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Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the Valley of the Etchers, the One Armed Man is King

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 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.


It wasn't?

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.


HereWeGoAJen said...

Real and true listening is quite a difficult skill.

Eve said...

Learning to listen is a humbling lesson.

In my second year of graduate school to become a therapist (where listening does seem rather important, right?), I was told by a professor that I'm so eager to answer a question and participate in class, that it was often at the expense of quieter and less 'aggressive' students.


I practically had to sew my mouth closed and turn off the constant self-reflection in my brain in order to really listen. But being in my OWN therapy taught me how healing it can be when someone truly listens to you.

It's like nothing else, really.

Meghan said...

I'm going to venture a guess that you are a situation specific listener. Because I think you are one of the best listeners I've ever hear what the person is saying...and what they aren't. And that is equally important.

So I'd just say that maybe it's direction following type listening...

areyoukiddingme said...

I always let my subconscious do the listening while I was in school. That way, I was free to "talk to my neighbor" as they used to say, but if called on, I could still easily answer the question. Now, I find myself not listening to people because I'm bored. My mind doesn't wander off exactly, it just starts this internal monologue about how I should really be concentrating on what the person is saying, but if it were at all interesting to me, I'd be doing it, and I really wish they would just stop talking, so maybe I could re-engage in the conversation. It's terribly rude, but I can't seem to help it even though I'm totally aware of it. I feel like one of those Adult ADHD commercials (and I do not have ADHD).

There you go...a little glimpse into my psyche.

battynurse said...

I tend to be bad at listening sometimes too. My mind wanders to much. It depends often on what I'm listening to but I'll hear something that makes me think of something else and off I go on a totally different thought.

Anonymous said...

I can be really bad at listening, also. Generally, I've been able to cover this up, but I do miss out on stuff. And I also avoid being in the moment, which is a much better place to be.

Jess said...

I was always too busy oogling our art teacher to worry about the boys! :)

Good night, I miss that man!

Kristin said...

You really tell the best stories ever. Great post about a skill we should all practice.

Beautiful Mess said...

This post came at a perfect time for me! I'm starting school on Monday *EEK* and I've been worried about listening in class. I'm worried I'll get overwhelmed and the stress about what I'm missing instead of focusing WHILE I'm in the class. Thank YOU for reminding ME to just...listen.

Wishing 4 One said...

A great reminder for all of us, it so important to REALLY listen. I remember I tended to listen to what i thought was important blanking out the rest while in college. Thanks one-armed boy for sticking in Lolli's memory and making a comeback for us all.

after iris said...

My boss often says 'you have two ears and one mouth, use them accordingly'

I've just signed up for Mother Henna's latest heART swap, so it was lovely to hear about your creative forays!


Dawn said...

I'm glad to know I'm not alone at having failed to achieve the zen like state of living wholly in the moment. I have more than my share of In the Moment books with helpful titles like Living in the Moment or Parenting in the Moment or Shopping in the Moment, but have never been able to get there. Sad to say, I fantasize more about sleep and thin hips than boys nowadays.

annacyclopedia said...

Damn, I love you. Plus this post is awesome.

Shanny said...

Yup, we should definitely we practicing listening more, great post!

FET Accompli said...

That story was really engaging. I am sometimes afraid to listen too, for fear that I won't understand. And I used to daydream a LOT about boys...

Flying Monkeys said...

Great post! I have a hard time listening to some people because I'm too busy wanting them to hear me. I need to work on holding my thought (like I tell me kids) and hearing what they have to say, I'm just worried I'll forget the thought...which probably means it wasn't that important.

caitsmom said...

Always trying to be a better listener, for others AND for myself.