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Putting Our Many Interests to Use

For my whole life I have witnessed field specializations spinning out of control. It has come to the point where people think they can't say anything on a subject unless they are an expert or specialist in that area. Blogs have not been spared from this epidemic.

I think I know why this has happened. Many of us feel that blogs are supposed to be marketing tools, so we bloggers feel we have to find our niche and stick to it in order for our work to be marketable. So, we do just that--we stick to our niche--and we end up writing about just one of our interests instead of all of them. The problem with that is, sometimes the niche we chose isn't interesting to us. We may have a day where other things interest us. Sometimes we simply don't feel like talking about our favorite book, for instance. That doesn't mean it's no longer our favorite book. It just means we're human, and we're not obsessed.

This is precisely why--contrary to the expectations of the marketing world--we all have several interests to satisfy our unique personalities, our idiosyncrasies.

On the Rambling Spirit Blog, niche is a bad word. So are specialty, specialization, area of expertise, and any variation of these concepts. Someone can make a living working in their area of expertise, but to really get to know a person you need to learn about their special interests, plural. I want this blog, and as many others as possible, to go back to what blogs used to be: weblogs---online journals where we delve into whatever draws us into the beauty, goodness, and truth about life. It should be where we share our life experiences, and then discuss how those experiences enriched our understandings of ... everything. So here are my interests:

Interest #1: The Catholic Faith

This is such a foundational interest I don't feel comfortable calling it an interest. The Catholic Faith is my livelihood and my life. I am a managing editor of a Catholic online magazine, my wife and I got married because we both strive to live out the Faith and to be holy. Even my saying "The Catholic Faith" instead of "Catholicism" should point to the fact that I don't see this as just an interest or even just another religion. It is everything to me, and I look for ways to integrate it into every other interest I have. The only reason I'm including the Catholic Faith on my list of interests is because it would be strange not to, but it is essential to note that it is much more than an interest to me.

While the entire Catholic Faith is mind-blowing to me, there are areas of the Catholic Faith that interest me more than others. Young adult ministry, Catholic colleges and Catholic campus ministries have always held a special place in my heart, since I went to a devout Catholic college and was involved in young adult ministry for about a decade after college. The Catholic literary revival of the early-to-mid twentieth century, especially as it involves writers like G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, and T.S. Eliot, strike me as a fascinating time in literary history. Which leads me to ...

Interest #2: Writing

This one again seems obvious, but it has to be on the list. Writing, like the Catholic Faith, is a foundational interest of mine. I try to integrate it into all of my other interests, which is easy here at least as I am actually writing down why I am interested in them. I love writing because it is such a natural expression of thoughts for me, more than talking even. I have been writing professionally for about a decade, and I am baffled by how I haven't thought of writing a blog post like this before. I've had trouble figuring out how to integrate my love of writing into all my other interests. And all the while the answer was staring me in the face. That's the beauty of writing. It can be seamlessly integrated into whatever interest you may have, because whatever your interests may be you can most certainly write about them.

This is what Rambling Spirit is about: Pollination. We live in such a segregated, specialized, divorced society that we need to become busy bees and pollinate as many disciplines as possible with the truth. This is how we will bring our society back to life, because right now it is dying. The Catholic Faith is the only thing that could save it, and writing about how it can save our society--through your interests and mine--is a lifelong task to which I will remain committed.

Interest #3: History

I tried to avoid adding this to the list because I actually am not what you would call a history buff. My knowledge of the subject is rather limited, but I still enjoy talking about it immensely. I enjoy talking about philosophies of history, and how certain time periods affected others. I am particularly interested in the work of Christopher Dawson, and I believe his writings on how religion is the most important foundation of civilization need much more attention in our day and age.

Interest #4: Football

This love and hate relationship dates back to earlier than perhaps any other on this list. For that reason, I often think I must do away with it. I often tell myself this is just a childhood pastime that has managed to linger into my adulthood. "It has to go," I say every Sunday in autumn. But I just can't let go. Maybe it's the "chill and fresh cut grass" that lures me in every fall. Maybe it's the memories of Pop Warner football with friends, and high school football against cross-county rivals. I just can't shake it. Even after a heart-piercing loss, when I swear I will never watch it again, I know deep down I will come right back to it next Sunday.

