“Have a Good Day”

“Have a nice day!”

“How is the day treating you?”

Sometime in the last few years, I worked out a response for these greetings, at least between me and people who know me a little. I’m sure I would just get looks of bafflement from those who don’t.

“The days are all the same. It’s what you make of them that matters.”

A day, after all, is just a block of time we’ve stitched together to help us make sense of our lives. Twenty-four hours and most of us experience day and night, each of which has very specific characteristics in the amount of light, temperature, humidity, winds (aka atmospheric convection currents), and all of the creatures attuned to these variations.

If we weren’t endowed with the minds we have, we would just do the things that kept us living until inevitable mortality swept us aside. If I was a worker bee (I’d have to be a drone as all worker bees are females, but stay with me for the moment), we would spend our days searching for nutrients for the drones, our queen, and her spawn. Over our 4 to 5 week lifespan, if we were tasked with nectar gathering, we would gather enough nectar to create one-twelfth a teaspoon of honey, but we would never sleep. A colony of 50,000 to 60,000 workers would gather about 4,000 teaspoons (about 5.2 U.S. gallons or 19.71 liters) of honey in the 4-5 weeks, followed by other workers and so on.

apis-mellifera
Apis mellifera (all rights reserved J.K. Lindsay)

But we are not bees, nor will we ever bee (ahem… pardon me). While we are both social creatures, we think about our days in ways that would have the worker bees tied in knots, wondering whether it wasn’t time for a break from the constant business of keeping the colony alive. If we were a drone, a male bee that loses its sex organs when it mates in flight with the queen, dying afterward, we might reconsider that last coital flight, binge-watch another season of Que Sera Sera on the BBC, eat honey and bee bread until we could no longer move. If we were a queen bee, we would have been chosen—seemingly at random—from huge numbers of female larvae and fed royal jelly throughout our lives. We would lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day and live four to five years (instead of the 4-5 weeks a worker lives), although our production of eggs would fall after the first two years. But if we were intelligent and could make choices beyond those typical of queen bee-dom, we might give up producing so many eggs, cutting back to a mere 150 to 200 over one year and then having some fun for the remaining years.

Some of us (the >7.475+ billion of “us”)—by no means all of us, unfortunately—get to choose what our days hold for us, but every day is the same, every day is just twenty-four hours of minutes and seconds. Whether we have a “good” day or a “bad” day depends on where we live, our class, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, education choices, genetics, lifestyle choices (by which I mean what we choose to put into our bodies (salted corn chips or fruit? vegetables or meat?)). If we are female and live in a male-dominated society with fundamentalist religious beliefs of any type, our education choices are probably limited by what the patriarchs say is possible within the context of their realm. The men define the realm based on their view of what “God” (this is in quotes because in this context, the notion of “God” is suspect) would accept and they have inferred that women do not need to be educated beyond an ability to speak, do chores, and raise a family. Of course, in some of those societies the men hold themselves to strict practices as well, but that doesn’t keep them from inequitably limiting the choices of others.

There are a lot of these inequities in the world, inequities that block some from the rights that others enjoy without question. Because of the barricades constructed by some, a day may be a period in which survival may or may not happen, in which whatever rights are allowed are further limited by detention (at home, in prison, at work). The day looks on in its unblinking way, seeing and not-seeing all the lives that are lived within it, providing its amoral interval in which we can make choices or have choices made for us.

But the days are fine, thanks.

What will you do today?

Year

Unforced Errors

I don’t follow any sports.

I don’t follow any sports. My field of play is lodged firmly between my ears and the sports I enjoy therein are a bunch of fun. For proof, sample a few posts.

Somehow, and in spite of this lack of enthusiasm for competitive sports, I know that a variety of sports contain a rule for determining whether an error in play has been committed. In baseball, an error is when a fielder misplays a ball and this allows a runner to advance one or more bases or a batter to continue after they should have been called “out.” Both kinds of error are noted by the officials scoring the game after the error has been committed and are listed in the statistics for that game.

The idea of unforced errors (UE) crept into tennis in about 1982 as a by-product of a statistician creating some software for evaluating players. Apparently, the UE is not particularly loved by players or fans as it is interpreted differently by different observers. Errors of the forced, unforced, or simple type also occur in other sports but I no longer care enough to write about what they mean in those athletic amusements.

