Friday, April 22, 2016

Surfing Safari

 I have been sorting my box of nostalgia, looking for clues to what went horribly wrong, and I came on these surfing photos from what I think is the summer of 1988 because I bleached my hair blonde a year later. '88 was a classic summer of pure bohemian insanity. Notice the crystal clear sky and bright sunshine of New England! And the huge waves with nice point breaks of Northern Atlantic? Just begging to be surfed. Ha! I've seen bigger waves in a lake.
I always wore my Red Sox hat, even surfing. Everyone adored me, though. Mr. Kodiak at top left and J.J. The Lady Killer bottom left.

The waves broke, literally, in 14 inches of water. And the 'wave' was only a wave for maybe 3 seconds, after which it became white froth and the fins of the board would dig into the sand and pitch the rider forward onto his bean.

What went wrong? Well, I never learned to surf. I definitely found better surf spots, but I am not a huge fan of swallowing gallons of radioactive, polluted salt water. Call me crazy. We move on but I have no problem looking back. One thing that I pine for is my collarbones and shoulders that had not yet been separated. When I separated my collarbones (both collarbones) and also separated my right shoulder on an epic trip to Alaska I became permanently deformed. Only the most recent two years of rehabilitation of my spine and shoulders has me at a point where I can reach over my head and sleep without pure agony. Back in 1988 I had no problem sleeping. Now I gotta apologize for being a cripple with chronic neck pain. Oh, pardon my selfishness while I move to Mexico to rehab my deformed spine!

Summer 1989

Oggy, demonstrating how to sell cigarettes. I got a big bonus because it was my last check. I left for Alaska shorty after.

I made a lot of mistakes during the summer of 1989. Making $100 a week working nights at a convenient store wasn't one of the mistakes because it gave me this great photo of me with my bleach blonde hair (it was a fad for men to bleach their hair blonde in 1989 using Sun-in or hydrogen peroxide. Of course I left it in too long and it turned orange!) and my camouflage fatigue army surplus pants at my job in a store that is much changed. Good lord! But I grew my mustache out and didn't bleach that? I'm surprised I wasn't preemptively put in a sex offender's database. (Apparently, I didn't see the sun very much that summer because I'm as pale as an albino ferret. Actually, this reminds me why Summer in New England sucks so bad because the sun never shines. The weather is awful in New England about 340 days a year while 20 days sprinkled in September and October are nice. Only people who have never been to Atlixco, Mexico or Tilaran, Costa Rica or Masaya, Nicaragua or Quito, Ecuador would think New England weather is "ok.")

No, the mistakes were deciding to join up a asphalt paving crew way the hell out in Rochester and busting my ass for almost no money hauling hot asphalt onto driveways and sidewalks. What a shitty job, but I was trying to learn the hard way about construction. And I remember deciding that if I played baseball for the Legion team then I would never be able to work and I was trying to save money because I had enrolled in the University of Alaska and would have to cross the continent by car and I intended to fund a Denali expedition. So I went to work.

Looking back, there was no good decision that year. College was a bad choice, working was a bad choice, baseball was a bad choice, girls, Red Sox, jerking off, building log cabins. It was all too much and too soon and I'd spent too much time being pulled one way or another by false convictions and conventional wisdom, which I now recognize as flawed. Whatever everyone else was doing, I should've done the opposite. I should've bought a motorcycle and ridden to Chile. Or moved to Nepal to do some thinking. I needed to cleanse myself of this insane bleach blonde conformity and stop pretending or trying to fit in. Actually, this deformed Halloween costume is an example of ME TRYING TO CONFORM. How fucked up is that? I wasn't trying to be different. No, I was doing what every one else was doing. I was drinking and fucking and driving shitty cars and bleaching my hair and wearing clothes from the military. Why? I was trying to fit in to the conventional bullshit so I would not stand out. Sure, college was 5000 miles away, but it was still a classroom full of tired 20 year old kids who couldn't wipe their ass. It was still conventional and would never work for me. I had only stayed in high school because of baseball and once I "graduated" I realized high school had done nothing but attempt and fail to conform me to politically correct standards of "Man who fucks and makes babies and produces plastic shit for mass consumption." My teachers were simple minded family men who got into teaching because it gave them summers off to golf and travel. This was before the housing market spiked and drove everyone but the software developers out of New England. But as far as giving much thought to what they were teaching they all failed miserably. They were conventional and the company line was to produce more company men. And this photo demonstrates in a twisted way what that produces....a bleach blonde freak in military clothes selling cancer sticks and diabetes beverages to drunk street prostitutes. People were proud of me! I got a bonus! Congratulations!

