Feed my Frankenstein

I went to see Alice Cooper at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre the other night. I’m not a huge rock music fan, but I loved Alice Cooper when I was a teenager, especially the song Poison. I had the single on tape and listened to it over and over again on my little black Sanyo tape player; my prized possession back in the day. I don’t miss tapes, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think iTunes sucks balls.

Anyway, because I’m a tightarse I drove down to Brisbane and back home again straight after the gig. It’s a four hour trip each way. It’s just such a giant pain organising accomodation and it’s so freakin’ expensive for what it is. I couldn’t face the idea of having to weave my way out of Brisbane the next day, so driving home was the best option. Being a tightarse has consequences of course and the most obvious one in this situation is being tired the next day. There are other consequences too, but more about that in a minute.

This post refers to the Frankenstein that is my insatiable apeitite for learning (the title of this post is an Alice Cooper song about sexual appetite), leading me to embark on a year-long quest for learning how to do things I’d never done before. One of them is tap dancing.

I’ve had four tap dancing lessons and I still haven’t learned how to do anything apart from marching forwards and marching backwards (which everyone can already do without lessons). The teacher and the other ladies in the class spend most of the lessons talking about work (they are all teachers) and about their kids. The remainder of the lessons are spent focused on the ladies who can already dance, which I get because there’s five of them and I’m the only beginner, but that doesn’t change the fact that I paid $110 for the “term” We spend about a total of five – six minutes actually dancing in an hour long lesson, which doesn’t normally start until ten minutes past when it’s meant to. It always finishes exactly when it’s meant to, though.  At the lesson yesterday I really started to get pissed off.

I originally thought I might be too stupid to dance because I could never get anything right and couldn’t follow any of the complicated instructions the instructor gave me, but it turns out the reason for that is because she’s not actually teaching me anything, which I wouldn’t have realised had I not met Adam last week. Adam was there for a meeting after the dance class and I got talking to him as I was leaving. He told me about clogging lessons, which I’d never heard of, so I looked it up online, contacted the teacher and arranged to go along to a lesson last Saturday.

I was a bit worried it would be the same as the tap dancing class, but it was the polar opposite; everyone was friendly, the teacher explained every single thing she did, told us all what each move was called, repeated each step and built up to a simple routine that all of us could do easily by the end of the lesson, which all cost a total of $8 for an entire hour of dancing – not talking. The lesson started on time and finished on time, with another group commencing immediatley after the group I was in finished. There were about fifteen people in my group and more than twenty-five in the second group. One lady even had a baby strapped to her front as she danced!

During the week I spent a fair bit of time on YouTube looking at beginner’s tap dancing routines. They were all easy to follow, the instructors announced what the steps were called, how to count beats to the music and they all went over the importance of the ankle and knee positions, which is something I’d never heard of in the tap dancing classes.

Being a tight arse makes me want to go back to the tap dancing classes to get my value for money, but it doesn’t take away the fact that I’m pissed off about not learning anything in the classes. What I’m actually pissed off about, if I’m really honest, is that I duped myself out of the money I’ve paid up front (I’m sure it won’t be refunded if I quit and I accept that), so I’m actually pissed off at myself, not the teacher. I can see the tap dancing classes aren’t working for me, so I’m losing more than the money I’ve paid up front by trying to get what I’ve paid for by continuing to go to the classes; I’m losing my time, which is worse than losing money because it’s a piece of my life that I will never get back and there’s no way to put a price on that. Even though I know this, it’s really hard to let that money go. I feel like I’ve been ripped off, but the only person who has ripped me off is myself.

Still, if I never went to the tap dancing classes I would never have met Adam and found out about the clogging. I would never have met Dot at the clogging class, who told me about square dancing classes (I loved square dancing when I was a kid) once a week for $5. I would never have bought my tap dancing shoes, which I can use for clogging and I would never have discovered all the cool tap routines on the internet. I also would have never had the opportunity to draw the stupid pictures that I’ve put in this post. That in itself would have been a great loss to humanity!

So, I’m pulling the pin on the tap dancing classes. It’s hard to decide that and I want to run the story that tells me it might get better next week. But, like the cool guy I’m married to said, “if you haven’t learnt anything in four weeks of lessons, do you really think you’re going to learn anything in the remaining six?”

