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.