If someone trains their body, practices daily physical exercise, learns muscular control and athletic skill to the point of being the best, we put a gold medal around their neck on TV. If someone trains their mind, practices daily rational thought, acquires knowledge and technical skills to the point of being the best, we go online to call them elitist and tell them to keep their opinions to themselves.
My grandfather (and others) taught me how to knit. With yarn. I can make a scarf.
“But mine is so bad.” She says, a pouting glare focused on me as she slump back into her chair and folds her arms across her chest. “I don’t know how to make it look nice.”
While many parents will be quick to point out the brilliant qualities of their children, the buzzword of the week touting a rash of so-called “over-sharenting” wherein doting parents brag up the glowing wonder of their infallible tots, not many will be so forthcoming with their flaws. As it turns out, my daughter is flawed: she is a perfectionist who is far too quick to throw in the metaphorical towel when the going gets tough. Also, I’m way past the undeserved praise stage. “We’ve been through this a hundred times.” I insist, frustrated at the cycle of the same-old whimpering complaint. “You’re not going to just be good at something the first time you try it.”
Of all the things to try perfecting, this time she’s taken a shining to digital art. She’s watched her father dabbling in simple doodles, puttering through the efforts of electronic sketches on the computer, mostly for use in brightening up various websites. It did not help that earlier that same day I’d proudly shown her the digital book I’d self-published, blossomed from a made-up story she herself had helped refine, and whose pages had been stuffed full of her father’s amateur artwork. So, of course, she wants to replicate that effort on her own.
Monkey see, monkey do. At least, monkey see even if monkey can’t quite do it perfectly.
“You know,” I say in my best dad voice. “I’ve been drawing on the computer for nearly thirty years. I’ve had a lot of practice.”
“I don’t want to wait that long.” She huffs, and I am forced to practice my skills at holding back a burst of knowing laughter at her unrealistic and impatient expectations.
This isn’t the first appearance of the Girl’s impatient perfectionism, either. She pouted at the piano, slumped in the snow when we took her skiing, slouched at soccer practice, knocked needles with her mother over learning to knit, and even balked at baking anymore when her first attempt at cookies weren’t up to her her high standards. Not that we’ve let her quit: but the refrain is all too familiar: “I don’t know how to…”
“Look.” I say. “Everything takes practice.” And I probably paused for dramatic emphasis here. “Everything! If you really want to learn how to do anything at all, you need to practice it. And you need to practice remembering that, too.”
nurturing imagination, rule 020
only practice makes perfect: demand imperfection
I’m pretty sure that not every kid leans towards the fusspot end of the spectrum, but from my sample size of one I’m also pretty sure that I’m dealing with a perfectionist population of roughly one hundred percent. Lofty goals and high standards are great, but when anyone, especially a kid, has neither the patience to build towards them, nor the chops to get there without trying those expectations turn into a real road-block. So, where the apparent problem resides is on that road not-yet-travelled between now and some point in the future when she’s actually able to suit her own criteria for high quality. I simply need to figure out how to make her walk that path, even if the destination won’t be clear to her for a few more years.
Actual perfection is ultimately and likely unattainable for we mere mortals, however, but convincing a kid of that can be a herculean effort. Not quite so epic of a task may simply be to demand something lesser, insisting on the incremental improvements that come with patience and practice and more realistic intermediate expectations. Imperfection isn’t a compromise, it’s a milestone.
With a keyboard and lots and lots and lots and lots of time.
How to dance… because, hey, it would make my wife happy.
I’ve been dancing with some lesser cameras lately. This has been a deliberate slight to my now-aging dSLR. And I’m okay with that.
a deliberate slight to my now-aging dSLR
Foxtrotting with the little point-and-shoot.
Saucy tangos with my GoPro.
Spinning, twisting waltzes with my smartphone’s camera.
These days it seems that I wander through crowds most everywhere I go and even if I don’t seem like I’m paying particular attention, I am looking at the various cameras that are slung over so many necks. Digital SLRs are so incredibly affordable these days that it often seems as if everyone and their dog owns one. Uses them. Gleefully snaps away at the most random of compositions and soon-to-be captured moments. It seems like a great deal of those cameras are being used for point-and-shoot photography, snapshot power-clicking, and the inelegant blur of shutter games played with something less than either focus or depth of… knowledge, maybe.
I think technology should strive to be accessible, affordable, and available to anyone. That’s how we learn. That’s how I learned. Trial. Error. (Oh, so much error.) And sheer volume of practice by virtue of ever-present access.
Both the photos in this post were captured by a Samsung Galaxy Note phone.
But this raises the bar, doesn’t it?
Photography becomes so much more than having the so-called “proper” or “best” equipment and using it. That’s just the entry fee now.
A great many nuggets of wisdom stuck in my head from the various photography workshops I’ve taken, but I think the most influential –at least for this span of time– was something uttered by Brad Wrobleski in one of the Fotoscool clinics I took. Paraphrased: “You camera is just a fancy box to capture light.”
the taken-for-granted quantum mechanical kludge of electrons
So, I’m thinking: how do I define fancy here in 2013? True, a dSLR can be the fanciest of fancy cameras. But the little sensor I cart around with me in my cell phone, backed by powerful processing software and the taken-for-granted quantum mechanical kludge of electrons colliding with a bit of silicon is actually an amazingly fancy little box for capturing light.