Nonetheless, the idea of a UE is now part of the vernacular. Now if it could just be translocated from the realm of sport to that most unsporting profession—that of the politician.

In the United States, it used to be that our population could watch video clips from other parliaments around the world and shake our heads, knowing that this kind of thing would never happen here. I submit for your amusement a series of videos of this type:

Here we have the Turkish parliament engaging in some fisticuffs:

This one from South Korea starts with an amicable parade of future warriors parading down their shared aisle… and then:

Here are Taiwanese lawmakers going at it:

Ukranians engage in some collaborative wardrobe malfunctions:

If any of you are feeling that I am choosing brawls to highlight mischief in other cultures, let me put those concerns aside with this Alabama State Senate tape:

These various acts of shameful behavior pale in comparison to the nonsense the United States has had to endure during this election period. We can put aside the nomination part of the escapade, shameful though it was in its own right. It is behind us. I doubt that it matters what your party affiliation has been, your faith in their ability to behave has been tested. Please continue to believe whatever it is you believe and hope for a better crop in upcoming years.

On the other hand, there is one fellow that continues to try the patience of people from around the world. As I wish this to remain a generally politically neutral site, I will call this person Mr. Naked Id. The id, as you erstwhile Freudians will recall, is the portion of the human mind that is present from birth and is about unfiltered instinct. I’ll quote from Simply Psychology:

“The id remains infantile in it’s function throughout a persons life, and does not change with time or experience, as it is not in touch with the external world. The id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world, as it operates within the unconscious part of the mind.” Simply Psychology

and

“The id engages in primary process thinking, which is primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy oriented. This form of process thinking has no comprehension of objective reality, and is selfish and wishful in nature.” Simply Psychology

For a more learned digression on the id, I suggest resorting to a search engine of your choosing.

Is there any better description for what we have witnessed? We can only go a couple of days, it seems, between unfiltered, id-infused data dumps onto the bathroom floor of American politics. Many of these episodes of sharing are unforced errors of the most egregious kind. No one “made” him say it, tweet (I honestly prefer “twit” as the verb here) it, blab it on innumerable call-in sessions to “news” programs, blather on about “it” in campaign stops as his followers cheer Mr. Naked Id on, as they take up his id-iotic slogans and chant them back as if they represented insights into the problems that beset our nation and our world. He just says them and repeats them and makes them up as he goes along, unrestrained by the super-ego’s sense of restraint, unapologetic and unmediated. If our politicians were neonates, I could appreciate this and pass it off as expected immaturity of a new-born.

We have another case of unforced errors, one that is excessively driven by the super-ego, driven by second-guessing decisions until they have been decided into the ground. Much of the appropriate skepticism surrounding this candidate has to do with (1) a decision to use a private email server instead of the government’s system (to be fair, their information technologies are woefully out of date with existing technologies), (2) to use this private email server for more than one kind of correspondence (e.g. governmental vs. personal, potentially confidential vs. no one cares), and (3) to provide a series of incremental non-responses to questions regarding the practices stated in (1) and (2). This is all super-ego-mediated behavior, unfortunate and unforced as they are. It would have been clearly wise to use whatever outmoded technology the Department of State provided. Having failed that, it would have been better to use the private email server for only one type of correspondence (let’s go with personal). Having failed both of these it would have been smart to be proactive and divulge everything that might be questioned right away instead of incrementally.

There are various other issues with both of these candidates. Mr. N. Id has a range of well-documented poor behavior in his businesses (e.g. not paying contracted employees, six bankruptcies). There is a pattern of unforced errors in the way he has chosen to speak about a variety of people (e.g. immigrants, women, coworkers). There has emerged in recent weeks a pattern of completely id-driven behaviors in his “locker room talk” and in the accusations from various women he has come in contact with over the years.

