Still Processing 

How do you get from point A to point B?

Well, you plot a course, and after a right or left turn, you’re there. 

How do I do it? 

I stress and tear my hair out at the fact that I’m not at point B, and gee, point A is so far away, and what’s wrong with me that I haven’t gotten to point B yet?

Because I don’t process things. Or I don’t realize that there is a process to things. That I can’t show up and know everything in the universe. And for some reason that actually frustrates me. 

And call it what you will. Call me a millennial, and point out my obsession with instant gratification. (Ever since we invented solar powered calculators, it’s like we just expect the answers to be given to us.) But I’m still completely confounded by the journey. I don’t know that practice makes perfect because I stuck with everything that came to me naturally (reading, writing, dancing).

It’s just that I don’t remember the time when things were hard and I didn’t know how to do something until I learned. I just remember having learned it. 

So, I’m still processing things. And I’m trying not to beat myself up for not knowing things until I know them. Every journey starts with the first step, but I do wish I walked quicker. 

Explain Yourself

No one likes to be misunderstood. Even though every teen movie would have you believe that.

You know, it’s cool to be misunderstood in films. You’re moody and frustrated, but at least you have moody and frustrated friends. And you can always get a makeover and be everyone’s dream date to the prom in the end. You’re an outsider, but you’re fixable (after they’ve moved through enough of your plot.)

In the real world? Unexplained is the enemy of progress. We have to understand everything to do anything. And anything we don’t understand is met with fear. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Unless we forget the very simple fact that everyone just loves an explanation. Everyone is always excited to understand. The human soul is a question that begs to be answered.

I mean, even as adults, we’re all little students in class again, raising our hand, hoping to be the one to put the puzzle pieces together. And how did the bullies in your class try to manipulate you? They created inside jokes that you “wouldn’t”understand. The only line drawn between children and adults were things that you understood and things that you wouldn’t until you were older.

It’s simple: everyone just wants to understand, no matter the cost. The only trick is making sure that you help someone to do just that. Because so often we don’t. We gloss over things and assume, assume, assume that someone knows what we’re talking about. Why of course you’ve kept up with every television show ever, so you know what I’m talking about. And math comes naturally to me, so you must know pi to the 150th number, and what do you mean you don’t know how to navigate a city you’ve never been to before? 

So, please take a moment to make sure the person you’re talking to understands. Instead of watching question marks pop over their head, try illuminating their light bulb.

Completely Useless Trivia

Can someone please tell me what the evolutionary advantage is of knowing what a group of hummingbirds is called versus where I left my car keys? (It’s a “charm,” by the way.) And why is it that my brain would rather remind me that ducks have more neck bones than humans rather than remember when all of my friends’ birthdays are? And while we’re on the subject, is it necessary that I know that Tennessee Williams was born in Mississippi but not where my own grandparents were raised?

Yup. Just about everyone knows a little bit of useless trivia, tucked and filed away in the deep recesses of their brain. But why isn’t there enough room up there for important things, too?

I mean, it isn’t like we really get a chance to use any of these tidbits. That’s why it’s called “useless” trivia. I’m sorry to crush your hopes, but a criminal isn’t going to mug you and then say, “okay, if you call tell me all of the Jackson 5 members, I’ll give you back your wallet.” Unless you are dealing with the Sphinx, there isn’t a situation where any of this information is going to work in your favor.

So, why is it that we choose to remember useless things? Well, there’s the simple fact that they interest us. When we hear something we don’t know or when we learn something about our world, a neuron in our brain reaches out to touch another neuron. And that connection excites us. Our brains don’t care that we need to hold tight to that number for Chinese takeout. That’s practical and easy. Instead, our gray matter wants a challenge, a stimulant. That way, it can grow and better serve us.

But I think there’s an even less concrete reason, a less logical explanation, for why we retain useless facts way past their due date. For me, it simply comes down to sharing. I love being able to trade knowledge, and play “Did you know…?” with someone.  And it’s great to see someone else’s face light up with understanding and awareness about something new in their world. It’s a gift that you don’t have to pay for, and one that you’ll love to receive.

In the end, we all have to remember that life doesn’t have to have a deeper meaning. Sometimes, it is beautiful and exciting simply because it is there. I think this is the way that brains see the world when we find out a new fact: we are simply amazed that the knowledge exists and could care less about the “real world” application of it all.

