"TheTrick might preserve the tool user's thumb,
but it won't make anyone into a carpenter."

Operating any tool requires one fundamental understanding. One must know TheTrick. Effectively using even a hammer or a screwdriver demands a functional understanding of their unique Trick. These tricks cannot be reduced to some simple command or instruction, but want a subtler sort of relationship with the tool. It might be that no one can properly learn TheTrick without first suffering some injury caused by not understanding it. This injury need not be catastrophic, but it must rise to a level causing some distress. A board ruined by not respecting TheTrick when using a manual saw might suffice. No thumb need be sacrificed to learn most tricks, though I avoid most power tools because they seem particularly unforgiving should I not fully comprehend their particular trick, and I never seem to fully comprehend any of them.

Power tool designers further complicate this situation by deeply embedding each tool's particular trick.
Different brands of the same tool tend to hide their unique trick like a malevolent software designer embeds Easter Egg functions within their user interface. My nephew changes drill bits with what appears to me to be pure sleight of hand. Even when he slows down his actions, I can't catch the trick, so I pass the drill to him whenever the bit needs changing. Most of his tools, I let him operate and offer to hold the safe end of the board he's sawing or to go fetch something so as to keep myself safely out of range of any trick-ignorant catastrophe.

Even the lowly screwdriver, though, has a trick to using it. The price of not knowing the screwdriver's trick will likely be no more humiliating than a suddenly appearing blood blister, though that blister will annoy me for the better part of a week. The damage tends to happen in the sort of split second that utterly defies observation. I feel the bite but cannot for the life of me identify the dog that delivered it, so not even repeated injury necessarily leads to any enlightenment. I'm learning to wear heavy gloves when I operate a screwdriver. Though a screwdriver looks innocent enough, in the wrong hands (my hands!), it tends to turn malevolent.

People who work with their hands seem to know an awful lot of tricks, but I suppose that this holds true for anyone working any trade. I used to exhort my project management students that the tricks of the trade were not the trade, and to be wary of simply accumulating tricks as a means for learning any trade. Minutely studying how a master guitarist taps his foot to keep time (a definite trick to mastering guitar performance), won't make anyone a master guitar player. Keeping time is a definite trick but certainly not the trade.

I'm unlikely to be exposed to enough repetitions of any tool use to become comfortable with my understanding of their trick. I can pass for a passable nail hammerer, discovering the trick to it about the time the need for hammering passes. With our remodeling project, each successive tool mastery proves fleeting, as each stage renders the skills from the prior one irrelevant. By the time I'm next called upon to hammer some nails, my once intimate understanding of TheTrick will have almost completely extinguished, my muscles will have forgotten the lessons they learned and I will be no more skilled than a milk-skinned rookie again.

I think it entirely likely that the tricks of the trade prove useless as long as one must consciously invoke them. Those who hammer and saw every workday seem to have moved their understanding of the tricks they know into the realm of the tricks they are not conscious of knowing, which makes them damnably difficult to teach to others. This might be a feature of all tricks of every trade, that they must become preconscious adaptations or they remain spotty and essentially useless. Every teacher must be intimately familiar with the effects of this phenomenon. First principles never constitute a trade and mere exposure to them won't buy anyone much. The tricks might be fundamental, but simply accumulating some requisite volume of them seems beside any point.

Some have asked me to teach them how to write. Their request leaves me wordless because I am not in any way aware of how I write. How could I possibly teach another? I know of no way to meaningfully distinguish between genuine universal tricks of the trade and my own unique eccentricities. Typing with three fingers might seem like TheTrick for me, but could only hamper anyone else. It might be that mastery never feels terribly masterful to any true master, who is necessarily no longer aware of all the tricks of the trade they've long ago relegated to that place transcending conscious knowing. TheTrick might preserve the tool user's thumb, but it won't make anyone into a carpenter.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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