Being is Doing

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The day I repaired my lawnmower, I remembered that sometimes we limit ourselves by how we define ourselves. I learned that I am better off appreciating the things I have accomplished rather than by what I don’t think I can do. I also realized something I hadn’t thought about before. That with me at least, although memories of ability can lead to greater accomplishments, the process of remembering can be extremely challenging. It seems to feed on itself as a process, building and expanding and deepening, the more I use it which in turn increased my sense of ability.

For example, I’ve installed a programmable thermostat, I’ve replaced my thermocoupler in my hotwater heater, done some minor plumbing, and I’ve replaced the car battery and headlights. I’ve even built a desktop computer by ordering parts and assembling them. Sometimes, the directions that were included with the computer parts were written clearly enough and diagrammed clearly enough that I could follow them. Yes, I use instructions. But sometimes, I was successful because I used video found on YouTube.

You can find how to do anything yourself on YouTube. You might have to look at three or more videos before you understand the actions you need to take, but with a little patience and focus and time, YouTube is a goldmine for doing it yourself. However, this time, I solved the problem without a YouTube video telling me what to do. I puzzled it out myself.

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I AM the Champ! Now, Who Am I?

First of all, I don’t consider myself “handy”. “Handy” people are usually guys–real men, for one thing–who know their way around a toolbox. They know their tools, and know how to use them. They know what they want, and what to do.

If you show one of them a dirty, bleached deck, for example, the handyman will tell you how to pressure wash it. He will tell you which washing fluid he recommends, and he will offer a variety of stains you might choose. He will also talk of the qualities of wood planks versus synthetics, their pros and cons, all from his own experience.

The handyman has tuned up his car, changed the oil, and rotated his tires. If he has to bring his car to a mechanic, he will narrow down what the problems could be, because if he brings the car to a mechanic, he has done so only because handyman doesn’t have a forklift or he would have done it himself. He would explain all this with a repertoire of problem solving processes and rule outs because the mechanic needs to know that the handyman will not be taken advantage of. The negotiation over price has begun, even though he hasn’t really gotten the estimated price lower, because the handyman needs to know how much he is really paying for the repair and how much is he paying for his own ignorance. It’s as if he’s saying, you better be doing what you said you will be doing, because I will know–I assure you–if you do not. And you won’t like it.

I have never changed the oil in a car by hand, I have never given a car a tune up. Yet, even with this self-defining label that I am NOT handy, I realize that I HAVE done a few repairs and installations myself. Maybe I can’t build a deck, but I actually have done some handy things. I have even pressure washed my deck myself, a fact I have only recently come to remember after accomplishing the lawnmower repair.

Which is weird…

…and has led to a personal, developing understanding of identity and character.

 

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I remembered that my neighbor across the street helped me with a snowblower problem. I needed a part. So, he looked in the manual and found  the part in the diagrams provided in the manual. He matched up the part to the part number and he called a local company that sometimes had parts for sale. He actually talked to a person on the phone and the person looked “in the back” to find the part.

One thing about my memory is that I remember this process but I don’t remember if the parts-lady had the part or if this helped me repair the blower. But I remembered the process.

So, I decided I was going to make it happen. I was going to repair the lawn mower.

I should say that this was not my first rodeo. About a month or two ago, I had twisted up its blade on a tree root. The thing wouldn’t work anymore. So, I watched a YouTube video, got the size of the lawnmower blade, and I went to the local home repairs franchise, one of the big ones, and bought the blade. To my surprise, I replaced the blade and was able to mow my lawn the same day.

This time though, while mowing the lawn, I discovered a problem pushing it. Then I saw the rear wheel was tilting inward. I was having trouble pushing the mower because the wheel was leaning against the big thing that holds the engine. What is it called? The body?

I thought I could fix the problem by bending the wheel back, but that was a major fail. While pushing the lawn mower the wheel’s axle cracked clean off.