So, keep learning and feed your head. Your facts may be useless, but they prove that you’ve been paying attention in a rather blissfully ignorant world.

It’s Not the Years in Your Life

Humans. We’re extending our lives a little more everyday. Doctors actually printed out a 3D heart so that they could save the life of a baby recently. We’re getting closer to immortality all the time. Maybe one day we can defrost Disney, become bionic, and clone our clones.

But being immortal isn’t going to help us live our lives now. In fact, it doesn’t matter how old you are, 9 or 90, you aren’t going to survive for 10 more years or even 100 if you don’t understand this basic principle: there is always time to live up to your potential.

You need to believe that you can start anew at any time. No matter how many times you have failed or how many times you have started over before. You have to know that you can learn or try anything new, at any age. That, just like Madonna, you can reinvent yourself.

I mean, I hear all of the time that children can learn languages quickly. A child’s brain is already mapping new ideas and connections all of the time, so what’s one more English word, one more Spanish phrase?

But what everyone assumes from this fact is that there is a small window that you have to jump through in terms of knowledge. If you don’t do something when you’re young, you will never learn to do it at all. And if you miss the opportunity, well, you miss out. Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Science does not say that we ever stop learning at a fixed point in our lives. We can discover a new language, a new skill, or a new lifestyle at any time, and we absolutely should.

Yes, it may not feel like you have a lot of time on this Earth. And it isn’t fair that we are limited to a lifetime that is synonymous with the blink of an eye on any other planet. But I assure you, you will have plenty of time to write the next award-winning screenplay, the next 700-page tome, the next best chapter of your life. That is, if you start right now and never stop.

I don’t know when you’ll die. It could be tomorrow. And it could be 500,000 tomorrows from now. But I can assure you, if you begin by squeezing every drop out of life, you will never feel as though your time is running out. Just the opposite.

Help Me, I Know Things

I have a full-time job, two Bachelor’s degrees, and a night-light.

The latter is one of those big paper stars that houses a lightbulb and hangs from the ceiling. (The degrees are also made of paper.) I call it “Polaris,” and I only turn it on when I’m truly scared. Not when I see a spider in the corner of the room, not when I have recently watched Paranormal Activity, and not after I read the economy report (usually).

Proudly, Polaris protects me. Her soft glow floods the room, but it is just low enough that I can happily sleep without feeling like I have a spotlight from a lighthouse shining at me from the sea of my sheets. Sadly, though, Polaris is only a physical comfort. I have yet to discover a mental remedy for being afraid of things in my mind. And yet this is why I turn Polaris on.

And, of course, that’s the thing about what goes inside our mind, about knowledge itself. There’s plenty of fun facts out there: Baby jellyfish are called ephyra, for instance. These tidbits can fetch you a moment of amusement. But what about when you come across some particularly difficult information to digest or reconcile? When you finally come to terms with your own mortality or when you actually realize that humans aren’t at the top of the food chain?

I’m sorry for the less than cheery blog post, but I have to ask: why doesn’t knowledge come with a warning label? I mean, we actively seek it, and yet we don’t ask what we’re looking for. We don’t stop to ask for directions. We just keep going, picking things up along the way, unsure when or if we will need them. We’re kinda like Frodo Baggins in his quest to destroy the Ring. He doesn’t ask anyone if he’s headed in the right direction. He kinda just points with his hobbity finger towards the horizon, and he goes.

So, we can’t unknow things or unlearn things. There is no “great Ring to rule them all” that we can destroy and forget every hard fact we’ve encountered in our lives. But maybe that’s the point. It isn’t about what we know or understand. It’s more about how we come to fully process things, how we interact with things. I bet you can recall the first time you realized that you would die one day. I bet you can remember the moment when you knew that every person on this earth is living their own life, uniquely separate and independent of your own. I bet you can pinpoint the time when you figured out that you weren’t the center of everyone’s universe (or maybe you’re still trying to figure that out.) 

And realizing all of that, have you ever looked at life in the same way?

And that’s the point of knowledge. It’s supposed to stretch and challenge your perspective, not just scare you or cause you to hold on tighter to what you know. And importantly, if you take nothing away from this blog except the fact that I am a college graduate with a night-light, take away this: When you learn something, let it go. It has already changed the dimensions of your mind, so you don’t need to hang on to it. As long as you have a light that you are moving towards, (not into, just towards) like my Polaris, you can rest assured that knowledge will guide you safely home.