Learning Stuff About Learning Stuff

I am feeling very optimistic and hopeful about my life, especially for the coming year.  Lately, as some of you may have noticed, I have felt kind of discouraged about my lack of useful skills.  Things like this seem to come up when a person is getting closer to graduating from college, I have noticed.  Anyway, I was just generally kind of bummed about knowing a lot of useless information, and being interested in really random things with no apparent money-making potential, and not knowing useful things like carpentry or foreign languages.  I had horrible visions of being middle aged, working at K-mart, and never having another adventure ever again.  For about two days I seriously considered becoming a dental hygienist.  I even kind of got excited about the prospect, as I have always wanted to play with those models of jaws and teeth in dentists’ offices.  Weston and my mom both discouraged me from pursuing this career by reminding me that I’m not really all that interested in making money, taking science classes, or dealing with people who have gingivitis.  They are right, of course.

And I’m being silly about things, anyway.  I got all worked up because I thought I was going to have to make do for the rest of my life with only the things I know now, which includes a lot about various religions, a little bit about travel blogs, and nothing about making, fixing, cleaning, or growing anything.  I was very much in the mode of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  But then today I remembered two things.  Number one, I am neither old nor a dog (but dogs are pretty sweet and I am very interested in owning an old dog that knows a lot of tricks), and number two, I learned how to whistle this year!  My whole life, I had never been able to whistle.  I thought it was a lost cause.  Then, after twenty years and not so much as a peep coming out when I tried, I accidentally whistled.  That whole day I practiced until I could legitly whistle, and as some of you might remember, I mass-texted everyone to let them know how excited I was that I could finally whistle!  So I know that this has been a long-winded and round about way of letting you know that I learned a life lesson today, but I realized that I have my whole life ahead of me to learn stuff, and that is super exciting to me.  I am excited for the year to come, because I am going to try to learn things that I had written off before, like driving a stick shift (On that note, any takers for teaching me how?).  I am going to try to learn other things, too, even though I sometimes get nervous that I am too old or too far behind to do so.  The example I am thinking of right now is learning foreign languages, and learning them well, not just being able to say, “You have porkrinds in your pants” (the full extent of my Spanish abilities).  I know of a lot of people who are fluent or at least proficient in multiple languages, and this makes me depressed about my own inability to communicate.  However, I read a travel blog the other day about a guy who was in his mid-thirties and only spoke English, and in like five years he became a polyglot and knows like twelve languages fluently.  The whole point of his blog is to show that you don’t have to be a genius or a savant to learn multiple languages at any age, you just have to work hard and make sacrifices.  He lived in Spain for six months or so and could only speak a few words of Spanish when he decided to really learn Spanish.  He gave up speaking English altogether for a month, relying on gesturing and broken Spanish to communicate, even though it was hard and there were plenty of people he could converse with in English.  After a month he had significantly improved his Spanish, and it made him want to learn other languages.  He just dives in an learns a language, working really hard to communicate in that language and not in English whenever possible, and writes a blog about how to be like him.  But his main point is that if you want to learn something, you don’t have to be especially adept or learn it when you are young, you just go for it full-on.  I would like to take his advice and work really hard at learning as many languages as possible, and learning other things as well.  So if you would like to contribute to Mary’s Rosetta Stone fund, please feel free.  ;)  I decided that I am going to stop thinking that if I haven’t learned something by now, then I never will, because I have a lot to learn.  And not just those life lessons that you pick up along the way–which of course I have a lot of those to learn–but concrete, practical, useful things.  Like gardening and fixing my own bike and cooking something that doesn’t come with instructions on the box.  And how atoms and electricity (supposedly) work.  If you have things that you could teach me, I would be very interested in learning them.  If you have things that you would like to learn as well, I would be more than happy to learn things together.  And if you have use of my limited knowledge and skills, I would love to teach you.  I know a little bit about how to crochet and way more yarn than I could use in a lifetime, so we could start there if you would like.

I have had many fascinating conversations this week.  I had the same conversation with both Ole Martin and Thomas, though at separate times.  Basically, I made the statement that I think humankind as a whole used to be a lot smarter and more well-rounded in terms of knowledge, and that the majority of the population now knows very little, including how to survive, which is really messed up.  I said that there might be a few people every now and then who come along and push civilization a little further with their technological developments, but the end result is that the mass of society just relies on those technological developments, to the point where we can’t function without them.  I don’t truly know how a computer or a microwave or a car or especially the internet works, and even if I knew theoretically how they worked, I could never build a microwave from scratch if I needed to.  I also said that the majority of people think they are smart, though, because we all “kind of” know how these things work, and we also know a lot of “important” information, like history and pop culture.  But truly, if all of our accumulated technological developments disappeared somehow (robot rapture?), we would be screwed.  Mike Dollins would be the only one to survive, as he has been preparing for this day for many years, and even has the twenty-gallon jug of water from 1981 stored in the basement to prove it.  Also, he listens to a lot of books on tape about survival skills and being Native American and stuff like that, so I’m pretty sure he would make it.  The rest of us are dead, for sure.