Now, I had every right to lose my cool. First of all, I was stressed. I had to cut the grass because it was already too long, and it seemed that we were the only house on our street that needed the grass mowed. Meanwhile, we were about to go on vacation in two days. It was a beautiful day. Really hot. Sweat was dripping down my face and the baseball cap wasn’t keeping the sweat from running into my eyes. Sweat burns. It really burns.

Yet, somehow, I kept it together. I did something else instead.

I overcame the hopelessness, the helplessness, and my fear of being incompetent. This was nearly overwhelming. It was like expecting to fail, but feeling afraid to confirm that failure. It was a fear of trying and fear of failing wrapped up together. So, to beat the fear, I had to give myself permission to fail. To do this, I told myself I would just look. There’s no harm in looking. Maybe I can’t fix the lawn mower, but on the other hand, maybe I can.

The anger dissipated. I steadied myself. I released my tension with a decision. I was not going to give up. There will be no excuses. I lifted a weird blindness that I could only describe as not knowing where to look or how to look. It was a blindness full of shapeless color and visual noisiness. That’s what it was. One moment, I didn’t know how to see what I was looking at. The next minute, I could.

I looked at the breakage carefully with my new found vision. I compared one wheel to the other wheel. Left side. Right side. I did this back and forth comparison exercise and in the process began to see more. For one thing, it wasn’t an axle like what I had expected to find, one that connected two wheels. The axelrod only held one wheel. And it wasn’t one part. It was something attached to an L-shaped piece of metal which was bolted to another part that was, in turn, attached to the lawn mower’s body. I examined it close. So, the axle-thing was a small part that attached to the cutting height adjuster. I reasoned that what I needed to do was to find out the name of that part. That way, I could find a way to replace it. I needed the manual.

I knew I had the manual around the house somewhere, but I figured I could more quickly and easily find the manual online. I did when I returned to the lawn mower, copied down its P/N number, and included that number in my search. I opened a link to the company.

The hardest part to this task was matching the part’s shape to the technical drawings in the manual. For one thing, the parts were hard to see. It was hard to distinguish them from each other. It was even more difficult to match the part to the number that corresponded to the parts description in the list on the right of the drawing. This took some trial and error.

I copied down the parts number and the name of the part and searched for them separately in another Internet browser tab. In the process, I found the part I needed, even though I ignored the word “discontinued” that appeared every time I clicked on the part’s image.

I scribbled the information onto some paper so that I wouldn’t waste expensive printer ink. Then I would press my luck. Maybe I could find a store with the part lying around somewhere in storage. Maybe someone didn’t enter their inventory into a connected database.

I couldn’t find the part in the three stores I visited. One saleslady told me they had discontinued the part and there were no suggested substitutions. She didn’t have any ideas. She didn’t know what I could do.

I returned home and searched one of America’s biggest department stores online, found the part, and ordered it along with my son’s birthday present.

A week later, I got to work on the lawn mower. I resolved to focus on getting it done, not on any worries that kept cropping up. They were nebulous. I wasn’t really sure what I was really anxious about. It wasn’t going to blow up and it wasn’t life threatening. What was it? I gave myself the commitment to think about this later.

I collected the tools and discovered that I was missing a piece. I call it a ratchet. I think it goes by another name. (Some people call it a kaiser blade, I call it a sling blade mm hmm). I went to the local hardware store with the piece the tool needed to fit. What if the piece wasn’t there? What if I found the handle but it was too expensive? What if they didn’t sell single handles and I have to buy a whole new set? What if…?

I got to the store, again by consciously setting aside my ruminations and meanderings. The radio music helped. But when I got to the store, the choices and sections threatened to overwhelm me again. Access mental store map. The tools–just the regular hardware–was near the stores other exit. Don’t ask for help. You have the socket. But what if the tools are closed up so I can’t check the fit? What if they think I stole the socket? It’s a socket! No one is going to think you stole a socket. But still. They might. I push back the ensuing questions and walked. I just walked. With determination.

