June 10th, 2008

i win at swimming!

Om a gut boy, Yonny

Longtime fans of this site know that I super hate myself. A lot of this is based in deep-seated psychological issues, but some of it just stems from the fact that I suck. There is virtually no end to the things I am bad at. Even leaving aside things that I simply can't do at all (sew, play a musical instrument, run faster than a baby), there are millions and millions of things that I'm just flat-out lousy at. Drawing, chess, home repair, gardening, pleasing a woman sexually, maintaining relationships, playing video games, personal hygiene -- you name it, I'm no good at it.

Then there are things that I'm okay to good at, but which don't really come easily for me. There are a few things that I flatter myself I'm pretty skillful at -- among them writing, philosophy, shooting, and cooking -- but which are quite difficult and at which I can only excel through a great deal of effort. I was a decent pitcher in high school and college, but it wasn't easy, and I wasn't good enough to carry on doing it at the next level; and I'm pretty good at fighting, but it's hard and painful, not to mention something that I'm basically ashamed of doing in the first place. Most of the things I actually like to do fall into this category.

But today, I'm gonna focus on the positive! Here are five things that I'm pretty good at and which require almost no effort at all, or far less than they should.

1. LANGUAGES. I'm not truly multilingual or anything; German is the only language I speak with anything approaching fluency, with Spanish a distant second. But my German is as good as it's ever been, despite having never spoken it conversationally, never having been to a German-speaking country, and only ever taking two years of German in high school; my Spanish is good enough to get me around easily in Mexico despite being entirely self-taught; and my French -- well, it pretty much sucks, but I could hold my own in very basic conversations after little more than a month of dicking around with some French flash cards. Additionally, I can read all these languages really well (having a strong knowledge of roots and language structure means I can read stuff in original languages far better than I can speak them), and I pick up on the pronunciation of foreign languages with ease. I also retain vocabulary pretty easily. I'm not sure why this is, but languages -- especially in written form -- are pretty easy for me to master.

2. BASIC MATH. I suppose it's not all that impressive for an educated adult to brag about being good at basic math, especially since I suck at stuff like algebra and calculus. But I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who have to sit down with a pen and paper and figure out stuff like long division, complex multiplication, and figuring out percentages (like tips or tax rates or whatever). To me, that's the easiest thing in the world. I can do it all in my head in seconds, because it's just a little trick, and once you figure out the trick, it's easy. I'm honestly flabbergasted that it takes big parties like a half an hour to calculate tips and how much everyone owes on a check; I always tell them to give it to me and I've sussed it in seconds. It's just not that hard.

3. WORD PROBLEMS, PUZZLES AND SIMPLE GAMES. As I mentioned above, I'm not really good at strategy games (too much thinking ahead, too many variables), and I'm decent but not great with other skill-centered games. But word problems, logic problems, basic puzzles, and word and other simple games? Those are easy. I can do even the hardest New York Times crosswords in half an hour, and I never buy books of logic problems or stuff like that at airports, because it never lasts me more than a third of the flight time. Again, I don't think this is because I'm all that smart -- it's just that with most things of this nature, as with basic math, it seems to me just a matter of figuring out what the trick is and then performing the basic operation in your head.

4. DRIVING. Now, here I have to start with a caveat: I can't drive the way race car drivers drive, because I don't have the guts. And some people -- I'm not naming any names, but we used to live together -- would probably take exception to my claim of being a good driver. (In my defense there, I never said I was a good navigator.) But I am a skillful driver, in the sense that I drive defensively -- I trust no one and am always driving with an eye on the people around me -- but not slowly, meaning I can negotiate heavy urban traffic quickly without getting in a fender-bender. I've only been involved in four accidents in the 20 years I've been driving, and all of them were unavoidable situations where my car was stopped and someone hit me from behind. I also drive alertly and skillfully on the freeway, and have never attracted police attention despite many, many, many occasions of driving under illegal conditions. (This, to some extent, plays into another thing I'm good at, which is getting away with crimes, but that is a subject for another day.)

5. RECOGNIZING FLAWS. Not so much in the "you got a fat ass" sense. What I am good at, and I think this is partly thanks to being an autodidact and partly thanks to being a self-hating jerk, is detecting critical flaws in thought, bad planning, errors in argument, and the like. Since I do a lot of criticism and deep readings, I tend to recognize patterns of thought, and it's become a lot easier to notice when those patterns are disrupted or break their own consistency. Also, since I am largely self-educated and didn't have as many chances as a lot of people to subject my own thoughts to a peer group, I've gotten very hyper-critical of my own stuff, in order that I not let any egregiously obvious idiocy slip through, and I've gotten pretty good at applying that same level of rigor to stuff like politics, literature and philosophy. All of which leaves open the obvious question: if you're so good at spotting flawed thinking, self-deluding behavior, inconsistent logic, and errors in systemic thought, how come you're such a fuckup? To which I can only reply: Physician, heal thyself. Good luck with no fuckin head.

What are you good at? Or, rather, what are you good at that you don't have to try especially hard to be good at, or less hard than you think you should? What, in other words, comes easy for you?

Also, to give you an idea of how much I hate myself, this entry -- which is full of self-loathing and which lists only five things I am any good at, none of which are particularly accomplished and which any functioning human being should be able to do well -- strikes me as almost unbearably braggy and arrogant.