Monday, February 2, 2009

My Personal Age of Enlightenment

One of my favorite lines from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life is, “youth is wasted on all the wrong people”. When it comes to the pursuit of knowledge and a broad education, maybe there’s a little truth to the sentiment. If I’d left high school in 1979 and gone on to a four year college, my life would have taken a far different, although not necessarily better path. In those days, my ability to retain information was nearly photographic compared to now, when I find myself struggling to remember common words with increasing frequency.

What I didn’t have then was the ability to see the relationships between things.

I hesitate to try to explain what the last month has been like for fear I’ll sound a little crazy, but it is like the universe has broken open for me. It started with Marcel Proust and it picked up speed with the DVDs.

Last January I read a novel by Alain de Botton called On Love. I loved the author’s style so much that I sought out more that he’d written and to my delight, there was plenty to choose from. The same month I read How Proust Can Change Your Life and I wrote a little about each book here.

It’s hard to believe it was only the first of January when I dove into Swann’s Way. I won’t attempt to explain what it is about Marcel Proust that brings about such an intense response from me as a reader, but I touched on it a bit in this post. Our birthdays (mine and Proust's) are a day apart and in some silly way, I feel like that connects me to him and his eccentric, neurotic life.

I jumped right into In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower as soon as I finished Swann’s Way. After finishing it, I decided to read two or three other books before picking up The Guermantes Way because I’m already half grieving at the notion that once I read all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, there will be no more.

I said I might sound a little crazy.

Reading Proust is giving me plenty to think about, but toward the end of December I’d ordered some DVD lecture series’ from The Teaching Company, so when I haven’t been reading or watching movies, I’ve been listening to these lectures. Apparently the adult education business is feeling the pinch of the economy and there were fire sale prices on these courses at the year's end. I bought Great Ideas of Philosophy, a series of 60 half hour lectures, a 24 lecture course on Existentialism and a five course series on the great world religions, which includes Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

For some reason, I always feel a little awkward when I tell people I’m reading one of the classics or let’s face it, actually studying something for my own gratification. People often seem to react to these kinds of pursuits with an innate suspicion and sometimes a defensiveness. Why would I do this? I realize it's not everyone's idea of fun, but I am having the time of my life.

The more I learn, the more I want to know. Scott has been watching the philosophy lectures with me, and they’ve all been excellent. I’ve finished the lectures on existentialism, and earlier tonight I finished the last lecture on Islam after completing the courses on Judaism and Christianity.

Had I been reading what I am or trying to follow these lectures at some other time in my life, I’m certain it would have felt like work but for now I feel like the John Travolta character in the movie Phenomenon (well – except I didn't see a meteor and I’m not turning into a genius or anything -- I’m just hungry for more).

This has happened before with other things. I've gone on redecorating frenzies and painted every room in my house, not stopping until the last piece of masking tape was down and the last switch plate cover replaced. I had the same sense of dedication to watching every episode of all nine seasons of The X-Files that I did to studying every wine region in the world and starting my own modest collection (which we ended up drinking before our last cross country move).

I’ve done little to no writing at all since this binge started, but I don’t have any guilt over it. It feels like I have things to learn before I go back to creating something of my own.

But it's all connected.

Not a day goes by that I don't hear a reference to a Greek myth or a German philosopher and my worldview has opened up completely after learning the history of the three great monotheistic religions that not only trace their origins back to Abraham, but share a history of theological, political and mystical struggle.

The day is coming when I'll have taken in as much as I can handle and this intensity and passion will fade. Maybe then it will be orchids or Asian studies or watching old episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Until then, I'll continue to find my bliss in each discovery.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf