Actor and comedian Nick Offerman has more than a little in common with Ron Swanson, the legendary outdoorsman and boss he played on the classic sitcom "Parks and Recreation" for seven seasons.
First, like his character, Offerman is a master craftsman: He operates a woodshop out of Los Angeles, and recently wrote a book about his experiences there. Second, he's a rugged individualist who's expressed concern over the impact of modern technology on the notion of human self-reliance.
Offerman was at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with greeting card company American Greetings, where they unveiled "the thinnest, most powerful messaging device yet" which, spoiler alert, turned out to be a greeting card.
I had the chance to spend a few minutes with Offerman at CES to talk about greeting cards and the skill of showing people that you care. Plus, as a novice and a new homeowner, I had some questions about woodworking as my fianceé and I undertake our first few projects.
Here are the highlights from our conversation.
On greeting cards and being a luddite:
- On the importance of maintaining interpersonal relationships: "It's the downside of consumerization," Offerman says, that it "encourages us to isolate from other people." Social media may connect you with people in far-off locales, but "we're not seeing our neighbor."
- On why you should always send a birthday card: "My life is full of so many decisions," Offerman says, in both his career and personal life. Some of those decisions are more stressful than others, but sending a greeting card is a "decision that says 'I love you,'" Offerman says. It's an active act that shows a willingness to engage, rather than just passively sending a text or Facebook message.
- On the struggle between convenience and self-reliance: "I tenaciously cling to my luddite side," Offerman says, but as a Hollywood figure, he's repeatedly exposed to the latest and greatest tech trends, and it can be hard to resist. "I have to remain ever vigilant," he says.
- Offerman's advice for woodworking novices: "Any woodworking project, alone or with a mate, requires patience. That's your most important tool." Understand going in that you're going to make mistakes, he says, and "you'll be so much happier." And when the project is all done and finished, "give yourself the win," even if it's not perfect.
- The tools every novice should have, according to Offerman: A set of screwdrivers, a socket set, Allen wrenches, a cordless drill — "it's kind of 50 tools in one" — a claw hammer (the kind with the bit to remove nails on the end), and a coarse-cut hand saw. If you're more serious about building a lot of stuff, you should invest in power tools like a standing jigsaw or a chop saw: "Using them is a great pleasure."
- The best way to learn: Offerman is a big fan of "This Old House," the long-running PBS show on home improvement, and its spinoff "Ask This Old House." As he points out, you can view lots and lots of reruns online or via the PBS app for free. Plus, there's always YouTube. "It's crazy these days" how many videos are available to teach you this stuff.
- The importance of having a "friend" who's handier than you: Ideally, you have a parent, aunt, or other relative who's super handy. If not, it's important go to your local hardware store or lumberyard and make friends with the operators (ideally by buying something). When you're working on a project, "your plan will have flaws," Offerman says. "The right friend will correct your flaws."
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