In which I blather on about Learning

Dear Erin,

Little Mister has his bedtime snuggle friends as well, but like Munchkin, he’s happy to leave them behind during the day. Meow (Mr. Cow) and Puppy are great pals, but they get in the way of serious play sometimes. Especially right now, when the most popular toys in the house are the trains. You need both hands for those.

Speaking of both hands, mine have sat more or less idle, craft-wise, for the last couple of days. I had gotten about halfway through a little hat when I realized I had been insane while trying to work out the gauge, and I was both going to run out of yarn and also knitting a hat that would almost fit LM. And he has a big head for his age. I needed something more newborn-sized. So I ripped it out and haven’t restarted yet.

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But my ears haven’t been idle, and this week I’ve twice heard a similar conversation regarding knitting, so I figured – in case there are people reading this to whom it might apply – I would weigh in on this particular conversation, which I know knitters (and probably most people) have heard over and over again. It goes like this:

  • Person 1 is knitting (or taking photographs or cooking or, really, working on any skilled action whose product is easy to see) and/or is wearing / sharing the product of that skilled action.
  • Person 2: “Oh, do you knit?” (sew, bake, garden, refinish furniture, carve wood)
  • Person 1: “Well, yes…”
  • Person 2: “I’ve always wanted to learn how to do that!”
  • Person 1: “Um, I can probably teach you if you’d like.”
  • Person 2: “No, I tried once but I couldn’t because of X.”
  • Person 1: “It’s actually pretty easy; it just takes practice.”
  • Person 2: “No, I’m sure I could never learn.”

Okay, so there are a couple of things going on here that I’d like to address. First off, I think we’re all a little of each of these people – we all have our interests and skills and love to share them with others who are interested, while at the same time, we’re all vaguely interested in things we don’t do but that look cool and fun.

Or maybe it’s just me; I’d love to be able to be expert at more things. But there’s only so much time, and if the interest isn’t there to really pursue something, there’s no use beating myself up that I’m not an expert at everything. So sometimes Person 2 kind of wants to learn something, but not really, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Do what you love and become an expert at those things.

But if Person 2 does want to learn something, she should recognize that she won’t be awesome at it right away. The first thing knitted will probably be an ugly mess; possibly the second, too; maybe the third. Who cares? (To be honest, I think some things knitted by people who know what they’re doing are still an ugly mess.)  If we’re too proud to fail (something I struggle with), we lose some of the pleasure of learning. I learned French a long time ago, and at times, I’ve gotten close to fluency, but because I’m too embarrassed to fail in conversation with fluent French speakers, I’ve never crossed that final hurdle for good. My loss, and something I still want to work on, but right now, I’m definitely a Person 2 in that area.

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That statement about “I couldn’t [learn] because of X” of course varies with the skill under discussion. So let me just get specific for a second, and talk about one of the reasons for not learning to knit that I heard this week and have experienced myself. In this instance, Person 2 was left-handed while Person 1 was right-handed. I’m left handed; the majority of the world is right handed. I can tell you here and now that in knitting, it makes absolutely no difference at all. You do the same motions regardless of whether you’re a leftie or a rightie. There you go – secret of the knitting world. Knitting “left-handed” refers to a different style of making stitches, not to personal handedness.

This is an area where a little research, a little using of available resources, can mean the difference between doing something new and thinking, “I can’t.” And that’s the last thing I wanted to blather about here. If we really do want to learn something new, we will find that there are so many resources out there to help us. And if we pick up one book and it doesn’t speak to us, it’s easy to try another. Can’t learn a series of actions by looking at still pictures or drawings? I find that hard, too. Thank goodness for YouTube, where you can watch people doing that series of actions as many times as you need to learn it.

So, basically, if you run into someone doing something that looks kind of cool (like scherenschnitte, or whatever), think about this before you say, “I’ve always wanted to be able to do that!” Do you really? It’s perfectly fine to admire someone’s work without feigning the desire to copy them. If you really do want to learn, then give yourself the time to learn, and if the first source of teaching doesn’t work for you, find something or someone else. The activities I’m talking about don’t really require talent; they require practice and therefore sustained interest and a temperament resonant with the activity.

These are things we do to spend the hours pleasurably. If it’s more pleasurable to do something else, then do something else. We don’t have to be experts in everything. As I keep telling myself, that’s impossible anyway.

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One thought on “In which I blather on about Learning

  1. Pingback: Ooh, Shiny! | crackersisters

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