I have the same problem with athletics that I do with everything else: I have a pretty good grasp on what I can do, but absolutely no idea how that stacks up to a theoretical "normal" person. It's worse than academics, in fact. While I was growing up, I was consistently told I was good at braining (just not how good, or that it was particularly valuable), but I was small, disliked by most of my classmates, hated the outdoors, and didn't care for team anything of any kind, so gym class was a misery. I consistently got "sympathy" from my family for being lousy at anything that didn't involve having my nose in a book. Except for dance classes. I was wonderful at that! But I was the unathletic klutz child.

Don't ask me how that works. As far as I can tell, my mother survives mainly by kiting reality checks.

Anyhow, I haven't got any good references for average right now either, inasmuch as I have been hanging out with professional dancers and circus performers. The internet is not good at giving me a benchmark. I tried one of those calorie calculator things a while ago and couldn't even get it to define what it thought was an "average" activity level. I'm pretty sure that most people don't routinely walk several miles to work because it's more reliable than the bus, but I don't know if that's because they can't or because they don't like to.

I tend not to do the weirder Stupid Human Tricks in front of other people anymore, either because there's no real reason to -- my hands are not often so full I have to hit the light switch with my foot -- or because I've been made aware that they're strange, and it's impolite to weird people out on purpose. I still do them; I'm just legally allowed to live unsupervised these days, so there aren't any witnesses.

I think I have pretty good balance. I ride the subway a lot without bothering to hang onto anything. (In the interests of full disclosure, I developed this skill so I didn't have to take any hands off my DS.) The Red Line is pretty easy; Orange is okay, but the el service on the distal side of TD Garden is a little rough. The Green Line can get tricky -- been there for 115 years and they still haven't figured out jerk -- but you can do it if you know the track curves pretty well. I don't see anyone else doing this, but I'm not sure I would have noticed, since it's only recently occurred to me that perhaps this is not normal.

I know I have fucking champion ankles. It happens when you make a habit of wearing really unwise shoes. Anyone who doubts my ability to stay upright on something a mere quarter of an inch wide is invited to inspect the shoes I wear with the Poison Ivy costume. Ice skates would actually be easier -- they're full boots.

There is actually a reason I want to know all this, other than narcissistic curiosity. I learn things weird. It's differently weird in different subjects, but with physical skills, I seem to put together the mechanics of things backwards. Best I can guess from the most common styles of instruction I run into, most people do not actually process the summation of smaller motions that lead up to the main thing they're trying to do. You tell them, "Kick your left foot up sooner," and it stays at the level of "Kick your left foot up sooner" -- they just keep doing it until, by trial and error, they hit upon some sequence of muscle movements that results in the foot in question lifting off when it's supposed to, then they keep doing that forever. It must not be conscious, because they can't explain it in smaller pieces. The command, to them, is atomic.

I don't work that way. I need to know how you want me to do whatever you're asking. "Kick your left foot up sooner," isn't how, it's what, and that does not help me at all. I don't do well in large classes for things like sports and dance, because from the point of view of the standard pedagogy, my progress is all lumpy and uneven. I'll breeze through a bunch of stuff without any issues and suddenly get stopped up on something other people are doing badly -- but doing nonetheless. I don't get hung up on not being able to do something perfectly; I just can't do it at all, even imperfectly, until I've sorted it out inside my own head.

I think other people think I'm... whiny? Obstructionist? I honestly don't know. It's incredibly frustrating to not be able to make the instruction stop while I untangle things, which of course I cannot do if I'm one person out of twenty. If my left foot isn't kicking up soon enough, it's because I need that foot where it is for some reason. If I'm not supposed to need it there, then you need to SHUT UP AND LET ME DO VECTORS until I figure out where my movement is differing from what's supposed to happen. I realize it looks like I'm staring off into space, but I promise you, that's just the screen saver. The eidetic visualization thing doesn't work unless I have my eyes open, and the kinetic equivalent doesn't work unless I'm standing in space.

The lack of how and why is mainly what made ballet boring to me. There are lots of perfectly good answers to "Why do I need to have my arms up there?" Because otherwise you'll overbalance and fall over, because if they're out farther you can't spin fast enough, because you need them there so that you can flow into the next piece of choreography. All of those make perfect sense. "Because that's how it's done," is not a useful answer, and makes me wonder what was so great about some dead French and Russian guys that you're taking their arbitrary word on dance steps over a hundred years later. It's not mechanically any more or less fascinating than any other variety of dance, but the restrictions on experimentation drove me batty.

I can only assume that most people don't put any conscious thought into how their bodies move. There's some automatic process that works out weight shifts and where feet go by guessing from the gross movements the body is being commanded to carry out. It doesn't work, or doesn't work well, for me; if I don't stumble onto what I'm supposed to do the first time, I lurch around like Frankenstein's slapdash prototype monster until I get a chance to think about it. I do get better, but raw physical repetition isn't why -- repetition plus analysis is.

If I have some idea of how what I can already do stacks up to what the instructor is going to expect, then I can sit down and try to figure out some of the stuff I need before I go to class. It reduces the temptation to rage-quit when I'm otherwise doing well. Just like everything else, it's easier for me to adapt to other people than to try to get them to adapt to me -- unfair, but true.


  1. Hmmm, all of that is very interesting and I think you're on to something about the process of how and where for movement is mostly automatic, and very definitely trial and error based.

    I do jiu jitsu, which involves balance and leg strength and lots of fiddly weight shifts and full-body co-ordination. Your arms are doing one thing, your legs another and your torso something else, and the timing has to be spot on and the balance right to be able to pull the throw off. Learning stuff is a pain, because you get basic instructions (arms, legs, feet, twists, timing-ish), and then just have to keep doing it until, suddenly, it clicks. That click tells me how my body is supposed to feel doing it and then it's just a case of practising it, until I get that feeling more often than not, at which point it starts to become muscle memory. If I'm not getting something I ask the sensei to watch, at which point they comment on where my body is not doing either what it should be (which I can often tell as I'm in the process of fluffing a move, which is frustrating) or when my body is not doing what I think it is and I haven't realised yet. But I can completely see how utterly unhelpful that is to you, given how you say you work.

    As for the balance and champion ankles, that can only be helpful when it comes to ice skating! I think being able to keep your balance on a moving subway is actually a bit of a skill, and a lot of people couldn't actually do it if they tried. However, a lot of that is due to probably muscle weakness/tightness. Doing jitsu for two years, which is all bare feet and balance and leg strength, I now have all these little muscles around my shins I can see when I flex and rotate my ankles in different ways which I couldn't before. I also got a bit of a shock lesson in just how key some of those smaller below the knee muscles are to balance when I injured one somehow and suddenly found if my foot landed on a particular angle of sloping surface when I wasn't expecting it, I stumbled. Also, if you can get on the ice after years off it and not fall over, even when trying stupid things, you're above average in that respect. English ice rinks usually have quite a handful of people going around holding onto the edge, walking as if they're on dry land rather than skating!

    Finally, I sympathise with the hating team anything sports! My particular weakness was anything small moving through the air at speed sports i.e. tennis, rounders, badminton. I liked hockey and netball because those games require vicious defence, which I was reasonably good at. Unfortunately, being a geek and teacher's pet completely lacking the important social skills as a teenager made me very unpopular with the rest of the team. :-(


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