Not every batch of paper is a victory. If I get two good sheets out of this morning’s batch, I’ll consider myself lucky. But every attempt is a step towards competence in a new set of skills—and a commitment to a different way of thinking about the resources around me. Both are of some importance in the current situation. I left corporate bookselling at the point when the shift in culture transformed the job into something that I—a 25+ year veteran in the field—felt I was not competent to do—and could not see any point in becoming skilled at. There are a lot of jobs out there that probably shouldn’t be done. It just adds insult to injury to have jobs of dubious worth managed in such a way that talented workers feel they’re bound to fail at them. Whatever may be done to bolster “consumer confidence,” there’s an awful lot of concerted effort out there to hammer away at the confidence of workers. Precious little in the “old world”—as literally shell-like as it has become—adds much to our ability to build a new one within it. So we have to reassert our competence where we can, in the little ways our culture allows. DIY is political precisely because it is a matter of asserting our independence from systems that seem best at making mud-pies (or having them made in China…) and at deskilling laborers, and of starting to make some little piece of the new world.
At the same time, DIY recycling or repurposing projects give us a chance to develop new understandings of our situation and options. One of the best things about the paper-recycling project has been the way that it has altered my way of thinking about household waste. Obviously, I’m already inclined to recycling and reuse, but the mechanics of making attractive paper from scrap waste tranforms waste into a resource. People frequently notice the bits of contrasting color in the papers. Much of that is the scrapings from my work space or my tools. Dried pulp on a deckle, or a piece of paper that tore on the felts, are simply fodder for making tomorrow’s batch a little more interesting. Nothing goes into the trash without a quick consideration of its potential for rendering fiber. Activities that give us the opportunity to rethink everyday practices are extremely valuable.