I fancy myself to be someone who knows a little bit about a lot of things. An ideal Jeopardy candidate if it weren’t for the fact that I also tend to be too quick on the draw. I’d be the jerk who buzzed early every time, before hearing the full question (or “answer,” sorry, Alex Trebek, whom I used to have a wicked crush on when I was a kid, by the by. Him and Remington Steele). I think this shallow wealth of mostly useless knowledge comes from having a borderline perfect memory. I will always “remember that time” in a conversation with an old friend and I’m fairly certain I could recreate what I was wearing during most significant and even not so significant events in my life. I could also tell you who else was present during those events. And what they were wearing. By that same token, I have no trouble recalling all sorts of random facts and figures, no doubt picked up at some of those same events in some of those same outfits, that you’d think would be more useful than they ever really are.
This sort of skill — knowing a little bit about a lot of things — is all fine and good when you’re called upon to referee a dispute about some series of events that took place in the past. And it’s certainly been useful during games of Trivial Pursuit. But, especially as I get older and the stakes associated with what I know and what I don’t know seem to increase with each passing year, I still long for the other kind of knowledge. The kind my friend John has.
My friend John is someone who knows a lot about a lot of things. Some would call it a gift. I think he might call it a burden, depending on what day you ask him. But, gift or burden, he has an abundance of information bouncing through his head at any given time and, even more remarkable, he has this amazing ability for articulating it. Especially in print. Most especially on Facebook. Usually late at night. (Many links are involved.)
Let me back up and give you some background. John is my friend by marriage. He’s doting husband to my friend Jen. I’ve known Jen for about 20 years now. Jen and John got married in Las Vegas (one of the best. weddings. ever) and have been together for so many years that I’ve lost count. John may have become my friend because of his lucky association with Jen, but he’s my brother now. He’s one of my bus people. I sometimes call him Johnny Neptune because his big brain reminds me of Johnny Rocket’s big brain and because I know the nickname pleases him (he was a Johnny Rocket fan, for sure).
John talks often about things like the New World Order and Ron Paul and the TSA and CISPA and the Occupy movement. He also talks often about literature and music and philanthropy and philosophy and, of course, Jen. But on his Facebook page — which I pledged to religiously read for one week — it’s mostly the first group with a dash of the second thrown in. I made this pledge because John’s my friend and, dammit, if you can’t count on your own friends reading your Facebook posts, what can you count on in this big bad world? (And when I say “friends” I mean friend friends, not friend friends; know what I mean?)
So, down the rabbit hole I went. Although, I think of it now less as a hole and more as an onion. Which is somewhat unfortunate, given how I feel about onions. But an onion it is: layer after layer after layer. Just when you think you’ve finished reading all you could about the student protest movement in Canada (People! There are tens of thousands of students marching through the streets of Canada as you read this! Who knew? Besides John?), you suddenly find yourself, after a brief respite in Chicago’s Occupy throng, eyeballs wide, in Iceland where the citizens have given the middle finger to the big banks of the UK and the Netherlands. Then it’s on to the austerity measures that have the police in England boiling mad (I think John linked to this because he’s making the connection to potential security problems at the London Games). The layers continue to peel back from there, and soon you find yourself bouncing throughout John’s Facebook timeline (he was an early adapter) like a little silver pinball as you light up on posts (the Patriot Act!) and reposts (the FDA is terrorizing farmers!) and comments and re-comments on posts that he already posted a comment followed by a post to. Did I mention there are links? Some of them have video.
A sisyphean task this is, reading everything John wants me to read. But, oh boy, if a boulder ever needed to be pushed up a steep hill again and again it’s this one. What did I learn from this little exercise? I learned that, while reading the New York Times every day is great (truth be told, I don’t read the New York Times every day), it doesn’t make you truly informed. You have to work harder than that for information, for enlightenment. I learned that there’s a lot of shit going down in this world, shit that would keep many of us up at night if we were fully aware of it, which we’re happily not since we’re busy watching Game of Thrones and Mad Men and Girls (dear God, please tell me you guys aren’t watching Girls). I learned that somewhere along the way I lost that fire I had in my early twenties, that burning quest for knowledge and justice and making the world a better place that, at the time, was what defined me. Time spent with John, whether on Facebook or face to face, is kindling for me in the best possible way. And I learned that Quebec is becoming a dictatorship.
What did I already know before I started this little exercise? I knew that John is brilliant and cares deeply about obliterating ignorance and oppression in all their forms. I knew that he thinks deeply and carefully about every argument he puts forth and that, for him, it’s as much about his own opportunity to learn as it is about the obligation he feels to teach others. And I knew the most important thing of all: Setting aside the New World Order and Ron Paul and the TSA and CISPA and Occupy; he loves someone I love as wholly and completely as she deserves. That big brain of his? It’s almost as big as his big heart.