Learning isn’t always addition, it can be subtraction too

Don’t let the sunk cost fallacy hold you back

 

 

 

Cords, Cubes and the Death of Knives

I think I’m finally getting somewhere with this whole sucking thing. I’ve been practicing the banjo and I can actually play the entire dueling banjo song all the way through AND most of it actually sounds like the song from the movie, but in super slo-mo.

I have no idea what I’m doing, so I’m pretty much just making it all up as I go along. This is what I’m dealing with:

I= index R=ring M=middle

I had no idea how to play a cord, so I had to draw the way it looks so that I could understand it. It’s so bloody confusing because I couldn’t find instructions anywhere on which finger goes on which string on which fret, so I just had to work it out myself. I don’t know if this is “right”, but I’m kind of assuming that there must be no “right” otherwise it would be more obvious.

The tab (the sheet music) is just as confusing and I had to make all these notations on it so I knew which finger to use when I played the note. Again, I don’t know if I’m doing it “right”, but who cares. It’s not like I’m trying to get accepted into the Peabody Institute.

Click here to see what banjo tab for Dueling Banjos looks like. I don’t know what the bars along the bottom of each note mean, but I’m assuming they’ve got something to do with the speed the note has to be played at, which is something I learned in primary school like 35 years ago.

Even though it’s sort of coming together I still can’t imagine ever being able to play it like this.

The throwing knives I’ve been working on since the start of the year have had to be retired for a while. Two of the knives suffered a fatality the last time I used them, and it wasn’t like I threw them hard or anything. I’m also thinking that the instructional book I’ve got might be a bit shitty for learning from scratch, which is a pretty common thing so far. Instructions and teachers are never really that great for people who have no idea how to do something.

Two out of the three from the set are broken.

I’ve been working on solving a Rubik’s cube too. The instructions for that aren’t actually too bad, but I keep getting stuffed up when it comes to solving the top face. I’ve had it out once, so all I had to do was solve the pieces on the outside of the upperside, but I got confused about which was clockwise and which was anticlockwise. Unlike the banjo, the woodworking and the tap dancing I’m pretty confident I’ll get there in the end.

Solved bottom face (white) and bottom and middle layers. Click here for  the YouTube video I’ve been learning from.

One thing that hasn’t been that hard so far is the graffiti. I’m going to graffiti up the side of my house, so I’ve been playing around with what I’m going to draw. This is the start of it:

The two rectangles in the middle are the windows. I’m going for a climate change theme (but it might get changed) that will be overlayed with a story. It’s probably not going to be “real” graffiti because I won’t be using spraypaint. I don’t know how to use it properly and it’s also really expensive. I thought it a good idea to practice on paper before I commit anything to the wall.

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence – Abigail Adams

 

Sucking really Sucks!

I had my first ever tap dancing lesson yesterday. I was really excited about it because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I had new shoes, so of course, that in itself is very exciting and I was dying to try them out:

I was disappointed with the first lesson and I had to fight hard not to get pissed off at myself (I couldn’t follow what everyone else was doing), at the teacher (she didn’t explain things very well [at all really] to begin with) and at the other people in the group (they’d all been dancing together for more than a year and all pretty much ignored me). To be really honest, it was actually hard not to cry because I felt so stupid and like I didn’t belong. The whole entire lesson the teacher and the other ladies talked about their kids or the kids they were teaching (some of them must have been teachers) and because I don’t have kids (or a job) it was like I wasn’t even there because there was no way for me to participate in the conversation. At one point I almost said, “Oh, yeah, my friend’s daughter does that too.” But I stopped myself because it would have drawn attention to how strange it was to invoke a friend’s child when they were all talking about their own.

When I felt like I wanted to cry, I said to myself, “no, fuck you. I’m doing this. It doesn’t matter about any of that other shit. I’m doing it.” This is the same inner mongrel that rises up and gets me through stuff when it’s hard. I wanted to play the brain injury card in my mind. It’s story I tell myself about why it’s hard for me to learn new stuff: I have a brain injury and that’s why I can’t get pattern-based activities (like dancing), but this time, I tried something new and told myself that there would be no brain injury card and that I would act like a “normal” person and just learn without telling myself little stories about why things are difficult. I also made a promise that I wouldn’t reveal to the teacher or the class that I had a brain injury. It’s certainly a fact that I have a brain injury and as a result, face challenges that non-brain injured people don’t, but revealing that I’m brain injured has never helped me in the past, so I decided that it’s pointless revealing that aspect of my life to anyone anymore.

