Catching Up Again

It was so nice to chat with you all again that I thought I might occasionally post progress reports. Just every once in a while, because on the whole the days roll past here with little to differentiate them from one another, which is exactly the way I like it. But it occurred to me, that being said, that writing a book is like the most awful love affair you can imagine. One of those unhealthily exciting relationships that you torment yourself over even at the time that you live through it, wondering whether it wouldn’t be better for all concerned to make a good, clean break. The reality of it is tedium itself and yet the process is transformed by a thick gloss of excessive emotions. Every day I turn up to the keyboard, needy and insecure, wanting to be affirmed in my value, and every day the manuscript looks back at me, indifferent for all its promise, unapologetically rich in flaws. It’s the very mismatch between the two of us that keeps me fascinated, though, that and the occasional flash of almost euphoric love that lifts the experience out of the realm of reasonable expectations. ‘Why can’t it be like that all the time?’ I ask no one in particular. ‘Why must we fight one another so?’ Ah but I exaggerate for the sake of the metaphor. It really is the most interesting way to pass the time.

Over the past couple of years, while I’ve been getting into the writing, Mister Litlove has been sitting by and watching and thinking about his own creativity. Career-wise we have always been chalk and cheese: he favours science and technology, I favour the arts, he is the practical one, I am relentlessly cerebral. When we did the Myers-Briggs psychometric tests, he came out as the Field Marshal, or something similar. What I really retained was the sentence that said ‘you would willingly send men to their death for the sake of the battle’, which sounds an awful lot like daily life chez Litlove. My husband went into management partly because it was the sort of thing that smart young chaps like him were destined to do, and mostly because he didn’t have a real passion that he wanted to pursue. But above and beyond that, he does like to order people around; I mean, he really likes it. And given that he is the kind of man who looks laid-back and super-reasonable, and who never loses his temper or bears grudges, he is more suited to issuing orders than most. There’s much about management that he has enjoyed; he loves meetings for instance, (when I would rather pull my fingernails out individually than have to sit through them), he enjoys business travel, warmly embraces phrases like lean or agile manufacturing, can be part of a power huddle with colleagues without being swamped by irony, etc. But it seems that more and more lately he has been bored and dissatisfied by it. He’s ready for a change.

What he would really like to do is take a course in fine woodworking and see where it leads him. He has made some beautiful things during our marriage – a blanket box, a bookcase, matching bedside tables, a chest of drawers. They are lovely objects to live with, all clean lines and sharp joints and smooth, grainy surfaces. But making them was often a slow and slightly painful process. If you met Mister Litlove your main impression would be of a very confident and capable person, but his creativity is the place where he loses faith in himself. As the witness here, I know he can do it. Even without the hours of practice that I, as a seasoned campaigner in the struggle to make things, know is necessary, he has turned out pieces of furniture we love and appreciate and still admire every day. That’s natural talent. But it has been intriguing for me to note how talent doesn’t go hand in hand with the permission to believe in ourselves. Mister Litlove loves making furniture, he is fascinated by the process, and yet every step of the way he struggles with doubt and uncertainty. This is mostly because he finds it very troubling to make mistakes. It’s almost as if one single error cancels out all the successful, clever, beautiful parts of the process he’s accomplished so far.

Making mistakes is always frustrating, I do agree. But I suppose I feel that there is no real creativity without them. In fact, sometimes I think you have to get it wrong before you can see your way to getting it right. And words cost nothing. I don’t mind writing 5,000 words only to throw them away later. I’m sure it’s harder to cut or shape a piece of wood wrong and then feel it is only fit for putting on the fire. But I also think that mistake making has to be incorporated into a creative attitude. I haven’t quite managed to persuade my husband of this yet, although I think he accepts it as an abstract truth. In practice, the uncertainty he feels about his own abilities lies in wait to discourage or disqualify him at the first sign of any error. But, he is seriously thinking about undertaking a long course, one he could do one day a week, and I’m all for it when the right moment arrives in his paid job. Gradually, he inches closer to thinking this might be a dream he could make real. I’ll let you know how he gets on.

26 thoughts on “Catching Up Again

  1. I’m a distribution manager and a writer. Business requires creativity to be functional. Tonight, the entire office can burn down, or six employees could be seriously injured in a auto accident. Those things aren’t “mistakes” necessarily, but the managers will learn from them. Being creative is part of living, period. We can’t choose to be creative or not choose it. IT IS. He’s creative in ways you aren’t, but still creative. The ego’s need to be perfect, to compare itself against its own ideals bogs us down in fear. If he’s making the furniture there are no mistakes. It is his to make. If one part isn’t right, it IS to make right. I’m rambling. I’ll stop now.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. hello darling Victoria — What an interesting dispatch! You are so right that, no matter how fierce the struggle, getting words down is such a good way to spend one’s time. I did not know about Mr. Litlove’s woodworking, but I can see him being very good at that. The fear of getting it wrong, well, isn’t that always lurking in the background of everything we care about? The actual mistake making is so much easier than the lurking fear. I want to hear more, and am already looking forward to your next bulletin. xoxo

  3. I hope Mister Litlove keeps trying, and trying again. I am always intimidated by handicrafts — it is not as easy to fix your mistakes as with words.