On the other hand, the errors for the other candidate seem more forced-upon than unforced or otherwise. During a previous administration, an estimated $70 million was spent attempting to indict her family for an obscure set of real estate deals. All of that money and a lot of willpower did not result in any indictment related to the basis of the investigation. Additionally, The Fiscal Times (published by government debt hawk Peter G. Peterson) estimated in July that another $30 million has been spent investigating allegations attempting to tie the candidate to a death-inducing blunder in North African politics. It’s a rather small death-inducing blunder in comparison to some others (e.g. invasion of Iraq, death of 241 U.S. Marines in Beirut in 1983, failure to follow C.I.A. intelligence on Osama bin Laden during administration transition in January 2001) but the concerted efforts of numerous partisan committees to hang this around her neck have failed. There are two possible interpretations of this: (1) there was nothing there to warrant such prolonged investigations and they should not have been attempted in the first place or (2) the investigators were so uniformly incompetent that they completely failed in their duties to the American people, thus spending over $100 million (total) of the taxpayers’ funds in violation of the principles they spend so much time whining about.

So. You. Have. A. Choice. It. Is. Binary.

Id.

Or.

Super-ego.

What will it be?

Clumsy

Promises

Featured image

Something is Going Well Around Here!

The 1,000 “like” road marker disappearing in the rear view mirror…

The WP auto-post function just told me that I have accumulated 1,000 “likes,” which are all because the imaginary “you” have been appreciating what I’ve been pouring forth since June 22nd. It hasn’t been four months yet and I have so many “likes!” Who knew?!?

I’ve logged 87 posts (one was a repeat, so doesn’t really count and one was a reblog in respect for a new WordPress-induced friend) in 111 days, meaning that I’ve hit about 78% of the days between start and present. Not bad. Could be better. Let’s see if I can pick up the slack.

Thank you, everyone!

MSOC

Break Down the Mountains

The home of the brave

“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

That’s the last line of America’s national anthem. While it is a fine notion for an anthem, it is also a little exclusive.

We all have ideas about people who epitomize bravery. Typically, though not always, they are people who rush into burning buildings or pull people out of burning cars, they are our soldiers (land, air, and sea, all branches), some of our athletes, particularly the ones who pursue their physical gifts without huge player or endorsement contracts. They may even be people we know who faced some mortal illness and emerged with their dignity. These people are all brave.

There are braver souls who receive no plaudits at all. They are people who struggle with physical handicaps that make venturing outside and into an endless barrage of inquisitive stares an act of considerable fortitude. They are assisted from a vehicle, they wheel themselves into a workplace that accepts them for what they can do, for who they are beyond a twisted spine, paralyzed limbs, impaired sight or hearing, an odd twitching or rictus grin, scarred face or stunted growth. They are the people who are not like “most of us,” whatever that means and are, through some inescapable misfortune, part of a population of “others” among “us.” It must be difficult to emerge from the refuge of their homes, from the tedium of doing the same thing every day out of sight from the insensitive, sometimes unintended curiosity radiating out from the rest of “us.” It may be difficult to move at all for some of these folks who come out and do what they need to do to participate in what we all too often take for granted. Within their minds, there must be at least a small thought that it would be easy to do nothing. It would be simpler to stay among people who already know the public face of their infirmity, who can more easily ignore their appearance and interact with the person they’ve always been.

As I write all this, it is easy to imagine these folks as being nursed in and out of their bed using an appropriate lift, into a motorized wheelchair that can adjust to their specific body shape, who have wide halls, who have ramps and large, well-fitted bathrooms, who live in a single story home with a garage and driveway which facilitate getting in and out of their vehicle with a modicum of privacy. But there are many in this country and around the world who know none of these comforts that accommodate their otherness. They live in an apartment building that doesn’t have a reliable elevator. They have home aid that comes once a week—if at all—-to do shopping. They have no family and no friends or acquaintances. They just have whomever the bureaucrats send to take care of them. They don’t have a job. They have nothing and are not free to be brave and come out to be among our impertinent eyes and assumptive thoughts.

And there are the folks who have absolutely nothing wrong with them as far as we can see but are prisoners of unique twists in their psychological composition. They have done nothing to be the person they are but they are afraid of the world outside and what they think we’ll think. We don’t know but it doesn’t matter. Their fear is as just crippling whether we are aware or not. They come out but the voices, which are all too real, may come back at any time and tell them that we’re the mad ones. Or they may slip into a polar episode and momentarily are betrayed by their own behavior… or are afraid that this may happen and can’t bear the thought of leaving the sanctity of their cell.

