This Week’s Bit of String: What poems, jellyfish, and King Tut have in common
I am starting 2023 building a new habit. I feel like that sounds more promising than a resolution, what do you think? Anyway, this habit is to learn something new every day.
I think we all learn stuff most days. Part of the reason I relish daily scribbles is because it teases out new information I glean without necessarily noticing. It’s also why I stop after each book I’ve read and write down my favourite quotes, instead of charging on to the next one. Just a little bit of reflection time. Because my mind’s always leaping to the next thing I absolutely MUST get done; the next book to tick off the To-Be-Read list; the next job to cross off from my planner. I’m very susceptible to the look-at-all-the-things-I’ve-done narrative on social media and I have to force myself to stop and reflect. I had to make it a part of my routine, a habit.
My dad used to ask us at the dinner table, “What did you learn at school today?”
We hated it. On principle, we often insisted we’d not learned a thing. And that may have been true some days. We expected that anything learned would be unmistakably gifted to us, not always understanding that we might need to flip through the resources and find what needed to be learned.
So with this learning habit I’m working to develop, the rule is that the Something I learn for the day can’t be part of my normal reading. It has to be something extra, something I take time to look up and find out about. It IS allowed to be a poem or short story outside of my pre-planned reading list, for example delving into an online literary magazine, as long as it’s not just because I’m prepping my own submission for it.
The idea is to take in information or art for its own sake, free of agenda. To shake myself from the constant bridle of Getting Things Done, and just stretch my brain.
It’s also to repurpose scrolling time. As I mentioned earlier this year, I want to waste less time on social media. I haven’t been terrible about scrolling and spending time online, but I could do better. Instead of scanning Facebook and Twitter, brain on autopilot, just waiting for something salient to jump out at me, I will go and seek salience myself.
So far, my new habit has entailed:
Finding out about early British underground buildings like fogous and souterrains, because for her novel my student has created a Secret Hunting Society which lives in a village hidden underground.
Cooking dinners ahead for the week while listening to these fantastic Intelligence Squared videos featuring William Sieghart’s The Poetry Pharmacy
And this Intelligence Squared Dickens vs. Tolstoy debate, Simon Schama arguing on the latter’s behalf and sharing this Tolstoy quote: “The aim of the artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its manifestations.” (Makes it sound a bit simpler and more feasible, do you reckon?)
Research on jellyfish because I made a little ShrinkyDink jellyfish while crafting with my sisters over Christmas and I added it to my keychain
Finding out about aphantasia, since another student believes she has it. People with aphantasia don’t see imagery in their minds, which makes it harder for her to connect with material she reads.
Researching Tutankhamun because the latest Royal Mail stamps for sending letters abroad have his possessions on them, and I was wondering… Do those really belong to this country?
Looking more deeply into a January 6, 1853 train accident that claimed the life of President Franklin Pierce’s only child just two months before Pierce’s inauguration, because it was alluded to in A Worse Place Than Hell, the book I’m reading. Pierce was the only president to ever hail from my home state, and it surprised me I’d never heard of this tragedy, when it must have heavily influenced his actions during a pivotal period.
Also, trying to find out about women runners in the 19th century because this nonfiction work mentions Louisa May Alcott going running in the early mornings before her long shifts at a Civil War hospital. I’m very curious about what women would have worn for morning runs in the 1860s, and I’ve found some interesting facts about the history of women runners but nothing that illuminates this passage, so if you know anything about it, do let me know.
The different types of attention that may be compromised by social media use, as outlined by Johann Hari on Jon Favreau’s Offline podcast. It rather motivated me to keep going with this little habit of mine!
Do have any suggestions of things I should learn about? What sorts of things have you sought to learn?