Tuesday, April 7, 2009
A Quitter and Proud of It
You know, I think I really prefer the term “Renaissance Woman” to “dilettante.” I was going to name my blog that, but “http://cerebralrenaissancewoman.blogpspot.com” wouldn’t fit on my business cards. And now that I think about it I guess it’s redundant. Because supposedly a Renaissance person (I think I’m offended that the idiom is only used in the masculine) is defined by broad intellectual interests and accomplishments in the arts and sciences.
Well, actually, now that I think about it some more I guess the science part doesn’t really apply to me very much. Or … at all. I used to read Discover magazine but there just got to be too many math articles and all the astronomy stuff was just a bunch of made up math anyway. (You know, “The universe is made of STRINGS because 4/5+p9%[i]*(84756)=7x1,000,000,000,000”. Strings. Really. Can I have a hit of that?). I hit the wall with calculus, so stuff like astrophysics, and regular physics, and probably chemistry I suppose, and cryptography and computer science and I guess maybe all the engineering fields and some other stuff like statistics and economics is … outside the range of my mental abilities. And I guess it might be a little … well, kind of inaccurate maybe to say that I’m “accomplished” in the arts. I have a broad familiarity with the arts. Like, I’m aware of them. And I’ve tried some of them. A little.
I’ve tried a lot things actually, of the mainly non-physically-dangerous variety. (Wait, I take that back—I have done some dangerous things, but not usually on purpose). I’m just a really curious person and I love to learn things. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be useful for me to love learning it. It’s just plain fun to know it. Makes me special. Most of the things I’ve learned I’ve since forgotten, because it was a long time ago. And it was useless. So I never used it. And that makes it harder to remember.
I’ve tried a lot of things too that I just wasn’t good at. For some reason I was thinking that I was good at it, secretly good at it. Really secretly. I just hadn’t developed my skill yet. Or there was some mental block, or phobia or neurosis or something that was preventing me from really blossoming as a singer/songwriter/painter/novelist/handwriting analyst/upholsterer and I just had to overcome my childhood so I could find my true calling.
Some things I just really hated doing. So when I hit a big wall (like lack of talent or feelings of dread), I quit.
Quitting is a vital life skill. It irritates me that the term “quitter” has such negative connotations. It’s really just a taunt, a variant on “chicken”, or “wimp”, and just as meaningless. Perseverance is grossly overrated—sounds an awful lot like “perversity”. Or sort of like. Bunch of the same letters. Or let’s just say there is appropriate perseverance, and inappropriate perseverance. And people who have got the whammy put on them about the whole silly “quitter” stigma have suppressed their natural ability to know which is which. To know when to quit. I bet you know what I mean, dear reader. How many of you have nearly killed yourselves persisting in something that really sucked out loud? Like a bad job or a bad relationship, because you didn’t want to be a “quitter”? Or maybe you kept plugging away at something that was just a bad fit, because by golly you were going to MAKE it fit because that’s what talented/successful/worthwhile/Hispanic people do. Or maybe it was someone else’s dream for you, and not yours. And looking back don’t you wish you had got the hell out of there sooner? And maybe you would have, if quitters were given their due in our society. Kenny Rogers knows all about this.
Let me tell you about all the stuff I’ve quit and how glad I am that I did.
When I was little I’d spend a few weeks every summer with my grandparents. One summer my grandmother and I (this was her idea—she might have had a few beers) figured it would be good if we could write with our feet. Because you never know. Grain threshers and all that. So we worked on that for quite a while. Or at least it seemed like quite a while. Eventually had to give that up. Never quite got the hang of it.
Later when I was in high school I got to thinking about captivity or being lost at sea (I didn’t live near the ocean but you never know where life will take you, right?) and thought, wouldn’t it be handy—and oh so cool, what a totally esoteric thing to know, people would remember me (“Dude! Remember that girl …?”)—if I knew Morse code or the International Code of Symbol Flags? If I knew Morse code I could tap out messages on the cell wall to my fellow captives and hatch an escape plan. Or if I was lost at sea and the radio didn’t work, or I couldn’t figure out how to work it (guess I should have been learning about Ham radios too, didn’t think of that—is it Ham radios on ships? Or just regular radios? What is a Ham radio?) and there was a complete set of symbol flags somewhere I could find them, I could lug them up to the poop deck or the mainmast or wherever and wave out an SOS at passing ships. Hell of a lot better than using a stupid little mirror and the sun because what if it’s cloudy? I did flashcards for myself—drew all the little flags on there and all the little dots. I actually had the flags memorized, the whole alphabet (hopefully I’d never have to spell out “acute appendicitis”), but I didn’t get as far with the Morse code. Just wasn’t as interesting (the flags were so pretty), although it probably would have been more useful. Kind of dropped the ball on that. After a while, living inland sort of undermined my interest in the flags so I kind of let that go. And I figured if I got taken captive somewhere I’d just wing it. It was fun while it lasted, and fantasizing about how I would save the day was very entertaining. But it was probably better for me in the long run that I did my homework instead. It pays to know when to quit.
