Jacque Marshall

Curiouser and curiouser: life without a clue

Along about 1985, I discovered that curiosity is the key to the Universe. If you don't have it, you can't learn what you don't know. If you can't learn, you can't—well, do much of anything, except things you already know. Which ain't much.

Obvious, I know—once you've figured it out.

See, somewhere very early on, I was conditioned to believe that I should know everything, a priori. Impossible you say? Well, yes, but since when did possibility ever have anything to do with world-views? The paradigm I inherited was brilliantly summed up once when, in response to my innocent 8-year-old question about a movie we were watching, my brother replied scornfully, "Jacque, your ignorance is showing."

By high school I had so thoroughly internalized this attitude that I actively avoided any effort at eductating myself, and most attempts of my environment to do so. Both of my friends Patti and Merredith were systematic, aggressive, and enthusiastic students, behaviors which I viewed with revulsion and disdain. "I don't wish to know that!" was my silent watchword. I graduated high school with the absolute minimum of credits, handily making myself incapable of going to college.

This model of the world started to unravel in 1978, after I met my friends Howard and Jon at that year's World Science Fiction Convention. Both lived in Boulder at the time, and drew me into their fascinating circle of friends. The one thing everyone in the group had in common was a ravenous and eclectic appetite for ideas and information. I listened with fascination, but could contribute nothing.

In order to participate in any meaninful way, I would have to change my attitude about learning. But that attitude was so deeply entrenched that something fundamental had to shift, change deeply enough to motivate me to overcome a lifetime of resistance and an complete lack of skill.

Amusing aside: this beautifully demonstrates Harville Hendrix's thesis that we are attracted to people who call us to our weaknesses.
Hormones came to my rescue: I developed a crush on Jon of truly Wagnerian proportions. But when I expressed my interest, he let it be known that he could never be interested romantically in someone who wasn't in love with learning.

So I set about falling in love with learning.

Several grueling years of reading later (Howard helped inaugurate this effort by giving me my first subscription to Scientific American that year for Christmas.) I had reached the point where I could at least listen somewhat intelligently, and wasn't quite so terrified of not knowing things.

But my first breakthrough came, as one might expect, it came from a completely unanticipated direction.

At my second NLP training I found myself struggling with some particularly difficult idea. The struggle was very uncomfortable—an old, familiar discomfort, one that had always made me back off from new or difficult information in the past. The context I was in this time encouraged me to examine my experience, and so I stopped and explored thi