  4. How lovely to get an update. I read your description of your husband’s love of management to mine. He had a laugh and said ‘it sounds like me’ 🙂
    And how fabulous that he has a talent for creating furniture.

  5. Lovely to hear from you again so soon, as I’ve had to get my fix from the archives lately. This sounds drastically familiar – indeed, I’m sure many people will relate only too easily. Somehow it reminded me of school days, when my woodwork teacher, who would have some awful different title no doubt today, in fact would never be employed in our politically correct madness, was making a boat, in which activity, in terror we could be involved. The problem with wood (materials generally), is the inability to undo, unravel, redraft. Secondly, it’s in your hands – the only get out is a flaw in the wood, unseen until unearthed. So you have to be prepared to get it wrong, indeed a wood-burning stove in the shed is probably an asset! Alternatively, you can, as my old teacher did, with inferior work, often mine,throw it through the window, which occasionally was not open – oops! I eventually made a voyage across the local lake in the boat, a biggish yacht, he made. I think, given that it was wet and windy and pretty choppy that day, I was more afraid of the crossing than of the wood work mistakes in the end! Best of luck to Mr Litlove if he takes the plunge – if that’s the correct metaphor. Perhaps it should be walks the plank!

  6. I send support for Mr. Litlove in his creative!! And I also recommend my father’s means of getting past the feeling of being wasteful when he makes a mistake in his woodwork: pick up wood out of other people’s rubbish, to practice on. Dad used to practice little things on crappy pieces of wood, and then he’d be able to do it properly on the real wood. He said it was like how I scribbled down notes and fragments of stories and ideas in my small notebook, but those scribbles weren’t actually the real story.

  7. can be part of a power huddle with colleagues without being swamped by irony

    … that’s a talent I’d give my eyeteeth for.

    Mr. Litlove’s dilemma is representative of a tendency that has always intrigued me … why is it that we give the pejorative term “mistake” to what is really a process of simply finding the object (or finding the story, for a writer)? When creating something out of nothing, or out of something initially without coherent form, it’s not reasonable to expect that it will be immediately obvious; there’s a process of learning its outline, learning how to see it … rather like a blind person learning to “see” a face by touching its contours until it takes on a recognizable context. This is not an easy process, but neither is it full of error. It’s simply full of learning how to see the end result.

  8. Good to see you again! It’s so interesting to hear that other people struggle with mistakes and self-doubt as much as I do. I am cheering both of you on! This is the wisdom I’ve received about mistakes: the point is not to avoid mistakes, the point is to make them; mistakes lead to discovery. Easier to say than feel. I think that there is something amiss in our social values and social rewards. How is it that we have learned to think that producing something of value can happen quickly, easily and without mistakes? All the evidence is that it is slow, hard, and with lots of mistakes. Why is the material cost considered a waste instead of a wise investment? After all, the learning and skill gained from working on wood (or words) can be counted on, unlike, say, investing in stocks.

  9. It was so nice to see a new post pop up from one of my favorite bloggers. It sounds like your writing process is going well. That is wonderful that your husband is finding a creative outlet also although his craft might be torturing him a bit more than yours at the moment. I can relate to loving to be creative but torturing myself if I don’t get it “perfect”.

  10. Mr. Litlove and I would so get along! He must be an ENTJ if he is a field marshal, yes? I am an INTJ and mastermind. I can totally relate to where he is coming from and his dislike of making mistakes. It is why my creative outlets tend to be things like knitting and gardening where I can hide or fix mistakes. It’s not that we are perfectionists, though that is part of it, but rather that we are planners and strategic thinkers and we know what the result should be and should we not be able to make that happen we get frustrated and immediately start trying to figure out what went wrong and how we can fix it (because we are also problem solvers). I wish Mr. Litlove the best in his creative pursuits. I bet the furniture he makes is really lovely.