We shove it in our pockets and don’t think about it much, but those little everywhere cameras are ever-improving and deeply phenomenal milestones in technological achievement. Sure, the lenses are plastic or the shutters fall onto the slow side of the current spectrum of what’s available. But still… awesome little digital cameras none-the-less, and I tend to carry around two of them everywhere I go these days.
So I ask again, what is fancy? And thinking about that question, the question of “what can I do with something intermediately fancy…?” is a question that often leaves me wondering if I shouldn’t spend more time trying to figure that out. And by leaving less of the art to the box and putting more of the onus of skill and understanding on yours truly, what am I forcing myself to learn and what knowledge flows from that?
Thus, I’ve been burning the bossa nova with other bits of light-bending technology, and pondering the passacaglia of photons pounding out pictures in a somewhat more primal –perhaps deconstructed– sort of way, if only just to see what I can produce. And it’s what I need (at least the art-minded photographer in me needs) right now.
One of the oddest-sort-of-things that occured to us on our recent vacation stemmed out of the fact that we were on a boat that had something of a shadow cruise happening. What’s that? Sounds mysterious. Creepy. Curious.
Last week we went aboard a very awesome and very large large cruise ship in the way that most average, normal people get aboard a cruise ship in these, the early years of the twenty-first century: We did some research on the Internet, we found some destinations we thought would be nice to visit, we scoured through options and prices and itineraries, and around October or November we paid a huge chunk of money that secured our little spot among the throngs of others boarding the mighty Freedom of the Seas.
In late December, sometime between Christmas and the new years, I was commuting to work and listening to podcasts on the train. I often listen to this show called TWIT, hosted by Leo Laporte, which is a kind-of technology talk show where he brings on a rotating slate of interesting guests to discuss technology topics. But over the holidays he had a more casual show and instead brought on, in particular, a guy (who I hadn’t heard of until that moment) named Jonathan Coulton. (Take away some of my geek points on that one, I agree!) Discussion ensued and roughly twenty minutes into the podcast the topic swayed over to this thing called JoCo Cruise Crazy, an on-ship conference hosted by Coulton and his pals in mid-February each year. Long-story-short (and you know exactly where this is going, right) it was about another five minutes of listening — and ultimately confirming at their website — that this was occurring on the exact ship and on the exact trip as we had now-already booked, paid, and negotiated vacation time off for.
In other words, we found ourselves booked on a cruise with a kind of quasi-interesting, sometimes-annoying, cross section of Internet A-listers and about six-hundred of our fellow geeks (who had knowingly and legitimately signed up to attend this event.) This shadow cruise meant that what was supposed to be a quiet family vacation cruise experience, ultimately included (a) a not-exactly standard cruise-ship demographic, (b) a variety of t-shirts that out-geeked even my own collection, (c) hundreds of fez-wearers on formal nights (which I still don’t entirely understand) and (d) random and frequent encounters (if only in a “hey, there’s so-and-so…”) with familiar folks like John Hodgman and Wil Wheaton and this guy who were trapped a boat with the likes of us for seven days. It was a little surreal and I, who is not normally star-struck and tend to take a very-Canadian let-them-be approach towards celebrities, edged a little closer to the gah-gah cliff, if I’m being completely honest.
So, a week went by in the Caribbean and we had fun, and weird and surreal became oddly normal for a few days.
But then we came home. Jonathan Coulton (who I now recognize very well) and his family were sitting beside us on the plane. (In the unlikely event that he ever reads this, I’m the guy on the Delta flight to New York who sat across the aisle from — who I assume was — your wife and son. I was a lot tired and in no mood for anything resembling conversational banter and so I didn’t say anything. I didn’t come to your party, but I hope you had fun. And I hope you had a safe trip home from the airport. Just saying…)
But it was all so… normal…
I mean, at the end of the day everyone — geeks, A-listers, celebrities, and everyone — were just folks on a boat. It’s the kind of thing that makes a guy think, wonder, ponder… you know: what separates a dedicated and talented guy like JoCo from a guy like me? How did he make himself what he is? What would I have to do to get to a point where I’m a guy coming home from a vacation where he was watching a shadow cruise to a guy who was coming home from hosting a shadow cruise. After all, at the end of it we were just two guys on a plane ride home, probably pretty parallel-ish talented (when it all boils out) on the technical side of making websites and being geeky… but then that’s not entirely true is it?
If it was obvious, everyone would do it…
And that’s the curious million dollar, age-old, asked-by-every-could-be, crossing the aisle of the airline, question. How does one engage people to create that difference, that perception, that popularity?
And even if I could, would I even want to?
Either way, you’re all invited to my next cruise — celebrities or otherwise.
I’ve been reading through Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a kind-of non-fiction graphic-novel-esque work that deconstructs the art of comics in the form of a comic. It is an aging work, originally published in 1993, and thus has little to say about the advent of web comics and such (topics I assume are covered in his newer books written in a similar style.) But this is largely inconsequential because the perspective McCleod takes is easily translatable to newer and (likely) future mediums.
What struck me however — at least enough to slog out a blog-entry opinion on the subject — was the chapter I read most recently wherein McCloud explains his thoughts on the progression of the artists themselves. He covers this topic as The Six Steps of artistic creation. And this interests me because I think there is some overlap (some convergence) to some very similar ideas from folks like Ira Glass and his “Gap” or Malcolm Gladwell and his “10,000 hours” — both of which I’ve written on previous.