Learning, re-learning

After having learned about the sport some 4 years ago, I've finally got around to reading-up on Handball. My friend Claire, the same person who was the subject of the previously-linked story e-mail and who was the one who brought the sport to my attention, has a game this weekend and has invited pretty much everyone under the sun to watch and support her team, which just happens to be the NZ women's team.

Knowing Wikipedia and my browsing habits, I'm trying not to learn too much about it, or get caught in some sort of link-following tangent and end-up reading about some completely unlrelated subjects like the Catholic Church (3 clicks from Handball) or triskaidekaphobia (4 clicks from Handball). I'm trying to learn just enough so I can understand what the hell is going on so that come this weekend, when I'm watching the game, it doesn't just look like a game of basketball being played with a smaller ball and a soccer net.

I seem to be learning a lot this past week. Not only is there the handball, but over the weekend I also learned that for over 20 years, I have been trying my shoe laces wrong. Well, not really 'wrong' per se, but using a 'weak knot' as Terry says in the video below (I'm sure someone else can post the link to the proper term for these different knots).

Terry Moore - How to tie your shoes

When I came across that video I showed it to the rest of my family (I was staying with them last weekend) and within minutes all 4 of us were scrutinizing our shoe-tying techniques and discovering that each of us has a different method for achieving the same result. I mean, if you think of tying your shoes as 2 parts - the initial over-under knot, and then the bow - here's how each of us gets this done:

  • Me: right lace over left, right bow over left
  • Mum: left lace over right, right bow over left
  • Dad: left lace over right, left bow over right
  • Brother: right lace over left, left bow over right

Between the 4 of us we cover every permutation, and because both my dad and I tie in the same direction twice, we both come out as having the weak knot. We thought this was a bit odd because we all agreed that it was my mum who taught my brother and I how to tie our shoes, so we don't know how both of us could have deviated from whatever it was she was trying to teach. Then again: my brother is left-handed, and I avoided laces for as long as I could, opting for good-old valcro shoes well into my primary school years, until I had the courage to face the intimidating snakes that lived to cling to my feet.

So from yesterday, whenever I had to tie my shoes, I opted to tie the stronger knot, and I'm having some difficulty in doing so. I mean, tying my laces is an automatic operation which requires virtually zero participation from my conscious mind - I just put on a shoe, send my hands towards the shoes, and presto: instant knot. Now, I have to actually think about what I'm doing, and the change in movements is really awkward, like trying to write with my left hand awkward; the movements feel unnatural, slow, hesitant, and by the time I'm done I've got a really loose version of the stronger knot because I couldn't keep the proper pressure down on the initial knot to prevent it from getting undone.

But I stuck at it because I have 2 pairs of shoes, work ones especially, which keep getting undone around half-way through the work day (so I'm walking around the city for lunch with my laces untied quite a lot more often than I'd prefer). This morning I put on one of those shoes, took maybe 5 attempts to get the stronger knot done, and went to work to put the knot through its paces. Every now and then I'd steal a glance at my feet to see how the knot was holding up, and it stayed tied for the entire day. I was impressed.

I think it'll be worth the additional and conscious effort - it'll just take a really long time to get it feeling all natural and automatic.

It reminded me of another book I recently returned to the library (the one that cost me $5 to borrow, and only then I was limited to 7 days. It took me 8 to read it, incurring a late fee, so at $6 total that book was easily the most money I have ever spent at the library). In it, the main character has a side of her brain damaged in an accident, and so after some surgery suffers from 'left neglect' (or a hemispatial neglect of the left side) in which she no longer becomes aware of the left side of her body, or anything to her left. What's strange is that at first she doesn't even know that she has this left neglect - the other half of her brain is filling-in all the gaps in her awareness, and so the story is about how she has to consciously retrain herself to remember that there is a left side, to look left, to think about and command that left leg to move while she's walking, and a whole bunch of other things that many of us just do without having to think about it.

Left Neglected book cover

Sure my shoelace-tying doesn't compare to those with actual neglect, but if at my age I'm finding it difficult to break something my mind and body have done for over 20 years and 'unlearn what I have learned', how do you even start retraining yourself to make use of a side of your body that your mind doesn't believe exists?