There is so much in this world I do not grasp.
I often can’t wrap my mind around the way the human race sees things, thinks, feels. It seems so distant, so foreign. I feel so out of touch.
The “can’t see the forest…” concept, while not quite right, can help to illuminate some of my problem:
In many situations, there is a basic, obvious concept. One that everyone else seems to understand. To understand so well, so deeply, that they have no idea how to explain it. Some concept, some idea, some understanding, some feeling, that is so ingrained, so obvious, so clear to them -to everyone else- that no one has ever come up with words to explain it. So obvious that, usually, people can’t grasp what, exactly, it is I’m not grasping. And in my noticing that there’s something I don’t understand, in trying to understand it, in trying to break it down and in trying to get people to explain it to me, I’m often able to squeeze out amazing, tiny, yet-ultimately-useless details about it.
I can see the fungus thriving on the old growth. I can feel the cool of the shade created by the foliage. I can hear the wind blowing through branches and the birds, insects, & animals all around, and the flowing water of a stream. I can describe the perennial and diurnal cycles of the topiary. I can write poetry about my experiences and emotions within the place, poetry that resonates with others and seems to show my deep understanding and connection therein.
All without noticing that it’s a forest. Or that when people say ‘forest’ that’s what they mean. And perhaps without realizing that the whole point of the thing is the trees – wait, did I even mention trees?
Exactly. And it goes another way, too. Sometimes with the same concepts, though usually with different ones:
I miss all the details. I miss the little things, the “small stuff.” Stuff that is the totality of what most people can see. Except that I can see the big picture. A big picture that other people didn’t notice or -sometimes, it seems- can’t notice. That seems, to them, to contradict the details right in front of them. Often it’s the same frustrating situation reversed, where the one who can see the big picture as though it were obvious can’t explain it sufficiently to those who didn’t notice there was any picture to see. I often can’t find a meaningful way to express these ideas. These obvious things. And even while looking at them, I often miss the details that are so obvious to others.
Oh, and then there’s dishonesty. Willful ignorance. Intentional injustice.
Even things as simple and everyday as violating traffic laws… I can’t grasp why people a) do so & b) think it’s okay. It gets harder/easier to grasp when I try to talk rationally to them about it, because it becomes clear that they’re being willfully ignorant, or don’t believe in justice, which are larger concepts that I have trouble with. So it’s harder, because I can’t grasp why they would think/be that way, but it’s easier, too, because once I know they’re that way they’re easier to dismiss. Oh, this person is the incomprehensible way they are because of this larger concept I already know I don’t understand. No need to try to understand this lone case. Keep wondering about the endemic problem.
Most of the things I can’t grasp aren’t as awful as those few. Most of them are concepts that -if I went to good schools for another couple of decades- I could probably piece together from contexts. Little things like the significance of certain phrases and classifications. Things that Wikipedia struggles to define just as readily as everyone else struggles – there is no entry for this, because we all assume you already know. Or: The entry for this doesn’t actually explain the concept it purports to, merely telling you about the history of it, or the people who are known to have been involved, and -again- assuming you and everyone else in the world already understands the core concept so intimately that it need not be said, you just came here to find out about things related to it.
Oh, and then there’s the consequences of not knowing. Sometimes one can actually violate laws, business practices, or customs by ignorance. In some cases, ignorance of the laws/practices exists because everyone feels that the idea is so obvious that there’s no need to mention there’s even a law to break or a particular “right” way of doing things. Or to discuss the subject at all. In any forum. You are simply expected to know. And when I have the gall to ask “well, how was I supposed to know?” –The most common answer is something like “There are resources out there, you should have researched it!” Upon pressing, I’ve never been able to get the people who give me such answers to point me in any helpful direction. They are sure there must be resources out there, even though they’ve never seen them themselves, couldn’t name one, and have no idea where to start.
More to the point: If I don’t know that “Rule #1” exists, I’ve never heard of it, no one discusses it, everyone else just knows and assumes it is known by all… Then how can I know that I ought to go find out what “Rule #1” is?
How can I even know that there’s research to be done? I’m just supposed to guess? “Hmmm… I wonder if perhaps there is a thing about which I don’t know, which no one has ever mentioned, that by not being aware of I might violate [a law|an ancient custom|a standard business practice]? I shall go research for this unknown thing, and see if I can stumble across it!” In some cases, in my own life, in my own experience, I’ve come to the point beyond which I’ve discovered -by violating a law, or by conducting business in a nonstandard way- that there was something I didn’t know, but was expected to know. That I was expected to know, and that now it’s too late. I can’t satisfy the law except by being marked criminal. I can’t conduct business with that company / in that place / in that industry again. I discover that there’s something I didn’t grasp -perhaps still don’t grasp- about the world, and that even if I’m now able to figure it out (and I often am not), it’s too late for doing so to do any good.
Sometimes I can recover. Sometimes … Sometimes I don’t want to. The following, while a current example, was not first in my thoughts when I began this post. It is only a lone example:
For example, I don’t really understand the concept of “genre,” even now. It didn’t even occur to me that it was something I ought to even be aware of, to think about, to try to understand, until after I’d already written four or more books. It just didn’t occur to me. And it was so obvious to everyone else that they didn’t mention it. Then at some point I began to try to do “marketing” for my books, and I learned that -apparently- not only to readers assume that every book has a genre, but that authors/agents/editors have decided that every book must have a genre, and be written according to genre conventions, in order to sell.
Even then, after four or five books, even after beginning to try to comprehend the bizarre modern practice of “marketing,” it still didn’t influence my writing. I just kept writing what I had to write. Turned out that included a book that had zombies in it. Which, when people read and discovered it wasn’t in the “zombie genre,” really seemed to upset and disappoint them. And they didn’t like it. And they gave it bad reviews. And I didn’t like that. So I started trying to think about genre.
Apparently there were some rules I didn’t realize existed about how to write books that I’ve been violating. I still don’t really understand it. Don’t comprehend it. Don’t grasp it. But at least, right now, I’m aware that there’s something about it that I don’t grasp, so I can go looking for the possibly-nonexistent resources about what everyone else assumes I’m supposed to be doing… And… really, what I want to do… What I think I’ll probably end up doing… Is to learn everything there is to know about “genre” and then just keep doing what I was doing before.
But that’s just an example. And I’m getting sleepy. And I haven’t been to church in a while -which is a subject that could take up twice as many words again as this post has already- so I ought to go to bed soon so I can get up for church in the morning. bleh.