It’s just about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night and I’m writing this, triumphantly, from my living room couch; triumphant not because I’ve done anything remarkable but rather because I’ve resisted the temptation to go to Redbar for Whiskey Wednesday, and have instead stayed home to watch the first hour of a difficult movie from the List, and then to read. Read! I’ve been giving myself shit for so many days now because, having committed myself to watching 50 movies this month and being more active on the site, I haven’t really sat down with a book for any serious stretch of time.
I read two and a half lengthy pieces from a collection of Joyce Carol Oates’s nonfiction before my eyes got tired and I set the book down and turned, ironically, to my laptop to jot this down.
Earlier today I saw some trivial motivational quote thing on Instagram that said “Learn Something New Every Day”—kinda like “Live Laugh Love” in the sense that it’s kinda plain and meaningless and we all nod somberly about it like yeah that’s true it’s important to learn things but, at the same time, seldom do we bend over backwards to really make that effort.
Did I learn anything yesterday, for instance? I don’t know. I went and had drinks with a good friend from work who told me some things about our workplace that I hadn’t known about. But is that learning, or is that being informed, notified?
Learning, I think, is understanding something new. Like if I read today of some particularly formative argument that Shakespeare had with his mother because he couldn’t learn to tie his shoes, and this little spat could conceivably help me to understand his plays a bit better—OK, I learned something.
If I discover that rhinos can’t have orgasms—I learned something.
Hurricanes are only formed Venus is in the House of Usher—learned something.
If my colleague tells me, on the other hand, that apparently the reason the elevator’s been out of order for two months is because it’s so old that the broken part actually can’t be replaced—well…sure, I learned something about the elevator. But can I get into bed that night, citing this little detail about the workplace, and say, “Yes, I learned something today. My knowledge has flourished”?
From the Oates book I read a long review of a Sylvia Plath book and I learned some things about Plath: her hot-and-cold marriage to Ted Hughes, that she burned several hundred pages of a work-in-progress shortly before she died, that she bit Hughes’s face until he bled when they first hooked up. Also, Oates made some remarks about writing and editing that I think will inform my own work.
And I managed to learn these things right before bed.
For which, dear reader, I now depart.