  11. I’m not sure what it is about academic settings, but boy do they like meetings. I’m with you, pulling nails does sound slightly less painful. Although it’s probably not at all, since every job requires a certain amount of creativity, fine woodworking sounds a world away from management (I’d opt for the woodworking any day of the week over anything to do with management), so it’s very cool he’s contemplating spending more serious time with it. But I’m like him when it comes to mistakes–sometimes they feel like they can be so defeating after you’ve spent so much time on something. Sometimes I’ll let it go but then all I can see is the mistake and not the larger piece of work (that no one else even notices has an imperfection). Mistakes are just part of the learning process, though, I suppose. Glad to hear the writing is going well–I’ve always wondered what it was like for writers–how they managed it. You should share your writing space with us sometime–I love seeing where writers create! 🙂

  12. Christopher Columbus made a wrong turn and landed in North America; Super Glue was a failed attempt at a stitchless adhesive to be used after surgery; and the ubiquitous Post-It Notes? We can thank an adhesive that just didn’t adhere for post it notes. And don’t forget x-rays, penicillin, vulcanized rubber, and Silly Putty! Where would we be without mistakes?

  13. So nice to get an update from you! I hope Mr. Litlove takes that course in fine woodworking–it sounds like it could be so satisfying. And I agree that making mistakes is part of the creative process. I need to try to remember that myself 🙂

  14. A lovely suprise seeing a post from you so soon. Very interesting to hear about Mr Litlove’s passion for woodworking and I completely agree about making mistakes. Best of luck to you both in your creative endeavours. Looking forward to reading the book some day.

  15. Hello John, thanks for dropping by. You’re right that we are all innately creative, but I do think there are useful and true distinctions to draw between types of creativity. There’s problem solving and there’s artistic creation, for instance, and I can see my husband feeling a bit uncertain as he moves from one to the other. But I agree that believing in yourself as a fundamentally creative person helps all such transitions.

    Bluestocking – thank you! I will!

    Lily – so true as ever. Fear is always an indication of deep caring, and much worse than those pesky mistakes is anticipating their consequences. It is lovely to hear your voice, too, in all its wisdom!

    gumbomum – and nice to see you, too! I quite agree about the fixing.

    apiece – aww, that’s so sweet. And I laughed out loud to think you have a similar husband over there to mine!

    Dear bookboxed – I’m touched to think of you in the archives! I was obliged to do woodwork at school and was singularly atrocious at it. My teacher, however, was an exceptionally patient man, and every piece of wood I miscut, every nail I hammered in wrong, he calmly sorted out for me, removing the nail and putting it back straight, planing my hacked at wood. So perhaps I don’t worry so much about wastage having made SO many mistakes and seeing the majority of them fixed. Failing that, we DO in fact have a woodburning stove, and often I run out of logs for it. 🙂 I am so impressed that you actually made the boat and sailed in it! My mother still stands on the stool I ‘made’ in class and it terrifies me.

    Jenny – that is such a good idea! And it has such lovely eco-friendly overtones, using up spare scraps of wood for practice and maybe turning them into something useful. I love it!

    David – exactly – I really like that description. The digressions in the path always turn out to be intrinsic to it, as well, don’t you find?

    Lilian – what you say is exactly how I feel about the creative process. There’s very little that can’t be recycled or reused if it’s a natural product, and the learning value is tremendous. Working in the university, I can promise you that there is a damaging emphasis on perfection, and it really spoils the pleasure of discovery.

  16. Kathleen – I can’t keep away long, as you can see! And believe me, I have my moments of torturing myself. I think they are just part and parcel of the whole thing. But oddly enough in marriage, you can often be free of a negative emotion if your partner is carrying it. Is that ethical? I’m not sure, but it seems to work that way!

    Stefanie – you have hit the nail on the head there. That is exactly, exactly right. Mister Litlove IS a strategic thinker and he is annoyed when things don’t happen as they should. Ha! You’ve got him down to a tee. How I do hope we can all meet up one day – we would have such a laugh.

    Danielle – oh I KNOW! Those meetings! And I do agree that there is something awful about making a mistake right at the end of a piece of work, and feeling like you’ve fallen at the last hurdle. That’s really tough. Mister Litlove is exactly the same in the way he sees only the mistakes when he’s made something. And probably, I’m exactly the same about my books. I deal with that by never looking at them again once I’ve finished them. 🙂 I do love the idea of posting my working space – there are several, depending on the season and time of day.

    Charlotte – aww thank you. We’re propping each other up at the moment – solidarity is good. 🙂

    Grad – I always say you have the best anecdotes! Another comment that proves just that.

    Gentle reader – it’s lovely to see you here! And it takes some remembering, doesn’t it, that mistakes are okay. I do have to make the effort to bear it in mind, even though I can sort of square it with my conscience in the event. I’ll let you know if he does the course – I must admit I have a partisan interest in getting new furniture! 🙂

    Pete – you shouldn’t say dangerous things about wanting to read the book or you’ll have it in draft form in your inbox! But thank you for the kind wishes. And I daresay I’ll be back here again next week with another update. I find I miss it so when I don’t keep in touch with dear blogging friends.

