Maeve: Hi. I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to ‘Queerstories’. This week, Sophie Wilksch is the Director of Shedding Community Workshop Inc, a not-for-profit organisation located in Mullumbimby. Sophie has 10 years experience in sustainable architecture, building and carpentry and established the workshop in May 2018. Sophie is trained in non-violent communication and Mental Health First Aid. Shedding Community Workshop offers a safe space and haven, aiming to share life skills with all people: shedding preconceptions, shedding fears, celebrating mistakes and emotions.
I like playing with tools.
And one of the only things I like much more than playing with tools,
Is watching other people getting off on playing with my tools.
That moment when the fear drops, the power sets in and they say, “I want to do that again.”
I like touching it.
I like feeling it up and telling this reclaimed piece of trash that it is worthy of something, again.
I like taking stuff and making stuff and turning it into something functional.
Whether that function is to sit on, to live in, or to make a statement about the uprising
undercurrent of us lessers in society, as we protest against the systems that frame our lives.
Hashtag Woodford Closing Ceremony 2019. Look it up!
So why am I telling you this?
Because I want you to discover this joyful addiction to dreaming and creating, and together we will build an army and cover the planet in sustainable tiny homes and sheds.
Something like that anyway. We are all allowed to dream right?
I love picking out and finding those parts of myself that don’t serve me anymore and then giving
them away. I call it Shedding. I also love doing shed-things… Making stuff, creating stuff,
tinkering. I call it Shedding, because it’s often that I’m doing these shed-like activities but rarely in fact, in a shed-like space.
So in 2018, I decided to create a place for everyone to come and ‘shed’ with me. It’s a
not-for-profit organisation. It’s called Shedding Community Workshop Inc, and we don’t care who you are or what’s going on in your life. We just want you to come and play, like we used to when we were kids.
In fact, we do care – but we don’t let your identity prevent you from joining us.
We have a saying… As you step into the space, you hang your cloak of life at the entry. You are light, and somehow with that lightness it’s easier to chat about your cloak. Or just play with tools… Whatever you feel like.
Shedding is not a Men’s Shed. It’s not a Women’s Shed. It is a shed for all people.
During my 10 years working on a vast array of building sites, I worked with men. Oh and one woman, she was a sparky – she did the wiring on a tiny home I was constructing, and then left after 3 hours. The rest were men. At least I assumed she was a woman. She had long hair… She was called Kat… She didn’t specify her pronouns. But then neither did I.
I liked being a bloke. I mean I had a vagina, and…. Liked sleeping with men… at that time. But I liked being tough, strong, quick with on-site banter and humour. Drinking beers and talking shit after you’ve just broken your back with a hard days slog. Camaraderie. I like the camaraderie.
I also kinda liked that it was just me and the fellas. But some days I didn’t like that at all.
It’s tough. Go have a cry. Stop whining. Build a bridge. Have a cup of concrete and toughen up.
Killing me softly, with his song. Oh no wait, that’s not what the guys would say to me – that’s what I said to myself. The guys were actually pretty quick to cut out the banter when I mentioned my period. Wouldn’t want to be a victim of that wrath.
And I thought… I don’t wanna hang out with the ladies… Tight skirts, high heels. Wouldn’t know how to change a tyre.
Identity. Right? Because I’m the only woman who’s different. Right? I’m the only one in trousers and going off to work with the blokes. I am an anomaly.
So anyway, this was before the times of Shedding. Now all the anomalies come walking through the gate and pull out my tools and play. Coz we all
are… Anomalies… A fucking sensational vibrating mass of particles that barely even exist in a physical form at all. Some have these parts and some have those parts and some parts can go in other parts, and ooh that feels good… Is that sanded to 400 grit? Did you use a Japanese saw to make that housing joint? Sexy.
Sensuality. I love being sensual. Softly stroking timber with a finely sharpened saw… The scent of freshly cut camphor… I love the smooth finish of a fine sanding job and massaging the grain with pungent eucalyptus oil and beeswax as it slowly hardens.
For me, carpentry is sexy. I don’t know if I ever feel sexier than when I’m wearing my toolbelt.
People who know me know that, because I wear it all the time. When I build and create I feel powerful, strong, capable. Not specifically like a man, but not really like a woman either… Just like me.
Mistakes. I love making them… Well, not so much making them… But letting go of my need for perfection, which I so intricately learnt working in a joinery workshop in Germany. Terrified by the need for perfection I decided that I wasn’t having a bar of it. Make mistakes, fuck things up.
Admit repeated failure. Laugh, cry, and then discover that your so-called mistake is actually the opening of a new vortex of possibility. A fabulous design detail that you otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.
Intimacy. I love intimacy. It also terrifies me. I remember, the first time a woman came on to me, casually sliding closer on the couch… “Oh sorry, do you want more space” I’d say – edging away. I had to explain that I have a concrete wall that could slowly be broken down, one brick at a time, through endless conversations with painfully high levels of clarity.
For someone who talks about sex so much, you’d wonder how I could possibly be so terrified by it. I guess people are different to pieces of timber. They have emotions. Emotions that can be hard to read, hard to gauge, hard to predict. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes I’m surprised by the response of my pieces of timber. But people, people are complex.
If I pull out a bottle of beer, to some it may be a symbol of celebration. If someone got smashed over the head by a bottle of beer as a kid, well to them – it might signify pain, fear, anger.
So what do I do? My idea is to be so damn blunt and clear about my emotions that people don’t need to wonder what the hell is going on in my head.
And sometimes, sometimes I reckon I’m doing okay… Sometimes when students tell me their stories… That they’re bouncing off the walls because they didn’t have their ADHD meds… That they’re triggered by my voice because it reminds me of their overbearing mother when they were a child… That they used to be in the army and have been trained against everything that I stand for emotionally so maybe opening up might be a little bit hard for them right now… That they’re having an anxiety attack triggered by a door handle from the house where their PTSD originated… I could go on… All night…. But sometimes, when I hear their stories I reckon that my emotional bluntness, my brutal
honesty, my drive for vulnerability, compassion, clarity and boundaries… Maybe it does support other people to feel safe to share.
I mean, we’re hanging out and learning tools. What’s that got to do with emotions?
But wait… Think about it… When I cut my line wrong – I fuck up, I have shame. I have frustration. When I break a drill bit – I fucked up. I have embarrassment. When I flick off the angle grinder coz it feels out of control. I have fear. When I don’t understand something after the third time it has been explained. I have humiliation. So what if we just shift all that? Celebrate mistakes, delight in our disasters, cradle our pain,
nurture our needs. Soften and expand with joy and fluidity. Cut a line wrong. Shout it to the world! I fucked it up. And the crowd goes wild (YAY – cheering).
Then we remember – no worries. Grab another timber, have another go.
Break a drill bit… (YAY – cheering) No worries, grab another one. Let’s play with your technique. You fear a tool. No worries, let’s chat about it. How are you feeling?
The number of times we ask that question – how are you feeling… Gosh.
Learning tools is the easy part. It’s the rest that’s the challenge. Believing that you’re capable.
And believe me, you’ll surprise yourself.
And for me, I think to myself… Maybe, just maybe people will take that out into the world with them. Then I step out and I realise it’s already there.
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