Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Building my Afghan Snowman

Well, as people told me to expect, the days have gone slowly, but the weeks quickly.  I just hit my three week anniversary on the ground in Parwan, and was advised that I am now officially a "veteran" - in the "old hand" sense, not the shot and wounded sense.

Anyhow, I began this entry with the tired expression "Busy Drinking from a Fire Hose" - and decided that I have really just had it with that analogy.

First - There is the anatomical problem. I beleive that all children should in fact attempt to drink from a GARDEN hose, so they can learn the painful but important lesson about our anatomical safety valve.  In other words, your stomach, throat, and mouth have a finite capacity, when they get full, you have your nasal cavity to fall back on as an emergency drain. For me the idea of having the excess "water" (new information) being expelled in a messy and painful fashion just doesn't cover the idea.

Second - If you get technical and use a genuine FIRE hose, the scene would be substantially uglier. First of all, you'd need an accomplice, and unfortunately Dr. Kevorkian, the logical candidate for any assisted suicide job, just isn't strong enough and heavy enough to keep a fire hose in place.  Assuming his burly nephew is willing to take up the mantle what you would get is a fascinating set of photos for a forensic pathology text on a newly invented cause of death called concurrent pulmonary/respiratory/esophogeal rupture.

Finally (and most damning) the fire hose analogy does not reflect a key dynamic of the situations we typically apply it to, such as starting a new job, doing detailed research on a new topic, moving to a new country etc. etc. etc.  It only addresses the idea that an overwhelming tide of data and stimuli are coming at you (and absurdly suggests that it is possible to digest such a stream).  What it does not cover is the fact that the data are overwhelming and undigestable because they are unfamiliar, and you lack the context to be able to quickly sort data, see patterns, and draw conclusions.

You see, as a Foreign Service family who bounces from place to place, starting and ending jobs, schools, freinds, hobbies etc., we are "drinking from the fire hose" more often than not, so the madness of this expression simply must end.  After careful reflection on this serious matter I have developed a new analogy which I am hoping will catch on in the cool climate that will become home after Afghanistan. It goes like this.

Building a snowman in a blizzard.

Catchy I know - but aside from the brilliant wordsmithing, it's LOGICAL.

Here's the logic:

1. The snow is a limitless amount of data or stimuli which swirls around in a disorienting fashion.
2. The snowman is the compilation and organization of that data into a meaningful composite image. 
3. The snowman builder is the poor schmuck who gets kicked out the door into the storm and told by the big boss needs a first-class snowman PRONTO.

Now comes my favorite part.  My analogy has a built-in timeline (at no extra cost). Assume we start at the beginning of the storm (not too much to ask I think).

First, you're out there in your new job, new school, new language, new culture admiring the pretty snowflakes despite the gusting wind but having no genuine conception of what is going on or how to collect anything but the tiniest fragments (individual snowflakes) which often simply melt away.

Next, as some time goes by the data begins to accumulate and it becomes possible to scrape up handfuls of it to start building something small.

Finally, as the storm continues, and if you work diligently and quickly to collect the snow efficiently and from a large area (make use of snow drifts etc. etc.), you can assemble a respectable snowman, bringing order from the chaos.

Not perfect I concede, but I'm going with it.

So that's my excuse - I've been busy building a snowman.

More regular postings soon - with pictures - as I did come in from the storm for hot cocoa and buying a camera.

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