On rubber stamps, a lack of skill and enjoying the process anyhow

A hobby that I’ve really come to enjoy in the last few years is letterboxing. Letterboxes are similar to geocaches, in that there’s an item planted out somewhere and you’re trying to find it. It differs in that rather than using GPS coordinates, letterboxers often have a treasure hunt or puzzling feel to them. Some clues includes riddles, others have backstory or are part of a series, still others are visual – there’s one clue I’ve heard about that is only a picture, with no other guidance offered.

The other difference is that with letterboxes, the box (or plant, if you’re the sort of person who wants to make sure that you use the “right” terminology) includes a rubber stamp and a logbook, so when you find it, you can add the stamp to your own logbook and also stamp the book in the box with your own signature stamp. Some of these are amazing, really works of art. Anyway, it’s a lot of fun for certain kinds of nerds – and I am SO that sort of nerd.

Recently I’ve gotten interested in planting some boxes as well as finding them, and it’s incredibly hard to get comfortable with my terrible skills at carving these stamps. I mean, damn. I suck at this, and it’s something where the only way to get better at it is to do it more. Generally that means that I just won’t do it, because I LOATHE being bad at things. So this whole process is an interesting blend of frustration and personal growth – I want to contribute to this community and this hobby that brings me a lot of joy, but I would like very much to only do so when I can do it really well. Whether that’s simple shyness, a sense of ego, or some other complex feelings about worth and value that would take much longer than a blog post to explore, those feelings are often present for me.

And yet we’re talking about a HOBBY, here. Isn’t it better to do the thing at all than to wish that I had done it? And in any case, the part of the exercise that I really enjoy is the process of coming up with a neat idea, writing the clues that go along with it, and then seeing if someone else bothers to find it. So, to that end, here are a couple of the worst hand-carved rubber stamps that you’ll find in the world of letterboxing:


This first one is my signature stamp – the one I leave in the logbook for any letterbox that I find. It’s not a surprise to people who know me that I’d go with a labyrinth for this – I have one permanently affixed to my left arm, after all. I like how this one turned out (it’s probably attempt number 5, to be fair), with the exception of the little bits that weren’t trimmed off very cleanly. One of these days, I’ll get around to cleaning it up a bit.


And this cute fella is the Minotaur, currently residing next to a tiny library just beside a labyrinth in my neighborhood. It’s the first carve that I let out into the world, and I don’t mind it so much. I wanted to do a little more detail with it, but my first two efforts were…not so good. I had set a deadline for myself to finish it, so finally I just said, “This is good enough! Go find a spot for it!”

There’s something interesting about this whole process for me. I would like to be better at carving, and I suspect I will get there eventually. I lack patience and discipline, which is a problem, but the motivation to just finish a damned thing, even if it’s not very good, is something that I am learning to manifest more in my life. I’m learning, at last, that I can be *bad* at something and still enjoy the end result.

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