“Well, I should not have thought it strange
That growing causes growing pains
‘Cause the more we learn, the more we know
We don’t know anything.”

 From the song “Reaching” by Carolyn Arends

 A month ago, I wandered my way through the massive crowds at the Pike Place market on a Saturday afternoon in an effort to find one little stand.  It’s a stand I had been to several times before, and it’s right in the middle of the market, surrounded by the random assortment of things you can only find at an outdoor(ish) market like Pike Place.  It was the booth of the Market Penmaker, and I was on a mission.  I wanted a fountain pen.

 I spent 15 minutes perusing the pens, and found the one that I wanted.  I paid a fair bit of money for the very pretty writing utensil, and took it home, wondering what I was going to do with this $80 pen I had just purchased.  Other than look at it and wonder why I had purchased an $80 pen when I never write anything by hand, that is.  Eventually, I started journaling and letter-writing (which I have chronicled here in my hilariously titled—if I say so myself—blog post, Diary-uh.  Ah, poop jokes. They never get old.)

 

The writing desk I have set up in my room...all thanks to the pens.

The writing desk I have set up in my room…all thanks to the pens.

 

After a week or so, though, I was starting to find myself disappointed in the pen.  It was beautiful, but I was having problems writing with it.  It would work really well for the first 3-4 minutes I was writing, but then the ink would stop flowing.  It would skip for the first stroke or two of the pen, leaving no ink on the paper at all.  I was getting frustrated.  Any pen that cost that much money should work a little better, I thought.

 So, I went online, and what I found astonished me.  I wanted to get a fountain pen because my dad is a big fan of them, and they have always intrigued me.  I like the old-timey vibe I get from them.  And let’s be honest: I just like nice things.  But when I started searching for information about why my pen might be misbehaving, I stumbled into this entire world of fountain pen people.  I felt like Christopher Columbus, discovering a new world…that a whole bunch of people already knew about.  The depth of the knowledge around fountain pens was astonishing, and I was sucked in almost immediately. 

Different pen types, different filling mechanisms, different nib widths, materials, and formats, different inks in every color of the rainbow, and different kinds of papers.  The amount of time, thought, and money that some people put into using their pens is staggering and, quite frankly, fascinating.  I stumbled across http://inknouveau.com, a blog about fountain pens, with dozens (if not hundreds) of hours of video reviews of everything from $300 pens to $5 notebooks, and everything in between.  I spent hours and hours on that site and others, pouring over videos, reviews, and products.  I found myself lusting after, longing for these writing utensils that, two weeks previously, I had never give more than just a passing thought.

 Over the next two weeks, I ended up purchasing another pen, two new fine-point nibs, a converter that allows me to fill my pen from an inkwell instead of using cartridges, a large bottle of ink, four pads of Clairefontaine writing paper for letters (along with the matching envelopes), and two journals/notebooks, one from Rhodia and the other from Quo Vadis.  My curiosity has not even remotely been sated, but my pocketbook will not allow further exploration at this point.

 While I realize that geeking out about fountain pens, of all things, speaks volumes about the nature of my personality, the main reason I tell this story is not because I want to share my new-found habit of fountain pens and writing, but because I have recently been struck by an epiphany about the nature of the world in which we live.

 I bought a fountain pen because they intrigue me, and because in many ways, I want to be just like my dad.  But once I took one step into this unfamiliar world, I discovered a chasm of knowledge and experience, both far deeper and wider than I ever expected for a writing utensil that has barely changed in the last 150 years.

The epiphany, however, was a realization about how common the experience of discovering a whole new world of knowledge can be.  It has happened to me several times in just the last year.  I cancelled my cable television service a couple of months ago, and have largely run out of things to watch that I can keep on in the background.  One day, out of sheer boredom, I booted up Hulu and the show Project Runway was on the front page.  Not having anything else to watch, I decided to give it a go.  And while I am exceptionally tired of the worn-out tropes of “reality” television, I was completely engaged by the process of designing clothing. 

