Compulsory Slow-Down

July 19, 2012

As I’ve mentioned here, I have lately had a way of over-committing. As I’ve also mentioned here, I’ll be teaching some new classes this year. And, of course, I’m still trying to do the writing thing.

Cate pointed out to me a week or so ago that I needed to stop pretending I was going to work on all of that everyday. This is probably sage advice, even if I don’t want to admit it, and so I’ve tried to feel less like I have to do everything right now.

And then I got sick.

Nothing serious, just cold. And while I’m certainly not glad I got sick, it did slow me down by force. I spent all day Tuesday with Simone (who caught the same cold from the same snotty kid). Simone is just old enough now appreciate being sick and wasting a day on movies because you don’t have the energy for much else. We had tea. Some Legos came in the mail and we played with them together. She went to bed early and passed out quickly. I couldn’t really find anything to complain about. After she went to bed, I read a big chunk of Anna Karenina because I didn’t have the energy to try and do anything else. Yesterday, I wrote my weekly piece for The Hardball Times and this post (that’s right, I’m not actually typing this as you read it. The internet is amazing), but otherwise I took it pretty easy. And it was nice.

I expect to be back at it today, but I think it was very good for me to have a few days to just play with my kids and lay on the couch and not worry about getting anything done.

I should probably do this a little more often, but I probably won’t.

A Life of Reason

July 12, 2012

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I have issues with conservatism. Many of these issues come from an utter unwillingness to be reasonable. Mountains of evidence that evolution is real? They counter with some nonsense about the world being 6,000 years old. Enough evidence to cover the Himalayas that global warming is here and scary? They want to show you a study funded by an oil company. It’s ridiculous.

But, I also frequently opine that the liberal version of this kind of nonsense is not hard to find. You just have to look for phrases like “wisdom of the ancients” or “natural remedy.” It comes with a healthy fear and paranoia regrading some amorphous entity known as “the establishment.” The thing about liberal cranks that really bothers me is how bad they make the rest of us look.

But both the liberal and conservative strains of quackery come from the same source: feelings. Each of us has an idea of how the world “really” is. The problem comes when we try too hard to make the real world fit with our perception of it. This is where cognitive dissonance comes in. That is, you believe, for instance, that vaccinating your kids is bad, but there is a wealth of data saying vaccinations are good for children and society as a whole and that they are very low risk. But they don’t feel low risk because you know someone whose kid had bad reaction or you heard about something like that and hey, who gets polio anymore anyway, right?

So what do you do? You have two choices. One is that you realize that mountains of scientific evidence outweigh your unusual (or media-scaremonger driven) and anecdotal experience and vaccinate your kids. This way they don’t get whooping cough or polio and neither does the kid who can’t get vaccinated because they really do have a bad reaction or they have leukemia or something similarly horrible. The second choice is that you ignore the data and go with your gut feeling. In this circumstance, you eliminate the infinitesimal chance that one of your kid has a bad reaction to the shot, but you expose them to risk from all kinds of diseases they wouldn’t have gotten before. This is what is known as an irrational choice.

Irrational choices are fine in a rational world because they don’t disturb the system as a whole, but if too many people start making irrational choices like not vaccinating, then the world becomes irrational and all of a sudden you have babies dying because they didn’t get the vaccine for whooping cough or, even worse, the planet turns into an oven and sea levels rise. Fortunately, we live in a rational world, so this is really just a fun thought experiment.

Wait, what?

Well, shit.

And now we come to my point which is that, when there is data, I try very hard to do what the data says. Why? Because I trust science. Science does not have an agenda. Companies have agendas. Individuals (even individual scientists) have agendas. Religions often have a agendas. But science does not have an agenda. Or, if it does, that agenda is to know everything about everything, which is only going to help the decision-making process.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re a conservative or a liberal, if you are actively denying science (and I don’t mean some cutting edge theory, I mean stuff for which there is a nearly total consensus and an overwhelming volume of data), then you are behaving irrationally. That means you are behaving not only counter to your best interests, but often to the best interests of those around you. You are making the world worse.

