On the heels of yesterday’s post about Annie Dillard’s new book, I want to invite you to click over to her official website for a treat of the purple-coat variety. When half of the internet adverts I see are for social media managers and SEO, it is absolutely refreshing to read someone who says No Thank You. And means it. And please respect her wishes that you avoid Wikipedia. “Unreliable,” she says.
For more fun, read this essay titled Church. It is classic Dillard but I point it out for this fantastic line:
It all seems a pity at first, for I have overcome a fiercely anti-Catholic upbringing in order to attend Mass simply and solely to escape Protestant guitars.
Yesterday I posted one of my favorite quips of good advice: “Whatever you do today is what you do.” I can’t remember the source but a reader sent me a similar quote from Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend out lives.”
Following the Annie Dillard rabbit hole – it’s a Saturday and I’ve got a few minutes to wander leisurely – I found this wonderful essay written by William Deresiewicz titled Where Have You Gone, Annie Dillard? The essay is putatively a review of Dillard’s new book of essays The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New, but it is more of a review of Dillard’s work over the last forty years. The essay captures Dillard’s genius and makes me want to go back and read every word she has written. I immediately dashed off a tweet to Deresiewicz and thanked him for the best ten minutes I’ve had in a very long time.
Not everyone will enjoy Dillard. She is sublime when writing about nature. Materialists will bristle, though, as under every gorgeously described husk of a dead dragonfly she is searching for hints of god. Theists of a traditional sort will feel the same irritation. The god she seeks is not found in medieval scripts. Whatever your view, I cannot for a moment imagine someone reading Ms. Dillard and not coming away enriched.
It’s not common but every now and then someone responds to a post or article from my website by explaining to me, usually in CAPS, that not one soul on the planet cares what I think or say or write. But statistics reveal otherwise: it amazes me but WordPress tells me that about 10,000 people looked at my blog during 2015. I started a little over a year ago and write about things that interest me with little care for much else. Apparently there are other folks who like the same things so I am encouraged to do more of it. If you like what you read I hope that you will add your email to the membership at the top right of any page and receive email updates of new posts. And seriously – for the sake of humanity – distribute widely to your friends and enemies (you do have enemies, right?)!
I am a bit disappointed that my most popular post of last year was from my Kreationist Korner series titled If You Must – How To Talk To A Creationist. I’m disappointed because I think this particular manifestation of religiously driven pseudoscience is simply boring with so little to be gained. It’s a purely religious view that seeks, bends, and makes up ‘science’ to argue it’s case. Though they are popular I am reconsidering Kreationist Korner. I keep the number 1440 posted on my wall to remind me that there are only so many minutes in a day and that I want to use them wisely. I sincerely question whether this is a good use of my time. For every two creationists I’ve had enjoyable conversations with there are 98 who become venomous asses when I explain that, No, dinosaurs and humans did not live in caves together. Truth is their goal, well, their particular version of it, and they will sacrifice science, good will, or courtesy to get there. Yuck.
The second most popular post was another bit of pseudoscience I titled Butt Angles – Lousy Science. A researcher in Turkey published his finding that a particular angle between a woman’s spine and rear makes her more attractive than those with sub optimum angles. Think Kim K. His guess is that men instinctively understand that a certain ‘butt angle’ makes women better at gathering wood and food. Huh? I’m pretty sure that the entire goofy set up was made for headlines and he got what he wanted. Most of the men’s magazines touted the ‘research’. It’s a classic example of how to do science very poorly but still get a payoff.
Most surprising to me was that my post titled Duty or Privilege. Caring For your Family?about Karl Ove Knausgaard and family duties came in third for the year. Knausgaard, a reticent and obtuse Norwegian, writes auto-fiction that readers and critics alike either revile or love. I love his work. Every word of it. My wife read one page of My Struggle and called it ‘expensive and rough toilet paper’. I reviewed his first book over several posts (his ‘novel’ is 3,600 pages long and spans five books) and concluded Book 1 with this particular post exploring questions about caring for your family. Knausgaard wrote honestly about refusing to care for his Grandmother, even after his Father had died and she went through her day drenched in her own pee and feces. I don’t understand it. It’s reprehensible. I don’t give a rat’s ass that it makes him uncomfortable or reminds him of his Father’s death. Of all I wrote about the book I was surprised that this seems to have hit a collective nerve.
My favorite posts were all from my Fathers and Sons series – soon to be a tiny little ebook available for the masses (cf here for the last post). They are favorites because the stories are obviously dear to me but I believe strongly that they tell important and universal truths.
My favorite discovery of the year – if ‘favorite’ is the right word – was Roald Dahl’s letter to England regarding vaccination. He lost his daughter to measles and writes one of the most plaintive and sad letters a parent or human being can read.
If you are looking for something to read for the coming year here are some suggestions:
My Struggle, Book 1, Karl Ove Knausgaard. Love him or hate him (and there are few who straddle the fence) he is rewriting the rules of fiction. His pure honesty is an almost magical draw until you cringe at what he says and writes out loud. (Here for my first post.)
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey. The one book from last year that I could not put down. Good gawd. A glorious book. A Russian fairy tale retold that explores identity, ownership, and everyday magic. Not my usual genre but so glad I venture outside the fence. My review here.
