If anything characterizes what I think is funny, it’s “slightly over-researched stuff”. So here’s some pieces that exemplify that. When Time Came To New Jersey was somehow not that week’s long-form piece, but rather just a little something dashed off because I got to thinking about the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. And the question it raises I still haven’t answered, although I also haven’t asked any of the many people I in principle could to get some kind of answer.
In Why I Never Finish Just Reading A Stupid Book Already I get thrown off a book about usury and debt by a casual line about what the Secretary of the Treasury was doing in 1853. So I’m not just a person who reads about a history of usury and debt but also thinks about the change of office between Secretaries of the Treasury that happened in 1853.
And then in What Causes People To Sometimes Read About Canada there I go again, reading about the prelude to the British North America Act of 1867 (oh hey, happy birthday and stuff there) gets me thinking about the nature of boredom.
If you needed something else to read, here Twenty Books About Things That Changed The World and I thought I had read a majority of them. Huh.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index fell 29 points today as analysts and traders realized suddenly the year was half-over and they were just starting to feel good about that when they realized there was as much 2017 yet to come? And actually even more 2017 since the 30th of June is only the 181st day of the year and there’s 184 left in the year if we see the whole thing after all.
I’m still laughing about the end of the Silver Bells In The City parade last November, when it got really wet all of a sudden. Also I’m still drying out. So I wanted to give people another chance to read about it. Also after that I got to see how the event played on TV, and it wasn’t any less wonderful. Plus, hey, my continuing fascination with how it is that somehow calendars work. It seems to me there’s something weird going on there that someone ought to do something about explaining.
And then, here Writing To Be Read, my observations about ways to tailor one’s writing so that it can achieve popularity. Reading over it I realize how little I do to try to be easily read. Meanwhile two years later An Open Letter To, Really, Every Social Media Ever gets to be one of those social-commentary pieces I read while either chuckling or despairing and I’m not sure which. So you’re sure to love it!
Carrying on pointing out old stuff I’ve done: somewhere along the way I learned that I live in an interesting area. I mean, I’m probably the sort of person who can’t help finding the place he lives interesting, because I love looking at things and the harder you pay attention the more you notice how much of it doesn’t quite make sense. But for a while I was cagey about saying just where I was, lest A Chaos Fairy send agents out after me. But eventually I got to see the appeal of using my actual location for stuff.
The first breakthrough? Escape to Lansing,, inspired by a web site the city put together for a trade group sent to South By Southwest. It left me with all sorts of questions like whether other cities have business districts that support the existence of screen doors.
Anyway, Trending In Mid-Michigan continues on that thread, and mixes it with some of the local history that I’ve gotten to learn about. Also a really big piece of coal that might or might not be right by the pet shop with the river of giant koi you can feed. I went on the next week to look at more stuff that isn’t actually in town anymore, or that is a little bit inaccessible because there isn’t really a good street crossing near it.
And, finally, what the heck. Curiosities on the Highway observes some stuff from 70 miles per hour. They raised the speed limit in some areas to 75 now.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
After rising twelve points in brisk market talk traders for the Another Blog, Meanwhile index paused, looked at each other, and asked “what have done?” because, wow, 281? How could it have got up this high from a humble origin at like 100?
I need another low-impact, low-effort week so I’m going to do another round of posting to some of my older stuff and hoping new readers exist and will give them a try. Also, there’s comic strip stuff on my mathematics blog that maybe you’ll like too.
So. Here’s a piece that was called What You Missed At Karaoke Night until I realized there was a Sparks song that made a better reference. By Sparks I mean the long-running Ron and Russell Mael band. If you haven’t heard Sparks, you should give them a try. This thing started as a Statistics Saturday post and kept growing because it was easier to keep going until it was 700+ words rather than to edit it down.
What You Missed At Open Mike Night follows a similar path, and it’s one I like. A lot of little modest jokes that add up to a satisfying piece.
That feels a little thin overall so let me also put in one of my slightly deeper social-critique pieces. Personality: Can Something Be Done About This? is one of those observational bits that I think is good, but is maybe two rewrites away from being great. Maybe I’ll do that sometime when I need another low-impact week.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose seven points today on rumors that there was some kind of debenture in need of examination or maybe coming due or something and that’s left everyone in a good mood of feeling all financial and whatnot.
To close out Me Week, how about some of lists of stuff that I liked?
