Posts Tagged ‘learning’

There’s this cooperative game called Hanabi (that I love), where, in order to play a card, you are dependent on hints other players have given you. I decided early on to play with hope. I will hope that my fellow players gave me good hints and didn’t neglect to give me necessary hints. It can backfire when the constraints of the game limit the available hints, and so my fellow players were between a rock and a hard place. …

Anyway. When a person is first learning, a lot of times they don’t know what hints are the most important, or how to give good ones, or maybe they do, but they don’t know the kind of player I am and how I will respond. And so my preference for playing hopefully may be reckless for one round of play. It may leave the hint-er feeling like a failure. (I am disinclined to consider myself the failure.) Hanabi is a game for playing more than once. It is a game for learning people. In watching me respond in a certain way, even if we crashed and burned, now that player knows more about communicating with me in the future.

And one of the humbling beauties of the game is that not only are they learning how I play; I am also learning about how they give hints. So we adapt to each other. I probably won’t stop playing with hope just to adapt to a cautious strategy, but I may adapt to the things they evidently meant to communicate, and the things they think are priorities.

Yeah. But this morning I was thinking about the willingness to teach through failure. In the movie Penelope, a young woman goes to a bar for the first time and the bartender slides her a beer, but she watches it slide on off the counter. “You’re supposed to catch it,” he smiles at the crashed glass, and pours her another, which he slides to her in a second attempt. More than likely, he thought she’d figure it out the first time. Definitely expected her to not let another one hurdle off the end of the counter. But he didn’t have each of his customers go through orientation. He didn’t show them diagrams and examples. He didn’t hold the first beer a few inches from their hand and then give it a slow push to slide gently into the hand he’d made sure was waiting for the pint. He risked trust. He risked wasted beer and broken glass and embarassment.

I’m not going to just play it safe and have a mediocre game. I’m going to play like I think it should be played, and lose very badly a few times in order to become really great players and get great scores more consistently. I guess I could explain things out, train the game before playing (thinking especially of teaching kids), but that kind of defeats what is to me one of the objects of the game: to practice paying enough attention to other people, and putting your fate in their hands, to communicate and cooperate better and better.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn


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In an episode of the old TV show, The Beverly Hillbillies, a back-woods granny convinces a Beverly Hills banker that she has a home-remedy cure for the common cold.  After he’s all excited about the prospect of selling this marvelous discovery, she tells him the instructions that go with it: take with rest and lots of fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be better in 7-10 days.

I like to think about what made Granny believe she had a cure.  Probably there were a lot of competing local “cures” where she came from, and they may have had varying effects on symptoms.  But no one would have considered using no “cure” at all when there was one available, and known to produce the results of delivering the patient from sickness withing a fortnight.  So there was no “control”, no standard in their close-community by which to judge the success of a cure against none at all.

How many times do we do that?  Everyone does a thing, and we believe by tradition and assertion that it must be necessary and valuable and effective.

I appreciate that a growing number of people in my generation are challenging things.  They’re challenging shampoo, soap, the suburban lifestyle, not eating seeds, using synthetic medications to solve health problems.  We challenge assumptions about government and relationships and church.  We want to do things because we have a good reason.

But I want to be on guard against the things yet unchallenged in my life, whether it is flavor combinations or hairstyles or more serious things like my beliefs and philosophies.  It may be harder to receive when it is someone else challenging my ideas and habits, but I want to be open to that, too.  This is the essence of growing and learning, to be unashamed of realizing I was wrong and moving forward.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Orion is out tonight, aiming his bow at the rising moon. We reunite each fall and winter, Orion and I. He is my companion in the stars, keeping the same hours as I. It’s chilly out tonight. Clear in that cool dry way that Colorado is known for.

I’ve been through a lot since last Orion and I were out together. My life is definitely patterned in seasons. Some years have had their own theme, but usually the lessons are shorter and more diverse. This year was a scattered year, learning things that built in each other but not in obvious ways. A soldier will learn to march and learn to shoot, and both are related in that they come in handy during battles, but they don’t really build on each other.

Last year when I was almost twenty-four I almost went crazy. I couldn’t believe the life I had; my life seemed inevitable, not chosen. And I didn’t know how to be a twenty-four year old in my situation. Never had my dreams imagined me here. Yet I came to the conclusion that I ought to be myself, trusting God, and not worry about what twenty-four year olds are supposed to be. So I have told myself many times these months.

I don’t miss the soul-searching that comes with autumn. It comes around each year, and I don’t regret it. Nor do I look forward to the restless questioning. My soul never seems satisfied in the fall, the season of Thanksgiving. This November opens with a focus on open-handed gratitude. That’s what I call it. Each day’s blessings are cause to rejoice, never a reason to demand more.

