I spent a goodly portion of last night illuminating a Langston Hughes poem. It’s an auction item in this year’s school fundraising effort, a silent auction, which is this weekend. I would say, based on the initial photographs, that it’s turned out quite well. But I am going to hold onto it for a couple more evenings, and see what there is to see about it; I may make a few more additions or changes.
The form of the illumination/illustration is a large mandala on 16″x20″ paper, with a series of elaborate Zentangle rings closing in on the center. It’s all black ink on a white background. Over the mandala is a poem by Langston Hughes, titled “The Dream Keepers”. I’ve never encountered this poem before it was suggested to me as a suitable subject for this year’s auction; I think I quite like it. But even as I was making it last night, on the same evening as the protests in Baltimore, I find myself thinking that this poem — I do not think it means what the suggester thinks it means. This is not all sweetness and light. This is about light, and it is about sweetness, yes. But it is also about coming into your power.
The whole piece is about seven hours of work. It’s also the culmination, in a sense, of everything I’ve learned about the art of Zentangle leading up to today. And I don’t know — maybe that’s dozens of hours. It’s certainly not thousands of hours; it’s definitely under a hundred.
Now compare that to today’s tai chi. Some mornings, I do 45 minutes. Other mornings, I do 10 minutes. There are probably more 10-minute days than hour-long days. Let’s average it out, and say that I do 17 minutes a day (Today I did 30, but I’d say that today isn’t yet normal).
Today is day 1142 (3 years of 366 days, plus 39 days of year 4, plus 5 days of rectifying the count). At 17 minutes a day, which I admit is a little generous, I’ve invested 19,414 minutes in my tai chi practice over the last years — about 323.5 hours. Even at an estimate of 10 minutes a day, I’m at around 190 hours of practice.
I can produce amazing and beautiful work at around 100 hours of practice of pen illustration. I can produce beautiful tai chi after between 200 and 300 hours of tai chi practice. I don’t have to be a Malcolm Gladwell of 10,000 hours perfection to feel that I do quality work — and that day of accumulating 1000 hours of practice, even if I gradually up my practice to have an hour of practice a day this year, as I intend — is still somewhere in the neighborhood of two and two-thirds years away. A full 10,000 hours of practice? More than a decade away, at current accumulation rates.
But in this larger context, today’s practice was fine. A little Five Golden Coins, a little Eight Pieces of Silk, and a soft and velvety tai chi practice with a growing sense of the iron under the glove. There is unexpected strength in this work of moving in the water, and learning to breathe.