I think Ole Martin disagreed with me, but that is to be expected as he is one of those physicist smart people I was talking about, the ones who pull civilization along.  He can’t relate to we mere mortals.  I think Thomas generally agreed with me, and he brought up a good point that I think explains what I was trying to say a little better.  He said that people nowadays are so specialized, that we can be super smart about some things, especially random things that people devote their lives to (like poetry about the Atlantic Ocean by Portuguese dockworkers of the seventeenth century…yes, that is a real doctoral dissertation by one of my professors), but can be totally stupid about most other things, including how to survive on our own.  But the thing is, we don’t realize we are stupid because with technology we have gotten so used to surviving that we don’t even have to think about it anymore.  Therefore we can do things we like, such as devoting our lives to Portuguese poetry.  Our priorities have changed from knowing things that used to matter, like how to kill animals or know which plants are poisonous and which ones aren’t, to things that we think matter, now that we have gotten really good at this whole survival-a-species-thing.  Thomas said that people have gotten bad at remembering things, which is true.  So hopefully someone wrote this important stuff down!  I am not saying that we should go back to a hunter-gatherer society or anything, but sometimes it just freaks me out how we are all coasting along based on the specialized knowledge of a very few individuals.  This week has just been a combination of me thinking about how much people as a whole, myself very much included, don’t know much useful stuff, and how I really want to learn some of that useful stuff.  It is good to have friends that I can have these conversations with, because many times they challenge me to reconsider what I thought about something.  Weston probably knows this better than anyone, considering how many arguments/conversations we have had about anthropological stuff.  I can’t ever let him win or let the conversation die.  I’m sorry about that, Weston.  Just thought I should let you know that you really are smart and you really do change my mind on stuff, even if I just want to be right about something.

Today Thomas and I rode bikes to Vondelpark, which I think is the biggest park in Amsterdam.  At least, it looks like that from the picture on the map.  I had a lot of fun riding around, even if it was raining a bit.  After the park we looked at the map again, and saw a picture of a park with a chicken symbol.  The map key did not tell us what they chicken symbol was supposed to mean, so obviously we went on a hunt for the chickens of Amsterdam.  We ended up at a children’s farm/petting zoo thing but we did not go inside because we felt like parents would think we were creepy pedophiles.  We rode around some more, with the rain slowly but steadily worsening as we went.  We got coffee and ate at Wok to Wok again, and after we warmed up from being inside, we decided to go home while the rain let up a little.  Literally like four minutes after we left Wok to Wok, it started raining/snowing/sleeting really hard.  I was wearing my glasses, so I could not see a thing.  I just tried to follow Thomas’s back light and not die.  Also, at this point I should mention that I think my bike’s name should be either Rattletrap or Metal Gear Solid, due to the fact that part of the front fender came apart and clangs nonstop, the bell rings every time I go over a crack in the road or hit a bump, there is a very high probability that it will fall apart at any moment, and if I put in anything other than third gear, it slips out of gear every five seconds, sending me careening out of control, unable to pedal my way to safety.  We finally made it home, alive but completely drenched.

This is Thomas drying his hat and gloves on the heater.  Notice how soaked his jeans are, because that’s how mine were.

Completely Drenched

Thomas is a good person.  I feel like my grandma or someone is secretly paying him to be my friend and go bike riding with me even though I am mentally retarded at it.  So…sorry for the ridiculously long update!  I did not realize I had found so much to say since…Friday or whenever I last posted.  I’m going to go read for my classes while I’m still on this I’m-gonna-learn-something kick.  We will see how long it lasts!



EDIT:  Yesterday was an all-time high in visitors to the blog!  So, thanks guys!


11 responses to “Learning Stuff About Learning Stuff

  1. This post makes me the utmost of happy.
    I would be delighted to teach you how to drive a stick shift, if you want. Maybe we can trade and you can teach me about crocheting in return, or about religion, or anything else.

