(TMI. You’ve been warned!)
Stream of consciousness:
- Do you recall the point at which you became officially weird? That point where you realized that the rest of the world wasn’t sure what to make of you and wasn’t particularly interested in figuring it out? For me, two incidents from 5th grade made this all clear. I don’t remember the order, but, taken together, I came to realize that I really didn’t fit in. These, along with a couple other less amusing incidents, are what made me, effectively, a drop-out in spirit: my body was in the desk, but my mind was elsewhere.
- Incident 1, circa 1968: someone had the brilliant idea to get TVs for all the classrooms at St. Mary’s of the Assumption School in Whittier. This being SoCal and all, sometimes it was so hot and smoggy that, by the afternoon, teachers and students had had their fill. Our 5th grade teacher decided one day that enough was enough, and deployed the TV – she let us watch Jeopardy! for a half hour. So, suburban 5th graders hear an answer something like: “This masterpiece was designed by Ahmad Lahauri to house the remains of the Shah’s favorite wife.” – something like that. From the back of the room where I was even then hiding out, 10-year-old me says: “What is the Taj Mahal?” followed one beat later by “What is the Taj Mahal?” from the TV. Approximately 3 dozen sets of eyes turned toward me – at least, that’s how it seemed to me.
- Incident 2, same circa: The teacher was trying to explain astronomy, and said that the moon, since it always faces the earth, does not rotate on its axis. Well, I started in simply objecting: of course it does, once every orbit. A room full of eyes rolled hard. Then, having not learned to shut up – a lesson still not learned nearly 50 years later – I jumped up, and walked around the teacher, showing that, if I did not turn, I would be facing the window – only by turning could I keep facing the teacher. Didn’t click. After wearing out the already thin patience of the class, I sat back down in frustration. In some fuzzy way, I learned that I was not like other people.
- A thought constantly before my mind: I am an intellectual cripple. Oh, sure, I’ve got more than enough horsepower to be a pretty good scholar, but I almost completely lack – something. Perseverance? A methodical approach? Patience? Whatever it is, on those rare occasions where I try to be scholarly about something, really get down and understand and properly reference my sources and build valid arguments from well-supported premises, I usually end up petrified in short order.
- Instead, mostly, I rely on what might be called a gift, but might be a curse or might be at least a temptation: my mind’s barely, if at all, conscious compulsion to make connections. On a trivial level: almost any event can trigger a song to run through my head. If I deign to notice it, I will find that it is in fact the perfect song for the situation, that the lyrics fit exactly what I’m experiencing at the moment. Weird. A more profound example: I went from questioning school to Calvin’s Catechism in an instant, when the whole inevitable drift from the anti-reason of the great reformers to the current totalitarianism most perfectly expressed in classroom schooling (1) was suddenly clear. While recognizing the risk of confirmation bias, it’s still true that everything I’ve read since that touches on the topics confirms this.
- My mind works like that all the time. I’m often unable to sleep, or sleep very poorly, because these connections suggest themselves, and will not leave me alone. If only I were a better scholar, maybe I could write them out, as in write them until they are out.
On the reading front:
- Conclusion to an epic review and analysis of Nethereal (pronounced to rhyme with ‘ethereal’ – isn’t that much better?) found here, spread across many posts at the Puppy of the Month Book Club. Spoiler-rich, so read the book first. Even though I’ve read Nethereal three times, the review was still full of stuff I didn’t catch/didn’t know. In addition to increasing my appreciation for the novel, I came away in awe of the reviewer’s chops – he’s catching Biblical, Dante, anime, RPG and video game sources, as well as the usual SFF stuff. I mean, dude! Dude!