This is the thing, folks. We all have something we are trying to get right and many things we have done wrong. We all may look like we’re walking upright and doing fine—we probably respond “great!” when asked how we are. But we are all dragging something around that we wish weighed less than it does. If we’re young, perhaps we haven’t messed up yet (but I bet we have). We may not have disappointed someone we once valued (but I bet we have). We may have worked as hard as we can every time we had a chance (but I bet we didn’t). We have no business staring at others when we have our own scars to mend.

We are—ALL—only as free as the person immobilized by poverty and illness. We can only hope to be as brave as the person who ventures out among us in spite of their physical or mental state. We could all probably do a better job of making their bravery less of an issue and more of a cause they can celebrate in private. When they get home and realize that it was a good day.

For that to happen, “the rest of us” must learn to behave in a more welcoming manner.

Daring

Consumer Algorithms

Ours is not to reason why, ours is just to get our data mined, sit back, and enjoy it?

I visited my Amazon app last week and was amazed to find the entire scroll packed full of thoughtful recommendations for what women’s apparel I should consider purchasing that day. While I entirely understand that this may have its appeal—and totally support whatever self-identification individuals make in their lives—the simple truth for this aging boomer (me) is that (1) I am (as the saying goes) heteronormative with (2) no fetishes that I have detected to date. But there were all these clothes on my Amazon app and they were 100% women’s items! I’ve been shopping with Amazon since 1997, have never purchased a single item of this type (nope, never secretly wanted to either), and you’d think that with nearly two decades of consumer purchasing data from me directly—information I have given them because I like using them for books, CDs, computer equipment, some bulk or hard to acquire foods, the occasional pair of men’s pants or a definitely male UA workout shirt—I could be spared this bombardment of off-kilter suggestions.

But there they were. And there I was, wondering why I had been provided this menu of stuff I was not going to purchase—ever—and definitely not wear—ever—and that my cat (the wonderfully talented eating, sleeping, and pooping home entertainment center known to me as Emma and known to herself as some derivative of “meow,” I assume) was too small to enjoy, although she is a female and would probably enjoy sleeping on them and eventually rip them to shreds with her inadvertent claw catches (how, by the way, since I’m here, is it that cats are so agile and intelligent in so many ways but can’t seem to figure out how to unhook their claw(s) from my shirt or pants fabric or the chair cushion, etc.?).

It is equally mystifying on Netflix. I log in and there are the films and TV shows they recommend, most of which I wouldn’t watch if they paid me (full disclosure: they don’t; I pay them) and would not recommend to my least intelligent acquaintance (or our state’s governor—same difference).

“May we remind you, kind customer, that our completely useless comedy series starring the nearly always awful Adam Sandler is available for your viewing pleasure?” I suppose you may but I sure wish you knew me better through my long history of NOT choosing Adam Sandler in anything other than Punch Drunk Love as I think he is an unfunny pillock of the worst kind (has anyone else in the U.S. noticed that the British are WAY more inventive with their insults than we are? Their lists just go on and on and we should purloin them to our version of the language as quickly as possible! Note to the wary: some of them already have alternative meanings in “American” and should not be used here or may result in a kick to the yarbles (not British slang but a word created by Anthony Burgess, so kind of British anyway).

To be clear, my film tastes tend to go towards serious drama topics, including well-done period pieces, dramas about demographics I know little about (films from other countries and social strata, here or elsewhere, etc.), really dark British detective series (Happy Valley, Luther, Line of Duty, in which almost all of the characters are having troubles at work and home), in other words, stuff I can think about, mull over, learn stuff from in one way or another. These are NOT areas that are best summarized by the two nouns Adam and Sandler. I also like some comedy (the sillier the better (e.g. W1A, Red Dwarf, Monty Python), some stand-up (e.g. Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Ali Wong, Iliza Schlesinger, Louis C.K.) some others that don’t spring to mind (all of these get down and dirty, btw)).

This kind of thing happens with social media platforms as well. Many of us are dutifully entering our personal likes and dislikes into these things. Our information is harvested, transmogrified into values of some type, sorted into the demographic to which we unwittingly belong, and ads are summoned up that are supposedly tailor-made for our eyes only. To misquote both Robert Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad Gita, “Now we have become data, the destroyer of worlds” (Q1: does one place misquotes in quotations? and Q2: is it wrong to take such a serious quote and make it about “Big Data?”).

