"There's so much richness and cross pollination that happens when we go into those rabbit holes. When we allow ourselves the luxury of just opening the door and tumbling down. As intensives we are specialists in rabbit holes. These are some of our native territory. This is the place where we are from."
Transcript and notes:
Recorded 11 June 2023.
Hi, everyone, thanks for tuning in. It is June. It is the season of lush abundance. And I feel like I should be talking about pride. But I also feel like the way that I celebrate Pride these days is by being myself in public all the time.
I want to talk about the lush abundance of rabbit holes. Rabbit holes have driven me forward in every aspect of my business basically forever. But the reason I'm thinking about them right now is because I have just finished reading- I finished a book- that was not a fluffy romance novel.
I don't know the last time I finished a book, like, in order, in a row. I think it was probably another book club book. I have never been a fan of book clubs. But recently, it's the only way I can get from cover to cover in a book. Anyway, this is for my alumni book club. My undergraduate alumni book club.
Carleton is, is a place where people who love rabbit holes go to get a degree. And it was a rich and amazing educational experience for me. I had my challenges, it wasn't perfect. They have their challenges. It's definitely not perfect. And also, it was exactly the right place for me.
I followed my gut straight into Carleton, I applied early decision. I didn't go anywhere else. I didn't think about anyone else. I visited five schools in the Midwest, all small liberal arts schools. And then I knew, and I applied, and I got in and that was it. That was it. And I really did love it there. It wasn't- I don't think anything is utopian. But there was so much that was right about it for me, especially at that time. And I had sort of forgotten how much going to an institution where I was not the only weirdo who really loved rabbit holes, changed my brain. Changed my sense of self. Changed my sense of location in the world. It made me not weird, possibly for the only four years of my life. In my context.
I was still weird in some ways, but I wasn't- I wasn't weird enough to get excluded. I was able to find social context in a way that I had only kind of eked out in high school.
So recently, I realized that I had kind of been neglecting the fact that I had this readymade collection of people, this community, I'm in touch with a lot of alumni on Facebook, and I haven't made it back for reunion for a variety of reasons. Most recently the pandemic, but also financial reasons, also scheduling reasons. But I had been sort of neglecting that there was this group of people that was pre selected by the admissions office to kind of match the way that I worked. All of us had a lot of similarities.
My working theory is that Carleton admits a disproportionately high number of intensives. And that it's great that, especially colleges, are a wonderful opportunity to create cultural spaces that are welcoming to expansives or intensives. That are welcoming to particular ways of learning and studying and growing and evolving. And that if people have the opportunity to go and be in a residential community like that, for an extended period of time for years together, that it can actually help to form a stronger sense of self, a stronger sense of identity. That isn't as buffeted by the winds of everything in the world.
So anyway, I had a really good experience at Carleton. And it finally occurred to me that I should probably reengage with the alumni community in some way. And the easy way is that at the beginning of the pandemic, they started an online book club. And I skipped the first several books, because it takes a minute to get something into my brain. And I learned that I'm not the only person who has that experience.
When I arrived at Carleton, there wasn't any regular meeting of Unitarian Universalists. So I started one. But it took fully a year and a little bit to get onto people's schedules in a way that people continually showed up. And then people did continually show up and I was delighted and astonished. And often we just met and sometimes we did other things and... Yeah, I count that as one of my successes even though I was desperately imperfect as a leader of that group.
We did have a group. And it did continue to function until I graduated. I don't know what happened after I graduated. Anyway, so I joined the book club.
I joined the book club, and I watched the first several titles go by and rejected them for one reason or another. And then finally, I saw the announcement- on time, I was checking my email frequently enough that it made a difference- And I saw the announcement. And I was able to get the book. And it came early, and I was able to get it on audiobook.
So I listened to it while I was going for my walks, which I'm supposed to do. And I was able to use it as a way to distract myself from some of the less useful thinking that I was doing. And so I just finished this book. And what's interesting about this book, people have been asking me for a review of it.
And my review, in short, is, it's fascinating. And the author really needed a better editor for books.
I don't know what the editing situation was for this book. But there's repetition, there's doubling back, the timeline isn't super clear. And there are these side quests. That's the best language I have for it is that you're going along in this story that's ostensibly about uncovering, discovering, rediscovering really- finding out about learning about- that's probably the best way of talking about it.
