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Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft

by Ross Laird

In Grain of Truth, Ross Laird uses his myriad craft projects as a vehicle to explore craft as a metaphor for self-awareness. Dividing his ruminations into eight sections titled after the essential symbols of Taoism, Laird’s journey to self-realization is a meandering sort of trip from cabinet to wooden box to marimba and more.

At times the writing is as precise as a slide rule. Take this, on sharpening: “Absence of light is what marks an edge as truly sharp; a blade that shines at its edge is dull. The perfect blade is invisible.” Exactly. Too often, though, Laird’s verbiage overwhelms the reader. It’s as if there is a kind of disconnect at work in Grain of Truth – Laird seems to want to present a contemplative book, but he never stops talking long enough for the reader to relax and take in his message.

He also can’t decide which mantle to wear: poet, philosopher, craftsman, storyteller – they’re all here, too often speaking at cross-purposes. For example, on a trip to a sawmill Laird claims: “I share a camaraderie with these uncommon fellows, a strong resonance for the spirit of craft that shines in them.” But one of the “old-timers” he feels such a “resonance” for, a sawmill operator named Karl, is introduced as a “crusty eccentric” who “jabbers on about the power outage.” Laird describes the trip to the backyard sawmill as if it is some sort of journey into another culture. Far from “camaraderie,” the visit comes across as a piece of tourism.

Laird’s fascination for the creative process is apparent, but he never gets down to the meat of his problem. Why does he hole up in his shop after a busy day of work to make these things? What drives Ross Laird? And what are the lessons to be learned from craft? Perhaps if Laird had practiced more of the plain talk he praised in the old-timers, those lessons would have been more apparent.