On small improvements

03 June 2016

Lately I have been trying to improve my handwriting. I realized how many years I’m now distanced from my copperplate lessons and how much carelessness, urgency and impatience has molded my script. It appears sharper now, half-formed. Wobbly and rushed. I dislike what it speaks to in myself. My handwriting, like I am, seems to be in danger of losing character for the sake of convenience.

I have learned, however, that improving my handwriting is not a simple or isolated activity. To write more deliberately, I have to adjust the way I hold my pen, correct the unhealthy clawed grip I’ve developed over the years. To re-learn a better grip, I have to write slower. To write slower, I have to be more aware of my body and my thoughts in the moment, mind connected to hand connected to paper connected to word. When it’s all aligned right, it works just the way it should. But for it to work the way it should, I have to adjust everything, in small movements, in conjunction, and habitually.

Follow the path leading from that conclusion and it’s clear everything is attached to everything else. I can no longer believe in sweeping bisecting changes, in pulling one lever and getting a whole new backdrop to crash down on stage and begin a brand new scene. As if all you need to do is swap out an external to improve your life. New jobs, new places, new people. As if they’re not commonly threaded through you, and what you do, repeatedly and repetitively.

True to its nature, this realization of connections illuminates other connections. Maybe it gives you the radar you need to detect the others. For example, I think a lot about my friends who are having babies. Having had a baby in my mid-twenties means that now, in my mid-thirties, I’m reliving the experience by proxy, with enough space in between to feel discovery anew. While it’s all encompassing when you live it, the experience of having a baby moves quickly and sometimes it feels like I’ve forgot what my own taught me. Babies grow with a surprisingly sort of preternatural deliberation. They put so much effort into the small steps, which, of course, are not small to them, but are in the scope of their lives. After all, they won’t even remember. But, in the moment, their minds and bodies are entirely consumed with tiny efforts, struggling to get into sync so that they can do what they want to do. Last week I kneeled on a baby blanket and watched its owner rock back and forth on raised arms, feeling out the momentum he’ll need need to alchemize into forward movement. He’s not there yet. It takes so long. But, one day, it will click and all of that effort will turn into crawling, as if by magic. Except it’s not magic. It’s a long time of small efforts and improvements, which are immediately forgot upon achievement. For the rest of our lives, we consistently forget.

When I kneeled on the blanket, demonstrating for the excited learner the proper crawling stance, I felt a mild burn in my wrists. I’ve been alternating early morning running with yoga, and my body is still strengthening. I pay attention to it, then and now, the soreness and the stiffness, and adjust accordingly—but I’m careful to take none of it as an excuse to stop. I keep going. I move forward in small amounts every day, feet on pavement, hands on mat, words on paper. The most damaging lesson I ever learned was that growth only happens in leaps outside of myself and every movement now, whatever it is, is engineered to slowly, purposefully, incrementally unlearn it.


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