I’m really not sure where I would be in life if it wasn’t for an innate, sometimes all-consuming curiosity.
This trait has inspired travels to Europe, Mexico and across the entirety of the United States. It’s inspired me to pick up and play instruments like the drums, guitar and bass. It’s pushed me into a career of journalism, which allows me to indulge and exist in a state of curiosity for the majority of my work days, thank goodness.
There’s nothing I like better than to have a blank notebook or computer screen in front of me and stack of books by my side, with the potential for teaching me things that I didn’t know before. For this reason, the library has been a source of wonder since I was young. As a nearly 40-year-old woman, I still walk into a high-ceilinged room loaded with books and get a tingle in my stomach. Seriously, is there anything more amazing than a library? A place dedicated to acquiring knowledge for the sake of knowledge. A place where books on just about any subject can be browsed, perused and even taken home for three weeks, in a pure indulgence of curiosity.
I could mark my life by libraries. Growing up, it was the Whittier Library, where I would spend hours, going subject by subject through the card catalog, reading everything I could about whatever subject tickled my fancy that particular week. Later, it was the Oceanside Public Library, a large, bright building, where at the age of 18, I checked out books on Zen, philosophy, Taoism and the beat poets, before heading downstairs to spend an hour browsing through an impressive foreign film collection. Later, I’d come to know the San Diego Public Library like an old friend, checking out books on politics, art and teaching, as I prepared for a stint in Teach for America. That job took me out to the desert, Gallup, New Mexico to be exact, where I marveled at the library’s wide selection of books on the American west and the indigenous tribes—Zuni, Hopi, Navajo—that had existed there for centuries. I checked out books for my classroom, hoping to indulge my student’s curiosity by indulging my own, and sometimes, succeeding.
The libraries of my life go on and on, more memorable than past boyfriends. In libraries, I’m able to truly be myself, to exist fully immersed in the curiosity and questioning that has become the core of my life’s existence. A tremendous and driving desire to know more about so much.
I said earlier that this trait is innate, but is it really? Do children have a natural curiosity to discover what makes the world tick? To find out something about just about everything? It seems so. One of the earliest development stages involves the asking of questions. Hang out with any kid between the ages of two and three and you’ll be asked enough questions to make the head swirl. Why can’t I do this? Why does that machine do that? Why can’t we go this way? Why can we go that way? Why is the sky blue? (Do kids really still ask that question?) And on and on.
This question has become all the more urgent for me as I prepare to give birth to my own child in less than three months. My daughter will come into a vast, complicated, messy world knowing only the womb. This is a world that has wily ways of stifling curiosity, whether through obsessive consumerism or media that dulls the senses instead of brightening them. But I want my daughter to wonder, to question, to be a searcher and a voyager. I want her to revel in the treasures of the library. I want her to question what is and what isn’t. I want her to have the confidence of a world explorer, one who knows there always something else to learn around the next bend. A world of possibilities and imagination, where research and reading or figuring out how to do something new hold way more charm than shopping til’ you drop.
One of my least favorite phrases is “Curiosity killed the cat.” What kind of warning is that? Curiosity might kill in horror movies, when the hapless victim goes outside to check on the mysterious noise, but in real life, it’s a means of fully being in the world.
A friend of mine recently gave me a fabulous child-raising tip. She said that when her son wants to do something he shouldn’t do, she instead gives him another option, in effect, opening up another door for him to go through instead of just closing the one that first caught his interest. It’s a way to redirect attention without squashing the initial impulse, without saying “no.” It reminds me of that old Yoko Ono art project; the one that John Lennon said made him fall in love with his future wife. Lennon recalled climbing up a ladder, towards a tiny white strip of paper attached to the ceiling. A spyglass hung from the ceiling. When Lennon got to the top, he put the glass to his eye and read one word written on the piece of paper: Yes.
"You're on this ladder -- you feel like a fool, you could fall any minute -- and you look through it and it just says 'YES,' " he told journalist David Sheff in 1980. "Well, all the so-called avant-garde art at the time, and everything that was supposedly interesting, was all negative; this smash-the-piano-with-a-hammer, break-the-sculpture, boring, negative crap. It was all anti-, anti-, anti-. Anti-art, anti-establishment. And just that 'YES' made me stay in a gallery full of apples and nails, instead of just walking out saying, 'I'm not gonna buy any of this crap.'"
Cultivating curiosity is a way of saying yes to life’s constant treasures, whether from books, or conversation, or just walking around the neighborhood checking out what’s new. It’s a world full of apples and nails and countless other things to muse on. I can’t wait for my daughter to join the fray, to ask and ask again. The best part about curiosity is that it’s always there, ripe for the picking; we only need to allow it to be.
lives in Santa Rosa, California, where she is a staff writer at the North Bay Bohemian. Her writing has appeared in Fwriction:Review, YES Magazine (online), Storyscape, Shareable Magazine, Metro Silicon Valley and the Sacramento News and Review. She received an MFA in Writing and Consciousness from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 2008. She also makes zines and facilitates writing workshops as one half of Petals and Bones.