Everyone studies something they never expected to, at least once. In school or in life. Since I got my undergrad I’ve learned a lot about marketing (not what I majored in) and, randomly, the food industry (same).
In college, it was art history.
As I mentioned to Danielle over at The Caffeinated Writer recently, I went to a school so liberal arts that it didn’t believe in math requirements. It didn’t believe in language requirements, large class sizes, tests, or letter grades either. I chose this school largely because of the focus on writing, but also because I didn’t want to have to take any more classes in my least favorite subjects: math, foreign language, and history. I got through tolerably well to AP Calc in high school which was plenty of math for me, thanks, and I scraped through enough years of Spanish class to learn grammar rules and that I’m not good at learning languages. As for history, I’m just awful at keeping track of dates and always found the subject to be generally pretty dry.
But what I didn’t account for was class sizes (10-20 for a seminar, 20-60 for a lecture), and how competitive it made some courses. If it was a popular subject or professor, forget about it. Well… still try, but have lots of backups.
In my sophomore year, I started working on my lecture credit requirements by signing up for a class titled Art & The Sacred. Although it was technically listed as a history class I was able to overlook that fact in favor of the focus on art and it’s historical connections to religions. It turned out to be taught by a delightful little old man whom one of my friends was absolutely convinced was a Time Lord. (Don’t as me why. Dr. Who is something I keep meaning to get into but for some reason never have.) I sat through the entire semester enthralled, especially by illuminated manuscripts.
(The Book of Kells, Chi Rho page)
(Lindisfarne Gospels, Chi Rho page)
These were done by hand and in ridiculous detail at times when the written word wasn’t really trusted, at least not when it came to writing Christian religious texts down on paper. I’m an atheist and have been for a long time, but I can appreciate the idea behind these works of art — that these were living words, and if they were to be captured on a page then they should still be given as much life and dynamic motion as possible. Especially when it came to chi (X) and rho (P), the first to letters of the Greek Khristos Christ.
Also, I recommend the animated movie The Secret of Kells, both for its amazing artwork and haunting storyline.
The next year, I took that professor’s advanced course and did a massive end of the year project that involved “finishing” an unpainted manuscript page — sketching, inking, and watercolors mixed to mimic the colors of paints used in medieval times — and writing a long paper to go with it, explaining all my choices and the research behind them.
I never expected to be so inspired by what I had originally considered the dullest subject on earth! (No offense, history majors.) My brain, apparently, works a lot better with visual inspiration than numbers
and that’s why my computer engineer parents will always be slightly disappointed.
What’s carried over from this experience into some of my writing (along with similar ideas I encountered in a year-long philosophy class I took once) is the idea of something alive being woven into non-alive things, or a sort of duality of existence within an object or body. It’s… it’s complicated. Even now, it’s an idea that I’m still working on exploring and describing to myself, mostly through trying to apply it in various ways in different stories. It’s in my novel Growing Magic, in the sense that there’s a magic forest that’s both a forest and its magical source, the source being a man who’s both the person he was before the forest, the forest itself, and the person he became after the forest. … And hopefully that will make more sense in the novel when I actually finish writing it.
So that’s my musing for the day. Where have you found unexpected, completely out of left field inspiration, and how has it stuck with you?