Hey guys, how’s it going?
Facebook sent me a notification that I haven’t posted in a while and that I’ve been neglecting my 159 faithful friends, so my apologies. Here’s an update on my life:
First off, let me just say that this whole woodworking thing started off as something to do while I was recovering from my hernia surgery back in February of 2016. The only rehab that was prescribed was to do as much walking as possible, which I did. The downside was that we were in the middle of winter and I was terrified of slipping and falling as I walked my way around the snow-covered vineyard in our backyard. To stabilize myself, I grabbed my old “souvenir” hiking stick that I carved after my son and I got back from Algonquin Park a few years ago. Up until that point, I never used my hiking stick, and truthfully, I didn’t know what I was missing out on.
Aside from the confidence that it gave me with each well-balanced step, I liked how it felt in my hand. I began to create a rhythm as I walked – a right-handed spike with every fourth step of the left foot forward. One (right), two (left), three (right), spike (left), one (right), two (left), three (right), spike (left), and so on. I marched along with the help of my old curvy friend.
All of this got me thinking; everyone who has ever had a hernia surgery should have one of these things. Shouldice was charging patients a hundred bucks for a light (and useless) massage for cripe’s sake. Instead of that, I thought, everyone should just have a stick. Way better! Totally practical! And maybe I could figure out a way to even get OHIP to pay for it! I was excited at the prospect of helping others. As a business – any business, if you can help other people to solve their problems, and provide them with a need (not just a want), than what better way to make a living?
At that same time, my good friend John was preparing himself to take some time off of work so he could get a double hernia surgery. A double!! That’s crazy, I thought. There was one guy in the hospital when I was there who was getting both sides done only a few days apart, and he was a total wreck. I felt bad for John, so this inspired me to make him a hiking stick of his own.
Then, in just a few short weeks, the snow began to melt and the hiking trails were once-again accessible, albeit muddy, icy and slippery as all heck. My walks had grown in distance and my lower abdomen was getting stronger. It was time to take it up a notch and finally hit the trails again. So I did, but then that got me thinking as well; the trails are beautiful in the Spring, but dangerous to inexperienced hikers. I asked myself, would I want my friends or family to be out here to experience all of this beauty for themselves? Yes, I thought, but not without a hiking stick. So I made a bunch more and gave them out as gifts.
Eventually, people (mostly friends and co-workers) asked me to make them their own. They even offered to pay me for them. Cool! Was this the start of my initial dream – my vision? It sure felt like it. Suddenly and out of nowhere, woodcarving felt like my calling. Making hiking sticks and canes felt like my calling. Promoting healthy living and the benefits of exercise through hiking (both mental and physical) felt like my calling. So naturally, I went with the flow. Did I know what I was doing? Not in the slightest.
Fast forward a few months later and my insecurities were definitely starting to get the better of me. I was gaining attention as a local artist and woodworker, but this was still all very new to me, so to some extent, I felt a bit like a fraud. Who was I to call myself a woodworker or an artist for that matter, when there were people out there – legit master carpenters, that had the experience and the ability to do what I only dreamed of doing? How could I grow as a woodworker if I had no basic skillset? The solution: I needed to get those skills, one way or another.
I applied for several different carpentry jobs that I had seen on Kijiji, and I even had a couple of interviews, but nobody wanted to take a chance on a washed-up 43-year old woodcarving bartender who wasn’t sure if carpentry was his thing or not. I mean, how could I know for sure if I’d never done it before? And no employer wanted to be the guinea pig in my little social experiment. Until one day…
I got a call from a finish carpenter who was looking to add to his crew. Experience wasn’t a must, just a desire to learn. I wrote a strong, compelling letter and within a day, I was showing up for an interview, which unlike my previous interviews (which were all conducted sitting in an office), I was given several tasks to complete (including using a mitre saw for the first time – man, those things are crazy dangerous if you’re not careful), and next thing I knew, he offered me the job. He said I learned quickly and did good work. I was thrilled and immediately accepted. On the drive home however, it kinda dawned on me that I already had a full-time job, with benefits, that paid about double (if not triple) the amount that this new guy was offering me, and now I had to make a tough decision. One job represented my future, but it required sacrifice. The other, as much as I enjoyed it, was starting to feel like the epitome of a dead-end job, and obviously represented my past.
The initial plan was to work in carpentry on a full-time basis and continue to bartend at the Irish Harp Pub on a part-time basis, predominantly on weekends, but it didn’t take long before it became evident that working at the Harp just wasn’t going to work out. Soon, I retired from bartending so that I could focus solely on carpentry and my woodworking. It was a big risk on my part. The transformation happened so quickly, I barely had time to process all of the changes that were happening in my life. Major credit needs to go out to my wife who gave me strength and support throughout all of this. Change isn’t easy. Having someone in your corner definitely helps.
Then, to my surprise, I got laid-off two days before Christmas. Welcome to the construction business I guess.
At the present moment, I’m still working on a few custom woodworking projects here and there, but nothing too intense – certainly not to the extent of what I was doing over the winter months. And despite a couple of tempting job offers, I ultimately decided not to get back into carpentry. My old Jeep and my even older back weren’t enjoying it very much, but I did learn a lot, so mission accomplished I guess. I tried something different, and as a result, I picked up an entirely new skill-set in the process.
The good news is that I now have a full-time job that I like very much where I basically get to talk about hiking, kayaking, and wilderness camping all day, which when you think about it, really is the perfect fit for me. Plus I’m just about to start bartending again in Toronto on Saturday nights, so that should be interesting.
I still plan on doing a bit of woodworking now and then, but probably not as much until after the summer ends, so until then, I hope you don’t mind me posting the occasional picture from one of my hiking or kayaking adventures. Also, I’m really looking forward to going wilderness camping again with my son in a few weeks from now, and I definitely plan on concentrating more time and energy on a few new writing projects.
Anyway, that’s my life in a nutshell. I appreciate everyone’s support (especially those of you who literally helped me to pay my bills over these past few months) and please know that I’m not giving up, but at the same time, I must continue to grow and evolve as a person and as an artist. In other words, I’m not quite done with woodworking just yet, but if I do decide to move on, then that’ll be the end of that. And hopefully you’ll understand why.
Oh and in case you missed it, my brother and I recently created a short film entitled: The Fallen Trail where I attempted to channel my inner Bill Mason. Coincidentally, I probably spend way too much time trying to make myself laugh. Anyway, check it out and share it on your social media. It would be greatly appreciated. Cheers!
Love you all.
“Freddy” James Ryan
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