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On Constellations of Knowledge

There are certain facts you learn in a day, or in a year. Facts not connected in any immediate way to your life, to what you do or say you care about; facts gathered from unexpected articles and idle conversation, facts you learn reading a magazine in some strange waiting room, waiting for a strange exam. 

You become an expert, somehow, on subjects you never cared to study. You know a recipe exclusive otherwise to cooks, the civil code of some small town you passed through once. Sometimes you forget. Other times, these facts emerge with perfect timing at a party, on the job, in chitchat with a stranger who’s surprised to learn you know the proper formula for Coke. 

These facts are tied to places and to circumstance. They were collected by accident when you went to such-and-such a pleasant party and stayed up all night talking to that economist who's there, or went to such-and-such a party, got too drunk, sorry for ruining everything again, and wandering on the street fell in with a gaggle of electioneers recounting the real secrets of their trade. You collect them when the party's cancelled and all there is is home and books you’ve meant to read.

You collect them when you meet a pretty girl from some small, strange country on the border of somewhere and next thing you know you've got your nose in the fact book, finding out the capital and all the province names. Finding out what kind of liquor they like there, just in case it comes up. Just in case you find yourself caring and want to know these things.

You do care, and you do learn. But then one day the pretty girl from the strange land leaves you, and all that's left are facts, picked up by accident again.

Your friends will be surprised by your knowledge one day. It’s an odd thing for someone like you to know, isn’t it? You’ll shrug. You’ll say you don’t remember. You won't tell them about the geography that leads there, about the path from a party to a bedroom to the fact book to your heart, traced out on a map you got lost on, still in your pocket for the facts you scribbled in the margins.