There was a wall full of different hand tools. Manual, analog. I worked it out. I made my way looking for wrenches and soon found the ratchet handles. Cool. They did sell them as separate, singular ratchet handles. But they were of differing sizes. I found that I could try the fits into the socket I brought with me, but now I had to decide how big and heavy I wanted the handle to be. What would be useful, effective? How much leverage would I need? Go big or not at all. Memories of dominoes games came back to me from back when I worked in residential centers, cottages, in …STOP. I chose a ratchet handle that was big enough but not too big, and it wasn’t too expensive. Don’t think about the price. Don’t price shop. Get out. I made it to the cash register with only one or two indecisive returns to the tool wall. Caveat emptor. What? Was that buyer beware? Should I look it up on my phone? I chose the tool I had in hand. It’s time to get out.  Soon I had the tool and I returned to the task at home.

Things go in order. I had to find a way to remember the order, but I knew somehow that if I went back into the house for a piece of paper and a pencil or a pen if I couldn’t find a pencil then I might take an hour or two before coming back to the task. Just focus. Focus so that I would remember with the intention of remembering. This was the advice in a TED Talk about becoming a memory master…

STOP.

Focus. Do it.

In my reflection on this task and its difficulty, I suddenly realize why I don’t see myself as handy. I know why i have so much trouble remembering that I am handy and I know why I am so resistant to fixing things. It’s because it’s hard to focus on the task at hand. Things remind me of other things. Memories of quotes and text passages, movie scenes, pieces of conversation keep washing into my consciousness inexorably like waves and the tide. They are relentless. I have a sandcastle that I am building–the repair job–but the waves keep carving away my will to work and undermines my sense of priority,of urgency of my goals and the benchmarks I want to accomplish. I’m like the Time Traveller guy from the movie The Time Traveller’s Wife. His daughter says the key to controlling the suddenness of time travel is music. This is descriptive, because I time travel in my head along memory streams and streams of consciousness.

I have found that music is a powerful distractor, but it can be useful. Music with words are too too distracting. Words pull me back into the memory stream, the river of thoughts, and words keep me from focusing on the task at hand. On the other hand,  instrumental music, music without words can help me focus when I need to get through mindless tasks.

The big step again depended on memory. This time, I needed to remember how I can use music to not only change my mood but to focus my intentions. I needed to remember that music is a useful distraction so that I can enter “execution mode.”

I chose a playlist of music and my focus returned. The music pushed away the compulsion to write and remember. I saw the parts of the wheel’s arm assembly. If I were wearing an augmented reality heads up display, parts numbers and instructions would have popped up and scrolled in my view Terminator-style. But they were action steps. I remembered “righty tighty, lefty loosey”, and went to work loosening the bolts. Since it is a wheel and it turns, I had to prop up the lawn mower and brace the other end of the axle with a wrench.

 

There was a moment that I wasn’t sure about the order of the washer, nut, arm assembly, or where the wheel actually sat among these parts. I kept comparing the complete, untouched side of the lawn mower, looking closely. But eventually, I simply slid everything in place, tightened the two nuts. It worked and rolled. I was done.

Victory.

In addition to this perfect day, the ratchet handle perfectly fitted in the ratchet set’s case. The original ratchet handle is lost. I had probably lent it to someone, but for my purposes, the handle had returned. Another win.

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This experience raises a number of questions for me. One was about the nature of identity. Although research suggests that identity is more dependent on values than on memory, is it possible that, more dependent is not the same as saying that a person is their values rather than they are what they remember. It certainly felt like I became more when I remembered that I could DO more.

Another question is about tacit knowledge. “There is a whole other realm of knowledge that you can only learn through action and practice known as tacit knowledge.” Why did the action I took to repair the lawn mower trigger so many memories as I went about solving problems? I got better at fixing as I did the activity.

This experience also reminds me of students and the learning experience. A lot of the students who struggle the most seem to suffer from doubts and insecurities. Based on the belief that students do well if they can, I see other possibilities in memory and the ability to recall.

