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Randolph Caldecott: Illustration for "The House that Jack Built", from The Complete Collection of Pictures & Songs (1887)
"I'm not sorry for this understanding."

I have a confession to make and an apology to offer my loyal readers. I confess to being an inveterate, though largely closeted, whiner. I'm apt to whine like a petulant five-year old when stymied or otherwise overwhelmed. I'm an embarrassment to myself, especially when my whining slips out in public, such as here, yesterday, when I described my Sequencing challenges. I sincerely apologize for my unseemly behavior. A man my age should be able to hold his water with more dignity than I displayed. In way of explanation, not in any way trying to excuse my outburst, I might explain what my insolence seems to be teaching me. You see, later that day, after letting my frustration fly, I set about organizing the very workbench I'd earlier maligned. I might ascribe my sudden turnaround from stuck to productive as an accidental convergence, though I'm seeing more of a pattern than an isolated incident emerging. It seems to me that my Whinering might have been if not causative, perhaps a pivotal piece of my sudden turnaround. It might have been that once I'd so improperly expressed my frustration, even proclaiming it a normal and perhaps necessary element of any half-decent SettlingInto, my stuckness spell seemed broken and I could proceed less encumbered. My growing self-disgust with my stuckness grew until the stuckness could no longer support itself. My petulance paid off.

I might have found a less publicly humiliating way to chase away my frustration. I usually do,
and in this instance I might have been experiencing such an extreme blockage that I could not quite help myself from producing a public outburst. My private outbursts of Whinering are not nearly as infrequent as my public ones, and so making sense of my response seems as if it might prove helpful if not entirely necessary.

I accomplish most things my the means of processes mysterious. The now wide-spread notion of defining processes into replicability is barely two hundred years old and was absolutely revolutionary then. It transformed odd lot craftsperson shops into manufacturing behemoths and focused whole societies toward production and efficiency, albeit at considerable cost to the tranquility of the lowly craftsperson. Quality became consistent if not necessarily improved, and values changed seemingly forever. We came to revere volume, scale, and clever replication, interchangeable parts and short-cuts. We came to revile the handmade as clearly inferior and the hand-maker as somewhat backward. We focused forward and turned away from tradition, for we'd become modern.

For me, one prominent effect of this evolution presented as a sort of process envy and an abiding puzzle as to why process never worked that well for me. I remember one of my workshop participants blurting about how, now that he understood how to define processes, he intended to manage his whole life like a project. I thought, "Good luck with that," but didn't share my thought lest I get in the way of what for him would probably become an incredibly important learning. He'd find, I felt certain, that much of what he thought he might manage by defining processes would refuse the yoke he offered and stay intractable in ways he would most certainly find frustrating. If truly dedicated, he might have then tried even harder, which, if the world remains just, would have frustrated him to the point of Whinering, perhaps even in public. "Woe is me," and he will be woeful then. The Whinering part seems key to this story because a sort of enlightenment often follows such outbursts as if they were breaking a spell. Maybe they were. Perhaps the purpose of Whinering was never to summon the nurse to soothe frayed nerves or to have somebody else take the reins, but to herald a change like some sour trumpet call mustering unseen troops. Once expressed, such frustration loses much of its influence.

I was and often have been the author of my own frustration. Perhaps I always am. In this instance, my process envy had led me astray such that I could not see the context within which I was operating. I was not manufacturing socks but SettlingInto, a rare and rightfully not repeatable process, and probably not a process at all. My Whinering served as both clarion call and retreat announcing that I was beaten and my clever tactic had utterly failed. My Whinering was my admission, first to the world and only later to myself, that I'd have to muster something different. I was surrendering my colors. Left alone to adapt without the process envy-driven distractions so prominent, I quickly found leverage for proceeding. My problem had been my earlier solution, one I'd presumed upon my situation as the one and best way to move forward. My attitude stalled me, not the dilemma, which might have only been resolved if I stopped trying to do something rendered impossible by my situation.

So there it is. I might close by promising a few choice similar outbursts in the future, for my world sometimes overwhelms me and I have never been able to help myself. My Whinering might be the sound of me finally helping myself and not, as it might appear, an off-putting cry for help. I can always help myself if I'm really in trouble, but only if I can find some way to get out of my own way and let my native creativity rescue me. I resolved the unplannable workbench dilemma by allowing my tools to find their own places there, by not insisting that any precedent guide my hand. I opened boxes and tubs and let the stuff find where it seemed to belong. I suspect that much of what they chose will change over time as we both adapt to the context we find ourselves in, but that context knowledge cannot be accessed beforehand or immediately upon entry. I found that it didn't much matter where I stored anything or where anything found a place to lie. I was not making dies but simply SettlingInto, frustration less defining than informing. I'm not sorry for this understanding. Thanks for tolerating my petulance.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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