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Humility

Posted by nightphoenix on June 26, 2010 in Process |

Last weekend, the hubby and I took Eli to see Toy Story 3 with my mom…and later that night, we saw The Karate Kid (minus Eli and my mom!).

Toy Story 3 was good, but surprisingly…well, dark. I mean, some of stuff those toys were doing, some of the scenes, whew. Just the fact that these are children’s toys makes it all the more disturbing when they imprison and hurt each other, you know? It reminded me of one of the interesting aspects of faery lore: the grotesque is hidden within the enchanting and innocent. Everything seems fine and beautiful, but there’s something…off…that you just can’t put your finger on. Until it’s too late.

But they wrapped up the Toy Story saga quite well. Yes, I cried.

The Karate Kid was a different beast altogether.

I’m very glad we opted to see it without Eli. I’ll not review the movie itself except to say that I found it a pretty good retelling of the original. I really don’t think it was trying to be anything else…just updating a classic story. What struck me was the intensity of the martial arts.

I have a second degree black belt in Taekwon-Do. Normally when I watch a martial arts movie, I find myself thinking something along the lines of, “I could do that, if I really wanted to.” I’m familiar with the basic breakdown of moves. It’s not so much that I think I could hop up and mimic the moves right then and there (ha!)…but I know what they are doing. It’s something I could learn. You know? I do the same thing with art. I can look at a painting and be reasonably confident that if I don’t already know the technique, I could learn it.

So when I watched this round of The Karate Kid, I had the rather unusual experience of watching with my mouth hanging open and thinking, “There’s no way in hell I could do that. Even at my peak, I wasn’t anywhere close to that good.” It was a humbling experience. I suppose those are good for me. It started me thinking about humility in general, and how it relates to something a person is good at.

It’s easy to be humble in the presence of skill you don’t have and don’t have any particular wish to acquire. For instance, I’m constantly in contented awe of Hanson’s ability to produce good music. I have dozens of favorite bands (who doesn’t?). But I’m not a musician. I can go on and on about stellar music because I’m under no delusion that I could create stellar music. It’s not a skill of mine.

However, I have a rather different relationship with art. For example, I can vividly remember being jealous of NeonDragon‘s work, because, well, she was better at drawing than me. Knowing intellectually that there will always be people more and less skilled than you in a particular area is not quite the same thing as actually being confronted with it. I discovered that you can either stay annoyed, or you can choose to be inspired. Ideally, a person can train themselves to automatically choose the latter, but I think the better you are at something, the harder this is. And, paradoxically, the easier it is, because you can more easily discern how you could improve.

(By the way, I would highly recommend NeonDragon’s books. They are awesome!)

Again with the martial arts. Now, martial arts is not something I’d consider a primary skill of mine, and so I’m not as inclined to be jealous when I encounter someone who’s a lot better than I am. I suppose in that area, I’m easily inspired. Maybe because I don’t have a burning need to be really, really good…it’s fun, and I like it, but it’s not a passion with me, like writing or art. (And when I talk about needing to be good, understand that I’m not talking about needing to be better than everyone else. It’s about a personal drive to make the best work I possibly can.)

Writing is a relatively new passion for me. I haven’t yet come across any writing that has truly humbled me, in the way that The Karate Kid‘s martial arts humbled me (in that “no way in hell” sort of way). I have seen writing that affected me the way NeonDragon’s art did (in that “grrr, this is really good” sort of way) But I haven’t been jealous.

Now, the thing I’m not sure of is whether that’s a humble reaction, or a terribly arrogant one.

Hopefully it means that I’ve learned to be inspired by greatness, instead of annoyed by it. I’m not in competition with anyone. Every writer has their own style, and every author will have readers who enjoy that style. I think maybe it helps that I love to read, and so I like finding writers who write amazing stuff because, well, I enjoy reading it. Maybe it also helps that I stepped into writing with no real knowledge of the craft…I mean, I knew how to *write*, but crafting a novel is not quite as simple as barfing words onto a page.

I can be titchy about art because I’ve been drawing all my life. I have to struggle more to be gracious. It’s easier to be gracious when you’re a student, which is what I feel I am as a writer. I haven’t really earned any authority or credibility in that area. I can happily admit that I’m not very good at certain aspect of writing. Whereas with art, when I was in high school, I was an authority because I was skilled at it. It becomes harder to admit that I’m not as good as some artists, because I’m used to people expecting me to be. I’m better at having a humble attitude than I was…or at least, I’d like to think I am.

I know that the student mindset is a healthier one for me to have, especially in the writing business, when it’s necessary to cultivate a thick skin. I’m not entirely sure how I would react to a piece of writing that just blows me away and makes me think, “Wow, I could never do that.” Especially if that happens after I’ve been published, and have a few books under my belt, as it were. Part of me is convinced that would never happen, that the most I’d think is, “Wow, I can’t do that…yet.”

Is that arrogance, or confidence?

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