Ten Month Journal: Curiosity Manifesto

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” -Mark Twain

I stopped and stared at the words scrawled on the sketchpad beside me. Could I have heard right? Is this what he was really telling me to do — to dare to learn beyond the classroom and exchange my academic brain for an open heart in the wide world of free living?

This quote was spoken to me by a friend of a friend overseas — on an architecture fellowship somewhere in the northern European countryside. (Some life, right?)

Anyway, I found myself one morning seeking his advice on the future of my self-proclaimed environmental services career — or more like trouble-shooting his choices, his successes and his mis-steps, and grappling with my next moves in the months ahead.

“Have you ever heard this quote before?” he asks, before he reads me the Mark Twain-ism above.

“No,” I admitted. But perhaps I should have seen it coming.

A little over a month’s gone by since my last exam of the semester, and I’ve found myself lodged in the ‘doldrums of the summer’. In the classroom: I’ve got a checklist, a syllabus, an end-plan with goals and assignments to accomplish. It feels like I’m making progress, and I’ve got tangible results along the way to prove my worth in weight.

But beyond the classroom: I’m stuck. In a kind of academic-deprived muck that always disorients me, keeps me from knowing which direction I’m headed. Almost exactly a year ago I felt this way, too. And I feel the waves of insecurity rising higher like the tides, once more, and I get restless.

By happenstance, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest “Big Magic” last week, in between afternoons of insecurity and delusional content. An ode to “Creative Living Beyond Fear,” this book I read with more of an adoration than a prescription for a creative life in mind. Gilbert’s world-renowned “Eat Pray Love” slashed my heart open in high school and initiated the startings of my own therapeutic recovery from depression and severe anxiety. Since then, I’m game to read whatever she’s got.

It was another quote, imbedded in the chapter “Permission”, that caught my eye:

“Ascend no longer from the textbook!” -Walt Whitman

Alright, noted. But then Gilbert goes on to describe this anxiety creative individuals, like myself (and every other human being!), often feel about achieving a higher form of “education.”

“Whether you are young or old, we need your work in order to enrich and inform our own lives. So take your insecurities and your fears and hold them upside down by their ankles and shake yourself free of all your cumbersome ideas about what you require (and how much you need to pay for it) in order to become creatively legitimate. Because I’m telling you that you are already creatively legitimate, by nature of your mere existence here among us.”  (p. 108)

Perhaps I have been approaching any form of disciplined education as my “safe” zone. My comfort spot. Free from fears and safe from all distress. A perfectly controlled environment of papers and deadlines, projects and dreams.

But life, as I’ve learned this past May, is anything but controlled. It’s messy. It’s disorganized. Basically, it’s just a bunch of individuals roaming around this paradise we call Earth sending and expending good energy or bad energy out into the universe. And somehow you find yourself on a continuum of confusion and everything is relative to the perspective in which you’re standing. That’s it.

“Do you want to study under the great teachers? Is that it? Well, you can find them anywhere.” (p. 109)

Ah, there it is: Motivation. What’s my motivation for continuing along the narrow-trodden path of academia?

“Yet now, I can’t help but reflect on this dream – this dream to change the world, to save the world from its own self-destruction – and realize how unsatisfactory and selfish it really is.”

I wrote this back in January, before I really realized what a martyr for the causes I believe in I’m becoming.

“Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder” -George Washington, “Hamilton”

But it’s true. I make sacrifices and choices based on the life I want the rest of the world to lead – or the rest of the world to see me, respect me, as – and the world still doesn’t seem to care. Why?

“You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others.” -Katharine Whitehorn

Perhaps because I still thought the world should care. But it doesn’t. And – heads up – the world really won’t care about me, or any of us, for too long. Sure, we may get the headlines and the attention of our peers for a brief millisecond, a few months if we’re lucky, but the rest us will continue to go about our daily lives and lead the life imagined for EACH of us. (Not for all of us.)

So, why should I not live more lightly and make the decisions that are right for me along the way? No more should I dissolve for fear, for future, for prosperity, or for “the cause.”

If I am to lead a “creative life” – as Gilbert says – I should lead MY creative life for myself, and let everyone else lead the creative life he or she imagines.

“Smile. Breathe. And go slowly.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

In the meantime, I’m also trying to work out: What are my curiosities – which are far more interesting than the overworked “passion” Gilbert alludes to in the chapter “Trust” – and where do my heart-strung interests and allegiances lie?

“Are you considering graduate school because it feels “safe” as you are wary about entering the job market?” -Ohio University Career & Leadership Development Center “Planning for Graduate School”

I read this packet from Ohio University’s CLDC, along with the last chapter in “Disasters in Field Research” (Is Fieldwork for Me? Assessing Your Inclination for Fieldwork), and I have to really wonder: Is international fieldwork in an academic discipline like geography or anthropology what I’m really suited for? What are my strengths, my weaknesses, and how do I really “know thyself”?

It seems like whenever I am so sure, the universe conspires to crack open my coconut shell of ignorance and entertain another 18,000 possibilities in my dreams.

So, I’m calling this post my “Curiosity Manifesto”, inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” & conversations with Andrea and Chris and my own mind about the future.

I hereby prescribe to a life lived in the constant pursuit of my interests; to follow my curiosities diligently, thoroughly, and with the upmost regard. I pledge a life to the cultivation – not coveting – of knowledge, and that my thirst for learning may never be satisfied. May I choose a life lived lightly, a life lived creatively, a life lived in peace of heart and mind and soul. May I act a little selfishly, may I dream a life with purpose, and may I finish strong and with a smile.

“Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Thanks for sticking with me. Until next month,

BNB, xo

This post also appears on labellamemoir.tumblr.com

One Comment

  1. Debi & Don Durbin says:

    Hi Bethany,   This sure does give you a lot to think about. Its all in the journey 🙂   Hope you are enjoying the summer and making time to relax.    Is your arm all good now?   HUGS!! Debi

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