The Insulting Parts of Interstellar

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This is not a review of Interstellar. The film is thrilling, emotional and big fun. Go see it. It has some astounding special effects and amazing sense of wonder concepts.

No, what I want to write about is the philosophical implications of the science fiction as presented in Interstellar. The film makes a great touchstone to contemplate the nature of science fiction. Science fiction reflects our collective ambitions about exploring reality and the future of mankind. At the deepest level of desire, science fiction fans want to travel into space, especially to the stars and other worlds. Interstellar even travels to other galaxies, something seldom seen even in the most ambitious science fiction stories.

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Science fiction also reflects our desire to control reality, and sees us as the master of our own fate. Science fiction is a rejection of the metaphysical, which believes humans are the minions of divine beings. Science fiction is hubris at its best (or worse, depending on your belief in God). Science fiction is the ultimate expression of human powered evolution.

The trouble with science fiction is most of humanity doesn’t buy into the dream, they prefer metaphysical fantasies. In Interstellar, NASA is a forgotten aspect of the government, and schools teach that the Moon landings were faked. The movie suggests that the human race gave up on the idea of the final frontier, and that it’s not until humanity is about to become extinct that we finally discover our next stage of evolution is to travel to the stars.

I thoroughly enjoyed Interstellar as an entertaining movie, but some of its philosophical implications rankled me. It suggests that humans are destined to use up the Earth, and when we do, abandon it like an old computer sent to the landfill. The movie makers suggest the savior for our species is to travel to the stars with the help of higher dimensional beings. That smacks of guardian angels to me.

I want humans to travel the stars, but not because we selfishly used up our planet. Besides, I want to colonize space now, and we need to find real reasons to do so. Positive reasons.

In the film, no one campaigns to save the Earth. The conflict is between our descendants who endure our legacy, and those who want to run away. That idea sucks big time. I’m sure the movie makers thought it was just an easy justification for the plot, but I find it offensive. Yet, their attitude is not uncommon. Republicans pretend our sins of self-destruction aren’t ours, while the Democrats are perfectly willing to accept we’re to blame, yet do nothing to stop us from destroying ourselves.

Interstellar sees Earthly humanity expiring and says, “Let’s go to the stars” to start over. Now, here is where I get into spoilers by explaining how we’re saved. One part of the solution involves New Age mumbo-jumbo, and the other part involves 1930s style super-science mumbo-jumbo, the kind found in books by E. E. “Doc” Smith. Neither solution will save us, nor are they philosophically appealing. They each say we need the help of higher powers. Bullshit.

We already know the science to save our planet – we choose not to. Abandoning Earth for the lifeboats is not an ethical solution. It’s about as noble as the Republican’s head in the sand plea of denial, or the Democrats mea culpa “The buck stops here but I ain’t going to do anything about it because the Republicans won’t play fair” whine.

I also find it offensive that the story in Interstellar suggests we need the help of super-beings. That’s one reason I don’t like religion – it shirks responsibility. We don’t need some divine daddy or fifth dimension super being to save us. If we can’t save ourselves then we deserve to go extinct. The movie cops out on its cop out, but I don’t like it’s philosophical solution either.

To me, the science fiction in Interstellar wimps out. Real, hard-core, science fiction is about humanity pulling itself up by its own bootstraps, using real science we discovered. To a degree the movie does that, and that’s exciting, but the ending of Interstellar is much like the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I also found philosophical insulting. Arthur C. Clarke in his two most famous stories, 2001 and Childhood’s End suggests we need outside help getting to the next stage of existence, and that help involves superpowers that are damn close to metaphysical. I find that really distasteful.

I’m a believer in evolution, which doesn’t allow for outside helping hands. You either climb up out of the slime on your own, or you go extinct.

Colonizing space or traveling to the stars is a great ambition, but we need to go on under our own steam, and after we become good caretakers of the Earth. I think if we’re going to destroy everything we touch I imagine our alien neighbors, higher dimensional beings and the gods would prefer we just stay home.

JWH

How Many Novels Can Be Our Best Friends?

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, November 10, 2014

Is it possible to know a book like a good friend? Does reading a book one time give us that best friend closeness? People often say a book changed their life, so we know some books can inspire great passion by what about lasting relationships? Does one reading let us experience the full intent of a book? I’ve read some of my favorite books many times, but I doubt I could analyze them with any depth, not like a professor of literature does with a classic. I’ve found entertainment rather than enlightenment in the books I’ve consumed. I want to change my ways. I want to pick some books and get to know them very well.