It would be one thing I suppose if our data doppelgänger would provide endlessly useful, on-point suggestions. It is another thing altogether when our data are so incredibly misinterpreted as in the couple of examples I’ve provided above (the link on data doppelgänger is a legitimately interesting article on the topic I am whining about today; please read).

The behavior of search engine algorithms is at least as odd as the results described heretofore. I search for appropriately odd images for my posts and select “labeled for reuse” through Google as many of you do. I searched for an image for “A Cold House” recently and was immediately presented with the following item (I’ve given her a little cover as she was a bit too revealing for my imagined readers):

 

a-sailors-rear
Attribution

 

Why would this be an image suggested by the search phrase “A Cold House?” There were many similar images provided as suggestions that day but even on days where the thong-enhanced buttocks of a sailor are not among the suggestions, there are many suggestions that make absolutely no sense at all! These Google suggestions are not in the same realm as those provided by Amazon or Netflix but there should be SOME correlation between the search string and the results, shouldn’t there?

(To be a tiny bit fair, Google seems to have refined their algorithm since my initial search and although this young lady is still offered up as “a cold house” for some reason, many other scantily clad women who initially appeared have made their way elsewhere.)

I am puzzled every time I do such a search and am presented with random stuff that does not meet my needs. This time, the prompt gave me an opportunity to vent a little. It’s a little rant-y and I have no useful suggestions, except that jobs for data-mining large data sets, i.e. jobs focused on “big data” seem to be on the rise and this suggests that developing skills in whatever that all is might be useful… until they aren’t.

Given that virtually any article you read about Amazon, Netflix, or Google touts their ultra-refined customer and/or search algorithms, you would think that better results would be forthcoming.

That has not been the case for me.

Featured image (to be fair once more time, this illlustration is about a computer science algorithm problem called the dining philospher’s problem that may or may not have anything to do with consumer algorithms).

I Was Nominated (and Accept)

Confabler nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award!

My distant, yet close friend Confabler has nominated me for the Shiny Shiny Sunshine Award. I love her imagination and sense of whimsy; she lets her muse du jour lead and she follows. There’s a wonderful freedom to that which is (1) difficult to allow in the rational process of “writing” and (2) enjoyable to find.

1. If you were to choose an insect that would take over the world after human extinction, who would that be?

It sort of depends on our route to extinction. If it involved an epidemic, the population of flies might see a giant uptick. This would be a good one:

mydas_sp
Gauromydas heros

If it is a slow process, then I nominate the Japanese Rhinoceros beetle because it would be awesome if creatures  with such improbably fashioned protuberances were to be the alpha species (Megasoma and Titan beetles would be acceptable alternatives):

800px-kabutomushi-japanesebeetle-july2004
Allomyrina dichotoma

 If our extinction took all other terrestrial life along for the ride, I would like to see this enormous isopod (a relative of our terrestrial roly-polies) rule the seas (note inclusion of actual human hands for sense of scale):

Giant_isopod.jpg
The underside of a male Bathynomus giganteus, a species of giant isopod captured in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2002.

2. How old were you when you first read Harry Potter? And your favorite author of course?

I was pretty old when I read my only Harry Potter book (the first one). I didn’t enjoy it enough to complete the series, although I’ve seen all the films and enjoyed them well enough. In the period I read that first one, I was typically reading a lot of history and didn’t find that it was a good use of my time. When I was really young, I read the Classics Illustrated versions of novels, which were quite good at introducing a curious young mind to the wonders of literature without having to do the work (sort of illustrated CliffsNotes (I didn’t use these in school though), if you will). When I was a little older, I read Robert E. Howard, Sax Rohmer, John Carter of Mars, H. Rider Haggard, Stanley Weinbaum, George McDonald fantasies, etc.

My favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez for One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. His writing is so rich, amusing, full of simple wisdom and abundant humanity it is hard to believe he was just a human being writing about the lives he saw playing out around him. I literally would read some passages and have to put the book down as if I had just sipped the richest chocolate elixir in the world and needed to savor it until I sipped again. His Spanish-to-English translators did a good job in getting it right; Gregory Rabassa (OHYoS translator) was even praised by Garcia Marques himself!

