Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fender Bender for Life

My college teacher, Gerry Bruce, once told us once with a smile that he didn’t have to prepare any lessons for our class: By our actions we generated so many teachable moments. This was for our leadership 201 “how to lead a meeting” class, for in case we found jobs in a small town, and had to facilitate a community meeting.

It seems to me, likewise, that from my actions this week I could come up with my weekly essay topic, even as I am earnestly trying to generate a serious list of future blog files. If so, then my most instructive action of the last week has been a tiny fender bender. Ouch! I was slowly backing up and I hit a Nissan Pathfinder. To avoid any vested interest in being defensive I won’t write about the actual accident. To me, what are most interesting are the various “human factors.”

I have to smile: It’s strange how our young scientists, by coming up with new insights into physics, chemistry and plastics, are making the science publications of our parents obsolete… yet we are still reading Shakespeare plays from hundreds of years ago. We are still learning about humans, and the learning “just ain’t easy.”

In the diversity-and-assimilation file, I learned that a man might have a “strange” first name, yet still use learned academic words like “teensy weensy.” As in “scratches I could wipe out with a wet thumb, and a teensy weensy chip.” Actually, because his name was one syllable it was easy for me to learn (but he had to tell me how to spell it); a multi-syllable name I always have to write down.

In the technology-and-inventions file I learned that fiberglass is truly light. How light? If your fender is a little off, then don’t drive on the freeway. The grabbing wind does “strannnnge” things. Meanwhile, my modern car still comes with a few steel bars inside, but only the barest minimum, no more. After all, we have to get the fuel costs down somehow. Man, how I long for the days when you just smack a dent with a hammer. Incidentally, among certain young of Pacific rim Asians, young North American have a dubious reputation for being willing to drive cars with visible rust and dents. I put this down to American poverty roots, and love of fixing up old cars.

In the ego file, I found myself wanting to minimize or deny: I don’t have accidents, not me! And if I did, well, I’d think, “it doesn’t count—I can explain!” I found myself seriously wanting to get a rental car real fast, before anyone saw my fender. Obviously my ego was warping my truth. Not good. Surely I wouldn’t advise anyone else to wiggle and deny, so why do so myself? “Yes, but—”

This week I have learned something happy: Even when my ego is in “desperation mode” it takes surprisingly little self-talk, very little, to set myself straight again. “Tell the truth and shame the devil,” says I.

In my old family, sad to say, we didn’t have the word “self-talk” in our vocabulary, and our unspoken saying was, “There’s nothing wrong with this family…and don’t you dare tell anyone!”

As for surviving a family such as mine, a fortnight ago (In I am Not Oblomov) I posted a link to a radio interview of survivors of sibling abuse. After my fender accident, a man of my background told me he doesn’t ask for help the way other people do, because he doesn’t think he will get any help. I replied, “When I go to make a fender bender report at the police station I expect to be yelled at.” I told this to the nice cop at the station who responded, “Really?” And then, another cop who was there typing away nodded his head “yes” as the constable added, “…well, we could ask him to yell at you. (We all silently laughed)

Derision is not called for. My college instructor, a man of key phrases, used to tell us, “If you point an accusing or judgmental finger at someone else then you have three of your fingers pointing back at you.” Another phrase he would often say, after he gave us descriptive feedback, was “Defensive comments are not necessary.” Down the years, as you might imagine, I am still trying to be as good a chairman as he was; meanwhile every time I drive a tiny bit over the posted speed limit I know, sadly, I am still failing to be as good a driver as my driving instructor. Oh well. As Shakespeare could have said, it’s nice to live and learn.

Sean Crawford

~Yes, I may exceed the speed limit when keeping within group traffic flow—that’s only common sense.

~I am reminded of two Chinese proverbs,
One good teacher is worth a ton of books
He who teaches me for a day is my father for life

Translated by Emil William Chynn
Copyright by Armand Eisen
Published by Andrews McMeel

Kansas City, Missouri

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Being Good At Something

You may have seen a Hollywood teen movie where a plain teen finds a popular kid to serve as mentor… and then becomes a new, improved, cool person. The plot gets recycled every decade. It’s nice to see it with buttered popcorn.

