Sunday, August 10, 2014

Low hanging fruit

I think I have written about this before.  It made an impression on me.  I'm still trying to figure out how it applies to my life.  A professor speaking at an orientation for new PhD students gave them advice about choosing which topic to research.  He used a metaphor of low hanging fruits, which are easy to pick from the tree.  He said that people are different.  What is easy for you is hard for someone else, and vice versa.  Students feel that they ought to choose a hard topic.  He advised them to choose a topic that is easy for them, and let the topic that is hard for them be done by someone who finds it easy.

The things that have always come easy for me are observing people and writing.

The things I've always tried to do, but never succeed at are dancing and data analysis.

I wrote some as a younger kid, but it was when I was about 13 that I started writing all the time.  Then it was journals, letters, and stories.  Fiction writing last only until I was about 22.  As technologies changed, journals and letters became e-mails, blog posts, and Facebook posts.  Even when I am not actually writing, my mind is always writing.  As I got through life, my brain is putting together words, writing about my experiences and ideas.

Observing people
In elementary school, I told my mother about who all the kids in my class were.  I might draw a seating chart showing where each one sat, and then described the personalities of each kid.

In high school, there were two named social groups, preppies and burnouts.  I noticed that not everyone fit into those groups.  I thought about the rest of the people, decided what the other groups were, and made up names and descriptions for each of the other groups.

Now, in Morris dancing, I made an effort to learn how the dances go, and my mind knows that pretty well, even though my feet don't.  But what my mind latches onto without any effort is the people stuff.  Who is friends with whom.  Who gets annoyed by whom.  Who likes or dislikes which dance.  Who likes to dance which position in each dance.  Who is good or bad at which part of each dance.

When I was little, about 4, 5, or 6, a group of young people in their teens and 20s, including my parents, gathered round listening to a rock band.  I was so inspired that I got up and spun round and round.  When I was done and plopped down, the adults applauded me.  I've tried  ballet, jazz dance, modern dance, swing dance, ballroom dance, Afro-Caribbean dance, contra dance, and square dance but all went so badly that I did not stay with them very long.  I've stayed with Morris dance for more than two years now, but that too goes badly and I'm not sure how much longer I will stay with it.  I've had more success with kinds of dance that are more about exercise -- I took aerobic dance classes for many years, and then when that was no longer a thing that was offered everywhere, I took Nia for several years until the teacher quit. Now I'm doing tai chi, which to me is just a very slow sort of dance.

Though formal styles of dance have not worked out well for me, all my life, I have danced around my house.  In fact, that is a criterion for choosing a place to live.  My apartment is on the second floor, but it is above an office that is mostly not used evenings and weekends.  Therefore there is no one to complain about the noise if I dance around.

Data analysis
My interest in data analysis started when I was in college.  I chose psychology rather than sociology as my major because at my particular college, psychology was more oriented toward research and statistics than sociology was.

As I finished college, I applied for many research jobs.  I did not get any.  I got an administrative assistant job.  I mostly did not like it, but one thing that I did like about it was working with databases.

Then I went on for a Master's in Social Work because my goal was to do research on how to solve social problems.  I had seen a homeless person provided with an apartment lose that apartment because he invited over a lot of rowdy friends who damaged the apartment.  It seems like commons sense that giving someone housing would be a good way to solve homelessness, but in this case, common sense was wrong.  I wanted to do research to find out what actually worked, so that people who tried to fix things could do so in ways that would actually work.

I generally enjoyed my studies, both the research and statistics parts, and the other parts, learning about people and social problems.  As I came to the end of my studies, I started applying for research jobs.   I applied for many jobs.  I did  not get any research jobs.  Finally I got a job.  One of the things that I liked best about it was working with databases.

And now here I am, many years later still in that job.  In that time, I've taken courses in web design, computer science, statistics, and institutional research.  Somehow, those courses never quite took.  I mean, I learned some things, but then I felt like this is as far as I want to go with these things.

That's like what happened with the dancing.  I've taken dance classes, but then I get to a point where I feel like I don't want to go any further.

I've never stopped writing and I've never stopped observing people.  I've never really wanted to take classes in writing, and never especially liked the English classes I was required to take for school.  I'm a factual writer.  I don't write fiction or poetry.  I don't write promotional materials.  I can write procedure manuals, policy guidelines, job descriptions, reports, and meeting minutes.  Some of those may be kind of boring to write however.

As for observing people, I have enjoyed the classes I've taken in social sciences.

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