I failed today. I forgot the Zen in the art.
There was frustration, embarrassment, disappointment, the potato… and the Bitch.
In class, when learning electrical stuff a while back, my understanding began at the level of potato clocks. Potato clocks, like the second grade science experiments currently sold at Hobby Lobby. As a result, and to make light of my often heightened frustration, I would say to folks that I felt like a potato, actually an easy way to ask for help, to admit you don’t get it without having to say you don’t get it. It has become a silly term of endearment in class now. Very cool. A few days ago we were given our engines, our final project. To aid in my nervousness of the situation I decided to name my engine as I name my bikes. What else could I do but name him, with all my worry but…after a potato. What is a greasy potato in a bunch of pieces? French Fries.
I tore apart French Fry. Nothing major, a simple single cylinder engine. I tore into him looking for answers to questions I hadn’t asked yet. I tore in, afraid. I tore into him with the Bitch in my head whispering I wasn’t good enough. I wrenched every bolt and screw apart. As I was wrenching and twisting, parts of me too began to unwind. In a fleeting moment I unwound some of my worries. I unwound some of my confidence too, and tightened it up again one thread at a time. I consulted a manual and found pictures… What is this supposed to look like? I wish we had a manual some days.
My perfume lately has been one of old gas and grease, but today they were not comforting. Today, for a while they reminded me of that which is old and broken. As I tore him apart I scattered his pieces on a bench, partially labeled, for a reminder of what to do next. I took pictures to aid myself in the reverse process. When you have been completely torn apart, there is no choice but to rebuild. Nothing works in that many pieces. Put it back together.
I am no damn expert as confirmed today. There is always room for a mistake that anyone could make. There are always tweaks that could be made, not a perfect science and there is always room for human error. To err is human, after all. I’m so damn human.
Done. Rebuilt. Refilled with new gas and new oil. Smells of a new beginning. Take him out to pull the starting cord, a moment of truth. Did I do it all right? Upon starting up, this was not a sound that carried joy. Not cadence of confidence. Not a calming church bell in the distance. That clang hurt. That clang was an alarm clock to the Bitch too, who had been quietly resting a bit…. who then woke with vengeance and yelled that I rushed, that I was stupid, that I had failed. I know the mistake I made, a simple careless error that literally broke it all down. I put a valve spring cover upside down, but it looked right, but the result was a dropped valve.
I pull him apart so I can see what I did. It was visible, now obvious. I spent some time fishing that valve back up, with a magnet and repaired it as best as possible. I put the valve spring covers on right…A nifty trick, yep, but still a costly mistake. Fixed, mostly. But, I fixed my own mistake and he worked. He works.
But, all I perseverated on for hours today was that I failed. I didn’t have it perfect the first time. I didn’t have the skills of the experts. I’m not a mechanical savant. I didn’t have an intuitive knowing of the Zen master who could do this in his sleep. The Bitch at her best I reckon.
Then the truth settled in. It’s ok. You didn’t let the world down. You don’t have to be perfect… Shit, you mean I’m not supposed to get everything right every damn time?
I remind myself now, tonight, over a glass or two… of box red wine that FAIL = first attempt in learning. I have failed plenty. I have learned so damn much. I know things now. I know I am the only one who was disappointed today. I know wasn’t the only one to make the same mistake as I was comforted by one guy brave enough to admit he had done the same thing. I can solve a problem differently. I ride with greater confidence. I can ask for help, even if I can only do so by saying I feel like a potato. I will try something new. I know I can fix my mistakes, even mechanical ones, and that I won’t make them twice. Huge. We all made mistakes, others took them in stride but I allowed the Bitch to win a bit today and believed for a moment that I had wasted my time. That it wasn’t worth it. Instead, after a ride, I remind myself to own my thoughts tonight. That it has been so worth it. Rebuilding isn’t easy but it’s worth it.
Once pulled apart, it will go back together again, but it is not ever going to be the same. How could it be, now with the internal, invisible fingerprints left behind from someone trying to make sense of it all? But really, isn’t that the point of a true rebuild? Trying to make it better, trying to make it right. Every once in a while we all need clean out the cobwebs and carbons to feel like new, and every once in a while we need to fail to remember how sweet it is to learn.