Purposeful Public Foolishness

Austin Kleon recently posted on the need to “learn to play the fool” (included in the most recent edition of his excellent newsletter – I also liked the “searching outside the algorithm” and “nobody should have to hustle” links this week). In the post Austin reminds the reader that learning anything new generally involves being willing to risk embarrassment and failure.

This reminded me of a J.M. Coetzee quote from Youth that I had posted a while ago and came across again the other day while working on my little Knausgaard essay project (no one is waiting for them, but #2 and #3 are on their way). Coetzee describes the dawning realization (and accompanying frustration) that fundamental to learning to write (and to live) is a willingness to fail:

What more is required than a kind of stupid, insensitive doggedness, as lover, as writer, together with a readiness to fail and fail again? What is wrong with him is that he is not prepared to fail. He wants an A or an alpha or one hundred per cent for his every attempt, and a big Excellent! in the margin. Ludicrous! Childish! He does not have to be told so: he can see it for himself. Nevertheless. Nevertheless he cannot do it. Not today. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps tomorrow he will be in the mood, have the courage.

I, like Coetzee’s protagonist, even though I am old enough to know better, often still want an “Excellent!” in the margin on first try, at least in the things that matter to me. Being willing to risk a little failure, a little foolishness can be hard.

I frequently start a post with a “what I think I’m doing here” statement just to give a little signpost to the reader. And, I have been doing some big picture “what do I think I’m doing here” reflecting on this blogging project as a whole (the reflection isn’t happening in public, thank goodness, that sort of navel-gazing is for my journal, to be burned after writing). But, “an attempt at a little purposeful public foolishness” isn’t the worst description in the world of what’s happening here.