Skill and no skill

What skills have you got?  And are there any you wish you had?  Skills are an odd thing.  They accumulate gently through life.  One moment you are a child wrestling with wool and knitting needles and dripping tears on the ladder of another dropped stitch in the scarf which is too loose and too narrow and curls up at the edges.  Next you are a young working mother with time so squeezed that the idea of knitting anything at all is simply ludicrous.  How can you possibly have time to knit when you don't even have time to cut your own toenails? And yet somehow you must have done enough knitting often enough because you find yourself years later able to knit and with time for knitting and finding it satisfying and pleasurable.  How did that happen?  Did I learn the skill when my back was turned?

What else can I do that I must have learned?  Cooking, but that is an easier one to understand.  I learned cooking with my mother.  My mother was a very good cook who loved food and liked the whole process of putting food on the table for her family.  I remember clearly learning to peel potatoes but I also remember the more subtle organic learning of simply being in the kitchen, being offered something to taste and being involved, at the age of eight or nine, in deciding whether something needed more seasoning and if so what.  I remember shared cooking, first with my mother in charge, later me, with my children helping, and now with one of my adult children in charge where I take the subsidiary role.  "Can I scully for you?" is a question in our family.  It means "I know you are the guiding mind here but can I chop something up or bring anything in from the garden."  So I know how I learned to cook, by a process of cheerful osmosis, and if it then became more complex and sophisticated from the reading of books or the watching of cookery programmes, that was a honing of a skill that I had acquired by my early twenties.

Gardening is an odd one.  I remember as a child wandering around after my mother or grandmother and marvelling that they knew the names of all these plants and could tell by looking at two anonymous green things that one was a weed and one was not.  I certainly didn't learn that as a child. I simply wasn't listening.   I liked being in the garden, playing or reading or just lying about on the grass picking buttercups or making a grass trumpet but I ran a mile at the suggestion that I might like to help with the weeding.  Dull, dull, dull.  What skill I have now I learned mainly from books.  I became interested in gardening in my early thirties with babies and young children who liked to be outside.  It wasuld something I co do while being outside with them and somehow it caught my imagination and the idea of  recreating the gardens of my childhood or creating the gardens of my imagination took hold.  I read widely and voraciously and began to buttonhole people who knew things that I didn't.  What is this plant?  Why is this one dying? What would flower in September and not mind the wind?  I wanted Frances Hodgson Burnett's secret garden or Lucy M Boston's topiary garden at Green Knowe, never mind that I lived in a suburban semi.  These days I may not have a walled garden but I do have sheets of daffodils and white stemmed silver birches.  So gardening as a skill is something that I acquired entirely as an adult.

And then there are the skills I do not have, would quite like to have but have now accepted that I am unlikely to acquire.  I would quite like to have learned to ski but I didn't do it when I was younger and now I have neither the time, inclination, courage or physical competence to try to learn it in my sixties.  I wish I had learned to play a musical instrument as a child but I didn't.  That is something I could try to learn now I know but instead I decided to learn to sing, and, while I will never have a great singing voice, I have improved enough to enjoy my choir singing and to feel that music is not such a gap in my life. It might be good to be able to play the piano but then it might be good to play golf or go rock climbing and it doesn't look as though I am going to make those happen!  So it seems that many of the skills I don't have are skills that have not been important enough to me for me to make time in a hugely full life to acquire them.  And that's ok.

But I think I would really like another language, and to learn to draw......

Comments

  1. Duolingo is your friend for learning languages - I started with Swedish (because I love all things Scandinoir and thought it might be fun), then I added Welsh (as husband and all his family are) and finally I started Italian (as we're going to Venice in April and I had not one word). Duolingo is brilliant - totally free online language learning resource with a choice of, I think, 23 different languages and it's incredibly easy to use too! Have a go and I'll bet you'll surprise yourself!

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    1. Thank you Mrs Jones! I will have a look. Sounds just what I need. I think I might have a go at some Italian

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  2. Elizabeth, I enjoyed reading this post and began thinking about why, and how, I've acquired some of my own skills. And why not others. It seems to me that having some early access to someone who had a certain skill that I admired was the key to my own interest.
    I did not know any folks who knew how to ski, or had a piano in their home, or...so many other skills. I learned to swim at a Girl Scout camp. I was no good at early ballet lessons.
    Learning other languages has always interested me, and I thank Mrs Jones for her suggestion. I've been contemplating Rossetta Stone to brush up on my French. The Russian I learned so long ago is just about gone.
    Happy spring gardening to you and Ian. xo

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    1. I agree that what you learn is very influenced by those around you. That is no doubt why you see musical families and sporty families! I have had a look at duolingo as recommended by mrs Jones and it is very good if you are thinking about your French!

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  3. Another one of your posts that will call for re-reading. Do you know that I do that, sometimes, and that yours is the only post that I return to just for the reading.
    Our lives have many parallels and I could have written about the cooking. Now that my mother's memory is gone, the lessons I learned in her kitchen are all the more precious. My mother also taught me to clean. No one likes to talk or write about cleaning, but from my mum I learned that baseboards need to be cleaned and that the tops of window frames and dressers need dusting and the backs of chairs need vacuuming. Dull stuff, but I thank my mum for these skills.
    My parents had the attitude that we should all learn to do many things. I am, therefor, an indifferent skier, a bad tennis player, a poor pianist and a very good swimmer. What I am skilled in is appreciation of all of the foregone as well as literature and art. I love language and can get by easily and badly in French, Danish, German and Spanish. I would love to be able to knit easily and to draw.....that would be lovely.
    Thank you for another thoughtful and though-provoking post.

