You might remember Cliff Claven from the television show Cheers. He’d sit at the bar, spouting out random trivia and useless facts and statistics. He was portrayed as annoying.
I would have found him fascinating.
Today’s mail brought a beautiful Dorling Kindersley book I’d bought on Half.com after I read reviews. Do Not Open is a compendium of incredible truths about secret stuff; weird history, strange science, random happenings, freaky facts of nature. I buy books like this on the pretense that they are educational for my children, and they certainly are, but no one in this house seems as interested in the Muse and Mental Floss magazines or the gross science books as I am. If there were such a thing, I would probably enjoy a “random fact of the day” calendar. If there isn’t one, there should be.
Where do boogers come from? Why is a dime worth more than a penny, but a penny is bigger? Why is that lady’s butt so big? Children don’t hesitate to ask questions because they are naturally curious. What happens to that curiosity as we grow older? Some of it is promptly squelched, like the comment about the woman’s posterior.
“Shhh, it’s not polite to ask questions,” we’ll tell our children about one thing, and “Let’s look it up,” we’ll say about another.
When I was in elementary school I was told to “look it up in the encyclopedia,” if I had a question about something. We wrote research papers using the same encyclopedias.
Even the life cycle of a cicada could sound boring in the encyclopedia, but catch a caterpillar in a jar and watch it turn into a butterfly, now that is something else.
Today we have wikipedia and Ask.com to answer our questions. Wonder if your favorite author from childhood is still writing books? Type in “Jean Little” in the search engine and within minutes you have your answer. How about the meaning of the word “enigma?” Dictionary.com can satisfy our curiosity. My children are learning to play a keyboard by watching YouTube videos.
As a homeschooler, I have been asked how my children can learn something if I don’t know it, as if a child, or an adult, can only learn from a teacher.
I don’t believe we always need a teacher to learn. Nor do we stop learning when we graduate.
As my siblings and I sorted through my mother’s books and papers, it was obvious to all of us that our mother never stopped learning. She had notebooks full of information that interested her, clippings from magazines and newspapers, and page after page of interesting information, one could say some of it even random, handwritten with her neat penmanship.
My mother was an autodidact.
I am an autodidact.
Here is some random fact you may or may not care about: Autodidacticism is self-education or self-directed learning.
My mother taught herself to wood carve, paint and quilt. She studied the history of the Catholic Church. She wrote copious amounts of notes regarding religion. She learned what she wanted to learn. It wasn’t just art and religion that interested her. She loved history and psychology. In a box full of lace were patterns for things one could make with lace. Scrapbooks contained detailed directions for making rag rugs. A harmonica was underneath a book of instructions on how to play a harmonica. In another box were dozens of patterns my mother had designed for teddy bears and rag dolls. In her drawer was a pamphlet on how to tie a scarf.
I don’t know how to tie a scarf. I never made a rag rug. I can’t play a harmonica. And we all know I don’t know how to make a teddy bear. But feasibly, if I desired learning any of these things, I could learn how to do them the same way she did.
If I wanted to.
Instead, I am a self-taught writer, learning the nuts and bolts of the business side of writing through experience and from magazines like The Writer and Writer’s Digest.
I’m also a fact freak. I am combining the two interests with my current writing project; doing research and including facts, figures and statistics along with fascinating anecdotes and interesting stories about shopping and couponing.
I actually remember a time in my life that I would quote statistics fast and furious, whether they were completely accurate or not. I knew I was close to the ballpark figure. What difference did it make if I was a little off? That was when my children were younger and I used those statistics loosely, to prove a point.
178 children a year are brought into the emergency room with an injury from a trampoline.
82% of cavities could be prevented with daily brushing.
This only worked until my oldest son, Dan, started questioning me. Turns out he had a knack for recognizing skewed statistics.
“Where did you get that statistic? How do you know it is true? That doesn’t sound quite right,” he’d insist on an answer, not taking my figures at face value. Cliff Claven would have found him annoying, I am sure. I, however, was amazed by his intuitiveness. Dan has turned out to be an autodidact too.
Of course, as a writer, facts and figures can’t just be pulled out of thin air. They have to be researched, then validated. A writer learns early on that wikipedia isn’t a reliable source, but the Wall Street Journal can be.
For your learning pleasure, some famous autodidacts:
Leonardo da Vinci, although not an autodidact in his study of the arts, he was one of the greatest autodidacts who ever lived, teaching himself music, architecture, science, math, anatomy, geology, botany and writing.
William Blake, a visionary artist and poet, initially educated by his mother, he never received any formal schooling. Instead, he read widely on subjects of his own choosing.
Frank Zappa, noted musician who was quoted as saying, “Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts.”
David Bowie, singer, musician, multi-instrumentalist, actor and painters, has never trained in any of these fields and only received a few singing lessons in the 1960’s.
Jakob Bohme, professional skateboarder and entrepreneur, learned his tricks and routines developed largely in isolation on his family’s farm in Florida.
Sean Parker,Internet entrepreneur and former president of Facebook, INc. As of 2010, his net worth is nearly 1 billion.