Slight interest with a dash of surprise

There’s a special kind of slightly-surprised magic which you can reliably determine has occurred when someone makes the sound, hunh.

My grandmother was a sought-after seamstress who handmade custom draperies. Think custom home decor and hotel lobbies. As her eyesight diminished year-by-year, she eventually asked my dad to add a small attachment to her sewing machine: a clever little mechanism that is able to pull the thread through the eye of the sewing needle. Yes, there really is such a thing. It’s a brilliant little device. It works like magic and is strikingly-obvious once you see it in action. She hands my dad a few German-made sewing-machine parts; tiny little parts… a single tiny screw, a little doomathingus, and this third whatchamacallit. There are no instructions though. So my dad—an accomplished mechanic by trade—puts on his glasses and sits down with her Pfaff sewing machine, thinking, “how hard can it be to add these two parts to this sewing machine using this one screw?” I don’t know how long he actually spent trying. That detail was always suspiciously omitted whenever he told this story.

Eventually he gives up in failure and lugs the machine to the Pfaff sewing machine dealer. The dealer is old-school—located in a 100-year-old sewing mill building, with a little front-shop and with the real workshop in the back. My dad sets the machine and parts on the counter. This story is set in the 80’s, and although it was never mentioned in the telling of the story, I’m assuming the machine came from that shop 30 years earlier. I’d also bet that my grandmother called them [on her rotary phone] to order the clever little needle-threading-thingy from there too.

So the scene is set: One wizened, male mechanic with a sewing machine and some parts. Another wizened, male mechanic jaded by a century of stoopid sewing machine problems and questions.

“Hello, how can I help you?”

“I can’t get this attachment to… well… attach.”

“It’s easy. You just use that screw to attach that thingus and that whatsit to the arm right there where the sewing needle…”

“No, sorry, it’s not actually possible.”

It’s a classic show-down. In fact, you know it well. You’ve had this show-down yourself at the auto mechanic, in the grocery store, or on the phone with your Internet tech support.

The shop owner looks at my dad like he’s an imbecile and with a flicker of an eye-roll, starts to pick up the machine and the parts to go in the back…

“…wait! No don’t take it in the back. Let me see you do it.”

At this point it’s still a battle: My dad with a problem, and the sewing machine guy not truly interested in helping. The guy grudgingly gets his glasses and starts. …and the little whatsit falls out. …the little screw won’t quite stay in. Maybe if he moves his light this way, and tries reaching in from the other side… nope. Another try. …and a fourth try.

And then, “hunh.”

“…ok, now you can take it in the back.”

The moral is that any time you have a problem, and you have someone whose help you want, there is before-the-hunh and after-the-hunh. No one will truly help you—no one will truly own your problem—before they say, “hunh.”


§7 – Lemons

(Part 19 of 37 in series, Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)

“Lemons” simply reminds us that sometimes we need to make lemonade from whatever lemons we find before us.

I am acutely aware of this aspect of Parkour; This searching what is right in front of me for something to do. Initially I felt like a one trick pony. Every time I’d be faced with some little area, I’d stare at it thinking, “I can only do, literally, a step vault. What am I going to do here?!” Yet somehow, I manage to force myself to stand in the face of my ineptitude and to search for inspiration.

Eventually I came up with a sort of “wedge” for the problem. I would seize on, literally, the first thing I could think of. Often that would be something even I felt was ludicrous. But this first ludicrous movement, got me moving. (That’s the wedge.) From there, I invariably saw something else.

Usually the second thing was also ludicrous, but sometimes it was better (whatever “better” might mean to me at the time). So I’d change to doing the second thing. I’d throw my shame and ego to the wind and start doing repitions of whatever that first ludicrous thing was, then the second thing if it was better, and so on. Sometimes, I could only see a single thing which I feared, and so I’d start with ludicrously simple progressions to the thing I feared.

In my mind, I called this “busting rocks”. Pick the biggest, ludicrous rock and smash it. Pick the next biggest rock, and so on. As I smashed, I’d remind myself of something I’d written years ago: “Parkour is the grueling work of self destruction.”

One day, I participated in the most surreal jam session. On a sign. It was just a slightly sloped, big flat sign with a map on it and four skinny legs into the ground. One person did something near it, “interesting,” I thought. Then a second person did a little sliding thing across it. And I thought, “I wish I could do something on there.” And the wedge happened automatically and I thought, “I can try this ludicrous move.” And I tried it, and someone said, “Craig, what are you doing?”. And I failed. And someone else said, “OH! That’s totally a thing!” And in the blink of an eye a dozen world-class traceurs — people whose abilities all boggle my mind — LINED UP to play on this little sign. And for what seemed like eternity, we all took turns trying crazy stuff on a sign, at night, in a busy public square. And passers-by stopped and some even applauded or cheered. And we all ate ice cream and drank milk-shakes as we waited our turn and pondered our next go. And I for one wanted it to never end.

It was the greatest lemon pie I have ever tasted.


Shut up and train: Self-directed advice

(Part 29 of 72 in series, My Journey)

Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue – to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.

~ Socrates


I think that “shutting up” has been the most difficult aspect of my Parkour journey.

In my youngling days — let’s define that as sub-30-years-old — I was always the clown: obnoxious; rude, crude and ill-mannered; smart ass. When you have a big ego and low self-esteem, you seek attention to try to make those ends meet. That’s probably a good benchmark definition of dysfunctional. Worse, I had no idea such was the case. Over the next ten years, (or so,) I started to realize that such behavior was dysfunctional and pathetic. That decade was finally followed by my beginning to try to change about 40 years of ingrained behavior.

It was at this point — just as I was trying to change the course of a very large ship with a very small rudder — that I started Parkour. At the time, I simply jumped into Parkour being my usual self. But two pushups into my first class I was stripped of my delusions of grandeur. Two minutes in, and I figured out that I was an out-of-shape pile of bacon. After two hours of trying to do something, anything, and failing and sweating and flailing and sweating more… Well, shit got real.

That first class was followed by a solid year of me having an argument with myself, in real-time, at every class. Every time I’d exhibit some variation of my dysfunctional behavior I’d mentally berate myself; Shut up. Train. After each class, I’d think back on all the cringe-worthy moments and think: Next time, shut up more. Train more.

Somewhere around two years in, my ship’s course had shifted far enough that the dysfunctional behavior was noticeably tailing off. Certainly, the behaviors I disliked were still frequent enough to bother me, but they WERE tailing off.

Now, three years in and going stronger than ever, I’ve made a lot of progress in terms of fixing myself mentally and physically. I can now say, with an air of experience: Everything has changed. And nothing has changed.

Shut up more. Train more.