The Long Haul

Today on Facebook someone linked to this article, from the NY Times. Matt Richtel writes, in "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction," about high school students' work habits, and how their schools are approaching the technology of which the students are so fond.

It's worth reading.

That said, here's a sample of my internal monologue about the article.

1. Five pages? Wow, this article is really long. It goes on for-EV-er.

2. Another article about how "kids today" are going to be seriously messed up by their fragmented attention spans? Again? Or is this one about how high school kids are undisciplined? Because when high school kids ARE disciplined, like Olympic athletes, everybody writes about how they're robots and don't have a "normal" childhood.

Response #1 is what my sister and I call "a thing made of things." I did skim the article, mostly because I was pressed for time but also because I have a low tolerance for bleats about "kids today." We've been heading down the toilet for generations, to hear the old fogeys among us lament.

I mulled over response #2 the rest of the morning, because while reading the article I kept thinking how sad it is that fewer people (of all ages) today seem interested in the long haul.

They want to walk from the last row of the parking lot and call it exercise. They want to skip one breakfast and be visibly skinnier immediately. They want to write a novel in a month--that's a novel, not a novel DRAFT. They want every single meeting of a group to provide them with a peak learning experience. They want all comments on their writing to be tender and sensitive and immediately useful without in any way indicating that the writing as it stands has flaws of any kind.

And by "they" I mean, of course, "sometimes I." I'm as prone to this as anyone, in spite of my fogeyhood.

Yet it's the "long haul" aspects of my life for which I am the most grateful.

Like: I can read music. I don't remember learning this, the way I don't remember learning to read words. But now, even though I'm not "doing music" every day, I can follow along, and my ability to sight-sing, never strong, is even coming back a little. Is it immediately useful? No, if by "useful" you mean "making of money" rather than "making of happy."

Like: I can type. In the olden days, when we sat in willow rockers on the porch in our braided pigtails and gingham bonnets after hauling water in oak buckets uphill in the snow both ways, we called it "touch-typing." My mother and I had conversations about whether, in writing, it was advisable to "compose at the typewriter" or write out a paper in longhand first. She adapted quickly to what she persisted in calling "word processors," while my father to his dying day scrawled illegibly on pads of yellow paper with ballpoint pens according to a mysterious color-coded system.

Rabbit trail. Sorry.

I do remember learning to type--twice. One summer in high school I had an intro course as part of someone's research project (university town). Only I didn't do the mind-numbing exercises "d e d space d e d space" and "j k l ; space j k l ; space" because they were (wait for it) boring. So I didn't get far. I took typing again in regular high school, when I did do the exercises because I wanted the A for my GPA. And now I can type. It was well worth the yawns, over the long haul. Yes, financially, but also, it's a tool I comfortable using to make things that ultimately make me happy.

Both skills--reading music and typing--were relatively hard-won. I didn't pursue them because I was interested in them. I pursued them because I was forced to.

And now, because I am ostensibly an adult, I have to force myself.

I don't like having to walk, pushing myself, every day to maintain (never mind improve) my fitness level. I dislike the fact that every scone that passes my lips stays with my hips and/or thighs for months. I wish I could just write the story I want to write the first time. I wish my writing didn't improve with time and reflection and hard work.

And yet, those things are true. I must discipline myself (yes, that's what we're really talking about--again). And sometimes I even enjoy the discipline, if not for the actual work, then for the result.

And THAT is what those pesky "kids today" may be missing. The chance to try something, fail, keep trying, eventually get it, and feel proud of themselves--especially if what they're learning is something not immediately "useful" or pleasant but worthy. Valuable. Something that needs doing.

Like settling in to do the newsletter, to draft the work project, to contact those who need contacting and bug those professionals who require bugging. Like paying bills, filing the financial pile, deciding what to do with that basket o' papers. Like reading the whole article, or a book that's "hard."

Or actually WRITING.

Not bubbleshooter. For example. Although I am developing a mean bank shot.

Because yes, although I'm not sure I should be proud of this, I am in some ways one of those "kids today." And my inner adult says "Time to stop blogging. Yes, NOW." Bye.