When Things Stop Being Too Precious or Not Precious Enough

Last night, I tried to make some fresh pasta and the dough got gummed up in the pasta maker, probably because it was too moist. I got frustrated and started to toss all the dough into the compost, but my daughter insisted that she make dinner out of the dough. I was in a horrible mood because it was so close to dinner time, I didn’t have a back up plan and had been looking forward to homemade pasta. She was just excited to have the full run of all that dough. I let her go with it. She asked for a cookie cutter and made these pasta-dough shapes and asked me to fry them. She made shapes out of more dough and asked me to boil them. Her attention span lasted through about half the remaining dough, and by then my mood had entirely shifted. I decided to see what I could make out of the remaining dough. I’d been wondering if I could make shells for a while, so I decided to give that a shot, and discovered that shells are pretty easy and fun to make.

Everything we made, even if a bit funny-looking, tasted awesome. Out of a completely failed dinner attempt came a new and wonderful experience that also opened the way for fun future meals I hadn’t previously imagined. I probably never would have tried to make those shells because the effort to make the dough did not seem worth the price of them not turning out. Since the dough I made last night had become a throwaway dough, I was not invested in anything. This opened me and my daughter up to experiments and discovery.

This experience reminded me of something an art teacher once said to our class about not letting the art work get too precious. When you are making art, if you start out with expensive materials and an attachment to outcome, you can get too attached. When you get too attached to what you are making, you stifle expression and creativity. You might get stingy with the colors because you are using that special tube of paint that cost more than you meant to spend. You might not try putting a shape here or there because you are so attached to the figure you painted into that one corner.

It is easy to get stuck when things get too precious. At the same time, if you are not at all invested in what you are doing, you can only go so far with it, and you can find yourself stuck in a different way. Finding the balance between attachment and complete disengagement can be tricky. Balance is an act of finding the middle after leaning over into either extreme. If you are stuck because everything feels too precious, you need to lean the other way and make some messes. Do something you are not good at whatsoever and that you know very little about. Take a class in something you’ve never tried: a new language; an art skill; a sport. Notice the parts of you that want to skip past the learning, the parts that want to go straight to the mastery. If you are stuck because nothing feels precious and worth your time, you need to slow down and allow yourself to get just a bit more attached. Start a project that takes a lot of focus, one with an end result you want to be successful. Allow yourself to want that end result and notice the parts of you that fight your attachment.

Part of why it has been so long since I have written a blog post has been because I’ve wanted to have the time, energy and space to make a perfectly edited and well-thought-through entry. I don’t have that sort of time right now, and it could be a couple more years before I do. Today, I am leaning more toward the messy side of things and posting this in its imperfectness. It is nice to be back.

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