Monkeywork and The Big Stuff — science, art, and talent

So as a further exploration of what I said in the previous post, I’d like to offer the following:

If you have the kind of brain that feels a stroke of pleasure when you do ABC, you will move past ABC and arrive at XYZ where

ABC ==

  • boring word and math problems
  • making teeny stitch after teeny stitch
  • doing scales and etudes

and XYZ ==

  • thinking clearly and meaningfully about the origin and fate of the universe
  • finishing a huge lace bedspread
  • playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto or writing your own music

(Basically ABC == “monkeywork” and XYZ == “the Big Stuff.” In anything.)

Now I’m not sure we have control over what strokes our brains. That, I think we are often hardwired for. Whether you get a “food pellet” over making a tiny stitch or playing a scale or doing long division … I’m not sure you have control over that. I often think that that is the fundamental definition of “talent,” simply having a brain that gets a zap to the pleasure centers by engaging in the monkeywork required to get really, really, really good at something.

If you have the “talent,” you will get that zap and find the years and years of monkeywork pleasurable enough to get beyond it and arrive at the higher levels of pleasure awaiting. If you don’t have it — if for whatever reason your brain doesn’t get a zing out of the monkeywork — you will not arrive at those higher levels, and you may come to the entirely incorrect conclusion that the boring, repetitive monkeywork is the highest level possible. And that the people who are on those higher levels are boring (or not “expressive”) because well … only a boring person could find pleasure in boring things.

You couldn’t be more wrong. 🙂