By Jason Menard
Every once in a while we realize we’re not as smart as we think we are. And while I’ve always believed myself to be diverse, well-read, and knowledgeable about a number of topics, when I’m ignorant of something I’m spectacularly bereft of information.
I’ve always felt an affinity to the Ramsay character from Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy of books. Early on in his life, he dedicated himself to being a polymath – a person with an encyclopedic knowledge of a wide variety of topics. Myself, I find my interest easily piqued – and the advent of the Internet has made sating my thirst for knowledge even easier.
Yet, as broad of a spectrum of knowledge I believe I can cover, there are some areas in the old cranium that light just won’t penetrate. Last night my wife and I shone a flashlight into one of those areas and were overwhelmed by the cobwebs.
You see, yesterday we were trying to come up with names for our three new fish. Fortunately we didn’t have to come up with names for the other three new fish we had purchased during the day who made a spectacular dash for freedom through a well-coordinated dive and swim to the water system via our kitchen sink, but that’s another tragic story for another day.
My wife, my son, and my daughter like fish. I don’t. We had one male Betta (more coolly known as Japanese Fighting Fish) who passed away about a month ago after two years of bouncing back and forth in a bowl. Enough time had passed that we decided it was time to get another. But this time we went for three female Bettas mainly because they can live in the same bowl without ripping each other to shreds.
I say I don’t like fish, but that’s not entirely true. I just am supremely indifferent to them. To me they’re not pets in the same way my cat is. You can’t interact with a fish, you can’t have any sort of relationship with a fish – they’re just moving art. And, in celebration of their superlative uselessness, we’ve chosen to name our fish appropriately.
Our first fish, who didn’t last long due to the fact that he was sick the day we brought him home, was named Art. The second fish, the one that lasted two years, was also named Art. After all, the name made me laugh and it was only used for a couple of days. For differentiation sake, Art Mark II was a short form for Modern Art. We had determined that our new fish would be called Ren, for the Renaissance period, but that was before we went the female route.
No problem, my wife and I thought, we’ll just name them after famous female painters. Yeah. OK. You try it. If you come up with three then my hat is off to you. It was at this moment that all my thoughts of being a polymath came crashing down.
I started off strong with Emily. I mean, good solid Can-Con there. Then we decided to name the firery red fish after Frida Kahlo. And I’d like to say that choice was a result of my intense study of her genre and the life and influences of Diego Rivera, but it’s probably more true that my fondness for Salma Hayek has more to do with this knowledge than any artistic inclinations.
That was it. Two. Which is a problem when you have three fish to name. Right now it’s Emily, Frida, and Hey You! Not that the fish answer or even remember who I am after 10 seconds, but that’s beside the point. The principle of the matter is that I need a third name.
A search of the Internet was little help. My mind blanked as it was overwhelmed by a total lack of recognition for any of the names that appeared on any list I encountered. Not even the semblance of a hint of potential recognition. These are women who, I assume, are revered for their contribution to the arts world, and I could trip over them without having any inkling of who they are.
Recently I had the interesting experience of working with someone who reveled in her lack of knowledge. She was proud of her ignorance. Politics, sports, and other issues didn’t interest her. When interviewing she chose to actively avoid research, preferring to ask questions that “the people” would ask.
She describes herself as “the Everyperson.” I’m not so sure that’s what the Everyperson is. In her world, the Everyperson wouldn’t be disturbed by not knowing a third female artist – the Everyperson would move on to the next topic, uninterested in filling a gaping hole in their experience.
In fact, I’d like to think that people are more like me – interested in life and desirous of improving our knowledge base. We want to understand the world around us beyond the superficial, we want to feel attached to the events that shape our lives, and the only way we can do that is to get informed about them.
It’s not enough to sit back in the boat, fishing for information, and hoping it jumps onto your lap. To be successful you actively have to bait the hook, learn the right technique, and know the right places to find the fish.
After all, as the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoon proclaimed, knowledge is power. And every person I know is interested in that.
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