Monday, 9 November 2015
My astronomy course is all finished so hopefully in the next day or two I will have my certificate of completion.
It’s hard for me to shake the over-achiever perfectionism that I’ve developed over my academic life: the fact that I averaged a mere 80% on the astronomy assessments is a point of annoyance for me. Maths has never been my strong point and it’s frustrating that my less-developed skills in that area let me down. This perfectionism probably traces back to a few things – namely that, as a kid, when it seemed to me that every one else had everything going for them, I was the awkward kid who had a talent for memorising and internally processing huge amounts of information… and pretty much nothing else. The “gifted” kid.
I was in my schools’ advanced student programmes. I read encyclopaedias for fun. At age 12 I startled my high school English teacher by reading Watership Down cover-to-cover in about two days, when she had clearly hoped it would keep me entertained while she tried to teach the rest of the class the difference between their, there and they’re. There are benefits to being “gifted,” namely that it was my ticket out of the small-town attitudes and culture that develops in rural communities when there isn’t enough diversity to keep people on their toes: the absolute cultural and ethnic homogeneity was stifling. There are also major drawbacks (not having friends because I was a freakishly tall girl, a complete geek, without the slightest shred of social skills). Thankfully I had some great teachers in the Catholic school who saw past my many faults and spoke to the best of myself. Getting good results in high school meant that I could go to university. University meant moving to a more diverse part of the state. And I really think that being a university student – external life challenges aside – was one of the happiest experiences of my life. I hope one day that I can return and do further postgraduate studies.
In the meantime, I think this drive to achieve tangible feedback and results manifests in my penchant for signing up for short-term challenges. My latest is signing up for a DuoLingo account because I randomly felt like learning Norwegian. I will hopefully be able to add Norwegian to the list of languages I vaguely recognise but can’t speak with any fluency, like Ukrainian – I can recognise the alphabet and know some random words, like off the top of my head I know that umbrella is парасолька and I can look at that word and know it’s pronounced parasol’ka. I married a guy who’s part-Ukrainian so I had a motivation there to learn a bit about his ancestral culture. I’ve picked up smatterings of Russian, German, Latin and Indonesian, too, over the years. I have enough Indonesian that I managed to spactacularly fail university beginner’s Indonesian – the only university subject I failed – so I can see kecap manis on an instant noodles ingredients list and know that I’ll probably like it. I noticed recently that after years of listening to Finnish language songs I’m picking up tiny bits of that, too. [On a related note, I love this poster by a Finnish-Swedish cartoonist on the similarities and differences between Nordic languages, and another poster representing the world languages family tree by the same artist.]
And then there’s NaNoWriMo. There is something very satisfying about watching my word count rise, at the same time I can look at my story – gaping plot holes and clunky dialogue notwithstanding – and say to myself, “I created this” – and then I get a certificate at the end. Basically, my life’s goal is apparently to accumulate as many certificates of nerdy achievement as I can. My only in-real-life rivals in this compulsive learning regard are my INTJ husband – who sat up until almost midnight last night teaching himself yet another programming language, for fun – and my INFJ sister.
One thing Nano has done for me is to stop me from over-criticising novels. That is, having had the slightest hint of the volume of work writing entails, I now realise that it is lazy to off-handedly dismiss a novel. I might not enjoy it, but just because I don’t enjoy that genre; it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the relative quality and usefulness of the text. On a similar note, I find it bizarre reading whinge-reviews on sites like Amazon, where a person gives a novel 1 or 2-star reviews because the delivery took longer than they expect. If I understand it correctly, the purpose of the reviews is to review the actual story. Then there are the lengthy reviews on theology books that deconstruct the text: these reviews often seem so long I wonder why the reviewer doesn’t write their own blog or book. I digress. For all the times I sat there completely immersed in a novel, wondering what strange magic it was that could bring an imaginary universe to life, sometimes so real that it was more alive than my corporeal reality, I now have a taste for the process and sheer hard work involved in writing a story.
Someone is on the other end of that book as the author, and they have likely agonised over the words, the sentences, the plot, and the lives of the characters they invented. They may have spent years developing the story, imagining the day when they would write something that others would enjoy reading.
It is too easy to be a critic.
I’m not throwing out critical thinking, and it’s unfortunate that a positive term (critical thinking) is so similar to a term that can be negative (criticising). But these days I’m less inclined to leap to judgement. That’s dualistic, platonic, gnostic, first-half-of-life thinking, anyway: the need to fix a label on someone or something before giving it adequate thought. When Jesus said “do not judge,” well, I’ve heard some good arguments that this is the line He was following. He wasn’t saying “do not be discerning” or “hooray for moral relativism and debauched licentiousness,” I think what He might’ve been getting at was, “Don’t be so quick to make snap judgements, for good or evil, about another person based on their external appearance or on that one thing they did or said that time.” I don’t know for sure but that’s one way to look at it.
I can’t help but think that the whole realm of social media would be a lot more helpful a space if we could operate that way. In the past I used to argue the point; these days I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of thinking, “I’m so offended,” I try to reflect on how a person reached the opinion they did. It doesn’t mean I can’t disagree, and I will speak up when it seems to me that someone else is positing views that might cruelly scapegoat a group of perceived enemies (no, I will not accept that there is a conspiracy to stop Christians celebrating Christmas, that is, unless it’s the 17th Century and the Puritan Oliver Cromwell is making the laws). But usually, I just take a deep breath, recite the sarcastic mantra, Oh no someone is wrong on the Internet and then get on with my life.
I won’t say that I’ve come close to exiting this first-half-of-life developmental stage – and that’s okay. The late theologian Marcus Borg, in a lecture video I found recently, said something to the effect of his mistrust towards anyone under the age of 40 who has a lot of strong opinions, so I’ve got a good 6-7 years of agonising self-development before I can get moving on that second-half-of-life project.
*To clarify, my understanding of first and second half of life concepts come from Franciscan priest Fr Richard Rohr and, as he also says, it’s not necessarily drawn from chronological and physical age. So if I reach a more enlightened phase of self awareness before I hit my mid-30s, I’m okay with that.
What does all this have to do with NaNoWriMo? Actually, I don’t remember. I went off on a tangent. I’d better get back to my story.
Current word count: 15,056/50,000 words.