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Francis Picabia: Première Recontre [First Meeting] (1925)
"If competence were a defining attribute, this world would have long ago crumbled. "

For me, writing seems an extended experiment intended to answer a simple question. Am I a competent writer? After a half century of experimentation, I've accumulated no conclusive evidence either way. I have seen evidence that I was, at times, at least bordering on competent, like when I learned that my Blind Men and The Elephant had become a bestseller, but that proved to be a lagging indicator, suggesting that I had at one time in the past been competent enough to pen a popular title, but it could neither suggest nor prove whether that gift had persisted into then present times or whether it might extend even beyond present time into any future. My experimentation continues. I each day manage to muster enough foolhardiness or courage to face the blank screen and begin again. Some days, like yesterday, for instance, I managed to feel competent as I wrote, a rare enough occurrence for me to make a note in my lab book. Further, I felt that the result, the surviving essay, proved to be top notch. I impressed myself. Then I went on to the other activities involved in my budding Authoring practice and fell on my face. I'd encountered yet another in my deep inventory of InCompetences.

I do not feel completely incompetent.
I manage to mostly sit up straight and avoid drooling down my shirtfront that much, but as I work my way through my writing and now my Authoring days, I do tend to always manage to stub my toe on some obstacle. Yesterday, as I was printing out another successfully compiled manuscript, the printer ran out of ink. I'm no rookie in the printer running out of ink department. I've been depleting printer ink reservoirs for decades. I've even matured in my ability to find the proper replacement cartridge, though it's very likely to cost more than the original printer cost now that I'm completely dependent upon it. I have not yet mastered replacing the cartridge, though, for the replacement comes with no instructions, not that i would be able to successfully translate those into actual successful action. Something about instructions relating to technology renders them utter gibberish. I cannot seem to even focus upon their printing, let alone derive any meaning from them. I'll have to ask The Muse to intervene, for she has the touch. Between us, we almost make a passably competent writer, nee Author. Independent, we fall a little far from the old apple tree to declare mastery.

My point is not to point out what a technological moron I remain, for that question was long ago decisively resolved. Those InCompetences remain intact, apparently regardless of other factors which might, but never quite manage to, mitigate their presence. I have not managed to create anything like a seamless process for producing my art, my craft, for some essential step always eludes. Actually, many do. I inhabit a patchwork playing field, only some of which seems suited to the work in which I engage. Portions stand like No Man's Lands, where I have learned I daresn't trod. I zig, zag, and double back, artfully avoiding those portions I've yet to master, more often than I care to detail, falling into some pit or another, then having to figure out how to hoist myself back out. Bootstraps don't help. Neither does my own petard.

I am, then, probably defined by my many, many InCompetences. The pieces of my beleaguered process that I can reliably perform without outside intervention do not amount to a production machine. Those ongoing experiments I mentioned above always encounter insufficient data issues because of the many pieces of it I cannot pull off. I had until recently, until I initiated this present Authoring initiative, an inventory of seven finished manuscripts. These, I had duly compiled and copyedited, updated and formatted. They sat mouldering out on my GoogleDrive®. In the few weeks since starting this Authoring initiative, I've compiled and copyedited two more, and compiled another, which I was preparing to copyedit when my printer failed me. I have seven additional manuscripts, in pieces, not yet compiled or copyedited, plus this one, which I'm working on producing now. If all goes well (and it won't) I might be halfway through the remaining uncompiled backlog before the end of this Authoring quarter, but that's only a best case scenario and says nothing about the rest of the Authoring process mere compiling and copyediting doesn't address. Like contacting publishers, long prominent among my InCompetences.

I doubt, after long practice, that the purpose of my Authoring process will ever become to rid myself of my many remaining Incompetences, for these have proven remarkably resilient and persistent, and I continue to acquire new ones. If my successes had ever required that I resolve my InCompetences, I would have never succeeded at anything, for I realize now that I remain a life-long incompetent. Perhaps you are, too. We knew, or suspected that we did, that we'd never successfully ditch many of the InCompetences we were apparently born with, only a few of which we'd ever successfully address. For the critically important ones, we managed to recruit helpers, people competent to switch out our printer cartridges. The spell checker, though I curse it plenty, sometimes successfully supplements my meager spelling skills. I will never materially improve my typing speed, either, and not for lack of trying or practice, perhaps due to a lack of discipline, but my InCompetent typing has not yet proven much of a barrier to writing. Three words a minute might actually improve the output. Who could say?

I remain a man defined by his many InCompetences, a man humbled by his own presence. I'm learning not to take my InCompetences too personally, for though they remain mine, they prove to be no real barrier to accomplishing much. We're, after all, always InCompetent at some things. The challenge, and one my ongoing experiment could never address, was never about determining competence or not, but about getting on with it anyway, even if, perhaps especially if, the experiment seems to indicate only underlying InCompetences, like with me. If competence were a defining attribute, this world would have long ago crumbled. We're still learning, which suggests that we're still developing competence. We'll probably never fully succeed, thank heavens.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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