Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Crash! The Learning Curve pt 1

I have found stupid. Do you know where that is? It is the place in the learning curve you hit right about the time you think you've got it. Whatever it is. And right after that special moment of triumph, you hit stupid.

When I went back to college after being out of school for 10 years, I had to relearn how to learn. In many respects I had never really learned before; you start out as a little kid and you don't think about it, you don't analyze it, you just do it. Learning is what you are, and all the way through school and into the workplace (at least at first) you are still just doing it, sometimes well, sometimes not, but usually without thinking about the process. So after working for 10 years I went back to school, and there I was forced to pay attention to the process because I had been out of that loop for a decade. Since then I have continued learning, starting Japanese lessons after I hit 40, taking up knitting in 2003, and throughout all these endeavors the process is the same.

In my process I have to encounter the new concept/technique then sleep on it before I get any feel for it. When I next encounter it, my brain or muscles or whatever have some memory of it and I'm better at it and can progress. After a short while I feel like I am gaining some control over the material, and my comfort level increases proportionately. I am then able to successfully apply the material, and my confidence level increases. But before true integration occurs, I start losing it. Everything. Eventually I recover, and at that point I usually achieve a true integration of the material, whatever it is. This happened to me in knitting, and surprised me, because I had forgotten how integral a part of my process this was. Now I'm hitting that point in bell ringing. Even though I shouldn't be surprised, hitting stupid always comes as such a shock. And with the public nature of bellringing it has been particularly humbling.

Several weeks ago at a St. Lukes practice (my tower) I was allowed to attempt ringing rounds. That means bells 1,2,3,4 and 5 ringing in that order, over and over again. Sounds simple, eh? Not so much. But the chance to ring on my own with the band was exhiliarating, and after a few botched attempts, and with good advice to count (I was 5 in that order, so 12345, 12345 is where I had to ring) I actually got it, surprising myself (and, apparently, everyone else). The next Saturday was practice at St. James, and I had high hopes to go there and be all impressive.

Crash, in bell terms, is what happens when one bell rings on top of another bell. I am explaining this now so you will know exactly what I excelled in at that practice. I could not control squat. I had not warmed up (and I am starting to think I need a minimum of about 2 hours warm up before I can ring anything like in my place) and I kept crashing into other bells and got so off that I ended up on a different stroke than everyone else. After which I sat down and listened to the rest of the ringers actually ring. (My initial theory at that point, but which has since been proved wrong, is that there were 6 bells and I can only count to 5) Anyway, matters were not helped by a small scheduling glitch which also had 2 people with Highland pipes practicing in the sanctuary just outside. Not to mention the drummer with the full drum kit who kept noodling on the drums. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in that tower that day, and as much as I'd like to blame my crappy ringing on the bagpipes and on the guy who thought he was John Bonham, it was honestly me just hitting the stupid portion of my learning curve.

So much for being all impressive.

I like to look at it this way, though. I am progressing. It is a process, and I'm in it, and I have to accept every stage of it, even the embarrassing parts, otherwise what will I have learned from them? That I suck? I don't, I'm just riding the low point of that curve at the moment. I am on the verge of integration. But I have to admit: bagpipes? They do not help.

And so, for your viewing and listening pleasure, here is a short movie from that practice. You will thank me to know I am not ringing in this one, this is some real change ringing. The method was Oxford, and this is what is referred to as a short touch. I'll get all technical and chatty about that later. See if you can hear the bagpipes cut in. Or rather, see if you can hear all the bells through the bagpipes cutting in. Fun!

A Short Touch of Oxford Minor


  1. Maybe your learning is more context-specific than you think. IOW, you mostly figured out how to ring on your "home" bells, but the whole situation of the bells in the SECOND location was sufficiently different to mess you up. You'll be fine once you get a little more experience over there.

    That's how dogs learn. They don't generalize well. You have to train them in lots of different situations and contexts.

    Not that I'm saying you're a dog... I just seem dogs more than I see people most days. :)

  2. Funny, I have been having much this conversation lately as I've worked my way up the learning curve of spinning (through several stupids along the way) and spent a lot of time discussing same with some of the great teachers. And, of course, also applied it to my knowledge/teaching of knitting and instrumental music and dance etc. etc. etc. - the whole concept of the stages in which muscle memory is acquired and how it comes to mesh with intellectual understanding to form knowledge and coordination. Fascinating stuff, and you're right, overall children do seem to come to it more honestly and with a lot less baggage. (Heh. I was an exception to that, as a kid, but we won't go there.)

    Of course, the good news for you is that now that you've hit stupid, the next logical stage should take you upward into another level of competence!