The old saying, “Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing” can be applied to almost anything. However, when I ask, “Can we read too many novels” I’m going beyond that. Most people read for pleasure. Reading is an escape, and it’s fun, so what’s the harm of reading as much as we want? Even that line of attack is not where I want to go. Sure, there’s more to life than reading books, but it’s up to all of us to decide if we read too much. When I ask, “How many novels can be our best friends” I’m asking if some books deserved to be more than just read quickly to find out what happens in the end.

Asking questions is a way to explore deeply into a subject. But I’m not questioning the value of reading for fun, I am wondering if always reading a new book isn’t hurting my ability to appreciate novels at a higher level. I’m wondering if reading too many books is like having too many friends. Are my relationships with books, even my most favorite, really just acquaintances and not close friendships? I’m not suggesting I find my perfect reading companion and become best friends forever, although that might lead to the deepest understanding possible for a novel. I am asking if reading too many books makes us miss out on the depth that novels can give us.

If you’ve ever read any great literary criticism, you’ll know that some people get a lot more out of a novel than the average reader. Just read an issue The New York Review of Books or The London Review of Books and tell me how sophisticated of a bookworm you feel afterwards.

I admit my fiction habit, is one where I consume mass quantities of words. I read in a hurry to finish, and then rush to the next story anxious to have another page turning narrative to follow. Lately, I’ve been researching the topic of effective thinking, and I realize that even though think about books more than your average bookworm, I’m far from being in the professional leagues of story masters.

This leads me to wonder if I shouldn’t have books that I get to know very well. And how many books should be on that list? Could I ever claim to be a true friend to one hundred books? I doubt seriously if I could even memorize the titles of one hundred books, so one hundred is probably too many. However many there should be, I should be able to recite their names as if they were my children. Yet, over a lifetime, I’m guessing we find between 25-100 books that resonate so well with our souls that list could be our reading fingerprint.

In Fahrenheit 451 the characters became one book they memorized. I don’t want to be monogamous to one book, but I wonder how many literary companions I could pick and still be faithful to them all? If all seven billion plus people on this planet made a list of favorite books, how many books would it take before we’d all have a unique list? Would any two people on planet Earth pick the same 15 books? Or does it take 20 or 25 before absolute uniqueness shows up? Wouldn’t it be strange if it was as small as 8? Tragically, there are millions, maybe billions of people that don’t read for fun at all.

Another way to approach this problem is to ask how many books would I’d be willing to study in 2015, including reading criticism for each novel, and to write an essay that explores the deeper knowledge I’ve discovered about story. As someone who daydreams about writing a novel, this could be very educational. Right off the bat, I’m thinking twelve, one for each month. But is that too ambitious? Are there even twelve books I’d devote extra time to in 2015?

How shall I pick? I could easily select twelve old favorites I’ve reread many times, but to be honest, they’d include a lot of books I learn to love as a kid, and they’d mostly be science fiction. Obviously I should pick old favorites that still have depths to explore, or pick new books I feel will expand my literary knowledge. But they also need to be books I’d be willing to read again and again. I can imagine picking twelve and breaking up with nine after I’m done. If I continue to pursue this quest I expect in several years to have a dozen books I’ll really feel are my best fictional friends.

I want to reread some books to get more out of them, and I want to read some new books that will push my reading skills. I wanted to pick mostly famous books so there will be plenty books about those books. I’m also thinking I’d like read books that have been made into movies, just see to how they are interpreted. I’m pretty sure I want books that have audio editions, so I can read and listen. Here’s a list of books I’m considering getting to know in 2015:

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
  3. Out Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1861)
  4. Crime and Punishment by Fyordor Dostoyevsky (1866)
  5. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
  6. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
  7. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
  8. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
  9. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)
  10. Journey to the End of The Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1932)
  11. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  12. Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
  13. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1948)
  14. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  15. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
  16. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez  (1967)

Mostly these are new books I hope I’ll love to get to know, but a few are old books I want to reread because I think I missed a lot the first time around. In some ways I feel like I’m moving into a new phase of life, because none of these books are science fiction. I’m not giving up on science fiction, but I feel I’ve overdone the genre. I do think I’ve reached a stage where I could pick my 25-50 all-time favorite science fiction novels. For the last ten or twelve yeas I’ve been rereading the science fiction books I read when I was in my teens and twenties, and most didn’t hold up. My ultimate list will be those that do. Sadly, most novels don’t even deserve to be read once. Most of us are pretty slutty when it comes to going to bed with a book. There are a lot of faces and names we’ve quickly forgotten. Is it any wonder that I’m asking if we have too many one-night reads, and not enough serious literary relationships?