Interest #5: Country Music and Country Living

Living in suburban Northern NJ didn't help to solidify a love of country music, but when I moved with my family to the horse country of Central NJ, things changed. You may be thinking, "What horse country in Central NJ?" You'd be surprised. A saddle shop and a Tractor Supply, fresh produce stands at least every mile, horse ranches that rival Kentucky's, and corn fields you can get lost in if you're not careful, all grace the landscape like a Chuck Pinson painting.

It was a well-kept secret that this part of the Garden State stayed true to its state's nickname, and a blessed number of people from the region were down-to-earth enough to truly appreciate that fact. Not surprisingly, those same people saw how lucky they were to be just close enough to Philadelphia to pick up XTU, and--on a clear day, we could even hear Southern Jersey's own Thunder and Cat country stations. It seems arbitrary now, since FM radio is all but obsolete, but in my teens I started to warm up to country music. When I went to college in the Ohio Valley, you can only imagine how the steel mill culture and Froggy (the local country station) solidified my love for nostalgic America. It was then that I saw how country wasn't just singing about "the country" as in rural areas, but our nation and all the things that make it great.

Interest # 6: Urban Planning and Cities

How can I have a passion for both the rural and the urban? What it comes down to is my love of people living honest lives in a community that is proud of who they are, with integrity and clear intent. For those same reasons, I don't like suburbs. I also don't like any unnatural development that doesn't encompass all of life---like senior or "active living" communities and large developments. The countryside has small towns---and cities, if planned properly, have neighborhoods. These communities have everything a person needs to make a living: jobs, schools, parks, churches, and essential resources like a general store or grocery store. At least that's the way it used to be. More and more often we are seeing subdivisions being built that are miles away from a park or school, or if a park or school is nearby it's across a busy highway. We cannot have any more of this. It just doesn't breed a common lifestyle, and this can easily tear people apart internally and externally; personally and socially.

My love of cities kind of flows from my love of urban planning, but kind of doesn't also. When it comes to cities, my love here dwells not so much in the intentional community or in the good urban planning aspect, but in the actual character and culture of whatever city it is we're talking about. A city is a barometer or microcosm of the wider culture it is within. Whatever ideas are prevalent in the culture will be manifested and propagated in the cities. The billboards will display the most famous musical artists, the businesses will show how the city ticks, even the sports teams possess certain aspects of the character of a city.

One can argue that all of these things flow from how the city was planned, but I think it's more organic. You see, even simply making these distinctions is intriguing to me. Is this strange? Is all of what I'm doing here strange?

Interest #7: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Oh boy, another big subject that deserves a whole community of blogs, and indeed has one. What can I write that could break into that space? Just like with all my other interests, I'm not looking to be an authority. I just like writing about what interests me. So sue me (no, I'm kidding. Please don't. If there are any copyright or trademark issues, please just contact me and I'm sure we could work something out.) But with Sci-Fi/Fantasy, I'm trying to get at the root of the interest. I think it has something to do with the desire for something more than this world. In that sense, it's not escapism. I'm not looking to escape this world, but I also don't want to be trapped in it. Sci-Fi/Fantasy provides a new frontier. I've often thought about trying to map it all out by combining all the fantasy maps I find into one continuous world. Yes, the image to the right is a pathetic attempt to do just that.

Wrapping Up

Some day it will all come together. In future posts I plan to dive into more specific interests that stem off of these seven. As I'm envisioning it now, they will be on city-building strategy games, architecture, traditional liberal arts, travel and maps, conservatism/traditional values, classical liberalism, distributism/subsidiarity, Lord of the Rings and Middle Earth, Star Trek, America/patriotism, family, young adult ministry, parks, MMORPGs, Sid Meier's Civilization, civilization in general (a broad subject, yes, but there's so little talk about it that the subject has become a special interest).

One last point: People often say in order to succeed at anything you have to abandon all other interests and focus on that one thing. That may seem to be the antithesis to my thesis, but remember what I said about writing and the Catholic Faith. Those first two interests provide the blueprint for what I'm trying to do here, but those two guiding passions need tangible things to bring them to life; they need to be accented by my humanity. I'm not Dante or Milton who could bring abstract concepts to life with nothing but their words. I'm a twenty-first century guy who has been influenced by a wide range of things, and I intend to write about how they've brought meaning, wonder, and joy to my life---all while leading me to the Truth, Goodness and Beauty who is God.


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