Working Skills and Learning Hard

Solar Tent with wi-fi

Solar Tent with WiFi

 Rock Creek     The big solar system is still all systems go, as I type away.  The smaller solar panel seems worn down at this point if we were desperate for lights inside, which fortunately we’re not, and like magic they came on as soon as the sun hit the panel. This morning I finally had the trailer’s propane stove working.  The two propane refrigerators are still puzzling me, but my son showed up yesterday and said, “We’ll look it up on YouTube when we can get on the internet.”

Life in camp is a lot of work.  Hauling water, gathering firewood, making fires, cooking old school, cleaning the best you can, rigging up tarps, pitching and then striking tents, are all part of a normal day and require working skills that are good to learn and practice outside of the push button system of modern urban life.  Then there’s figuring your way around the mysteries of the unknown and, in that category, propane and solar are high on my lists of things that I’m learning the hard way, not needing to necessarily master, but hoping to achieve at least competence.

Learning new skills and working hard is part of what draws me back to the trailer off the grid in Montana for longer and longer stints each year.  The contrast between my normal work and the work here actually helps clarify my real work, simplify it, focus it more intensely.  Here projects are physical and often have a beginning and an end, well, except for the constant tinkering and foolishly human efforts at making improvements.

Achieving competence in a wide set of skills seems to me to deepen and define a richer quality of life.   I read a book early this year by Michael Crawford called Shop Class as Soulcraft:  An Inquiry into the Value of Work.   Crawford was a Phd in philosophy who brought that discipline to thinking and writing about work with his hands and his efforts to run a motorcycle repair shop at some level of sustainability.  Nostalgically, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance written by Robert Pirsig, a writer of technical manuals, still has a place in my memory as one of the best books I ever read.

I worry about how young people survive the contemporary educational system that seems hell bent and determined to deny a feeling of achievement – competence as I calling it here – to their experience.

I’m also fascinated about YouTube as a modern ladder to that competence.  An organizing maxim for me has always been that if I heard someone’s name three times in a neighborhood or new city we were organizing, that was a neon light beckoning to their door.  My brother-in-law was telling me about a young guy we both knew who brought his truck over to change his shock absorbers or something, and did the whole job while watching YouTube which literally walked him through each step of the process down to which way to turn the wrench and what wrench to use.  Then my Rock Creek buddy, Bergamin, kept insisting that before I install the 45 watt solar panel system, I watch the YouTube video, which I finally did largely so that I could tell him I had, and though I watched the less than 2 minute amateur videos and not the 25-30 minute how-to-do I’m sure he meant, it was helpful in finally giving me a clear picture of the task before me and how to put it together.  Now, my son, Chaco, is saying let’s look up how to light this portable Igloo refrigerator.

Google might be sitting on something as powerful as it’s reification of “search,” if there was a way to more easily organize the instruction and how-to parts of YouTube to achieve working skills and self-learning for this modern generation.   And, even for the rest of us!

Of course that would also mean making the internet accessible and affordable to everyone everywhere, including out here along a creek in Montana, and that’s work where I’m more than competent, so Rock Creek is already paying dividends to not only my soul, but also my organizing, which is my main craft.

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