Competence Porn – Make Your Own

You know what’s sexy? Really sexy?

Competence.

Ingenuity.

The ability to master new skills.

I remember the first time I heard the phrase competence porn. I think it was in a Wonkomance blog post called Hail, the Competent Hero by Shelley Ann Clark. A bell rang in my soul when I read those words.

Ahhhh. YES. THAT IS THE THING I LOVE.

There is something incredibly sexy about having skills. Getting shit done. Shelley writes about watching her then-husband, a social worker, manage to help a person who was unconscious on the street due to alcohol, and likely homeless, and what a turn-on it was to see him use his professional skills so smoothly and with such grace and compassion.

Watching someone who is really, really good at something do that thing?

Sexy as hell.

Learning a new skill? Turning yourself from someone who does not know how to do something into someone who can knock it out of the park?

So fucking sexy.

And I mean sexy for yourself. Not for anyone who might be watching. Because that pride, that sense of accomplishment, of having stuck it out through the shitty, frustrating, make-you-want-to-snatch-yourself-bald part, where nothing works and you’re pretty sure you’re going to have to pay double to have someone fix what you fucked up. . .there’s nothing better than that feeling.

And hey, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with paying other people to work for you.  If I’m stressed out and behind schedule (and feeling flush, because let’s admit it. . .some of my own competency is driven by budgetary restraints), I’ve got no problem throwing money and someone else’s expertise at a problem to make it go away.

This weekend, I did an awesome thing.

(Please excuse the hyperbole from here on out. I am still all aflush with the glory of my triumph.)

I have a ten-year-old kid. He is extraordinarily fond of video and computer games, in a way that is probably totally ordinary, actually. His obsession has been generally limited by the restrictions I put upon screen time hours, my long-standing rule that if he wants video games he can save up his money until he can buy them for himself—and let me tell you, the pride a little kid takes in saving for a year until he can buy (used, because he researched the best bargain) his own Nintendo DS is not to be underestimated—and our mostly old and of-minimal-power computers.

This past holiday season, my stepfather’s terminal illness came to a head. He spent a week in the ICU, and then another couple of weeks at home with my mom, who gave him the incredible gift of hospice care in their living room, his hospital bed right up against the windows overlooking Lake Michigan. My son and I spent every day there over his winter break, filling in the hours between the visits of the certified nursing assistants’ visits, me helping my mom, my son watching videos and playing computer games in the bedroom because the stress of being in the same room as a dying man was too much to ask of a ten year old.

My kid gave up his holidays without question. My family didn’t get together on Christmas as we always do, visiting each other in short bursts over a day or two instead. My sister had just had a baby and things were hard for her, too. Almost none of us had time to shop for presents. We did the best we could for my son, who got sick on Christmas and opened his gifts at home with just the two of us.

It pretty much sucked all around.

The recovery period has been hard. All of our routines were out of whack. I was (still am) behind on deadlines. My restrictions on computer time had been thrown out the window during the weeks of hospice care, and the following weeks of playing catchup on work. My son was spending every waking hour of his day on homework or watching YouTube videos of other gamers who played games that his computer system wouldn’t run, even though I’d bought them for him as a last-ditch effort to salvage something fun from the disaster of the holiday season. We made it two months past my stepfather’s memorial service and were living in a worsening spiral of lethargy and depression and shitty moods that my kid and I took out on each other with cranky words and lots of arguing.

Serious suckage.

Finally, and this is no joke, Spring came to Chicago, and we started to get a grip.

I sat down with my kid and told him that we needed a course correction. There was crying and “I hate you”s and lots of unhappiness, because once you make a new habit, intentional or not, it’s really hard to break it.

On the first decently warm day in Chicago (45 degrees!), I picked him up after school and said, “Let’s drop your stuff off and go for a run. Track practice will be coming soon enough.”

Between gasping our way around the track and walking home while we shivered, we managed to break out of our own rut. I told my kid that I thought we’d lost track of a whole lot of things that made us happy, and that I thought we should try to get them back. He told me (I already knew) how it felt like nothing good had happened in his life for a long, long time. Only bad things. And I promised that we would work harder at making good things happen too.

