Monday, May 24, 2010

Determined to learn something new

I decided over the weekend that I am going to commit to trying to learn something new this summer. I’m going to try to learn to drive a powerboat.

Proclaiming this in the most sanguine of tones right now could be seen as a bit disingenuous. It will be a while before I have to prove my seriousness of intent. The specific boat I plan to learn to drive isn’t even in the water yet, and I’m more than a hundred miles from the particular coastline at which I hope to get my start. Sitting in my home office on a farm in the outer suburbs of Boston, with a view that overlooks woods and pastures as well as grazing cows and sheep, I might as well be 2500 miles from the ocean as the 25 I actually am. Easy to sit here at my desk on a warm May morning, coffee cup in hand, and announce that I plan to learn to drive a boat.

Nonetheless, my intent is genuine, and one reason I’m writing about it is that I believe so strongly in the “Write it down, make it happen” method of self-determination espoused by Henriette Anne Klauser, which says that the mere act of committing a resolution to paper (or screen) increases the odds of success. At least a few dozen people read my blog every day; if I openly share my intention, surely that’s a small step toward making it a reality.

I grew up in a boating family and married into another one; I now have an 11-year-old son who loves boats. And yet I always took it for granted that operating a boat was simply not something I was cut out for. I have boat phobia the same way some girls and women have math phobia: though no one but me is to blame for any message I’ve internalized about boating, I’ve always believed I just wouldn’t be capable of it. Boating was, I thought, something that required skills and talents that I was indisputably missing.

Well, I guess we’ll find out, and I can only hope this blog entry won’t be read at my memorial service after I go to a watery grave. (If that sounds like a morbid thought, I firmly believe bloggers and diarists have to think this way. I write in my journal every single day; something I write could be the last thing I ever write, and I have to be comfortable with the idea that anything I choose to publish could be what I’m ultimately remembered by.) My reasons are simple. I have the opportunity this summer to make good use of a new vacation property in the family at which is a boat, and if I don’t learn to operate it, we’ll be able to use it only when one of the two current boaters in the family is present, my father or my husband. However, my plans for this summer and farther into the future definitely involve time at the vacation place when neither of them is likely to be there. My kids love going out in the boat, and I’d like to be able to offer the option to my friends and other guests as well. So it’s simple: I can either continue thinking, as I have ever since adolescence, that I’m someone who is just not capable of operating a boat – as I’m not someone capable of learning trigonometry – or I can try to learn.

When I was in high school, I had a science teacher who told us on the first day of class that every year she tries to take up a new hobby – piano playing, American Sign Language, improv comedy, chess – just so that as a teacher, she never forgets what it’s like to be learning, to be a beginner trying to master a whole new concept. In my adult life, I haven’t been very good about seeking out new skills. I’ve let myself get into a lot of ruts in terms of believing I know what I’m good at and what I’m not.

Well, it’s one thing to know yourself and recognize your weaknesses, but I’m not convinced. I believe I’m a fairly good automobile driver, though I wasn’t when I started out, and I want to see if I can transfer those skills to the marine world. The benefits of my being able to use the boat will be many, but probably the greatest benefit if I succeed at this resolution will simply be the sense of empowerment it gives me. Maybe I’m someone who can learn new skills. Maybe I’m someone who can develop abilities that she previously assumed she didn’t have. And if that’s the case, maybe operating a boat is just the first step of many.

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