Curriculum aliud*


Fixin’s for tofu and carrot pizza. (Yum?)

My father assigned his office assistant, Bambi, to be my teacher. One of our early lessons involved learning to copy maps, an essential life skill if there ever was one. She showed me how to copy an outline using a grid. “Just draw in some squiggles around the edges,” she instructed as I worked on a map of Florida’s east coast.

“But what about everyone who lives along those bays and beaches?” I asked, concerned that such a laissez-faire approach to cartography might result in the flooding of countless homes, drowning the pets who lived in them. (Never mind their human inhabitants, who were of less concern to me in those days.)

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said. “It’s just a map.”

It wasn’t long before we dispensed with this farce and I sought instruction from the young people who were living in assorted small structures they had erected around our tropical half-acre backyard. I learned to make whole wheat bread, tofu and carrot pizza, and home-churned ice milk, washed my clothes in a puddle, and took cold showers to fortify my character.  I dispensed with my hair brush and allowed my dirty-blond tresses to spin themselves into a head of dreadlocks that unsophisticated acquaintances of my parents dismissed as filthy matted hair.


Norman Stanley Hippietoe on the way to dreadlocks — emphatically not a sexualized image, but the opposite: a ten-year-old’s attempt to escape the confines of gendered expectations.

In a nod toward formal study, I read several entries in the World Book Encyclopedia each day and was so taken with the one for panpipes that I wrote to the editor and asked for plans that I might use to make a set. I signed my letter Norman Stanley Hippietoe, an androgynous persona I had invented to replace my birth name and gender. I was elated when a letter addressed to Mr. N. Hippietoe arrived in the mail, even though it carried the disappointing news that the publisher could offer no plans for constructing the instrument.–Excerpted from Making Things Work by Nancy R. Hiller

*Fancy Lass-speak for different curriculum. There’s nothing like learning to make tofu and carrot pizza and wash your clothes in a puddle to set a kid up for the discipline and structure offered by the Fancy Lads Academy.

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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28 Responses to Curriculum aliud*

  1. Heh. I think F would be completely down with me not brushing his hair and the growing of dreadlocks.

    And I would have enjoyed learning cartography, as well.

  2. Richard Mahler says:

    It would be interesting to consider – though it would be little more than conjecture considering that we know nothing about human living apart from what we call culture – how different life would be without “the confines of gender expectations”. Of course there are the realities of gender that are inescapable, but society heaps on so much more in so many illogical and indefensible ways. Humans could surely have been happier creatures throughout history without those strictures – as we are currently experiencing in a particularly nasty fashion right now in our own nation, and which play out in so much violence worldwide. We are fond of our platitudes about peace at this season of the year, but there is no peace with homo sapiens’ seeming hardwired bigotry and lack of the most basic kindness toward others.

  3. Lee Hockman says:

    I actually took a cartography course while in college. I was working toward a degree in communications art and I thought it would be appropriate but it wasn’t. I learned that a cartographer makes many different kinds of maps, depending on what sort of information you wanted it to show, like maps of population percentages and many other obscure diagrams that I never would have a use for. I did enjoy it, though I have never had the need to use what I learned in anything I have done since. I did think that it would help my drawing skills, but no. Using cartography skills for drawing is like using drafting skills to paint abstract art. I enjoy your writing very much; please continue.

    • nrhiller says:

      Surely that cartography instruction must come in useful for something, if only as a means to sharper insights where maps and thinking about how we represent the world? Thanks very much for your comment.

  4. Larry says:

    When I was an American kid going to school in Argentina the law was that everybody had to have at least half a day’s teaching in Spanish, so mornings were Spanish and afternoons were (British) English.

    So when we went to work at drawing maps of the country, the Morning maps had Islas Malvinas on them. The afternoon maps omitted any islands.

  5. ctdahle says:

    Reading these excerpts reminds me how much I enjoyed your book the first time through, but also shows me how much I missed by reading it too quickly. It’s a beautifully written and beautifully made book, and I am starting it again tonight. Much more slowly this time however.

    • nrhiller says:

      Oh, thank you for this! As with so many works, that book can be read for “lite” entertainment but is also the product of decades’ worth of self-critical reflection.

  6. wldrylie says:

    Your book has been removed from my gift list. Permanently.

    • Ricky Pattillo says:

      I just added it to mine.

    • C33 says:

      Here’s where you can read our dear William Louis Drylie’s furious comment announcing his boycott of PopWood because of Megan’s support for A Workshop of Our Own. Someone’s got lady issues.

      • wldrylie says:

        Nothing could be further from the truth. I educated several women as Steamfitters in the building trades as my apprentices. They have all gone on to be fine Journeywomen and two have Masters Licenses from the State of Minnesota who have been job Superintendents building new construction power generation stations, both of whom I worked for. I have absolutely no problem working with or for women. I do however, have an issue with a politically correct editorial written in a woodworking magazine I am paying money for. It was not a furious comment, it was a statement, one that I firmly believe. Politics has no place in Popular woodworking magazine. I have been married to my wife for 36 years, and we grew up together and we were fast friends for 12 years before that. Ask her if I have any “Lady” issues. She would laugh in your face. As for Nancy Hiller’s book, the more she excerpted it, the less I wanted to read it. I am sure she is a great cabinet maker and a great person, I just have a distaste for this book. There is nothing wrong with that.

