Saturday, August 21, 2010

Curiosity and the Cat

"What's on the table? I'll jump up to see. A vase! What's in it? Are they edible?"
Curiosity killed the cat, folklore tells us—a rather jaundiced view of the inquisitive mind, don't you think? At least cats have nine lives to compensate.

Modern science has a more favorable opinion of curiosity. Older people who are curious, creative, and flexible and who continue to learn new things on average retain their mental faculties longer and even stay physically healthier than their stuck-in-the-mud contemporaries. That's good news for us writers, who often find ourselves chastised for spending too much time in our chairs and not enough in the gym.

Graduate school killed my curiosity. I was so burned out when I finished my doctorate that I had no interest in learning anything remotely intellectual. For many years, my creativity was diverted into cooking, herb gardening, quilting, learning and playing new musical instruments, and other activities that favored manual skills over mental ones.

In 2000, a new appreciation of my own mortality made me rethink my priorities and led me to start writing fiction again, this time with serious dedication. And a funny thing happened. The more I researched and learned things, the more things I wanted to learn. Each new story or book led to my having several new interests, each of which spawned an interest in several related areas. My library of nonfiction and reference books grew at an increasing rate.

I'm in the early stages of my fiction career. It may never amount to much; it's too early to tell. But even if I am a complete failure at writing fiction, I will always be glad that I pursued it. It opened my brain to the world again and made me eager to savor new sights and sounds and facts and ideas and philosophies. Many of the friends I made through writing organizations shared my new curiosity about the world, and I feel privileged to have encountered such questing, churning, creative minds.

The third novel in Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series is called Life, the Universe and Everything. One day soon, when you ask me what my interests are, I'll answer "life, the universe, and everything!" What a wonderful new life writing has given me!

Has writing made you more curious? How has writing enriched and improved your life? I'm curious to know whether you're as happy as I am that you write.


Thanks for stopping by Novel Spaces today. I'll be blogging here again on September 5.

—Shauna Roberts

8 comments:

Farrah Rochon said...

Shauna, I'm often told that my favorite word is "Why?" I've always been inquisitive, and my quest to learn more and more with each new book I write. Great post!

Carleen Brice said...

Every day I get more proof that the point is to enjoy the journey, the process of writing a book. I think staying open-minded and open-hearted, curious is key.

Charles Gramlich said...

One of the great things about writing is it almost forces me to indulge my curiousity, and I've got a curiosity bump big as everest

Shauna Roberts said...

FARRAH, I'm glad we can indulge our curiosity together.

CARLEEN, I agree. Nicely said.

CHARLES, I didn't know you had an interest in phrenology.

G said...

Writing has allowed me to explore different avenues of my life and my memories that would've been left gathering dust, which I will be forever greatful for.

Liane Spicer said...

My curiosity and questioning have gotten me into trouble from early childhood, and still do. I've been told I'm a PITA that way.

Writing allows me to indulge this trait to my heart's content. The hero of my second novel is a medical researcher so I plunged headlong into finding out all I could about the fight against non-communicable diseases. It was so riveting I was shocked, and had to force myself away from the research and back to the writing.

I'm lucky to be surrounded by people who have a passion for learning new things and acquiring new skills, from my twenty-something son to my seventy-something mother. And the writers I've met. I'm continually learning from them.

Jewel Amethyst said...

The same thing happened to me when I completed my doctorate. I was burnt out intellectually. Writing romantic fiction, however, restored much of my intellectual curiosity, much needed for my post-doctoral fellowship. I think it's the escape from reality that actually gives me the impetus to face reality.

And yes Shauna, I love writing.

Shauna Roberts said...

G, it's interesting that you and so many other people recycle memories in their fiction and keep them alive. I do it sometimes, too, just not as often as some people do.

LIANE, your passion for new things shines through in your comment. I get a kick out of thinking about you and FARRAH as little troublemakers who grow up and use their "badness" as the foundation for their careers.

JEWEL, I'm glad your burnout had a quick end, thanks to your writing. I like your explanation of why writing is so restorative.