I don't regret these times because I didn't know any better. I know I failed myself as much as I was failed. I have a better understanding of what it takes to reach teenagers and I know it's a rare trait. But is it normal to go through 16 years of public education, hundreds of teachers, and not be able to identify one's own learning style? Or never have a lesson that analyzes pedagogy as it applies to you specifically? Yes, it's normal because it requires an elite kind of teacher who does not lecture, but guides a student to monitor his own learning, which is the fundamental skill needed: self-reflection.
For instance, in Josh Waitzkin's* book The Art of Learning he writes about a Dr. Carol Dweck's research into learning styles. The simplified theory proposes there are entity learners and incremental learners. This is the stuff that would make sense to teach to someone younger than 45 years old! But better late than never? So, Entity learners believe they have inherited ability. Incremental learners believe ability is progressive. When given easy math problems, they both perform equally. When given math problems too difficult, they both get the wrong answer, but the Entity learners actually think the problems are beyond their limit permanently. They believe there is a limit to their comprehension and when it is reached they are done learning. The math problem they got wrong represents their cement ceiling of comprehension. The Incremental learners believe no such thing and simply see it as material they have never encountered. Fine, but the third math problem they are given is another 'easy' problem, one they can solve. Well, the Incremental learners go back to their known abilities and solve the problem. The Entity learners are actually shaken by the premonition that they have a limit and are too distracted to solve the easy problem. I'm not saying this theory is divine, but I certainly recognize (having taught grade school math) that indeed there are different learning styles and the students themselves are not aware of even the existence of different learning styles. Most of them indeed categorize themselves as 'good' or 'bad' at math, inherently, which I know is false. Yet math teachers blunder on as though Algebra was the problem and not self-reflection. So, the specific age set that deserves to be exposed to learning styles and multiple intelligence theory is exactly the age group that is guarded from this information and is instead given milk and crackers? Why? Because they are too young to make any kind of adjustments? Maybe. Yes, the teacher ought to make some accommodations for multiple learning styles, but ultimately the student is the one who must learn to translate the babbling teacher into something comprehensible. Are they going to learn that magically? They are going to magically adopt coping mechanisms that 100 years of psychology and pedagogical research has not yet reached a conclusion on?

I also know the cost of pondering the universe long enough to reach some original conclusions and I can see why most people skip it and prefer to read the Denny's Menu. You can argue that life is too short to search for meaning and it's better to die bewildered and innocent and dumb because that's how you entered the world. Yes, I can see that argument.

*I've joined a local chess club as a short cut to learning Spanish and Waitzkin is a chess player not afraid to give away his secrets, so I'm reading his interesting Chess confessional after 'borrowing' it from a digital library.
Oggy on the right. A dude who never taught me about point values on the left.
After playing chess for maybe 40 years I was competing against Mario, the chess maestro at the club and he said something like, "El Alfil y el Caballo son iguales. Tres puntos." by means of teaching me in an obvious tone of voice. And after translating this in my head I still had no idea what he was talking about. The Bishop and the Knight have point values? But Chess is not a game of scores, it is a win/lose/draw game. No score is kept so I'd never heard this before. I find this funny because Waitzkin's writes that the first lesson for novice chess students is to learn all the pieces have point values. I guess it's better late than never to get my first chess lesson. The Bishop and Knight are equal to 3 pawns, or Peons. The Rook is 5 pawns and the Queen is 9 pawns. But the funny part is that I had personally put a preference on all these pieces that was completely different and affected my strategy for all the time I've played Chess. I had decided
The Rook was limited because it was a simple shape physically and I associated it with a Private in the army. You might think the pawn should be the private in the army, but actually I associated the pawn with civilian conscripts, those forced into active duty against their will, those to be pitied. Maybe the pawns are at worst National Guard reserve medics in my mind. Ok, and then I decided because the Knight, or Caballo, could float over pieces like a Wizard I felt The Knight was higher value than a Bishop, or Alfil, whom I felt was ideologically limited because he was related to the Church and could only move diagonally, continually blocked by his philosophic hypocrisy, simultaneously worshiping God and also War, a divided intellect. My chess strategy always neglected the Bishop out of disdain, casually harmed the Rook, protected the Pawns (from empathy) and tried to win the game with the Queen and the Knight and the pawns. Now, I might lose a King, whom I felt lots of disdain for since he is useless and arrogant and never truly engages in battle, but I often was consoled because the opponent didn't take my Knight. And with the chance to get a checkmate or take my opponent's Rook, I usually take the Rook, out of spite. Now, who is right?
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.