Challenge to Self

I had a great idea for a brain-teasing design challenge the other day. I thought of it when I was thinking about a time when I was eight years old. I had always hated onions, and one day at dinner I told my mom about my dislike. Instead of telling me to eat them anyway, all she said was, “Well, you could learn to!” 

Here’s the idea:

Pick a genre of creative endeavor — painting, dance, music, literature, architecture, poetry,  Kabuki — any medium of expression and creativity. It can be your favorite genre, but it doesn’t have to be.

Got it?

Okay, now, within that genre, pick a particular example that you absolutely loathe. If you’re a Sinatra person, for example, perhaps it’s dirty ghetto rap that sets you off. Or maybe you love rap, and for you it’s the German Flugelhorn that will get you wailing. If you love deep poetry and inscrutible prose, how about television ad jingle lyrics?

Whatever it is, make sure it is a mode of expression that you detest, hate,  despise, one that makes you squirm, sets your teeth on edge, perhaps even pushes your buttons. Got it?

The challenge is: Make yourself listen to it. (Or watch, read, attend, play with, dance to, or whatever your genre requires.) Absorb as much of that genre and style as you can lay your hands on. Spend an hour or a couple of hours just listening to the songs that make you nauseous. Go to the museum and force yourself to stand motionless before those boring portraits of dead guys that you detest. Do this over and over: whatever you consider the awfullest stuff, go out and overdose on it. Take it in until you’ve had it up to here.

Okay, enough, don’t overdose. You’re done now.  Go back and listen to your beloved Wagner or read Proust or whatever it is that really floats your boat, and get it all out of your system.

Part two of the challenge: go back over your memories of that horrible time when you exposed yourself to all those horrible things. Think about which, of all the things you sampled during your brave voyage of discovery, was the least disgusting.

Not the best, since you probably hated all of them. But the least vile. Maybe one that you liked even though you didn’t want to.

Once you’ve picked it: Part Three.  You liked that piece more than the others, or at least disliked it less. Why? See if you can figure out what aspect, what characteristic, what difference in style, content or presentation  made this example more likable?  Was there some unexpected depth to the lyrics? Did a sudden musical phrase catch you off guard in a good way? Did you find all of a sudden that you didn’t mind those endless expanses of  burnt umber in  paintings of the Kansas plains, and could see their beauty for the first time? In other words, if you liked this example more than the others, discover what it had that the others didn’t.

Got it?

That’s it. I’m not sure what it is that you’ve got, exactly, but it can’t be all bad. After all, I do love onions!

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