“I’m not so good with things.”

April 24, 2012

(a second post, for Momalom.com’s Five For Five.  Today’s post, on the subject of WORDS.) 

Put a machine in front of me — at least one that lacks a keyboard — and I freeze up.  Not only do I avoid changing lightbulbs:  I am actually just the tiniest bit afraid of them.    Among the list of complicated objects that make me nervous:  balloons, VCR’s, bicycles, and that stick that you’re supposed to use to check the oil on your car.

This weekend, when my band was recording a few songs in a *real* recording studio, I treated the microphones, speakers, and stands as though they were poisonous snakes. When I had to keep asking the sound engineer for help with things like, say, finding the “on” button, I used my typical line to depricate myself:

“I’m not so good with things.  I prefer people.  And even better, words.” The engineer looked at me as though I were an alien lifeform; he had built the mixers, phasers, and whackers that lined the studio with his own hands, to his precise specifications.

“Wow,” he said.  “I can’t imagine being you.”

While I do love being able to write, I do not love not being able to do much else.  I can not explain this deficit of mine through nature or nuture.  I grew up in a house with a deeply capable set of parents, in the rugged middle of the woods, just a few miles from four highly capable grandparents. They grew our food, fixed broken things, and ran businesses and homes that required physical interaction with actual objects. My family sent me to Girl Scouts and 4-H, where helpful adults tried again and again to teach me how to be a functional human being as opposed to this degenerate thing I may have been destined to become:  a writer.

It’s odd being an adult and having just this one skill.  Some people can craft, play sports, or set up Ikea furniture, or do their own plumbing.  At my house, when the toilet can’t digest a simple wad of paper, I panic. “Just jiggle the handle” never works for me.  I would no sooner build something with my hands than I would try to climb to the moon.

In school, my only really bad grades were the two semesters of Industrial Arts I was required to take in junior high: Wood Shop and Metal Shop.  Neither material would do what I asked, whether verbally or in writing. There was no final paper through which I could redeem myself:  just a lumpy, poorly constructed implement intended for scooping flour.

Unlike the papers I brought home with enormous pride, I managed to lose my flour scoop before I got home, before my parents could be disappointed in my obvious failure.  I had no idea, as a seventh grader, just how many times I would continue to fail this way as an adult, and just how few problems can be solved with an A plus paper.

As a teacher, whenever I have to remember just how hard my students find writing, I think of that pathetic metal scoop.  I recall that to some people, writing feels like moving the Sahara with a poorly constructed flour scoop, or like a long slog through a murky swamp while wearing wool overalls.

I remember my scoop of shame, and it helps me out in the empathy department.

For when the kids walk in to writing class, they enter my territory.  Words are where I live. In this world, I don’t just know the rules, I make new ones. I get to fly.  There is a fountain in my fingers; I just turn the tap to start the flow.

I can’t chop down a tree and turn it into cords of perfectly dried and stacked firewood, like my Dad does every fall.  Whatever warming I do in this world has to happen through language.  My sister spent the past weekend painting her bathroom.  I paint this, clicking keys until something like color can emerge. My grandmothers canned fruit, knit mittens. My grandfathers could carve wood, fix engines, prime pumps, shape trees.  I knit ideas, carve phrases, fix problems, prime learning, and shape the ideas of whomever stumbles by for a read.

When it comes to words, I just don’t have that “at a loss for” setting.  And thank goshdarn golly goodness, because without words, I might actually be expected to do something.

Justine April 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I have a very capable partner, and I often just wait until he’s home to tackle the things I’ve convinced myself that I wouldn’t be very good at when in truth, it’s mostly because I’d rather be doing something else.

I marvel at moms who sew, craft, ferment, pickle, homeschool – all in a day’s work! And all I do is write. And cook. So my legacy to my girls will be my blog about them, and the food we cook together. Anything else wouldn’t even sound like me so why even try?

Launa April 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Know thyself… this is the only way to be. Sounds like you’ve made friends with you. Lucky kids!

Pepca April 24, 2012 at 2:18 pm

We all have our strong and weak points. I can so relate to you. For example, I can paint with words, but my grades in Art were a disaster. It’s good to remember other people may find themselves at loss with words as we do at something they excel in, such as fixing broken things.

Sarah April 25, 2012 at 9:50 am

Launa, this is such a remarkable post. Absolutely fabulous. I started copying lines right from the start…but of course my computer will only take one at time…so I give you the last one I held on to:

“I paint this, clicking keys until something like color can emerge”

What I love most about this line is the “something LIKE color” part. Because yes, it’s something like amazing what we create, something like gems, something like color.

This post goes on my favorites list. And I’m so very happy that you are joining us here.

(Also, I have to say that your site design is still one of my faves. I know it took us a while to get it right but every time I’m here I just love how serene it is, and how it makes me feel: that even though I’m staring at a computer screen I feel like nature is right at my fingertips. xo)

Launa April 25, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Well, thanks! Nice to know. This one came spilling out so easily.

I too love love love the design of this blog, and am forever in your debt. You did great work, despite my total lack of ability to make decisions, pick colors, or communicate very clearly what was wanted. Glad that you have these skills and are willing to share!

Margaret April 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm

The 6th graders loved this!

Heather Caliri May 13, 2012 at 11:29 am

Putting words into shapes is no mean feat–what power, what breadth there is on the written page.
So I salute you, fellow writer. You may not have lots of superpowers, but you do have one :)

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