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Things that are true and help me believe that I’m actually a real live expat now

• I’ve gone through an entire full sized tube of toothpaste – one that I bought new the week I moved in to my apartment.

• Local cucumbers are amazing and I don’t know if I can ever live without them again..

The cucumbers here are so fresh, they still have blooms on them and they are never waxed.

• I wake up at the same Oh My God Thirty hour every day, even when I don’t have to go to work.

Continue reading Things that are true and help me believe that I’m actually a real live expat now

I don’t know what I don’t know.

Now that I’m finally making more friends among the expat community, it’s come to my attention that there are so many layers to the Abu Dhabi and expat experience that I have no idea what kind of roller coaster ride has begun. It got me thinking about the Conscious Competence model that I learned in teacher school, wherein the stages of learning a new skill are articulated:

Unconscious incompetence

As an unconscious incompetent, you do not know what you do not know. You are lack knowledge and skills in the area in question and are unaware of this lack.

In this state, where you can exist for a very long time, you are not as competent as one or more of:

  • You think you are
  • You actually could be
  • Other, more competent people

In this state, you may be in one of two positions. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, and you may well be happily naive, not realizing that you are not competent.

You also may be in a faking state, where you believe you are competent, and either do not realize that you are in this state or are covering up your incompetence (in which state you may be in the next stage).

Conscious incompetence

As a conscious incompetent, you realize that you are not as expert as perhaps you thought you were or thought you could be.

The transition to this state from being unconsciously incompetent can be a shocking and sudden realization, for example when you meet others who are clearly more competent than you, or when a friend holds up a metaphorical mirror to your real ability.

You can also exist in this state for a long time, depending on factors such as your determination to learn and the real extent to which you accept your incompetence.

Conscious competence

Becoming consciously competent often takes a while, as you steadily learn about the new area, either through experience or more formal learning. This process can go in fits and starts as you learn, forget, plateau and start anew.

The more complex the new area and the less talent you have for it, the longer this will take. The good news is that many people have achieved remarkable feats of learning through sheer persistence.

Unconscious competence

Eventually you reach a point where you no longer have to think about what you are doing, and are competent without the significant effort that characterizes the state of conscious competence.

Source: Changing Minds.Org

I’ve written a little bit about the things I’ve struggled to learn how to do here in Abu Dhabi, and those are things that fall under the category of “conscious incompetence” – I am aware that I don’t know how to pay my gas bill, for example, and have to make some effort to develop that skill. I don’t know how to navigate Abu Dhabi that well. I couldn’t program a stereo system to save my life and I’m terrible at Sudoku and Crossword puzzles. I’ve gotten quite comfortable with the things I know I don’t have a natural talent to perform and take on my challenges judiciously.

But now it’s more obvious to me than ever that there is a whole desert, region, continent, world of knowledge and skill of which I was totally unaware before living somewhere other than my home country. Not that it’s all about me (wait a minute, yes it is – my blog, my rules) but it was pointed out to me that Americans are always the first to assume they’re the center of the universe in all affairs, personal and political. I’ve heard this before, but this time it really sank in a deeper recess of my brainpan: It has never been about me, but I’ve lived in a bubble that hasn’t challenged me to think otherwise.

What other Americanisms, world views, prejudices, and bias are hiding in my daily thoughts and actions? What good will moving from blissful ignorance to uncomfortable awareness of my myopic knowledge and skills create? I can only hope something good. Given that I’m about as non-elitist as they come, I love learning new things, and community is one of the most important things to me, I want to embrace my new society and find a comfortable way to call Abu Dhabi, UAE home. Knowing that many aren’t that interested in Americans because of our typically narrow world view makes my job all the more challenging. I won’t force myself on anyone who isn’t interested in friendship. As I settle into making friends, I’m sure the patient ones will enlighten me and I’ll be able to take my time discovering what it is I’d like to move from the ignorance column to the competence column.


The eleventh hour

I voted ages ago, but I’m really really nervous about tomorrow’s election. Please, all you citizens of the USA : go rock the vote. We American citizens experience a freedom that is completely unfamiliar to many, and it’s not an entitlement. It’s a privilege.

I’ll be watching this while I chew my nails all day Tuesday.

Life of Art interview: Angeline LeLeux-Bajzek

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

My name is Angeline and I live in Tulsa, which is the place I grew up in and left as soon as I could. 20 years later, I’m back, to be closer to family. The roof stays over my head, at the moment, solely because I am married to my husband (who has a job, after nearly a year without one, hooray!) and we haven’t completely decimated our savings account. I am a piano and Alexander Technique teacher who has a few students and hopes to have more very very soon.

