I am now learning something useless, something that has absolutely no real function or purpose in my life. And I’m loving it.
In a few weeks, I leave for Egypt. This past month, I’ve been learning to read (and write) hieroglyphs. I ‘ve been traveling with hieroglyph textbooks, and I’m practicing drawing the symbols, which has been a real struggle because I have no artistic talent. All my birds, be they vultures or quail chicks or sparrows, are severely deformed and only vaguely ornithological. I’m sure I would have been kicked out of scribe school. I feel like a four-year-old with a crayon as I scrawl these misshapen things. But also like a four-year-old, I’m experiencing the pure joy of learning to master something completely new. I’m not planning to use this knowledge in any of my books. It’s a dead language, so it’s worthless as a means of communication. It takes up precious time and mental energy to learn this skill, and it has absolutely no relevance to the rest of my life.
And that may be why I’m enjoying it so much.
I think that everyone needs a vacation from “need-to-know” information. Maybe it’s our old Puritan ethic, but many Americans seem to feel that everything we do or learn must have a purpose or it’s merely an indulgence, and that makes us feel guilty. We hear echoes of our parents nagging us with “Don’t you have something useful to do? Why aren’t you memorizing your multiplication tables?”
Learning hieroglyphs is one of those odd little indulgences that’s giving me great pleasure, even as that naggy little voice reminds me that I really should get to work on the next novel.