World-Building

I started gradually rejoining the online world in 2016, after about two years away. I’d spent the six years before that being an unbearable Pollyanna, trying to get everyone to have interactions where we could find common ground and have Meaningful Discussions and for shit’s sake stop calling each other evil. I’d exhausted myself by…

The Tyranny of Comedy

There is nothing worse, people often seem to believe, than ruining someone’s joke. The pervasive attitude is that if other people find something funny, everyone is expected to go along with it, regardless of the content—and if anyone doesn’t, that person will be treated as if they have wronged the others. You know what this…

Calculating the Worth of Human Lives

Along the same lines as my earlier thoughts about Howard Zinn, I have this to say about a paragraph in the introduction to my textbook (the Norton Anthology of American Literature (shorter ninth edition)). “The Civil War transformed the lives of the four million African Americans who obtained their freedom from slavery, but its costs…

Heroes Aren’t Special—Their Support Systems Are

The hero without their support network never actually becomes a hero, so we don’t hear about them. It’s the support network—the guardians who personally mentor them, the friends who pick up their slack, the teachers who provide training and knowledge—that allows someone to become a hero. If a bunch of people started telling you you…

On the Process of Coming to Consciousness

This is a paper I wrote for a course called Writing for Social Change in 2019, then presented at the Utah Valley University Conference on Writing for Social Change in March 2020. It’s 6:00 in the morning and still dark outside. The tiny white chair I’m sitting in feels like I’m perching on a wood…

Certainty is Selfish

On a cerebral level, doubt is uncomfortable, it provokes anxiety. (Listening to the Sam Harris podcast episode “The Biology of Good and Evil.”) That’s why so many people refuse to entertain it. They would rather just believe what they believe, regardless of what effect that belief has on others. I wrote this in 2014: I…

On Glorifying Simplicity

It seems like there’s always someone making the argument that fewer choices are better, that too many options make people unhappy. Whether they’re talking about arranged marriages, too many TV channels, or the “simplicity” of life before the internet, what it sounds like to me is people wishing for a small life. As someone with…

Educated, by Tara Westover

Five stars, read in April 2019. There was a lot about this that was depressingly familiar to me. I grew up in the same religion as Tara, though her family believed in it much more literally than mine did. Relatedly, her childhood was more violent than mine was; my version of the story is mostly…

Ways of Seeing

The act of creating a story is foreign to me. I’m both awed and baffled by people who can just decide, out of their own brains, that this is what should happen in a story, this is what this character would do. I don’t know how to create a story. What I do know is how to see the story that…

Intention

They taught us growing up that the world was intentional, that we used to have some problems as a society but fixed them, that this is all how it’s supposed to be. But that’s the problem, right there — starting from that perspective makes it nearly impossible to notice reality, and how blatantly, obviously unintentional…

Kingdom Animalia

Humans think of ourselves as so different from other animals, but think about the behaviors and traits we consider “cool” in men — they’re all the most animalistic ones. Think about the traits and behaviors that most distinguish us from animals — they are considered specifically uncool, often effeminate. What does that say about us,…

Why “you are loved” is meaningless and almost certainly unhelpful

It’s an abstract solution where a concrete one is needed. It asks the person in need of love, the person in pain from the lack of it, to just use their imagination and be comforted without the one “comforting” them having to invest any actual emotion. “You are loved” is noticeably not the same as…

Hyperindividualist Circle Jerk

There’s a worldview that puts only one person, oneself, in the lens. People who think this way are entirely self-centered, as in, they are incapable of seeing themselves in any role but protagonist. The other view is one in which a person sees herself as relative to other people. Those who think this way are…

Imagine

We think of ourselves as civilization accomplished, but I’ve come to believe that we’re not even close to civilized yet—rather, we’re just barely out of our infancy as a species. Civilization means “an advanced stage of social development and organization,” and while the present is nearly always more advanced than the past, “more advanced” is…

On “Trying to Understand” 

It was a common topic over the last year and a half, as liberals devoted particular attention to learning about, becoming less judgmental of, and humanizing the Trump voter. It’s been bothering me, though it took me a while to recognize and articulate the problem, and then to wade through my own anxiety-induced mental fog…

Will Everyone Complaining About “Identity Politics” Please Shut Up

I don’t understand how white intellectuals are so dense on the subject of “identity politics.” Sam Harris was the first to frustrate me (he’s done it again recently), and a little while ago I read this whole piece at Brain Pickings on the tragedy of “imprisoning ourselves in the fractal infinity of our ever-subdividing identities,…

We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Five stars, read in November 2017. This book covers the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. For each year, there is an article Coates wrote for The Atlantic, preceded by an essay (“a sort of extended blog post,” I think is how he describes it) in which he looks back on his own work and assesses…

And Marian Was Wounded Sore

Written in January 2014. A few years ago I was watching Robin Hood with my family, the 2010 version with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. During that scene at the end where Marian joins the battle on the beach, I heard my dad—ever the selective movie critic—say something about how of course, they never would…

“To be able to perform music for yourself is a wonderful thing.”

Written Saturday, April 16, 2011, while staying with my family. This morning I’m reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and listening to my brother downstairs playing the piano. I’ve always been jealous of his skill. I taught myself to play the piano as a kid, and had only a month or two of lessons in high school….

Part Three: Scream Into the Roaring Waves

And for all the things I can’t get enough of, there is too much of what should not be at all. There is too much wrong for one world. The more I read, the more injustice I discover, and it seems like I can’t pick up a book anymore without uncovering a whole new field…

Part Two: Too Much/Not Enough

There is too much world for one person. There is too much to experience, and I’m interested in so much of it. I have tried to learn so many languages, and I still want to learn so many more. I play piano and bass clarinet, but haven’t played either in years. I’ve attempted to learn the…

Part One: I Can Never Catch Up

I think if I could have an entire year in which, except for the passage of the year itself, time didn’t move—ignore the paradox, just let your imagination make it work—maybe then I could catch up on everything. I’m annoyed that it’s January 15 and I haven’t finished my end-of-2017 posts. I did finally manage…

A World That Is Disappointing Us Every Single Day

A little while ago I read a great interview with Bob Odenkirk. When asked if he thought of himself as a cynical person, this is what he said: Most people who are described as cynical are truly not. They’re idealists, and the cynical points of view that they espouse are literally their idealistic mentalities reacting…

The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby

Four stars, read in July 2017. The most consistent theme of my experience reading this book was oh my god, if she said this ten years ago, what would she say now? I have minor differences with Jacoby, but her premise is clearly, demonstrably correct: in whatever our current age is called, almost nothing in…