At other times I’ve been determined to become masterful in other stuff, until my lack of real talent or utter lack of patience or the fact that I really hated doing it led me to believe I needed to move on. I’ve taken drawing classes (didn’t do half bad sometimes--as long as what I was drawing wasn't alive--but if I wasn’t willing to hang it on my own wall I just couldn’t maintain my enthusiasm), acrylic painting classes, oil painting classes (what does it mean if you can’t think of anything to paint when the teacher tells you to do an abstract?), upholstering classes (what was I thinking), photography classes, editing classes (don’t ask), Spanish classes, Latin American (never been there) history classes, etc.
I’ve also been obsessed with other things without taking classes. Several years ago I was determined to be a songwriter. Wrote a bunch of “song lyrics” and decided that it was absolutely crucial that I write the music to go with them and learn how to play the guitar so I could perform them. Bought a guitar (oh, guitar lessons, forgot about that one) and a keyboard and a bunch of “learn to play guitar/keyboard” books. Couldn’t ever quite play more than one guitar chord at a time—I needed about three or four seconds to get in position for the next chord so it wasn’t looking good. Many an evening I sat and stared at the keyboard. Where to start? (Hmm, how about this white one here? Sounds good). A songwriter friend asked me if I had any melodies or anything in my head or ideas about arrangements for how the songs would go. Um. No. Is that important? I tell you, I flogged that pipe dream for a long time. Figured if I could write such amazing lyrics (uh-huh) then I just HAD to have the ability buried in me, somewhere, really, really deep, to write the music to go with them. And then play the music. Figured it was my “issues” that were keeping me from discovering this deeply, deeply, deeply hidden talent. God, what a relief when I finally gave myself permission to not be a musician. The guitar looks cool on the wall now. ("Oh, do you play?" Me: "No.")
For several years I spent hours every day reading novels in foreign languages and acquiring new vocabulary (I was a language major in college, but this was after). Flashcards again. I really did plug away at that for a long time. I loved it. French, Spanish and German. I was even ready to learn Italian when I met a guy and got distracted. I had no immediate plans to go to any of those places but it wasn’t about that. I just loved the feel of those words coming out of my mouth (I have a gift for it, sound like a slow-witted native) and being able to read a novel in a foreign language without a dictionary. (So cosmopolitan). It was a great time-waster and I had a lot of time on my hands so it was perfect. But now that I have more important stuff to do (like hang with my baby and make stunning jewelry that you want to buy) I’m not so interested anymore. I quit in favor of doing something better.
Also bought an economics textbook because I wanted to understand that (should have bought the Dummies one); bought a Latin textbook but never used it (can’t remember now what that was about); knitted for about 15 minutes in high school once; made homemade paper with a blender, a screen and the oven once (sort of looked like vomit and you couldn’t really write on it); was a missionary, briefly; I was determined to learn how to swim better so I practiced side breathing in the bathtub but I hate water and being wet so I didn't get very far with that; decided a few years ago that I was going to make lamps out of papier mache so I bought some books on it but then I thought it would maybe be a fire hazard and I didn't want the liability exposure; ran myself ragged one summer practicing my ground strokes with a borrowed ball machine but I didn’t really have anyone to play with so it was kind of anticlimactic; then I was going to go back to school and become a psychologist but when I read the GRE study guides I realized I couldn’t remember how to do algebra, trigonometry, geometry or chemistry and that crazy people scare the piss out of me; etc. And there was stuff I contemplated learning (like haircutting and a Scottish accent) but I discovered you could do those things without knowing how.
Now I design and make jewelry. I really like it, I look forward to doing it, the stream of ideas is pretty much constant, and I'm proud of my art. Maybe someday I'll get bored with it and move on to something else, but for the moment I've really found something that satisfies my creative urge. And I don't have to draw anything.
Trying stuff is like tasting new foods. Some you like, some you don’t, some don’t agree with you, and some are just too much damn work. Like doilies. Give it a shot and if it doesn’t turn your crank, do something else. A few different things have to come together for it to make sense to stick with something—are you good enough at it to enjoy doing it? How fun is it? Is there enough meaning in it to keep you interested? Do you have enough time/freedom to pursue it hard enough to make it worthwhile? How much do you care about it? How bored are you? You can’t do everything all the time, you have to settle on some things—otherwise you kind of just end up spinning your wheels, like a Labrador with 10 tennis balls. Some of those things might be pretty lofty goals, and you’ll know which ones you really really care about and when it’s time to pursue them. There’s a time to push through obstacles, and there’s a time to let something go—it actually takes a fair amount of mental health to know when to do which. And mental health is something to be proud of.
It’s okay to quit. It’s part of knowing yourself, testing yourself, finding your direction, finding your “bliss”. And closing one door allows you to walk through another.