I am woman, hear me roar and all that (anybody remember that Helen Reddy song?), but when it comes to parallel parking a car, I, er, whimper.
I am reminded of this each evening as the Norwegian Artist takes Tired of Being Youngest and the Son and Heir out for parallel parking practice between the garbage can (in front) and two wicker chairs (in back), and they all return, smiling and happy, chairs, garbage can, and car intact.
“How did you ever get your license?” the Norwegian asks, curiously.
“Parallel parking is worth six points; you pass with 80 out of 100,” I reply. “In 34 years of driving, the worst thing I have ever done is gently back into a post.”
“I remember that day.”
Well, so don’t we all.
Actually, it’s misleading to say that I can’t parallel park a car: as long as there are two, preferably three empty spaces in front of me, I can squeeze in there just fine. It helps that I drive a Honda. It also helps that we live in a town of 2,500 people, which means that 1) there are usually three empty spaces somewhere on Main Street and 2) if there aren’t, all I need to do is drive a block, turn the corner, and park on a side street.
In other words, I compensate for my inabilities.
Or as I prefer to tell myself, I do it my way — just like Frank Sinatra, only I bet that he knew how to parallel park a car.
But back to this compensating thing — we all do it; sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad; but the most important aspect is admitting to ourselves that we are making up for a lack of ability. Only then can we decide what we ultimately want to do.
Take drawing hands, for example. According to the Norwegian Artist, who knows about these kind of things, children frequently draw human figures without hands — tucking them out of sight behind the figure’s back– because they don’t have the technical ability to render four fingers and a thumb. So they compensate by not drawing them at all.
Interestingly, adult artists do the same thing — not necessarily hiding the hands, but adjusting their style to compensate for an inability to render. Instead of admitting that they don’t know how to draw, or taking the necessary steps to learn how to draw, they “brand” themselves by a particular style.
And while not all art needs to “look” like something, there are a number of people out there who do what they do because they don’t have the skills or training to move beyond where they are, and instead of growing by admitting to themselves that they do lack these skills and taking steps to learn them, they compensate. The good news is that we get a variety of art; the bad news is that we have foisted upon us a lot of bad art, which looks the way it does not because of the genius of the artist, but because of his inabilities.
This attitude is not limited to the world of visual art. People in all walks of life refuse to admit to themselves that they are lacking a skill and they compensate by announcing to the world at large that their unique way of doing things — notable because of the absence of that specific, salient skill — is edgy, savvy, funky, and smart. When it’s a painter doing this, you get an ugly painting; when it’s a contractor, or an engineer, or a doctor, or a journalist — you get something more impacting.
I park blocks away from my destination not because I prefer striding forth, in the bracing air, but because I can’t parallel park, period. This doesn’t affect anyone but me (and my passengers), so it’s not a particularly big deal — but what matters is that I’m not fooling myself.
If we can’t be honest with ourselves — facing our shortcomings, admitting our inabilities, and moving forward with what we’ve got, or not got — then how can we possibly expect to be honest with others?