Trial and Error

Tuesday, October 19 2004

Lately I’ve been paying attention to how I interact with the world, in a physical way. I keep noticing little things I do that I’ve learned with experience, but now take for granted.

For example, I was grabbing the towel after having just taken a shower, and without even thinking about why with totally mindless automation pushed the little knob that diverts water from the tub faucet to the overhead shower to release the water left in the pipe, reached out to grab the towel, balancing so that my forward leaning weight wouldn’t push my feet out behind me, leaving me on my face. All of this required no extra thought or consideration, and just happened, just as all sorts of other complicated physical interactions just happen.

I’ve been learning how to do transition gaps in skateboarding (if that’s even what it’s called). The idea is to launch from one transition and flow into another one. With practice, it’s a super simple maneuver, but for me, it’s proving difficult. Having grown up street skating, there were rarely transitions set up to make it possible on the street, so I’ve had no practice with perfect park conditions. My instinct is to pop off the edge of the transition as if I’m doing a big ollie, but that backfires as it throws me out way too far, and I miss my smooth re-entry into another transition. I’m learning that even the most subtle movement of my feet can make me fail, and that holding still and moving fast is the key.

I see this same kind of progress on a minute by minute basis with my kids. The younger one is learning how to move his arms where he wants them, the older one is learning how to jump. It reminds me that what I so easily take for granted today, being able to move automatically without any extra thought or effort, had to be learned through trial and error.

I often get frustrated with learning new things. New programming languages, new software, new ways of thinking about the world. I should remind myself that nothing is automatic at first, and that anything I’ve learned has happened through trial and error.