Terra Cognita: The Importance of Being Earnest

I don’t think I realised how nourishing a single poem might be until I started learning them by heart. Just a couple of lines of language, returned to, day in day out, engaged with earnestly, like prayer, or telling someone you love them.

We’re not very comfortable with earnestness anymore, are we? Maybe because blinkered zealotry often tags along with it, the kind of zealotry that brings big buildings with lots of people in them crashing down to the ground. Only the very uncool are allowed to be earnest: the religious and religiose, teenage outcasts, birdwatchers, vegans and the like. But one cannot pray or love ironically, even if you’re not exactly sure what either of these enterprises entail. A certain amount of conviction is required to do these kinds of activities.

There’s much solace in this recognition of how “little” one needs to be happy. How the right amount of little can seem a lot. I feel this solace every time I pick up my oft-folded, timeworn 3 x 5 card on which I’ve written this week’s poem, and set out for a walk around the block, or even a pacing session in the garden, committing a few more words to memory. And in doing so: hearing, seeing, feeling certain lines anew.

David Whyte affirms that everything is waiting for you, but if this “everything” happens to be the entire language lode of the human species, not just waiting but ever-available to us, through a split-second Google search at any moment of the day, on almost any device, are we not going to gorge ourselves silly on information?

And in that gorging, will we at times (if not almost always) forget to taste, to savour, to chew? To pause? To put down the fork? To honour, experience and enjoy? All the things we do when we’re learning a poem we love. It’s incredibly simple, we’re just putting down the fork between each mouthful and giving ourselves as fully as possible up to pleasures of language and what it can do for us, or we for it.

I am incredibly greedy for information: “new” ideas, mental-kicks and tricks. This doesn’t sound like a problem until you rephrase it as my brain, through the use of technology, is becoming more and more quick-click stimulant- searching, and less and less able to go deep, to get truly to the heart of a poem, or a story, which only a very close, time-invested reading of a text will provide.

Larry Rosen gets to the nub of it, for me, when he diagnoses chronic screen-grazers (that would be all of us then) as having a variant of ADHD.  The “deficit” comes from the misconception that we are able to multitask:

Research tells us there is no such thing as multitasking – that all we can really do is task switch. In other words people lack the ability to pay full attention to two tasks at a time.

Recently, “just for fun”, I’ve been trying to track the amount of task-switching I do during an hour online. The hyperlinked internet is of course designed almost entirely for task-switching and thus mind-addling. It is an ADHD-generating media. Are the costs of multi-tasking ever equal to their benefits? Here are the costs, you tell me:

  1. Attention difficulties
  2. Poor decision making
  3. Lack of depth of material
  4. Information overload
  5. Internet addiction
  6. Poor sleep habits
  7. Overuse of caffeine

It don’t look good. But thankfully, there is always language for us to use and be used by. Poetry seems to have become my Ritalin, what’s yours?

 

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