Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Fingers and thumbs

According to this article a dying art, but that shouldn't worry us. What do you think?
As an exercise on the first day of the course on which I teach, we ask participants to reflect on what beginnings are like for for them, and as an example we invite them to remember when they first learned to tie their shoelaces.  This always makes me smile: it's a powerful and not altogether happy memory for me. Acquiring that skill was part of a long, steep learning curve! If I were a child nowadays I suppose it would be labelled dyspraxia - not a word we knew back then. I simply Could. Not. Do. Things. 

I remember when all the other children had happily dashed off at the end of the school day I would still be in the cloakroom with a teacher standing over me as I struggled to do up the buttons on my coat. I clearly recall the feeling of puzzled frustration! It became a ritual that I would be sent out of the classroom a few minutes early to change into my lace-up outdoor shoes to give me a head start. And once, as Christmas drew near, we were making a frieze of a winter scene to decorate the classroom. Each of us had to draw, colour and cut out a simple Christmas-tree shape to stick on it. Oh, what a struggle! Everyone was finishing theirs while I still could not draw the shape that was so clear in my head. I knew what I wanted but my fingers just wouldn't do it. I was frustrated, but bewildered more than anything. And, yes, rather ashamed of my efforts when everyone else found it so easy. And then there was the time I spent a whole lesson writing a single, wobbly letter A and got told off for being slow and lazy. 

Recently I was part of a group stuffing envelopes for a mail-shot. And of course I was the one holding up the production line! Our "boss" took my pile of papers from me and said "Antonia's not doing very well, is she?"  It was meant as a kindly joke and I joined in the laughter but, oh my, the memories came flooding back!

So why am I telling you all this today? I'm not trawling for sympathy, I promise you. Maybe these memories are around because it's autumn... I still have to remember to allow extra time to dress in the cooler months when there are more garments to put on. Socks and shoes, for example, (ah, lace-ups again!) after a simply having to slide my feet into sandals over the summer. And as for tights... It makes me laugh now, but the solemn first-putting-on-of-the-tights of autumn is a real rite of passage as I find I've "forgotten" how to do it!  (Apologies if all this is too much information, or if the image is putting you off your tea).  Tiredness, hurry and distracting thoughts make it much worse. See, I still struggle, though not so much, these days. 

A question I often ask others, and perhaps don't ask myself enough, is what is the gift in this? What is the gift in my slowness and clumsiness? I'm still working on that... Maybe it's a challenge to relish moving slowly and to cultivate mindfulness. I might be being challenged about my relationship with time (not to do things at a rush and at the last minute) or not to let my butterfly mind take me away from where my body is in the sacrament of the present moment. I've been reminded of the ancient advice "age quod agis" - do what you're doing -  and I'm trying to take it to heart. When Marin Alsop was conducting at the Last Night of the Proms someone had pinned up a sign saying "multitasking area - no men allowed".  Multitasking is supposed to be a feminine virtue but I have my doubts. It might be necessary sometimes but I'm discovering it's not good for me. I'd rather learn to do what I'm doing with my whole heart and being, even if the spirit of the age tells me I should do otherwise. 

Perhaps I could even pray over my shopping as I laboriously put my change in my purse and my purchases in my bag. (Listen, I'm not Pollyanna and I'm never going to enjoy the frustration and embarrassment as the queue builds up behind me at the till and I drop coins into the display of sweets and crisps). 

And here's a scripture text I'm going to learn and use.  It's Psalm 90:17 and I love the cadences of this particular verse in the King James Version:

"And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it."


  1. Oh shudders, the memories! Shoelaces, (my mother tried to help by putting elastic laces into my shoes so that I could just slip my feet into them), stupid flannel skirts with cross over straps, science overalls with cross over ties, science overalls (for a six year old - give me strength!), lacrosse boots, hockey boots, changing after games, struggling to button up skirt and blouse with frozen fingers whilst a bully of a PE teacher stands over you counting to ten. And don't get starting on cutting out and colouring; if only we'd had computers in those days - such a boon! Oh, and I hate being rushed at supermarket checkouts...Thanks for sharing your struggles, Antonia. I'd love to think that there's a gift in it all somewhere.

  2. Hi Antonia a beautiful blog post and it brought back memories for me too. Multi tasking is a myth, the Conscious brain can only focus on one thing at a time and so therefore jumping from one task to the other is very tiring and distracting. Perhaps shoe lace tying could be a beautiful mindfulness practice bringing forth appreciation and an understanding of complexity.

    1. Thank you, Silentium, and welcome (back?!). Glad to have my suspicion confirmed that multitasking is a myth. And I'll think of you when I tie my shoes!


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