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.
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!