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Robert Bénard: Goldsmiths' Cast Machine (1771)

"It was always destined to become a one-and-done contraption."

An old Pennsylvania Dutch caution insists we're "too late schmart." Smarts emerge only after stupidity tuckers out, usually much nearer the end than any beginning. Whenever we set about trying to accomplish something, we first set about learning how we might achieve that desired end. We might spend much more than half the time we've allotted to accomplishing, quite literally not accomplishing, making mistakes and course correcting. We might not finally stumble upon the magic combination enabling accomplishing until very near the end of the pursuit. Once accomplished, the by then MightyMachine we assembled to achieve our end probably becomes moot. We seldom find ourselves in a position to accomplish the same thing again.

Our learnings might go into cold storage until another related effort begins, but even then, considerable adaptation will be required before those past learnings find fresh relevance.
A leg up was always different from sitting astride a horse. Professionals seek to produce methods to hold past learnings in the often misguided belief that these might make more uniform efforts. We humans seem to worship an idea of an efficiency we rarely experience. The hope does spring eternal, though, that we might come to know how to do something novel without having to re-experience so damned much humiliating learning as a part of that process. This wish seems destined to mostly remain unrequited.

The Muse's campaign for election to the opening Port Commission seat serves as a present reminder of just how awful a machine can run yet still stumble into some magical-seeming combinations. I've noted before how we seemed to need to initially do almost everything backward. Our first printing, for instance, featured a prominent misspelling and so needed to be destroyed, after I do not know how many proofreading passes. Our initial notions often proved misleading, forcing the team into various recovery routines. Things would stay stalled for weeks before opening in a nearly overwhelming flood. Procrastination sometimes became a benefit, as the timing ultimately seemed perfect despite poor planning and worse execution. The Muse was often overwhelmed by challenges, but the operation proved remarkably buoyant and less by design than by default.

What I'd never done two weeks ago has now become first nature. I can reliably foresee accomplishing without making too much of a hash. It's still hard work, but it's found its groove. We have finally reached the MightyMachine stage of the campaign, where the various parts have found congruence. Helpers have emerged. We count in hundreds the numbers of houses we dropped literature at this past weekend, and we have follow-on precincts already chosen for their presumed impact and ease of access. The letters to the editor have filled the pipeline if only the editor would choose to publish them. It all feels enormously gratifying, though I remain aware that much of the progress was probably inevitable.

Every effort begins as, essentially, a roomful of monkeys typing. Progress will not become evident for the longest time because typing monkeys take the longest time to accomplish anything. The monkeys never succeed as monkeys; they rely upon evolution instead. Those who remain monkeys in the typing pool might make plenty of noise, but only their offspring, over generations, finally manage to produce something worthwhile. The lag time seems interminable while the evolution proceeds. Stick with anything long enough, and you're very likely to succeed. These short campaigns, like a single election cycle, compress the learning space into infinitesimals.

The reward for accomplishment will be the disassembly of the MightyMachine. So haphazardly and painstakingly constructed, it will not survive after the election. Win or lose, The Muse will continue to reuse connections crafted as a part of the campaign. Her internal Rolodex runneth over after so innumerably many conversations over coffees. Her public image will have been framed so that even if not elected, she might find herself one of this county's twenty-five most influential voices in the future. However, the MightyMachine she constructed and field tested will have to go. Some parts will be applied to solve other problems. Our map of yard sign locations will become a treasured artifact for upcoming generations. The votes we tried to encourage will get logged before disappearing. There will never be a next time for this MightyMachine. It was always destined to become a one-and-done contraption.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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