When the task becomes a toll on us, when we find ourselves taking score too soon and realise we don't have what it takes, we lose enthusiasm, become discouraged and often give up. We're caught in time. To achieve the result requires too much effort and so it's not worth the time to learn the necessary skills. Or maybe we don't even start. I believe this is a trap, and in order to escape it we've got to move out of time based ideas of worth and value. We've got to get into the work for its own sake.
I have a new-found appreciation for the work and skill of tilers – men and women who tile floors and walls.
I decided that I'd make the few quid for our attic renovation stretch a little further, so last weekend I attacked the tiling of the en suite bathroom. Hence no Sunday Letters last week.
Well, maybe not so much a bad move, but it took a lot out of me both mentally and physically.
It's a small en suite bathroom and I'm sure bread and butter to a skilled and experienced craftsperson, but for me it was an effort. Each tile must have taken me about forty minutes to measure, cut and lay.
After two fourteen-hour days I was banjacksed!
It's still not finished!
I have been on many scales of project over the years, from multi-million jobs to Mrs Murphy down the road, so I figured that I had garnered enough information to give the work a good stab.
So I did, and the results are not too shoddy. But I'm an amateur, and both level of effort required, and the finish shows it.
As I laboured through my task, cursing the fact that I'd taken it on, I thought about what was going on. I thought about my impatience. I wondered what it meant to know how to measure and cut a tile to the correct size.
How do my hands, the cells, the atomic, and subatomic particles that comprise them, know how to work?
What makes the hands of a craftsperson thirty years in the game so much better at the job than the hands of an amateur like me?
It seemed to take more than simply a measurement from point A to point B transferred to the tile and cut under the blade of the tile cutter.
Could a machine do this?
Every fraction of a millimetre counted, and if I got it wrong, the line would be off and the finish into the shower tray would be poor. Or the corner where two walls meet would have a gap at the top you could drive a bus through.
A broader understanding, cognitive representations, and a brain conditioned to the specifics of a bathroom to be tiled is what was required to deliver a top-drawer job.
It's like working with charcoal, painting, or writing.
And as I reflect now, it seems that tiling is no different to what we call art.
The greater the refinement, the more beautiful the end result.
How could tiling not be art?
If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way.Charles Bukowski
Novelist Rainer Maria Rilke advised the writer, “Go into yourself”. The same can be said of any work.
Creating something worthwhile is first and foremost about allowing ourselves to become lost in the work for long periods over a sustained number of years.
How else is expertise, notoriety, applause and respect from peers achieved?
But these things are supplementary. They are the favourable outcome and should not be the reason.
Over and over again this is what I find from reading research papers, books on the nature of creativity, performance and expertise, the reports of artists, writers, and craftspeople.
The message is the same every time.
Is it not obvious, that if we wish to be exceptional then we must go deep and long?
Too many of us want the quick win. We think this or that is easy and when we realise it's not we jump ship.
We take score too soon.
On the contrary, when we allow ourselves to become lost in our work, time flies, the work becomes done, and we often wonder how it happened.
We don't need to know how, and we can never know – not completely.
These days I look at what I've done, admire it, take my pay and I'm satisfied. I'm less concerned with finishing the job in the shortest amount of time possible and more so with being comfortable.
I suppose that feeling comes to many people after chasing efficiency and profit for so long.
There's something stale and soulless about that mode of operation.
Of course, I operate a commercial enterprise, and enterprise of one, and I need to make a living. But it's less about taking over the world and more about taking over myself.
Besides, I have my eye on the door (again).
My future lies elsewhere, so in the meantime I'll enjoy the work to which my hands have become accustomed and skilled.
If all is said and done tomorrow, then at least I've enjoyed it rather than being at war with it.
By the way… I'm never fucking tiling again! Sometimes it's better to just hire the expert.
Jean Marie says
Sometimes it is best to hire a professional….But what an experience!!
And you wrote a beautiful article about the feelings, the emotions about why & what you went through… Very insightful thoughts…
Jean Marie says
PS–nice job on the tile…
Hi Jean Marie, many thanks for taking time to read my stuff…I appreciate it a lot.
Jean Marie says
Judith Bergerson says
Excellent Sunday letter.
Hello Judith, many thanks for reading Sunday Letters today