I learned today about this German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus who memorized lists of nonsense syllables in order to study memory. He spent a great deal of time doing this, studying to the beat of a metronome and coming up with a number of contributions to science as a result; perhaps the most significant one is the “forgetting curve,” which relates the amount of knowledge retained to the course of time. It struck me just how lonely of a pursuit memorizing nonsense syllables must have been, how alienating. And yet, how essential. This is something that makes him incredibly unique, and underpinned a lot of the research that he is now known for. Isn’t that how anything worth doing is, in some sense? The contributions that we can make, that set us apart, are necessarily things that separate us.
I’m still trying to figure out a purpose or mission in life to some degree; we all want meaning in our lives, and are at different stages of finding it (them). These different projects that I take on — baking quick breads, picking up Linux at work, reading books, writing for NaNoWriMo — are all different ways of trying to construct meaning in my life in some sense. Taking another step back, meaning can be found in everything of course. My walk between the train station and the office is an action that I take several times a day, many days of any given month, and every one of those trips is unique; over the course of a month, I build up a familiarity with the roads I walk along, with the cracks in the sidewalk, with the graffiti along the walls, with the different skylines. The intimacy I achieve with this space is unique to me and a few score other commuters.
I mentioned a couple posts ago that I’m taking a continuing education course; it’s on writing for magazines, and we ended our first session having to write a sentence or two pitching a magazine article. I had a hard time coming up with what I wanted to write about! I could have come up with all kinds of baloney topics that I want the excuse to write about, sure, but what about topics that I have some sort of background in, some expertise such that a magazine would trust me to write the article for them? I ended coming up with two: an article about the breed of my dog, and an article about the neighborhood that my office is situated in. I need to research both a bit more before the next class, so I can write full-on query letters for them instead of just going by the seat of my pants.
It’s just that little nudge, that points us in the proper direction, sometimes.
Be sure to keep an eye on that view as you’re climbing that hill, Jungi!