Embracing a Trade: find a skill and put food on the table after the apocalypse

The end is near?

Over the holidays, while everyone was feeling jolly and joyful from all the yummy home-cooked food and merry spirits, the History Channel chose to bring its viewers down to earth with a week full of “apocalyptic” programming.  Every possible end of the world scenario was created and filmed for our viewing pleasure, so of course, my friend and I watched each and every depressing show.  Every night a new theory on the end of our civilization was presented- and oh, by the way, its just around the corner!  So, it got my wheels spinning.  If society were to crumble, the lights went off and we were to return to our agrarian roots, what could I offer in exchange for the essentials- food, shelter, water and a little moonshine to keep me sane.

People can’t eat photographs, if the power grid goes poof a web site is totally irrelevant and I seriously doubt anyone will need a promotional multimedia video when their DVD player becomes a pillar for their bookshelf.  What can I offer?  Can I knit a sweater to keep myself warm?  Can I grow a vegetable from seed to harvest?  Can I capture rain water in a cistern and hydrate myself. No. No. And no.  So, if the end of the world happens, I’ll be that poor sap clinging to her camera looking for scraps of food with the rest of the 2012 survivors.  Uh, I’d rather not go there.

So, in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided to gather a few trades while the lights are still on and I can support myself with my freelance career. This week I began learning Lapidary arts. While people can’t eat rings and jewelry either, trading stones and jewels is as old as civilization itself.  Seems like a logical place to start.

Next I’ll tackle knitting, sewing and then maybe a little vehicle maintenance.  I don’t think I’ll ever have the patience and talent to grow anything from seed to harvest, so I will be moving close to friends who can and I will continue developing my trades for bartering.

A bumber sticker from a nomad's car in Arizona

A bumber sticker from a nomad's car in Arizona

Embracing a Trade

But seriously, do you have a trade?  We, as an “evolved” society have deviated far from our agrarian roots and we no longer emphasize the essential need to have a trade or a skill.  Beyond the whole survivalist scenario, having a trade is a wonderful change of pace from our normal intelligence based work.  We’ve deviated from working with our hands to working solely with our minds, and while some amazing innovations have come from this period of intellectualism, might we all benefit from working with our hands-just a little?

Matthew Crawford explores the topic in his book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work and while I have yet to read it, watching interviews with the author made me want to dive deeper into the art of having a trade.  The Christian-Science Monitor interviewed Crawford recently- here’s a little excerpt:

“As with blue-collar jobs a century ago, white-collar work is now suffering a similar intellectual and skill degradation, Crawford argues, whereby “the cognitive elements of the job are appropriated from professionals, instantiated in a system or process, and then handed back to a new class of workers – clerks – who replace the professionals.” Corporate culture and teamwork have taken the place of individual responsibility. Brand projection has replaced the actual production of goods (now largely outsourced). Workers are judged subjectively by their somewhat opaque contribution to the bottom line, over which they have little individual control.”

While sanding down my little piece of agate in the rock workshop this morning, I found this wonderful sense of calm.  Working with my hands, watching the stone move back and forth over the sander and letting my mind wander aimlessly was so rejuvenating.   I was so inspired to create, I came home and baked cornbread from scratch using a recipe I found in a Native American Indian book about healing.  What better way to learn to live off the land then from those who have done it for thousands of years.

My first Cabachon and the start of my lapidary arts endeavor

My first cabochon and the start of my lapidary arts endeavor

So, again, I ask, what’s your trade?  Have you thought about ditching the cubicle for the workshop?  Is it possible to have both worlds?  Can you scale back your “real work” and incorporate some carpentry side work, working as a seamstress or selling your handy-work on Etsy.com?  Have you thought about becoming an apprentice for a blacksmith or have you always wondered about becoming an herbalist?  What’s stopping you from learning these trades?  And no, your mortgage is no longer an excuse for not pursuing things your interested in or curious about.  Carpe Diem, my friend, because according to the History Channel, time’s a wasting!

Go dig in the dirt, hammer some nails or shape some stones.  Go do something that allows you to look back at the end of the day and say, damn- I made that.  And while you’re at it, ditch that cubicle and find a way to make your trade your profession.  And if you’ve already ditched the cubicle- nice work!  Share your story and your knowledge with us in the comments section.


  1. TRock says

    Nice article Crystal…keep them coming. Did you happen to read the book you acquired during your last visit??? Just curious.

    • says

      Thanks, TRock! Love that name! Sadly, the book was left behind in Walla Walla as I tried to lighten my load- I was finishing Shock Doctrine and couldn’t carry both. But, I left it in good hands, I’m sure John will appreciate it! I’ll grab another copy when I’m back east next month. Take care!

  2. Pat says

    Great advice. That moonshine trade is how NASCAR got it’s start! One of the “rules of life” I heard many moons ago was this:
    “Leave Yourself An Out.” Creative talents are available in all of us. One need only to believe in themselves and not worry about what others might think. Whatever it takes! :)