I was hanging out with some playwright friends of mine a few months back, having some beers and chewing some fat after a reading of one of their pieces out in Queens. At one point, the conversation turned to the script another of the writers had written, in collaboration with his partner, and I asked him about some of the details surrounding his plot. “Oh, I don’t know any of that,” he said. A bit confused, I asked him about the research he’d done – surely those details had come up there. To this, he airily replied that his partner handled all of the research. I remarked that I, personally, could never delegate the all-important task of researching – doing a deep dive into a given topic was a crucial part of the creative process for me. “Of course you think that,” he said, as he pointed to his beleaguered partner. “You’re both hedgehogs.”
It took me a while before I realized what he was talking about – I had to do some research, of course – but it turns out he was referring to a classical maxim about different approaches to learning called the hedgehog and the fox. (It’s usually ascribed to Archilocus, and is completely different from Aesop’s fable of the Fox and the Hedgehog. Like I said, I did some research.) The maxim goes that “the fox knows a little about many things, but the hedgehog knows much about one big thing.”
Now, one could argue that initiating major research for multiple research projects involves getting to know much about several, possibly related things, which would mean that my friend invoked the maxim incorrectly. (Typical Yalie.) But his larger point was clear – that he, a productive and industrious creator of many fine scripts, was assisted in his productivity by a mind that ranged over a wide field of topics and interests and so had no need to apologize. The further implication was that his partner and myself, though our obsessive need to amass knowledge and fixate on a specific topic fulfilled a crucial role, were fundamentally different for our troubles. Fundamentally an “other.” (Even if a cute one. Hedgehogs are cute, you know.)
I flashed back to this conversation all throughout this past weekend, a rainy and dreary weekend here in New York. I may or may not be about to embark on a new writing project, and have been making note of what I need to acquire for – you guessed it – research. And so, on the one free day I had to myself, a cold and windy day with no way to keep the clammy grip of the rain from getting a hold of you, I headed out of my apartment and marched to the subway. I braved a cramped subway ride – in the middle of the never-ending pandemic – from South Brooklyn to Manhattan to hit not one, but two libraries, some fifty blocks apart, in order to acquire the two volumes I was looking for. All this in service of a project that might not even happen.
This is not normal. Something is wrong with me. I can accept this.
I can accept, as well, that some animal appellation may be necessary to describe this sort of behavior. As I mentioned, though, I dispute that my mania for research – which shifts from topic to topic depending upon what I’m working on – is best described by the “hedgehog” moniker. As to the alternative animal, I’m at a loss to say. Raven? Squirrel? Ocelot? The possibilities are almost endless.
Clearly further research is required.