And Their Hearts Were Very Full: Nurturing Craft Over Content in an Age of Brand
Lauren sets the table while I sip a glass of wine: simple white dishes, silver forks, folded cloth napkins.
“Are you sure I can’t help?” I ask.
“Everything is almost ready. Just waiting for the roast to finish. How’s work?”
I tell her about one of my students who wrote a creative writing assignment about the entire class (including myself) taking a trip on the TARDIS. Lauren brings her carefully-crafted meal to the table; it’s an absolute feast. Fig and blue cheese toasts, arugula salad, garlic roasted squash and a wine-glazed pot roast.
We swirl our Cabernet in our glasses and pretend that we know what we are smelling and tasting: “Plum on the nose I think? Firm tannins?”
After dinner I feel full in many ways: full on laughter, full on pot roast, and full on friendship —with just enough room leftover for a little more wine and some apple tart.
There is a big difference between going to a restaurant and going over to a friend’s house for dinner. When you go out to dinner, the chef happily (or at least neutrally) cooks your meal for you, but it isn’t because she cares about you personally; it’s her job. She loves food, sure. She loves her job, maybe. She doesn’t know you even exist, other than in a general way, as her customer.
When a friend cooks for you, she wants you to enjoy what she prepares. She plans the menu around your weird dietary restrictions; she tries a new recipe because she likes trying new food with friends; she welcomes you into her home and serves you personally (though sometimes this is in between chasing small children). If the food is a little overcooked occasionally, that’s okay. If your friend forgets until the end of the meal that she made a salad it’s no problem. Salad for dessert would make your mom proud anyway.
The difference between eating at a restaurant and eating at a friend’s is the same as the difference between a business that focuses solely on brand and content and a business that chooses to focus on soul and craft instead. Focusing on brand and content creates distance and detachment. You are merely a customer or a consumer or a reader or a fan. Focusing on soul and craft pulls you unexpectedly close. You are invited into the lives of people who are being humbly authentic as they seek real connection with like-minded others. The end result might be the same. You wind up with a full belly, but the approach is drastically different.
Craft before content and soul before brand promotes humble authenticity in place of goal-oriented detachment. If a chef at a restaurant burned your soufflé, you’d want a free, not-burnt soufflé and possibly a refund. If it happened often enough, you’d stop eating at that restaurant. Your goal was a good meal; the chef’s goal was a happy customer. If neither goal is achieved, it’s pretty easy to part ways. There is plenty of detachment on both sides.
Humble authenticity is quite different. When your friend burns the soufflé, there is room for error. You forgive her and pour her another glass of wine. Your friend feels free to try to make a proper soufflé next time. She is humble and real, not hiding in the kitchen trying to act like she has it all together. So it is with focusing on soul and craft instead of brand and content.
Focusing on learning your craft allows room for growth, a we’re-all-human-here margin that doesn’t exist when it’s all about clickable content. If the focus is on craft, then selecting an article for publication (for example) can be about more than the author’s previous experience and popularity, the public interest in the topic selected, and the business that the article will bring in; instead, it can be about the style of the writing, the surprising life breathed into the topic, the unique insight provided. It can really be about quality over quantity. Focusing on craft allows room for genius and untamed ideas. It provides a space for everyone involved to take risks which can lead to the unexpectedly beautiful.
Similarly, focusing on soul over brand allows individuality and deep connection that can’t be achieved with a marketing strategy and a SWOT analysis, but can be achieved in authentic human interaction - soul to soul instead of wallet to wallet. It takes the relationship beyond roles (provider/consumer; chef/diner) and into real life.
Best of all, creating a space where others can pursue craft over content and soul over brand gives you room to do the same. You can burn the soufflé or you can make the world’s best apple tart. You can be exactly who you are, exactly where you are and know that your humble authenticity will be met with gratitude, appreciation, and understanding.
So welcome, kindred spirit, to a community where we value craft over content and soul over brand. Pour yourself a glass of wine; dinner is ready.