html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: The blog has been good practice.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The blog has been good practice.

One day I want to be knowledgeable. I want to look at the world and know why things happened. I want to understand the forces in motion, and who is reacting to what. I have theories about things now, and I’m not one to back away from a generalization. But I never feel like I know enough. Some people know things. You ask, ‘why is that there?’ and they explain to you the history of that political struggle and how it evolved and how it contrasts with that one neat case that illuminates this other facet. And you’re all, ‘but you’re a limnologist. Why do you know that?’. Anyway, one thing about those people who really do understand things is that they’re usually older than me. This is a relief. I have time to catch up.

I might not catch up. Remember, two years ago when I said that what I really need to do to understand the world is take a soils class? Yeah. Two years later and I still haven’t taken a soils class and I still don’t know how soils work. This despite the fact that I’ve written at least half a dozen posts where the answer to ‘how come?’ is ‘what are you standing on and how does it act?’.

On the other hand, I might finally have enough breadth that I can spot things. I was reading this LA Times article about how the West is warming up faster than the rest of the country and I was idly musing about what it means for cannibals to eat only organic local foods when I came across a surprising name. The University of Colorado climate professor is an Udall? I know I’ve heard the name Udall before. So I check it, and I better know the name Udall. There were lots of them and they did important things all over the west. The fact that there were lots of them makes me feel a little better about not being able to place a single person, but then, looking at this rather great Wikipedia page, I’m a little horrified that I missed an entire important western dynasty. How’m I supposed to catch on to alliances and stories if I can’t even tell you how an Udall acts? I’ve requested Morris Udall’s book, Too Funny To Be President*, so soon I’ll know a little better.

Anyway, I want to be knowledgeable because I’m really looking forward to delivering extended monologues at family dinners whenever anyone asks me any sort of question. For too long I’ve been letting other people speak sometimes. I don’t listen to them or anything, but it is time to step up my game.

UPDATE 4/22/8: Too Funny To Be President was actually pretty good. Some interesting stuff about why Ted Stevens hates Mike Gravel, leading back to a dispute in the 80's. He writes a chapter on the rise of the environmental movement, and describes his choice to support the Central Arizona Project. I mention all this because we now have two data points suggesting that Udalls support water projects. Three times is a law.

*I hear you, my brother.


Blogger A. Marigold said...

I often feel that way. Not just that I want to be knowledgeable, but that I want to be accomplished, whatever that means. I am not on track, however, as I still haven't started guitar lessons or learned three languages, and my 20s are almost over, and languages get harder to learn and the arthritis in my hands is not getting any better.

Part of the problem is that I want to be expert, or close to it, at everything I start. I know it doesn't work that way, but I see it not so much as a lack of patience at this point but a lack of time. Ten minutes a day to practice? MADNESS! Who has ten extra minutes??

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My knees creaked today, after just a 2 mile run on the treadmill. It's frustrating to have your knees creak just walking down the street when what you really want is to train for a half marathon in 4 months.

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um ... TKD blackbelt ... speaks Russian ...
engineer ... law school ... etc, etc.

And you're concerned because you missed the Udalls?

Might I suggest the problem is not the lack of knowledge per se, but the rather thirst itself? Isn't it possible you'll never feel as if you're knowledgeable enough? Do you imagine, decades from now, after holding forth at a dinner party, you'll arrive at the conclusion You've Pretty Much Got It All Figured Out? That one day you'll not be tempted by the gravitational pull of book shelves?

I wouldn't bet on that pony.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Oh no. I don't speak Russian anymore. I took years of it and can still sound out words, but then I don't know what they mean.

Dude. I wouldn't care if I missed some east coast political family. But this is my backyard, and a pretty important bunch. Will it ever be enough? I think so. I can imagine being satiated.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) I heard somebody say once that you can be one of the world's leading experts on anything if you dedicate 5 years of your life to it.

2) My own theory is that you can be thoroughly competent (if not quite expert) at anything by dedicating 1 hour a day to it. Think of this: Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. If it takes you 45-60 minutes to read an act, you can read a play a week and still have weekends free--and in 3/4 of one year you'll have read every Shakespeare play.

The best way to study a language is in two 20-30 minute chunks a day. Spanish is the most time-efficient, as it has a great literary tradition and you can go from complete ignorance to reading short poems and simplified books in Spanish in under a year.

When I played the guitar in high school and college, I found 45 minutes was about ideal for practicing. I imagine other instruments are the same.

3) I've come to the conclusion that the most important, knowledge-giving kind of book is the biography. I like Benjamin Franklin's autobiography the best (easy to read, funny, informative, historical, etc.). Stan Lee's autobiography is good. Also check out Clive James's recent "Cultural Amnesia," a collection of perhaps 100 short biographies--biographical riffs, really--on important figures in the 20th century, written by a man who must be one of the best-educated people in the world.


5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I suggest a post with similar tips that you've discovered on how to learn/become educated? Other than take a class on soils, I mean. I'm in the same place you are--enough knowledge to know that there's a lot more where that came from.


5:49 AM  
Blogger Douglas Kretzmann said...

Read 3 good books on any subject, and your claim to be an 'expert' will be irrefutable in 99.9% of social situations..

I'm giving large sums of money to one of the Udalls, in the hope that we can get another Democratic senator for CO. A qualified yay for all the tribe, in fact.

One of my in-laws grew up in Limni. His story is that the town gave the name to the area of study, but it seems more likely the word gave the name to the town. So I cannot read 'limnologist' without seeing the Gulf of Evia, which astonishingly enough really is a 'wine-dark sea'. Thanks for bringing it up, it's like a little holiday in the head..

1:53 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

I tend to launch into semi-long monologues about things I'm reasonably competent in. I say interesting things. All I get are blank stares and eye rolls.


What will happen when you know so much that your answer to any question is so complex and sutble that your interlocutor will have no idea what you mean.

Maybe your friends are waaaaaay smarter than my friends. Or waaaaay confident-er.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I don't expect to pay enough attention to my listeners to know whether their eyes are glazed or rolling. That would distract me from my important point.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A Udall," not "an Udall." There's a "y" sound in there.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Hey Teo hon. Good to see you.

You know, I pronounce it with that 'y' sound. But then I guess I typed it with the vowel rule anyway.

Well, y's are sometimes vowels.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Marc said...

I don't think anyone is really comprehensively knowledgeable today. There are wise people, but they are wise because they live in awareness of their own ignorance.

8:53 PM  

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