  17. Could you possibly direct us to the magic glade where you found Mr Litlove? A good business head, an apptitude for a very cool craft and not a grudge holder – he is the human equivalent of a unicorn, something us regular people have heard of but never seen 😉

    Oh creative mistakes why must they taunt people so? Yes it must be hard to see a piece of furniture you want to throw out because of its imperfections, but think of those novelists constantly growing and improving who have to see people still reading their earlier works, which they now see full of imperfections! I bet some of them juts want to rip novels right from peoples hands and replace them with their latest work.

    Good luck to you and Mr Litlove with your creative endeavours. And I’d love to see the furniture you’ve already got if you ahve time to put up pictures.

  18. Ooooooh, LOVELY, it must be wonderfully satisfying having that talent – Mr. LL *must* do the long course, what a very fine idea! To make substantial, functional, beautiful furniture… I so admire that ability in others, but absolutely don’t have it myself (although I try to bring the fruits of others’ labours together in an harmonious way…). Everyone says such true and important things about “mistakes” – I really empathise with your husband on this because I am doomed to be viciously disappointed in myself, being a perfectionist, and is there anything more geared toward a sense of constant failure than that? The battle is ongoing – and this Marshal is definitely lying injured in the field… I hope Mr. LL’s work allows him this critical space for creativity very soon – and it’s so lovely to have this update on how you are and what you’re doing. More, please!

  19. I liked to read about Mr. Litlove! For what it is worth, from the things he has already made, he is waaayyyy more accomplished with hardware than I am. Forgive me if I oversimplify: I agree, of course, that creativity and mistakes go hand in hand. Maybe, the reason Mr. Litlove is reluctant to make mistakes is that, in management, there is a lot of professional reputation and money at stake and mistakes are too costly to even contemplate, let alone make. Perhaps, in an alternative field such as creative woodworking, the price of failure is not too great; one failed piece does not a failed artist make.

    I wish I could _take_ this advice as easily as I dish it out 🙂 . I’ve been drawing lately, and the panels are so hideous that one failed drawing puts me off for weeks. And, mind you, this is just a sketch on a piddling 3×5 card that no one is ever going to see!

  20. Umm, were Mr. Litlove and Bob possibly separated at birth? Thank you for helping me see that it’s all about his fear of making mistakes. Seems so obvious, and yet, dense me had never really made the connection.

  21. Best of luck to Mr. Litlove as he contemplates pursuing his woody Muse. As always, you have given me much to think on, for I also hate to make mistakes. Therefore, I make more of them than most people. Permission to believe in ourselves is the ability to accept our limitations and move on despite them (or around them). A level of maturity and letting-go that some of us (like me) may never reach. Thank you.

  22. Jodie – I love, love this comment, which instantly goes into the drawer with my favourites. It went straight to Mister Litlove’s head, of course. I think you are spot on about authors ripping work out of people’s hands. If ever I saw a failing in an academic work of mine, I would gladly have recalled the print run and burned it! Pictures is a great idea – if we can ever find the camera again (yes, that camera has a life of its own) I will post some.

    Doctordi – I, too, have no practical ability whatsoever (well, beyond baking a cake), and so I’m with you in facilitating the talents of others. I like to think that I’ve recently given up perfectionism, but I’ll bet I haven’t when it comes to the crunch. It’s hideously tenacious. Heading out towards your Marshal, carrying bandages!

    Polaris – that’s a nice way of seeing woodworking as more mistake-friendly. I will definitely pass that perspective on. And don’t fret about your drawing! I have every faith in you and the process – these things take lots of attempts and much time, and I’ll bet what you’ve done is MUCH better than your own critical opinion.

    Emily – but naturally we have similar husbands, no? 🙂 And chronic fatigue gives me much time to observe Mister Litlove and work him out. Not always sure he’s thrilled about this!

    ds – I think everyone hates mistakes one way or another. I don’t mind making them alone, on a keyboard, but the prospect of making them in front of other people or even worse, of making mistakes in my dealings with other people, fills me with terror. No one is exempt. But I do think that limitations are what makes creativity interesting. Look at Celine Dion – her voice has no limitations and so is ultimately extremely bland (sorry if you love her!!!). The quirks and imperfections are the lovable bits.

  23. Oh, no, making mistakes in public sends me right over the edge. And no, I do NOT care for Celine Dion–as you say, she is bland, bland, bland. Quirks and imperfections are loveable. Sorry if I sounded as though any project (or person) had to be perfect in order to be worth anything. I don’t feel that way at all.

  24. My high school friend, Pat, who died too young, was a brilliant young man who took to wood early and did beautiful work of which he was never quite satisfied. He gave me a small box of cherry wood, simple and stunning, sharp-edged, smooth-sided, rich and red, in which I keep one ribbon for all my lost. Something is wrong with it, he told me, but I refuse to look for the flaw, knowing that if I find it, its perfection will be lost. For him it confirmed that all our efforts fail. For me it is an inspiration to keep trying.

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