Sunday, 1 March 2015

Frozen (me) 01.03.15

In my family, the passing grade was 100%.  Any grade below that, regardless of how it was interpreted by the person handing it out, was a fail.  I've been in courses where an A is anything from between 60% and 90%, and nobody, ever, asked me for 100%.  Still, if I don't watch myself, to me 99% is a fail.  

There is an internal logic in it.  Assuming the test is fair, 100% is an achievable goal. You were given a thing to learn. If you had fully learnt it, you would have gotten 100%. If you didn't, then you had failed to learn something, hence you failed. It's not a good logic, but you can make it sound plausible. From experience I can guarantee you that you can sell it to an idiot kid.

It has corollaries.  If 100% is a pass, you can never triumph.  All you can do is scrape through. Because 100% is, well, kinda hard to achieve, you're constantly in a state of stress (failure is bad, btw. Failure is very bad.). All you end up doing is going from trial to trial, scrabbling to keep your head above the water, and never actually being able to celebrate a success. To succeed you'd have to get over 100%, and most places don't cater for that. Furthermore, the closer you come to 100% the more vexing the failure gets. 2% is a catastrophe, obviously, but 98% is such a shame... you got so close, and still you failed.

The approach worked well for me when it came to academic subjects - that is, if you want your kid to be a mixed-up bundle of anxieties and constantly unhappy but achieve a hell of a lot, it worked well. I've got enough academic awards that I shall never want for wallpaper. Where the approach fucked me up in a big way was when it came to any physical endeavors.

The thing with learning most physical skills is that you usually have to practice them. Unless the skill is uber-simple or you're a natural, you don't generally pick something up straight up. While you practice, get this, you're clearly not achieving 100%. So practicing is a constant series of failures. It doesn't matter if you got it the second time you try - you've clocked up a failure and a mere pass. On balance, you failed. If you have to try 100 times, that's 99 fails and a pass. Just go kill yourself, kid; you're a waste of skin.

By the time I was 7-8, I was incapable of doing anything physical if anyone was watching. I was a pretty normal kid when it came to enjoying physical activities, provided there was nobody there. The moment I felt that my efforts were being measured, or even just noticed, I'd choke up. The only way not to fail was not to try. By the time I was 11-12, I was the nerdy kid who just wasn't into sports (apart from free climbing and mountaneering and hiking and cycling and yoga and anything else I could do where there weren't people watching... but those didn't count, obviously...). The only subject I ever came close to failing was PE in high school, though I still maintain that me stopping the teacher getting off with my best friend might have been a contributing factor. I also knew I'd never manage to learn to play a musical instrument; I tried, but after a whole five violin lessons I wasn't getting anywhere, so the lessons were stopped. No, I'm not joking. Regardless of how it came to be, the mythical figure of "Anna who just isn't into physical stuff" was born.

It's interesting how once you create those myths it's hard to shake them off, regardless of how much of a mismatch with reality they are. I know that I can't do stuff because I'm too slow (though fast enough to dodge countless dog bites) and too weak (though I'm ridiculously strong for my size) and have no stamina (but I could keep up with men twice my size at work) and too uncoordinated (though my current job hinges on fine motor skills) and just not brave enough (eh? what? what??).

It would be ok, if I didn't like so many physical activities. I want to ride horses and sword fight and shoot bows and climb mountains and slither around caves and be a ninja. It feels a part of me, my birthright, my calling. And I try, and I fail in my fucked up little head, and it kills me. Sometimes it makes me mad, sometimes it makes me sad. Mostly it makes me feel as if my limbs had been amputated and replaced with something incredibly inferior, something that doesn't obey me and impedes me and gets me so frustrated that I wish I could tear it all up and set it on fire and piss on it.

Sometimes I forget all that.  I'm rolling or falling or not falling or just in the moment, and it feels so pure and blessed and I don't care how it looks and if it's right. It feels right. It feels like my right. And then the instructor comes and tells me how it's ok, but my hands were too low and I was leaning back and my feet were too far apart, and it all falls apart all over again.

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