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Thursday, February 14, 2013


I am not a good mechanic. In fact, I am far from even aspiring to mere competence. I can hardly do anything. Yet I read once in a book on car maintenance about the problem of getting a tight bolt or nut or something loose. The problem is that there is a little tiny thing that you have to get loose. There is a lack of proportion between the smallness of the object and the largeness of your body. It might be in an awkward place. You might have strong muscles that cannot be applied elegantly to the particular mechanical problem. The trick is to be able to channel the entire strength of your body (or enough of it) toward that particular task. The shoulder, for example, is stronger than the wrist. The entire turning motion of the body is stronger than the mere shoulder. Think of throwing a ball using just the wrist, the elbow and the wrist, the shoulder the elbow and the wrist, the legs the hips the shoulder the elbow and the wrist... In the same way, if someone grabs your wrist, do not worry about the wrist and the strength of the grip holding you, relax your wrist completely and simply step back and pivot with full weight of the body. (Or so I'm told. Please don't take mechanical, ball-throwing, or martial arts advice from me.)

Just so in scholarship, it is helpful to address a seemingly small but difficult task by marshaling the entire strength of the mind. If you direct your whole effort toward something, it becomes much easier. Things get inordinately hard when you want them to be too easy and you get impatient. Try to work on one paragraph or knotty sentence at a time, slowing yourself down. The effect will be that it becomes easier and hence faster in the long run. Solve one small problem at a time.


Andrew Shields said...

That "just so" is like reading Dante. And the advice that follows is like watching "Ghost Dog." :-)

Jonathan said...

I was going for Virgil but I'll take the Dante and Ghost Dog comparisons.

Andrew Shields said...

Dante got it from Virgil, of course.