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    1. Thank you so much for the comment about rereading. I am delighted to have you say so! I am intrigued by what you say about cleaning. You are right. It is hardly recognised as a skill anymore. And getting by badly but easily in so many languages sounds fine to me. Mine are only French and Welsh but I am determined to do something about Italian too. And badly will be fine!

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  4. I can cook, sew and quilt. I am very adept at doing family history. I did dance as a child and learned to play the piano. I do cross stitch an embroidery. HOWEVER -- I have always wanted to knit, crochet and tat and I guess I must have been in the heavenly loo when that gene was passed out.

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    1. I am sure that if you can sew and quilt you have the manual dexterity to knit and crochet. I think they use much of the same fine motor control!

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  5. Cooking, gardening, photography are my main skills, yes there are others I'd liked to learn but where to find the time? I do think that if we really wanted to do or learn something we would find the time or wherewithall to do it and if we don't is it that important?

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    1. I agree with you that our skills, while partly imparted to us by the homes we grew up in, also reflect what is important to us. If you really want to do something somehow or other you will make time to make it happen but so much remains interesting and appealing that doesn't quite get into that box!

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  6. I'm looking at the U3A stage of life, but actually, I'm either in the garden or on my laptop. I will get to fresh new skills, later, perhaps.

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    1. I like the idea of rush new skills Diana, as you say, some day!

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  7. You also have the writing skill, Elizabeth. Have you always written? There are many things I would love to be able to do but few that I am actually going to put the effort in to learn!

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    1. Thank you! I suppose I used to write reports and things for work but I haven written for my own pleasure since I was a teenager. I am with you on things I would like to do but am not prepared to put the effort in for!

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  8. Skills I have worked to get: Sharpshooter (pistol and rifle and shotgun), fluent in Spanish, play classical piano, play folk guitar and some banjo and some Celtic lap harp and some harmonica and some bodhran, cooking, writing with my homemade quill pens and ink (calligraphy), crocheting, embroidery, cutting hair, French braiding hair, dancing, macrame, gardening, building a yurt/gher, writing, wood and leather work, furniture restoration, locating rare and hard-to-find vintage items, buying/repairing/selling vintage eyewear, home-brewing mead...

    Skills I was "born with": Can play most any instrument if you leave me alone in a room with it for a while, singing, drawing, animal husbandry, clay modeling, finding lost things (even if they belong to someone else and are lost in a house that I don't live in)...

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    1. Wow! I am a bit overwhelmed by your skills if I'm honest! I do share the one about finding things even though I have no musical instrument skills whatsoever!

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  9. Forgot to mention skills I would like to have:

    1. Playing cocktail jazz piano (can't find a teacher!!)
    2. Being skinny enough to pull off 1920's dresses.
    3. Achieving perfect 1940s hairstyles
    4. Becoming independently wealthy

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    1. Just generally skinny enough sort of strikes a chord (well I don't know. Not skinny, never going to be and don't really approve of the idea of skinny. Slim enough maybe). And rich enough? I think it is the independent thing that matters. I am not rich yet every day I think I am. I don't mean that in any kind of counting my blessings way. I just look at my parents and grandparents and their lives and at my own. I have a load of stuff which means something to me. I can make choices which my grandparents generation never had. My grandmother had intelligence and drive and very limited choice, out of which she built a very happy if highly charged life. I have been present, in significant ways, both in my family and in a world where success was defined in very male terms. Independence I suppose.

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  10. Come and try your Italian here, it's an easy language and good to be dramatic and decorative in.

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    1. I'd love to Jane! I am practising away busily here but it is just me and my iPad!

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  11. You are a gifted writer too Elizabeth and have a knack for finding interesting material for your blog. Most of the skills I have acquired are down to my own interests and passions rather than absorbed at home and probably came to me indirectly as my mother certainly didn't share them, although my grandmother was a passionate gardener, my aunts loved colour and there must have been a cook in the mix somewhere. Although there are a few things that passed me by that I slightly regret, they were not important enough for me to pursue.

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    1. You are right about the question of how important things are Marianne. There is only so much you can fit in!

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    1. Thank you! That's a great offer. Can we do distance learning!?

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  13. Interesting post! What intrigues me is that we tend to underestimate our own skills whilst being in awe of others' skills. Or is that just me? X

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    1. No not just you. I think that's classic. I certainly always admire those who can play a musical instrument, partly because it is not a skill I have!

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  14. I would absolutely LOVE to play the harmonica but, effortlessly, and without the painful learning steps so I think that's a skill I probably won't acquire! CX

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  15. Love this. and learning almost anything creative.

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  16. also I would add your photography skills are fabulous. your header is Gorgeous!!

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    1. Thank you Gwen! My photography has been improved no end by what you can do with digital!

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  17. I would love to learn to draw and paint at some stage in my life. I've always wished that I carried on with Art to O'level, but in my day you only did that if you weren't academic enough for the other subjects, or if you were brilliant at Art which i wasn't.
    I also yearn after the Secret Garden and Green Knowe, my imagination captured by bulbs snouts poking out of the ground in early spring. My grandmother was a great gardener and I've dabbled with my herb garden but never really put enough time and focus in to keep it going strong.
    I learned the flute as a child but it fell by the wayside when I was a teenager and I've never re[placed it with anything else musical, though I wish I could sing well.
    Skills I have acquired are cooking and baking, writing, photography, those the things that stay around when other skills come and go.

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    1. That's interesting. I hadn't really thought about the way skills come and go. Knitting is now a regular part of my life but it didn't feature for years when I simply didn't have time for it.

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  18. Thank you for your thoughtful post. It made me really evaluate my own skills and how I learned them. Also, the things you are taught which could have turned into skills but never did - playing the piano, for example. Some are incorporated into your psyche and others are not !

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