One of my favorite things in life is to learn about something that, until that moment, I didn’t even have an inkling it existed. And as you get older, that gets harder to come by, because it’s a rare thing that has no connection, resemblance, or analog whatsoever to the other gazillion things you’ve managed to learn since you were born. World-weariness is a real thing; so real, we have a word for it. (Well, two words.) It’s easy sometimes to start thinking you’ve seen it all, and whatever’s left, you probably don’t want to know about, that it’s rather a delight to be surprised by the world now and again. It brushes away a little of the ennui, because if you didn’t know about this, what else might you not know about that is waiting to be discovered?
I remember one time having breakfast at a B&B in San Diego, and finding out that one of our tablemates had a job as a Halloween costume buyer; she’d travel to China each year and pick them out. It never occurred to me that that was a job someone could have. Giving it a moment’s thought, I realized that of course someone has to get them from there to here. They don’t just magically appear in stores. And then I moped because I didn’t have a cool job like that. Where was that presentation on Career Day? (I guess it’s my own fault for taking Career Ed. independent study.)
I remember my surprise when I found out that the recorder was a serious instrument for some people, and that they existed in more than one register; that they weren’t just a cheapie plastic toy they give kids in 5th grade because schools no longer have budgets to allow for orchestra and band.
I remember being flabbergasted when I found out that coriander and cilantro were the same thing in different form (plant vs. seed).
My latest discovery, courtesy of someone on Facebook, was diatom art. Firstly, I didn’t know what a diatom is. Diatoms are single-celled algae, and they have been around a very long time. But what is cool about them is that they MAKE THEIR OWN GLASS SHELLS! They are teeny-tiny plants that create their own personal greenhouses out of silica. Which is crazy.
But even crazier is that Victorians with access to both curiosity and microscopes discovered them, and decided to turn them into art, arranging them beautifully with wee tweezers on glue backgrounds and showing them off to their friends at dinner parties. And that we know very little about HOW they did it, because competition to find the perfect glue was so fierce, and those who did it were necessarily secretive about their methods. Those wacky Victorians!
And the final bit of lunacy is that there is seemingly a single man still doing this art today. 7 billion+ people on the planet, and just one guy, Klaus Kemp, is making diatom art. And he, too, is secretive about his methods; however, he has instructed his estate to publish them after his death. And we know this because another guy decided to do a short documentary about him. It’s 4 ½ minutes long; you should watch it, because it’s cool, and don’t you need to know about something that is simultaneously ancient and new to you? I’m all about that; sign me up.
Are you not amazed that there’s a dude who rearranges microscopic bits of algae glass to make art? That it would occur to anyone to even think of doing so?
I am amazed. And it feels good.