I guess every approach to learning something new is going to have its limitations. If I learn at home on my own, I’m limited because it takes a long time to work out how to do stuff, and even then, I don’t know if I’m doing it right. If I learn in a group, especially a group that’s already formed, like the tap dancing group, it’s hard to fit in because groups have a dynamic and once a group is formed, it’s difficult for it to absorb new members, especially if the common ground is something that is not shared by the new member (in this case it seemed to be kids).

After feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb in the dance class I got to feel like I was on display as I walked back to my car. A group of about 12 bearded, black t-shirted, rum can toting dudes were hanging out in front of a house across the street from where I’d parked. All of them leaning on cars, they stopped chatting and stared right at me, one guy elbowing the nearest bloke and pointing at me with his bearded chin. I got in the car, gave them a huge smile and waved at them as I drove off. None of them waved back. I went and got a pizza and ate the whole thing without feeling one shred of guilt because when you burn a bazillion calories everyday you can pretty much eat whatever the hell you like and still have legs for days.

It’s really very hard to suck at stuff, like so hard. I never really considered how shitty it might make me feel when I decided to commit to a year of sucking. I just told myself a little story of how it’s going to be awesome to learn all this new stuff, and oh, imagine all the new and wonderful friends I will make! Happy days afoot.

The way to manage this is to keep returning to things I know I’m good at or at least I’m comfortable with because to suck 100% of the time, would just, well, you know, suck! I’m 100% in control of my own body and I feel good about that and happy about all the work I’ve done and still do to make sure that I’m mentally and physcially fit and healthy: counting calories, running, cycling, walking, swimming, skipping, hard style dance, hiking, reading, writing, cooking and just generally being creative.  This is what some of that looks like:

A day out of my calorie book. I aim for 1700 calories a day, so this one is a bit over at 1935, but I allow myself this as it’s still in deficit (anything below 2000).

The blackboard where I track my weight lifting sessions. I don’t like weightlifting, but I do it because I like the results, and I’m also comfortable with it. If I didn’t record it on this blackboard, I’d never have kept at it. I rub it off everytime it fills up (like now) and start again with heavier weights. To keep the hatred at bay I never try to change the sets and reps. It’s always two sets, one of six reps and the second of four reps. The abs along the bottom have two sets of ten rep each, so 60 reps in total for each session, plus a one minute plank -ugh 😦

One way I keep my brain healthy: reading and writing. I know I’m good at these things because I’ve been doing them since I was about 3 or 4 years old.

So, in the face of sucking I look at what I’ve been able to achieve so far in my life and use that as a way to get through things when they seem hard. Recording everything I do is a great way to track my progress. Sometimes it feels like progress isn’t happening, but when everything is recorded, you can see that you’re getting somewhere and it means you’re less likely to give up, especially when stuff is new and you feel like you suck because new things are nearly always HARD, and just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s going to be hard forever.

Sucking is finite: Unleash your inner mongrel

Knives, Banjo and Cashews

I had my second go at knife throwing the other day and it was heaps better than the first time I did it. Yay! I threw 50 times and managed to get 1 knife in the target 17 times and 2 knives in the target 3 times. I was pretty excited about that:

The times I got the knives in felt different to the times I missed, kind of the like the way it feels to hit a perfect shot in tennis; it was a really good feeling and I took heart from that because it didn’t feel like that AT ALL the first time I tried throwing the knives.

When I kept getting it wrong I went back to the instructional book to see what it was making me get it wrong. I tried to concentrate on how the knife was meant to be held, the follow through and the windup. It all make a difference. My aim seems pretty good because even the knives that didn’t stick in the target hit the target. Still, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to stand around with apples on their heads.

After the 50 throws I wanted to keep going, but I thought it would be best if I didn’t overdo it and end up getting the shits with it like I did the first time.

The same day I started playing the banjo again. I’ve had my banjo for a long time, but have never been able to play it. Well that’s not technically true; I can play it fine, I just can’t make it sound like anything anyone would recognise as a tune. I started out worrying about never being able to get it right and this kept coming up the whole time I was playing it, although it was pretty easy to pick up the rolls again.

I found the whole thing pretty frustrating actually. For the millionth time I wished that I could find someone to teach me how to do it because it feels like I don’t know how to learn this particular thing properly and that I should be further along with it by now given how much I’ve done so far. If I break it down though, I’ve probably only spent around 20 hours practicing in the six years I’ve had the instrument. I think the belief that I should be further along comes about from my most recent attempt (about 7 years ago) at learning the violin; I was able to play an actual tune after the second lesson and was able to teach myself other songs at home. I’d played the violin for a short while when I was 8 or 9 years old, but have never played the banjo prior to owning this one.