It's tricky, because the author uses a lot of still a little bit colonialist language. And he's clearly very aware and trying, and also sometimes he still falls into it, probably because that's kind of the context that most of us have lived in for a really long time. So anyway, there's this city, in the Honduran jungle, that hasn't been occupied for a very long time. Probably 500 years or more.
And it had completely vanished into the jungle. Visibly. It was completely covered by plants. And locals knew about it. And some of them knew kind of where to look. But it hadn't really been looked into in a long time, partially because some of the folklore about it included stories of curses. And partially because of tradition, and partially because who knows why just, it was there. But the government of Honduras got very interested in backing the expedition. And National Geographic got very interested in backing the expedition. And so there was an expedition that was a mixture of people from Honduras, and people from the United States and a couple people from other places that went to find this city.
Which they were calling a lost city but of course, it's not entirely lost. Because people knew where to find it if they were locals, and they had heard from their parents and their grandparents, etc. So it wasn't really lost. But it was also not easy to find. Maybe better: hidden city.
And this author goes deep into detail about things that are related, but they are clearly side quests. There's a tropical disease side quest. There's a how the European colonialists absolutely ravaged the local populations with rare diseases, side quests. So those two side quests are sort of connected. There are little side quests that talk about details of things like the helicopters that they took into the jungle. Things that are interesting details if you're geeky about that particular thing. But that don't actually support the telling of the larger story in any significant way.
There's a side quest about snakes too. It's the jungle, of course there's a side quest about snakes. And so as I was listening to it, the imagery that I got of the book itself is of this, like central mass. And then these little projections, these bumps that come out of it, you go into a bump, and then you come back to the central story. And then you go into another bump and come back to the central story.
And what's interesting is that the book actually finishes in a side quest. And one begins to wonder if this book really is about the city or if the title, "The Lost City of the Monkey God," is really just to sell books. Because in the end, the story is really one of disease.
But what's glorious about it is that if you are interested in, for example, this disease called leishmaniasis, there is so much detail about that disease in this book that is ostensibly about archaeology. Ostensibly about the history, the pre-Columbian history, of Honduras. There is so much detail about this disease, that if you get curious about it, you don't have to leave the book to find out.
Usually, as intensives, right, we hear about something and we're like, ooh, and then we go off down the rabbit hole on our own by ourselves. We go prospecting, into the internet, to find out about the thing that we got curious about that was just a passing mention in something else. But this book does it all for you.
So on the one hand, it needs a better editor. On the other hand, maybe it's fine the way it is. Because what happens is that by containing all of the things that you want to know about in the book, it prevents you having to leave the book. The book holds all of you. Or at least all of me.
There are a few things that I want. And I heard on the recording that there is a PDF that goes with the book, and I haven't looked at that. But the things I need are like a map, where are you exactly? Because I'm not particularly familiar with Honduras. Geography is not my strong suit anyway. And Honduras is not a place I have honestly paid much attention to. And so I need a map, I need a terrain map. I need a "where are the major points"?
I need, like, you know, when you when you read a fantasy book, and there's that map in the front- I need that map, but for this book. And it may be included in the PDF. If not, that would be a rabbit hole I would have to go down on my own.
But the things that are hard to track down like "what the heck is leishmaniasis?" Instead of just saying "Oh, leishmaniasis was a disease that we encountered in the jungle," and then walking away from it, he goes into so much detail that I now feel like, if it does turn up in the Pacific Northwest, in my lifetime, I'll probably at least have a an inkling of what it is. I'll have a sense that maybe I should consult a tropical disease specialist.
I'll remember all the things about the sores that don't heal, the bites that turn into sores, and the way that they change character. And what can happen if you don't treat them, which is pretty significant. I'm not going to go into detail here because I would like you to be able to continue with your day undisturbed. Just know that it's a tropical disease, and it does tropical disease kinds of things.
But I didn't have to go anywhere to get that knowledge. I just had to keep listening to the book. And stop eating my lunch occasionally. And I kind of loved it.
Once I wasn't expecting a linear narrative, I kind of loved it. And then I started to think about all the other ways that non-linearity, that rabbit holes, serve us. Like with sex. Nonlinear sex- so much better. That's my opinion. Not everyone agrees with me. But what if you could just go down whatever curious pleasurable rabbit hole you discovered?