He also told me how frustrating it was to have been given computer games, like Civilization V, that he was dying to play, but that wouldn’t run on his computer. This was not, by a long shot, the first time he’d expressed this sentiment. I had been pretty much nodding my head and promising to do something about this for the past two and a half months. And then doing nothing.

Spring. Running. Talking without yelling or snarking at each other. These are all good things. They are especially good at helping you (me) realize when you (me, again) have been shining someone on, promising to do something and then totally ignoring that promise.

So, this past week, I buckled down and I started to research.

Now, I’m not slow on the uptake. In fact, I’ve been known to be annoyingly smug about the wide-ranging nature of my general know-it-allness, driven almost entirely by my compulsive habit of Googling any new idea/concept/vocabulary word/etc. I come across.

(And here I ignore the segue about how friends and I once discussed FSoG, which led to my saying, “But seriously, nobody is that innocent. I mean, who wouldn’t recognize a butt plug when they saw one? I mean, c’mon. Google.”, only to find my two friends staring back at me, wide-eyed and raising their hands.)

But holy cow, I did not have any of the vocabulary even to attempt to figure out what the problems were and how they could be fixed.

Here is a brief list of the things I now know the meaning of that I didn’t know a week ago:

RAM memory cards, low-profile video graphics card, pci slot, CPU, operating frequency, heat sink, CMOS battery, VGA vs DVI vs mini-DIN connectors, DDR2, motherboard, multi-core processors vs hyper-threading.

SO MUCH GOOGLING.

Trying to figure out any one thing lead to a bunch of others things that were still mysteries to me. Research, research, research. (And let me tell you, the ability to research on the internet, quickly and thoroughly, is a skill whose value cannot not be overestimated. They really need to teach this in school.)

There were setbacks. We tried things that worked but did not fix the problem. We tried things that did not work, period. We got ourselves a nice lesson in not quitting just because you fail for the tenth time in a row.

When I finally had all the new components installed in the second desktop tower I tried to upgrade (a tense process, as every YouTube video out there tells you to make sure you ground yourself before messing around inside your computer, or else risk frying your aforementioned motherboard…I grounded myself correctly, I was 99% sure…), we plugged all the cords back in, turned it on, and tried to run the computer game.

Nothing happened.

Exactly like the nothing that had happened after every other thing we’d tried. I’d braced my son for this possibility, telling him there might be other reasons the program wouldn’t load, and we would just keep working until we figured them all out.

So we both sighed, but I could see the crushing disappointment on his face, again. Hear that shaky exhale.

There’s really only so much disappointment a ten year old can be expected to handle. I took a deep breath and prepared to reassure him that we would not quit. Again.

The game’s landing page popped up on the screen.

Our simultaneous shouts of “Holy shit!” echoed in my kid’s tiny bedroom. (Cursing is allowed in extraordinary situations, with no witnesses, in our household.)

In the end, using $110 and a pair of pliers, I was able to upgrade my kid’s computer to a system sophisticated enough to run the games he’s been waiting on since Christmas.

When I tell you how great that feels . . . When I mention that it’s been four days and this story is still my favorite thing to talk about, to the point that I’m calling up friends I haven’t talked to in a while, just so I can casually drop it into our conversation . . . then you will understand what I mean when I say I am fucking triumphant over this success.

Mastering a new skill, getting through the shitty part, and making it to the finish line, where YOU ARE NOW A GENIUS . . . man, that’s some heady stuff. It occurs to me that we should look harder in our lives to find opportunities to do this. Because it reminds you of just how much you can do, if you push yourself.

Competence porn.

Get yourself some.

(As I’m wrapping up this very long blog post, it occurs to me that I had a pretty stellar streak of competence in another arena last week, also. Parenting competence FTW. Not a bad deal, all around.)


Comments

Competence Porn – Make Your Own — 4 Comments

  1. That is FREAKING AWESOME! I love the term “competence porn”, and I even more love how you upgraded a computer by digging in on The Google. You are a truly fantastic mom. Definitely an inspiring woman, and I feel blessed to know you. <3

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