Learning By Annotation
“. . . he talks about masturbating all the time,” said a woman to her companions at a sidewalk table crowded with half full pint glasses.
Ironically, as I passed by, at the moment her words floated into my periphery, I was thinking about how entertaining overheard sound bites can be.
In fact, the phrase I’d just overheard that had inspired my thinking about sound bites was, “. . . English? I always thought she was Australian.” And, as coincidence would have it, the woman who spoke about the man who talks about masturbating all the time was at a pub speaking with a British accent. Or was it Australian? Thank you, Gods of Eavesdropping, you funny bastards!
All of this happened in a matter of seconds, and was enough to cause me to doubt this new blog feature. Perhaps, instead of “Five Things I Learned This Week”, I ought to be listing “Five Things I Overheard This Week.” That’d be much easier. Plus, it’d force me to get out with ears on.
But what do I value more? Snippets heard from random strangers? Or knowledge gained?
Knowledge gained, of course.
As I went through the last five days, I repeatedly asked myself, “What have I learned today?” “Did I just learn something?” More often than not, I realized I wasn’t learning anything new at all.
It became clear to me that making observations, having realizations, and forming opinions (no matter how snarky), are not the same thing as learning.
I realized that if I intend to blog about learning five things each week, I’m going to have to actually learn five things each week. And actually learning is going to require some intentionality. Did I learn this? I think it was more a realization.
Anyway, here are the things I (accidentally) learned this week:
The roots of the word “nostalgia” are “return home” and “pain”. Yes, this not-so-fun fact also appeared on my gratitude list this week. We’re all just going to have to endure a little overlap until I get the hang this.
Walking home drunk is less safe than driving drunk. Okay, this is from the Freakonomics podcast which someone mentioned in conversation. It’s short and compelling — check it out. Summarized: if you get drunk, stay put. Incidentally, this statistic came to my attention from the same person who mentioned the etymology of “nostalgia”.
Baby bats, so tiny, they fit on half an adult human’s finger, can be nursed back to health. A q-tip dampened with warm water, rubbed on the baby’s head, simulates its mother’s lick. It drinks from a foam tip soaked in milk. There is at least one website dedicated to communicating all about this.
I’ll quote the dictionary on this one: recalcitrant means “having an obstinately uncooperative attitude toward authority or discipline.” I encountered it — for the first time ever? — whilst reading Katha Pollitt’s essay “Learning to Drive” from my copy of The Best American Essays 2003. She uses it to describe stuck jar lids. The essay is lovely.
Katha Pollitt is someone whose work I must read more of. This sort of falls into the observation/realization/opinion category; but I’ll allow it.
The self help gurus are quick to point out that what we focus on expands. In light of that, I’m glad I’ve put my attention (and intention) towards learning rather than eavesdropping.
Otherwise, just think, some guy’s wanking would have been a focal point of this post rather than merely a cheap hook. BTW, does he talk about it all the time or do it all the time? Or both?
What did you learn this week?
What do you intend to learn next week?