Turn it Into a Party

Keeping Penny company while she milks
Keeping Penny company while she milks

While luck is very prominent here, as there is so much of which we are unaware, this topic seems to be also about forgiveness of oneself and partner. Our society seems to ask that we study and be experts before we jump. “Think before you speak” has been taken too far and speaking/jumping has become a source of disappointment and blame. It is not a space from which one can easily recover, as forgiveness seems harder to come by than in the past. There was a time when we did not call in the experts to do the jumping for us.I wonder, what would be the impact on our nation’s obesity epidemic if all individuals suddenly understood that they did not need the expert knowledge of dietitians and trainers. Lower expectations, relieving ourselves and thus not need to become professional athletes or professional anything elses. Suddenly, you can sing and dance, jump, and, gulp, Leave a Reply.

Ya know, I was just thinking I didn’t really have nothing worthwhile to say today and besides which I’ve got paying work aplenty wanting my attention, never mind the list of farm-related tasks Penny reeled off at breakfast whilst outside the temperature slowly dragged its sorry ass out of the double-digit below zero range. Ah, nine below! Finally, a warm spell!

I think Peter makes a great point about forgiveness of one’s self and one’s failures, and it’s not something I mentioned much in yesterday’s post. But jeezum and by gum and whatnot, this place is full of failure. It’s a teeming mess of mistakes and missteps and false starts for which Penny and I have had to forgive ourselves over and over again, lest the weight of it all crush us into submission.

I exaggerate a bit, of course, but it’s not entirely untrue. I’m reminded of it every winter, when I try – just as I did the winter before (and the winter before that) – to fully close the window I installed so drastically out-of-square. And just as I did the winter before (and the winter before that), I fail, and resolve yet again to pull the trim, cut the nails that hold the window in place, and re-shim the damn thing.

Or up by the barn, the stupid platform we built that was going to be the floor of the new milking room that never got built because right about the time we finished the floor, we realized – for reasons that are far too complex to explain here – that it was a ridiculous arrangement. And so now we’ve got this platform rotting away and one of these days I’ve gotta tear it out. I just can’t quite bring myself to do it yet; truthfully, I need to get a little more distance from the absurdity of the situation.

This whole place is full of these sort of quirks and missteps, many the result of jumping without thinking, of blithely assuming we would prevail over (or at the very least muddle through) whatever situation we faced. Maybe it’s confidence; perhaps, at times, it trips that thin line and becomes arrogance. I do wonder if maybe I should worry about failing a bit more often than I do, that perhaps I’d actually be better off spending more time thinking about jumping, than actually jumping. I’ve always been this way, and while Penny is something of a tempering influence, she’s not exactly immune to excitement and “git r’ dun-ism.”

The flip side of all this is precisely what Peter points out: That our culture has, in general, become overly dependent on so-called “experts.” Broadly speaking, we have become deskilled and unconfident to the point of near-helplessness. Because if you strip away all the 21st century socioeconomic artifice and get right down to the brass tacks of food and shelter and water and warmth, the overwhelming majority of Americans would be well and truly forked. Hell, I bet most of us can’t hardly change a flat tire, anymore.

The reasons for this helplessness are multitude, and are built into practically every demographic trend of the past century. You can’t coax folks away from the land with promises of moneyed prosperity and expect them to retain the land-based skills that are no longer economically viable. You can’t structure an economy to reward specialization and industrial production and expect people to maintain their connection to the fundamentals of their well-being. The further away from these fundamentals we get, the less confidence we have in our abilities to attain them. And I wonder if it’s not just confidence in these particular skills, but a generalized confidence that depends on us feeling as if we are, in some fundamental way, useful.

Of course as we lose confidence, we gain fear. Fear of stepping outside the prescribed boundaries. Fear of turning against the crushing tide of the very trends that are making us fearful. Fear of jumping.

There are plenty of times when I feel as if I lack confidence, when I feel as if what I do is, in one way or another, inadequate. When a real carpenter comes into our house, someone with the skills to truly craft a home, rather than just build one, I can’t quite get over the sense that he or she is quietly noting the many flaws of our humble shelter. Hah! Look at that out-of-square window. Man, Hewitt sure is a boob of a builder. Oh, my: They used spikes to pin those beams together! Philistines! I could go on. And on. But the truth is, it’s just not that helpful. It does nothing to further our pursuit of living our lives as we wish to live them. I forgave myself that out-of-square window years ago. So did Penny. And those spikes, they work just fine. Better yet, we drove ‘em ourselves. I remember it well. It made our shoulders wicked sore, but it was real fun.

Soon enough, I’ll forgive myself that stupid milking room floor and rip it down. We’ll pile up all the tore-up wood, have some friends over, and spark up one hell of a fire. We’ll laugh at our stupid mistake and our friends will laugh with (at?) us and maybe we’ll cook up some sausages or something. We might even break out some instruments and play some music. I’m still working on gaining the confidence to sing in front of others, but I’m getting there, and maybe by then I’ll be ready to belt out a tune or two.

You know, I think that might be the best thing to do with failure: Turn it into a party.

29 thoughts on “Turn it Into a Party”

  1. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes, but I’ve also learned a lot from the internet. The problem with internet is it’s just learning, which is different than putting that knowledge into practice. I can still make mistakes even after I know what to do and then it is a learning process all over again. Love your blog…

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head Mary. The internet is intoxicating with it’s abundance of knowledge. It is very easy to get sucked in and spend a majority of time researching instead of doing. Doing leads to a body of work, hard won experience and results (even if they aren’t square). Research floods the mind with options an indecision. The zen concept of “beginners mind” rewards jumping. All things I have to constantly remind myself.
      Thanks for the blog Ben, it is a delight to read.

