I am a very gullible person by nature. Chances are, if you have met me in person, you have told me something that I had willfully believed without question, or sarcastically made a comment that I mistook for truth. As I get older, the façade of how I perceived the world to be gradually falls away like rusty scales or a deteriorating shingles from a Victorian rooftop. The process, ongoing, brings mixed emotions, some of anger and disillusionment, others of genuine joy and gratitude for my aptitude to learn.
That’s my most common pastime these days, learning. My wife and I like going to used bookstore and buying esoteric titles. The illusion that they are used and, therefore, inexpensive has set us back several hundred dollars, and produced only an overflowing bookshelf. (I should actually say, “myself.” I’m the one that buys all of them.) Learning is protection in a world of post-modern, post-truth, post-humanity. The act of filling up with knowledge gives me support, a feeling of protection from being exploited by those that are stronger than myself.
As I said before, I’m naïve. It has caused me lots of grief in my life to be behind, to be told that I was stupid, that I was below average. While my contemporaries in grade school were being advanced through government funded programs for the gifted, I was a year older than all of them but considerably more dull, I was told. I tested twice to enter the GATE program, each time taking logic tests and solving puzzles to approximate my IQ. I somehow managed to keep up, in a system designed to disenfranchise me and others like me that didn’t excel at curriculums structured around boosting state testing scores.
In AP courses, and parts of college, I did better. Marginally better. I held my own and passed with satisfactory marks, excelling at English. But I didn’t appreciate scholarship for what it was and what it was meant to be. That came after.
I was in an internship for my church. I told myself that I wanted to be a pastor of the Reformed tradition. So I read, and read, and read. I was reading two books a month, sometimes three. During the fruitless process I learned to absorb knowledge in a way that I had never considered ever in my life. I was driven, and motivated, by a powerful inclination to understand every facet and argument as it applied to the Christian faith. When I became disinterested in becoming a pastor, receiving confirmation from both myself and others that I didn’t possess the proper gifting, my reading proficiency translated to my hobbies.
But as I read, as I ran from my naiveté, I became unhappy. An aside: one of the prerequisites to being an author is being able to see whole worlds, see how they are made, what they are made of, what people populate them, what histories turn them. My own conception of reality, of the world at present, I breathed it in, and in my eyes began to see through the cracks of our humanity. I grew angry. I am angry that we would be so blind to the forces that press the world forward, and contend ourselves to glut on petty things.
(Knowledge brings sadness and sobriety to a repugnant world filled with disappointment. Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul once said “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” My vision is bleak, yes. But it is true and I have the courage to see it for what it is.)
And yet learning, for what it is, has breathed life into every facet of society since man could reason. There are some admirably and qualitatively “good” things to arise out of education: public sanitation, for instance. A means to wipe and flush, washing ourselves of excrement. This, and many other technologies, distract ourselves from our true natures.
But I digress. I am still naïve, despite what I’ve learned. It brings clarity to Socrates’ certainty of uncertainty, something that I can appreciate as I stave off my descending spiral into nihilism. Learning has made my life more rich and, myself, a better author, but at the cost of my ignorance, which I consider a worthy trade, despite the sadness it brings to me on occasion. I can scarcely describe the wonder I feel when I read about the exploits of the Romans or experience the mystery of existential comicbooks. The history of medieval Europe, the language of the Norsemen, their epics and traditions, expanded my understanding of what it means to be human. And, in all this, I am somehow a Christian, experiencing the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of Heaven.
Being naïve has tainted my interactions with others. It’s difficult for me to feel comfortable and at home in a situation because I have been taken advantage of many times for my goodwill and belief in the inherent goodness of others. There are few people I can feel like being myself with, one of them being my good friend Desmond, a fellow scholar of erudite wisdom. When we talk, everything comes forth, like a dam bursting with thoughts and ideas. Our rank commentary, foul words, bring great joy to us, dethroning the world in absurdity like a Samuel Beckett play. My love for him transcends fraternal bonds.
There is always hope. The washing and cleansing of disappointment helps. It’s good to get things out on “paper” and talk about what we struggle with. I do this occasionally, so forgive my rambling. Some of the books I purchased this weekend are as follows, in case you wondered:
Foucault’s Pendulum and Misreadings by Umberto Eco
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
Odd and the Frost Giants and Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman (the latter illustrated by Dave Mckean)