JWH

Can Science Fiction Change Republican Minds About Climate Change?

By James Wallace Harris, Sunday, November 8, 2014

The other day I was talking with my science fiction reading friends about whether or not science fiction can change public policy or opinion about the future. On one side of the argument, we had the belief that science fiction is only entertainment, on the other, some believed science fiction can enlighten people. I was on the side of science fictional enlightenment, but when asked to produce a list of books that actually changed public thinking, I was stumped. My only example was Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. I think Orwell produced a number of memes about life in a totalitarian state that it has shaped political thought ever since. Just think how often his book was referenced during the recent NSA scandal.

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Back in the 1950s and 1960s, two science fiction novels were bestsellers that warned people against the atomic war apocalypse – Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, and On the Beach by Neville Shute. Neither are much remembered today, but then again, few people today worry about WWIII anymore. Did reading about Armageddon help us avoid it?

Despite the success of some of the new climate fiction (cli-fi) novels, I’m not sure they’re making an impact. Nineteen Eighty-Four is something Republicans can understand and embrace because it resonates with their political thinking, but how many conservatives have read Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson, or the brilliant The Windup Girl by  Paolo Bacigalupi? There’s a good chance that most people don’t read books that don’t match their current thinking.

After the mid-term elections it’s pretty obvious that the majority of Americans want Republican leaders, even if Republicans are against their personal interests. For example, Obamacare is proving most successful in red states. Republicans are extremely united in their opposition to climate change politics. Their denial of reality is amazing. And they’re absolutely consistent by siding for profit over environment. Nor do we see conservatives showing any signs of moving in new directions. Is there any book or movie that could make red state voters change their minds?

This is where I wonder about the power of science fiction, or just the power of art. Can any novel or movie actually change people’s minds if they already believe differently? Over my lifetime I feel I’ve constantly evolved because of my empathy with fictional characters. My own life is not as diverse as the life I see on TV, the big screen or in the pages of books, so I honestly feel I know more about people from art, than from just knowing them. I feel art expands my view on reality and changes me. But that could be an delusion.

Do I read liberal books because I’m already liberal, or because previous read liberal books made me liberal? Do conservatives read conservative books because they are conservative, or have conservative books made them conservative? If I read conservative books and conservatives read liberal books, would we change our views? I don’t know. Maybe genes override outside input.

Personally, I think the United States is making a fatal mistake by ignoring climate change and by choosing to destroy the environment. I could be wrong, and I’ve been wrong plenty of times, but on this issue, I think I’m right. Is there any way I could present my views in a novel that would convince people who don’t think like me to change their minds? Can anyone write a Nineteen Eighty-Four type story that would inspire millions to change their votes and avoid the future we’re racing to meet?

JWH

Will We Still Be Using Microsoft Windows in 2044?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, November 7, 2014

When Windows 8 came out I disliked it so much I began preparing to switch to Linux. I’ve been playing with Linux since I had to assemble it from pieces off of Usenet News, but it never became something I wanted to use 100% of the time. I thought Windows 8 was finally going to push me into being a Linux guy full-time. Then Windows 10 Technical Preview came out and I realized I can’t give up Windows. As long as I can use all my old favorite programs I’ll be tied to those programs forever, and if Windows doesn’t get too weird, I’ll always want to stick with Microsoft.

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Does that mean I’ll be using Windows in the 2020s and 2030s and even the 2040s?  I don’t know. My friend Mike has switched to Macs, and I’ve used Macs at work since the 1980s. I love Macs, but I’m too cheap to own one. If Apple sold a $99 copy of OS X to put on a cheap Intel box I might have become a Mac user long ago. But they didn’t, and I never bought one. I still help friends with their Macs, and when I do, I have no trouble using the operating system, but it’s not the old comfortable operating system that Windows has come to be for me.

