Thursday, November 29, 2007

Strategic Epiphany

Okay, I think I’m beginning to see a new level to learning to prepare applications again. My problem has been that I am focused on preparing a successful round. I want to get out about 6-8 applications, because the more shots you take, the better your success rate is likely to be. That’s stupid.

I have been aware of two immediate problems: First, my new learning speed has been compromised by the disease. I don’t calculate permutations nearly as quickly and as effectively as I used to. I used to subconsciously make the calculations in my head. Well, my short term recall deficit prevents me from making effective decision trees in my head. The only way I can deal now is to physically make a decision tree so that I don’t have to try to keep the diagram in my head while I think about it.

Second, all human beings make decisions on the basis of emotion, not reason. What a rational process is supposed to do is help you figure out which conflicting emotion to suppress. Reason (going step by step through the decision tree) doesn’t make the decision for us, even if those of us who can deploy this strategy quickly feel as if it does. Reasoned analysis simply changes how you feel about the decision you are making in a useful way. But if I feel very strongly about the wrong decision, I can’t suppress the need to decide that way anymore, because I can’t suppress strong emotions outright anymore. Going through the decision tree, even if it’s written down, isn’t necessarily helpful because I can’t suppress strong rival emotions effectively. I make bad decisions and I know they are bad decisions, but often, until the emotional dilemma is resolved somehow, I still make the bad decision knowing the decision is bad because I can’t help myself.

This morning, I am aware of a third problem. My systematic problem is often not my conscious feelings. It’s the underlying identity-forming assumptions that I adopted at, say, the age of twelve or sixteen that are fucking me up so badly. I need to discard core parts of my identity (again!). The truth is that I’ve always hated incrementalism. Always. I mean what can be more insipid than crawling at a slow and steady pace? What could be less satisfying? What could better represent the rankly inferior? I can’t think of any aesthetic way of living that isn’t fundamentally immoral that I have despised more. It all goes back to that stupid story of the tortoise or the hare. I’ve never bought it’s idiotic moral—steady by slow wins the race. Indeed, it’s a stupid moral. Steady but slow may help you finish the race, but you’re going to lose the race to steady but fast every fucking time! Let’s get real. It’s not a dominant strategy.

Well, I am slow now. Indeed, I saw a cognitive therapist named Annette Coangelo and she, very brilliantly made two points absolutely clear to me. The first is that I still have extraordinary abilities and can pretty much still do everything I used to be able to. The second is that I am going to do everything that I used to do far more slowly than I used to. I can make any journey. I’m just never going to win the race. Many years ago, my friend Faedah Totah gave me the text of a poem by Cavafy called “Ithaca.” I’ve always loved the poem, but this morning, I’m thinking more clearly than usual, and its point has been driven home to me clearly. The journey is meant to be savored and one cannot savor something quickly. A journey is not the same thing as a race and God means for me to take a journey, not run a race. God has reason in the lessons he has given me. As much as I’ve hated the course, what I’ve learned has been worth the suffering. Not every course can be fun. Life takes discipline and discipline is rarely fun. Not until you’ve mastered the discipline, anyway. Then it can get really fun, because you get the job done.

I still have a problem, however. Winning the race was one of the things that made it possible for me to provide the steady performance in the journey. I loved beating the other guy (get your mind out of the gutter, that wasn’t what I was talking about, even if your smutty insinuation is completely true). I also loved the fast aspect of my steady but fast strategy. I got off on watching what I was building grow before my very eyes. It kept me motivated. The most dejecting thing about the MS experience has been living through failure after failure as I keep fucking things up.

Which brings us to the point of the whole post. I need to learn from Ted Thompson. Two years ago, the Packers went 4-12. We started the next season by losing 26-0 to the Bears. We were rebuilding. Rebuilding hurts. Well, in a lot of ways I’m rebuilding, but I haven’t realized it. To be honest, I’ve responded a lot like Brett Favre has over the past two years. I’ve completely freaked out about the loss of identity involved in my brain damage, and ever since, because I can’t live with losing, I’ve been throwing stupid interceptions. My ability to organize has been seriously compromised, just as the Packers offensive line was seriously compromised in 2005 when Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle left the Packers offensive line. Mike Flanagan but it bluntly when he said that you can’t replace guys like that. You just move on. You don’t fix the old system. You abandon it and rebuild. And rebuilding hurts. Rebuilding means losing 26-0 to the Bears but, maybe, if you’re doing it right, going 8-8 for the season. Sure, it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s better than losing 4-12 for the season and it’s the trend that matters.

I’m currently organizing my second upper-division course. What I’ve noticed is that it is much easier than organizing the first upper-division course was. When it comes to organization, I don’t have much forward vision anymore. It’s frustrating that I don’t seem to anticipate what my problems will be the way that I used to, nor do I adapt as quickly as I used to. I learn more from hindsight now than I do from foresight. That hurts. Marx said of the revolutionary of the 19th century:

On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, criticize themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh, deride with unmerciful thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order that he may draw new strength from the earth and rise again, more gigantic before them, and recoil again and again from the indefinite prodigiousness of their own aims, until a situation has been created which makes all turning back impossible, and the contradictions themselves cry out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta
Hier ist die Rose, hier tanze!

I’ve always wanted work to feel like that. And it did! Yeah, true, I may have often wound up much more often like the revolutionary of the eighteenth century—

Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling brilliants, ecstasy is the everyday spirit, but they are short-lived. Soon they have attained their zenith, and a long crapulent depression seizes society before it learns soberly to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period.

—but what the fuck did I care? I loved working because working was a charismatic high and I loved being high on work. It was better than any chemical. If I had to weather a hangover in the morning, so what? I’d partied all night and that was all I cared about. I had the stamina for it back then. It was a fun lifestyle. I liked living that way and I liked myself for the life I lead. There’s a reason this has hurt so much.

Well, building a football team isn’t like that. Sure it takes passion. But it also takes perspective. It takes patience and quiet work in the face of all the bullshit that everyone is throwing at you. Ted Thompson hasn’t given a shit about what anyone has said about his strategy. He doesn’t run around justifying himself to people. People get pissy and ask why he didn’t pick up any new offensive players over the off-season and he replies, “Yeah, kinda strange that I didn’t do that, isn’t it? It’s not my usual approach.” Favre throws a hissy fit, and Thompson just quietly papers over the glaring breach. Last week, when asked about the failed trade, Favre said

Favre said. “I think Randy’s doing what I thought he would do. I mean, I’m not surprised. They throw it up to him in triple coverage and he catches it. I mean, he’s done that I don’t know how many times against us. Could he be doing that for us? Sure he could.

“But what our guys are doing is outstanding. A different style of play, but outstanding. What we ask our guys to do, we probably wouldn’t ask Randy to do and vice-versa. But we’re having a lot of success here right now, we hope it continues, and a big part of that is because of our receivers.”

This is a different style of play for me. It will have to lack dramatic effects and sparkling brilliants. I have to learn slowly now. So I’ll do the application that matters the most this term and realize there will be a lot of emotional stuff I’ll have to cope with. I’ll learn from that. As I start getting the hang of it, I’ll be able to add more on. I’ll get a feel and a rhythm for the work again and I’ll eventually learn how to do rounds of applications, just as I learned how to design a course. Yeah, it will probably be a losing season. But I’ve got to suck before I get better, because I’m learning this from scratch. I can’t replace the skills that were integral to the old system. I need to learn a new system. Rebuilding hurts, but I can do this.

But not tonight. Tonight is the Packers-Cowboys game. I couldn’t be more pumped.