" … how one goes about acquiring a sincere lack of skill
as the recipe for accomplishing anything."

I still blanch at any request for me to catalogue my skills. If I have skills, I must be largely unaware of them because I never think of myself as particularly skilled. I seem more often to catch myself less than entirely certain if I can accomplish anything I imagine doing. Maybe I forget between engagements. Maybe I never knew. I still engage, but with a persistent sense that I'm just a beginner, probably a pretender, hoping to somehow accomplish the best. I might be most skilled at engaging with a deep sense of uncertainty about what outcome I might produce. I cannot honestly claim to possess any but this deeply questionable "skill."

So when called to help on some project, I tend to self-select into a role that's unlikely to lead to too much calamity should my initial self-assessment prove true.
Called to assist in the demolition of our kitchen, I milled around until recognizing where I might most meaningfully contribute: as a nail puller. Nail pulling seemed like critically important work that none of the dedicated demolishers seemed all that interested in performing. They were hammering apart cabinets and freeing tightly toed in two by fours, throwing off dangerous Stegosaurus-tailed parts like a crew of rampaging Incredible Hulks. When I was ten or so, I stepped on an ancient rusty nail, driving it right through my sneakers and foot, so my spider sense was more than tingling seeing all those nasty nail points piling up.

I found my crowbar, borrowed pilers and a hammer, and for the next few hours fancied myself as a nail extraction specialist. The work's remarkably intricate, requiring deep analysis into angles and force. Sturdy and stabile work surfaces were shrinking fast as the built-ins bowed to the onslaught of demolishing force. I hovered in my corner, accumulating a pile of backwork, pecking through, producing pristine scrap wood. The whole context sounds more absurd than it was, as it's often the case (or so it seems to be) that some guy with a broom or a crowbar turns out to be an unrecognized key to making any real progress. The demolishers' progress could quickly smother their own mobility, slowing the destructive machine. Some relief valve, quietly whistling in some corner, relieves the building pressure. What kind of skill is that?

Well, it's a perfect skill for someone who does't seem to recognize himself as having any skill. In my head, of course, I'm quietly justifying why nail pulling might well become an Olympic sport someday, as some achingly subtle competition akin to three dimensional chess or chisenbop; one of those severely under-appreciated gifts to mankind. I found myself fully able to appreciate myself, even if nobody else around me seemed to quite fully comprehend the intricate choreography I was pulling off along the side there. I eventually became what perhaps only I considered to be the go-to nail puller, indispensable to the deconstruction effort.

By the end of the day, my muscles were reminding me just how unpracticed I had so recently been in this curious occupation. My right hand felt about twice its previous size. My back ached in a most satisfying way. I have more nail pulling to accomplish today and though I'll start the day with more recent experience than I'd had starting the day before, I will again consider myself essentially unskilled as I engage. I figure I might stumble upon some ultimate technique for decisively extracting nails. Maybe I could write some definitive self-help guide to teach this critical skill to a currently unaware youth. Or maybe I might even tackle the great challenge of finally cataloguing how one goes about acquiring a sincere lack of skill as the recipe for accomplishing anything.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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