There was a boy in my etching class in high school who had one arm. It was amputated above the elbow and he never used a prosthetic. Everyone in the class was learning printmaking for the first time, so we were all coming at it from a level playing field.
One part of printmaking is that after your metal plate is ready, you heat it while putting on the ink in order to get the ink to sink into the grooves. After you get the ink into the grooves, you take it off the heat and rub the plate with a tarlatan to take off the excess ink and then I was taught to hand-wipe my plates. When we were working with the tarlatan, we kept the bottom of the plate on a stack of newspaper serving the same purpose as an oven mitt. Metal plates heated up get...hot. By the time you were hand-wiping the plate, the metal had cooled enough to do the quick movements and not get burned, but I still have light scars on my arms from times a plate hit my uncovered arm after the plate was heated.
It is probably pretty clear at this point that it would help to have two arms.
One day, I was watching the one-armed boy work and noticed several things: (1) He worked more confidently than I did. When I put on ink, it was like I was a little worried that perhaps the plate didn't want to get dirty and I hadn't asked the plate yet how it felt and perhaps I was overstepping a line and... When he worked, he worked in the ink with quick confident movements like he was Super Nanny taming a child. (2) He was not only a better artist in terms of his needle-work, but he was a better printer. His lines were clear and crisp and he hadn't had the same issues I had with being wishy washy in terms of the resin. (3) He did all of this with one arm and no prosthetic. Without burning himself too badly. And er...I had two arms and did I mention that I still have scars from burning myself on hot plates?
He saw me watching him work so I said, "you're really really good."
And without looking at my sorry plate, he said, "well, I listen."
Which was a fair point.
Because I really didn't listen. Here's a reenactment of an average class: we sat down to watch our teacher demonstrate a new technique. I started taking notes. I soon became confused because I was busy trying to balance worrying that I wouldn't understand the assignment with listening to the teacher. I soon gave up listening to the teacher and daydreamed about boys. The demonstration would end and my teacher would start up the boom box so we could listen to the same Bruce Springsteen tape we always listened to while we worked. I started asking everyone around me a dozen questions, which showed just how little I listened during the lecture. I then became overwhelmed and took a walk and rode the merry-go-round outside the school (one of the perks of having your class on the Mall). And I ate a Big Chief Crunchy because by that time, you could really only get them in random places like the cafeteria at the Natural History Museum. And then I'd return to the classroom and attempt to work but usually end up returning to the teacher to have him walk me through the steps again. And then it would finally click with me, but I would run out of time to actually do the work. And then I'd go home and daydream about boys.
I took on a new project this week and saw myself entering into the same traps I set for myself back in that class. I could feel my eyes glaze over as I stared at the instructions on the screen and I called up Lindsay and said, "I am never ever ever going to get this. Will you please hold my dick through this whole thing?" And then I'd daydream about boys. And then finally, finally, when it was almost time for bed, a small element of it would finally click and I'd realize how much time I wasted with my incessant worrying.
So I'd like to thank the one-armed boy for his simple advice. You know, to listen. To be in the moment and absorb the task at hand rather than worrying about how I'm going to fail. And to stop daydreaming at boys. I mean, he didn't tell me to stop that, but I assume it was inherent in the message.
Okay, scratch that. I'd like to thank the one-armed boy for his advice that I should listen, be in the moment, absorb the task at hand, and save daydreaming about boys for when I'm eating my Big Chief Crunchy after school hours.