingly escalates from his posturing to actual attack and you find yourself the recipient of a pummeling. Some people are seemingly set off like rabid dogs with the slightest of provocations, and I can only wonder what sort of unfortunate life experiences they may have had to lead them to such a pattern of behavior. That hair-trigger temper thing – I don’t really understand it.

The commenter certainly knew how to craft his words to be hurtful, as if he’d had practice with that sort of thing. And they were hurtful. Some things are like water off a duck’s back for me, but other things can cause me to toss and turn at night.

While there is some grain of truth in the comments – I certainly do like recognition for my work. It’s a motivation, but only one of several that keep me going. I also like taking on new challenges and learning, then sharing with others about the process. I feel validated when others share their enthusiasm for the same things I am into. I do think at times I can be judgmental, patronizing and sarcastic. I own that those are unfortunate personality traits – and that I can work on them – and it is helpful sometimes if they are pointed out for me. Perhaps not pointed out in quite the blunt-instrument manner chosen by the commenter though.

I did post the comment. Then, talking with my wife later on in the day, she asked me if that was the sort of thing I wanted a client – or readers in general for that matter – to read, and that it is my blog after all and that I got to choose what I wanted posted here. I realized that it would be best to scrub the exchange from ‘the record’. A bit of a difficult choice to make, as I have no interest in censoring people, and certainly am open to criticism, however I also recognized that the exchange added nothing of constructive value to my blog.

What aggrieved me the most about the exchange though was the very anonymity of the commenter, and if someone is going to accuse me of things, or attack me, I think I have a right to know who that person is. But boy, how easy it is in this medium to remain hidden and make jabs at someone!

This anonymity issue is a recognized problem with the web. Politicians have proposal bills to curb it. When people can be anonymous some might say things they would never dare to say face-to-face. The anonymity allows a coward to take their potshots, and behave maliciously without any chance of being held accountable for their remarks. It’s just like a digital version of the comments one can see written on a bathroom wall. Like the whispering campaign. Like the subversive manipulation of others to bring them around to a dislike of a third party. All are forms of bullying, and all bullies are driven by fear. Many places on the web now are chock-full of these sorts of shit-disturbers, and they are generally referred to as ‘trolls’, dragging their words along the bottom and kicking up muck, trying to snag the discussion off into the tangent they prefer. I have learned to steer clear of the comments section on a great number of places now, like Huffington Post, BBC news, etc. as I find just glancing at a few of the comments put forth by these sorts of people can cast a pall on my entire day and give me a darker vision of mankind than I would prefer to carry around in my head. I’m not interested in developing a thicker skin than I’ve already accrued at this stage in life.

I’ve been blogging for 4 years now and have received many wonderful comments and questions from readers over the years. Some comments have even led to entire posts devoted just to the issues raised by the commenter, a process that I have much enjoyed, and it would appear the same has gone for the respective commenter. I have also had a few negative and nasty comments along the way. Very few really – like three. The interesting thing though is that each of the attack comments – and I remember them well – was left by someone who preferred to remain anonymous. Tells you something right there.

Anyway, the purposely nasty comment received last week left me feeling a bit uninspired, as far as this blog goes. I was asking myself if there was any real point in continuing this blog at all when you have to deal with jerky comments from the shadows, not to mention the spam that arrives several times per week by folks who hope you might not be reading closely and will miss the commercial link they have inserted. Funny thing is, when you go to those spammer’s homepages they have the commenting disabled and no email address listed. Hmm. some would say that if you put yourself out there in public, this comes as part of the package, and maybe that is true.

I also considered removing the option of commenting from the blog. For years I’ve asked that people leave their full name, even while commenting under ‘anonymous’, however that request often ignored or unread it would seem and I end up deleting a few fine comments as a result. I do understand why people may wish to remain somewhat anonymous, and so when ‘Joe’ or ‘Adam’, or ‘Steve’ comment, I generally post their comment regardless even though I may have no idea who they are or even if they are using their real names.

Then this morning a received a very nice comment and question on my Japanese gate typology series from a woman who told me she had enjoyed the read and had learned about gates she had never heard of previously, and that reminded me of why it can be so nice to receive comments. And it’s got nothing to do with some sort of ego stroke or seeking for approval – those gates after all were not my accomplishments. Nor is my writing likely to garner any literary prizes. I am primarily interested in sharing my passion for traditional carpentry practice, particularly from Japan, and if my efforts lead someone to read my content and come away with a positive impression and appreciation for the depth of the carpentry work I admire and seek to emulate, if maybe they have learned something new, if they are a bit inspired, then I feel successful in what I do as far as blogging is concerned. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

So, I think I’ll leave commenting functionality in place here on the Carpentry Way, however I am going to have to be stricter in which comments I allow. Full name only from now on, and I’ll look at the settings to see what other options I might have. If somebody is uncomfortable posting with their real name in a public setting, then the option is always there for them to send me an email.

And you know, I don’t post up pictures of my ‘dial gauge readouts’ because I’m desperate for approval. I do it because a picture demonstrates the point clearly. It shows that it is possible for woodworking to be done accurately, for at least some woodworking equipment to create accurate results. And I like precision in woodwork, find it satisfying to accomplish it in my work, and in fact find the topic of metrology inherently interesting in and of itself. I do know that it – precision in woodwork I mean – rubs some people the wrong way. That in itself is curious. I well realize that some think that because wood moves it is some massive waste of time to try and be accurate (I don’t agree!). There are lots of blogs and forums out there and all sorts of perspectives, and mine is but one of those.