I found a slow jam beginner’s banjo DVD in my library of 5K plus books and DVDs and slapped it on in the hope that it might help. It didn’t. It was too fast to follow, didn’t explain anything properly and I felt like it was saying:

Here, it’s easy, just play it like me. I’m so great. It’s so easy and if you can’t get it right following these simple instructions, then obviously you’re stupid.

It would be like someone walking into their very first maths lesson having never even seen a number before and the teacher going, “here’s an equation, work it out” without explaining anything.

I wasn’t really that happy after this and I recognised that I was getting the shits when I felt cause to yell at the DVD: “How the fuck am I meant to follow that when you didn’t even tell me what it was, you dickheads!!” So, I shut it down, put the banjo away and hoped for better luck next time. I had a really good link to put in here for a TED talk about how this dude was able to learn stuff, including the mandolin, by teaching himself, but of course now I can’t find the darn thing. Poo!! Anyway, Tim Ferris is someone to look up regarding learning and Josh Kaufman also gives some good insights on how to learn new stuff on your own, both on TED.

The cashews are a small aside that I wanted to use to demonstrate how it can serve you to think outside the box. We have a huge cashew tree in our yard. For all the years we’ve lived here it has dropped its disgusting fruit here and there but this is year is what some would call a mast season:

These are cashew apples. The nut is on the outside of the fruit. Apparently the fruit is edible, but far out, I can’t imagine eating them! They stink and are all soggy and disgusting. Yuck! The dogs love them though and my kelpie has put on a considerable amount of weight from gorging on the fruit before we can pick them up.

We’ve been putting them in our compost until I thought about how wasteful it was to throw away the viable seeds. Could I sell the seeds? Yes I could! Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery replied to my enquiry email by saying they wanted to purchase 300 seeds:

So, basically I got paid almost $100 for stuff I’d been throwing away. All it took was to think about the “rubbish” in a different way.

If it’s my thinking holding me back with the banjo playing, it would be great to find a way around it, but for now I just have to remember:

If I am willing to be good at something,

I must also be willing to be absolutely terrible at it.

Woodcarving

One of the things I decided to try this year is woodcarving. This is one of the things on my list that I’d never done before and I was looking forward to it, but also a bit worried that it would be really hard and I’d be really bad at. See, this thing is, there are a few things I’ve tried to do in the past that I failed at because I had a shitty teacher, which caused to me to sink into despair, not just for the skill I was pursuing, but for my entire life: I’m a useless idiot, why do I bother with any of this? Playing the banjo is one of them and when I try something new that involves a teacher I get a bit scared that it’s going to pan out the same way as my banjo lessons.

This post isn’t about banjos, but I’m attempting to impart how it feels to be held back by past experiences and why you shouldn’t let negative crap from the past stop you. See, my banjo lessons were run by a very good banjo player. He really was, he was awesome, he was in a band and he traveled all around the country-side doing his thing. But what I didn’t realise at the time is just because someone is an expert at a particular thing, doesn’t mean they are a good teacher, which is what happened with my banjo teacher; he was a useless teacher, but an awesome banjo player, and I was a bit scared that the same thing would happen with the wood carving teacher. Thankfully, it didn’t. I really didn’t want a repeat of the banjo lessons – old mate not explaining what to do, followed by a speed demonstration, which I couldn’t copy, then repeating the same procedure over and over until all he was doing was playing the banjo as though up on stage for an expensive hour that I drove a six hour round trip for (I worked out after the second lesson that he was a total dick and never went back). Click here for what he expected me to do in the first lesson.

Anyway, the wood carving was hard, but not seemingly impossible like the knife throwing. That strikes me as strange because with the carving there is more than one thing to get right, but with the knives it’s just the knives. I thought that maybe it’s because the carving is slower and you can see what’s happening as you do it, whereas with the knives, you throw it and that’s it, there’s no coming back from that single action; it’s a single action to get the result, but the carving is multiple movements and actions to get the result.

I worked on a relief carving of a leaf. I had trouble knowing which side of the chisel to press up against the edge when cutting the line along the margin of the leaf. It feels weird not to know how to hold something to make it do what you want. I can’t remember the last time I had to learn something like this; probably in childhood. Once again, it was very difficult to embrace the feeling of ineptitude and I had to constantly remind myself that it’s a natural way to feel in the circumstances.

