“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”
– Mary Shelly, Frankenstein
As I drink in Frankenstein, a true classic and purveyor of great human truths such as Mary Shelly reminds me that there are mysteries of our nature that even hundreds of years ago people were grappling with. What changes with us, at the most fundamental and basic level, is universal. Time passes and science moves forward, but what we feel, what makes our essence (which is to say, in part, the curiosities which give us momentum), is the same as it always was.
The quote above gave me pause and took up a great deal of time on my flight from New Jersey to Zurich. I found myself continually going back to reread it, and to wonder what my life would have been in the event that I had listened to that advice.
I remember, growing up, that I was never a person who desired to leave her hometown. I never fancied myself a world traveler, never considered I would have a profession that dealt in intangibles and conceptual follies. I was always grounded, stable, safe. So, so safe.
My sister, ever the dreamer, couldn’t wait to get out of our town. But I wanted to stay. I didn’t want to upset my parents, didn’t want to venture into the unknown. I wanted a safe life.
What changed in me? What made me dream? What made me want more? And if I had listened to Victor Frankenstein, would I have stayed?
Once you discover that the place you’ve always known is not all there is, you cannot un-know that. It is a pervasive knowledge that seeps into your understanding of all things.
But this knowledge goes beyond place or thing. It is inside us.
I am not all that I can be. I can be more. I will be more.
That is the true knowledge that drives us forward to discovery.
Perpetual discovery is the forward motion of humanity.
Continued curiosity is the growth of an individual.
Now on the other side of the knowledge that there is always, always more out there, I wonder: How many people will never discover this? Like Victor says, are they happier?
I have witnessed the turmoil that some people experience at being awakened to the vastness of life. It is the weight that crushes us if our position does not match our desired rank. I have watched people cower in fear at the idea that they might have greatness in them. I have watched people deny their gifts in favor of avoiding disappointment. If you do not believe you are special, you do not have to live up to that standard.
I was sixteen when I was awakened to my potential, when I started to become aware that there was more in the world than what I knew or saw or felt.
Two things happened then.
One, I took a filmmaking class. I started to consider where films were made, the history of film, what my imagination might possess, and where that might take me. I made films about death, films that were unknowingly noir and filled with montages of darkness and turmoil. I unleashed an imagination that I was only peripherally familiar with, and I loved it. I loved my imagination like it was my greatest gift (and, I believe, it is).
Two, I met my husband. I don’t know if any one particular thing happened, if any singular event awoken me to the world, except this: I knew that I was beginning a love so great that it didn’t fit in between the cracks. It was explosive.
“…the history books forgot about us, and the bible didn’t mention us, not even once…”
– Samson by Regina Spektor
What awakens us might be something small and seemingly insignificant. We might not be remembered for what fuels us. But if you find a semblance of your place in the world, and if that place exceeds what you have been taught to live within, break free.