I don’t require more blessings, but I have learned to ask. Such was my summer theme: Hope. Do I have confidence in my Heavenly Father’s goodness, enough to discuss with Him what I want and rejoice that in Him all answers, yes and no, are yea? Will I dare holding out my heart to wait on Him? And when I did this year, oh! how the peace came in. Before, I was silly not to ask for His good gifts.

Spring was hard, an exercise in love. Love hopes all things. It holds on and does not abandon. But it speaks the truth and rejoices in it rather than in evil. Love means sacrifice in the sense of a drop everything to help attitude. It is consuming, on your mind all the time. God never promised love would be painless. Though love has to do with community, it often feels lonely.

This year has brought thoughts about truth and calling and compromise. Faith and that not-tame God have kept popping up. I asked myself what I was willing to suffer for Christ, and for the first time truly doubted that I would rejoice to risk life and happiness and all I’ve worked for. Rejection has been on my mind lately. I’m more honest about reality than I used to be: eyes open to the vanity and hopelessness apart from the work of God to grace us.

And now that I’m facing twenty-five in the next several weeks, I must praise my God that I have a life that I run after. The friends I have are ones I choose. My weeks are spent doing things I believe are important, not just floating through an existence. Though twenty-five seems to have come upon me without my consent, the rest of my life is intentional. That is due only to the grace of God. He has helped me through some hard decisions. Some of my waiting and patience has ended, and other parts remain.

By many standards this year has little to show for it. I still have not written a book or started a successful business. No prince charming has swept me off my feet. Like Orion, I’m back and rising over the same horizon. But those who know astronomy realize that relative to the rest of the firmament, Orion’s position has changed. He will move among the stars and planets like he has not done in my lifetime. And a new year is here: the Hunter is chasing life down.

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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One, two, three-and, one, two, three-and, one…  Right, left, rock-step, right, left, rock-step, right…  Some things, especially repetitive things requiring concentration, get stuck in my head.  When I learned chess, I started to count knight-moves on every grid I saw, including the patchwork quilt on my bed.  Now I’m thinking the rhythm and steps of swing dancing, actually trying to get the pattern so ingrained in my mind that it becomes subconscious, so that there is hope of doing any but the most basic steps. 

I learned swing dancing from a patient and delighted friend yesterday, but I’m still not very good.  Not learning something after one lesson is difficult for me.  My usual motto is Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s: “If I had ever learnt, I should be a true proficient.”  Experience has taught me that I learn quickly, and can often self-teach (and if there’s a field in which I don’t excel, I “avoid those weaknesses which expose a good understanding to ridicule.”).  But though I have seen others taught to swing, and even snuck some Youtube tutorial video viewings in, I failed to teach myself and so applied to my friend, who was equally amazed that I did not just catch on. 

My sense of rhythm is horribly out of practice.  I think I used to do rather well, and be good at following music.  Lately, I can’t even clap to songs lest I land on the off-beat.  And in swing, apparently rhythm is essential.  First you have to be able to start on the beat, then keep your feet moving – no room for tripping or forgetting a step! – all to the big band beat.  Basic swing is probably a mere step above waltzing.  The box-step of a waltz, on even beats, is quite simple, leaving only the question of direction and (for a woman) following lead.  All the same, my unpracticed feet are quite lost. 

I’d say I went through all the stages and asked almost every question a person could – except I do k now my right from my left.  When we say “right step”, for example, no one expects you to step right; steps aren’t so much, then, about any horizontal motion as about vertical, and the noise made by tapping or stomping.  All this when I thought dancing had to do with smooth, graceful, whole-body lines.  It looks much more fun that way. 

For my entire childhood my favorite movies were the old musicals, not so much ballroom classical Fred Astaire as soft-shoe numbers by Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.  I’d run about the room imitating the dancers, after carefully studying their feet for the moves.  (I should have known feet were the most important and sometimes the only part of dancing.)  Never mind matching the music the same way they did; I’d follow the melody my own way.  Sometimes I would even choreograph my own dances, scribbling out on notebook paper the steps with arrows and abbreviations, full of imaginative innovations all my own.  So I’ve thought about dancing, what goes into it.  I’m as close to being self-taught as possible. 

It was interesting, then, to be both self-teacher and thoroughly taught by another.  I did a bit of self-diagnosing yesterday, identifying areas of confusion and weakness and difficulty to which my obliging teacher applied herself.  There was quite a bit of watching my feet, watching hers, and of pressing my hands to my cheeks in embarrassed failure.  I don’t know that I stepped on any toes, but I caused my friend to step on mine!  When swing dancing, it is important to let knees and even elbows bend.  Otherwise, as my instructor was so flattering to point out, one moves like a slow penguin. 