 Once upon a time, I liked dressing well.  I cared a bit about the clothes I purchased and wore.  (As I’ve gotten fatter, that has become less true).  I have even done a bit of sewing in my day, making myself a button-up shirt.  But I truly had no insight in the process of designing clothes, making patterns, fabric selection, or the things that those in the fashion industry look at and judge to determine whether something is good or not.  And as I watched, I would often recognize something as being good, but would rarely be able to articulate why, only to have the judges critique an outfit in such a way that it perfectly articulated what I was feeling subconsciously.

Getting into audiobook market brought about another epiphany, and a new adventure into a heretofore untraveled world.  After all, how hard can it be?  You stand in a booth and read a book into a microphone.  Then you sell the recording.  Easy, right?  So, so, so very wrong. Recording an audiobook well is exceptionally hard: Pacing, breathing, mouth sounds, editing, distribution, marketing, pricing.  The marketplace for audiobooks is exceptionally complex, and it’s always changing. 

 I have a buddy who quit his job at Microsoft to become a full-time prop and costume maker, usually making physical versions of the weapons or armor one might find in a videogame.  And he’s amazing.  (You can find his stuff at http://punishedprops.com).  He is going to Comicon, DragonCon, Pax, and other conventions around the country.  He’s been invited to sit in on panels about prop building and cosplaying.  It’s been fantastic to watch his fame in the community shoot through the roof.  And while I am envious of his artistic skill, I am more envious of all the knowledge he has gathered as part of this job, and the way he gets to use and share his knowledge.  I follow his progress on the current props, read all of his blog posts about his process, and try to soak up all the knowledge.  I’ve been so intrigued by it all that I’ve even toyed around with the idea of beginning to do my own costumes and props.  I don’t have the talent or even the desire to do it, really, but the idea of all that deep, relatively obscure knowledge just draws me in.

 Over and over again in my life, I have stumbled across these little islands of knowledge in the world that pique my curiosity.  Finding these hidden treasure troves of depth is one of the driving forces in my life.  I suppose you could call it a deeply ingrained sense of curiosity.  Simply discovering the fringes of one of these knowledge wells in the world is enough to send me diving in headfirst.  Songwriting, theatre lighting, acting, dance, painting, gardening, web design, computer programming, photography, weight lifting, sewing, writing, learning languages, video games—I am constantly fascinated by the world, and the wide vista of knowledge it has to share.

 This fascination with acquiring knowledge and experience may not have led me to the pinnacle of any one particular field, but it has provided me with an exceptionally diverse and varied life.  The deeper knowledge that I have acquired has opened countless doors for me, has allowed me the opportunity (and in many cases, the ability) to converse with people with whom I would have nothing else to discuss otherwise.  Not to mention the sense of excitement and wonder I feel when I stumble into some new knowledgebase.  Simply the act of discovering something new can be intoxicating.

 I know many people who don’t share this sense of curiosity or wonder with the world.  They are content to experience what they know, and feel uncomfortable reaching beyond the limits of their well-travelled world.  They are more concerned with failing, with making mistakes, or looking foolish, than with ever feeling as though their mental horizons have been expanded.  While I can certainly respect that, I don’t even remotely understand it.  How can you not want to know absolutely everything about absolutely everything? 

 I am grateful that I was have/was given this intense sense of curiosity, and that I am able to derive so much enjoyment from learning that Noodler’s Green ink in a TWSBI 700 Vac pen on Clairefontaine paper writes pretty wet.  Or that an expander can help reduce some of the ambient noise in the silences on the audio channel. Or how to program slack into a development project timeline. Or the most common chord progressions that will help you change keys. Or what the sound difference is between a Teletone tap or a Teletone II tap.  Or how the Maillard reaction helps to enhance the flavor of food.  Or which seeds should be planted in March in the Pacific Northwest. Or how to modulate your vowels to belt a high E. Or how to write a Javascript function to resort a table on demand.

 Most of all, I’m grateful that this constant acquisition of new knowledge has given me a wider, and I hope more accepting, view of the world. Constantly opening new doors of knowledge has done one thing better than anything else: It’s shown me that the more I learn, the more I know I don’t know anything.