You need to get dirty and mess up (a bit)

I was going to title this blog “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”, but when I googled the phrase I discovered that pretty much every other blog has already commented on this quote that is attributed to Voltaire. (For the record, I do like it, but it is a bit overused…)

Way too clean bench.
Way too clean bench.

So, while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to say about the overused quote, I developed my alternative title, which pretty much says the same thing, but not as eloquently as Voltaire. As readers of my (lately-very-infrequently-updated) blog know, I moved to Athens GA a few months ago to start a new job at UGA.

It has been wonderful! I have several blog topics swirling in my head about the need to try new things, to have reasons to restart, and the stimulation that comes with a new environment.

But this particular blog relates to the fact that I let my workshop sit idle for way too long. I started setting things up the week we moved into town. I spent several days getting benches put back together, hanging lights, laying out the shop, cleaning out the basement, etc. Of course, this required several trips to Home Depot and Lowes to get new tools, paper towel holders (which still are not hung), shiny new garbage can, bench brush (who knew?), and even a mop. What a sparkling and wonderful shop!

16 strand braided belt
16 strand braided belt

Then I got way too busy getting things set up at work. We needed to move lab equipment, buy new equipment, move 5 of my lab personnel and get them signed up at UGA, set up computers, meet new colleagues, and write new grants. Add to that trying to figure out where all the new meetings are located on campus, and I’ve been very busy. On top of everything, I’ve had too much travel and have been at various meetings or conferences for the previous 3-4 weekends.

I’ve been really missing spending time in the shop. It is almost like exercise (which I have been keeping up with fairly well!) for some region of my brain that needs to hand sew or layout and design new projects to reset. I’m fresher and more creative at my “real work” when I get some shop time.

Original style belt/buckle
Original style belt/buckle

I reserved much of this weekend to finally work in the shop. After tidying up the few last things that really didn’t need tidying, I found myself staring at this nice shop but not having a clue about what I would work on. Inactivity breeds itself. It is very hard to get started on anything again after a long delay. Then the quote that was going to be the title of this blog came into my mind, and I started pulling old work out of a box. I picked a bag that I had intended to finish last Christmas for the Artisans’ Guild Gallery rush, but I couldn’t get it done on time. It just so happens to be UGA Dawg red (happily one of my favorite colors!), so I started to sew it together. It felt great! And I even started to get some very small calluses back on my figures, one of my many mental health indicators.belt_buckle

Then I got distracted when my jeans wouldn’t stay up, and I remembered my frustration with my favorite belt. I always test things that I make, and I’ve been using a 16 strand braided kangaroo leather belt for the last year or so. I really like the belt. It is light, fully adjustable, and doesn’t activate TSA metal detectors in airports. But the buckle has driven me crazy for most of the time. It leaves a gap that I don’t like on the front of the belt, and I didn’t put it together quite right, so the buckle pair sometimes slips. I decided that I’d put off the red bag for another week and try to make something that worked better, and I came up with a new design of a leather backing that holds it in place and looks more like a conventional buckle.

But I messed up (a bit). I should have put the maker stamp on the back, not the front, but I didn’t think about that until it was too late. Worse, even though it works the way I wanted it to and looks OK, I need to get one of my braiding tools to buckle it right. This isn’t exactly convenient and may actually be trouble if I forget my tools some day and need to use the toilet. It isn’t perfect, but it’s almost good, and it got me back into the shop.

New experiment. Not quite right yet.
New experiment. Not quite right yet. But not bad…

I find that I bring the same mind-set to my academic work sometimes. My students do the same thing, too. It is easy to sit around thinking about everything that isn’t ready yet or not exactly knowing how to do something. Usually the first few times results in something like my modified belt. But now that I’ve messed up a bit and gotten dirty again, I know what I need to do to improve the next one.

You need to jump in, get dirty, and mess up (a bit) to make progress on anything!

Author: edisonleatherworks

I'm a biochemistry professor and leatherworker who likes bicycles, travel, art, education, and music. Walking is my favorite form of transportation, and I regularly practice Tai Chi.

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