on doing fine things well

I am the kind of person who is prone to small, fiddly projects, like knitting a sweater in fingering weight yarn or translating Ovid because I don’t trust other people’s translation of the Metamorphoses. Because of this, I frequently get stuck in the middle of doing fine fiddly things that require concentration and more time than I feel these projects should rightly demand of me.

Because of this, I am often left with the question – is it actually worth doing these fine things, and especially is it worth doing these fine things well?

But more fundamentally, is it worth doing fine things at all? And is it worth doing things that take so much time?

Then yesterday, as I was journaling, I began to think about the slowness of things. The slowness of translations, the slowness of healing, and the slowness of struggle.

Fine things, hard things, are often slow, like working on a translation. In a translation, half an hour can yield this:

And she represents the earth struck by her spear
Bringing forth a blossom of olive white with fruit

Metamorphoses 6.80-81, translation mine

Is all this debate about the interpretation of a participle or whether or not this should be taken as a dependent clause or a prepositional phrase worth it? Perhaps.

Fine things like healing are often slow. I have been out of the hospital for not even two months, and I expect myself to be better and to do better, especially since my injuries are not visible on my body. Yet today, the feast of the Forerunner, was the first day in months I was able to make it through an entire Liturgy without leaving.

Is this, the process of putting myself back together with more exterior supports than I thought possible, worth it? Of course it is.

Fine things, difficult things, are often so slow they go at the pace of a snail, like the Christian struggle. Here, I hope I remember to say my prayers, and there, I hate that I forget. But slowly, the days that do build up, and they are the ones that change me.

Is this struggle for Christ worth it? Without any question at all.

These fiddly fine projects are slow, and moreover, they are not strictly necessary to my personhood. So why do I have questions about their value?

So this is the value of doing fine things well: each stitch, each word, gives me an opportunity to take one measured step at a time, to not rush the process, and to glorify Christ with every breath. This is what I need above all, and maybe by writing it down, I won’t forget.

15 thoughts on “on doing fine things well

  1. I have to learn to be content with small amounts of “slowness”. Life is so demanding and my responsibilities so constant that I have to be intentional about slowing down. It’s good to remember that it is a necessity, not an unaffordable luxury. (I, too, like fine work, and do sometimes wonder why I do it. But it’s part of me, whether I have time for it or not.)

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  2. Oh, YES! In the most recent 5ish years of my life, I’ve encountered many moments where I wondered about the value of something, and then realized how all those doubting moments are the ways that we lose our grasp on meaningful life. If you let go of those moments and them mattering, one at a time you are snipping away at the fabric of existence. Without all the small beauties, we would drop into the abyss. It’s the core of depression – the shuddering sense that there is nothing meaningful in life. Good translation, painstaking embroidery (yours is lovely), all of it are your small sharp weapons against despair.

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    1. Ooooh I love that: “sharp weapons against despair.” I’ve been looking at the often dual meanings of many weaving words – “tela” can mean spear or loom, “spathi” can mean pin beater or broadsword, among others – and their destructive origins but creative interpolations. Things that are weapons can totally be constructive, given the right context. And you are so right about the doubting leading to loss of meaning! I’m slowly learning that faith is easier, and even blind faith, because blind faith means I can’t see the evil parts of the knowledge we gained from that tree that one day in Eden.

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  3. Such beautiful work in both photos! Healing takes time. My husband hurt his back 10 years ago, he was out of work (getting paid worker’s comp) for 3 months. One doctor suggested surgery, but I’m so grateful that plenty of rest was ultimately what helped.

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  4. I have often had similar thoughts, like the proverb, “If a tree falls in the forest…” But I DO think it’s worth it. You are putting beauty out there even if only a few see it. I have been listening to Cal Newport’s “Deep Work,” about how important doing our best work without distraction is. Thank you for sharing this and I really look forward to reading more.

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    1. Exactly! I think many of these thoughts may have been inspired by Cal Newport, as I read his blog regularly. He has such great things to say, and I think we are participating in a mini digital detox doing #bloginstead. And you are so right about beauty – one of my professors, Dr. Timothy Patitsas, is such a big advocate for the beauty first way. Beauty is then a way to also participate in the divine (and I’m so excited because his book, The Ethics of Beauty, is coming out soon)!

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      1. So great to hear other folks thinking along similar lines. This has been incredibly affirming to me as one who feels “called to small” in many ways. The only problem is my book list is GROWING because of all of the amazing recommendations on the blogs. This Ethics of Beauty is going on the list for sure!

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