I’ll continue to share my thoughts and enthusiasms for woodwork by way of this blog, the two study groups I’m involved with, and by the work I do. I’m not going to let those who wish to dampen that down, or put me down, to stop me.

Thanks for coming by –  I’ll return to posting in the next few days. Suddenly I have a lot of work on the plate and time is at a premium, so I suspect posting will be less frequent for the next while.

26 thoughts on “Under the Bridge

  1. Chris, I don't feel you need to defend yourself on what and how you post. People are free to read your blog or not. The commenter “may” have had a point, but I believe it was the wording of what he was trying to say that offended you. He could have simply asked if you had thought of reducing the width of the legs or why it wasn't an option without the other comments.
    Your work is way above the work I do, or could hope to achieve, but I enjoy seeing how your mind works as you solve the detail “problems?” that come up in your woodworking.
    Please keep blogging!

  2. Good to hear that the comment option will not be disabled. This feature really contributes to your blog since it gives us the readers a way to communicate.
    Your work speaks for itself you shouldn't feel the need to defend it since it is obvious for anyone with the smallest sense craftwork.

  3. Chris,
    I greatly enjoy your observations. When I get on line, Carpentry Way is my first destination after email. I'm a middling amateur woodworker, but you don't have to write like Charles Dickens to appreciate his novels. Please keep the blog going, and thank you.

  4. Hi Chris,

    I was a bit saddened to see that an anonymous comment got to you this way. When one dons the cloak of invisibility and attacks, what are we to do? In my mind, it's no different than pelting rocks at the windows of your neighbors when they are asleep.

    I am glad you haven't decided to not blog or disallow comments or something else. But if you must make some hard changes, I certainly would understand. I have learned a lot here and inspired by your work (though I just tinker with wood in my garage over weekends) and will continue to read the blog. Allow me to thank you for your kind comments and publishing them even when I forgot to add my name.

    Praki Prakash

  5. I truly enjoyed the Japanese Gate Typology series and loved the story of the new planer. However, I admit that the esoteric constructions of the French Connection had me cutting the reading short. People can be rude for a variety of reasons, but I find that it is mainly a defensive reaction to being made to feel inferior. Perhaps your anonymous reader was just as lost as I was by the complexity and instead of moving on, decided to let his discomfort be known in the only way he knew how.

    Keep up the good work, even the mindbending parts! ㋡

  6. I can not say that it ever came across as this is how perfect I am but more this is how perfect wood can be worked and grain be damed . I am more that sure you have run across others that are better at some of this than you …. We all have in our own fields of expertise . I also wonder if some of the French joinery master pieces you mention , do not have seams at the points were they could never have gone together as one piece and just have nails to hold them together. Some things are always just fudged when they leave the 3d cad world. Keep up the good work.

  7. Hi Chris,

    You put forth an amazing amount of energy in your blogs. I'm sure you know by now how many folks are appreciative of your long-form writing. Please don't allow the thoughtlessness and negativity of a few knucleheads get in your way. You have an import tool at your disposal: the delete button.

  8. Julie,

    you're right, it was the wording that offended me and the commenter may have intended otherwise. My comment in response was not as judiciously worded as it might have been also.

    I appreciate your support!


  9. Dave,

    I thank you for sharing your perspective. I'm sure I have other readers who wish I would post more technical details on the French Connection series and who find the non-technical entries less satisfying. I try to hold that in balance. One more post to come in the gate typology series too!


  10. Gregoré,

    thanks for your comment. Please know that it is never 'grain be damned' in anything I do. In fact, grain orientation is something I pay a lot of attention to. And yes, there will always be greater and lesser people. There are many awesome carpenters our there who leave me in the dust I'm sure, they just don't go online much or feel like sharing their voice.


  11. Tico,

    thanks. I am also grateful for the 'delete' button for comments, and am glad blogger added it about a year ago. Have you ever had any problems with trolling?


  12. Gordon,

    I appreciate hearing that and while I cannot always promise to satisfy in that regard, I'll do my best to keep it interesting!


  13. Chris, quite a number of people have followed and enjoyed your blog for many years. There is a reason for that.


  14. I find this a brilliant blog to read for information, entertainment and a little dry wit of course! I also found Chris to be extremely helpful and courteous a couple of years back when I needed someone of experience to ask some questions of. A lot to be said for someone who puts themselves out there in such a positive way I think…
    Brian Mulvey

  15. Chris

    Has it only been four years? I don't know how I found your blog, but I'm SO glad I did. I have been inspired by your enthusiasm, infectious in the best sense of the word! The series on the bell-tower was fascinating. The series on the Japanese plane-sole configuration was extremely helpful, and this series on Japanese mon is so interesting. Any posts on metrology will, I'm sure, be worth reading. So don't stop.

    As the Buddha said: 'They blame him who speaks much. They blame him who says nothing. They also blame him who says little.'

    Don't stop.

    T.D. Culver

Anything to add?