I was Dunning-Krugered and I don’t know what to do with that

We all have our bubbles. I know that. We choose friends who think like we do. And I know there are people out there who think differently. That’s okay. That’s great, in fact.

Because that’s what makes humans so freaking awesome, right? Our diversity. And because fundamentally I’m a curious bird, I have over the decades read a fair bit of the incomprehensible, because I need to know what makes people tick. What drives someone to – well. Anything, really. Anorexia, cutting, BDSM, polyamory, OCD, addiction, religion, math – all things I do not practice or want to practice – but by god I want to understand why someone else does it, and so I read and read and read.

It’s not just people, though: I also want to understand the world, and the things people have learned that I haven’t had time to study. In recent years this has led me to read everything I can get my hands on about quantum physics and cosmology, not because I have dreams of becoming a quantum physicist but because once you hear about quantum entanglement, how can you not want to wrap your head around that? (Have I mentioned, I have a bad case of intellectual over-excitability?)

I don’t, for a moment, think I fully grasp any of this. My understanding of self-harm, for instance, is based on words on a page and a reasonable degree of empathy, but I get that I don’t truly know what it feels like to sit there holding an emotional pain so big, so intense, that slicing into my skin with a scalpel comes as a relief. As for quantum: I love the idea, but I accept (grudgingly) that I will never understand the math that describes why or how physicists know that the photons are acting in unison.

In short, I know what I don’t know.

Most of the folks in my bubble are the same way. We’re all hyper-educated and well-traveled, and we know our limits. We all tend to slip towards thinking we know less than we do.

This week, though, I came up against the first person I’ve ever met who thinks she already knows enough. A person who has formed opinions based on “doing my own research” (ie, watching YouTube) and who has a whole constellation of “reasons” why she doesn’t have to accept any evidence that might require her to change her mind – including that she feels “attacked” when presented with some of that evidence.

I’m floored. I mean, how do you have a conversation with that? I don’t mean, “how can I change this person’s mind, in those circumstances” – well, obviously, I sort of do mean that, because I’m a recovering academic and you bet we are all about changing people’s minds, especially when they are so obviously, patently, bloody, WRONG.

But I mean, how can I wrap my head around it? How can we have communication? She’s not, I think, fundamentally a bad person, although – given her views on refugees, the Greens, governments, trans people and atheists – she is certainly a sheltered, frightened person. But she is also, like myself, a mother concerned for her child’s future, a home-schooler, and a voter. There has to be some connection, right? Not by avoiding the tough conversations but by being able to hear without springing to the defensive.

In the abstract I know that the key here is to take my ego completely out of it: to put myself wholly in a position of fascination, not frustration. Because only genuine wonder – asking from a truly curious, completely non-judgemental point of view – can get inside her head enough to understand why she’s so attached to her thoroughly misguided worldview.

As you can see, I’m failing.

I’m failing not just because frustration (how can anyone be so – so – so – AARGH!), but because I feel attacked, too. And I think I’m going to have to spend some time sitting with that, to unpack all the reasons why I feel attacked, so that I can let go of the dumbfounded and the angry, move forwards and learn to hear. To talk, sure, but mostly, to hear.

There’s a part of me that thinks, “oh fuck it, why should I bother, she’s an idiot, why waste the time?”

But a bigger part of me knows that every time someone thinks that – stays in their bubble – the walls between us grow a little bit higher. And that is a far greater threat to us all, than someone merely thinking differently.

The Dish

You know that whole 17-day, 3000km road trip was organised around this, right? The CSIRO radio telescope at Parkes. Very first time I sat down to consider possibilities, I looked it up and it turned out, they were having a rare open weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. They would do tours! Well, there was no way I was missing out on that.

We got there 45 minutes early, I was so scared of missing out – and given that we had a 1.5hr drive to get there, that’s really saying something in our slow-starting household. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited. Quite possibly, never.

I will not pretend the kids gave a damn. The boys stayed on the ground while CraftyFish came on the tour, pulled along somewhat bemusedly by my excitement. And I was completely, ridiculously, viscerally, excited. Nearly a month later and I still thrill to think of it, to see these pictures. It is like an A-list celebrity encounter, multiplied a couple of orders of magnitude. I would’ve gone on the tour three or four times, if they’d let me, except I did also want to share it. With EVERYBODY.

It is not just that I think it is stunningly beautiful. The epic parabolas, the lacework against the sky. It is not just that it’s a hub of brilliant minds from around the world. They had an “Ask the Experts Marquee”, where I would’ve quite happily stayed all day talking to people about gravitational waves and pulsars and the temperatures of merging galaxies and the Square Kilometre Array, except that I was actually a bit too excited to stand there and talk to any one person for more than about ten minutes.

It is not just the stonking engineering: the 1000-ton dish, unattached to its base, still in its sixth decade at the forefront of the science, leading a global network ever forward technologically. It is not just the way this magnet for the curious rises out of the surrounding kilometres of flat red dirt like a massive sunflower, always turning, always searching. Listening.

It is not even the mind-emptying scope of what they do there, probing the farthest reaches of our universe for the birth of the cosmos. It is all of this, all at once, that fires my rockets. It’s like every crevice of my entire brain is being thoroughly, running-round-in-circles gasping-for-breath tickled. Think about all those big ideas for a moment. The hugeness of them. The implications. The burning questions still to come. Can you feel it? Even an inkling? Yeah? Welcome to inside my head.

That day they went nuts

Wanna play a fun game? It’s called, “spot the curriculum checkbox”.

I’m strongly of the go-with-the-flow homeschooling ilk, mainly because whenever I’ve tried to lead there’s been such an almighty blow-back that we all have to lie down with cold gins compresses for two hours afterwards and nothing gets done at all. See my other posts on teh stubborn.

