Friday, September 30, 2016

On intellectual curiosity

I tend to worry at that "but you aren't interesting enough" thing. For me, that's one of my buttons....the idea that I'm a boring person. I don't WANT to be a boring person, but because I'm dependable and keep a consistent schedule (which I actually NEED in order to feel like the world isn't going to fragment into a million pieces and fly apart) and because I have decidedly non-mainstream interests....I tend to "read" as boring to the average person, I think.

I don't know. I know I shouldn't care. I'm generally interesting to myself, and I suppose that's what should matter.

Also, the tiny part of me that's a little contrarian says: "If your students aren't intrigued and interested by the topics you're covering and how you try to relate them to everyday life, that means they're insufficiently curious"

Which could be true. I know everything I read that is even very slightly factual has my brain going, "wait, what about $thing-tangentially-mentioned-here?"

For example, one of the papers I read the other day talked about an Iva annua dominated herbaceous community in Oklahoma, and how it had not been widely studied, and this is a plant species I had never known until I moved down here, but I've seen it at some field I got curious about it. And I looked it up, to see what research had been done on it (Not much, at least of an ecological nature). But there's some in the archaeological literature - apparently it was used as a food plant (the seeds of it) in pre-Columbian times here, and it's thought maybe it was cultivated.

And that led me to a paper on paleofeces, which I admit set my inner 12-year-old to giggling. And in a way, yeah, if you thought too hard about it, dissecting fossilized (or otherwise preserved) human feces for a living would be kind of awful....but at the same time, being able to find out what people who left no written records ate is kind of interesting. And just the idea that paleofeces is a thing. (And it reminds me of another paper I ran across while researching soil invertebrates: a study done of invertebrates found in the, uh, "deposits" under park service pit-toilets. Which would be worse than paleofeces because they would be fresher.)

And in the mystery novel I'm currently reading, there was a reference to Swan Vestas. I got from context that they were matches, but it was surprising that a specific brand was mentioned (as far as I can tell, it has no particular bearing on the mystery; it does not seem to be a clue). But it tells me something about UK/American differences: I doubt there's a brand of match here so widely used and so well-known it would be referred to by brand name in a story. And also, differences in the times: this novel is set in the 1930s where smoking was far more common (though there is reference made to "non-smoking first-class carriages" on trains), and so apparently more people carried matches. (Also, I suppose it was the days before reliable lighters were common. The v. few people I have known who were regular smokers seemed to carry lighters instead of matches with them.)

I also admit I'm surprised to see they're still made. I tend to think of those kinds of things as vanished brands.

But that whole kind of rabbit-hole thing, where one random reference in a book gets me looking something up: I guess most people don't do that? But I do get interested in stuff. And I have a lot of interests, which is why the stack of books beside my bed include ones on World War I, the end of the last Ice Age in North America, early human species, the Atlantic Ocean, how introverts differ from extroverts, and a book called "Eat this Book" by Eugene Peterson which I picked up because I always found his "Message" translation of the Bible intriguing (It was the one I used with the teen youth group and I admit some of the passages in it made me look at them differently from the New English or New International versions I was more used to). I have enough interests that it's hard for me to focus on just one thing. (And I admit, for my pre-bed reading, I don't like doing anything TOO closely allied to my work or else it can get my mind churning and I don't sleep well).

But I don't know. I care about these things, care about some of them passionately, and it frustrates me to think of people dismissing me as "boring" because I don't care about the same things they do.

Also, the "little part of me that's a contrarian" says that people maybe need to look at themselves when they condemn someone else as boring. (But it's only a LITTLE part of me that's a contrarian because I generally score higher on the "agreeability" index - or whatever that measure of personality is called - than is probably good for me.)

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