The Joy of Incompetence

At the end of 2010 I made some resolutions. I planned to write in longhand more often, to listen to audiobooks, and to use ‘dead time’ more productively (by which I mean writing or reading in all those valuable moments that drain away while I’m waiting for other people to get their act together.)

I was successful at longhand, a failure at audiobooks (I tend to zone out the voice within a couple of minutes) and the dead time has mostly been filled by the engrossing narratives of the Mumsnet relationships forum. But there was one resolution that really made a difference to my life. I took up Lindy Hop dancing.

Lindy Hop is a 1930s/40s swing dance that has enjoyed a revival over the past 30 years or so. I didn’t realise when I started, but it turns out that Lindy Hop is actually quite cool. At least, it’s a way for uncool people to find a niche of coolness. It’s a way of having a big night out in London while wearing sensible shoes and drinking nothing but water because the dancing is more important than boozing. It's a way of socialising with friendly, well-dressed, intelligent people. It's a way of going to an event called 'Saturday Night Swing Club' without the merest hint of anything dodgy going on.

Another advantage of Lindy Hop is that it's like exercise, only fun. I’ve been dancing once a week (often twice, sometimes three times) since January 2011 – I lost a stone in the first couple of months and have actually kept some of it off. This stopped me looking quite so much like a hamster and inspired me to get a proper haircut and smarten myself up a bit, which is probably a good thing.

There’s only one potential problem with my new hobby. I am, not to put too fine a point on things, absolutely shite at dancing.

Strictly Writing now has its very own Ann Widdecombe. Lindy Hop is admittedly complicated to learn, but after more than a year of lessons I ought to be a bit less, well… shite… than I am. Other people who started learning at the same time now look to me like something out of Hellzapoppin’, while I’m still just trying not to fall over. Added to which, I'm no spring chicken compared with many London Lindy Hoppers – so on the social dance floor I'm the inept old saddo with whom only the most kind-hearted or equally inept people will dance.

But the heartening thing is that this doesn't matter. I find dancing fun and worth doing for its own sake. My new motto is: feel the incompetence and do it anyway. As someone whose writing life has been characterised by the thought ‘I’ll never be any good at this. I might as well just GIVE UP NOW’, it's so refreshing to revel in doing something badly. It's made me realise that uselessness is not a good reason for giving up.

Whether you caterwaul 'I Will Survive' at the local pub's karaoke night, or whether you decorate cupcakes that look like someone took a pink dump on Jabba the Hutt’s head, there’s really a lot of fun to be had in doing things badly.

With my dancing, there are no publishers to impress, no rejection letters, no agents turning me away while trying to flog their own book. I will never enter some Bridport dancing competition; never appear on Strictly Come Dancing; never hope for a six-figure advance for my awkward attempts at the Charleston. But I'll enjoy myself, that's for sure, and I'll keep in mind that maybe writing, too, is worth doing regardless of success.

What is it that you like doing... badly?


Sandra Davies said...

Singing. Alone in the car.

Gillian McDade said...

Cooking! And writing longhand.

Having written in shorthand/scribbles for fifteen years, I struggle to make birthday cards legible. My first draft, in that respect, goes straight to screen.

Debs Riccio said...

ha ha, this made me smile - I do housework BADLY. And advertise it by having tea-ring-stained coasters lying about the house with 'Housework-why bother?' emblazoned on them, like I'm such a rebel :/!

DT said...

I do a good impression of a wounded elephant on the dance floor (I'm allowed to dance at home for Anne's entertainment), my singing is like a sinus convention held in a hayloft, and I do a terrible version of being a grown-up! :o)