I Know Nothing

September 21, 2010 at 1:06 pm 2 comments

One time, during a bike tour with my sister and her boyfriend, we saw an epic battle between a daddy long-leg spider and a wasp. We were stopped in the middle of nowhere, our thighs rubbery from riding against the wind, looking for a snack at a faded signs, marshmallows, and kerosene kind of market. We sat on the pavement, days of dust and grime preparing us to make ourselves comfortable no matter the terrain. With our legs splayed in the sun, a high-calorie munchie in one hand, and contented smiles across our faces, a tiny movement caught our eye.

My sister and I are suckers for animals, shamelessly anthropomorphizing any beastly interaction, entertaining ourselves endlessly with alley cats, roadside horses, stray dogs, squirrels, any being from the animal kingdom, so a scuffle between two insects meant intense inspection, an almost nose-grinding, close-up view of the action. What we saw was a wasp holding the leg of a daddy long-leg, or a daddy long-leg holding the leg of a wasp. We couldn’t be sure. But it seemed like a tie, a never-ending tug-of-war without an obvious favorite, without a forecasted winner. In fact the foes were so closely matched that, to our greatest disappointment, we were made to pedal away without celebrating a victory.

Fast forward ten years.

To our garden, at the height of summer, to a peeking under leaves, to a search for hidden strawberries to add to our loaded bowl. Hazy orange summer light, fuzzy hummy summer sounds, and another movement catches my eye. It’s another daddy long-leg versus wasp contest, this time atop the raspberry leaves, this time right over my shoulder, in my own backyard. A ripple moves through my body, anticipation of satisfaction rises. Now, finally, all these years later, with the entire afternoon before me to wait out the battle, I will discover how these torturous, lengthy tug-of-wars end.

But it was over within seconds.

The wasp swiftly lifted the spider, plucked off its legs, one by one, like a de-feathering a spindly chicken, and then ate the ball of spider body like an apple. Crunch, crunch, gone. The wasp flew away leaving only a stack of spider legs on the raspberry leaf.

I know nothing.

A ten minute break during a bike tour allows for a perspective too tiny to understand the larger picture. Apparently, at no point is a daddy long-leg a true competitor when facing a wasp. My sister and I just happened to see a faltering moment, a momentary anomaly. We were young and naive, unaware.

This is why old people don’t envy the young. Sure they might miss the agile, nubile bodies, but they never want to trade places, to trade minds, to exchange their wisdom and experience for youth. The smackdown between the wasp and the spider makes me wonder what else I don’t know, makes me search for what else I thought I knew but really didn’t.

I thought I didn’t want to be an artist. I saw my mother painting, carving out space in the back of our garage, moving car sponges and screwdrivers to make room for her palette and paints. I thought it looked like a struggle. I thought it looked penniless. So I studied other things. I went to a science based university. I memorized the periodic table, I worked math problems that stretched for pages. But my mother went on to show in museums, in galleries across the country, and during class, while the professor rattled on, my fingers led a life of their own. The margins of my notes held portraits of every student between my seat and the lectern. My heart rattled and turned over, like an old car sputtering to life. I thought I could choose a “real-career”. I didn’t know that art chooses you, and like the spider, we are helpless against it.

I know nothing.

In my twenties I thought if I were to have a kid I would do it differently than others around me. The child psychology and development part of this notion was vague, not clearly outlined, not even on the horizon really, but the part I was sure about was the aesthetics. I saw parents loaded down with pastel diaper bags. I saw yards and houses filled with primary-colored plastic and thought, yuck. I thought my house would be different. I thought my diaper bag would be svelte. I didn’t know how much I would love my children, how rocked I would be by their presence in my life. I didn’t know I would want to stuff my bag, to fill it with soft cotton, replacement outfits, and beloved tear-stopping toys. That the trappings that enhance a child’s happiness are weightless. I didn’t know I would want to purchase primary-colored plastic. To wait expectantly while she unwrapped something bouncy. I didn’t know that the love I felt would eclipse my aesthetic grumpiness, that the mountain of emotion would make me color-blind.

These are the first two examples that come to mind. I am almost loathe to look any further, to torture myself with the myriad ways in which I thought I knew something only to discover different. But knowing that they are there, dappling my past like sunlight, is actually a comfort. If it happened before, it is happening now. I don’t know anything, which means there is no cause for worry, for plans, no cause for mushing my reality into the mold of what I think I know, either about myself or the world at large.

If I know nothing I can follow my daughter’s lead, instead of lording over her with my years of experience, my arguable knowledge. If I know nothing I can look at the world with wonder, watch the birds in the cherry tree instead of quickly passing with a cell phone to my ear.

If I know nothing then everything is new, nothing is decided, and everything is possible.


Entry filed under: life lessons. Tags: , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mom  |  September 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    I saw your cousin Jenny chewing on the seatbelt in the car and I thought to myself, ”
    “When I have a child she is going to have real toys”. You were that child and you loved the garlic press.

  • 2. Shelly  |  October 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm



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