Sunday, September 16, 2012

On Doing Things You're Not Very Good At

Years ago, when my son went off to college, I told him, Do at least one thing you never thought you would do.  He went to a dance class and it completely changed his life.  (In truth, I don’t know if he even heard what I said.  He would have gone to the class anyway, because two girls asked him to go.  But I like telling the story this way.)

Recently, I decided to take my own advice.  I am a very verbal person.  I need words to make sense of the world.  But I’ve always wished I were more visual.  So I signed up to take an online photography class in self-portraiture.

This class is really hard for me.  The other students are very beautiful women who can rock short hair and wear orange skirts that look good when they’re twirling in a meadow.  One woman in particular takes the most amazing photographs: her hands in blue paint, her unclothed body demurely rendered in grainy black and white, her smiling face wreathed by daisies in clear glass vases surrounding her head.  She is so creative and clever and artistic and inventive. 

Whereas everything I take looks like an ordinary snapshot.  

Here’s the thing, though.  I think it’s really good for me to be doing something I’m pretty terrible at.  Because, first of all, and most obviously, if I never try something new, then I’ll never learn how to do it better.  

But here’s the other thing, the thing I didn’t expect: it’s really kind of fun to be lousy at something and know that I’m going to keep doing it anyway, voluntarily.   There’s no pressure, no sense of urgency.  It’s like playing, which I’ve kind of forgotten how to do.  But the one thing I remember about playing is that you can’t be good at it, and because you can’t be good at it, you can’t really be bad at it, either.

When my son was about three, he wanted me to play “guns” with him.  (We didn’t have any toy guns; we just used our fingers.)  He kept “shooting” me and making realistic shooting sounds with his mouth.  I made sounds that sounded as though I was drinking out of a trough.  Then I started explaining that I wasn’t very good at pretending to shoot because I’d never done it before, and also that boys were probably better at it than girls and I didn’t know why that was, and even though there was probably a girl somewhere who was good at it, I’d never met her.

My son sighed and said, “Mommy, just stop talking and die.”

Assuming he was speaking metaphorically, I think this is good advice.  

1 comment:

  1. Is that one with the reflections and the slats by you? That's amazing! I'm afraid that might not count as you not being good at something...