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January 17th, 2011

The way of un-self-conscious nuance

I take joy in small things, like the number of varieties of orchids and cactus raised by hobbyists. I spend time on meaningless distinctions important to me, like trying to remember how the taste of mustard greens differs from the taste of turnip greens. I'd like to know what size tropical plant would be just right for a terrarium, requiring neither skills of the bonsai nor of the magnifying glass to enjoy. Such questions amount to a form of self-absorption, I suspect, but I can live with this form better than some others.

I feel badly for folks who have tastes so discriminating that they mostly can only screen out all positive cultural experiences on the basis of aesthetic disdain. I wonder what if there is a name for the phobia that causes one to fear everything simple and worthwhile. Yet there is so much satisfaction in knowing small things in profusion, such as obscure musical groups or lesser novels of Trollope or how to tie half-hitches.

We live in a passing phase in which the term "meta-" is over-used to describe things so ironic that speaking of these things becomes natural when read with the implied ironic sub-text. I think it's good to try to find unalloyed pleasure in minute facts and recognition of varieties and variances.

I like knowing about varieties of kite, or models of biplanes, or species of wildflowers. I want to always learn to identify more types of birds, to know where more farm to market roads lead, and to be able to discuss dinosaurs with discernment. If I can do those things without being know-it-all or know-nothing, so much the better.