Then, too, part of my reasoning is that my kids will have days like this:

CraftyFish decides to write a song about how rich she is. (Literacy)

It’s kind of going all over the place so we discuss beats, rhythm and syllables. Then, dredging up a forty-year-old memory, I talk her through the AB AB C AB structure. (Music theory)

We edit and rewrite. CraftyFish is so ecstatic at her own wit that she decides she must make a music video to go with the song.

She gets out paper, pencils, ruler, scissors, and starts making fake money. (Art, but also math because she’s measuring and dividing and ruling)

Then she searches up some logos which she prints to make herself some bling accessories. By now Mr Pixel has caught her enthusiasm and joins in. I don’t even try to keep up with their discussions on branding but I do chip in on wealth, performance of identity, costume, and ‘flexing’. (Social studies)

As they work CraftyFish describes the video to Mr Pixel (this is verbal storyboarding; art again I guess or maybe literacy?) One scene involves her minion walking ahead of her, strewing money out of a basket for her to walk on. But our box of foreign change (Geography, history; because yes, we discuss where coins are from and the switches from sterling to decimal; francs and marks to euros) is old and manky, so we start trying to clean it.

Toothpaste doesn’t work so we ask the internet and learn about salt and vinegar. Only the first recipe doesn’t work fast enough for CraftyFish, so she fiddles around with it. Mr Pixel comes in to see what we are doing. He wonders which way is better, mine or CraftyFish’s – so he decides to set up separate boxes with, you know, actual measurements, and compare the results after a set time. (Science!)

So many questions emerge from this: does it work differently on different currencies? (Yes! Because different metals) Why is that one black coin there fizzing like an alka-seltzer? (No idea!) What is that green stuff called? (Malachite, apparently.) Does leaving it in longer get it cleaner? (Only up to about ten minutes.) What is the chemical reaction that is occurring? (Umm…. let’s see. I grab pencil and paper. Salt is NaCl + vinegar which is CH3COOH gives sodium hydroxide NaOH and water H2O, but the copper’s clearly reacting too so… um… kids? Hello?)

Kids have taken my phone and are shooting gangsta-style “publicity shots”. (Photography. Also, we talk Goldie – no, child, you cannot have gold caps on your teeth) – and rap culture and ‘bling’, so more music history/pop culture studiels. Also: God help me.) They send some shots to a friend with a similar sense of humor. His mum messages back, suggesting that we get them together for an afternoon of filming. This sends my kids into a frenzy of coin-cleaning, costume-constructing, and cash-creating.

But it’s lunchtime and the sizzling energy in the air is in danger of leaving everyone scorched (and starving) if it burns out of control, so I order everyone to sit down for an hour’s quiet time and food. (Health studies)

Their friend arrives. He teaches them all he knows about iMovie and they spend the next five hours making movies, talking cars, chickens, Lego …

Do you see? Do you see how one idea can lead to an entire rabbit-warren of learning for these kids? Can you see how they ended up literally exhausted, by the end of it? Because let me tell you, we were all exhausted, that day.

Yes, I would dearly love more order and predictability. I would love love love to direct their learning. What I am coming to realise, though, is that my job is to make their learning possible: finding and creating opportunities, chase them out of ruts and habits, facilitate looking-up and getting in supplies. Anything else is just ,,, yeah. Throwing marshmallows at their heads.

Some days

I got nothing, today. I’ve got ideas that drift away before I can take their measure; I wrote a post that contradicted in the end what it started off saying – but that’s fine because I somehow deleted the whole thing before I published. So instead of a post, here’s a picture of CraftyFish, running out into a huge empty park at dusk, full of joy for being out with me, for the kookaburras we saw in the carpark, for running, for the park, for dusk. May you experience any fraction of her joy.

Happy crappy

It’s a mighty fine day when I get into the garden.

It was even finer, this time, because last week I spent tossing stuff – you know, the endless crap you accumulate when you hoard things for ‘one day’ or because you’re a sentimental schmuck, or because they are *just* *so* *beyootiful*, you think you can’t possibly bear to throw them out, and your kids are the same only more so (so much more so!), and anyway we’ll get to it, until you can’t move (or see, or think) for the stuff you’ve got packed into boxes in closets and the garage? That stuff. Out. It. Went.

Which meant empty boxes, which in our house means, empty boxes from Who Gives a Crap, because they make toilet paper that’ll put a smile on your face and no they’re not sponsoring me and yes you should totally start ordering from them. It’ll give you a glow.

So there I was, five of big WGaC boxes now emptied, and then it started to rain, and for once the right neurons bumped together and lit up the “GARDEN” sign, because obviously the best thing to do with your 100% recycled, recyclable cardboard is NOT to send it off to be recycled, but to soak it, shred it, and layer it into the garden bed with lots of lovely horsey poos and the hay from the guinea pigs’ hutch, water it all down and cover it with organic sugarcane mulch, and come back in a week’s time, to start planting.

So satisfying, shredding wet cardboard! So fun, mending the leaky irrigation hose! So fragrant, the horse crap, steaming in the sun! So delightful, the shower afterwards, when for once, nobody tries to delay, divert or disturb me. Miraculous.

And if all that distracts you from the fact that you completely FORGOT you were taking the kids camping with the school until the teacher texted you a reminder a mere 60 HOURS before you’re supposed to get on the ferry and OH MY GOD WHAT DO I KNOW ABOUT CAMPING?! and by the way we’re down to 44 HOURS AND COUNTING HAVE YOU EVEN STARTED PACKING YET? then so much the better. Right?