#137: What Persists

It’s nearly midnight as I start writing this and I’ve just woken up from a four-hour nap. I landed back in Detroit on Wednesday and I can feel the jetlag start to lift. While I’m on break from the manuscript my time awake has largely been spent reading books and playing video games, and trying to brush up on my Chinese. The longer I’m in Michigan the more I revert to my high school self.

That’s not entirely true. There used to be and still is a part of me that, when getting into/better at a new game or hobby or practice, wants to figure it out for himself. To not ask for help, or watch a tutorial online. Jack from high school doesn’t want to learn things the wrong way, or pick up bad habits. He’s attached to a purity of learning; his sense of worth comes from proving that he is capable of persisting and solving the puzzle. But he doesn’t know yet that those bad habits are inevitable, they come from forming and testing theories about how things work and undoing those theories and forming new ones, that a big part of learning is unlearning. Jack from high school doesn’t realize yet that sometimes the puzzle he’s working on is part of a larger puzzle, one that requires different resources and effort than thinking alone in a dark room. So he fumbles around for too long and gets stuck, and gives up in boredom and confusion. Moves onto something else.

Speaking of those games. I’ve noticed that more and more, I’m coming across strategy guides that instead of telling you what to do, tell you how to go about learning how to do it. A subtle difference, but one that matches the newer kinds of games they describe. You have landscapes that are randomly generated and infinitely large. You have dozens of human variables and changing game states; the games nowadays are less like boxing and more like war. In these cases guides must by necessity be more about angles of approach than step-by-step process. A guide explaining, This is the button combo you need to press or Here’s the set of runes you need to equip to your ranger, are not entirely useless but fall pitifully short. Better are the meta-strategies, the ones about how you go about improving. How you train your subconscious, increase your response time, become more adaptable to change. Instead of leveling up your character, they’re about leveling up you.

I haven’t set concrete resolutions for years but I’m already, it seems, in the middle of a few. And the hobbies and interests and diets, they’ll all change, but what persists throughout, always, is I keep learning how to learn.