309: The Size of Thinking (Bo Burnham and JD Salinger)

                “[An academic education will] begin to give you an idea what size mind you have.” -Mr. Antolini in JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

                “Can I interest you in everything, all of the time?” -Bo Burnham, “The Internet,” Inside

                Lately I’ve been thinking about the size of my thoughts. Sometimes I get trapped going around and around one detail. When I was fifteen and lost my favorite pencil, I’d stomp around the house, somehow sure that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything else until I’d found it. Sometimes I get trapped in the largeness of things: in how much is wrong with our education systems, for instance, and the apparent impossibility of trying to help. In bouncing back and forth between magnifying glass thoughts and beyond-the-ocean thoughts, I used to wonder what the “right” scope for me would be. By “right,” I guess I meant the one that would help me understand more. And the one that would feel better. Did I need a wider lens? Or a narrower one?
                In the last few weeks, instead of looking for the “right” one, I’ve been paying attention to where I feel drawn in different moments. Sometimes I want to zoom in. A jeweler once told me how, when he stared through his magnifying lenses, the little space of a ring became a whole world he could step into. I’ve felt that kind of engagement. It’s lovely. I fall in: to one sensation, one leaf, one line of poetry. Other times I lie on my back, looking up at the sky, and the sense of all this going on and on carries me out with it. It’s breathtaking. If the real threat in Burnham’s line is the last part, “all of the time,” then I can always ask about now. When the field’s too big, I can pick a little patch of grass, a sip of shade, to sit in. When that’s too small I can walk or look up.
                Can I hear where you’re looking, just for right now?

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