Years ago, just as Windows 95 was coming out, I helped a retiring professor set up a computer he planned to have for the rest of his life. He wanted DOS and Wordstar 3.3. That’s what he knew and loved, and that’s what he wanted to stick with. I wonder if he’s ever modernized? But don’t we all become addicted to what we know? I have a friend who recently got married and her husband talked her into switching to a Mac. She’s having a very hard time. He was positive Macs were so easy to use that she would be won over. It hasn’t worked out that way. She’s extremely non-techie, and what little computer skills she has are completely adapted to Windows.

I’m not sure desktop Linux will ever catch on. First off, there’s no such thing as desktop Linux, there’s endless Linux distributions, each based on a different desktop UI, each configured by some distro dude, in his image of user perfection. Linux has become so Balkanized that its almost impossible to stick with any kind of consistency. The reason I hated Windows 8 is because Microsoft abandoned the desktop metaphor and wanted to force full-screen windows on us. I don’t mind my tablet or smartphone not using a desktop metaphor, but I sure as hell want my desktop computer to use it.

If Windows is always reasonably close to what Windows 7 is, I’ll probably stick to it. I know we like to think the future will always bring us dazzling new inventions, but I’m quite happy with the keyboard, mouse and desktop UI. I’m quite anxious to have larger, higher resolution monitors, and slicker, more sophisticated software, but I’m a stuck in the rut of the desktop metaphor. One thing I hate about the new Windows 10 is they moved away from the old way of showing files and folders, pushing us towards a Metro look. I’m hoping protests will bring back the old way, or I can just find a way to configure the old look. Those colored squares are downright ugly.

I guess Microsoft feels compelled to change things to justify selling us a new version of the OS, but I don’t want too much change. I just want Windows to always become more rock-solid. If Windows 11 looked exactly like Windows 10, but just had a way under the hood to repel all virus attacks and malicious software, I’d buy that upgrade. If Windows 12 protected my files with unlimited versioning, and automatic backups to the cloud that was as secure as my money in the bank, I’d buy it too even if it looked exactly like Windows 10.

Microsoft needs to quit moving my cheese.

Over time, don’t we all become fuddy-duddys about how we like to do things? Won’t we all become fussy old coots who get irate if someone moves our icons? Won’t we all throw geezer tantrums when Microsoft or Apple tries to make us learn new stuff? I don’t mind useful new features, or elegant ways to integrate functionality, but I don’t want my old ways of doing things thrown out. I guess I’m becoming an old fart. Sorry. (No, I’m not.)

JWH

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Every fall, I look forward to the Best American series coming out, especially the Best American Science and Nature Writing. The 2014 annuals collects the best of what was published in 2013. If you’re not much of a magazine reader, these annual volumes of essays, short stories, travel writing, mystery stories, sports stories, comics, and even infographics, is a great way to read the best-of-the-best of periodical journalism. I usually get the volumes for short stories, essays and science and nature writing. There also a volume from another publisher, The Best American Science Writing that follows the same format of having a series editor with a yearly guest editor. Between the two, it’s an easy way to keep up with a broad range of scientific studies. They aren’t technical, but extremely well-written reporting of science related news, so even people who aren’t science geeks will enjoy them.

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I’m listing the table of contents for the Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014 with links to those articles still available on the web, so you can sample the writing. The Kindle edition at $8.52 is a cheap way to have inspiring short reads on your mobile device – and the paper copy is only $14.95 at your favorite bookstore. Amazon offers a free sampler of the 2012 Best American series, the collects pieces from all the different subject anthologies. For science and nature this year, we have:

  1. Mixed Up” by Katherine Bagley
  2. The Great Forgetting” by Nicholas Carr
  3. The Social Life of Genes” by David Dobbs
  4. What Our Telescopes Couldn’t See” by Pippa Goldschmidt
  5. A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA” by Amy Harmon
  6. A Life-or-Death Situation” by Robin Marantz Henig
  7. 23 and You” by Virginia Hughes
  8. “Why the Brain Prefers Paper” by Ferris Jabr
  9. “O-Rings” by Sarah Stewart Johnson
  10. “When Animals Mourn” by Barbara J. King
  11. Where It Begins” by Barbara Kingsolver
  12. Danger! This Mission to Mars Could Bore You to Death!” by Maggie Koerth-Baker
  13. The Lost World” by Elizabeth Kolbert
  14. Awakening” by Joshua Lang
  15. Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future” by Maryn McKenna
  16. The Return of Measles” by Seth Mnookin
  17. Ants Go Marching” by Justin Nobel
  18. TV as Birth Control” by Fred Pearce
  19. The Madness of Planets” by Corey S. Powell
  20. Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene” by Roy Scranton
  21. Under Water” by Kate Sheppard
  22. “Twelve Ways of Viewing Alaska’s Wild, White Sheep” by Bill Sherwonit
  23. “The Separating Sickness” by Rebecca Solnit
  24. “Trapline” by David Treuer
  25. The Rebirth of Gorongosa” by E. O. Wilson
  26. Bringing Them Back to Life” by Carl Zimmer

These Best American volumes are perfect for ebook reading. Most people hate reading off their computer screens, and few people read magazines anymore, even when they subscribe. I know many people now that have discovered reading books on their smartphones, so these anthologies of shorter pieces are perfect for reading when you have an idle moment now and then.

Some of these stories are philosophical or political in nature, like “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene” by Roy Scranton, who uses his experiences as a soldier in Iraq to contemplate the inevitable consequences of climate change. Or Pippa Goldschmidt’s “What Our Telescopes Couldn’t See” about her time as an astronomer looking at quasars, and then turning her gaze back to events on Earth. A profound philosophical statement is made by Nicholas Carr in “The Great Forgetting” questioning how much of human endeavors should we share with machines.

Many of the stories are like the terrific “Ants Go Marching” by Justin Nobel, who chronicles the fascinating history of fire ants in America, and his travels around the south visiting folks battling the invasion. Fire ant armies might sound scary, but what’s terrifying is “Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future” by Maryn McKenna. I watched a documentary on PBS Frontline about diseases resistant to antibiotics recently, and it’s far scarier than Ebola, and about equally horrifying as Climate Change.

And don’t let me leave you thinking that all science stories are scary. There’s some good news reports like, “TV as Birth Control” by Fred Pearce, which chronicles how television is helping reduce the population growth in India.

Stories about science, nature and technology really are stories about humans adapting to their environment. We’re constantly at war with Mother Nature, often killing ourselves in our own friendly fire. The history of science is one of humanity making tremendous mistakes, but the overall trends shows we’re learning more and more every year. Humans are the primary cause of climate change – we the primary cause of most changes on the Earth right now. We change everything we touch. We have a long track record of fucking things up, but we’re learning to do better. We’re in a great race – can we learn enough to save ourselves before we make ourselves extinct. We’re in an exciting dead heat at the moment. Most of these stories are reports from the front, about various battles to conquer ourselves.

JWH

The Future of My Trick or Treaters

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 31, 2014

Tonight while I sat near my front door waiting for the kids to come begging for candy I read The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. This is a very slight book, only 105 pages, that costs $6.31 for the Kindle edition. I read it so fast that I felt it should be priced like a Kindle Single, probably at $1.99. However, what it has to say should make you do at least $6.31 worth of thinking. If I reread it several times I’ll probably get a hundred bucks worth of thoughts out of it because it does present a tremendous amount information to think about. It condenses many heavy-duty ideas into powerful phrases and concepts.

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Oreskes and Conway are known for their brilliant Merchants of Doubt which explains how conservative politics corrupts science to achieve its goals. Their new book is a kind of science fiction story, set in 2393 and told from a future Chinese historian about how the failure to heed science’s warnings led to The Great Collapse of 2093. It accuses science and scientists of being too timid in it’s statements about climate change.

As I frequently got up from six o’clock to nine, to give handfuls of candy to little kids in their Halloween costumes, I imagined their futures. Many will live to see 2093. If Oreskes and Conway are right, they will see more upheaval and misery than we saw in the 20th century. The Collapse of Western Civilization is the scariest horror book I’ve ever read on Halloween. It’s too bad I couldn’t have filled their sacks with science books, instead of sugary addictions.

Oreskes’ and Conway’s main points boldly states our political ideology and economic theories are outdated for dealing with climate change and the current mass extinction. We are doomed, we know how and why, and we choose to do nothing about it. Human life will not come to an end, but the effects of carbon pollution will be devastating.