  2. awww, my precious child….you are wise beyond your years. I have always told you to try and learn one new thing every day, and that is still my advice. Don’t be discouraged by what you don’t know today, and don’t discount all you do know today. Other than the obvious benefit of your knowledge(Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy, etc.) you have to know that you have much to share…..you have always had a thirst for knowledge, i believe it has helped you get where you are today. I love reading your blog, and i am not the only one, as you can tell by the replies you get. We all look forward to reading it, it is tender, and touching, and hilarious! This summer we will:
    1. Fix your heat
    2. Grow something we can eat straight out of the garden
    3. Go somewhere and practice public transportation
    4. Have dad teach us how to purify water!
    i love you, baby girl!

  3. Tienes chicharrones en tu pantalones.

  4. First, thank you for providing something fun to read in these desperate times (working late on my homework due tomorrow).

    I don’t think that people are getting worse at remembering stuff, quite the opposite. Yes, the stuff that we remember may not be crucial to survival in the wilderness but still.. I believe that this whole “Oh I don’t know anything” slowly began when people started to get different assignments in life. Some went hunting, some made clothes and some collected berries and fish. The hunters only knew hunting, the berry gatherers knew which berries they could eat and not die. Throughout time people got more and more specialized. They had to, no one could know everything. It’s like we build on each other to make something great. The complexity of our society today is incomprehensible for anyone living in it. No one knows how everything works. I think it’s great that we delegate different tasks to different people. Though, some tasks may be more “important” than others (poetry about the Atlantic Ocean by Portuguese dockworkers of the seventeenth century might be one of the not so important ones…). But even the “unimportant” ones just adds to the complexity of what humans as a whole know.

    This might be a little abstract (I’ve been doing mathematics for two whole days, so bear with me):
    Look at human knowledge as a ball. The forefront of what we know is the surface of the ball and every person is born in the center of the ball. As time goes by the ball grows as people attain more knowledge. More and more people are needed at the forefront of knowledge to gain more knowledge and further expand the ball. Another result is that it becomes a long way for people born at the center to see the forefront of knowledge. Most people don’t expand the knowledge but lives somewhere closer to the center of the ball. People use the knowledge that other people has found before them.
    When we are born we only know our instincts. Had we lived 10 000 years ago we would then go on to learn about hunting or gathering berries, information close to the center of the ball. But, we don’t need to know that stuff so our parents (who doesn’t know that either) pick us up and teach us stuff other stuff further away from the core knowledge of surviving. The center of the now large ball of knowledge, becomes a void of which only survival experts know about. The information becomes outdated since we now live in houses and buy stuff at K-Mart. The question you pose is: “Is there something wrong about people ‘coasting along’ on other peoples knowledge?”, No. Is this reply getting a bit too long and complicated? Yes. Is that going to stop me? No.

    Everyone (maybe exept for the survival experts) think that they are ‘just coasting along’. Even those at the forefront of knowledge:
    >”Oh, I only know about quantum fluctuations in Bose-Einstein Condensates. There’s so much stuff I don’t know.”
    >”All I know is how to mix the chemical components of toothpaste. There’s so much stuff I don’t know.”
    >”I’m not good at anything, except how to make bicycle locks. There’s so much stuff I don’t know.”

    As the ball increases, and the surface of the ball increases, the distances on the surface also increase. And people feel more useless and insignificant. No matter how much one knows.

    So should people feel useless for not “knowing anything”? No, they should not. As the knowledge of humans as a whole increase, the knowledge of a single individual compared to that knowledge will decrease.

    Sorry for posting this long and probably boring thing about a ball (wtf?) and not making any sense at all.

    Here’s something for you to learn!

    Det var virkelig hyggelig at du kom med en oppdatering på bloggen din akkurat nå. Jeg hadde sikkert dødd forran datamaskinen om jeg ikke hadde funnet noe interessant og morsomt å lese på. Jeg får vel gå tilbake til å jobbe litt med den oppgaven jeg skal levere inn i morgen. Er du ledig på tirsdag? kanskje vi kan finne på noe?

    Ha det bra
    -Ole Martin

  5. Mary,

    I love your quest for knowledge. I too, love learning about new things and have always wanted to be multilingual. I can speak French but not as fluently as I would like. I also know the alphabet in sign language and a few other signs and can count in Spanish but I would love to just carry on conversations in those languages. I so enjoy your blog. I feel like I get to share in your Amsterdam travels. You inspire me to go for my dreams. :) Love you!


  6. My dear niece, I have always had a secret dream to be a multi linguist so I could save the world. I believe that communication (or the lack thereof) is the main cause of strife, especially among intellectuals. I know you to be a great judge of character, so learn me this: why do people take out their anger on inanimate objects such as the computer or printer? I don’t want to say ‘That should make it work better’. Then they will be mad at me. I love this blog so much, I love that you have friends that are so smart and are taking good care of you. And Ole Martin, I really got a great visual from your ball theory. Love ya to pieces!
    Your favorite Aunt (behind Kelly) Linda

  7. Je Favoriete Neef

    I really enjoy reading your blog! And that’s surprising, because I’m not much of a reader. (unless of course it involves vampires and werewolves!) :D If this whole learning thing doesn’t last, if all else fails, you should consider being a writer. And, btw, google translator is your best friend when people use unfamiliar languages on your blog!
    Lots of Love,
    Your Favorite Cousin(behind Tyler, of course), Becca.

