It hit me the other day when I was at work, on a Saturday. I had the studio space to myself and was working on a large-scale (messy) task, playing a podcast for my enjoyment (The Bowery Boys Epsiode #169 The Tallest Building In New York: A Short History if you must know). When they name-dropped architect Cass Gilbert, I whooped out loud. No, I WHOOPed. Like ol’ Cass had just scored a touchdown from the three-point line. I don’t know sports. But I do know Cass Gilbert as the architect of the Beaux-Arts U.S. Customs House in Lower Manhattan at the very bottom of Broadway, which is basically like, being a close personal friend. And when I learned that he also designed the Woolworth Building in that same area — something I had not known — well, I just hadta give Cass a WHOOP WHOOP!
That’s when it hit me.
I am a giant nerd.
My idea of perfect happiness is having my ears pricked with a new and intriguing fact that I did not know before. That little “Ohhhh!” is like, a tiny little spark that hits me on a level that few other things do. I love to be intrigued. And I love learning little things liiiiiiiike Cass Gilbert’s greatest hits.
It goes pretty much without saying that I was a good student. I was damn near a straight-A student. And I loooved school. I especially loved school in my later high school years, when I could craft my school day specifically around subjects I enjoyed. I remember loading my schedule with electives in Anatomy & Physiology, Theatre, Music Theory, and Forensic Science. These were classes I remember gleefully doing my homework for, and excelling at. I loved learning about these things! The funny through-thread here is that I still love learning about these things. Hello, true crime obsession? I have 6 Wikipedia tabs open at this very moment. FOR FUN.
If I actually think about it, most of my hobbies and passions are geared towards learning. I’m totally obsessed with podcasts, but mainly the ones that can teach me something, whether it be about cryptids, New York City history, or true crime. I’ve seen almost every documentary on the streaming services I subscribe to. And if I have the day off, I’m probably going to find my way to a museum! Curiosity follows me everywhere: if I hear about something I don’t know about, Wikipedia is my friend. I read the plaques on the sides of buildings, lest I pass by in ignorance. I just have to KNOW. Wherever I go, I pick up “random factoids” like gold coins in a video game.
I remember my world opening up WIDE with our first dial-up connection in the home. Having the Internet meant exposure to a whole new world I’d never know about if I didn’t accidentally stumble upon it online. KazaA brought new music to my ears. Just being online meant you had access, even in those days, to a world of possibilities and its shiny appeal was that there were things out there I didn’t know. Tantalizing curiosities, extravagant personalities, concepts and fascinating new fields — I just wanna know! If I don’t know the answer, I’m more than likely to stop, drop, and Google it on my phone. Being able to find out “the answers” with a tap of the finger is, I believe, the greatest innovation of the modern age! Doesn’t matter whether I’m looking up “Which bridges is Othmar Amman famous for?” or “How tall is Tinsley Mortimer?” I just wanna know!
Because when I learn new things, they really do change me. Exposure to new subcultures and music changed the way I defined myself and the people I associated with. Maybe this is why I’m always being told that I’m “so good at therapy” by my therapists. When they hit me in a session with a new concept or new perspective, I take it into consideration. Parse it, consider it, and turn it over. Sometimes immediately, and sometimes after a week has passed, I’ll realize I’ve been completely wrong, and my whole world will be changed due to something I’ve learned. Does this make me “soft-headed” or too open to suggestion? Maybe, but for someone who is usually very stubborn, I think that my willingness to absorb things that I learn is a FINE quality and characteristic.
Like, for instance, my One True Love — New York City. I can go somewhere a thousand times, but learning about it makes me love it even more. Learning the history of a place makes me feel multidimensional: rooted in the present but time-traveling through all of that place’s previous incarnations. Knowing all that I can about anywhere — even a bus station — it feels like I’ve been given a past life, a window into seeing through time, slipping through layers of history like a seven-layer chocolate mousse cake. The more I learn about New York, the more I feel like the Time Lord who rules its domain. The more details, the more vivid my experience of past New York becomes, and the more I feel like my own soul expands into a boundless entity, experiencing all of past and present in one infinite, ecstatic moment!
I know I’m hitting it off with someone when we get into a rapid-fire exchange of fascinating trivia: “Did you know X?” “Yeah, and did you know Y?” “Well, I read that XYZ —” “You know, they say on Twitter that LMNOP.” “Do you know what they say about ABCDE?” NO! TELL ME! I REALLY WANNA KNOW!
Learning new things is one part of the joy, but sharing what I’ve learned is an even GREATER joy. Obviously, I love giving tours and it’s my favorite when somebody asks a question to learn further information. I can’t hold back from sharing things I’ve discovered on Facebook, my personal Facebook wall is a fabulous curation of all the things that have sparked my interest or intrigued me that I’ve newly discovered. If a certain song comes over the radio at work and I happen to have a juicy piece of trivia about it, I have to consciously try to hold off until the second verse before busting out with a “DID YOU KNOW that this song is actually about venereal disease???”
This could also be considered one of my most irritating qualities — coming across as a “know-it-all” — but I’m gonna defend this behavior. It’s an act of love! To me, the highest pinnacle of happiness is learning something I didn’t already know, so sharing that with people is a great expression of love! I’m not trying to be pedantic, I just wanna share my joy! I can’t think of anything that makes me happier than learning. I think expanding your worldview by trying to learn as much as you possibly can is the highest possible aim that we can strive for as human beings. But hey. What do I know.
this post was inspired by the Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire, answering Question #1: “What is your idea of perfect happiness?”
postcard of The Woolworth Building via MCAD Library on flickr