Monday, February 01, 2016

Practice

Inspired by fellow philosopher-bloggers Adriel Trott and Jill Stauffer, I'm going to try to post every day for the month of February.  Every summer in June, I do the 30 Day Song Challenge on this blog and I am always surprised how satisfying I find it to write every day.  Of course, it's much easier to do when there is structure and a theme (as there is in the 30 Day Song Challenge), but I've been encouraged by my Stauffer's and Trott's' work over the last couple of months and am willing to give this a go.

One thing I know-- and also teach my students-- is that writing is a skill that requires practice.  Even if you have a "natural" talent for writing, even if writing comes easily to you, practice is still necessary.  Each June, when I post every day, I discover new idiosyncratic tics and habits in my own writing that need correcting.  Just calling them to myown attention isn't sufficient, I need to practice not repeating those mistakes.

In general, I don't think the discipline required for practice is a discipline that comes naturally to me, nor is it one that I regularly practice.  As I've grown older, I've found myself dispositionally inclined to think that there are some things I am good at, other things that I am not good at, and I tend to direct my time and energies into the former at the expense of improving the latter.

Which reminds me of the (in)famous "practice" interview with basketball phenom Allen Iverson several years back.  Iverson had been getting some flack about resting on his laurels as the 76ers' "franchise player," not showing up to practice, and basically disrespecting one of the fundamental principles of athletic excellence.  Iverson was having none of it, and gave the interview below, where he repeatedly subordinated the value of practice to the value of "the game."  Here's Iverson:



Practice is tedious, time-consuming, sometimes mind-numbingly repetitive.  There is no glory in it, no medals, no trophies, no applause.  We think of it as only instrumentally valuable because it is, in almost every case, a means to some other end.  But, pace Iverson, it need not be.  This month, I'm going to try to think about practice as intrinsically valuable, as good-in-itself.  My hunch is that there are elements, dimensions, aspects to the activities that I love-- like writing-- that may only be fully revealed when I turn my attention away from their end and toward their process.

One of the world's greatest dancers, Martha Graham, once said of practice that it is "the performance of a dedicated precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which comes the shape of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit."  For Graham, this was a manner of "inviting the perfection desired." For the next 29 days, I'm going to extend that invitation.

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