If kids have trouble with recall and retention of memory, then they may experience similar experiences to mine. When I didn’t remember my successes at repair and assembly, I described myself as not handy. But, when I remembered my successes at repairing and assembling, I felt more capable and could describe myself as “handy.” This self-definition opened up or limited my willingness to try new things along the lines of repairing and assembling.

This is also true of educators.

 

Resources

 

How to Become an Expert at Anything: Healthy Tips For Every Aspiring Self-Learner http://www.theemotionmachine.com/how-to-become-an-expert-at-anything/ Posted on November 26, 2012 by Steven Handel

 

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You’re Simply the Best!

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You’re Simply the Best!

by Duane Sharrock

Sally Field, misquoted

The historic change in how people perceive success and winning has never become more public nor more dramatic than during 1984’s Oscars Ceremony.

When Sally Field, aka Sally Margaret Field Mahoney, received her Oscar for Best Actress in 1984’s Places in the Heart, she said, “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” She didn’t actually say, “You like me. You  really like me.” That was just the meme that someone generated. The meme quote is the one that sticks.

However, whether you interpret her actual quote or the meme quote, it is clear that the message she has received for winning an Oscar for Best Actress was not that her award was based on quality, nor did she actually acknowledge the legitimacy of those judging her. Instead, she is saying that being the best is a popularity contest. And in her real quote, by saying “right now”, she is noting that this is yet a fleeting moment of popularity and respect.

Maybe this kind of acceptance speech is typical of award shows. Maybe, at  each Oscars Ceremony, winners may make a point of critiquing the judges or the process of judging or the authenticity or validity of the award itself. Ultimately though, the importance of the apparent message in this acceptance speech should be understood as an indication that the modern age is shifting to the postmodern age. This shift may have begun with World War 2, but the dissolution of assumptions and the systematic dismantling and dissection of our society’s “sacred cows” are picking up speed.

Winning the grand prize is not authentic like it was in the good old days of the modern age. There is no “grand prize” in the postmodern era. The two “times” are different: “Where modern thought emphasises direction, order, coherence, stability, simplicity, control, autonomy, and universality, postmodern thought emphasises fragmentation, diversity, discontinuity, contingency, pragmatism, multiplicity, and connections.” This shift in values and metaphysics was just like when the industrial age made itself known by carving suburbs out of rural areas, imposing on the seasonal, diurnal days of the farm, and drawing the farm’s able-bodied workers from the crops to the cities, offering new kinds of work.

The value shifts didn’t happen all at once though. The industrial age had different impacts on the different regions of the United States. It also slowly transformed how we defined success and what it means to win.

We reveal our mindsets with our vocabulary. postmodern ideas and language are moving out of the academic and artistic silos and spreading out from the socially elite into the general public. postmodernism is getting a firm hold on the American mind. It’s values and aesthetics are spreading, increasing in popularity.

But what is postmodernism?

“According to one theorist, postmodernism is the passage from ‘solid’ (stable) times to ‘liquid’ times (Bauman 2007). It is the end of traditional structures and institutions, and the end of what another theorist calls ‘grand narratives’–the big, one-size-fits-all stories of modern thought (Lyotard 1984). There is a loss of faith in the idea of ‘progress’, the idea that we are gradually heading along the one true pathway towards certain universal goals – such as the full picture of knowledge, or equality and justice. Instead, there is an emphasis on multiple pathways and plurality; on diversity and difference; and on the partiality of all knowledge (that is, the idea that we can only have an incomplete picture, and the idea that all knowledge is biased). Change is seen, not as a linear progression, but as a series of networks and flows, connections and reconnections that, because they are always forming and reforming, never have time to solidify.”

from “Postmodernism” on Website “Shifting to 21st Century Thinking in Education and Learning”  http://www.shiftingthinking.org/?page_id=53

This is the language of 21st Century learning as well as the driver of many different education reform initiatives. It is true every time we quote or hear the quote “one-size-DOES-NOT-fit all” or deplore the belief in the universal.