This is how I started out: just playing around with the tools on a block of wood clamped to the bench.

This is what I ended up with. I’ll keep working on it in my next lesson. It’s going to be a leaf.

Experiri est Descere

(to try is to learn)

 

 

How much will I suck in 2020?

2019 wasn’t bad. It wasn’t all easy though. Some shit went sideways and I said goodbye to a few relationships and also some beliefs that I’d been hanging onto for too long. I also extricated myself from a toxic workplace. None of this was easy because it’s hard to see people for what they really are. I don’t want to believe that people are intentional arseholes, but the truth is that sometimes they just are, and contrary to what said arseholes probably think, that’s not actually my fault. It would have been easy to blame myself and say that I should have done this, I should have done that, I should have learned how to breath underwater, defy gravity, turn water into wine, tame dragons, control the weather, and I should have kept my mouth shut about the shady shit that was going on, but I didn’t because it’s not right to do bad shit to people and it’s not right to accept that from anyone, be it your boss, your brother, your neighbour, your best mate or a government department.  If I kept accepting that kind of treatment then I’m just as crappy a person as the ones who are treating me like shit because I’m teaching them that I deserve that kind of treatment. I’m also teaching them that they can treat other people the same way, and that’s not OK with me.

I did some pretty amazing stuff in 2019: I hiked 450 km on my own to Brisbane and got to meet some really cool people, and I raised over $6000 for brain injury while doing it. I read close to 100 books, exercised for 377 hours, ran more than 180 km, learnt some wicked skipping drills, went to some great gigs, grew out of my clothes because I built new muscle, got my first reading glasses, survived a bushfire, and made some freakin’ awesome plans for 2020.

In 2020 I’m going to see how much I can learn. Can a skill in one sphere emerge in another sphere, giving rise to an ability where none previously existed? Basically, will a lifestyle of breadth, rather than depth facilitate emergent abilities? I believe it will. It’s going to be tricky to measure this, but I’ll do my best. I’ll be recording everything I do and putting it on YouTube so everyone can see how much I suck when I first start out, and how that’s actually OK, because everyone sucks to begin with!

Watch me as I suck at these things:

  • playing video games*
  • knife throwing
  • tap dancing
  • learning a new language
  • skateboarding*
  • graffiti
  • juggling*
  • rubix cube*
  • macrame
  • physics
  • wood carving
  • singing*
  • kiteboarding
  • navigation*
  • chess
  • playing the banjo*

* These things I’ve tried at least once before, but was never any good at and/or it’s been over twenty years since I’ve done them.

Here’s what I’ve been doing in the last couple of days:

Snorkelling around the snags in the river. It’s a hard life.

Kayaking up the river and down a creek. This is where I suck. I made this ridiculously stupid and hilarious documentary about the Burrum River on a GoPro, but can’t get the damn thing to transfer to the computer so I can upload it to YouTube. Waaaahhhh!

See, it’s ok to suck, because that’s what pretty much everyone does the first time they try something, and this was the first time I’ve used the GoPro.

Learn by way of failure

Because

No one ever started off being an expert

 

 

 

Something Brand New

It’s good doing stuff that makes you feel nice. This is why trying new stuff can be hard; it makes you feel uncomfortable and your poor little brain goes, “No! I don’t wannaaaaa!” while figurativley throwing itself on the floor, crying and flailing about.

I like tricking my brain into action. See, this is what it does: I tell it that it would be great to try this or that and it gets excited, but then it goes back to its comfortable little life because it believes that nothing will change. Take for example this:

Me: I want to drive a truck.

Brain: Yeah, that sounds awesome, but as if you’ll ever do that.

Me: Yeah, but I reckon I could.

Brain: You are full of shit.

Me: Yeah, well watch this!

So before my brain could get in the way, I rang the Semi School and made an appointment for a driving lesson in an MR truck and did it.

I’d been wanting to drive a truck for years. Just because. I was uncomfortable with trying something brand new, but once I got going I was surprised that it wasn’t really that hard. The instructor told me not to bother with anymore MR lesson and that next time I should just go straight to HR.

I wrote a while back about how we can hold ourselves back from doing new things because we believe we aren’t “that kind of person”. I never thought I was someone who could drive a truck, but guess what? I am.