3. If you were invisible what is the craziest thing that you would do?

Here’s an odd one: Go and hang around bigots, transcribe their conversations, and publish them for the world to see how terrible people speak when they think no one is listening (but, oh yeah, we have the internet so this already happens). If I could walk through things, which seems fair since I’m invisible, I would go around seeing what it felt like to do that—see if there were different textures to different things on the inside than on their surface.

4.what food makes you feel like a hungry hyena?

This has changed so much over time! These days, I don’t get this kind of urge anymore. In my early adult (late teen?) years… ICE CREAM!!!!

5. A song that makes you dream?

Gymnopedie #1 by Erik Satie


6. Have you ever planted a tree?

Yes. Unasked but answered: quite a few!

7. Choose your man: superman/ Spiderman/ iron man and if he was your best friend one thing that you would make him do?

Can I choose Supergirl? If I can, I would have her take me around to various places in the world, build shelters so I could stay there and visit free, then whisk me off to the next place on “our” list (she would be enjoying the sight-seeing with me, of course! What kind of boor do you think I am?!?!).

8.How much time do you spend in front of the mirror everyday?

As little as possible, which involves shaving and brushing my teeth. I find that shaving my teeth first helps with the brushing.

9.why you started blogging and tell us about the post enjoyed the most making.

I was having a bunch of conversations with people who did not seem to understand the wonderful humility of learning and doing science and wanted to see how well I could write about how science is a discipline that can assist us all in not leaning out too far over our skis (getting ahead of ourselves and pretending we know stuff we don’t). Blogging has become so much more than that since my first post on June 22, 2016, and I have had so much fun writing fiction and revisiting some poetry I wrote several decades ago (and finding them easier to “fix” than I remembered).

I’m not sure which of my posts I enjoyed the most. They’re all my children so I like them all? I probably like the odd bits of fiction that I had no idea were inside me when I woke up and then found them on the page looking up at me. I like The Big Day of these. Of the science posts, I like The Mess: Parts 1 & 2 and the Appendix 1 items best (maybe). Of the historical pieces, I like Risk Management. Of the life pieces, I like Building Blocks the best. Anyone who reads this is encouraged to make up their own mind; I am hopelessly biased.

10. Which social media platform are you addicted to (including WordPress)?

I don’t do much social media except WordPress. I don’t like Facebook at all and deleted my account. WordPress is addicting but in a very healthy way! You get to create something and share it with new friends from all over the world. That’s a great addiction have.

Now the rules:

1.thank the person that nominated you.

Thank you, Confabler. You are a true virtual friend, and I don’t mean that in any Pokemon way either!

2. Answer the questions from your nominator.

Done.

3. Nominate fellow bloggers you follow.

Hereinafter lie the following nominees in no particular order (order, of course, being an illusion):

Confabler – it would be completely wrong not to boomerang this thing back at her; how could I like what she writes and like that she nominated me but ignore why we share interests at all?

November_child –  in her poetry, every word is judiciously considered for its various meanings and the images they stir and she makes great short stories that are deep and playful and serious all at the same time

anonymouslyautistic – for doing an AMAZING job of writing about this misunderstood spectrum of living – and for inviting others who share her interest to contribute

English Lit Geek – because she searches the web and her library for poems that communicate her inner soul to us all out here in the ‘sphere and I appreciate this!

Wiser Daily – because this guy writes REALLY well about every single subject he wraps his mind around, because he is not a scientist but writes extremely clearly about science, because he is just a damned good writer!

Breathmath – because they are doing an astonishingly serious job of trying to get the world to see the beauty in mathematics

Sheryl – because she’s written a book, is working on others, has great tips for doing the same, and kindly visits my offerings fairly often

The Nexus – because he writes REALLY well about physics and does a great job of doing what I set out to do, whether I’m doing it on any given day or not

The Biology Yak – because she is passionate about biology and shares her passion in every word on every topic she chooses

afternoonifiedlady – even though I have no idea what it is to be an afternoonifiedlady, I love her rants about living with and without her ex and trying to wrestle with notions of romance – she is very witty and amusingly pissed off!