I'm still learning about gardening. I want to pick up some hostas. Why? Because I know they're edible. I've gone down this kind of side quest about edible ornamentals. I want to really only plant edible things. I want to eat weeds. I want to engage with the world around me in this mutual back and forth, beneficial, "Okay, you can grow here, maybe not so much there. I need you to not grow all the way over there" because we're trying to keep the landlord happy. But also: "come and grow." Come and be here, thrive.
I'm growing this thing called Duck potato. Sometimes called Wapato. I'm growing one variety. There's at least one other variety out there, that's also edible, that's more rare, that I would like to get my hands on. I'm trying to learn how to maintain a pond ecosystem in a bucket in my back yard because I rent. I'm trying to learn how to make ink out of irises because I rent and there happened to be a lot of viruses here, when I got here.
I want to be in mutual support mode with the plants that I live with, with the animals that I live with. With the world that I live with, that's my rabbit hole of the moment. And it becomes this guiding principle in the same way that a mission or a vision becomes a guiding principle. Diving into a rabbit hole can actually start to inform everything, the way that, believing that our clothes should fit us and not the other way around, has informed everything from my clothes shopping, to my hobbies.
I have become an intermediate sewist in pursuit of clothes that fit me in a way that I like. There's so much richness and cross pollination that happens when we go into those rabbit holes. When we allow ourselves the luxury of just opening the door and tumbling down. When we don't worry about what the productivity outcome of this is down the road. Where we just allow ourselves the space to find out what's down here, what's over here, what's through here, what's behind this door. What happens if I approach this from a completely different perspective?
Apartment Therapy- which started out as a book and then became a website and then became a movement- has this recommendation that if you're stuck on what to do about a room, that you should sit in a place where you never sit. Like under your desk or in the corner on the floor, or on a ladder up high and stare at it from a different perspective. Literally a different perspective. To see things that you're not seeing or to understand things about it that you're not understanding, try using it in a different way. Try not using it and see what you miss. Change something.
And I feel like rabbit holes do that for us too. Because what happens is we start out on that main path in that central trajectory. And then something takes us out of the center, the logical, the ordinary place; something makes me not sit at my desk chair and instead sit in the corner on the floor and stare up at the ceiling.
And then I notice something that I didn't notice before. Maybe I notice a hole that had a hook in it. And maybe that hook inspires me to think about hanging a light. And maybe hanging a light is the doorway to making the room feel different. Or maybe the hook is the prompt to think about hanging a strong enough hook to hang a chair. And what happens if we hang a chair? What goes under it if you're not sitting on the floor itself?
Over and over and over again, we modify what we think is real by looking at it differently, and discovering that what we thought was one truth, is actually just a fraction of the truth. And so we open these doors to other worlds, to other perspectives, to other possibilities. This is why I'm a huge advocate for travel, despite the way that it can spread disease. Despite the way that it makes us vulnerable in a hundred different ways.
I think in most of those ways, vulnerability is a good thing. Even if the spread of disease is not. Travel reminds us that we're more similar than we are different. Travel helps us understand what's going on around us when around us is more than just the 20 feet that circumscribe our house, our neighborhood, our people. What's out there? What's on the other side of the boundary?
Hey, hang on a second- what's in the boundary? What- hey, look, the boundary is actually a place. Liminality is a place we can live there too. What happens if we sit in the doorway? What happens if we sit on the line? What happens if we stare up at the clouds? What happens in a place where the sidewalk ends? Rabbit holes, rabbit holes. Openings. What happens when you lift off the sewer grate and let yourself down into the sewer? What's in there? Literally, metaphorically, whatever you want.
What do we find when we go down? When we go up? When we travel on an axis that isn't usually an axis for us? As intensives we are specialists in rabbit holes. These are some of our native territory. This is the place where we are from. From, in the bone-deep sense of being from somewhere.
We are from the rabbit hole. We didn't approach the rabbit hole. We think we did. But we didn't actually approach the land of rabbit holes from the main trajectory. Instead, we had to find our way to the main trajectory from the rabbit holes, and we're constantly returning. The way every heart is called back. We are constantly returning. And yet every rabbit hole is different. So we are constantly finding new things.
Often we are the only ones that we know are in the land of rabbit holes. And everyone else thinks it's a little odd. But that's Okay. That is our job in the world, is to dive down the rabbit hole and bring back- bring back- not stuff extracted. But relationships, ideas, thoughts, inspirations, innovations.
We dive down and we interconnect one burrow to another. We bring back ideas and we mix them together on the surface. We have to remember context. And also: this is how new things are born.
Thanks for tuning in. Talk with you soon.