  8. By the way. I have the Rosetta Stone. If you want a copy, just let me know ;)

  9. When you move into my party house you can use my Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish. We can practice as we float in the pool!
    My dad taught me to drive a stick. One morning he said lets go to Nebraska and threw me the keys! Trial by fire I learned the stick quickly. So I will be happy to teach you.
    Tyler and I have been asking you for years to teach us how to crochet!!
    Dont give your bike a bad name or it will always break down on you. I still like blue gema!
    Skype me soon. I have to tell you how excited Mikey was with your post card!
    love you

  10. First of all, I didn’t think you would catch on to Thomas so quickly. Tell him I can’t pay him anymore because we have been caught. I knew you would like him, he is kind and generous to a fault. Please be nice to him and he will keep you safe in Amsterdam.

    Your Aunt Kelly does have Rosetta stone in Spanish and Louise has Italian. That is a start on your quest to be bilingual. I love your blog and that Skype is fun too.
    I love you and miss you!

  11. Hi Mary,

    I too enjoy your blog immensely! I’m with Becca about the writer thing. Sounds like you’ve met some very interesting people and made some good friends already. I’m worried about your bike though. You wear a helmet, right? Hopefully you can find some one to help fix it or is getting another one an option maybe?

    I appreciated Ole Marins’ “ball” analogy too. I think it has merit as far as explaining why/how our knowledge base has become so specialized and less practical. I also think you make a good point and should go with your strong desire to know things more foundational, like how to grow things, and build things, and speak different languages certainly. Personally I believe God placed that curiousity and thirst for knowledge in you and all of us and I’m so glad you are “learning things about learning things”. I think you’re very wise to learn as much as you can of the “hows” and “whys” in this world. I however took 8 years of french in school but lost any fluidity I had in it years ago. It’s true if you don’t use it, you lose it. I know the sign alphabet and a few words. My dad also taught me how to drive a stick shift and one of his favorite things to do was make me start on a very steep hill when it was snowing or raining over and over again. I hated it at the time but once I got the hang of it in those conditions I knew I could drive one anywhere. It really gave me a sense of confidence. It looks like you’ve got plenty of other folks capable of showing you that skill too and I hope you take them up on it as you never know when it might come in handy. Also, I know a guy who is a long time cyclist and does all his own bike repairs and maintenance and I’d be happy to hook you up with him when you’re stateside again.( Not a lot of good to you right now, huh.) I know you already know this but you’ve got great resources for parents too. Your mom’s green thumb is exceptional and so are her veggies and cooking! And your dad is like totally Mr. Carpenter among many other things. I mean the new bathroom says it all! I liked your artwork in there too. Very sweet.

    This blog entry really hit home for me in regards to wanting to know how to do more useful kinds of things. I’m proof it’s never to late to start learning Mary. I used to really think about this sort of thing a lot, but the last few years is when I actually made a point of doing it, at least more than I ever did. Your love for learning will serve you well. And hey, someone once said the day we stop learning is the day we die. Though I personally think we’ll keep on learning in heaven, I mean what fun would it be if we knew all there was to know and there was no thirst for more, then how could we enjoy the feeling of having our thirst being quenched? I guess that ‘s a whole other discussion though. Sorry, I digress A LOT!

    I would love to learn how to crochet someday. Other people have tried to teach me but I just don’t get it. I’m willing to try again though it may take a saints’ patience to work with me on it. Nevermind, I fear the problem was my lack of patience.

    Anyway, for years my dad was really big into honing his survival skills in the wilderness or in the event of a complete and lasting power outtage and I’d say your dad and mine would probably be 2 of the few who would make it no problem, without all our modern technology and convenience. Phil Steinbuch, my dad, actually knows and remembers things like which parts of which herbs, plants and berries are edible and which aren’t, as well as what if any medicinal value they have and how to prepare it. I’m sure my dad would be delighted to go on a nature hike with us sometime if you wanted to learn about that sort of thing. I credit God and my dad for my love and respect for the outdoors and for my desire to have some survival skills and not be so dependent on other people’s inventions and brainpower. I’m sorry for blathering on and on. I just dig your adventurous spirit. You make my heart sing! Be safe and keep the blogs coming.
    I love you,
    aunt tara

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