Where Do These Questions Come From?


Waterfall Niagara

The rush of questions at Niagara, New York. Photo by Holly White


Waking up with a question of why is an exciting day. Questions themselves are born of an energetic part of the body, quickening the heart. Yet, they seem to come from nowhere. Alert, with a question, additional questions start to crowd in. How to begin to find the answer? What book to read? What is the meaning of having this question at this time in my life? Should I start thinking by making a cup of tea or should I head straight to the library? Should I call a friend and ask her and see what she thinks?

Overwhelmed, very few folks follow that question and instead, turn to a distraction. “Let’s get that cup of tea” and soon enough, the would-be philosopher is doing dishes in order to bolster another self-concept of the Good Housekeeper. Or she calls the friend with her burning question and soon forgets the question when pushing cell phone buttons and remembering a missed call to return to another person. The friend call is made, perhaps, but the reason behind the call has since gone into hiding.

My own questioning self led me to surprising places—foreign ones–to have adventures that I could not have expected. And yet, I turned back on myself and asked, “why do I still feel unsettled? How was it I went in search of answers to my life and STILL have questions? What is with all this question-asking anyway?” and so, I headed to graduate school.

“A-ha! Here I would find my answers!” I thought. I felt settled, finally, certain that I now possessed the key to the secret place where questions are born. I imagined them coming into the world with the smell of their answers clinging to them before being washed clean by the Religio-Cultural Industrial Complex that was making a tidy profit from all of this questioning. I was going to find out not only about the answers to all the questions but alas! The Origin of Questions! The room(s) where these procedures occurred, of course, would be hidden from us new graduate students. But perhaps, maybe by the end of the second year, I would be given the instruction in a seminar and told where to go, with a few others of us, to witness the miraculous birth.

But that seminar day did not come.

And so, five years after that much-unconsciously-anticipated day, I sit here with my questions in my home office. Some questions are sorted into piles with categories and others are half-formed on post-its. Some, in my neatest penmanship, are pinned to a cork board above my desk. Some questions are pressed, like leaves, into seminar binders filed by semester in the corner, stacked in boxes so as to be “available should I need them.” This blog begins to tell the story of The Day That Did Not Come and how we–me and these orphan questions–are working to make our home together.

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3 Responses to Where Do These Questions Come From?

  1. Rocky Lewis says:

    God, 42, You. Answers are kind of boring anyway, yes? See how I turned that into a question? Again. See?

    The seminar in the sky also passes out parenting handbooks and “you are now a full grown adult” stickers. I heard there would also be a den mother there sewing “responsibility” badges on our life sash.

    I jest, but I hear ya. And my blog is simply a question platform and my kind commentors reflect these back or provide gentle possible answers which may calm my nerves until the next post.

    I think the lack of resolve, the never-ending discord of anxiety and loneliness causes many to bow out or declare an oversimplified answer. So, I ask, how can we get comfortable with all this lack of resolution in our lives? More tea and phone calls and meditation? More monologue’s online? More defended dissertations and published novels?

    Or are we just going to struggle to keep our little coping mechanisms fresh and breathe in lilac scented spring air whenever possible? Guess that one was my rhetorical question/answer for the day.

    • idolwor1 says:

      I knew that my instincts were good when I thought about calling a friend to handle my question overload! And you are oh-so-right about the urge to abandon ship with the deluge of questions and how answers is probably not really want we are searching for. And also probably right that many just try to run or hide with the anxiety.

      I read somewhere that David Foster Wallace, that tome-writing, language-loving, official “genius” was looking for that adult sticker, too. That he wanted to have that self-possession that emanates from some who wear their accomplishments and failures equally, instead of living in terms of potentials. He wrote other writers like Don Delillo for advice about writing and feeling confident.

      I want that “responsibility” badge! And then I’m going to go for the “Priortizes” prize.

    • Tyra says:

      Thought of the moment: You (both) have a responsibility badge: several of them, actually. You have a whole, mostly-hale human body that you have chosen not to drown in an excess of drugs, alcohol, and toxic tanning products for 30-something years. You (Rocky) have a healthy, mostly-happy, living child underfoot. Every day the child lives is proof of his parents’ earning of the responsibility badge (which doesn’t necessarily mean that all parents are as responsible as we’d like, but they’re responsible *enough*–the badge isn’t that hard to get, after all). You (both again) have a place to live and a plan for continuing to pay for it–and a smattering of half-thought-through back-up plans for if the plan fails. You might overlook those things, taking them for granted as just the stuff-you-gotta-do, but to the people without those markers of successful adulthood, the difference between your shiny badge and their empty sash is epic.

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