Yaskhan – for her lovely, succinct way with words

urbanagscientist – because she is at least as worried about the misunderstanding of science as I am

Luke Atkins – because he writes really well about difficult subjects and he writes like the stuff matters a lot, which it absolutely does!

And there are more in my list of 119 writers that I am following but this is enough for now.

4. Give them 10 questions to answer.

If you wish (and I clearly cannot impose this on any of you, please respond to confabler’s funny questions. I enjoyed them, maybe you will too!

Kind regards, MSOC

https://confabler.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/shiny-shiny-sunshine-award/

It was Generous of confabler to choose me. Now I have to Jump off and do other stuff!

An excerpt from “Adam Bede”

I had an idea for today’s post but was spirited away by a more worthy prospect.

I had an idea for today’s post but I have wanted to quote Mary Ann Evans for quite a while. I recently read Adam Bede, the first of her novels I have ever read. Somehow, I made it through a perfectly good education without reading Silas Marner or Middlemarch or The Mill on the Floss, so I started with her first: Adam Bede. If you don’t recognize the name Mary Ann Evans, which was quite a plain name (how many Mary Ann Evans’s are there in the English-speaking world?), it is because writing novels—or anything else, for that matter—was viewed as an improper way for women to conduct themselves when she lived her full life. Mary Ann Evans became George Eliot. She wrote some of the most significant fiction of the 19th Century.

In the following section, seventeen (or I should say XVII) chapters into her narrative, she titles this bit “In Which the Story Pauses a Little” and goes on an aside to her audience about the nature of the characters she has chosen to portray. She sets her story around 1800 in a tiny village, a relatively remote section of central west England not far inland from Liverpool. They rely on their local lord for some employment, for commerce with somewhat larger villages and towns for their livelihood and supplies, and live rich lives full of problems in spite of their lack of importance to historical events on the grand canvas of the world. She pauses to explain why her novel isn’t full of derring-do and romance in the way other novels the readers of the time (and of this time, honestly) have come to expect. I find her rationale beautiful and utterly human. Please enjoy… and pardon the length.

