Carving out my place in the world

As a young boy I watched my father take a block of wood and hold it in his hands. Others saw a piece of rubbish, but my father saw the value hidden below the surface. He’d analyze the wood, turn it over in his hands, and examine it for imperfections. When he was satisfied, he put the slab down on the table, take out a pencil, and outline an image of a mallard duck; a dog sniffing the ground; or an old hobo.

The image would be roughly drawn, but included enough detail that you could make out the shape. He would then pull out a small chisel or pocketknife. He bought the knife when he was a young man and it showed years of use, but he kept it sharp enough to shave away the fine hairs on his forearm. When everything was just perfect, he’d make his first cut.

He’d carve off a few small flakes. The wood chips would hit his leg and fall to the floor. My usually talkative father would stay silent while he worked. He’d look down expressionless and take one smooth, deliberate cut after another. After an hour or so, the flakes would pile on the floor and you’d begin to make out the beginnings of a face or a pair of arms. With each cut, the image became crisper and clearer, until you saw a somber sea captain starring back at you. 

From nothing, comes something

I never learned how to carve like my father. He didn’t like us kids playing with his sharp knives. He worried we’d cut ourselves. Despite his stern warnings, I would occasionally sneak into our basement where he kept most of his tools and try to carve something out of a stray piece of wood I found lying on the ground. I’d take a few child-like strokes and then give up as soon as I had started, racing back outside to ride bike or upstairs to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I didn’t have the strength to cut through the wood or the patience to see it through to completion. I couldn’t see where one small cut mixed together with a few others would take me.

Carving out my own path

I gave up any thoughts of becoming an expert craftsman like my father, but I soon found out that I could create bold, striking characters and images like him in other ways. I learned that I too could create something from nothing.

I learned that I could write.

Like my father, the images came from the deep recesses of my mind. I’d stare at a blank piece of paper, twirling my pencil in my hand, round-and-round, until I could see exactly in my mind what I wanted to put down on paper. And when the moment came and I was ready to put pencil to paper, my hand raced to get everything down. The words jumped out of my head. Some of them I kept, others I erased in a flurry of eraser dust. I’d add word-upon-word, until like my father, you could start to see something take shape on the page. I viewed the process like a giant puzzle board. I’d fit a piece here, another piece there, until I looked down and had colorful story in front of me.

Stories all my own 

We’re writing this month on The Heart of the Matter about growth. For me, this is the moment, I learned what it meant to be a creative person. In my world, I controlled everything. I put the winning run on third base with two outs and the best hitter coming to the plate. I created magical, mystical lands with fiery dragons and heroic knights. I wrote too about my dog, Snoopy, and her life as a superhero. Snoopy, a small Toy Terrier-Fox Terrier mix with penetrating eyes, was interested more in sleeping and her next meal than becoming the next “Lassie,” but that didn’t matter. I was the one in charge.

While many of my classmates were bored with school writing assignments, I couldn’t get enough of them. I could let my imagination run wild and be rewarded for it.

The power of the pen

My writing gave me freedom. When I was writing, I wasn’t the smallest, or the shyest kid in the class anymore. I could scale tall buildings or I could see for myself what it was like to have the strength of ten men. In the simplest terms, I could go anywhere that I wanted. I could communicate my thoughts and ideas — yes, my very own — and not have to worry about my stutter or stammer.

My writing gave me confidence and let me be me.

I’ve changed a great deal in years since I first started writing — I’m a husband and father with three grown kids of my own — but I still write for many of the same reasons. I write to touch others and for myself.

Where does your creativity and growth come from?


Please join in on the discussion on the HoTM site. In addition, please visit my personal blog at or follow me on Instagram at @writingfromtheheartwithbrian.

All the best, Brian.

The first image via Pexels; the rest taken by me.

21 thoughts on “Carving out my place in the world

  1. So much to love and admire in this post, Brian. Thank you seems insufficient. You’ve managed to lovingly honor your father, while acknowledging the gift he gave you – although in a different medium/method – as you create with words. The talent in creating flows from him to you in your rich descriptions of his woodworking skills. And the photos? Beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank you for sharing…a wonderful reminder that although our parents’ lives may have been different from our own, identifying and cherishing their creativity keeps their goodness near. 💕

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Aww, thanks Vicki! It means a lot. While both creative pursuits, I never made the connection between the two until I was an adult. It took leaving home for me to see how similar we were. Yes, the photos don’t do his carvings justice. He didn’t finish all of them (like the praying Jesus) but it doesn’t take anything away from them. Thanks for the feedback!!!! 🙂 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a gift to have been exposed to and inspired by your father’s craft, as well as his patience, attention to detail, and all those skills necessary to turn nothing into something. The final products are beautiful, to boot! Love this whole post, Brian. 😊

    I was also a shy kid, but I felt like a different and braver person when I was writing stories and making things. My dad was a hobby musician and actor and my mom a gardener, and both always encouraged creativity, curiosity, and exploration without a destination. Like you, I think I was a product of my environment, and think the creative support helped me find my own voice in a deafeningly loud world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like your phrasing Erin, creativity is a gift. My father and I didn’t always get along, but I valued the creativity and love of creating that he passed along to me. And you are so right, my writing gave me the confidence I needed. I was such a shy kid. With it, I could do anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Your father’s work is amazing, thanks for sharing photos. He gave you a gift of creating. Like Erin, I was a shy child too, and writing was a way I could express myself without too much exposure. I took drama in college and it hurt to be rejected after an audition. But if I was writing and a piece was rejected, it didn’t feel as personal. I was able to continue on and improve.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, they’re pretty neat carvings. My brother has a few pieces, I have a few others (ducks, wooden chains, a cub scout neckerchief slide). The pictures don’t do them justice. You bring up a good question. What’s the worst rejection, an audition or having my writing rejected? An audition would be hard because it would be hard to put myself out there. I know my writing best though, so I would probably agree with you, better to get the feedback and move on. Plus, I feel more confident about my own writing, while also being more critical of it. I’d probably take someone else’s comments with ease, can’t be worse than what I’ve already told myself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree with you on rejections in writing. It’s an opportunity to learn something. Or in some cases disagree with and realize the editor is 21 or 22 years old! 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve written such a beautiful piece making the connections between your father’s work and yours. Author William Plomer describes creativity as “the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” And that’s what you’ve done in honing his legacy! Absolutely marvelous!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww, thanks Wynne, very touching. I love that quote too. Yes, I’m sure my writing was my way connecting and finding some commonality with my dad. There were still times I probably would’ve preferred being a carver like him … but I’m glad now how it turned out. Writing gave me a voice! Thanks so much, your perspective really helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. How nice that your father passed his creativity on to you, even if you use a different medium! I think we all have something we’re good at and that gives us satisfaction, but the trick is to discover our own, unique gifts!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hmmmm…my creativity comes from the world around me. I get inspiration from literally everything. And because writing this made me think of something else I forgot the second part of the question

    Liked by 1 person

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