Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When I Thought I Could Know Everything

I was chatting by email with a fellow writer. We're learning how to use social media and other Internet communication venues to reach our readers and potential readers. There's so much to learn. I never mastered small talk, and that seems to be a basic skill for making web-friends. I was never popular. I didn't want to be.

But one thing I clearly remember wanting from the time I was eight years old -- I wanted to know everything. When I was eight, I thought this was possible. My teacher said everything I could possibly want to know was in the library. I was a fast reader. The library was only a few rooms. I figured I could read every book in the building by the time I was 20. And then, I'd know everything.

I became fascinated with every book. Deep sea pearl diving, asteroids, fossils, myths, the list was long, but it was finite. I imagined that the sum of all knowledge was finite. It didn't even occur to me that the poems and stories that I wrote, that my classmates wrote, were adding to the sum of stuff to read on the planet.

I was nine when I noticed that the library bought new books every year. That was okay. I was a fast reader. I could still read everything by the time I was 20. Then I noticed that bookstores had books that were not on library shelves. And the library refused to buy them. Different book stores had different books. The infinity of it all. I was never going to know everything. Even if I did nothing but read for the rest of my life.

I've never been able to make a conscious choice of topics I care about. They just float into my awareness. If I don't act on them, and grab a book, or surf the web, I forget about them. Even if I do surf the web and read about them, I may forget about them. But still, I feel as if I'm making a decent effort and getting a decent reward. I can't know everything, but I can know things I enjoy knowing. And I can know things I need to know, like how to use Map Quest to get directions, or how to sell stuff I don't want any more on eBay. These are finite skills, quickly acquired.

But social media. I've even bought books on it -- I just don't get it. It feels like working at being popular. When I was a kid, the librarian told me which books she thought I'd enjoy. The publishers told my librarian. The editors told the publishers. The publishing world used to be finite.

But today -- everybody can be published. And librarians still read the same short list of review magazines. And the review magazines still listen to the big publishers. But the big publishers aren't able to handle the expansion of topics, the expansion of knowledge, the infinite variety of new material. And I'm not interested in all of it, anyway.

The problem is figuring out what to do when I want my books noticed. And that means learning new skills. I just want it to happen. Why can't the people who know these new skills fall in love with my books and buzz them for me?

I never understood the kids in my class who didn't want to learn stuff. I have an insatiable appetite for learning stuff. I'm glad I never learned everything. But I don't want to learn social media. Why do I have to?

The answer is the same one that the teachers gave the recalcitrant students. "You don't have to learn it if you want to live without."

I never thought I'd sympathize with lazy learners. Now I know it's more than laziness. It's antipathy. I want to do what interests me. I don't want to study it just to pass the test. But the test is -- can my books reach their audience? And I very much want to pass that test.


  1. I loved your entry, and appreciate your thirst for knowledge. I only wish I had developed mine at such an early age. I'm guilty of being one of the kids who would do more creative work getting OUT of work...but now, I'm a freelance writer, and I write on a variety of subjects for business journals, magazines, newspapers...or for anyone who will pay me! Because of the wide variety of subjects on which I write, I have a little knowledge about alot of things. About the only thing that's good for is small-talk at a cocktail party! When I run out of facts, I politely excuse myself...

  2. Susan: Congratulations on figuring out how to do small talk. One thing that sometimes works for me -- ask questions. Lots of people like to talk about themselves. But even then, I often ask questions that don't create conversations. Good luck with your freelancing!