- Finishing up Souldancer, the middle volume in the Soul Cycle trilogy after Nethereal. Next up on my reading list is Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics by William Briggs of the renowned Statistician to the Stars blog. Since I lack the both the math chops and the discipline to get them any time soon, I’m boning up on logic instead. This was really interesting, and reminded me of how difficult, at first, I found the classic Monty Hall problem. If any additional evidence of the poor state of mathematical reasoning to which I have descended were for some ineffable reason required, it took me several passes to get how the base rate fallacy worked – just as Feynman recounts the story of the two mathematicians arguing over a proposition, where the first asserted that it was obvious, then proceeded to perform a half-hour long explication, at which point the other mathematician concurred: ‘You’re right – it’s obvious.’
- After that, will try to work in Nine Princes in Amber in the next month, as it is the next book up in the Puppy of the Month Book Club. My wife read it years ago, says it was good – I never have. It’s short – we’ll see how it goes.
- Then, as the days grow short and darkness envelopes the earth (and, sure, spring has always followed winter in the past, but are we really sure it will again this year? Huh?) I will turn my baleful eyes back to Hegel, education history, and the biographies of the great educationists. Then write essays, blog posts and even perhaps a book about it.
- Also will try to sneak in some Flynn, Wright, and Wolfe which have been giving me the stern, accusing eye from their lofty perches up in the bookcase for lo these many months. And there’s a couple novels on the Kindle still to get to. And a disorderly pile of Asimov’s and Analogs on the floor…
- Aaaaand – just bought Feast of Elves, the second book in John C. Wright’s A Tale of Moth and Cobweb series. Book 1, Swan Knight’s Son, I review here. At least it’s not too long…
As far as writing goes:
- There are reasons I’ve got 67 and counting draft blog posts in the folder, chief of which is that, somewhere during the drafting, I lost hold of whatever weakly-formed ideas I thought I was pursuing, so that, like one whose ill-behaved dogs got off leash, I’m reduced to comically chasing them around the park, intermittently pausing to shake a fist and utter curses. Which gets old fast, and doesn’t make for a very good blog post. So, before I inflict any more of them on you, my gentle readers, I’ll try to ask that eternal, hard question: what, exactly, am I trying to say, here? and require a satisfactory answer before hitting publish.
- Seems I’ve got maybe a couple dozen pages of notes and diagrams that represent what might be generously called research or, even more generously, an outline to this dream of a shadow of an idea for a novel that’s been rattling around in my head for a couple decades. I need to do more: since I envision it, in however a blurry fashion, as episodic – one could think of it as checking in with the protagonists and their descendents every few decades or centuries – it would be quite possible, nay, advisable, even, to simply write it as a series of short stories/novelitos. I’ve even sorta kinda started doing just that more or less on purpose. I need to sit down and get serious, settle on and spell out in some detail a timeline, major characters’ development, tech, and, most important of all, the social underpinnings. All that, and setting up a decent final story – so far, I’ve got three major arcs going, roughly settlement, a crisis of connection, and a bit of romantic/comic relief. The second story is very dramatic and tragic, but I think it needs to be second. The first might end up as two or even three stories…. See why I’ve got to get serious?
- A good portion of this blog is devoted to this idea. Short version: the Aristotelian/Thomistic idea that all truth is one, that what is known through science cannot contradict or be contradicted by what is know through revelation, was targeted by the Reformers immediately. No, revelation (which, in practice, meant Luther’s or Calvin’s interpretations of Scripture, no matter how idiosyncratic or inconsistent) trumps human reason always. Luther responded in a very modern way when any of his myriad logical inconsistencies were pointed out – he attacked his interlocutor, accusing him of being at best an idiot or scatologically gifted devil. See: Erasmus and Luther‘s back and forth for examples – while Erasmus is not above the occasional low blow, Luther has nothing else. Luther wanted the state, assumed to be and always remain under the control of solid Lutherans, to run the schools – in order to produce those solid Lutherans, complete with his solid contempt for human reason. From this foundation springs Kant, Fichte and Hegel, from which springs Harvard and Horace Mann, from which spring schools designed to make our children mindless sheep.