Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft
by Ross Laird

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Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft

Discovering Personal Development through Creativity


The work of hands can be a guide in the unfolding of awareness.

Grain of Truth is a book about the creative process; its flavors and shades and peculiar demands. The narrative follows the meandering track of my creative process through the course of just over a year, as I explore the work of my own hands as a guide in the unfolding of my awareness. Combining ancient Taoist philosophy with reflections on family, culture and nature, Grain of Truth offers a view of the diverse rewards of creative endeavor — which can be both nurturing and relentless.

Grain of Truth, shortlisted for the Governor General’s award (the highest literary award in Canada), is an exploration of creative work as devotion, as revelation, as a rough opening polished by the shapes of beauty. Through the experience of rebuilding a childhood sailing dinghy, crafting a garden lantern, making a musical instrument, or simply stacking lumber, I search for the essence of creativity. I show how the work of hands can fill each moment with new breath, new forms, so that the self becomes gossamer-light, a kite held aloft by unfathomable strings. This simple alchemy begins in the hand as it opens the palm and reaches, with supple fingers, outward.

Grain of Truth was published in 2001 to critical acclaim. Described as “gorgeous… teeming with insight and inspiration” by The Globe and Mail and “a polished, finished artifact” by The Calgary Herald, Grain of Truth was lauded for its lyricism and thoughtfulness. The Hamilton Spectator urged readers to “give yourself an evening in a quiet place and read this little book with attention. It could change your life.”

Reviews of Grain of Truth

The Hamilton Spectator

Give yourself an evening in a quiet place and read this little book with attention. It could change your life... Laird writes about wood with the voice of a poet and the eye of an artist...his sentences are spare, transparent, unobtrusive vehicles of meaning. With his prose he achieves a rare melding of form with content.

The Globe and Mail

Here is a book teeming with insight and inspiration – and even a few recipes for wood finishes... What I loved this first book is its surefootedness and supreme focus. This is a book, above all, about connectedness... Laird is a philosopher much influenced by Taoist thinking, and a poet with a great gift for language. No doubt he took the same sense of craft to the writing of this book as he did to the several projects he undertook in his workshop. With wood or words, his ‘seamless joining’ is admirable... Taking the time to build with care is an immensely rewarding endeavor, an act of faith and trust and courage. It’s a notion that most of us seem to have forgotten, and one that Ross Laird takes us back to in his gorgeous little book.

The Calgary Herald

Ross Laird’s first book is a rich amalgam of personal reflections, practical philosophy and lyrical description... What gives this book its depth is its fine integration of the personal and the universal... Grain of Truth is a polished, finished artifact.

Kirkus Reviews

Careful, congenial, Zen-inflected rustications on woodworking, and, by extension, an entire worldview... Laird has an admirable ability to focus closely, whether it be on the precise, demanding work of sharpening a knife on a water stone (then brooding on how the perfect edge is invisible, absent of light) or getting lost in the architecture of a woodpile, letting it incubate ideas on future cabinetwork. There’s a lively meditation, as he builds a wooden block plane, on the keen sensibility of one’s hands, and there’s a deconstruction of an old rowboat that turns into an archaeological dig through memory. Laird is ever-attentive to the moment of creative impulse... an elegant, calming pleasure to read.

Publishers Weekly

Laird, a poet and Vancouver native, reflects on the rewards and frustrations of woodworking in eight pensive chapters ingrained with sensual, sinuous language and an intuitive understanding of the topic’s metaphoric possibilities... Laird artfully conveys his appreciation for natural beauty and spontaneity, his reverence for hardwoods, tools and woodworking methods and his espousal of the Taoist principals that have sustained and nurtured his creative life. Indeed, his burnished prose style counterbalances what otherwise would have been an austere memoir of one man’s discipline, dedication to craft and Rilke-like embrace of solitude through work... This meditative book provides an inspiring glimpse into the creative process.

NAPRA (New Age Publishers and Retailers Association)

Exquisite, poetic writing on the subject of craft is a rarity. Laird is every bit the craftsman – as much of words as of the wooden objects he creates. A marimba for his children, a garden lamp, and the other projects he writes about are only the starting points on the internal journey of creativity his readers are invited to glimpse. He is meticulous in describing even so basic a process as making a wooden plane, and in his hands, the outward procedures involving angles and alignment become connected to an inner search for clarity of purpose. Readers will also appreciate the organization of the chapters into ancient symbols of Taoist life energies: probing Wind, Deep Water, Shallows, and the Unfathomable. The relationship between the materials of the earth and the process of transforming them to conform to the need or desire of an artist has never been delineated so eloquently. Enthralling reading for the creativity shelf.


Ross Laird, PhD RCC

Clinical Consultant, Author, Educator

My work focuses on the interconnected themes of mental health, trauma, addictions, and creativity. I provide clinical consulting, professional development services, and community education for a wide range of institutions and organizations.