“But, my good friend, what will you do then with your fellow-parishioner who opposes your husband in the vestry? With your newly appointed vicar, whose style of preaching you find painfully below that of his regretted predecessor? With the honest servant who worries your soul with her one failing? With your neighbour, Mrs. Green, who was really kind to you in your last illness, but has said several ill-natured things about you since your convalescence? Nay, with your excellent husband himself, who has other irritating habits besides that of not wiping his shoes? These fellow-mortals, every one, must be accepted as they are: you can neither straighten their noses, nor brighten their wit, nor rectify their dispositions; and it is these people—amongst whom your life is passed—that it is needful you should tolerate, pity, and love: it is these more or less ugly, stupid, inconsistent people whose movements of goodness you should be able to admire—for whom you should cherish all possible hopes, all possible patience. And I would not, even if I had the choice, be the clever novelist who could create a world so much better than this, in which we get up in the morning to do our daily work, that you would be likely to turn a harder, colder eye on the dusty streets and the common green fields—on the real breathing men and women, who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be cheered and helped onward by your fellow-feeling, your forbearance, your outspoken, brave justice.
“So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dreading nothing, indeed, but falsity, which, in spite of one’s best efforts, there is reason to dread. Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult. The pencil is conscious of a delightful facility in drawing a griffin—the longer the claws, and the larger the wings, the better; but that marvellous facility which we mistook for genius is apt to forsake us when we want to draw a real unexaggerated lion. Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings—much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth.
“It is for this rare, precious quality of truthfulness that I delight in many Dutch paintings, which lofty-minded people despise. I find a source of delicious sympathy in these faithful pictures of a monotonous homely existence, which has been the fate of so many more among my fellow-mortals than a life of pomp or of absolute indigence, of tragic suffering or of world-stirring actions. I turn, without shrinking, from cloud-borne angels, from prophets, sibyls, and heroic warriors, to an old woman bending over her flower-pot, or eating her solitary dinner, while the noonday light, softened perhaps by a screen of leaves, falls on her mob-cap, and just touches the rim of her spinning-wheel, and her stone jug, and all those cheap common things which are the precious necessaries of life to her—or I turn to that village wedding, kept between four brown walls, where an awkward bridegroom opens the dance with a high-shouldered, broad-faced bride, while elderly and middle-aged friends look on, with very irregular noses and lips, and probably with quart-pots in their hands, but with an expression of unmistakable contentment and goodwill. “Foh!” says my idealistic friend, “what vulgar details! What good is there in taking all these pains to give an exact likeness of old women and clowns? What a low phase of life! What clumsy, ugly people!”
“But bless us, things may be lovable that are not altogether handsome, I hope? I am not at all sure that the majority of the human race have not been ugly, and even among those “lords of their kind,” the British, squat figures, ill-shapen nostrils, and dingy complexions are not startling exceptions. Yet there is a great deal of family love amongst us. I have a friend or two whose class of features is such that the Apollo curl on the summit of their brows would be decidedly trying; yet to my certain knowledge tender hearts have beaten for them, and their miniatures—flattering, but still not lovely—are kissed in secret by motherly lips. I have seen many an excellent matron, who could have never in her best days have been handsome, and yet she had a packet of yellow love-letters in a private drawer, and sweet children showered kisses on her sallow cheeks. And I believe there have been plenty of young heroes, of middle stature and feeble beards, who have felt quite sure they could never love anything more insignificant than a Diana, and yet have found themselves in middle life happily settled with a wife who waddles. Yes! Thank God; human feeling is like the mighty rivers that bless the earth: it does not wait for beauty—it flows with resistless force and brings beauty with it.
“All honour and reverence to the divine beauty of form! Let us cultivate it to the utmost in men, women, and children—in our gardens and in our houses. But let us love that other beauty too, which lies in no secret of proportion, but in the secret of deep human sympathy. Paint us an angel, if you can, with a floating violet robe, and a face paled by the celestial light; paint us yet oftener a Madonna, turning her mild face upward and opening her arms to welcome the divine glory; but do not impose on us any aesthetic rules which shall banish from the region of Art those old women scraping carrots with their work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking holiday in a dingy pot-house, those rounded backs and stupid weather-beaten faces that have bent over the spade and done the rough work of the world—those homes with their tin pans, their brown pitchers, their rough curs, and their clusters of onions. In this world there are so many of these common coarse people, who have no picturesque sentimental wretchedness! It is so needful we should remember their existence, else we may happen to leave them quite out of our religion and philosophy and frame lofty theories which only fit a world of extremes. Therefore, let Art always remind us of them; therefore let us always have men ready to give the loving pains of a life to the faithful representing of commonplace things—men who see beauty in these commonplace things, and delight in showing how kindly the light of heaven falls on them. There are few prophets in the world; few sublimely beautiful women; few heroes. I can’t afford to give all my love and reverence to such rarities: I want a great deal of those feelings for my every-day fellow-men, especially for the few in the foreground of the great multitude, whose faces I know, whose hands I touch for whom I have to make way with kindly courtesy. Neither are picturesque lazzaroni or romantic criminals half so frequent as your common labourer, who gets his own bread and eats it vulgarly but creditably with his own pocket-knife. It is more needful that I should have a fibre of sympathy connecting me with that vulgar citizen who weighs out my sugar in a vilely assorted cravat and waistcoat, than with the handsomest rascal in red scarf and green feathers—more needful that my heart should swell with loving admiration at some trait of gentle goodness in the faulty people who sit at the same hearth with me, or in the clergyman of my own parish, who is perhaps rather too corpulent and in other respects is not an Oberlin or a Tillotson, than at the deeds of heroes whom I shall never know except by hearsay, or at the sublimest abstract of all clerical graces that was ever conceived by an able novelist.”

And that is all I need to know about being “stylish,” good readers. Take it from Mary Ann Evans, it is not a quality to be found only in the rich and debonair or poor and picturesque. It is a quality that we all have in our own measure. Take some time to read more about this amazing woman. Here’s one article but there are more articles available right at your fingertips: https://theamericanscholar.org/why-read-george-eliot/

As the entire novel is in the public domain, you can download the pdf here and send it to your Kindle or other e-readers if you wish. You can also purchase her complete works for e-readers for a few tuppence (erm, dollars really but who’s counting?).

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Stylish