Monday, July 19, 2010

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

I'm going to say right off the bat that 2/3 of this book was really hard to read and more than a little over my head.What is Quality? Aristotle versus Plato. Romantic viewpoint in philosophy versus Classic. Chautauquas whatever they are. Thinking so deeply the author went insane. ( I do a lot of thinking but it's mostly about food) But besides having the coolest title ever, it was a good read.

A man and his 11 year old son are on a motorcycle trip, along with another couple, from Minnesota to California. The narrator is the dad and he gives little lectures to the reader in between the story of the road trip. These lectures are pretty wordy and academic but thought provoking.

The biggest thing I got out of the book was his idea that working with your hands, fixing things, taking things apart and figuring out how they work, making things work again is an art. In the same way a sculptor or painter creates so does a mechanic. There's a part in the book where he says something like, watch the face of a beginner or an unskilled mechanic (plumber, electrician, etc) and compare that with the craftsman. The unskilled follows a single line of pursuit, step 1, step 2 not able to see the big picture or wholeness of the project.The craftsman is absorbed in what he's doing making decisions as he goes because he is one with the machine. He knows it, can see what the relation is of all the pieces and what the outcome of each step will be. I'm a little biased in this area because I have the good fortune to be married to a craftsman of mechanics. He would roll his eyes if I said that but it's true. He understands how things work in a way that I just don't get. We all know people like that, they can take a thing apart, figure it out, fix it and put it back together. Not because they learned it, they way you learn multiplication or grammar but because they know it. They do have to learn of course but this comes from a different place than just rote memorization. I think this kind of skill deserves respect.

I have always been in awe of people who have this natural ability fix things things. It's a combination of curiousness and confidence. They are curious about how things work and confident in their ability take it apart and put it back together. I don't think we give enough weight to being skilled this way. College is the big dream and it has it's place but it's not for everyone. I don't know how it is everywhere, but when I was in high school the shop classes were not something to be proud of. The burnouts and losers took shop. You were either on the path to college or you were nothing. It shouldn't be that way. The world needs mechanics, plumbers, electricians, welders, builders every bit as doctors, teachers and (yuck) lawyers. Equally.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of those books that aren't that much fun at the time but you feel better having finished it. It will make you think and that's a good thing, even if it's not about food.

"That's all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There's no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone's mind."

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