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Author Discusses Shifting Careers and Life Paths

November, 2018
  • Author Nina MacLaughlin
    Author Nina MacLaughlin
  • English Professor John Stazinski and Nina MacLaughlin
    QCC English Professor John Stazinski and Author Nina MacLaughlin

It’s not often that a speaker is so captivating that an hour long talk feels like it was a minute long; however, that seemed to be the case earlier this month when author Nina MacLaughlin came to Quinsigamond Community College and discussed her book, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.

“Each fall the QCC English Department chooses a single book and encourages faculty in different disciplines to use the book in their classes, and then invites the author to speak on campus. In the past we’ve had Andre Dubus, Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, and Richard Blanco,” said English Professor John Stazinski.

The book chosen, Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, details Ms. MacLaughlin’s journey of quitting her desk job as an editor of the Boston Phoenix and completely changing careers and becoming a carpenter after answering a blind ad for a carpenter’s assistant.

She told students, faculty and staff about her trepidation after getting the job and asking herself, “What have I done? I had no experience at all.”

Ms. MacLaughlin said she couldn’t even read a tape measure and discussed how the carpenter, “Mary” who hired her, was extremely patient and taught her the importance of making mistakes and learning from them.  Currently, she said she is doing less carpentry (as Mary has been diagnosed with emphysema); working on making wooden spoons, and has written another book that will come out soon.

After the discussion Ms. MacLaughlin opened it up to questions, which ranged the gamut from questions about what inspired her to write her book; what were her goals for the future, to asking her about how Mary was doing.

“It was such a pleasure coming to speak at QCC earlier this month. Talking to some friends later that afternoon, I told them how I'd been asked questions I'd never been asked before, and what fresh, good, curious questions they were. It's such an honor being asked questions that show that the person has read the work, paid attention to it, has curiosity about it, and that was definitely the case that day,” Ms. MacLaughlin said.

She added that some of the questions even took her a little off guard.

What would she have done if she hadn't answered the craigslist ad for a carpenter's assistant ?

Had her relationship with her dad changed after she became a carpenter and wrote a book?

“The students' questions were impressive, and also really fun to answer, from what I'd be doing if I hadn't gotten the carpentry job, to what the future of synthetic wood might be, to how the book changed my relationship with my dad. I'm grateful for the range and engagement, and for the people interacting with the book in such a way,” she said. “I keep coming back to the word honor. It's also really neat to see a bunch of hands shoot up to ask questions --- and a bummer not to be able to answer them all!”

Ms. MacLaughlin said that after the event a few people got in touch with her, telling their own stories of changing paths.

“I drove back to Cambridge that day feeling really, really lucky,” she added. 

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