Wednesday, May 20, 2020

not an expert

As I recall, it was my friend the late Kate Yule who once wrote an article trying to figure out how good a cook she was. I found that I identified precisely with her predicament, so I think I'm on the same level.

What Kate said was, on the one hand there's people who manage to burn a pot of water, don't know what to do with an egg, or find "heat in microwave for 2 minutes" to be a challenge worthy of their mettle (and sometimes take a weird pride in all this). Next to them, people like Kate or I are whizzes, experts, virtuosi.

On the other hand, there's professional chefs. Next to them, we're fumblers, complete beginners.

Somewhere, there's a level of everyday mastery, basic competence and understanding of how the things you do work, but without artistry or complex technique. Put it this way: the kinds of recipes that Julia Child wrote, I'd find very difficult or unnecessarily time-consuming. (My goal in cooking is to have dinner, not to spend time in the kitchen.) But the kind of recipes you see on the backs of packages, or that get published in local newspapers (food columns in major papers are another matter), those are easy and I get a lot of ideas from them.

Same is true with computers and electronics. I have a basic end-user's knowledge of how things work and go together, supplemented - as with cooking - with some hard-earned experience when things didn't go right. That was enough to make me my mother's computer guru, a status true of a lot of children my age. On the other hand, I know professional techies socially, and most of the time when they speak of their jobs I can't even figure out what they're talking about.

Where does that leave me, then? Willing to dive in to deal with certain situations, but always ready to stop when I run up against the limits of my knowledge. Recently I heard it said that I think I know more than I do, and that really hurt, because knowing how much I know and asking for help when matters get beyond there is one thing I always do. For instance I was once tasked with replacing the fill valve in a toilet tank. I figured I could do that myself, and I did. But when the ancient flex water pipe started to leak when I reattached it, I stopped, re-closed the valves, and called a plumber. That I knew I couldn't deal with, and I wasn't too proud to admit it immediately. Something similar happened with B's monitor, where neither the instructions nor the unit's behavior was clear to me, though it was up and working when I was done, if with fragility.

Driving. I'm not a particularly good driver, but I'm competent. I can drive a stick shift, which most people today can't, but that's because I was trained at it at an early stage. What I am really good at is road navigation. I know that not because I feel skilled at it, but because it feels easy, because a vast number of people seem completely helpless at it, and because real experts don't intimidate me as they do in the above fields.

Typing. As a professional secretary, which I temped at for a while, I was no better than moderate. But I was a pretty fast and accurate copy-typist until my hands wore out.

Sports. That's a good case, because (when I could still do active sports) I divided them into two groups: those I was minimally competent at (though never any more than that) and those I couldn't do at all. That's a fundamental distinction not often-enough made. Anything requiring hitting a moving ball with an implement, forget it: tennis, softball, or anything else of either ilk, I'm laughably bad at, like the person who can't boil water. I couldn't hit the ball at all, or make it go anywhere if I accidentally did. But with hand (or foot) is another matter: I could dribble and shoot a soccer ball or basketball in the prescribed manners, so long as there was nobody trying to prevent me. In a game, there always is, so I was of no use in those. My best game of that sort was volleyball, where the opposing players all have to stay on the other side of the net. I also found a knack for golf, where there's an implement but the ball stays still until you hit it. I think I could have developed into a fairly decent amateur if I'd had more of a taste for the game, but I'm not much of a game-player at all, even sedentary ones. I limit myself these days to computer playing of klondike solitaire (at which I think I'm good, because I've heard people say they never win games, whereas I often do) and the occasional tetris (at which I've never gotten above level 10, which is not considered very high by expert standards).

So my question is, does this make sense to you? How do you parse it, and where do you sit on the scale?

1 comment:

  1. For cooking, I'm on the expert/non-pro level. I have not yet seen a recipe I couldn't make, given the time and materials. I enjoy cooking for its own sake.

    For computer stuff, I'm somewhere in the expert area for certain things. I know less than software engineers about programming, less than network engineers about networks and networking, but I write professional-level documentation in several areas.

    Sport: 30 years of martial arts practice, 2nd degree black belt, good eye-hand coordination.

    I type well.