Patience

When I was about 11 years or so old, I remember when relatives came to visit and I showed them my collection of butterflies and moths. They were amazed that someone so young could have amassed so much knowledge about things which were obscure to most adults, but they also almost invariably used a magic word – “patience”. They said things like “you must be so patient” to do this or that. A few years later, when I had become an expert in amazingly light model aeroplanes, they said the same thing. I never understood it then, and I don’t understand it now. More on patience coming up in a minute – if you can wait that long.

Now, aged over 60, I feel as though I’m back in the same place. After some years developing an embryonic academic career in science, I reluctantly gave it up and returned to my first love – making things. Now I make lutes, starting with planks of wood and ending up with musical instruments which are beautiful objects but which also have the potential to make beautiful music. Am I craftsman, a technician, an artist, a scientist? It depends on how you look at it.

“Patience” implies several things. One thing which irritated me (still does) is that it implied that things would often go wrong, but when they did you were calm about it and started over again without losing your cool or giving up. Sounds good, perhaps. But I was never “patient”. I always wanted the good things right there, right then, if possible, so if things did go wrong, I did want to do them again, but the second time I was perhaps even more determined to “get it right”.

Another layer of meaning behind “patience” implies waiting – a kind of passive waiting for success (or a lack of agency- think of the fact that we call people in hospital “patients”). Was I willing to wait? Hell, no! Simply waiting never got anyone anywhere. If there were problems, I had to solve them, and fast.

So “patience” is supposedly a virtue but widely misunderstood.

I make intricate objects which take some skill and hundreds of hours to complete, but I’m not “patient” at all. At best, I inhabit a zone where things go well and quickly. At worst, I have to start all over again. I know very well which I prefer.

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