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The secret to a bigger life?

by Giles Jackson

In A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, movie producer Brian Grazer shows through personal experience how a single trait, curiosity — primed by a readiness to pay attention and then to act — can change your life. Curiosity is more important to living the life you want, he says, than intelligence, persistence, or even connections. He may well be right. Curiosity once cured me of a bad case of PTDD — Post Traumatic Dissertation Disorder – and gave me a new lease on life.

PTDD sets in with the grim realisation that, having spent years and years learning more and more about less and less, you crossed the finish line knowing everything about practically nothing. I spent the summer following my oral defense in my local library, browsing the stacks for anything that might get me out of my funk.

Thankfully it happened: One day I stumbled across a book called Letters to the Third Millennium by Clint Gardner, a D-Day veteran with two Purple Hearts and commander of the just-liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. He wrote about how the ‘dynamite of revolution’ could be manipulated to effect non-violent social change, just as engineers use real dynamite to blast strategically through granite.

Newly inspired, I called Mr. Gardner at his home in beautiful, billboard-less Vermont, and before the month was out I’d booked my flight to the Green Mountain state. We met for tea at the historic Norwich Inn, a stone’s throw from Dan & Whits (my favourite general store because of its wonderful tagline) and spent the next couple of days on his veranda, re-living the 20th century. I left with a stack of books under my arm and a new spring in my step.

Clint later invited me to join the board of a tiny non-profit organisation he’d co-founded years earlier. Its mission: to advance the ideas of the late Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a former professor of social philosophy at nearby Dartmouth College who’d had a profound influence on Clint’s life. It was such an honour to serve alongside Countess Freya von Moltke, who co-founded with Helmuth von Moltke the Kreisau Circle — the core of the anti-Nazi resistance movement. What’s important, she firmly believed, is that people who think differently find a way to speak to one another. “One has to do something”, she told me, and Liberation Kilt is just a creative attempt to spur dialogue among friends and strangers alike.

Freya von Moltke (1911-2010)

Last week at High Point Market, the international furnishings show, curiosity got the better of me again. Walking into a showroom in my kilt, I was led to a staged living room dressed in the usual tartans. I was about to move on, when something on the shelf caught my eye: the spine of a book whose title, The Revolution Script, screamed READ ME! in bold orange letters. What is this script, I wondered, a manifesto? Was the author still living, and if so, would they have me over for tea?

A quick Google search revealed that Brian Moore (1929-1999) was Graham Greene’s favourite living novelist. “Each book of his is dangerous, unpredictable, and amusing”, said Greene. “He treats the novel as a trainer treats a wild beast”. An outsider by temperament, Moore grew suspicious of what he called “faiths, allegiances and certainties” in his youth and left his native Belfast for North Africa, later migrating to Canada and eventually settling in California, USA.

The Revolution Script is a fictionalised account of real life events surrounding the kidnapping of a British diplomat by the Front de Liberation du Quebec. Moore wanted to bring these young revolutionaries on stage, to give them a voice. However the critics were unimpressed. Jeanne Flood said this was “the most flawed and disturbing of all Moore’s books”. Even Moore himself disowned it.

As to whether curiosity changed my life again, it’s too early to say, but The Colour of Blood — his Booker shortlisted thriller with an emphasis on clothing and appearance and how these shape the way others see us — definitely has my name on it.

The writer is cofounder of Liberation Kilt Co.

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