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 It began by focusing on the easiest changes, the physical, as in, “A 1940’s hair cut is as out of date as a 1940’s suit.”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)

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