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  • Writer's pictureDavid Knell

Petit à Petit

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

Tonight, my brain fried from work and in a fog from a lasting pandemic, I pulled out my iPad and did a quick painting.  Visual art and music are non-verbal and non-logical; there are rules, certainly, like color (or tonal) harmony or compositional effects, but not the logical argument kind inherent and inescapable in verbal forms. When your brain is fried and fogged, the last thing in the world you want to do is use the thinking, logical part of your brain.  So I painted. 

Digital painting of a forest landscape.
Reference photo by @eisenhaur_photography, Instagram

​As expected, painting relaxed me. But there was an even better prize I enjoyed from doing the painting, a reminder and reinforcing of a small but powerful principle that can apply to anything.  When I got to the point where I didn't know what more to do to make it better, I called it done. I knew that it wasn't "finished" because there is definitely more work to do, but I don't know what that might be. I'm just a beginner, and this was just to relax me. So I did what I could, pushed myself just a little (adding shading under the pine boughs and lightened the mountains in the distance), then turned off the iPad.  This is something of a big deal for me. In the past, if I ever called something quits, I'd beat myself up that I couldn't do better. But I've learned a very tiny yet very true, very reliable, and very powerful principle.  Little by little, growth will come in an area that you continue to practice.  (Let's see if we can turn that into a couplet: 

Little by little, as you continue, Practice expands the skill that's in you.) I've experienced this throughout my life. In kindergarten, I could not play any instruments and only spoke English. By the end of high school, I could play the piano, drums, guitar, and bass. By the age of 21, I was proficient in French.  None of these skills came instantly. Rather, progress came incrementally as I learned one small part of one micro-skill at a time, like adding one filament at a time until a string was formed, then a cord, then a rope.  The most recent example came just a week ago. I was in a video meeting that I needed to be present for but didn't require my full attention. I took out a sheet of paper and began sketching one of my coworkers who was on the call.  I drew the head, the mouth, the nose, the eyes, hair, ears, torso. Then I decided to do something I don't typical try to do: I noticed a large wrinkle in his shirt and drew it. Drawing the folds of fabric is beyond my skillset, but I have drawn the face and torso enough times that I was comfortable doing them. It seemed my brain was ready to handle something new, to venture into unknown territory.  "That's it!" I thought. That's how growth happens. We walk up to a staircase and put one foot onto the first step. Once there, we are in a position to venture to a higher step. We can't access five steps up from the ground. But we can take one step at a time. And that next step soon becomes the foundation, the solid footing, from which we can quite easily take another step.  This is what I expect to happen with this blog. I don't have a strong handle on what I'm doing. Personal blogging is a new form to me. I'm just kind of diving in, expecting to learn a little more with each post about how to swim in these new waters. The growth may be imperceptible, but I expect it to come.  That's just how growth works. If you do something enough times, your brain seeks something new about it. If we keep doing it beyond that point, and allow ourselves to venture into undiscovered parts of it, we develop a more and more nuanced understanding of it. It's like that with acquiring skills, becoming familiar with people and places, learning subjects, and developing thought patterns.  No matter how daunting something new might seem, this very, very true principle of little by little, petit à petit, will always be there for you. It costs patience and perseverance, but it yields capability and confidence.  Thanks for reading. 

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