    • nrhiller says:

      Would you care to elaborate so that other readers and I can understand?

      • wldrylie says:

        I own your Hoosier cabinet book. I built your arts and crafts wall shelf for my Mother before she passed away from Tauntons book Shelves, Cabinets, and Bookcases because she really liked it. Without going into a long story, I have had 38 years worth of Making things work. I don’t think I want to read about someone else’s misery. I am also not interested in the personal details of someone’s life in that depth. That’s yours/their business, not mine. I think the Fancy Lass comment was the final nail. When I saw the fancy Lad stickers posted for sale the other day, I’m not sure if I wanted to throw up or what, it was more like give up. I really dislike that sticker and no, I have never used any of those words except having to use my Masters License stamp after my name on print changes. It was required by the State. I hope your book sells well, but it is nothing I want to read about.

        • Andy Lockhart says:

          Gosh, I hope MY mother doesn’t pass away from Taunton’s book Shelves!

        • nrhiller says:

          For what it’s worth, I appreciate very much what you’ve written here. My book (this current one) is meant in large part to be funny. Humor is an odd thing, and I understand that the humor in my book (which, for what it’s worth, is enormously self deprecating) has not come through to you. I certainly respect your disinclination to read about “someone else’s misery,” if that’s how the book excerpts strike you, and I wish you all the best.

        • C33 says:

          I’m sorry you’re so angry and confused about so many things, Bill. Hopefully this time away from the blog will help you sort out some feelings. Although, having gone back and ready Nancy’s excerpt again, I honestly can’t see anything that would provoke a feeling strong enough to justify your original comment. Whatever issues you’re dealing with are buried deep, friend.

          • wldrylie says:

            I know I said I would not post here again, but I want to set things straight. I am neither angry or confused. At least the book made my gift list. Many books on Lost Art Press have never made my list. I have also bought some. Some things excerpted from her book are not funny to me and to be frank, some things are also none of my business/too much information. Understand, that’s my opinion. Also, your off the cuff observation that I have lady issues was ridiculous. You don’t know me. My beef with Popular woodworking magazine was not what you think it was. I don’t care that women would like to have their own trade school, that fact does not bother me in the least. I hope it works out well for them, and having dealt with trade school issues as a member of the United Association I can also understand why they would. My issue with Meghan Fitzpatrick and Popular Woodworking magazine is the fact in her previous editorial she wrote a complaint that was put forth by the Director of the College of the Redwoods that only “white men” have works published in the magazine. Now, who’s fault is that? I see women like Anne Briggs. Why is her work not in the magazine? I just saw a picture of a campaign chair she made that looks fabulous. She made a saw cabinet for Bad Axe Tool works. Why not that? Then Meghan Fitzpatrick says, you women out there, submit. How about the Editor, do her job and send someone out to get those women. How about the Director of the college of Redwoods go out recruit women for the trades. There is a tiresome daily parroting of white privilege and men control everything but I can tell you that is the exception and not the rule. Under Union contracts, pay does not recognize gender. There is a scale for Journeymen and apprentices. Everyone in their class makes the same money. Something you should know. Hillary Clinton attended a Union Training seminar for our new education and training program and recruiting policies, yes, and for women. While she was there, I can tell you that training program was the furthest thing from her mind. Her main concern was that Union Leaders were on board to keep the rank and file in line to vote for the party. She was told that under all trade contracts, everyone makes the same regardless of gender. It went in one ear, and out the other. To be frank, we have always got more money and support toward training and recruiting from the party that claims they don’t like Unions. I think the American worker finally woke up to that fact and made a statement in 2016. If those two were tired of “white men” being shown in Popular Woodworking, instead of repeating political chicanery in an editorial, do something about it! Go get em and put em in print. I would much rather see an Anne Briggs or someone like her and what they have built than read an inferred politically inflammatory editorial. I am only interested in the goods built and how it was built. I don’t care if the builder is of another race, creed, color or gender. The editorial should have read, in the coming months, I want to feature women builders in one magazine, or dedicate an issue to Woodworkers in Estonia, Africa, Germany. I would have been totally on board with that. I know this is a lot of writing, but I hope you and others have got some insight about me and what I was trying to convey. Writers should know that not all readers are on their page. It helps them become better writers in future endeavors. This is my last post here. I am going to take down my word press account and be done here. I have too many things to make and little time to do it. Bye

          • gedaliya says:

            We are bombarded on the subject of “gender issues” in a thousand places on the Internet, in the pages of the NY Times, on television news reports, debates among our elected officials, and I’m sure in other places of which I am not aware. Now, it seems, the subject has penetrated into the world of woodworking magazines and the comment sections of woodworking blogs.

            I can understand why some are annoyed and even resentful about this. Can’t you?

            • C33 says:

              Oh, I can definitely understand why they feel that way. And the answer isn’t particularly flattering for those folks.

              • gedaliya says:

                I suspect you have no idea whatsoever why they feel that way. Your obvious condescension and self-righteous indignation bleed right through your passive-aggressive comments. Most of us simply want to build things out of wood. You want to preach.


  7. CA in NJ says:

    I can spot the wiener in this comment thread, so nope – definitely not me.
    Also, I found Andy Lockhart’s comment very funny. I feel I can laugh since my maternal grandmother suffered for many years with Taunton’s Book Shelves (chronic form). She was a trooper though. Never complained. Not a once.

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