Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Further Personal Insight Dept.

7th Arrondissement Portal Perspective, 2006

Isn’t curiosity one of those little aspects of life that makes it interesting?

When I was younger and didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, I thought it would be neat to be a reporter. I’d lived a pretty sheltered life. So the idea of going places and meeting a lot of interesting people and asking them questions that if you weren’t a reporter would have earned you a good smack in the face seemed pretty appealing.

I didn’t end up applying myself to that pursuit any more than I did a half dozen others. But during my extended tour of college I did add to the requisites a mountain of hours in foreign languages, two areas of business and dalliances in architectural history, law and anthropology.

In short, I came out of school with a thin veneer of knowledge of a lot of things, but not enough in any one area to practice it convincingly.

But that was okay. In those days young men were expected to have a Renaissance-like command of art, culture, commerce, the classics and science. I could hold my own as a generalist. And besides, I didn’t want to be tied down to any of them. I couldn’t imagine being an accountant. During the years of the Cold War, if you didn’t want to work for the CIA or couldn’t pass the Foreign Service exam, the ability to speak Russian was only useful in esoteric literary circles and as a parlor trick.

It’s only fitting that I ended up in the research game. It was sheer luck, but good luck just the same. What better place could there be for someone with a lot of curiosity, who enjoys ramping up to learn about a category, but after that is ready to move on to the next one?

The founder of an ad agency where I was research director for about ten years used to say there were “agency people” and “client people.” The former thrived on new ideas, constantly changing conditions and demands and the serendipity of clients. The latter preferred to dig in somewhere and ride the slow conveyor belt to retirement. He used to shake his head in disappointment when an agency person would leave to work for a client, or vice versa. He’d been around long enough to know where that was going to end.

Over the years I’ve had the chance to meet and interview a lot of “high performance” individuals. They include doctors and scientists, entrepreneurs and business leaders, artists, musicians and actors. As we’ve talked about their lives and their interests, more than a few of these people have quietly confided in me the belief that they probably would have been diagnosed with attention deficiency had such diagnoses been around when they were kids. Instead, and undulled by medication, they were given enough space by their families, schools and mentors to become high performing adults.

Curiosity is a big part of the make up of a lot of these people. They aren’t content with what they already know or what is already known about something. They’re driven to see more.

This is how 7th Arrondissement Portal Perspective and a whole lot of my other photographs came to be. I’m not one of those high performance individuals. But when I walk down a street I make a game of seeing what unexpected things I can find among the mundane. In a city like New York, that usually results in just looking into a lot of alleys. But in older cities like Paris and Rome and London where many of the old residence blocks were built fortress-style, one occasionally gets a glimpse past an austere façade into the oasis of a landscaped interior garden. This scene above wasn’t all that verdant. But in an otherwise cold, gray block, it was an oasis just the same.


  1. Well, you SEEM like a high performance individual to me . . .

  2. It's a beautiful portal perspective. And at this Thanksgiving time, I'm glad you wound up doing the research you do and sharing it with us all.

  3. "When I was younger and didn't know what I was going to do with my life..."

    I'm no longer young and still don't know :)
    And, yes, maybe a kind of ADHD. If so, it is only getting worse with age. I'm less and less able to sit at a desk/computer. Have to be "on the road."