I have really been depressed about the death of Elisson. So much so that I have not been at this site now for a solid year and a half.

Even Red Sea Pedestrians only sit Kaddish a year. My eyes are moist as I write this because Elisson was a good and decent man: May his name be forever written in the book of life. Hopefully even now he shares an adult beverage with Acidman.


The reason I came here and dug through piles of post-it-notes trying to find my damned password so I could log back in was to clear a mental tab, and I will do so if it kills me.

This post is about the Knack. No, not those guys, but this.

Everyone knows someone with a Knack. An ability that goes beyond a mere skill, an ability that sometimes seems supernatural. The guy who did the trim work in your kitchen, the guy who hammers the dents out of your truck, the girl who makes sure your office IT works perfectly and constantly. Some knacks are ingrained, and some require some practice, some require practice to keep the physical skills and muscle memory in top shape.

Watch a good cabinetmaker and you can see what I mean. His tools are in specific places and work in specific ways and he uses them in a specific order and he makes it look like magic, makes it look so easy. Same with anyone who has that innate ability, if it’s a mechanic or a guitar player or a guy who plows roads.

because the Knack doesn’t have to be some majestic skill, it can be as simple as being a good frycook, folding laundry, cleaning hotel rooms, driving truck, running a combine. There are just some people who are naturally good at some things.

Certain types of these skills do require some work. Even the most natural baseball players or musicians have to practice those skills, and being out of practice is a thing. And it isn’t a switch, but a rheostat, some have it in spades, and some are barely touched. I know a guy who can play the guitar pretty well, and he doesn’t even have to think about it. But there’s also Roy Clark, who seemed to be able to play any damned instrument he touched within a few minutes (Maybe not that quickly, to be honest, but pretty damned quickly). This brings us to the people who can do a lot of different things. I know a lawyer who is a great musician and who also works on his own cars. I know a millennial kid who taught himself engraving and programming lasers and is one of the leaders in the field. He’s also an online Go player, and by all accounts a very, very good one. Polymaths, especially young polymaths, are not as common as they might once have been, I feel, because the educational system is directed at everything but them. What was once, if not celebrated then at least recognized, as a special ability, and developed and nurtured, is now “Diagnosed” and maybe, too often medicated.

Don’t get me wrong; a powerful lot of people genuinely benefit from medications for ADD & etc. I know a lot of those people, and while many of them have made their own way and have done very well for themselves, a lot of them have lived less fulfilled lives than they otherwise might because they were always square pegs being forced into round holes. A lot of those people end up being That Guy. You know the guy at work who they call in when everything has gone to shit, the guy they leave alone in his office most of the time but who wades in fists clenched and fixes whatever everyone else fucked up. he may grumble or even outright bitch, but it will work when he sulks back to his office/cube/workbench.

The best and luckiest of these people do very well for themselves, people whose parents or teachers recognized their abilities and guided them and focused them and helped them thrive, or people who figured it out, maybe after a long time, on their own.

You can think of this as a specific way people’s brains are assembled, or as a gift from G-d, or whatever, that’s not this conversation. I know I have a solid skillset and I use it constantly and I don’t ever take credit for it, it just came to me unbidden and I feel especially privileged to have that set of skills. They have allowed me to make a pretty comfortable living, and that is the greatest blessing of all.

I also know where my limitations are. I would love to be able to play a musical instrument- of almost any kind. And I have been told that I have enough fundamental understanding that with a lot of practice I could get good. And maybe someday I will have that much time. But I really don’t have that much patience, and even if I did, it would not come naturally to me.

What does come naturally to me does so effortlessly. I don’t care much about complex programming languages but simple ones like machine tools and robots took me very little time to understand and be very good at. And I am very good at them, especially robots, and while practice has made me better, learning this was absolutely effortless from the very beginning. It was as if there was a lego sheet in my head and someone was just clicking the lego blocks in place, they fit, and clicked, and immediately began working.

The same, for me, is true of Auto repair. Woodworking. machining. Operating most kinds of heavy equipment. Oh, some things I have done might need some re-familiarization after a while, but all of the basics are there.

This is how I know I’m not in the “Gifted” category where music is concerned; the pieces don’t just fall into place. Certainly not like they must have for someone like Roy Clark or Prince.

And this brings me to the normals. And in no way do I mean to use that as a pejorative, thank G-d for normals and plenty of times I wish I was one. These generally are the people who get educated, and however their brain works take that education and apply it to their life in a way that allows them to survive. Accountants, lawyers, mechanics, whatever. Pretty much everyone. Generally people with a fixed set of abilities that consider (Or have been taught) that anything outside of their area of expertise is impossible for them to do.

We saw a lot of this in the 80’s when much of the economy hit the skids because the Japanese were eating our lunch. People who had been dashboard assemblers for 25 years and who thought they’d always be dashboard assemblers got laid off or outright terminated and went out looking for dashboard assembly jobs and there just weren’t any, of course.

The economy itself was ressurected, mostly by government getting out of it’s way, but a lot of normals ended up working at walmart as greeters because they had tied themselves to the idea that they could only do one thing, and outside of that one thing, they were lost.

This was a kind of a rude awakening to many people, and it alerted people to the idea that they needed to avoid overspecilaization.

In the intervening (40!!!) years, things have changed. For one thing, Youtube. People take a certain amount of pride in doing things themselves now, and there are literally millions of instructive videos on Youtube showing you how to do everything from making jewelry to roofing your house to fixing your brakes to hacking your home network for fun and profit.

The upshot of this is, if you’re willing to work and be patient, you can learn almost anything and even be good at it. You can be better at it than the “Gifted” people, if you work hard enough at it. The bad news is that one kind of job may not be around for very long, but the very, very good news is that there are more self educated polymaths willing to take a chance and change and learn something new.