Feeling stupid, again

Do you ever have the feeling when you’re reading or listening to certain discussions that you have little idea what’s going on?

The kind that hinge on knowing certain figures being referenced, for starters?

I could point to overhearing the lifeguards gossiping about their plans for the weekend or last Friday’s party, or even some of the slang they’re using. Fair enough.

These days, now that I’ve been out of the news business nearly eight years, it can happen even when people are discussing political developments or pop culture celebrities. Yes, I’ve curtailed my awareness there – too many other things to work on.

With other people, I’ve commonly missed social cues, leading to awkward situations or much worse. Add to that my lack of hands-on ability in home repairs and other domestic necessities, even before we get to high tech or digital gaming.

And trying to remember people’s names and faces has always been a challenge.

Oh, my, this confession hurts – but I have witnesses. And it’s not even where I thought this post would begin.

Look, I’ve been considered a rather intelligent guy all my life, one with a broad range of inquiry of an interdisciplinary type. Something of a geek, actually, who loves classical music and opera and the great outdoors but labors as a wordsmith.

But here’s where the twist kicks in.

Too often when I’m reading an article in, say, the New York Review of Books, I’m feeling flummoxed. No, I haven’t read most of the books or even authors being discussed, the subtleties of the argument are eluding me, I have no background on the time or place or conflicts under consideration. And they’re being raised like it’s something every real thinker should already know. Yipes!

It’s happening again as I read a collection of conversations and correspondence between Gary Snyder and Julia Martin. I get the mentions of other poets, yes, though some of the talk gets pretty technical. But when they wander off into Buddhism, it goes way beyond my many readings, and then there’s a whole library of ecological and goddess philosophy volumes they invoke, all unknown to me.

Once again, I’m feeling stupid. Not just humbled but speechless.

Perhaps I could turn to my beloved musical experiences, but even there, I’m a rank amateur. Yes, I often baffle those around me when I mention a certain composer or performer, but put me in a circle of real musicians, and I’m again overwhelmed. I can’t even tell you what key a piece is in when I look at a score. Just wait till they get really technical.

Well, I do have some specialties, beginning with Quaker theology and history, but even there I’m a rank amateur compared to the pros, meaning college professors.

The fact remains that I believe these things are important, even if I can’t remember details like the title of a poem I truly enjoyed or the import of particular yoga luminaries.

Maybe in wanting to know it all, at least on some corner of the intellectual frontier, I’m left knowing very little.

As I said, I’m feeling stupid, again.

6 thoughts on “Feeling stupid, again

  1. It is a wise man who knows what he doesn’t know – and isn’t ashamed to admit it.

    Reporters tend to be generalists – we know a little bit about everything and know how to find out more. But when no longer faced with a daily deadline the need to keep current diminishes.

    I no longer keep up with pop culture for example, and a lot of what is being published passes right by me. I don’t watch television. I was an acknowledged expert on Christian music – but haven’t been keeping up the past few years.

    I’m still passionate about politics, but even there I feel out of touch sometimes. I work in human rights, and know my knowledge just scratches the surface. I read theology, but there aren’t many interested in how manty angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    That you feel stupid is a sign of the times. It doesn’t mean you are stupid, just that there is so much out there that you would like to know more about – if you had a 40-hour day.

  2. It happens to everybody at one point, and the feeling is normal. Have you ever thought that the reason “the experts” or knowledgeable people know the details of the topic that eludes you is because they are very invested in that topic at that particular period of time? Who knows, maybe a year ago these people did not know all the details they are talking about now, but because they are “inside the topic” now they have all the details they found out. Nothing to do with your intelligence; it is just circumstantial. I must be the biggest idiot on the planet. I don’t follow Hollywood, video games, fake news anymore, or most of the topics most people are interested in these days, which frankly makes me question many things. Bachelor or bachelorette ring a bell?

  3. Once again, I’m feeling stupid” Been there most of my life. Okay, in my case it’s because I’m autistic, and conversation threads, be they verbal or written, are difficult for me to follow, but most people are generalists and specialists at the same time. My observation is that that the more specialist one becomes, the less generalist one becomes, and the opposite is also true.

    As a child I was known as “the little professor” due to my fascination with science in general and cosmology in particular, and throughout my life I have been a collector of scientific and technical trivia, most of which I don’t remember until something triggers a recall.

    During my career as a computer engineer, I was capable of solving boolean logic problems with up to a hundred elements just in my head, and with pen and paper I could solve boolean logic problems involving many times more. Now I would struggle with ten or twenty without without the use of pen and paper.

    I suspect that you’re less of a specialist than you used to be, even in fields that still interest or fascinate you. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In this world of increasing specialisation and a narrowing of interests in many folk, I feel the role of the generalist is become more important than ever.

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