I am eternally grateful to Laila at Big Reading Life who recently reminded me that I can listen to On Being via Podcast. Have you ever listened to any of the episodes? It’s hosted by Krista Tippett and interviews all sorts of people with the intent to try to understand the meaning of life. There is a spiritual bend to it that I find appealing, even as a non-religious person. It is an actively welcome space to all religious or non-religious beliefs and seems to believe that even non-religious people have spiritual needs, which is a breath of fresh air.
Last Friday morning as I headed off to work, a new episode popped up on my podcast feed: Maria Popova – Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age, and I cannot stop thinking about it. I was taken aback by this young woman who grew up in communist Bulgaria and moved to the United States where she attended the University of Pennsylvania. She worked up to four jobs at a time (!) in order to pay for her education and as an undergraduate she started what would become Brain Pickings,
“…a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich our mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful. Above all, it’s about how these different disciplines illuminate one another to glean some insight, directly or indirectly, into that grand question of how to live, and how to live well.” Source: About Brain Pickings page.
She is jaw dropping amazing. During her interview, she would say something like, “It’s like what Adrienne Rich said in her 1976 commencement address..” I mean, who remembers things in such detail and can then pull it out in a conversation to help define one’s meaning of life?! She has such an intimate knowledge of so many pieces of literature, that I am insanely jealous.
At one point, she and Krista discuss what her day looks like:
“MS. POPOVA: I read and write from the minute I wake up to the moment I go to sleep at night and everything in between. Even those — I get around on bikes, so I commute. And whatever I listen to, that feeds in. That’s part of the reading. And so I would say the hours are probably a lot more.” Transcript to episode can be found here.
“I read and write from the minute I wake up to the moment I go to sleep…” How inspiring is that? This is what I want my life to be. And as she was speaking, I was reminded of my original intention for this blog, which was to use it as a tool to study literature. For the last few days, I have been formulating how to
do that. I have been poring over online syllabi to find a plan of action. There are so many things that I don’t know anything about that it is mind boggling, but I hope to be able to share an outline soon. I can’t be the only person in this great wide world that is looking for a way to learn all of the things that I missed in school, right?
The most powerful part of her interview for me? Speaking of a passage from Thoreau’s journals:
“And he says that the hen lays just one egg. And the rest of the time, she goes around and she feeds on things that feed the next egg. And this is in 1861, you know? Today, we wear this badge of honor of productivity as this hallmark of purpose. But it’s, in many ways, the opposite because Thoreau’s point was basically that the more we busy ourselves with just the drudgery of work, the more actual work we accomplish.” link to transcript.
As I was driving into work and heard this I gasped, “YES!” There is so much that I want to be able to accomplish, but those accomplishments are going to have to come from putting in the work of learning and understanding and thinking. Which, by the way, happens to be the trivium method of learning. The challenge for me is being mindful that the input of true understanding is the real productivity, not necessarily focusing on numbers of books for the year or numbers of blog posts. If I am reading something that is more difficult to read and interferes with the quantity of books finished, I have to keep in mind that the quality of the books finished may have been increased exponentially. (I say may; this doesn’t mean that lighter or easier reads provide any less quality.)
I have constantly been trying to figure out my purpose with this blog. And once again, I’ve come back to the original intent when I started this blog in March. However, the challenge is putting in the work (reading and writing) to meet that purpose – perhaps by slowing down on quantity, I will be able to find the quality that I hope for?