Intuition Pumps, Daniel Dennett. A deepish exploration of ways to think about things. Sounds weird but makes great reading is f so inclined. Not for the faint.
Collapse, Jared Diamond. Wherein I learned just how damned complex the world really is. Changed the way I view news and culture. My review here.
A post I reblogged from physicist Sean Carroll’s site see here. This is the list of recommended reading from Carroll’s new book. Get through this and you’l be a smarty pants. Remember to keep your ego in check so you can still hang with the commoners.
Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard. Such gorgeous writing and insight. A slim volume that makes me wish religion were true.
If you are looking for some interesting internet stuff then check these out:
Why Evolution is True. Jerry Coyne’s site that explores science, evolution, and theism. With lots and lots of cats. And inhabited by lots of smart and well read people. Have your ducks in a row before trying to straighten any one out. Read the Rools. Questions are invited. Asses are invited to leave.
The Tim Ferriss Podcast. I listen to podcasts driving back and forth to work and this is worth a listen. Lot’s of patting each other on the back. Sometimes it’s just not my cup ‘o tea. Sometimes it is insightful, sublime, and life changing.
Stuff You Missed In History Class Podcast. These two women crack me up. The history is always interesting and sometimes fascinating. And they laugh at themselves like teenagers. They often veer a bit to the morbid and macabre which suits me just fine.
I will continue my Evolution in Sixty Posts this year. I’ve completed the first fifteen posts and will be shortly moving to the mechanisms of evolution – good stuff! Who knows where this will lead? Am thinking of a book next year…
I’ve had a great response to my Fitness50 series. I write if off-handedly with no schedule but for us old folks who want to live long and well I try to bring relevant and useful information. If you aren’t yet old then good for you – start doing the stuff now and you will need to worry about it less. See an example here.
I am planning to write more for publication this year. I have a couple articles out for prepublication and am working on a couple more. I have a new series or two that I’m working on and am always thinking up new stuff. We will just see what happens. Life has a way you know…
Thanks so much to everyone who spent the year with me here! It was lots of fun and I learned much.
Advise for the new year? Or for the rest of your life? Don’t give a flying shit about what other people think but care deeply about you and your life and your loved ones. Good gawd – never, ever, ever aspire. What a horrible word. Do it. Write it. Run it. Sing it. Break it. Do it all for yourself. Don’t care one whit about what they think. You have 1440 minutes today. Maybe a few more years. Maybe a month. Is this really what you want to do?
As parents, every one of us puts our children at risk every day. I’m going out this morning with my two girls and recognize that just leaving the driveway poses some risk so I make sure that they are strapped in to car seats before we leave. And I shudder a little bit each time I buy fast food and wonder what cumulative effects this could have on their health. I grew up in a cloud of second hand cigarette smoke and seem healthy now but could this still affect me in later years?
Questions of right actions often revolve around the ability of a person to make a choice for themselves. Children don’t ask to be born and they are unable to understand the world or the dangers around them. That’s why, at six, I still always ask if they’re buckled up when we drive away. I know that getting that My Little Pony doll posed just right on the arm rest is a hundred times more important than the seat belt. But it is my job –and the job of every parent – to make sure that children are safe.
Not vaccinating your child is stupid. It is indefensible. And, for what it’s worth, it’s an inanity only available to first world parents where kids are expected to outlive parents. In those parts of the world where the most dangerous thing you can do is to be born parents weep for healthy opportunities that I expect from my doctor and insurance.
It grinds hard against my libertarian sensibilities but I argue for state mandated childhood vaccinations. Parents? You do what you want. Smoke weed, dive off cliffs, or sniff glue. It’s your body and I’m happy to let you have it. I will protect your right to be stupid as long as you don’t ask me to care for the consequences. But children cannot make those decisions for themselves. They need to buckle their seat belts. They need vaccinations. They need basic education. They need basic housing and food. And until they reach the age where they can make these decisions for themselves the state needs to make the decision for them to protect them from parents who won’t.
Last Sunday I posted a link to letter written by Roald Dalh – the famous author of books for children – who urged parents to vaccinate after he experienced the death of his daughter from encephalitis. Here is the gist:
Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy,” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
Clean up the Junk and your mind will thank you. Brief essay on how paring down from an overflowing 3,500 square foot home to a spartan 1,600 square feet has made life a little more manageable.
Recommendation of the London Museum of Natural History. Fantastic resource for biotypes like me.
Book review of How to Live, by Sarah Bakewell. A kind of history, biography, philosophy mish-mash about the French essayist Montaigne and The Good Life. The one new book that I keep going back to.
Fathers and Sons part four – We’re Not Slave Drivers You Know. Wherein I recount how Mom and Dad colluded to teach me a thing or two about work.
Books I’m reading…
A little slow right now. I’m re-reading Annie Dillard’s Holy The Firm. I don’t know of any other book I’ve read that has so much packed into seventy pages. Maybe The Wasteland by TS Eliot? I don’t understand half of what I read. I don’t know if it’s poetry or prose. I don’t know if she is still describing Puget Sound at moonrise or if she has slipped into stream of consciousness. What I do know is that it is one of the most appealing books I’ve read and maybe the one book I’ve read that makes me wish religion were true.