Just when I was doing well without music, we tried it to a tune from Chocolat – the best swing my friend had, but a little fast for a beginner.  We each learned: she about teaching, and me about remembering which foot comes next.  It took several tries, but I got the hang of the beat, and improved in covering up my mistakes.  Even if I forgot to step with my left foot – which often happened since it never goes anywhere – I remembered where my right one went next, and generally kept up with the music.  If you can’t fake it when you forget a step, you’re doomed to start over.  There’s no getting back into synchronization without a restart.  Only once did we keep going when I lost the beat, and I ended up coming down half a step between hers.  Oops! 

I remember watching figure skating on ice when I was little, and as spectacular as were the triple axel jumps and amazing spins, the performances that moved me, ones I still remember, were beautifully artistic.  No rigid technicality there, the great skaters were so skilled in the difficult moves that they could add grace, training their arms to bend in just the right curve, and the jump to explode into the air just as the music would crescendo.  In competition, this beautiful side of the sport was balanced, in scoring, against the impressive.  As a dreaming girl I had imagined slipping on a pair of skates and gliding serenely across the ice – a dream that crashed with my derriere the first time I actually attempted to balance on that thin metal blade. 

Swing dancing is something like that – so much more romantic in imagination.  Also like ice-skating, there is a lot to be said for being sufficiently confident in the art that one can breathe and move and remember that it is an art, and not a mathematical equation.  “We’ve got to work on the stiffness,” my friend said with a small smile.  And she had warned me earlier in our lessons that eventually I’d have to look at my partner’s face instead of their feet – which I suppose is much more the point of dancing.  The stiffness is still an issue, but maybe I’ll come up with new words to say to the count, words like: point, bend, curtsy, elbows, bend, swing-tap, right, left, rock-step, right…  I made sufficient progress in the hallway of my friend’s house that she didn’t press me.

So my eager and confident teacher decided to drag me into the next level of swing dancing.  Not only must I know the direction of the steps, be able to keep myself up on sore legs unused to such exercise, keep the rhythm, and match the music – I had to learn a special step or two.  Arms pull out, drawing the dancers closer, but askew, begging the step to come across.  I’m so technical.  From which step do we move into a special move?  Which foot comes forward in a cross step, and wait! – to which side does it go?  Does it then go back, or straight into the other side of the X formation?  With much additional thought and practice, including some stepping back and thinking it through with my own feet, deciding I rather needed to tie the left foot to the floor, I correctly danced that step a couple times, too.  But I wouldn’t risk being surprised into a move just yet.  I need to know the schedule, or I’ll be kicking partners, a prospect I find rather embarrassing.

And partners – real ones, not instructors – are really the most frightening things about the whole business.  Aside from the emotional impact of physical contact and eye-gazing, he’s going to have to be forgiving.  The men are also supposed to lead, and they won’t necessarily tell me a schedule of how many steps before a fancy one, or which fancy one.  Am I too afraid to follow, or too desperate to follow, preferring to be carried? 

Wow.  All these childhood experiences are coming back to illustrate.  When I was five or six, I was taking swimming lessons.  Being rather independent, I decided holding my breath was much easier than turning my ear to the side to breathe.  Over short distances my little lungs could handle it until I stood in the shallow end or grabbed the side of the pool.  But during lessons, we in the class were required to swim out into the deep end, around an instructor, and back to the wall.  And the path was too long for me to hold my breath.  I got to the teacher standing in the “deep end” and clung desperately to his shoulders, hoping not to drown and gasping for air.  Happily, now I am much better at breathing as I go, but I remember that helplessly immobile feeling of just needing to survive.  Forget form, forget everything, and just hold on to something or someone you can trust! 

On the few occasions when my friend tried to teach me something new, I flew into that same mode, gripping her hand and falling back into walking or just standing, unable to keep with the dance, trying only to survive until craziness stopped happening and the routine step settled back in.  I’ve already mentioned this is a doomed tactic.  But there are ways to survive, a lot like the regular turn of the head to catch a breath while I swim. 

Earlier this year life was like a brand new, confusing, and even painful dance move.  I was cast into it with plenty of warning, and even with direction, but felt my emotions and mind wavering on the edge of peace and self-control.  In a world whirling around me, each word and decision critical, I walked exercises in sanity by doing things routine, or even by naming everything that caught my eye.  “Door.  Fence.  Bird.  Sidewalk.  Shoe.”  You may think that in itself is crazy, but I was reminding myself of reality, that some things were stable and unchanging. 

In swing dancing, there is a stable reality to which I can cling.  That original pattern of steps never changes.  I may place my right foot in a different direction, be swung up and over heads and spun across the floor, but while all of it is happening, I can think to the beat: right, left, rock-step, right.  And even if I have to wait a bit to get my footing, I can hold onto the dance and come in as soon as possible.  Or at least my friend can.  She demonstrated.  That’s survival in swing dancing. 

I’ve got the concept wrapped into my brain.  Now it’s just a matter of rote practice.  “Count with me.  Don’t try to move your feet.  Just get the feel of the count.” 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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