  2. This post came at the right time for me. I was debating whether I should re-proof an ebook that I recently put out. A big part of me (or many parts of me) said, “Screw it, the content of the book is what will interest people.” A smaller part said, “People will think that you are a doofus when they see a typo, like using ‘who’ instead of ‘whom’.” Your post allowed the latter to put things in a different light. It’s all about how I feel about my work, rather than what other people think.

      1. In all honesty, if those were the only typos, it wouldn’t bother me at all. There are others that I would prefer to correct and some re-writing that I really would like to do, but the effort involved would be enormous due to the technological challenges.

    1. I always heard it as : Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.

  3. We (pretty much) built a house. it made the most sense at the time to have a contractor build the shell because of building code restrictions and requirements for the area but we did the rest. I am glad for the experience and cost savings but sometimes the lack of knowledge, time, resources, etc. created some of what we jokingly called “custom jobs”. A few were surprisingly brilliant, others so completely and totally ridiculous. I have a small entry with a first ever attempt at tiling a floor that is best covered by a rug and one of these days we’ll get the gumption to tear it out and do the job right but for now it serves a purpose. I could worry what others might think or relax and forget about it. I choose the latter. Just another example of where I think too many people waste their lives in the quest for perfection and that quest does not bring them happiness or good health.

  4. well,,,my husband is a master carpenter and fine home builder but if he came to your house he wouldn’t notice any of your mistakes. What he would be thinking is “What a great job….you built your house all by yourself..with help from your friends…and it is paid for and good for you”! And he would probably learn a thing or two also. And he would love to trade for some ham and bacon in return for lessons in building if we lived closer.

  5. Mistakes and failure have pretty much been the norm around our family in recent years, and yet amongst all that I am often reminding myself that we are also building a very solid foundation from which our dreams may eventually take wing. While I monitor these slow and steady developments in my own life, I facilitate them in the lives of others via exercise. I realize that my work as a Pilates instructor may seem to place me in the realm of “experts” and hoity toity society, in fact it does precisely the opposite. Pilates was developed by a completely self-made and self-taught man who most probably was not taken seriously in his own country and therefore came to the US to fulfill his ambitions. To this day it remains outside the realms of licensure and other official-expert-type stuff. I used to feel frustrated by the fact that the knowledge I have to share with people is not backed by any “legitimate” authority, but I’ve come to realize that it suits me quite well. And perhaps more importantly, it suites the ultimate goal of Pilates: to bring people back into intimate relationship with their own bodies. What you describe about our lack of confidence and fear with respect to doing work, also applies verbatim to how we relate to our own bodies. To me this seems even more relevant when folks decide to make a transition back to a way of life that requires more physical labor, because just as our minds have compromised by our lack of experience, so have our bodies.

  6. I have a very rough cage that I built out of stakes, harvested young trees and left over wire. Takes two people to move it, not because of weight but because it’s so unstable! But you know it serves its purpose and I learnt a heap from making it – not least that I’m not very good at building stuff! But who cares! Now I’m going to create a huge edible forrest and whilst I’ve read about design and companion planting etc I want to get it done so I’m just going to plant what I have and fix what doesmt work later!

  7. We learn infinitely more from our mistakes and failures than from our successes. Forgiveness of our own (and others’) shortcomings is essential to this learning process. Great post Ben (as always).

  8. get a little more distance
    & forgive one’s self and one’s failures

    confidence comes
    from brass tacks, he says

    other people have said other things
    but I like to hear lots of things & things like this

    And things like how the sparrow thinks
    not too much about the day before her
    but somehow has confidence
    and food, shelter and warmth

    Maybe I’m not so different

      1. Well, I wrote that. Ben inspired with a little old time religion throw’d in. Thanks.

  9. Wish I had this perspective a few years ago but grateful I have it now thanks, in part, to inspirations from writers such as you (and your readers, by the way, who have some wonderful thoughts to share here!)

    1. thanks, Dawn. I’m lucky to have great readers (including yourself!) who leave such thoughtful comments.

  10. I laughed, I installed the same window that you have and every winter I vow in the spring to fix it, and every spring it doesn’t seem that important anymore. It is there to humble me, when I am feeling somewhat superior.

  11. I find that if I care to judge my endeavors the result is somewhere on a continuum anchored at one end by Success and the other by Failure. And there are usually many criteria that could be used to measure; utility and aesthetic come immediately to mind in this discussion.
    And oh to have back all the anxious hours spent procrastinating starting a job I had never done. Fear of jumping. Jobs which are nearly never as difficult as feared. Jobs that were enjoyable to do and satisfying when completed.
    Thanks Ben

  12. Ben, weren’t you writing an article about your neighbors? For “Outside” or something? When is it coming out? I accidentally landed on another one of those websites where some super model is passing her self off as a “Country Girl” or “Pioneer Woman”. I need to read something in the popular press about REAL people and purge my brain. Thanks for the good work in keepin’ it real.

  13. Ben,
    I really needed to read this today. Surrounded by contractor-budget folks, we are firmly in the DIY-budget category and we put off a lot of projects because we don’t have confidence in ourselves and our own strong(ish) backs to get the job(s) done right. Because of the drought of 2 years ago, our sunporch is sagging and the windows are cracking and breaking. That’s a bit of a heartbreak, but we are hiring a contractor to shimmy it all up and make it level before we decide how to replace those windows. Thanks again for your honesty. We “real” folks need to see that we’re not the only ones who fumble at the window-installing now and then.

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