Recalling seminal events in one’s life is something most others could give a s**t about. At the risk of having already lost you before I even get into my own personal weeds, I’ll throw you a benefit bone early in the blog, enthusiastically promoting Maria Popova’s Twitter posts and website, Brain Pickings, as a not-to-be-missed part of one’s daily intellectual jumpstart. For my money, she offers marvel after marvel of soulful mash-up, memorializing, enriching, and validating the depth of our collective well.
Popova is a wonderer and a wanderer, exploring and then planting fields that Alan Watts first seeded my consciousness with more than 40 years ago in a little book he wrote called The Wisdom of Insecurity. (Actually, I read every book he wrote). At the time, I was a mess, grasping for purpose while abusing the very tools I needed to put two and two together, alternately wading through waist-deep water, pissing in the wind, and seeking tethers, unaware the climbing ropes had no carabiners. Small- and large-volt anxiety—both clinical and existential—were as commonplace as ramen noodles. In college, but not really, I wasted tuition fees experimenting with various states of consciousness, egged on by scientist-pop philosophers like Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary, and R.D. Laing, as well as wannabee revolutionists amped up on mega doses of Camus, Vonnegut, Hesse, Jung, Ralph Ellison, Bella Abzug, Abbie Hoffman, Eugene McCarthy, Russell Means, William Kunstler, Thai sticks, Blue Schmear, the Vietnam War, and Wavy Gravy.
In a world dominated by the considerable failings of the dried cement conventions of mid-century America, Alan Watts lit a candle, illuminating the notion that if you’re awake, you simply couldn’t avoid a profound sense of insecurity. He made my head nod up and down suggesting that being scared and unsure was not only OK, it was the only sane way to face the world. His was an entirely different lens, both sides now as Joni Mitchell warbled.
Watts cleared fields to reveal things that matter, doing so as an author, philosopher, and scientist, ala Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, or Albert Einstein. Maria Popova does so as an information and content curator, rummaging daily through thousands of bits of information, books, images, papers, archives, and musings to set a daily table of . . . matter-full things. Things that wrinkle brows, that bend and twist. Broad and marvelously breadth-y notions of us, as seen through the aggregation of what we’ve written.
Though my age somehow makes me less vulnerable to seminal moments, it most certainly leaves me more open to wonder, both noun and verb. And, as if the muse thought this particular bloviation required more crossed t’s and dotted i’s, I just this moment discovered that Popova curated and posted a 1959 video of Watts explaining the fundamentals of yin and yang.
Will wanders never cease?