Wednesday, April 29, 2009


It has occurred to me lately even more than usual that I am a hands-on person. As such, I tend to view my world in a very physical way. This affects three things that I have been noticing - how I learn, how I interact with people, and how I cope with stress.


For me to really learn something, I need to touch it. I loved my mom's "manipulators" in the early grades - polygon puzzles, counting blocks, marble runs and erector sets. I hated circuits class in college, because I couldn't touch the electrons, and I couldn't understand how the current and voltage and op-amps and all those silly things worked. I finally got through it with an analogy somebody taught me - my dad, probably - that circuits are just garden hoses, with the current being the water flowing through and the water pressure being the voltage. Resistors are kinks in the hoses, capacitors are tanks, and so on. Things I could touch made sense to me, electrons floating around did not.

When I need to learn facts for class, or equations for a test, I can read it in the notes but it doesn't stick. If I write it down, it's a physical process and I remember it better. The absolute best way for me to remember something is to write it on my hand, or arm, or somewhere on my skin. It takes about two days to wash off through showers and handwashing, which is perfect. For two days every time I look at my hand I remember the fact, and by the time it washes off I've got it down. I've been doing this to study for my qualifying exams, and I have gotten some funny looks, but hey - I know what works for me! And really, in the grand scheme of things here, it barely registers on the weird scale... :)

Interacting with People

I don't like emotions, I can't touch those. I don't like drama and politics, I can't quantify those. I prefer to deal with logic, which works in my favor in a technical field. But I come off as insensitive sometimes, and I have to remember to be sympathetic to those around me.

Being so hands-on also makes me very aware of touching - I notice every time somebody brushes by, bumps me in the hall, taps me on the shoulder. I'm very protective of who I touch, because it means a lot to me, so I keep my distance from people at large. I only hug family and a few friends, I don't really cuddle, or hold hands, and those sappy teenagers on the subway drive me nuts. But this also means when somebody encourages me with an arm around the shoulders, or when my mom rubs my neck, I can truly take comfort in that.


My favorite thing to do to wind down is to do mindless physical work. Folding laundry at night, washing dishes. In college I was on a concrete canoe team, and in the evenings I would go sand on that canoe. Sanding was perfect for stress - it tired me out, it was productive, and I got to let my mind wander while I worked. Here in grad school, I have no canoe to sand, but I can take a walk along the river now that it's summer. I also like to cook, but that's not quite mindless... at least not if I want to eat it :)

I realize this post doesn't mean much to the internet population at large, but I have just been reminded lately that this quality is part of who I am. I think part of growing up is growing to understand who you are, and perhaps I may eventually get there after all.

1 comment:

  1. It's encouraging that you still conceive of yourself as still growing up. It really amazes me how many of my peers want to grow up as quickly as possible.