Monday, June 25, 2018


You know, I'm not a bad problem-solver.

I don't want to be too much of a jerk about this toward anyone specific, but there are some standout moments from my childhood that led to me reaching adulthood thinking I was bad at solving problems. Well, specifically, problems that required practical solutions.

I can't put my finger on it entirely, but I know there were multiple incidents where other kids, teachers, and adults treated me like I was hilariously ignorant because I didn't know something they knew or was worse at something than I was expected to be (mostly when it came to finding my way to unfamiliar places). I was basically just treated like I didn't know things because I was an unobservant or bubble-headed person, and I just kinda went on with my life accepting that the term "airhead" applied to me. 

Today, as a decently competent adult, I sometimes have to learn something new or figure something out, and it takes me a minute to sort through whether it's reasonable for others to treat me like my ignorance is unreasonable. I've grown accustomed to confronting these comments swiftly.

"But how can you NOT KNOW gas prices are down?"

Do you believe you would have a running knowledge of gas prices if you never, ever bought gas?

"No way, everybody should get that reference."

Do you believe you would get that reference if you hadn't seen the commercial?

"Why don't you know that psalm? Everybody had to hear that in church."

Do you believe you would know that psalm if you never went to church in your entire life?

There are some common things I haven't heard of or don't have knowledge of. It's not that weird for me to lack context for them if those experiences are not part of my life.  

YOU would not know the common knowledge in most parts of the world. YOU don't know at least some stuff that seems basic to me. I'm not going to harass you over it.

When I grew up, I started to realize that I had a tendency to give up on solving problems in the real world very quickly because I just didn't know how to solve them and nobody had ever showed me. I don't know how to work that machine. I don't know how to bake that recipe. I don't know how to clean that item. And then, somehow, I figured out that I can try first. And if I still suck at it or can't figure it out, I'm not worse off.

It was hard going at first. For instance, I can remember being laughed at once when I did not know how to make a car's seat return to an upright position. The person I was with scoffed, saying it was easy to just pull the lever, but I could not find a lever, so I just said to myself "Guess it's impossible" and sat in the seat leaning back farther than I wanted to. What can you do? The lever isn't there. Some things just aren't the way people describe them to you, but it's probably your fault 'cause you're dumb. Too bad, dummy.

As an adult, I rode a Greyhound bus and the seat's arm was in the way of something I wanted to do. An obvious button on it didn't do anything when I pressed it and pulled up, so I figured oh well, either the arm is broken or I just can't figure out how to do it. That's what my life has always been; it's probably something that's obvious to everyone else but I don't see it, and it's because I'm just dumb about things. And then I thought, well no, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to do this. I forget exactly what the issue was, but I figured out what was stopping the arm from moving the way I wanted, and managed to get it to slide up. And it was just a matter of investigating it a little.

I can do things, really.

Last week, I did something kind of silly. I left my keys in the restroom at work (and the restroom requires a key to get in), so I borrowed the office key to get in and retrieve my keys. Unlike MY key set, this key was on a very small keychain, and when I put it down on top of the toilet paper roll receptacle, it fell through a weird little hole in the top. The key fell down into the middle of a long tube that holds up the rolls of toilet paper (and it's designed to hold two rolls, so it's deep). The office key was stuck down in this toilet paper thing.

My first thought was "WELP I GUESS IT'S GONE FOREVER." But I really didn't want to ask my boss to get another key when I was the one who lost it, and I don't want to not have a spare restroom key. Especially since it saves me if I leave my own keys in the bathroom.

I tried to use a pair of scissors to get it out. I used a pen. I used a screwdriver. I found a hanger and fashioned a little hook. None of these things worked because there was no room to manipulate any tools in the small space. 

I went home for the weekend and tied a piece of craft wire to my bag so I wouldn't forget. Then when I got back to work on Monday, I used the craft wire like a fishing hook to try to get the key back out. It STILL didn't work. 

So I examined the way the damn thing was attached to the stall wall, got a screwdriver, and took it apart so I could dump the inner tube upside down. Gravity won. I got my office key back.

I'm not impractical or unobservant or any less competent than any typical person. I don't automatically know how to do things but neither does anyone. You learn it somewhere. You figure it out. Or someone tells you. Someone teaches you. 

It drives me up the wall now when someone treats someone else like they're laughably ignorant when it's their first time learning something. I don't necessarily expect to hold someone's hand through something I know they can figure out on their own, but if they don't have the starting tools or the context, I'm pretty good at supporting, and I certainly won't mock them for not being born with the knowledge in their heads.

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