Interview: Nina MacLaughlin, Author of 'Hammer Head' Writer Nina MacLaughlin hit her low point producing a listicle of the world's 100 Unsexiest Men. Six years and a lucky Craigslist ad later, she's a carpenter and author of the new memoir Hammer Head.
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Thanks To Chance (And Craigslist), A Writer Becomes A Carpenter

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Thanks To Chance (And Craigslist), A Writer Becomes A Carpenter

Thanks To Chance (And Craigslist), A Writer Becomes A Carpenter

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Nina MacLaughlin always knew she wanted to be a writer. After college, she worked for an alternative weekly newspaper in Boston. And she liked it at first, but then she got bored - all that typing, all that time in the office.

NINA MACLAUGHLIN: There was some - some tedium and some emptiness to the hours, you know, that I couldn't quite shake.

MCEVERS: So finally, McLaughlin wondered if she'd had enough, when she found herself editing a listicle about the world's 100 unsexiest men.

MACLAUGHLIN: And I just thought I can't do this anymore. My soul was crushed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MACLAUGHLIN: Sitting with the Internet clicking, empty hours of scrolling, I just felt kind of that deep lack of satisfaction and sort of thought like all right, this is my life here. Like, this is not necessarily how I want to spend it, so, you know, finally, after about a year of fretting and knowing that it was time to go, I made the leap.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MACLAUGHLIN: You know, this was 2008. The economy was in the toilet at that point. I left the job with no real plan, just sort of hoping something would work out. And I was finding that walking around Boston and Cambridge where I live, you know, I'd see people working on houses. I'd see landscapers especially and I'd thought God, that would be so amazing - to be outside, to be doing stuff with wood, with dirt, you know, building something in the world. That seemed to me a pretty remarkable way to live, and also totally foreign. I had no - absolutely no experience. And I was in this position of thinking oh God, what have I done?

About six months after I had quit my job, I was scrolling through Craigslist. And I happened to click on the et. cetera category. And there was a job that immediately caught my eye. It said Carpenter's Assistant. Women strongly encouraged to apply. And it was as though it was sort of blinking lights and flashing and I felt my heart beating faster. And I thought oh my gosh, like this - this is exactly what I was waiting for. This is it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AT LAST")

ETTA JAMES: (Singing) At last...

MACLAUGHLIN: I got an email back. It was from, you know, this anonymous Craigslist generated number - turned out it was a woman named Mary. And I explained to her, you know, I have literally no experience, but this is work I'm curious to do and eager to do and, you know, I can - I've got some strong arm muscles. I'm happy to lug stuff. And she invited me to come spend a day of work with her. And this was sort of the tryout. This was sort of the interview process. When we got there, we were tiling a bathroom at this beautiful house in Cambridge. And Mary said to me alright, you'll cut, I'll lay, meaning I would be the one cutting the tiles.

And immediately my hands started shaking and my mouth went dry - and I was just like OK, I don't know how to use a tile saw. I've never done this before. And she, being the most relaxed human that there is maybe on Earth, was just like all right, no problem, just go slow. And so, you know, I thought there was absolutely no chance that I had gotten the job at the end of the day. Going to bed, I thought oh God, not a chance. How am I going to pay rent? How am I going to pay for health insurance? What is my life now? But Mary called the next morning and said listen, you know, the job is yours if you want it. And I told her that I did.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MACLAUGHLIN: Yep, started right away. We started right away. I kept tiling that very bathroom and then moved on from job to job from there. I suspect that the carpentry work won't ever have the same feeling of soul deadening that sitting in front of a screen did. There's a satisfaction that comes from seeing something that exists because of your efforts - that you can go up and kick or stand on or put a book on. So even - there are days - there are certainly days in carpentry where it's very boring and it's hard work and dirty and there's bashed thumbs and splinters and breathing in a lot of dust. But the satisfaction when there's now a wall where there was no wall or a deck where there wasn't a deck is really profound.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCEVERS: That's writer and carpenter Nina MacLaughlin. Her new memoir is called "Hammerhead: The Making Of A Carpenter," and it's out now.

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