We expect children to be full of openness, to revel in asking questions. Most parents will talk with a mixture of joy and exhaustion about those endless rounds of “but whyyyy?” We also assume that this will drop away with time as the world falls into place and loses the sheen of novelty. But that doesn’t mean the seeking of answers needs to stop. That desire to remain ever curious (and ever questioning) is a state of being I always want to aspire towards. Some of my favourite people are in their seventies or eighties, and still talking with glee about adventures they’ve just had or new books on their shelves. They know that there’s always more to probe at, always further perspectives to investigate… Really though, I admire anyone of any age who is continually interested in expanding what they know. They're the kinds of individuals who make me want to do more, and learn more.
In fact, I’ve realized recently just how much I love that simultaneous sense of being inquisitive AND acquisitive. I’m usually ticking and fizzing when I’m thinking about new things, learning obscure facts, and generally getting excited about all that’s fallen into my path in the course of a week. Could be a good conversation, a long article I’ve read on Buzzfeed, or a crowd-sourced list recommending amazing female writers (see all the answers beneath). Maybe a film. I saw Pan’s Labyrinth recently, and it’s been hiding in the back of my head for weeks now. Perhaps a play, a gig, a museum visit... I know it’s worked some sort of magic when I feel like I might explode if I don’t tell someone very soon all about it – whether I want to sing its praises or critique it with some bite.
It's also why I’ll never make a great academic. As someone pointed out to me last week, an overwhelming, wide-ranging type of enthusiasm doesn’t always lend itself to strict study. It does, however, contribute towards some sense of eager pleasure in whatever the day ahead holds.
To give all of those observations some solid grounding, here’s a quick list of a few of the things I’ve read/ listened to/ looked at/ learned about in the last ten days: RuPaul on performativity of gender (and everything else in general); Neil Gaiman on fairtyales; Chimamamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith discussing race, writing and beauty; Sally Mann on photography; Oliver Sacks on hallucinations; (ok, those five are all from the NYPL podcast which I’ve been listening to over breakfast most mornings).
Beyond that, there's an interview with Carrie Brownstein on Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia; Benjamin Britten’s opera of The Turn of the Screw; this piece on why consensual sex "can still be bad"; a blisteringly powerful ongoing diary series from Jenny Diski; plenty of music videos from St Vincent; poetry collections by U.A. Fanthorpe and Seamus Heaney; this from Alanna Massey on why it’s ok to admit that being single can be rubbish; one gallery of images of Kate Bush and one of female muses; Jo Ellison on weight and taking up space; this dress by Elsa Schiaparelli; the film Suffragette; an essay from The Coven on crying and laughter; Rebecca Solnit writing on Virginia Woolf and darkness; and a series of brilliantly amusing/ genuinely informative pieces by JR Thorp for Bustle (we met up last week to chat about writing, clothes with marvelous histories, and cats.)
And that’s just a handful of the stuff memorable enough for me to recall at short notice – the kinds of things I ended up discussing with other people, or spent time pondering alone. It’s also a partial list because it doesn’t include the HUGE amount that’s been going on academically (which is, of course, my main focus at the moment) or the research that’s been required for various articles I’ve been working on. This is really just bonus stuff woven in around the edges of actual responsibilities.
The thing is, lots of us do this to a certain extent – plenty of time, especially online, spent wandering down little gulleys and side-alleys full of images and ideas. One link leads to another, and suddenly you’re thinking all about Emily Dickinson’s poems scribbled on the backs of envelopes/ Lana Del Rey’s carefully constructed aesthetic/ Iris Apfel’s fabulous clothes. It’s easy to bemoan this wandering as procrastination. Sometimes it is. But usually there’s plenty to be gained in it too.
In some ways, I wonder whether the newsletter is becoming a new means to collate this type of inquisitive/ acquisitive tendency. It’s a way for people to assemble everything they’ve been taking in (side note: my lovely friend Emma Gannon said some very nice things about me in her last newsletter – go subscribe here). The newsletter offers up a space – almost a scrapbook – for things to be collected, shared, and preserved.
There are people who do this on other platforms too. Roe McDermott’s Twitter feed is always full of interesting articles, while Ana Kinsella’s lists of links (titled 'A Week's Click's) are fantastic for losing a morning to. Visual inspiration is easy to find on Instagram accounts like Kay Montano's and Laura Kitty's. And, you know, there's always plenty on the bookshelves too..
Of course, there's never going to be time to follow up on EVERYTHING ALL OF IT NEVER-ENDING. But that's ok. There are decades ahead to learn, research and cast that net of knowledge ever-wider (also plenty of time to choose what to invest your hours in, and what to ignore). I find that entirely wonderful. Plenty left to explore. Plenty left to write about, too...
I'm wearing all vintage here, I think, other than the boots. This was shot just after we took these photos - you can see the same orange silk dress hidden under all of these layers. The acquisitive part of my nature definitely stretches wardrobe-way too. I regularly count buying a good item of clothing among the day's achievements.