This is why the criticism of “Everybody gets a trophy”, or rather the criticism of the *perception* that “Everybody gets a trophy”, reveals fear and ignorance, fatalism, and indicates the difference between growth mindsets and fixed mindsets.   The growth mindset is part of the postmodernism because it defies limitations and fatalism..

It is the end of an era.

Who’s Simply the Best?

One of the many ideas that confused me as a teenager and young adult was what made a great singer. What are the criteria? I was in chorus, played music on piano and saxophone, so I had some understanding of what it meant to be both a consumer as well as a performer. But the differing critique aesthetics of the singing voice confused me. It still does.

Towards the end of every year, everywhere we go, we can find lists of the best. There are top-10 lists, top 50, top 100. In the United States, on Sundays, I used to tune in to The American Top-40 with Casey Kasem. These lists are generated after crunching numbers. Mainly, the lists are created based on quantity, not quality.

“Here we go with the Top 40 hits of the nation this week on American Top 40, the best-selling and most-played songs from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. This is Casey Kasem in Hollywood, and in the next three hours, we’ll count down the 40 most popular hits in the United States this week, hot off the record charts of Billboard magazine”
— Casey Kasem at the beginning of the inaugural AT40 broadcast

When it comes to judging the “best” based on quality though, many people disagree. Some people may argue that certain names or titles should replace others.

There are many different “gate-keepers” who award the title of “best voice”. Not only is “the best voice” described using a variety of synonyms, critics of the different music genres have their own apparent aesthetic qualities. What are the qualities of a great singer of soul music? What makes a great rock and roll singer?

The Rolling Stone does something different as a gate-keeper. If you look at Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Greatest Singers, you will see 100 different descriptions of who makes the list and why. There is no single, set criteria or aesthetic. This marks the writers of this magazine as postmodern. The article includes many.

What do great jazz, blues, country western, and folk singers have in common? This is not clear either. It is similar to comparing apples to oranges. There is no simple definition. Expanding criteria to include the qualities of singers from all over the world further complicates with aesthetic qualifiers. Instead, the list defies the existence of universal values and does not require examples of greatness to fit into some simplified definition of singer greatness.

Elitist impulses are behind the question. Does even elitism belong to the modern era rather than the postmodern? It becomes clear when you begin to search for the experts who get to define the values of a “refined” culture, for opera and classical choral pieces. Looking for these experts, after all, suggests, that there is a rationale. A unified rationale is the same thing as a grand narrative. The grand narrative itself is modern rather than postmodern.

There was a time when what we called “classical music” was popular music, so it is inaccurate to claim that some of the singers have a “leg up” because of the ability to sing classical pieces. I bring this up because I have seen and heard similar connotations that movie actors are more skilled because of their experience rather than for the actual performances. Critics may argue for example that since the actor has performed Shakespeare, this makes them a great actor. TV actors, actors on the “small screen”, were considered lesser skilled simply because they were on television. A movie star who makes appearances on a tv series or sitcom would be considered a “over” as in, that career is over. Maybe this was due to the quality of scripts of the earlier days of television, but now, distinctions are made, again. Nowadays though, Kevin Spacey is thriving on a critically acclaimed small screen series.

There are also more channels. On top of the cable television channels, there are also Internet shows and other formats. The shows sustain the stations with their own fan bases. Actors and other creatives are getting gigs, and whole new markets are opening up. Meanwhile, “undiscovered” actors, scriptwriters, directors, and the other people behind productions are getting the their shots at stardom at a lesser level on YouTube and some other video-based social networks. This is also true for musicians and singers. It’s true for performers of all types belonging to too many genre and art forms to list.

It’s as if everybody wins.

Jonathan Bendor: A Toolkit for Solving Problems | Stanford Graduate School of Business

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http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/jonathan-bendor-toolkit-solving-problems

” According to Bendor, the best problem solvers mix and match the cognitive shortcuts to reach their solution. The idea is growing in cognitive psychology that experts in information-intensive domains, like teaching, chess, or medicine, become skilled because they garner enormous mental libraries of heuristics and patterns, he says.”

A case for memory.