Friday, February 26, 2010

Quick, Slow

One of the things I like about bicycling is that you don't have to be a fast, rangy ectomorph to do it. I'm an endomorph – stocky, slow, heavily muscled. When we were running in Phys Ed, at school, I always straggled in with the last few guys, half a lap behind. I was hopeless as a baseball and basketball player: but I surprised people by being able to swarm up ropes or pegboards with ease. I had plenty of slow-twitch muscle, even if I couldn't run or hit a ball to save my soul.

When riding a bicycle, I can use all that muscle. I have a twenty-one gear bike, 3 by 7, and I just never use the bottom 14 gears. Other people will be pumping rapidly away, while I grind slowly along in the highest gears, keeping pace even though my legs are moving much more slowly. I will never be fast at anything, but I can make a bike go fast.

Part of what has made this phase of my life so rewarding is that I am no longer trying to be things I'm not, physically, as well as mentally. I will never be rangy and quick. Stocky and slow is what I am, for better or worse. I have never thought well on my feet. I'm easily flustered by dealing with more than one thing: no one will ever call me a good multitasker. I am cautious, slow, and meticulous. I hate hurrying, and for good reason: when I hurry I make mistakes, ludicrous mistakes, mistakes that quicker-witted people would never make no matter what the rush.

The only thing I've ever been quick at is written tests and pattern-matching games. I've always been the sort of person who aces tests; I'm usually done before anyone else, and can't imagine what they're lingering over. This is immensely useful in the modern world, which depends so heavily on testing and certification, but I've always been a little embarrassed by it. People who are far more capable than I, and who study much harder than I do, come out worse on tests. I'm unhappily aware of the unfairness of that.

I've been thinking about quickness and slowness because I secretly lost my temper last night. I was riding home from work, and came to a four way stop. A car came to the intersection from the left, and arrived a little before me. I came to a full stop, and waited for it, but the driver waved for me to go on through, so I did.

This infuriated me. I arrived home in a bad temper, and it took me half an hour to recover my equanimity.

I know: I can see the blank look on your faces. What's there to be angry about? She was just being nice, right?

Yes, I know that. But you're thinking like a quick person, not a slow person. Imagine what this is like for me. I'm operating at the far end of my comfort zone already, dealing with more than one moving object. I have a set of rules for evaluating whether things are safe, and for what I do next. This is not easy for me. I have to do a lot of my processing ahead of time. And suddenly, for no reason, somebody plunges me into a hasty re-evaluation of the whole situation, and demands a quick decision of me. This is what I am worst at. This is the sort of situation in which I make disastrous mistakes. I rushed into the intersection, my feet slipping on the pedals, just hoping that her evaluation was correct, and that it was actually safe for me to go. I didn't know whether it was or not. It would have taken me twenty seconds to figure that out and verify it. I don't think fast on my feet. I mean that. I'm not making it up or exaggerating it.

There were a couple subsidiary responses. I felt infantilized by her waving me through. Just because I'm on a bicycle, that doesn't make me a six year old. I don't need any favors: I just need people to follow the rules of the road. And since I knew I'd travel through the intersection more slowly than she would, it was simply stupid, objectively, to send us through in that order: the total time expended by us both would end up being greater. But of course that's just the kind of ideation that being angry sparks: I could have come up twenty other justifications for being angry. What really made me angry was being made to hurry, being made aware of my incompetence, being forced to do something I was bad at, and at her bland assumption that I ought to be happy to use her judgment rather than my own. I know, my judgment is slow and ponderous; but I prefer to use it anyway. What do I know about a stranger's judgment? For all I knew, she could be waving me into the path of of a truck.

I don't think she was wrong to wave me through. I don't think she should have done otherwise. I just want all of you quick people out there to understand that we slow people may not respond the way you expect us to. In another mood, I might have stubbornly stayed put, and motioned you to go first. Not because you're wrong, but just because my capacities are different from yours: and I need to use mine, not yours.

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