Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maybe rocket science isn’t out of reach

Experience — often lack of it — really is the hobgoblin of all life pursuits, isn’t it?

There are times when a person’s complete familiarity with a particular skill can undermine their focus, therefore putting them at risk of a stunning failure, sometimes even bodily harm. ... Picture someone working with a chainsaw … No. Don’t. Don’t want anyone having nightmares.

Suffice it to say that for the most part we don’t worry about what we know, we worry about what we don’t know.

I was thinking about this as I stood at the sewing counter of a local fabric store, asking the ladies what supplies a beginner might need … you know, seeing as how I bought my six-year-old a real sewing machine for Christmas … and seeing as how I don’t know the first thing about sewing anything besides replacement buttons (and even then the results aren’t pretty).

I could see from the expressions on their faces, they thought I was in way over my head.

Of course, I might have been projecting just a bit with my built-in facial expression read-o-meter. After all, it was the biggest shopping season of the year, and they are, in fact, sales folks. Just because they offered Mom–and-Me sewing classes and tried to sell me an $80 sewing kit doesn’t mean they think I’m a dolt who will sew my own fingers to a pillow project.

I thanked them and asked them to point me in the direction of thread.

I’ve muddled through before. It’s not the worst thing in the world for a person to do.

Not that muddling through hasn’t been mortifying at times. I’ve been critiqued for the way I’ve dug holes in the garden the way I’ve hammered a nail and even the way I mop floors. I’m been shown the proper way to bowl, the best way to stir batter and which side of the roll the bath tissue should face.

Yet sometimes winging it is a gratifying experience.

For instance ... the time I stood saucer-eyed in the tile aisle at Home Depot, discussing supplies with an equally clueless friend who had graciously offered to help me tackle a tiling project. Tile, check mastic, check grout? One box? Two? What about a tile cutter? Our conversation didn’t seem so out of left field until I felt a tap on my shoulder and some smirking woman thrust her card in my hand … "just in case your DIY project didn’t work out."

I didn’t give that woman or her card a second thought until I was standing with my friend outside of the finished job. She’d cut. I’d placed. It wasn’t perfect, but we’d done it ourselves and we’d done it together.

But I gave the fabric store ladies some extra thought. My finished craft projects always look like something the cat coughed up. Sewing may as well be rocket science.

And yet Christmas morning came, and the sewing machine made its way out of its wrapping paper to the dinning room table.

The reckoning was at hand.

I read and follow the instructions. Soon we had the thing humming along.

Without following a pattern, without measuring or cutting straight lines, we spent the afternoon putting it all together.

The designs we came up with were certainly imperfect. Our seams were crooked, prints didn’t match, our structures were lopsided. But when ittybit hugged her new pillow — an under stuffed patchwork of an indeterminate geometric shape — it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Write to Siobhan Connally at

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