Tuesday, March 24, 2009

askingLeah: An Introduction

A number of years ago a colleague nick-named me "askLeah.com" as an homage to my random but detailed knowledge on a wide variety of subjects. The name also reflected a larger reputation that I have, especially in regards to the workings of the “organized Jewish world” which serves as both my professional and communal milieu. It is summed up by the comments “You know everything” and “You know everyone”. Both exaggerations are meant as positive attributes but sometimes lead to teasing, for a reputation becomes something that one must uphold. I am on occasion treated to remarks such as “You mean there is someone that you don’t know?” when I do not recognize a name. When I was back in New Haven for my last college reunion I stopped in at The Wave Gallery, a favorite place for object discovery (you might call it shopping; check out http://www.wavegallerygifts.com/) and I noticed a group of hand-painted ceramic signs designed to look like those that normally sit on a desk and proclaim one’s name and title. One called out to me; it declared “To save time, let’s just assume I know everything” and I had to own it - as my humorous and hopefully self-deprecating enough definitive reply to any ribbing on the matter. These signs were slated to go to a second Wave store in Rhode Island but the salespeople on duty that day agreed to make an exception for me.
An aside: how coy of me to not tell you that it was my fifteenth reunion and to not mention that I went to Yale. It is a classic practice to avoid mentioning the school by name, saying something like “I went to college in New Haven” instead. Many interpret this as arrogance and a type of in-joke; I see it more as a sign of the ambiguity around claiming alumni status from such an elite institution. As I describe in terms of my reputation, above, being branded smart or expert in some way can be a double-edged sword, arousing jealousy or competition as much as admiration. I hope to return to this topic for further consideration in the future.
So how did I come to be known as a know-it-all? It is related to activities that are so essential to who I am and how I function that it is hard for me to properly explain it, but I will try to do so in various ways as I continue writing in this forum. I love learning and relating what I know: telling tales of what I find in my various explorations and sharing anecdotes or resources with friends and colleagues. I also thrive on problem-solving, including listening and helping out when others are stuck on a task or in making a decision. In order to figure out what is going on I usually ask many questions; I am fueled by unceasing interest and a desire to understand in detail how things work. I will usually keep thinking about something until I come up with a solution or at least a good suggestion to offer. It is no wonder that I am fond of cats, their curiosity and playfulness.
Because of this incessant questing and study, or at least the resulting build-up of trivia in my brain, many encouraged me to start a website, “askLeah.com,” where I could respond virtually to queries. I thought about the idea at different points in time but never managed to launch such a site. Something did not quite fit – and that presented a mystery to unravel. All this time later the name is still apropos, but I am clearer about its limitations and why it has always agitated me: the title “askLeah.com,” complimentary as it is, emphasizes the mechanical nature of my knowledge, the ability to call up and dispense information. However, my wonder is not fed by static knowledge. I am truly fascinated by the dynamic nature of knowing: how knowledge is developed, what shapes it, how it is shared and how it evolves. It is this interest that has led me in a career focused on education and culture. I have therefore titled this blog “askingLeah,” riffing on the original nick-name in an attempt to capture in a phrase a sense of action and interaction. My purpose here is to share both what I know and how I came to know it. I plan to report and reflect on the ways in which I encounter the world and the questions I ask as I explore, learn and make meaning. There will always be more questions to ask and ponder…
© 2009 Leah Strigler

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