Monday, July 7, 2008


Don't let the title fool you, this is a post about skill sets. The skills I have, the skills I don't have, the ones I wish I had, and the ones I am almost proud not to possess.

There are certain skills I wish I possessed. I wish I could draw a straight line. I can't draw a straight line with a ruler. I wish I could do carpentry. Any kind of carpentry. I can't put a screw in a wall with a power screwdriver. And dancing. I would like to be able to dance. What I do now is a series of dry heaves accompanied by off key singing .. singing being liberally applied here ..

But there are skills that I do not have that I am proud not to possess. To whit:

1) I am proud that I have some basic bush skills. I've lived and worked in the Canadian north and I've had some basic survival training. I am by no means Survivorman but give me a compass, a knife, a good pair of boots, I could get myself out of a major jam.

I am not ashamed of the fact that if you dropped me into any large enclosed mall anywhere in the world I would become desperately lost before your footsteps faded. When looking at those mall maps, I see the You Are Here mark and never have a clue where "Here" actually is. I can't use stores as reference points because I have no idea what Aritiza and Aldo and Stockhomme are ... so they have no relevance to me. Even if I was able to say "Ok, this is the Gap" it does me no good, I don't where it is, so I can't reference it to anything else.

2) I am proud of the fact that I am a good cook. I used to do it for a living and over the years since then I have increased my knowledge base. I can make a decent roux or mirpois, I understand what the different cuts of meat are and what do to do with them and know what herbs to add to the pot.

I am not ashamed that I cannot make Kraft Dinner. For the first years of my relationship with Collette she dreaded when it was K-D night (we first lived together as students so Kraft Dinner night was not a rarity) because she knew she was going to be presented with some orange, gelatinous mass with no resemblance to fast food. Kraft Dinner is not food; I am firmly convinced that it is a discarded formula for a new chemical weapon delivery system. I am not a chemist. I am a cook.

3) I am proud of the fact that I can master fairly complex electronic technologies like digital camcorders and non linear editing systems. Give me a camera or an editing program and I can get the thing functioning in a relatively short period of time. Yes, this is my job, but part of the reason I do this is because I have an affinity for it.

I am not ashamed of the fact that I am baffled by cell phones. We have probably the most basic cell phone you can get, it does not even flip up. I can't pick up messages from it. I can take a camcorder, drill down into its menu and find the most obscure setting and change it; but I can't program a new number into my cell phone. This is probably an age thing. You keep phone numbers in some ragged, coffee-stained little notebook you can never find, not on the phone itself.

3B) Continuing with the electronic dichotomy, I am proud of the fact that I know the proper bandwidth of a video signal or what 0 db oscillating tone is used for in regards to video production.

I am not ashamed of the fact that home electronics, for me, hold all the relevance of sanskrit. Collette, myself and our friend Michele were housesitting one weekend and were going to avail ourselves of the house earners entertainment system. Between the three of us, we have enough academic paper to wallpaper a house. It literally took us over an hour to figure out how to get the image from the DVD player to appear on the TV. I'm sure an eight year old could have cracked the code in a few minutes. I was also baffled by a DVD player at family function. I had created a complex and artistically pleasing sideshow to be displayed but could not hook up the DVD player to the TV screen. In my studio I have computers, VTRs, TVs, monitors, audio amps, etc all hooked to together into a complex "video chain" but I could not get a DVD and TV to properly function in a church basement. Perhaps it is a consumer versus pro thing, I really don't know.

4) I am proud of the fact that I have fairly well developed skills when working with dogs. I am not a dog trainer but I have been around dogs my entire life and I am extremely comfortable with them. I understand dogs. I know how to communicate with them. When in the dog parks here I see people who clearly have no idea what their dogs are "telling" them. To me, it is a question of watching the body language. Recently Collette and I were on a bus with a guy who had his bull mastiff with him. Another passenger asked if she could pet the dog and the guy said Sure. As soon as that woman put her hand out to the dog we saw trouble. The dog's head went back, his ears went flat, and his jaw tightened. The dog's owner did not see it coming. We did. Snap ... the dog nipped the woman's fingers. I was amazed that the owner could not read his own dog.

I am not ashamed that, most of the time, that I have no idea what children are telling me. I mean the little ones, let's say under the age of 6. They can come up to me, look me dead in the eye, tell me a story and they may as well be speaking Esperanto. No clue. I can't understand the word, I can't read the body language; to me they sound like Charlie Brown's teacher. Lots of noise but little comprehension. Perhaps this should disturb me, after all, I have it on good authority that children really are human beings and I should be able to understand them. I'm reserving judgement on that. I like kids, I love my nieces and nephews but I am always searching for the pods in the basement.

5) I am proud of the fact that I have excellent reading comprehension. I can follow complex fictional story lines, I understand references, I get analogies, I can put the bits and pieces together. In high school I was usually the only kid in class who could actually interpret contemporary poetry. In a college lit class I was the only one who got that a character's father had died in the past; to me it was obvious but everyone else had to have it explained to them.

I am not ashamed that I cannot order food in a fast food restaurant. I want this to be simple. I like places that have pictures. I want to walk in, point at the picture and say "Two of those to go" but it sometimes does not work out that way. I order the combo meals to make it easy. But apparently the all included combo meal is rarely that. There is always something extra .. "Do you want .." or "do you not want ..." I get baffled. It's fast food. It's easy. Don't force me to make a decision. Really, fast food people, don't talk to me. Follow the finger that is pointing to the picture and get me my damn meal. If I have to explore options with you, the meal will not be a happy one.

6) I am proud of that fact that I have good written communication skills. I've been a writer my whole life and I have been paid for writing, in terms of script and copy. I can usually express myself clearly and, as mentioned above, I have good reading comprehension. If we communicate via mail, I am going to understand what you are telling me and let you know my point of view fairly clearly.

I am not ashamed of the fact that I cannot really communicate via telephone. I don't know why that is. It isn't just the lack of visual cues, because writing doesn't provide that either. I just know that a lot of the time, if we are talking on the phone, and you are presenting me with some complex story, chances are I am only catching bits and pieces of it. Probably this is an attention span issue; if you are not right there in front of me to hold my interest or if I am not forced to concentrate on a piece of paper, my brain is going to take a little side trip down the Lack of Focus Canal. Sorry, this is probably rude; I call it probable brain damage.

I'm not sure what any of this means, perhaps that as much as you know, as many thing as you can do, you can't know it all. We admire "renaissance" people because of their ability to excel in many different areas. Most people have their areas of expertise and they are expert at them because they have concentrated on that area, they have devoted time to it and in the course of that, they have to let other skills fall by the wayside.

I don't suppose I am alone in this, I am sure most people have skills they excel in and related areas of ineptitude. If you can think of any, please share. Let me know I'm not alone. Though if I am, then that is another skill I may .. or may not .. be proud of.

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