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The Wrong Foot?

By Dan Blair  

Have you ever sat down at bedside one morning after finishing dressing for the day and bent down to put on your shoes, only to discover you picked up a shoe to the wrong foot?

A shoe to the wrong foot????  Unless it was a shoe to someone else’s foot, how could that be?  You have two feet and two shoes standing ready at bedside waiting for you to drop in and walk away into the day.  So, how could it be "a shoe to the wrong foot"?

I recall one of my favorite cartoons from the Family Circus series where one of the children points out to another that he has his shoes on the wrong feet.  With a look of alarm and confusion on his face, he looks up in defense of his actions and justifies them with the exclamation, "But these are the only feet I've got!"

It's possible you may or may not have already noticed how much of a creature of habit most of us have become.  I have noticed.  And I am reminded of it every time I go to put on my shoes and discover I have picked up the wrong one.  You see, I discovered some time ago that when I dress, I always put one leg in my trousers before the other.  Is it the right, or the left?  Without total surety, I am going to guess I start standing on my right leg and put the left in first.  I do it automatically without thinking about it.  I did the same thing putting on my shoes.  Subconsciously, I picked up a shoe and put it on.  It wasn't until one day that I picked up the wrong shoe and actually put it on that I noticed the oddity of my actions.  It just didn't feel quite right.  I became aware of a subconscious habit I had developed of always following a set routine.  And when I made even a modest and minor change to that routine, it felt totally strange and somehow foreign...even taboo, to me.

Tomorrow morning, test my observation on yourself and grab a shoe.  Then put the OTHER shoe on FIRST and see if something doesn't register in your brain that things are not quite in balance.  Until then, you may not even have realized you had developed an old habit.  Don't worry about it if you find what I have said to be as true in your case as it was in mine.  It's no big thing!

You've heard it said, "Old habits die hard!"  And they do.  But not all habits, old or new are bad, and not all habits should be put to death, hard or otherwise.  And this is not a warrant being put out for habits ~ "WANTED - DEAD OR ALIVE".  This is just an attempt to make us more aware of ourselves and our actions.

You see, I spent some time once with a very talented carver - one I consider to be one of the masters.  I pointed out something I kept noticing about the carver's technique that I knew beyond all doubt could not only be improved upon, but that its action could be significantly simplified.  I tried more than a few times to point that out to the carver.  I realized the folly of my effort when I was told quite emphatically, "This works for me!  Why should I try anything else?"  I started to explain myself with an answer to that very question, but realized this person was stuck in a rut - a creature of habit - and until he realized there may be a better option than the one he had chosen, he was comfortable staying right there in that rut.

Are you a creature of habit?  Are you stuck in a rut?  You just might be if you are unwilling to even try other options before passing judgment, or if you are willing to ignore what just might be a better way with an attitude that says, "This works for me!  Why should I try anything else?"

The next time you sit down at the carving bench, and pick up a tool to apply some feature to the carving, ask yourself if you just did that out of habit.  Take a look around your assortment of tools and ask yourself if you see anything else among them that might also do the job you were about to take on.  Consider also how long it took you to master the tool you now use, and how little time you may have taken to reject an alternative.  As an example, some of us may use one method ONLY of making fish scales simply because we never learned one of the other twenty plus ways of doing so.  {This works for me!  Why should I try anything else?} 

I have watched carvers literally carve in the grooves on the rays of a fish fin using the smallest and sharpest of carving knives and gouges where many another carver simply ran the grooves accurately into place with just the rotary burr in a flex shaft rotary tool. 

I met a Colorado carver who insisted his best way to paint a fish or other carvings was with a brush.  When I suggested he needed to buy an airbrush, he said he already had.  It had been placed in a desk drawer when he bought it brand new.  It still was brand new - over four years later.  He had never used it, preferring instead to stick with what he knew best and with the attitude of "This works for me!  Why should I . . ."  But there was hope.  I later met that man in a class from a week-long series I was teaching, and that particular class just happened to be on airbrushing.

At a major carving competition, I was standing with one of the judges listening to my critique.  He proceeded to tell me how I had done the scales.  I knew from his description that he didn't really know how I did them, but wanted me to think he did.  I started to tell him, but he took that as me telling him he was wrong.  He became very belligerent and repeated that he "KNEW" how I did them and proceeded to tell me exactly how I did it, but he was exactly wrong.  I tried to tell him politely how wrong he was and started to explain the procedure to him, but he cut me off and ended the critique.  After all, he knew who and what he was, and he didn't know me from Adam.  I guess he figured he knew all he needed to know and I was no one who could teach him anything more than he already knew on the subject.  Another "It works for me.  Why should I . . . ?"

So what's my point?  If you haven't got it already, I'll try to be more specific.  Please don't lock yourself into a mindset that does not allow room for improvement.  Never convince yourself that you know all there is to know about any given subject.  Always keep yourself open to judgment that can make you a better carver or a better person than you already are.  Keep in mind there may have been a beginning where at you knew nothing about carving and/or painting fish, but there is NO ending as to how much more you can learn and know on the subject.

I once asked a Lady who had impressed me beyond words with her intelligence and ability if she ever thought I would know as much as she did.  I was totally taken by surprise when she answered without hesitation and bluntly said, "No."  That wasn't enough of an answer for me, and so I asked her to explain why not.  Her answer made all the sense in the world.  She looked at me eye to eye and with total understanding and sympathy said, "Because by the time you get to where I am now, I won't be here anymore.  I will have moved up in my own understanding and experience."  She went on to tell me that the more we learn, the more we understand, and that the more we understand, the more we learn how much more there is we do not know.

So the best advice I can offer to each of you is this:  dare to be different from time to time.  Don't get stuck in the rut of conformity.  Think with the other side of your brain for a change and see what a change it can make.  Put a shoe on the other foot first and see how it feels.  Or, what the heck, leave the shoes off completely and go for a barefoot walk in the park like we did when we were young and less restricted and confined as the creatures of habit we would someday (today?) become.

Dan Blair is considered by many to be one of the true pioneers of fish carving. With over 40 years as a professional carver/artist, he has been honored with awards numbering in the hundreds and has taken no less than 19 Best Of Show wins for wildlife and western art.

He is a former associate editor of Breakthrough Magazine and assisted in co-producing three Breakthrough Books. He was the show manager and a judge for the 1987 World Fish Carving and World Taxidermy Championships, and was a seminar instructor for the 2005 World Fish Carving Championships.  A reptile group "wood carving" Dan entered in the World Taxidermy Championships took second place.

Dan is currently an owner/moderator for the largest fishcarving group on the Internet, Fishcarving2 (Click HERE for more information.) He continues to judge shows and teach woodcarving classes across the continent.


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