June 2011


When my auto insurance company found out that I now have a masters degree, they said they are now taking level of education into account when calculating risk. The result: a three-dollar discount. Thanks, Progressive!

Now if only everyone would start calling me “Master Nathen.” That would be the icing on the cake.

My dad bought me my first Rubik’s Cube for my 9th birthday, in 1980. I tried to solve it most days for months with nothing like success. I never gave up, but I probably would have eventually, as the method I had come up with, solving one side and then trying to solve adjacent sides, would never work. I had not grasped the logic of the puzzle, that the center pieces never unscramble, so that there is a preordained, final resting place for every piece of the cube, and that you have to solve the pieces, not just the stickers. Without those insights, Rubik’s Cubes are maddening. You solve one sticker and mess up another.

One morning I woke up to see my solved cube sitting on top of a copy of James Nourse’ The Simple Solution to the Rubik’s Cube. That solved cube is still such a vivid memory for me–magic! It turned out that my dad had bought the book for me and then stayed up all night, deciphering its codes and solving the cube. That gave him his fill of cubing–I never saw him touch it again–but I went through the book over and over, learning the method, eventually memorizing enough of it to reliably solve the cube. By mid-1982 I could solve it in just over 3 minutes.

It turns out that while I was doing my 3-minute solves, there were already national speed-cubing competitions. The world record solve at that time was 22.95 seconds, held by a 16-year-old kid in Los Angeles. I did not meet anyone else who could solve one until I met Greg Alkire in 1985. He had actually come up with his own method–a feat of reasoning that is to this day far beyond me. My genius, if you can call it that, is more in the realm of persistence than reasoning.

I bought a new cube in 2007 with no premeditation, and without having played with one for at least 20 years. I saw a display in a department store and thought it would be fun. I started watching people do these super fast solves on YouTube, and soon realized that Nourse’ “simple method” was actually very complicated, that lubricating my cube made everything easier, and that it was much faster (and cooler looking) to use my fingers instead of my wrists to make the moves.

I have been in grad school, so no time for real practice, plus my 39-year-old knuckles start to hurt a bit if I work too long, but I am down to averaging just over a minute in my solves, using Badmephisto‘s beginner method. I am also using F2L, which is (slightly) short for “first two layers,” meaning you solve two layers of the cube at the same time. Here is my most recent average of ten solves on cubetimer.com:

It has been slow progress, but very entertaining and challenging. As Badmephisto says, solving the cube is easy, but solving it quickly is very difficult. It’s this intense mixture of pattern recognition, hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, and memory. In his great little book, Mastery, Leonard says you have to “love the plateau.” With cubing, I do. I go slowly. I practice looking and thinking ahead. I practice keeping track of where the important pieces are when they are out of sight.

I was slightly tempted to put up a video of myself doing one of these solves, but became too embarrassed. I can love my plateau, but I don’t yet love you seeing my plateau. Speedcubing is like dancing, that way. If you can’t do it, you think anyone who can is amazing. If you can and you watch an intermediate-level dancer or cuber, all you see are the problems. All I see when I watch myself dance is the awkwardness and the neck-jut. When I watch myself cube all I see is how long it takes me to find pieces that I am looking for. And I’m a solid intermediate Lindy Hopper, but still a beginning cuber. I think you have to be doing 40-second-average solves to qualify as intermediate.

Here’s the current world record solve of 6.24 seconds:

Here’s the current world record for a blindfolded solve, at 30.90 seconds:

If you are interested in learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube, I recommend buying a good cube here right off the bat (they  don’t cost much more than a crappy one from a department store), and learning Badmephisto’s beginning method (here for excellent video tutorials), which is both easier and will cause fewer problems than the method that comes in a new cube package when you eventually ramp up to more sophisticated methods.

I have received several letters from my past self, as part of a ritual we do sometimes at Not Back to School Camp. The idea is to send the feeling and ideas of an experience forward, a reminder of the sense of clarity, inspiration, and purpose that is common at the end of a session of camp. It’s always interesting to get one of these letters, but they don’t often hit home like this one that I just received from myself of one year ago, just before I started seeing clients.

Hi Nathen,

I just did this guided imagery thing w-Jonathan Stemer in Child & Family Assessment and am to write or draw to you, my just-graduated self. I imagined myself as an old man, wrinkly, bald, spotty & beaming. The thing is, you will be an old man and you will look back on your just-graduated self with real love, with fondness & satisfaction. One thing you would want to say to yourself is that everything works out. You wouldn’t exactly say not to worry about it, because the worry is part of everything working out, but it has that flavor. Your story is good. You are worthwhile. People have been better off for knowing you. You are, right now, doing great. Notice it if you can.

Have a great summer, Nathen.

Love,

Nathen

Add drawing of old-man Nathen here –>

It has been four years of sitting in hundreds of hours of lectures, reading thousands of pages of theory and research, writing hundreds of pages, and seeing clients for hundreds of hours. It has been long weeks, late nights, steep learning curves, and lots and lots of thinking. It is amazing how much learning you can do in four years of 60-80 hour weeks!  In 2009 I finished a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, with a research assistant position in Sara Hodges’ social cognition lab, a practicum position at a residential treatment facility for teenage sex offenders, an honors thesis entitled “Differentiating the Effects of Social and Personal Power,” and a GPA of 4.23. Yesterday I graduated with a Master of Education degree, Couples and Family Therapy specialization, 455 client-contact hours at the Center for Family Therapy and Looking Glass Counseling Services, one term as a counselor for the University of Oregon Crisis Line, four terms volunteering for the UO Men’s Center, a GPA of 4.19, and a “Pass With Distinction” on my final Formal Client Presentation. It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting four years.

It has also taken a bit of a toll on my health, but the major loss was in community. If you do not live in Eugene and we have not made a point of a regular visit, I probably have not spoken or even written to you much, if anything, since 2007. For that I sincerely apologize. It is not how I prefer to live but I could not seem to do this any other way. Know that I miss you. Let’s reconnect. Call me up, write, send me your unfinished song, your idea for a book, something to read and talk about. Let’s go for a walk, go swimming, have lunch, see a show. I am looking forward to it.

Couples & Family Therapy 2011 Cohort

Me & My Dad, June 14, 2011

Another psychometrically-produced typology of love is John Lee’s “colors of love.” Like Sternberg, Lee found three primary styles of love, or “primary colors,” which Lee called eros, ludus, and storge. He found that these styles combined to form three secondary styles or colors, for six love styles total:

Erotic love: Immediate, powerful, exclusive, preoccupying, sexual

Ludic love: Love as entertainment, for pleasure rather than for bonding, commitment-phobic

Storgic love: Stable, not intense, based on bond and shared interests

Pragmatic love: A combination of storgic and ludic love, which Lee called “shopping for a suitable mate.”

Manic love: A combination of erotic and ludic love, obsessive, jealous, self-defeating

Agapic love: A combination of erotic and storgic love, unconditional devotion, difficult to maintain

Here’s a visual of the typology I stole from dating-relationships.co.uk:

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