I am always a little late to the first night of classes. I hate being late for anything. But I have Host duties to attend to, so I always arrive about a half hour late. My co-host Cory says the worst thing about this is that you miss the introductions.
My spinning teacher over the weekend caught me up herself – she went around the room and basically introduced everyone to me as a way to remind herself of who we all were. Tonight, when I bounced into my woodturning class at 7:15 and took my seat, the instructor asked me to tell everyone a little about myself, “but what I really want to know is why you signed up for a woodturning class.”
“Because I’ve never done it – well, except for eighth grade shop class,” I said. The guy next to me laughed and pointed at our instructor, Steve. “You, too?” I asked. He nodded his head. Later I found out Steve did some woodturning in middle school, too. Then years later he took a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and now he’s here teaching.
I finished my introduction by explaining my host position with my standard spiel: I’m here for four months working for the school in exchange for room, board, and a class every week. That last part elicits gasps many times – people spend years dreaming of coming here and taking one class, and here I am in the midst of taking fourteen. But my three classmates – all men – weren’t as emotionally reactive to my statement, which was fine by me.
Steve went on and told us how the week would go, then he led us over to a side room and doled out canvas bags with our tools in them. We picked our work stations, opened our cabinets, and placed the tools in their holders. I had no idea what any of them were. Thankfully, this is a beginners class, so I’m not expected to know anything.
But I wanted to know this: Were my classmates all true beginners, too? As Steve came to each person’s station to be sure we had all the other devices we needed, one of my classmates said, “I have a hostess question for you, if that’s okay.”
“Sure!” I said. I can’t tell you what joy I derive from being a resource to people – someone they can go to for the answer to a question. It was one of the things I loved about my park ranger job, too.
“I’m staying locally with my wife and parents,” he explained. “We rented a cabin. I see there are evening activities here – can they come to those?”
“Definitely,” I told him. “They can come to the demonstrations in the afternoons, too. They can come anytime and take a look at what you’re doing, or walk around to the other studios and see what else is going on.”
My woodturning classmate gave me a look that said he wasn’t so sure he wanted the family around that much. So I changed the subject and got into what I really wanted to know. “So have you ever done this before?” I asked him.
“Nope. This is my first time,” he said. I was relieved. Sometimes experienced folks take beginner classes – because it was the only week they could come, or because they like the instructor, or they just want some studio time. This is fine because sometimes these folks are another resource for you, but can also be intimidating.
Turns out none of my classmates have ever done this before. But all three have something very unusual in common: they’re all here thanks to birthday gifts. One guy got a trip here as a gift from his wife. One guy gave it as a birthday gift to himself. How fabulous. I’m a big fan of giving yourself a birthday gift.
“How’d you hear about this place?” I ask him. It’s my default conversation-starter here at the Folk School. (On a plane, I ask “Are you coming or going?” When I was a park ranger, it was “Where are you visiting from?”)
“I picked up a catalog in a doctor’s office about twenty years ago,” he explained. “I’ve gotten the catalogs on and off since then. Next month’s my birthday so I decided it was finally time to come.”
So here they are: three men celebrating their birthdays. With me:)