The Balance of Being Work-Hardened

It’s funny to me that of all the creative outlets we have in this world, jewelry — namely, making whistle necklaces that don’t actually function as whistles — has become my thing. I totally love it though. In a way, it fits me. I imagine elegant paintings by a poised artist, or the careful eye of patient potter artfully mastering their craft. That is so not me and I’m no expert craftsman.

In a way, knocking around tools in my basement, along with aggressively filing and drilling bullet casings seems much more my speed. Before you contend this just know any momentary poise or elegance you may catch a glimpse of in me, comes with effort and attention. On my own, I’m scattered, hardly Type-A, and always think of the just-right thing to say hours after the opportunity to say it.

Through making jewelry with bullet casings I’ve seen many analogies to life though this work: The polishing and refining that is possible only after dirt and trauma are spat on a bullet casing. The renewal in the life of a piece that was once discarded or considered spent. The dents and scratching only adding to the depth of beauty and uniqueness of each piece.

One lesson that’s really stuck out to me though is the process of work hardening, particularly with wire. Through books, YouTube and jewelry classes, I’ve heard this term “work-hardening” defined as a process where the jeweler purposefully bends and molds a piece of wire to make it stronger. As a piece of wire is bent over and over, the molecules making up the wire become compressed making that piece of the wire stiffer and stronger.

I think the tough things in life work-harden us. The bending and maneuvering, while tiring, make us just a little bit stronger each time.

There is danger in work-hardening though. At some point the too-hard wire breaks. With a quick SNAP! the wire is riddled to pieces and no longer usable.

I try to be careful to notice when I’m too hardened. It’s when I start sighing more often. It’s when I walk a little heavier, step a little louder. I feel a little sassier, a little more attitude and a little entitled.  I take note when I start hearing other folks troubles and discount them, thinking my troubles are bigger or  “worse.” I recognize — sometimes not soon enough — and redirect, reframe, and reengage. In the jewelry making world this process is called annealing, the process of softening metal and undoing the work-hardening manipulations.

I start to take note of stars in the sky (often hard to come by in my neck of the woods). I allow myself to have days where variety on my dinner plate looks like white, dark and milk chocolate. All at once, I wear my Whistle Necklace, a few of my moms bracelets and one of her necklaces, all as my over-accessorized armor. I call on music to bring me back: Sometimes it’s Celine Dion. Sometimes it’s the Dixie Chicks. Most days it’s Needtobreathe, guitars and an easy beat. I find people. I plant myself at cozy, coffee shops with an over-sized mug and journal as my company. I get outside. I light candles. I pray.

A lot of heat and concentration make the annealing process work.

And thankfully, while we don’t require flame to bring us back to reality, I think there is a lot of symbolism in the softening power of heat. Rather than heat from a torch, I think of heat in an image of folks circled up on a chilly, early morning while they rub their hands together to create heat. One hand requires the friction of another, otherwise we are alone and cold for good. Community is the hot chocolate we drink to warm our souls. We balance our work-hardened demeanor with our softness just as we balance each day’s requirements, actively as a participant. We check our own thermostat. We monitor the temperature and either heat or cool accordingly. We encourage others. Others encourage us.

I’m learning so much of life is a delicate balance. It’s good to be work-hardened. It’s good to have and build strength through the bends and turns of life. It’s nice to have a winning record against adversity. It’s also good to be soft, warm and appreciative. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to feel tired and malleable. Some days we may feel super work-hardened with our tight molecules, backs up straight and enough strength and courage to run a stampeding bull in the opposite direction. Other days, we let others lead the charge, take life a little slower and breathe in deep. Either way, we’re fine.

The beauty of letting others in is no matter what, someone feels strong and someone feels soft. I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. On days that are especially tough for us all, we circle up, put hands together and remember it takes a village to sustain heat.




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