Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Renaissance Man Wannabe?

“For our next writing exercise, I’d like you to write, ‘I am from … ‘ and finish with whatever comes into your head. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. No editing, just write. And we’ll do it for ten minutes. Everyone ready? Go.”

I wrote, “I am from the land of Renaissance Men.” I so wanted that to be true.

That land is where man … men … males … are Renaissance Men. What is a Renaissance Man? He, per Webster’s, is “a man who is interested in and knows a lot about many things.” In my view, he’s a man of letters, a man who’s had a liberal education. A man who’s studied English, History, literature, Philosophy, Theology perhaps, maybe a foreign language, Art. And me? I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and a Master’s degree in Science.

I immersed myself in college; I loved the math, the science, the various analyses. It helped that I sort of knew what I would be doing upon graduation, as back in those days companies were coming to the Engineering Schools to recruit graduating seniors. I graduated, went to work as an engineer, and got my employer-sponsored Master’s degree during my first two years of employment.

I soon began realizing that other people knew things that I barely knew about. I include my wife at the time, a teacher, in the group of people who knew these things. She and the friends we met through her would casually mention, for example, ideas about life in a contemporary novel that were present in a movie we’d seen. I would have missed the idea in the movie, and failed to know of the novel. Or they would comment on some cultural phenomenon and speak at length about George Orwell’s predicting such a thing in his book, “Animal Farm.” I had read the book but noticed neither the phenomenon’s prediction nor its actual occurrence.

Let me be clear. This was done in everyday conversation. They were not pretentious in any way. The phenomena were real, the authors and their books were real, and these friends ( and my wife, don’t forget ) inhabited this foreign ( to me ) world.

Several brutal realizations occurred. I knew of neither the books nor the authors on one of those “twenty-five books every well-educated person should have read” lists. While I learned about engineering, those in the school of liberal arts learned basic things in a broader array of studies.  While I learned what was needed to work as an engineer, they learned things that would help them make a go at life. I didn’t notice what was going on culturally at the same level of detail, awareness, and evaluation that these liberal-arts educated people did. I noticed that the management people in my engineering environment seemed to have at least one foot in that foreign world. I knew I had missed something important.

So what did I do? I did what any sane person in my situation would have done. I panicked.

I began reading authors like Kurt Vonnegut and Carl Reiner. I began feeding my soul by reading some of John Powell and, later, Thomas Merton. I became interested in Gestalt psychology and took a two year intensive training program in Gestalt Methods. Much, much later I began taking voice lessons.

I have learned lots of things beyond my field. I am older now, and I believe this is a factor, but I believe there is more. My conscious efforts to learn have expanded my knowledge and interests as I had hoped. I doubt, however, that I will ever make up for failing to study this material when in college.

I recently picked up a book titled, “25 Books Every Christian Should Read.” I have read a few of them, I think I have read another one or two, and I recognize most of the authors and many of the titles.  This is progress.

I have to admit that, just perhaps, I am not really from the land of Renaissance Men but am only determined one day to be.
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