School was pretty regimented. Everything from when I could use the toilet to what I could learn was dictated by others. That wasn’t a complaint, I kinda liked school. I mean, sometimes it was awkward and not a lot of fun. But I never ‘hated’ school. I guess I was a bit of an oddball kid and a little inconsistent on the critical thinking front. Behavioral constraint? No question. Yes Sir. You should learn mathematics, while difficult it will be useful. Yes Ma’am. Geography and ‘facts’ about the Murray River? Woah. Hold up there. HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY SAY THAT? Ten minutes of argument later, I would be sitting outside twiddling my thumbs.

Photo of the "dish" radiotelescope at Parkes, NSW

One thing I should have questioned, was how schools index knowledge. All through school prerequisites dictate what you can learn next. Counting, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, …, Linear Algebra, Languages and Logics, Algorithms, etc. It wasn’t until my final years of university that I had figured out how to play the system a little. I needed an six more credit points in physics to pass my degree. I put a lot of research into finding the easiest six credit points I could possibly earn. Oh. Hello. What is this? Introduction to Astronomy, that sounds easy. I went to every lecture. Every single one. Each time wearing the same stupid ear to ear grin. I would roll up on a Friday afternoon to a darkened lecture theatre to watch pictures of different star systems. It tuned into the perfect way to unwind from a week spent struggling with what ever bit bending exercises I was working on.

While reading ‘Steal Like An Artist’, the idea of climbing your own family tree stuck out.

Instead, chew on one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, It’s time to start your own branch.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard of indexing knowledge this way. A professor that I had the good fortune of working for was always referring to her academic family. She had cousins, an academic father, an academic grandfather and so on.

Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist just gave me the motivation to have a crack at re-indexing my own knowledge. So I started building my own ‘family’ tree by writing fan letters. It is giving me the chance to form strong opinions on what I really like about a person’s work. So far this is what I have:

It is a bit of an advent calendar I guess, initialed names are my current research front. As I finish another love letter, the initials and their influences get expanded and the family tree grows.