FAILURE TO COMPLETE
When I look back across the intergenerational transmission of values and skills, the most problematic case is that of my father. Part of the difficulty is the emotional burden of what I know: all three of we sibs hated him. At first I thought it was the spankings, then his “plus and minus” system, and maybe sexual abuse as therapists and pop culture define it now. But I can’t find any evidence for that. I finally decided the problem was his personality change after a concussion from a car accident smashed him in the forehead. That was 1948. The change was not sudden but developed over years.
Aside from his clumsy attempts to control his own children, his basic problem seems to be failure to complete. For instance, he had two schemes for a side-hustle that meant accumulation of materials. One was something like a news feed for ag improvements which meant saving a lot of clippings — but without transmission to anyone else. The other was a slide show about Lewis and Clark featuring photos of points along their expedition. This meant accumulating slides he took on trips and others that he ended up buying commercially. Quality varied widely.
He never gave a thought to marketing, an audience, timing, or a conclusive insight. It was as though he didn’t know those aspects existed. And none of these projects were completed or well-done. They were just abandoned. The worst thing about it is that I have that tendency myself. Where does it come from? Where does it go?
In myself I sometimes find a reluctance to intervene in situations though I did that all the time when teaching or for animal control. But occasionally I saw an obvious occasion demanding me to do something or at least say something but when I did, it all blew up in my face. After all no one wanted it or asked for it. I was not authorized by any authoritative body. My mother called me “Meddlesome Matty.”
I knew where that came from: I was the oldest and on into toddler-hood I was the bossiest person around. I had grasped the fact that things WERE a certain way and should be maintained in that way. Maybe it was because my mother’s sister (the sister next younger) was in nursing school and was around our house quite a lot of the time, instructing us as she was taught. It was WWII and things had to be done carefully. So I instructed all the adults around me.
Later, when I had two younger brothers (BOYS, very important), they took priority even when my mother instructed me to be in charge and make them mind me, which they didn’t. At adolescence I opposed my mother, seeing a different world, and never got over it. Others thought this was very wicked, which contributed to my failure to complete something in order to escape the guilt of defying her, evading her, and then later a husband, a superintendent, a Civil Service boss.
But the other problem came from my father’s side. Maybe it was growing up isolated on a homestead with only sibs, maybe it was college at the fledgling U of Manitoba, but he had no concept of excellence in the sense that I met it in college. I was required by the family to be a standout, but the effort and vision required by professors was more than that and I was afraid I just didn’t have it in me. I joked, I evaded, I ran away. I never did learn how to really buckle down with something difficult which is why I still can’t do statistics or formal philosophy.
But some things came so easily that I didn’t have to try. Print, for instance. I can handle print. Images, not so much. I just don’t know how I do it which makes it hard to teach. Like reading — one day I could just do it.
Another problem related to expectations interfering with success is about gender, not sex. So far as I know, I was never molested, but my father’s understanding of his sister was that she was special, fragile, beautiful, a princess and he expected me to be like that. It translated to me as childish and being owned. I went with my mother’s idea of females which was basically that they were just as good as males. “Anything you can do, etc.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO23WBji_Z0
It was about the times or the song wouldn’t be so popular.
When my mother finished her bachelor’s degree, my father’s pretense about his superiority was ended. But her advice to me was that I should not be so “smart” because no one would marry me. Then she gave up that fantasy and expected that as an old maid I would be an assistant to her. Not. But it was awkward going to seminary for my master’s when I was the same age as my professors and had much more life experience. Their expectation was their superiority and they weren’t. With exceptions. Those guys are why I can achieve in some narrowly defined ways.
So what am I going to do about it? Try to improve the weaknesses? Exploit the best gifts? Obviously, at 80, best follow the latter.
How will I know whether I’m approaching completion? I did get the bio of Bob Scriver done and published and it is as complete as I could made it at the time. I could rewrite a different version. But is a “book” the way to go? No longer is a narrative confined to paper between covers, though most people — including my family — are still firmly attached to that idea. They have no grasp of the business of publishing so it doesn’t matter to them who makes the book or how many copies there are.
There are two other issues in this “failure to complete” puzzle. One is that finality, as in completion, closes down options. I didn’t really like getting married because I loved being a single unobligated person who could theoretically pack a bag and take off to the rest of the world. But a female in those days couldn’t really do that. Or so I thought.
The other factor is genuine curiosity to see what will happen next in this amazing and surprising world. Some things just knock me over, sometimes with laughter. Curiosity means waiting to see more evidence.
So is a blog itself an exercise in failure to complete like my father’s piles of paper at the desk he improvised in the basement to escape the tyranny of his massive old typewriter on a proper desk upstairs where he composed reports for work? That machine had iconic status which meant I snuck typing on it, against the rules, before I really knew how. I just made rows of print. The magic is still with me on this computer. Incantational, world-building, hypnotic. But it’s a means. What is the “end”? When is “enough”? Will I be forced to stop? I don’t type so well with old fingers.
Rude people signal approval by ordering me to keep writing. They also instruct me not to fall off ladders. Why do they never say specifically what they like about what I do? Would one of the answers to my questions be finding more satisfying readers? How?