Climate change deniers shout that science hasn’t offered enough proof is ridiculous. Oreskes and Conway claim science has the proof, and accuse scientists of being too timid to promote their results. The authors assert that scientists feel that unless they have 95 percent testable certainty they shouldn’t speak out. But if you were told you had a 10 percent change to contracting Ebola you’d panic. The collective results about climate change is often 95-100%, and yet we ignore it. If you were told going to a shopping mall or flying in an airplane involved a 1% chance of catching Ebola you wouldn’t go. Yet, science is confidently saying our children have a 95-100% chance of having a catastrophic future and we ignore it.

After reading The Collapse of Western Civilization I started The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014. Reading the introduction to the collected essays I knew if I took the time I could list 1,000 examples of how climate change is impacting us now. One of the first essays I read was how animals species all over the world are mixing with their cousins to produce hybrid species because of changing habitats caused by climate change. This is not new or unnatural, but the frequency is. One example they give is the mating of grizzly bears with polar bears. I could probably list 1,000 different hybrids to get to my 1,000 example count, or I could use it as just 1 of 1,000 and still find 999 articles about other specific examples of climate change happening now.

It is insane to deny climate change. To promote ones self-interest over the future of mankind is a crime against humanity. The Republican Party has a good chance of taking back the Senate in this week’s mid-term election. Their political religion is the exact wrong solution for saving the Earth. But Obama and the Democrats have done nothing significant to help either. The free hand of capitalism will always ignore the future. Choosing a smaller government and deregulation is sticking our heads in the sand and our asses up in the air. The trouble is every citizen of this country, of this world, must change the way they live. We need to go cold turkey on our wasteful way of living.

JWH

Blogging, Aging and Maintaining Mental Abilities

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 31, 2014

It’s amazing how some old sayings reflect unfathomably deep wisdom. Two of which that come to mind are “Use it or lose it” and “You don’t know what you’ll miss until it’s gone.” Some of these old sayings don’t become relevant until you’re old, which is a shame, because such knowledge would give the young a savvy advantage. It’s always difficult to predict what to keep using until you need it in the future.

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Take handwriting. Until a few weeks ago when I discovered it was gone and I missed it, I never gave it two thoughts. When I had a pinched nerve in my neck and couldn’t type for a few weeks, I truly missed the ability to write in cursive. Now that I can type again, I’ll probably forget that I really needed to write without a machine. I’m sure one day I’ll again regret the loss of that skill, so I should practice it now. But I won’t, will I?

The trick now is to recognize the skills we do wish to keep, and keep practicing them. Blogging has taught me the value of practicing verbal skills. Both for writing and speaking. If I stop blogging for any length of time I feel my ability to use words begin to fade. It’s subtle, but it’s there. If I go without writing long enough, it’s not even subtle.

When I was younger, and watching my father’s generation of men die off, my uncles and other older guys I knew, seemed to withdraw into themselves as the years passed by, and talked less and less. I know I’m making crude generalizations here, but men, and maybe women, seem to lose their conversational abilities as wrinkles become more numerous. When I was young I assumed aging involved a withdrawal from life, either from boredom, lack of interest, or a diminishing urge for self-expression. Now I wonder if it’s a fading ability to communicate. Either put words together into concise thoughts, or lose the ability.

When I don’t blog my mental muscles to shape paragraphs gets flabby. Since most of my friends are women, I tend to spend most of my time listening. I’ve lost the ability to argue, and my verbal skills of discussing ideas are beginning to fade too. When I do talk to men, our old ability to battle with words has been lost to a détente of friendship.  My old buddies are guys that I agree with, and I’ve given up on confrontational acquaintances. Maybe I should be more aggressive in my blog writing and find some wordy foes to spar with.

If the only thing you do is watch television, then the only skills you’ll have when you get old is sitting and watching. Maybe that’s why all the old men I knew stopped talking?

Every time I write an essay I can feel my brain working out. It’s like being at the gym and pumping iron – I can feel I’m lifting heavier concepts with systematic practice. I doubt blogging is for everyone, but I expect everyone needs some kind of verbal exercise that includes both conversation and writing. And it may even help to learning handwriting again.

JWH – Happy Halloween