It’s a well-known and well-observed fact that my mechanical aptitude obviously drowned in the family gene pool somewhere along the line. Brain gurus say we have nine different intelligences, and while at least seven of mine whiz along fine, my gizmo intelligence operates at dial-up speed.
Some folks are blessed with the ability to glance at any mechanism and within two seconds achieve an intimate relationship with the device.
I, on the other hand, must have a manual with kindergarten-level written directions and detailed step-by-step diagrams to even change a flashlight battery, refill my stapler, or open a key chain.
I have yet to conquer the inscrutable intricacies of a mechanical pencil.
I see where to insert the lead, but I’ll be darned if I can make it stay inside the pencil. As soon as I tip it over for writing, the lead slips out.
A few years ago, I admitted defeat, gave away my spiffy pencils and bought a case of yellow No. 3 wood sticks.
Once, I removed my toaster oven rack without drawing a diagram of its exact position within the contraption. I ate burnt toast for two weeks before I was able to figure out which side of the rack faces up and what stupid slot the dumb rack was designed to fit.
Another time, I embarrassed myself by sincerely asking a student why he had a movie reel canister in class.
He looked at me blankly for a minute. When he realized I wasn’t joking, he graciously explained – as one does for the disabled – that the thingamajig was a disc brake, or at least some sort of wheel-related mechanism. Of course, the rest of the class thought this was hilarious, and the entire school knew of my ignorance by the next period.
And speaking of school, these days it’s a scary place for techno-dimwits. From overhead projectors and PowerPoint presentations to Web cams and Smart Boards, everything we do requires fussing with some kind of evil-minded technological gadget.
I’m always practicing humility.
However, this gives me empathy for my students who approach an essay, or sometimes just a sentence, with the same helpless dread:
Can I splice these clauses with a comma?
How do I keep my modifiers from dangling? Do I need a “lie” or a “lay,” should I use “its” or “it’s”?
And for gosh sakes, is it the Jones, the Joneses, the Jones’, the Jones’s, or the Joneses’ – or do I just use them all: the Jones’es’s?
I know the anguish of frustration and insecurity at not being able to figure out what apparently 99.9 percent of people of average intelligence can comprehend without smoke emitting from their ears.
So I do what any good teacher would do.
I whisper in the student’s ear:
“I’ll give you 100 extra credit points on your essay for unjamming that gizmo, programming that whatchamacallit, and installing that thingamajig in the doohickey.”