And because the world is confusing and hurt-y, here’s one more. The Ingredients List For Libby’s 29 oz Can of 100% Pure Pumpkin brings a refreshing calm and sense of place to everything. I hope this helps.
When I was barely old enough to understand any of the editorial page writers, I understood and loved Art Buchwald’s Thanksgiving-Explained-To-French-People essay. The love’s stayed with me. A good nonsense explanation is maybe perfectly fitted to my attitudes. I love learning things, and yet, I love seeing the form of exposition smashed and scattered about and rebuilt into gibberish. It’s a tough mode to get right. It needs to have a strong enough factual backbone that the piece has the grammar of explanations. But it also needs a strong enough whimsical and absurdist backbone to carry the reader through.
How To Write Out Numbers, from April 2014, is one of my attempts at this that I’m happy with. In it I get to blend my love of mathematics with my deep interest in copy editing and standard-setting. I know what sort of person this makes me, but maybe you’ll also like it. If you don’t, that’s all right. We still probably have some things we can talk about.
One of the essays I’m happiest with was Working Out The World. That’s from May 2015. It was inspired by some of the baffling things we were asked to do as students. And it got into some mulling over what jobs are, and what kids understand jobs are. I grant that in many ways I was a nerdy, oblivious child, but I never really quite understood what grown-ups did all day. A couple tasks I understood but they didn’t seem to quite fill a whole job, much less a career. Decades on, I’m still not really good about it. I don’t think I’m alone, but, maybe other people do.
I think the line about “what’s a job to a kid? It’s just a place adults go to become tired and unhappy somehow” is maybe the most Ian Shoalesian thing I’ve written. If it isn’t, it’s only because identifying corporations as the imaginary friends of an adult who had money edged it out. I don’t think I quite manage the transition to the closing paragraph right, but the closing paragraph is where everything falls apart.
I love learning stuff. I always have. The world’s full of astounding things and who among us has been astounded too much? Occasionally, learning something fires my imagination in strange ways.
In November 2013, this led me to write Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver, as my love let me in on the absolutely unsecret point that Socrates had a job. And not an esoteric sort of job, rather, but the sort of job that any of us might have. Well, any of our fathers might have, since I’m from Generation X, and we don’t have jobs because Baby Boomers can’t afford to retire and Millennials oh just don’t get us started.
Learning stuff pays dividends, too, in the form of filling the hungry web pages that need stuff written. In trying to add factual precision to a throwaway line in that Heidegger piece, I found something that surprised my love. Turns out Socrates held political office, possibly just the once in his life, and we both felt more in touch with the cosmic all for knowing this, and then, well, you know how it is when you learn stuff.
And then the day after that I got to wonder about: Ancient Greece. What the heck, guys? You should have been doing better. Fount of Western Civilization and all that but they had some real impulse-control problems. Just saying.
My love is a professional philosopher. This has encouraged me to pay more attention to philosophers. It’s a group of people I mostly know because a lot of philosophers were also mathematicians. For a long stretch there they were also lawyers and priests, but that’s just what you did if it was the middle ages and you didn’t want to be a serf, a boatman, or a miller.
Back in September 2013, we got to talking about Pythagoras, who’s renowned for being a cult leader that might have done something in mathematics or philosophy or both. It’s hard to say. But in Pythagoras and the Golden Middle-Ish I was enchanted by something I hadn’t heard about Pythagoras before. Yes, it’s got Olympics content, because of course, Pythagoras. You would.
If that hasn’t satisfied your interest in philosophers, here’s a little pop quiz you can take. No fair cheating!
I need to get myself a little more ahead of deadline than I can get just by writing something fresh every day. So I’m going to take most of this week and talk about one of my favorite writers: me. I’ve long been an influence on me, and have tried to let myself mould my writings into better forms. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of ways that I want to be funny and not all of them are exactly compatible.
One of my other big influences is Ian Shoales, stage persona of Merle Kessler. Now and then I write something that’s quite directly in his style of social commentary mixed with absurdity. I don’t run as absurd as he does, but then, I only intermittently get a good comment going.
So here I’d like to point to a January 2015 piece I wrote, very much in the Ian Shoales style. It’s titled The Fun Fact Of It All, and it’s inspired by a Peanuts page-a-day calendar, as will happen. I think it came across with some juicy ideas about facts and it maybe needs two drafts to really catch what I want. I was fibbing about Mrs Furey in this piece; she wasn’t, in truth, so careful about the nonsense of a potentially false fact. But it works well to have a character putting forth that point.