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Do It Yourself
Knowing how to fix, make, grow—and weld—isn't just empowering, says Jessica Bruder. It's transcendent.

I am a lover of power tools. In my gas station coveralls, I've wielded welding torches, hoisted chain saws and whiled away afternoons with a belt sander. I've mastered the plasma cutter, the nail gun, the grinder. But I believe the best tools are the ones that come standard at birth: our two hands.

Working with your hands is a big part of humanness. A day in the woodshop or craft room or garden reconnects you with your body—which is a nice break from staring at screens. Plus, it's deeply satisfying to experience an activity directly instead of hiring someone to do it for you. Calling a plumber will not give you a sense of power and autonomy. Stopping your own leaky pipe from leaking will.

Lately, I've been using my hands to fix cars and grow tomatoes, unscrewing lug nuts and screwing together planter boxes, jacking up a chassis and hauling bags of dirt to the roof of my fourth-floor walk-up. I'm still a little shaky on the auto shop stuff, but I'm excited about the tomatoes, even though the hands in question don't have green thumbs (I once killed a cactus). No matter the results, though, the experience will be meaningful.

Our culture rewards expertise and efficiency. My tomatoes will reflect neither. With the cost of growing taken into account, they'll be more expensive than the ones at the supermarket. They may be less aesthetically appealing, too. But they will be mine, born of my hard work and gentle care. And that achievement is something nobody else can create but me.

Jessica Bruder writes for The New York Times' You're the Boss blog and is the author of Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man.