I have been doing a new thing and it has been fun, so I thought I would tell you about it in case you’re not doing it but it would be fun for you too.
It started when I read Traveling Sprinkler, and something about that book made me want to read it sitting next to my computer so I could keep looking up things like bassoons and Debussy. I found I enjoyed that experience of lightly sampling a bunch of new things, and I wondered why I hadn’t been doing that all along. So when I was reading The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey, for example, I watched part of the ballet Swan Lake on YouTube.
But I didn’t watch ALL of Swan Lake: I watched about five minutes, then skipped to another part and watched another five minutes. Just like I didn’t watch the whole intro-to-bassoons video, I just watched part of it, and then watched part of a video of four bassoonists playing Somebody That I Used to Know. Because in all those examples, that’s where my interest stopped. And this, THIS, is the key to why I’m doing this now and wasn’t doing it before: I connected the interests thing to the Drops IN the Bucket thing.
I’ve been wishing I had More Interests, but I think I was feeling like if the interest weren’t a Grand All-Consuming Passion, it wasn’t worth pursuing. I didn’t think it out like that, but it was as if I were saying to myself, “Watching ten minutes of Swan Lake on YouTube is stupid: you have to watch THE WHOLE THING and it has to be LIVE and you have to study it ahead of time so you know what’s happening.” But no! That is the same misplaced perfectionism that makes us think there’s no sense wiping the stove-top unless we’re going to get EVERY SINGLE SPECK and also clean the drip pans and the dials. Giving the stove-top a fast, half-hearted, water-only, nowhere-near-complete wipe with the other side of the same washcloth I just used to wipe a child’s face makes a significant and mood-lifting improvement in the way I feel about the whole kitchen. Watching ten minutes of Swan Lake on YouTube makes a significant and mood-lifting improvement in the way I feel about LIFE, as well as adding a new layer to the book I’m reading. If I wait to clean the stove until I’m going to do it PERFECTLY I’ll never do it; if I wait to see Swan Lake live in a theater, I’ll finish the ballet book and return it to the library and lose interest and forget all about it and never go. Whereas if I watch ten minutes of it, it might lead to an actual ballet attendance later on; and if I give the stove-top a quick wipe, I might be so encouraged by the improvement that later I’ll also give the counters a quick wipe.
Now that I’ve noticed this additional example of Unhelpful Perfectionism, I’m seeing it all over the place. I went to the library today and I saw a book I was kind of interested in, and then I thought, “Eh, I don’t think I’m interested enough to read a whole book on that.” Pardonnez-moi, but who said anything about having to read the whole book? I could understand being in a book store and saying, “Eh, I don’t think I’m interested enough to buy that book”—but when it’s at the library and I can take it home for free and read not one word more than I want to, WHAT may I ask is stopping me from doing so? Do I imagine I am…WASTING the book? Am I imagining that only people pure and strong of interest may check it out?
What IS this drive towards ALL OR NOTHING? If we’re a little bit interested in Albert Einstein, we don’t have to read his biography and also a whole book about the theory of relativity: it is perfectly acceptable to skim a Wikipedia article, if that’s as far as our interest goes. Maybe we will read in the Wikipedia article that Einstein was visiting the U.S. when Hitler took power and he just STAYED here: left everything behind. Imagine doing that! Imagine being on vacation to, say, France, and there’s a shift in political power back home so you abandon your house and all your possessions and you never go back, starting a new life in a new country with only what you packed for your trip, and everyone thinks you’ve lost your mind until it turns out actually you saved your life. Anyway, maybe that idea will stick with you and you will think about it while you’re making dinner and that’ll be a whole lot more interesting than thinking about how you don’t think you can stand to make this meal even one. more. time. Thinking about something interesting > thinking about something boring. Overall minor life improvement achieved.
And if that anecdote about Albert Einstein makes you want to get an Albert Einstein biography out of the library, you can skim a few pages at the beginning and then start skimming around a bit in other chapters, and then read the one chapter that tells more about the day he decided to never go back home (did he have relatives sell his house? did he try to make them come to the U.S. too? how much stuff did he have with him?), and then look at the photo section in the center, and then RETURN IT TO THE LIBRARY! There will be no quiz on the material! You can read the amount you’re interested in and then STOP.
Or let’s say you read a book in which one of the characters keeps doing Tarot cards for other characters, and you find a little sprout of interest is rising. It is not necessary to research the most legitimate type of Tarot cards and/or choose among different methods, and then seek out the set with the artwork that is most YOU, and then find someone to teach you how to do Tarot cards correctly, and then practice until you are a fluid and impressive expert at it—nor is it necessary to give up the whole interest because you don’t want to do all these things. You can buy a used pack at a yard sale for 50 cents, and you can lay out the cards with lonnnnnng pauses as you read the instructions and say “Wait, wait, that’s not right,” and you can attempt to read the cards for yourself and for a couple of other interested family members, and then you can offer the deck on Freecycle because it turns out that was the limit of your interest and you don’t want to make it your new party trick.
I have a page-a-day art calendar that fits well with this. I have a small interest in art—but just small. I don’t feel like getting a membership to an art museum or taking an art appreciation class, but a casual look at one piece of art a day is PERFECT. Some days I look at a calendar page a dozen times, and then look up the piece online to get more information, and then look at other pieces by the same artist, and then read a little more about the artist’s life and about what style of art that is, and then click through to another artist who paints in a similar style, and then look around online to see if it’s possible to order a print. Other days I glance at the picture once when I flip to that day’s page, and that’s it. Most days are somewhere in between. I don’t have to declare an interest in art or think about whether this interest level counts as “being interested,” I can just be this level of interested in art.
Or, or! Let’s say John Green mentions a list of the ten books he thinks are the best. I don’t have to be COMPLETIONIST about it: I can read the ones that interest me and skip the ones that don’t. And if I try one and get about 30 pages in and really dislike it, I can return it to the library unfinished.
Interests are not commitments, and they don’t have to be powerful driving forces, and they don’t have to turn into time-consuming hobbies. It is possible to PEEK. It is possible to DABBLE. It is possible to VISIT. It is possible to investigate something with an interest that is mild rather than avid. It is possible to start with one thing, such as a book, and turn it into many, MANY things by investigating or trying different things mentioned in the book: foods, songs, TV shows, movies, liquors, hobbies.
It didn’t work at all to think, “I should be interested in more things”; it’s working very nicely to keep an eye out for flickers of interest and then follow up on them lightly, without expecting Grand Passions. Interests are flitting butterflies: pursue those little suckers—and when one disappears from view, switch to another one. Don’t expect to actually CATCH one—but if you DO catch one, pin it cruelly to a board and enjoy it forever! …Or switch at that point to a more pleasing metaphor.