I have a new weekly habit. Since my knees have forced me to give up jogging, I’ve spent the past few weekends logging 12-16 miles on my feet, but at a slower pace. It allows me to pay attention to the beautiful flowering of my little neighborhood, and to become reacquainted with the few miles around my house. I often find myself not quite ready to head home, because the best part of this new habit isn’t actually the walking, it’s the podcast On Being. Krista Tippett interviews engineers, philosophers and artists each week, to ask them the big, cosmic questions and by doing so teases out both heartbreakingly personal stories and universal motifs. As a lapsed Catholic, this serves in many ways as my church: the intellectual inquiry of deeply held beliefs, pressure points, difficulties and small triumphs. I find inspiration, solace, and millions of questions at the end of each episode.
The most recent episode featured Maria Popova from Brain Pickings, another of my weekly pleasures. I’ve listened to it twice now, and only half-kiddingly considered tattooing the transcribed interview on my back, so that the words could actually become part of my being. Maria talks at length about how we desire deep knowledge, but are resistant to devoting the time that it takes to actually acquire that knowledge. We expect it to come easily, or we make our decision based on listicles and infographics. (The most popular/most expensive/most desired wins.) I’m totally at fault – I love a good infographic, but in line with Popova’s thought, it’s because it gives me just enough context to feel like I actually know more about situation than I actually do. She reads and writes all day, and I am delighted by the things she finds in the journals (not diaries. Journals.) of Thoreau, the writings of Seneca, books for children and books about time. Krista Tippett, too, endlessly discusses presence and attention; both in the mundanity of the everyday, and in those times of stress and transformation.
I struggle with wanting to take the easy answer. I admire those who do not. Why, then, do I not always strive for deeper meaning? I wonder if this inattention, this resistance to digging in and doing the work, pervasive? Are we all dilettantes, looking for the easiest answer to the problem? Or is it just me?
Rehearsal for the summer season starts tomorrow morning. So the timing of this desire for attention, presence, and thoughtfulness is not coincidental. I am, however, very much looking forward to spending another summer with people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of deep knowledge.