Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Joy and the shoemaker

A friend sent me this, which is about someone she knows - he makes shoes, and dances tango. (From what we can see, he dances very nicely. We can't hear the music because the sound is doing something else then, and the video is not about tango, but it looks good.)

Leather and Wood from Francis Reynolds on Vimeo.

I like to work with my hands from time to time, and I like to seek relative perfection in what I produce. The process of paying attention to the quality of my dance, and gradually improving it, is quite similar in some of the satisfactions it brings. The process of learning and problem solving that he describes is even quite familiar from my various efforts at computer programming, so I suppose it's universal.

It's not about perfectionism, or trying to get to any particular point, or surpassing anyone else*. It's just that the progress from any degree of lesser to greater perfection in something you wish to do, is one of the simplest and most universally accessible joys there is; a process so joyous that to hurry would be ridiculous.

That's how I see it; and that means that I like to improve one small thing at a time, one after another, without quarelling with whatever I have now. As someone-or-other said in a tennis manual (I think), you don't criticise the seed for not having leaves or the sapling for being slim or the bud for not being a flower.

Of course, pursuing this joy requires that the thing being done should be interesting, and open-ended; that the possibilities for improvement should not have too-close or obvious limits.

And I feel it's also a requirement that there should be some product along the way - that the subject matter should have a point and a value of its own, independent of the learning process.

When I was at school, I was very good at passing exams. But it was a rather trivial game - a game I played conscientiously, since that was the only thing anyone desired of me. There's no room for direct participation in the subject matter in the way that there's room to just dance, or just knit something. And I never had any perception of making progress in anything; indeed I did four A-Levels, 10 GCSE's and a university degree without ever having any real sense that progress, in the sense of getting better at something than I was last week, was even possible. To me, they were all just one literacy test after another, with minor variations in the contents of the text, and reading was what I did anyway to escape from boredom and bullies.

Things that don't have enough to be learned about them are boring, but learning things without room to just do them is something I've done more than enough of.

I think this might be the first post with both labels.

*Although that can be fun too, of course, under certain circumstances - mutual competition between overtly or covertly consenting individuals. Humans like a little sport when the opportunity arises, and it can keep our motivation going through hard times.


Anonymous said...

Same here - for most of my early life I did things because others thought they were "good". Then after a rupture, I started doing things not for others .. and on that journey of discovery - found tango. Its good for me, I don't do it for "others" to judge.

Tangocommuter said...

It's a serious indictment of an educational system that it rewards jumping through hoops, without encouraging or expecting any personal involvement. Jumping or failing to jump through hoops can be measured, and what's the point of personal involvement? But the Scottish Room 13 experiment, where 8 – 11 year-olds successfully run their own art studio in school has really shown that things can be organised better. & now it's become a worldwide movement.

& why limit it to art? Some children might benefit from access to a movement, dance studio.