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Saturday, March 25, 2017

What do we learn?

It's been a good long break since the last post, during which there were medical appointments and Chinese New Year preparations, so I've been busy, sorry! Now that everything is done and work is settling down, I finally found some time to do a simple book cover with a greeting card.

The process of doing this is easy enough because all you really have to do is wrap the greeting card with a cover paper of your choice, so while I was making it, I had time to do some musings over the whole idea of crafting.

This particular occasion, I remembered a line I heard a parent say to a child over the taking up of music in school:

"You don't pursue music all the way unless you want to become a musician. If you don't, then there's no point in pursuing it in school to this extent."

That made me a little sad. We don't pursue a craft just to earn money from it, surely. Yes, it would be great if we did and we could live off what we loved. But, even if we don't get to, even if we have to keep our 9-5 jobs, does that necessarily mean there is no use for the craft that we love to do? 

(Here when I write craft, I refer to a interest that we work at for a sustained period of time in order to gain mastery of it. This could include art, craft, playing an instrument, photography, writing etc...)

What then, do we take away from our craft? Do we do it so that one day we could quit our 9-5 jobs? Do we do it just for the end product, to have something pretty to hold in our hands? To have something useful that will serve a meaningful purpose in our lives? 

Then what do we gain when we don't achieve what we set out to do? When we fail at it? When we don't make money or a living out of it? Does that mean our craft becomes useless or hopeless?

Think of your craft then not in terms of the material products it produces. Think in terms of the values and skills you learn and then it becomes clearer.

Real life example: When I volunteered for the violin recital, many people thought I was nuts. Even on the day of the recital, after all the practice I did, I still played nearly half the song off key. It would seem like a total bomb, but I still took away several lessons from my recital attempt:

Persistence - To keep trying even when our first attempts bomb. I thought I knew what persistence meant till I volunteered for this and to my horror realized at the start how far out of my depth I was. I had to keep practising and practising to reach a semi-acceptable level and then I realized what real persistence meant. 

Mindfulness - To reflect on our mistakes, think of what went wrong and what to do about it in the future. Mindless practising would have seen me playing the song wrongly a hundred times a day. I have to learn deliberate practice, in which after each attempt, I thought about the parts that went wrong and concentrated on making those parts right before going on to the rest of the song. Each time I practised, I had to keep a mindful eye (or ear) out for those parts to make sure I got them right.

Ability to withstand failure - To stand with grace under pressure even amidst total failure. When I finished the recital piece, I knew it wasn't good. But more importantly, I learnt that it was ok that it wasn't good. Life still went on, my family and friends were still around me and I could still continue playing the violin (badly). Whether the rest of the audience thought it was good or not didn't matter because they were so temporary in my life, which would go on even long after they had forgotten my performance.

When I looked at my violin playing this way, then it didn't really matter how well or how badly I played. I still learnt and continued to learn these lessons, which would follow me in other areas of life. And when I looked at the rest of the crafts that I pursued, I could see other values that I had learnt:

Meticulousness - To be exact and deliberate in your activities. My first few crafting and painting attempts were very haphazardly done and it showed. Paper stuck out at the wrong angles, paint jobs were done poorly and I felt it was because I tended to rush through my actions without thought for measurement or precision. Now this works well in some instances, but since I wanted a finished job that looked close to professional, I had to learn to be more meticulous and precise in what I did. Now when I make a new journal, I have learnt to be more exact in the way I cut and paste the paper and I'm a lot more proud of the products I produce. 

Patience and self-forgiveness - Things will still go wrong, no matter how hard or often you try. Songs will still be played wrongly, paint will be applied wrongly, paper will be cut or pasted wrongly. At times like this, when I want to throw everything into the rubbish chute in despair, I learn to tell myself to cool down and more importantly, forgive myself for my mistakes. It's ok to make these kind of mistakes and there's always a way to bounce back from them if we are willing to learn. That's important because I also learnt to apply this when I mess up in other areas, like work and tell myself it's ok in the long run, I will bounce back. 

So maybe in a way, this is a practice for when my own child faces the same reactions when he wants to pursue his own craft. There will be people who will tell him there's no use or money in it and that he's better off pursuing his career or his job. When they do, I hope I will remember this blog entry so that someone will tell him, "No, there is purpose, life and love in doing what we love and this is how I learnt it."

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