Monday, September 29, 2014

On mastering something new

A former student dropped by today to tell me she just got her pilot's license. 
She worked on it for over 4 years, and openly admits to being a little jittery first time she soloed'. 
This post is now 6 years old--but I need a reminder now and again.

By the time you hit your 5th or 6th decade, you're mostly competent at what you do. You've long abandoned the things you're incompetent at, and mortality precludes starting a whole lot of new things.

As a result, most older folk forget what it means to learn new things, forget what it means to be a decade or two old, when everything requires climbing a wall to gain mastery.

"Potential" becomes an albatross around the neck of the young. (Go read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner if you have not. Yes, it's Coleridge; yes, he can be onerous; yes, it's worth your time.)

I got a clam rake last spring. It's an old rake, and a good one.

I can only imagine how many clams ended up in a pot after being pried out of their homes before I got it. The tines are rusted brown, the handle oiled by the sweat of others before me.

Still, as good a rake as it is, it was almost useless in my hands last June.

Can you remember when you first drove a car? When every twitch of the wheel required thought?

Just about every 17 year old Homo sapiens on the planet has faster reflexes than me. Just about every Homo sapiens in the western hemisphere has more facility with technology than me. Still, All State Insurance charges me a bucketload less for auto insurance than any 17 year old I teach.

Teachers need to remember how hard it is to drive the first time.

Or else go clamming.

Back in June, the rake was a weapon--plow through the mud, rip out whatever it hit, say a prayer for another unfortunate creature impaled by its tines. Horseshoe crabs, whelks, worms--but very few clams.

These days the rake is an extension of my arm, its tines tickling the mud beneath the water. I can feel shapes, I can feel density. A tine or two bump against a clam, my sympathetic system reacts. Against a stone, nothing.

The horseshoe crabs are safe again. The clams are not.

I like clams.
I really, really like clams.

I practiced and practiced and practiced because I like clams, and slowly my brutal assault against any critter large enough to suffer from misguided tines evolved to a gentle prodding of the mud.

My students like driving.
Really, really like driving.

They practice and practice because they like driving, and slowly their jagged starts and turns evolve to hugging the road unconsciously.

Here's my plea to anyone of us arrogant enough to presume we have something to offer to the young. Try something new.
Try to master something you suck at but like to do anyway.
Now imagine trying to master something you suck at and don't really care for.

Welcome to high school.

Photo mine.

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