 What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I’m a pianist and Irish fiddler, a photographer, and a blogger. The music is an essential piece

Smart girls try lots of creative things.

of who I am because it’s been part of my life since I was three. I understand that there are some people who approach their music as a beloved muse that brings them happiness and sunshine, but for me it’s more like an irritating, everpresent relative that you can’t stand half the time but love to pieces anyway. I’ve recently gotten back into photography because I like noticing the little details and patterns of the world and working with light and shadow to make them more interesting, and I blog because I am seriously worried about our food system. I’ve learned that, without discipline, nothing happens, and that I can do several things reasonably well but not one thing astoundingly well. And, that I’m okay with this. Most of the time.

 Where do you find inspiration?

This is going to sound sappy, and I am really not a fan of sap, but it’s true: My husband William ( is better than I am at everything. He’s an intuitive musician with a great ear who loves to practice, he understands the mechanics of photography and the rules of artistic composition, and he writes clearly and precisely. I’ve become better at everything I do since I met him, partly by osmosis and partly because I’m just trying to keep up, but also because he’s happy to discuss any and all topics of interest, talk through points of musical interpretation, read what I write, and point me to online photo tutorials. Besides that, I go to concerts and take lessons and classes and…just try to pay attention to what’s going on around me. I rarely get inspired to practice music, though – I have to force myself to sit down and do it, and it’s been pretty spotty lately.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Mostly, sheer force of will (see note about practicing, above). Recently, I’ve tried writing longhand in a notebook when I don’t feel like getting anything done – something about seeing all of my lame excuses laid out on paper showcases their stupidity better than anything else.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

Sometimes, I do something else, as opposed to the thing that wasn’t working out right. Other times, I read a lot. Periodically, I curl into a ball and whimper. I’ve also been known to do all three at the same time. One of them usually works.

What does success look like to you?

It changes – I’ve earned (or am about to earn) money for everything creative that I do, but I can’t say I’m supporting myself at the moment, so I don’t feel terribly successful right now. On the other hand, having the ability, the funds, and the time to continue studying and trying things out looks a lot like success, from certain angles…

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

I have a lot of websites; here are some of them –

Piano and Alexander Technique:

Irish music:

Photography portfolio:


Thanks a million, Angeline, for your candor and enthusiasm. I know all about that curl up in a ball feeling, and I’m glad a not-me someone was willing to share what that’s like!

Life of Art interview: Claire Skinner

Today, I’ve got an interview from Claire Skinner, whose photography and persistence are both quite impressive.

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

My name is Claire Skinner and I run Rocklawn Arts which exists solely online for now. I’m a sci-fi loving geek who got into photography as a kid so that the clouds in my paintings would be more realistic.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

I’m a photographer who also likes to write, create digital designs, build kinetic sculptures, and design furniture. From photography, I’ve learned that most people don’t look at things carefully or pay attention to the whole scene in front of them, so it’s a good thing I do. Earlier this summer, my dad remarked, “You’re making me see stuff I didn’t even know was there,” about photographs of the garden he works in daily.
Circle With Fire Escape
Where do you find inspiration?

Most everywhere: plants in my backyard, art books, CreativeLive, architecture, visiting new places, looking at shadow patterns. Just holding a camera most always gives my inspiration a boost.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

I’m working out a procedure for keeping up with archiving, evaluating, and post-processing my photographs as I take them, but there is an avalanche of backlog still to address. Breaking the process into small steps makes it more manageable.

I also keep track of what I work on and post it each week in my Life of Art SitRep series to keep me accountable and help reduce procrastination.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

When I don’t feel like shooting, it helps to go for a walk, visit somewhere new, or learn something. I also pursue other artistic endeavors to get my creativity flowing via different avenues. Sometimes it’s just nice to take a break though.

What does success look like to you?

Greater exposure for my photography. A studio and workshop, the ability to financially sustain the space and tools needed to pursue all of my creative impulses.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

Through September 10, 2011, I’m donating 50% of my proceeds from Rocklawn Arts on Zazzle to 50 for 50, Colleen Wainwright‘s amazing fundraiser for WriteGirl: a nonprofit for teen girls with a 10-year-long, 100% success rate of sending their seniors to college.

My photographs and designs are available on a wide variety of cool gifts: cards, printspostage, mugs, magnets, iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch cases, Keds sneakers, and other delightful sundries.

You can get free standard shipping (details at my shop), so buy a postcard or something and help me help Colleen raise $50,000 for WriteGirl.

Please help spread the word!

Rocklawn Arts on Zazzle.
Rocklawn Arts on RedBubble.
@RocklawnArts and @claireofRA
on Twitter.
Taller Than Average Tales