And I don’t understand why people do this. I’ve never understood. There are, of course, some decisions we have to make by gut. Who do I marry? Do I like this painting? Which guitar do I like better? How do I feel about this tie? These are emotional decisions. They have to be because we don’t have data for them.

But to deny data simply because it doesn’t mesh with your worldview is the worst kind of navel-gazing. Facts, despite the current perception, are not the same as opinions. We can argue about books or music or art or whether wood floors are better than carpet, but we cannot argue about vaccines or global warming anymore than we can argue that 2+2=4. I’ve run into too many people who do this kind of thing and it drives me nuts. They can never cite solid sources. Maybe they’ll send you to some obviously crackpot web page, but they’ll probably try to change the topic or ignore your request for facts to back up their claims. Why? Because they don’t have facts. Just feelings.

If you are one of these people, please, get on the reason train. The view is nice. The weather is cool. And we don’t have polio.


July 2, 2012

Two people who like long stretches of quiet and have grown used to this in their lives. Two people who write and prefer to do so free of any noise beyond a bit of music to get the juices flowing. These two people have started to feel lost because it is not just the two of them. Now there are two children. And it is never quiet. Never, ever quiet. There is a lot of brooding and griping about not being able to get things done.

And something needs to be done because no one is especially happy and people are forgetting who they are. Or worse, they are remembering and wondering why they feel less like that everyday and more like something else which is entirely wrong.

A compromise is made.

One hour each. Not everyday. Most days. Close the door. Lock it. Write. Ignore everything else.

My daughter tugs at the doorknob and screams. I ignore this because I know it will be over. Soon, she will be playing tea with her mother. That is, as long as the screaming doesn’t wake her brother. And anyway, Cate has had her hour already and it is my turn and I have these short stories and now is the time to work on them.

As my daughter tugs at the door and as the tugging subsides and I hear her offer her mother a cup of tea, I am doing several things.

I am listening to a band from when I was younger. They have fallen out of favor, but critics certainly loved them then. I still do, so they play. Not as loud as they once would have but not quietly, either. The song is about dreams and the failure of them and modifications they under go. All that stuff. It occurs to me the singer was the same age I am now when he wrote the words. That seems about right.

I am reading over a story about a man who cannot handle it. Who loses too much of himself and decides he has to go. I wrote the story, but I am not that man. This is the mistake people make. They think that because they can see a bit of the writer in the story, then the story is about the writer. It isn’t. We tell lies, we writers. We exaggerate. Maybe this is an exaggeration and maybe it is the perfect truth.

As I read the story and make changes here and there, I finger a baseball my daughter was given by an usher at the gate of the first baseball game we took her to. It’s been used, probably in a game and then batting practice, and is scuffed. There are grass stains and dirt stains and something black that perhaps came from a player’s shoe. If you hold it in your hand and feel carefully around the the leather, you can feel dents from the bat. Flat spots. I wonder if a pitcher might like to have it for that reason. Because it might wobble a little extra. Be a little harder for the batter to find.

I finger the ball because it lives in my desk. It lives in my desk because my daughter does not understand what it means to have a baseball from the first game you went to. I confiscated it, secretly, after finding it once, briefly, in the dog’s mouth. It may be that it will always mean more to me than it does to her. I won’t know for a long time.

And now it is quiet outside the room. I assume she is playing and her brother is still sleeping. It may be that this is not the case. That things are quietly inharmonious. The music is a little to loud for me to tell for sure. That’s intentional.  In any case, I’ll find out soon. My time is almost up.

I’ll leave the room though, and suddenly, children’s games won’t seem quite so dull. Household chores won’t seem quite so interminable. For now, my brain is not shouting at me about the days I’m losing because one more story has lost the “UF” tag I put in the file name to tell myself a story is unfinished. For a moment, the voices of the characters are quieted. This was a good compromise.