Sunday, February 17, 2008

On skills for life

I actually do understand the jokes here, thank you, Mme. Mion.

Okay, so a bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in advertising takes four years, two of which consist of prerequisites and general electives and the other two of which consist of classes in advertising message strategy, execution, and management and internships. All of that comes after twelve years of education in literature, social sciences, physical sciences, mathematics, humanities, and sadistic unmarried women in knee-length shorts who make you play volleyball even when it's obvious you have no aptitude whatsoever for volleyball.

And what have those sixteen uninterrupted years of concerted educational pursuit gained for me now that I have a real job in the real world? Slightly more than jack, because although they did qualify me for the degree that qualified me for the job, they didn't teach me how to deal with political hirings and firings, overly attentive micromanagers, unstructured command structures, and the basic day-to-day dealings of office life. And it's more than that. Which class taught me how to make a much-needed breakup stick when the truth is I really liked the guy and didn't want to break up with him? Which lab did I miss that explored the difference between venting, complaining, and problem-solving? Did I miss ENGL 4440: Finishing That Damn Novel Already Before Books Are Replaced by Microchips Implanted Directly into the Brain, and if so, was I mistakenly given credit for it?

I just feel like I've been cheated out of a lot of the things I should know for a fulfilled and fulfilling life. And that's why I've decided to devote the rest of this year to, well, finishing that damn novel already, to start with, but also to learning things that were mysteriously omitted from my early education. There are a lot of gaps that need filling, and by New Year's Eve 2008, I fully intend to be fully capable of:

1. Carrying on a coherent conversation in French. One might think that six straight years (four in high school, two in college) of French study would leave me reasonably proficient in the language, but my last attempt at conversation with an actual Frenchman went something like this:

Me: Excusez-moi, où est la métro?
Frenchman: [unintelligble]
Me: Ah. Excellent. Merci beaucoup. [to mother] I have no freaking idea. Somewhere that way, apparently.

So that could probably use a refresher.

2. Making good pancakes. I'm a decent cook in my own right and a hell of a baker, but I've never even attempted pancakes. Part of it is simply that it seems a waste to make that much of a mess for a single-person breakfast, but I think it's also that, judging from the amount of experimenting my dad does when he's behind the griddle, there seems to be rather an effort differential between lousy/marginal/decent pancakes and really good pancakes. And I want to make really good ones.

3. Changing my own oil. This is a skill I'm not likely to use all that much; I'm pretty sure that pulling my car to the side of the road and throwing it up on an Alabama jack stand would get me raised eyebrows from my landlord, the church next door, and the swank French restaurant across the street. Still, self-oil-changing seems like a good skill to have tucked away, and it doesn't seem that much of a stretch from changing my own spark plugs to changing my own oil, right? Right?

4. Playing blues piano. This is another thing that one might assume I should be able to do already -- on the surface, it's mostly just a bunch of repetitive chords and some noodling, after all -- but more than a decade of classical training in piano and voice has completely obliterated my capacity to noodle. I just can't do it. My mom is a champion noodler, can play anything by ear, and I'm ridiculously jealous of that fact. It seems counterintuitive to study how to improvise musically, but I can't think of any other way to learn how to do something I don't currently know how to do.

5. Beatboxing.

What complicates these goals is the fact that I don't have an awful lot of money to spare. I could probably knock Skill 1 out rather quickly with a few free Monday evenings and some Rosetta Stone software, but I'm kind of short the $500 necessary to get me through levels 1, 2, and 3. Similarly, beatboxing is only offered at UAB at the graduate level, meaning I'd have to work through several semesters of prerequisites before I could even register for BEAT 5410: Introduction to Mouth Percussion. So if anyone can suggest affordable ways to pick up the life-enhancing skills I'm looking for, by all means let me know. I've got several months yet before running up on my December 31 deadline, but some of them (apprendre à faire des crêpes, par exemple) look kind of time-consuming.

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