Delving into a new interest area is overwhelming mostly due to one question– where on Earth do I start?!
To overcome this challenge, one of my favorite and most eccentric English professors in college gave me a life changing piece of advice that I still employ today. I’ve been leaning on this advice for years, it’s my secret formula for figuring out where to start studying any topic.
That advice? Don’t overwhelm yourself with all there is to know about a topic. Instead, take basic elements of that topic and create a “List of things I own”.
Here’s how it works: Instead of jumping from subject to subject, pick one subject to study per category. Immerse yourself in all things related to the people/things on that list exclusively–attend talks, lecture and performances by/about them, read or listen to all of their works, and pay attention to what’s said about them. Once you’ve become an expert, he suggested, move on to a new person, movement, etc.
Since my focus was mostly on literary arts, my list from college is geared toward that realm. Here’s my “List of things I own” from college and the memorable things I’ve done to try and conquer it:
Novelist: John Steinbeck
In his novel East of Eden, Steinbeck composed the most beautifully descriptive passages I have ever read. The story haunts me still and I look forward to reading it again.
Dramatist: August Wilson
I saw a production of Wilson’s “King Hedley II
” this year. I found the production boring overall and the acting over exaggerated (think almost 3 hours of dramatic yelling… eek.) but hey, I made it gave it a shot.
King Hedley II, Arena Stage 2015 (Photo: C. Stanley Photography)
Poet: Wallace Stevens
Often acclaimed as the greatest American poet of the 20th century, I’ve only read one one of Stevens works. This is it:
The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Essayist: Camille Paglia
Paglia’s Break, Blow, Burn
is still my favorite book of poetry explications. I especially loved her interpretation on Jean Toomer’s “Georgia Dusk”.
Literary Critic: Harold Bloom
I have a couple unread Bloom’s books on my shelf including:
Painter: Salvador Dali
The depth of color Dali achieves in his works is remarkable. And I enjoy the “what does it mean?!” feeling his work leaves me with.
Swans Reflecting Elephants Salvador Dali 1937
Art Movement: Surrealism
My interest here spawn from my interest in Dali. Still much work to do in exploring here.
Literary movement: Transcendentalism
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”
sparked my interest in Transcendentalism. I wrote an essay in college exploring the short story including the homo-eroticism between the title character and his male… companion.
Literary Journal: Callaloo
I haven’t done mush with my curiosity around Callaoo. I remember being excited to hear about it’s history as an African American literary review and planning to subscribe to the publication. It’s never too late!
Musician: Kanye West
There are few pop artist who I follow as much as I do Kanye. He is one of my biggest inspirations. I love his story of growing up a middle class kids in Chicago, studying art a fashion to school only to discover a passion and gift for producing music. I love to hear him talk about how he went from obscurity to studio time with his idols and many musical titans wanting a “Ye West beat”. I love how he’s continued to pursue his passion for creating music and clothing to advance humanity.
Yeezus Tour, Washington DC 2014
Though I usually find myself forgetting this wisdom and instead floundering and wading through every subject I can get my eyes on, I always bring myself back to this important principle. Save yourself from some stress and try it out.
So, what’s on your list? Add topics that interest you and share in the comments!