In the everyday world a student could be self-mentored by reading a self-help book for teens, a book that goes nice with coke.

The earliest such book I’ve encountered was from about 1950, gathering dust in my high school. It began by focusing on the easiest changes, the physical, as in, “A 1940’s hair cut is as out of date as a 1940’s suit.” Then came the more advanced advice, most notably: Take action to “become good at something, even if it’s good at playing tiddlywinks.” Why? Partly for one’s effect on others: In my college therapeutic recreation program, each one of us enjoyed a “claim to fame” for others to see.  Mainly though, for the effect on one’s own self-confidence.

In the short run, to be good at “tiddlywinks” adds to one’s inner stability and strength. In the long run, it means having faith and courage that new skills are aquirable: I didn’t hesitate for an instant to put in the long manhours required to learn (here on the web) to touch-type a Dvorak keyboard (vowels on the home row) because I knew that back in my twenties I had learned other lengthy skills—including, by the way, how to touch-type a standard qwerty keyboard.

For a young person, or not-so-young, being good at something could mean crossing the threshold from saying “I am different” to saying “I am the same,” and “I can.” Last year I drove through the mountains with a lady my age who worked with young women having a criminal record. She explained that her people deeply believed, with great despair, they “couldn’t” hold a job like “normal people” could. I don’t like to think what this meant to their self-image. I am reminded of Chery Strayed, writing as Sugar in her post Getting Unstuck (link), saying that for her girls graduating high school without getting knocked up or going to jail, and then getting a (Mcjob) would be as hard as pushing an 18 wheeler with your little pinkie.

But for the regular teens I went to school with, getting “good at something” would be doable and important.   

Actually, this next sentence was less true after middle school/ junior high, I can only say it felt true as I typed it:
Back when I was a teen, I couldn’t bear putting in the long manhours to become good at something, even as other students were being mentioned in the school morning announcements for their took-a-long-time accomplishments in both school and community. At least I tried to make my reactions to the morning news healthy, not like the bullies on The Simpsons. They tell Bart, as they smash his trophy, “We go after people who do things.” (Not something a real world bully would ever have the guts to admit—because, of course, bullies are cowards)

It’s nice today that I’m “real good” at several things, but I realize I’m fortunate. Last year on John Scalzi’s blog I read a comment by (I think) science fiction writer John Barnes that went something like, ‘young writers who have never been good at something themselves may find it hard to write characters who are good at something.’ I stood still like a statue on the trail to ponder that line. I’m thankful to have some slowly acquired skills, including, of course, writing nonfiction.

I must confess my essays to date have been more impersonal than “personal.” That may change, as I have been enrolled in a night class in “Personal Essays” at the Alexandra Writing Centre, in an old sandstone school near Fort Calgary. I had to quite due to my increased work-hours, but I did manage to attend five classes. I hope to post all my short two-page (500 word) class essays. Why? Easy: (besides not wanting to waste anything I’ve written) Because then I can turn aside from composing fresh essays for a while, and instead work every day on learning to write fiction. Ah, learning fiction: There’s a road that takes years to travel—but the skill is worth the years.

Sean Crawford

~It was local Calgary writer and blogger Carrie Moffat, as we talked on-line , who recommended the essays of Cheryl Strayed.

~I want to be "in the swing" of writing fiction, "just like everybody else" when I go to the volunteer-run When Words Collide. Only 56 days left until the convention; it's 89.6% sold out; I'm looking at you, C.M.

~I didn't mean to squish the last paragraph of text. Sorry. I upgraded last week to the newest Mac OS and I guess it comes with a few bugs in the system. Although I could click on the title screen, the cursor wouldn't even register if I clicked while I tried to paste my MS word onto the text screen. (So I typed first, which got me the blink, so then I could paste)