This was the laughing question of a friend to me over dinner, a few years ago, in a city I didn’t last more than one year in, partly because of emotional and professional isolation.
“Well, I do,” I answered.
Another friend was sitting with her, across from me; they shared both physical and mental opposition to me.
“Yeah, I always saw those fliers and wondered who does go to those?”
They had a good laugh and I shrugged.
He was an IT service guy at a vocational community college who had changed majors twice in college and taken six years to finish; she an unemployed daughter of a retired doctor, stopped a year during college to travel abroad and study dance before finishing. Upon graduating, he bounced around a few entry level jobs, landing one that set him up comfortably at the community college and commenced to late night bouts of X-Box against other males of his undergrad glory days.
She was living with me because her parents’ house was too big to stay in alone (they had since moved to be closer to grandchildren, leaving her alone in multi-bedroom childhood home). She stayed in the spare room in my apartment and we held mock interviews to prepare her for dream job in the media industry.
They were as different from me as could be, but I couldn’t see it at the time.
I thought they were my friends and support during a very difficult time of life.
I worked at a university, abundant in resources that I took advantage of: theater, lectures, even sports, while at the same time struggling to find a suitable career that would lend me blend concern for students with solid scholarship.
They had both gone to college to get a degree.
I was still working at a school in order to complete my education which would become – a fact I didn’t realize during this dinner – a life long pursuit for interesting facts, stories, and knowledge about the human experience. I was never going to stop learning and learning was entwined in my living.
Both at that moment (and now), I’ve been to lectures of every kind: by diplomats, scientists, doctors, academics. Anyone and anything I’ve been invited to or announced as open to the public.
Not because of the free food (although this is an admitted plus, particularly when it’s good) but also because of the free stimulation. The sharing of ideas sparks in me my own. The wheels start turning – as they always have – in the presence of creativity. The presenter doesn’t even have to be a stylistically perfect orator.
I’m not sure if it’s the sitting down in someone else’s mind, something I’m not disciplined enough to do with my own on my own (a nap of a few minutes always seems like a good proposition just before a planned work period) or the fact that I now “work fulltime” and the better part of my day is spent in a office, or actually sitting down period, and being still that triggers this phenomenon.
Every time I go to a lecture, I’m struggling to reclaim the right to think. I find moments on my own here and there, but I’m more likely to do it if I’ve been in the presence of someone else who has been working on something and is sharing it with others.
Perhaps this is my father’s gift – the great monologist in the family – wiling to gather information from any source: by listening to the news, to lectures, to presentations (to anyone but family.)
Perhaps echoes of his recurrent warning during my teenage years – “Words of wisdom are going down the drain, down the drain” – a leftover from his own childhood, draws me into various auditoriums all over the world, seeking others, finding myself.
Here in the desert, lectures are spots of light combating short days and an increasing sense of intellectual isolation which can be held at bay for another hour in the company of other thinkers.
Oh, and those friends, the non-lecture goers?
Let’s just say I’ve found truer companions.