Monday, December 19, 2011

12.19.11 In Praise of Repetition

I remember reading a collection of short stories by Jorge Luis Borges and coming across one of many thought-provoking concepts that he so brilliantly lays bare through decriptive narratives of fantastical journeys and complex spaces. The idea that has stuck with me for so many years is this: that one cannot accurately evaluate much of anything unless one has had multiple experiences with whatever it is that one is trying to figure-out. In other words, you need to do something at least twice before you can begin to comprehend what it is you are doing, let alone to be critical of it...the first time an experience of any kind is had, whether it is of riding a roller coaster, or tasting lemons, or touching an long-hair angora cat, your brain and your body are processing the sensory information and gathering the data necessary to even have an opinion or an agenda for some action...such as deciding to ride the coaster again or throw-up!
When I watch Maxwell do something over and over and over again...I think of this idea. It used to have a meaning for me that lived in the world of architectural criticism or within my own professional understanding of iconic buildings or landscapes that I really wanted to either like or dislike. I would try to think of this idea and give myself permission to turn off the churning,critical,analytical part of my brain and just visit, really visit the place and let all of its detail sink in on a most basic of sensory levels...before coming back and tearing it to pieces with my critical eye. It was a conscious act, a conscious re-tracing of steps, of re-visiting a place both literally and figuratively.It is amazing what you can learn when you allow yourself to listen, watch, taste, feel, and smell with out the distracting chatter of thoughts...I almost can't do it. Max on the other hand is a natural.
In his effort to achieve even the simplest goals, Max will repeat an action a hundred times, in the process sometimes learning something new. For example, he will try to pull himself to a stand at the table...over and over and over again, slipping to the floor each time his legs buckle with fatigue beneath him. He will cry for a minute and then try again. Suddenly he realizes that when he does this, his stocking feet are actually sliding on the wood floors which is making it difficult but also somewhat enjoyable...he starts to giggle. It has become a game and he is in control. He does it again. Now he is giggling so hard that he can barely hang onto the table.
This tolerence for repetition is what makes it possible for Max to do break-dance style back spins bewteen the wall and the stair rails and never hit his head. (I think he lived a previous life in an 80's nightclub!) He has taken the time to learn by repeating and repeating again a series of movements that when put together add up to a sensory experience that he loves...getting dizzy! As a parent I watch this and am hopeful that there are more useful tasks that Max can learn,(not that break-dancing is entirely futile), and I begin to think about what they might be...Then I observe him as though I were watching someone else's child and I find myself thrilled at the patience he has for the light reflecting off a spoon, or a ray of sun on the floor or the texture of a bump in the carpet. I picture his little brain laying down a memory track, grooved deep, the information he is collecting writing itself permanently for some future use...

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