10,000 mistakes

by Wolf Pascoe on November 7, 2010

Don’t open the door to the study.
Take down a lute.


I wake up too early and lie in the dark, thinking. I have eight unfinished ToDos from yesterday. I go downstairs and open the study door.

On one shoulder sits a little man, saying, Lute! Lute! Play the lute!

On the other shoulder is another little man. This one says, Are you good enough yet? There’s work to do.

I think the lute man was there first, at least that’s the way I remember childhood. But the other man soon followed. He’s pretty much run my life since the first grade, and maybe before that.

My wish for Nick is that he listen to his own lute man for as long as possible. This is why we send him to Fern Hill, so he can have a childhood.

My fear is that the other man is already whispering to Nick. The idea that I can help Nick put this man in his place is a great seduction for me. Perhaps all it means is that I want to help him to be me, doing it right.

Nora and I try not to mindlessly praise Nick, avoiding “Good job” and such when we can. Instead we say things like, “Look at that yellow line you’ve drawn there. It’s twisting like a river.”

Nick likes to draw. But he worries that he’s lousy at it. This worry used to stop him cold, but now he draws and draws anyway, I’m glad to say. For the moment the lute man is winning.

A couple of years ago I got him a book about mistakes that turned into useful inventions. Not-sticky-enough glue that led to Post-Its, and so on. But the book was more for me than for him. It gave me something to say when he complained about himself. I told him he needed to make 10,000 mistakes to get good at something.

“It doesn’t look like it’s supposed to,” he’d say, showing me a drawing.

“You haven’t made 10,000 mistakes yet,” I’d answer.

Today he worked an hour making an elaborate soft-sword out of old newspapers.

“Can you picture yourself two years ago looking into the future watching yourself making soft-swords?” I said.

“I would say that wasn’t me. I could never do it that good.”

“And here you are,” I say.

He ponders this and says nothing. I ponder him and say nothing.

And here we are.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan November 11, 2010 at 5:45 am

Lovely piece. With one qualifier:

My thought is that if you wish for Nick to listen to his lute man as long as possible, the best influence you can have is if you model listening to your own. I think we make trouble for our kids when we ask them to make the journey we haven’t succeeded at ourselves.

I look forward to the next entry.


Wolf Pascoe November 11, 2010 at 1:06 pm



D. A. Wolf January 20, 2014 at 7:51 pm

How did I miss this? (Ah, yes, in 2010 I was still trying to encourage my own “Nick” to balance the lute on one shoulder with the promise of loot on the other.)

So much wisdom, Wolf.


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