Grey Ghost Restoration-Part 18 Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Rebuilding

I started on this project last October and have been chipping away at it as time permitted.  Last week, I had a four day weekend and spent time preparing for painting, aka, priming and sanding.  This has taken much longer than I expected, and I’ve been recalling Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance“.  I’ve experienced several personal “gumption traps” and found that “being in the moment” is not easy to accomplish in a consistent manner.

The paint preparation phase has exposed a couple bad habits I have.  The first is hurrying, the second is not thinking it through and the third is pushing to complete when I should take a break.  These are related, and if I recall, are called out by Pirsig as examples of gumption traps that impede attaining quality. 

Hurrying usually results in getting “behinder” due to mistakes and the rework they require.  On top of that, you’re attitude is not postive due to your inner voice of self critisim getting pretty loud.  The fun factor goes way down.

If you don’t stop and visualize getting from what you have to what you want, you can find the path you take is the wrong one, or you aren’t taking the shortest path to do the work.  This is more the case when I have been working on disassembly and assembly of the Grey Ghost, but I find it happening in paint preparation as well.  For example, I’ve forgotten to clean spray nozzles, not had the gloves on, forgotten to clean the parts with Windex prior to priming and each of those are the result of not thinking about how to get from what I have in front of me to where I want to end up BEFORE starting the work.

I also find that “getting done” is a slippery gumption trap.  Getting done, of course, has value and does provide gratification.  But, the journey also has great reward, and a journey done well has an even greater sense of accomplishment.  I’m starting to figure out when the “let’s get done” motivation is out of control.  And every time I don’t listen to that inner voice that says “Hey, you’re getting tired of what you are doing, take a break”, and keep on working, inevitably s&^%t happens.

I think there are days when you should not work on a project.  This past Monday was one of those.  I managed to break the coffee pot, assemble something backwards and put my finger prints in wet primer … all in about an hours time.  I quit for the day at that point.  It seems that Monday was not a day where I was “in the moment”; perhaps I was distracted by thoughts of a family get together later that day, or thoughts about the impending return to work drowned out “being in the moment”.  For whatever reasons, the Zen state required for good quality was not in evidence.

Here is an observation about our ability to recognize the qualityof our work.  Paint preparation (the mundane) really shows how quality (the sublime) is achieved: many small things done well result in high quality.  I’ve sanded several areas and had to refill them because the surface was not the right contour or small defects were evident in the body putty.  Each time I re-primed those areas, I’d think “There, that’s got it”.  And then I’d re-sand it and see another small defect I had missed, and I’d say “Well, that’s not enough to make any difference”.  But, the next day, I’d look at that area again, and it was clear it wasn’t up to snuff.  So, I’d go back and put more body putty over it, prime it and sand it again.  In one area of the tank, I’ve had to repeat that process 4 times.

My point is we see quality, or the lack of it,  in an instant.  But, we also have built-in “reality filters” that allow us to pretend we achieved it when we really haven’t.  The pursuit of quality demands an ego-less perspective on our own work, which for me, isn’t easy to achieve.  There is an absolute ego-less honesty required about your work if you want it have high quality.  Achieving that honesty is worth the journey, and in no small part, it is what Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is all about.

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