Hi, welcome to String Revolution. I'm Léan, I live in Dublin with my husband and two little boys, and I am a dangerous stringy subversive.
My job is to radiate my creative truth, and to help you radiate yours. I create, without exception, every day. I write here when I have something to say.

(learn more about me).

Twenty-Seven

Twenty-seven spools of thread

Today I’m going to tell you a story.

It came to mind when I was thinking about why I’d been so reticent in March (because actually, the quilt of great joy isn’t the only stringy thing I did last month).

There are all sorts of strands to that particular tangle, and this story illustrates one of them. It’s about a conversation I don’t remember; it was recounted to me years later by a family friend, a college-mate of my parents.

Twenty-Seven

When I was three, this friend was visiting our house and got talking to me.

“Are you able to count?” she asked. (She’s an economist. They consider such things important.)

I nodded.

“How high can you count?”

“Twenty-seven!” I said proudly.

So I counted to twenty-seven for her. Then she prompted me to think about what might come next. I guessed … “twenty-eight?” And after that … “twenty-nine?”

I wasn’t sure where to go from there, but she told me thirty, and then we counted thirty-one, thirty-two, and so on, together. I don’t know how far we went – maybe fifty.

“There!” the friend said, pleased with herself for having coaxed open the tender blossom of my young mind. “Now how high can you count?”

I paused.

Grinned.

“Twenty-seven!”

Now then, how zen!

I love what this story says about teaching and learning – and how Coaxing Open the Tender Blossoms of Young Minds just isn’t the straightforward process you might believe (if you’d never spent much time in the company of three-year-olds, at least).

Learning happens in its own time.

Ability to parrot is not evidence that learning has happened.

Learning belongs to the learner.

But why twenty-seven?

What was significant about that number?

Was I a mathematical prodigy who had just cubed my own age and decided to stop there for a while?

Really not.

Was it a completely meaningless boundary that I had set for no reason?

Maybe. But…

What occurred to the family friend at the time of our conversation was that my father was twenty-seven. (That’s how I can be sure that I was three. Our birthdays are ten days apart.*)

* All right, clever-clogs, so I’m approximately 97.26% sure that I was three. Happy now?

She speculated that I’d recently learned my father’s age, and just couldn’t conceive of knowing a number that was even more mindbogglingly vast than that.

[Sort of like Saki’s Clovis, in “The Match-Maker”:
   “The crisis came,” returned Clovis, “when she suddenly started the theory that late hours were bad for one, and wanted me to be in by one o’clock every night. Imagine that sort of thing for me, who was eighteen on my last birthday.”
   “On your last two birthdays, to be mathematically exact.”
   “Oh, well, that’s not my fault. I’m not going to arrive at nineteen as long as my mother remains at thirty-seven. One must have some regard for appearances.”

Ba-dum, tsshhh!]

Oddly enough, this sounded plausible

I think it’s about reach.

I was comfortable knowing how to count up to twenty-seven. Probably, the tremendous age of my father helped to make it a particularly good number to hang on to. I needed to rest there for a while before I was ready to explore the next bit of the mathematical landscape.

(There’s fear in the mix too, of course – a child’s fear of straying beyond the safe circle of light cast by the family campfire. A familiar fear, and one that has remained with me far beyond any usefulness it might have had. That’s a whole nother chest o’ balrogs, however, into which I don’t propose to delve just now.)

Meanwhile, to bring us back to the more recent past, and why I was so reluctant to post while I was making my quilt and so on: I made art. I actually, unapologetically, consciously, intentionally, and in all other ways made art.

That’s kind of huge. Talking about it, on top of doing it, would have been a bit like suddenly counting up to fifty.

Reach. And stretch. These are good things. But you don’t go from just-about-touching-your-toes to curling-yourself-into-a-pretzel-at-the-drop-of-a-hat all in one jump.

Learning happens in its own time.


Does this make any sense? Do you find yourself coming up against internal limits that surprise you? What do you tend to do when you hit one? I’d be thrilled if you’d comment and tell me.

7 comments to Twenty-Seven

  • LOVE. I love this story! I love the implications.

    Totally, totally get it. Thanks for sharing. I have goosebumps.

  • Yes! This totally makes sense.

    It feels like the flip side of that syndrome that happens when you’re excited about an idea for something, and you talk about the work and then find all the energy for doing the work is gone. It went into talking about it instead of doing it. So it makes perfect sense that if your energy went into doing it, it wouldn’t automatically be easy to talk about it (or, you know, near it) — in fact, it would be harder.

    Thanks for this!

  • Yes, this makes oodles of sense to me. I definitely notice myself coming up against internal limits that surprise me, oh, all the time. What I do depends on what I find. Sometimes just noticing them out loud magically disappears them, sometimes there are more layers underneath and it becomes this cascade of discovering internal limits one after another. I think the best times are when I say to myself some version of, oh, yeah, that makes perfect and complete sense that you would have that internal obstacle/limit/whatever. Then going back to the things I do to get around those (go slow, small steps, break it down, make it easy, get help, whatever).

    I love the image of 3YO you delivering that punch line to the economist. I bet she cracked up 🙂

  • Ann

    Sweet story. Although it’s a little depressing to me that if Appleseed follows your 3-year-old logic using my age, he’ll be able to count to 41. 🙂

  • Re: internal limits: nope, got none.

    😉

    Once it is clear that pretending my limits don’t exist (I’m very good at ignoring them. It is remarkably effective. And highly risky.) I pout and cry (my inner child doesn’t like limits and I can usually get away with this because there’s been a colossal failure in the works.) After the temper tantrum, I ask for help (from the universe, a friend, a stranger, my monsters, the dog …)

    p.s. As flippant as this answer is, I’m also serious. I’m trying to learn to ask for help before I’m out of options.

  • lusciousblopster

    when i made it past the impossible-to-imagine-being-older-than age of 21, i assumed that 27 was the absolute limit. janis and jimi, you have a lot to answer for.

    and, you have made art. you have made much art, many times. it is very good. be proud, even if you can’t show the progress (be progressive?).

  • leannich

    @Lisa: I’m so glad you get this! It gave me the odd goosebump, too, when I remembered it.

    @Wendy: Oh, that particular pitfall is so irritating! At least, it seems like the ability to tell everyone what I’m doing and still have energy left over to do it would be pretty useful. Who knows, though? It could have a downside, too…

    @Darcy: Yes, acknowledging the legitimacy of limits is surprisingly useful. And thank you – yay 3yo me!

    @Ann: Ha! Yes, my parents were barely out of infancy when I was born 🙂

    @Bullwinkle: When you figure out how to ask for help, will you teach me please? My inner child is pretty pissed off about limits, too. Particularly the inflexibility of time: she finds it an affront to decency that you can’t do 12 hours’ work in an afternoon.

    @Lusciousblopster: See, I never had the “can’t imagine being older than X” thing when I was growing up. But this 27 theory rang so true. Thank you for endorsing my having-made-art status 🙂

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