I remember waking up late at night when we lived in a basement, listening to my mother crying because she needed to decide if feeding her kids or providing a roof for them was more critical. I listened to heated arguments and was sent to my grandmothers, only to learn we moved somewhere else when we returned. We moved often and seldom stayed in a place for more than two years, so I never bothered to meet people. I was used to sudden changes, from constantly moving from town to town or changing family dynamics; it didn’t bother me until I got older. I didn’t care much for what was happening around me as a child because I learned how to have power and create a happy place by daydreaming. I gave up having any control in the real world, perfectly content to do as I was told. It was when I moved to Montana, a place I still consider my home, that I started returning to the real world. I grew to love spending more time in the cold pine forests, nestling against fallen trees and listening to the birds. It brought me out of my shell, and I began making real connections with the people around me. I had people I could talk to or secluded mountains to disappear into and think about when I got upset. It was the first time I had close friends and neighbors and the stability to start planning my future career and educational path. Even though moving from my home to Arizona has been one of the most beneficial things to me in the long run, I didn’t think so at the time. I became angry and frustrated, verbally lashing out at people. I felt like a child again. I lost contact with friends and saw my plan disappear. I had no healthy outlet for my emotions, but I had access to knives.
In my second year of living in Arizona, I stumbled on woodcarving, also known as whittling, is an easy hobby that you can do almost anywhere. All you need to get started is a sharp knife and wood. Practicing the slow monotonous movement of peeling off layers from the soft basswood is hypnotic and has a way of blocking out everything around you. The first significant project I carved was a small duck from a 1×1 piece of basswood. I didn’t use any stencils or have a clear plan. I would just keep cutting till it slowly gained shape, often making mistakes, taking long breaks, nicking my fingers with the blade, and fumbling, but the ability to physically see and feel my work come to fruition was a feeling I had never felt. Whole days would go by without me noticing, feeling like it was only me and my project.
I had complete and utter control of what was in front of me. Every accidental groove was my own fault. Every drop of blood was from my carelessness. It might be strange but learning from mistakes felt more critical than finishing the duck. It was absolutely ugly, misshapen, and poorly stained, but it was mine. Looking at it helped me realize how much it pulled me out of my depressing thoughts. It helped me feel more control over my life and gave me a healthy outlet for anger. I had started to view problems in my life differently. I stopped trying to fix problems in one day, such as cleaning the house and yard, and instead, I would work on them little by little, sometimes leaving less important projects like setting up a fence till I was confident enough to face them. My more relaxed attitude towards stress was noticed by others as well. I started making friends. I was more pleasant to be around and didn’t get as angry as I used to at inconveniences. I had also moved up in my workplace from sandwich artist to being trusted to open Subway by myself because of my relaxed ability to handle customers. When I get stressed now by mean people or change, instead of getting mad, finding a bottle, or carving skin, I think of working and planning carving projects to put me in an excited mood, giving me something to look forward to. While practicing, the action of peeling wood relaxes me when I feel overwhelmed, whittling has also given me the confidence to try new hobbies, such as shooting bows and baking. I have learned that progress happens a little at a time, and while I can’t control everything, there are things I can do. I can manage my habits and how I react to the world around me.