Where we learn

I’ve had people ask me, as an adult, whether there’s anything I don’t know something about. And they ask me how I got interested in technology, and what it means for our world.

The answer to both of those comes back to my father.

Today is the twenty-third anniversary of my father’s death. (I was 15.) Last year, my brother wrote a lengthy post on his own blog about our father, and especially about his wide-ranging tastes and interests. I’ve been thinking about it on and off since.

I think about how I am my father’s daughter, and about all the ways that his influence threads through my life, in so many ways, even though I never had a chance (as my brother and sister did) to know him as an independent adult.

My father was a technophobe. But at the same time, he knew that it was something I was going to need to understand.

When I was nine, my parents got me an Apple IIc (because the schools had IIes, and I could get help if I needed it.) It was primarily mine – my mother used it for office work when I wasn’t, but I had first dibs. And from that, I learned to try new things. (And I wrote, and I played with BASIC and LOGO, and I played games, and I learned that if computers break you can fix them, and that rebooting fixes a lot of things.)

Despite the fact my father wouldn’t touch it. Wouldn’t even read off the screen. Anything I wanted him to read, or proof, or do anything with, I had to print out, for him to make notes on (fountain pen, and in entirely idiosyncratic handwriting.)

Somewhere in there, I learned that there’s power and grace in supporting something you don’t fully understand, or don’t want for yourself, but that you realise is important. And how you can do that and be honest to your own self (and your own interests).

My brother has talked about our father’s wide-ranging tastes. My list of things he introduced me to is a bit different – but I have my own memories of coming home from something on a Saturday (listening to the Met on the classical radio station) and then curling up to watch Doctor Who. Or watching Yes, Minister with him, and demanding explanations of the politics. Of his love of mysteries, and how I’d have to wait for him to finish reading the comics section of the paper before I could read it.

Or when I was younger, when he’d walk me to and from school (and on dog walks) telling me story after story. We’d begin with the birth of the Greek pantheon, work our way around through to the end of the Odyssey, take a side step into retelling of Lovecraft and Bram Stoker, and then start over again at the beginning. In between all sorts of other conversations, about what I’d learned in school, and why it was interesting, and stories of how the history I learned in elementary school was so vastly simplified, and I shouldn’t be content with the simple versions.

That there was fascination in all sorts of places. And that limiting your sources just meant less interesting things. That academics were often right, but they could be wrong, and that the solution for bad information was more conversation, more learning, more knowledge.

More than anything, I feel his touch every time I stand up to work with a class, or do a presentation, or give a workshop. My father was an amazing teacher – he’d do a full hour lecture on some particular part of theatre history without notes, quoting (correctly) from various texts, responding to the pulse of the audience, taking time to explain something. He had a knack (one I’ve done my very best to cultivate) of explaining complicated things clearly without losing the complexity.

I hold myself to the same standard: the desire to know my material backwards and forwards, not to rely on notes, so that I can talk about what’s needed, in that moment, with those people, to help them understand the core of what we’re doing. I believe strongly that people can (and will) look up the details, once they can put the arcs together. The details matter, but the shapes they make matter even more. People understanding, being able to take another step forward, matters most.

And all of that, I learned from him. In the big ways and the little ways. All of how to be the person in the world who keeps learning, who keeps being interested. Who is passionate about several things, not defined by one and only one.

Still learning. Always learning. Always up for something new.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter

Comments are closed.

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner