September 01, 2009

Kick Ass Compassion

Today I got my ass kicked. And it was good.

Sixty seconds after I managed to suck it up by breathing deep and mentally chanting “I will not cry, I will not cry,” I realized I had made exactly the right choice when I picked my thesis mentors. Wrathful protectors, the both of them, unrelenting compassion. Which means they’re gonna damn well educate me for my own good whether or not I see fit to cooperate. I do try. Honestly, I don’t mean to be a stubborn pain in the ass, but when I don’t get it, I’m not going to sit there and nod my head and pretend like I do.

I’ve heard it said a dozen times that you can’t teach design and I’ve always thought it was a cop out. What they speaker really meant was that they can’t teach design. And I’ll agree, it’s damned hard to teach, but after fumbling and frustration (and not crying), they managed to explain it to me – the pieces I’m missing, where I need to go back, what I need to articulate.

“I feel like I’m learning to talk,” I told them, after listening to Rumiko’s description of all the things I needed to consider in my schematic design and how I needed to articulate those considerations diagrammatically. Because I had considered them, I just hadn’t done so explicitly, or hell, even consciously in some cases. I work intuitively, just stirring the pot and letting it boil.

“The thing about intuitive design,” Duncan pointed out, “is there’s no accountability. How do you know you’ve met all the criteria? How can you compare one design against another?”

I’d never thought of it that way. It makes a lot of sense. Then on the other hand, it’s only true if the designer fails to be accountable. I don’t have to county every apple in a bushel to know whether or not I’ve been gyped. I can look at a complex algebra equation and spit out an answer, if not perfect, then damned close, without working any of the steps. But then, Duncan and Rumiko are meticulous. It’s part of their personalities and I’ve always known that. I’m more willing to fly by the seat of my pants, but I can see where it would pay to perfect the meticulous approach first. Like an art teacher once told me, “Abstraction should be a conscious choice, not a default because you never learned how to draw.”

I was frustrated because what they were asking for was not something I’d ever been asked to do before, or if I have it was so poorly I didn’t understand what was required and then managed to fudge by without really understanding what I was doing or why. I don’t like not understanding, I’m not used to it, and I quickly become frustrated, mostly with myself. Eventually we worked it out. They just want recipes for the soup. That’s not so bad, hey? We all need recipes when we’re learning to cook.

“How did I ever get this far without knowing this stuff?” I asked, but they just shrugged. I wonder if all grad students are this clueless. I thanked them for putting up with me. After all, when I asked Rumiko to be on my thesis committee I told her that her job would be to kick my ass.

Boy did she ever, and Duncan got the other cheek!

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