Doing things the wrong way

When you are self-taught at something, there are things you do that seem really normal to you. You might assume that you are doing them the same way everyone else does. You might have absolutely no idea that you might be doing it wrong. Or maybe you know and just don’t care.

Sometimes it works out for the best, and sometimes not so much.

The example that comes to mind for me is knitting. I’m sure one of my grandmothers or my mother initially taught me to knit at some point, I really don’t remember. It’s something I’ve sort of always known how to do. Certainly I never had any lessons on how to do it properly! Once I went to a talk by a well-known knitting writer. Yes, there is such a thing. Trust me. In the knitting world, she is famous. Anyway. We were all knitting during her talk, and at one point I asked her if she had any advice to avoid hand/arm pain while knitting. She didn’t, particularly, other than the usual not knitting for hours at a time, stretching at regular intervals and so on. A bit later, she happened to look over at me and said “why do you hold your yarn that way?”

I was tensioning the yarn by pinching it between my index finger and thumb. I shrugged and told her that was just how I’d always done it. She showed me how other people do it, by sort of winding the yarn through a couple of fingers so it flows on its own.

It took me a while to get the hang of it, as it always does to change a habit, but the result? End of hand pain. Unless I knit for several hours and kick off a carpal tunnel event. Still. One small change. One tiny little thing that I was doing a little bit differently from all of the other knitters in the world. I was doing it wrong, and not in a way that improved anything.

Is it always a bad thing to do something differently? Not at all. You aren’t bound by the rules if you don’t know what you’re “supposed to be doing” or don’t have access to formal lessons. Sometimes that’s how something amazing starts.

Jimi Hendrix was an essentially self-taught guitar player. Not only was he self-taught, but he was also left-handed, so he had to learn to play holding the guitar upside down and backwards. He eventually did learn to play right handed, but always preferred to play his way. His way turned out to be like no one else’s way. His way was amazing. He turned the music world as upside down as his guitar while playing the wrong way. He carried that upside down guitar with him all the time. It was like a part of him. Playing it was some sort of life force for him. Would it have been that way if he’d taken lessons and learned how to play like everyone else, or did he invent his own way to play because it was the only way for him to play at all?

I’d like to think he would have been the same lightning bolt even if he’d learned to play like everyone else, but I suspect he might not have. Sure, he’d have been a great player. I think he was born to play…but maybe he wouldn’t have been as inventive without the motivation of needing to know learn how to play on his own.

Being left-handed is one of the few things Jimi and I have in common. He’s dead. I’m alive. Black. White. Male. Female. Superstar. Nobody in particular. I often wonder if people who are left handed are forced by their handedness to be more creative than the right handed majority.

Science doesn’t appear to back up my theory.

I suspect, though, that left handed people might be more apt to try creative solutions to daily irritants than right handed people just because there are so many petty annoyances. Having to use scissors in the wrong hand, having the binder rings or spirals in a notebook in the way of your writing hand, having the side of your hand smeared with ink. We’re always in a position where looking at things from a different perspective is required. Writing from back to front in a notebook. Playing a guitar upside down.

We might not be more inherently creative, but we’re more used to needing to figure out ways of making the wrong equipment work for us.

Doing things differently to get a result is something of a way of life for a leftie.

Sometimes it leads to a result you don’t want. It really is doing things wrong.

But sometimes? Sometimes it leads to something unique and very right.

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