Tag: housekeeping

next steps

Work on the Invitation & Repair project has basically come to a halt, and there are three major reasons for that.

First of all, I really need to buckle down and get some work done on my project of editing Auden’s book The Shield of Achilles. I agreed to produce this edition a year or so ago, but thanks to Covid I’ve been unable to get into the archives of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, which is where the key manuscripts are located. The Ransom Center is still closed to the public, but I expect that it will be opening pretty soon and so it’s time for me to get started on this project.

Second, I’ve lined up the project that will follow that one. Years ago I had a wonderful time writing about the Book of Common Prayer for the Princeton University Press series Lives of Great Religious Books, and I’m delighted that I have the opportunity to write another volume in that series. This time my subject will be Milton’s Paradise Lost. More about that in due course.

The third reason for putting Invitation & Repair on hold is that it has recently become clear to me that while I have done a good bit of thinking about the techno element of technopoly, I haven’t thought enough about the poly element, that is to say the political and economic structures and practices that make it possible for digital technologies to dominate so much of our lives. I’ve come to realize that I really need to educate myself in political economy, with a particular eye towards understanding what Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” — with a special emphasis on what capitalism actually was, is, and might become — and also to try to figure out what plausible alternatives there are to that way of being in the world. I made a first stab at that when I wrote this essay on certain recent technological developments as a kind of distributism for creatives — and also, I guess, in the small things I’ve written about anarchism. But those are baby steps. So over the next couple of years, in my spare time, if I have any, I’m going to be trying to get a better understanding of the political economy of our moment. Because my imagination is reliably activated by fiction, one of the first things I’m going to do is read John Lanchester’s novel Capital.

Anyway, the Invitation & Repair idea continues to be important to me, but it’s going to be moving slowly for quite some time. You’re never too old to learn, but learning takes time. Which also means that there may not be much blogging here for a while, though I will still, I think, be posting photos to my micro.blog

bits and pieces

I am just back from a visit to my son in Chicago and the rest of my family in Alabama, and am still frazzled — I’m definitely out of traveling shape. Moving around the country was simultaneously delightful, exhausting, and (sometimes) disconcerting. One of the disconcerting elements was the almost complete absence of masks in Alabama, the least-vaccinated state in the USA. I’m now back in Waco, which seems by comparison to offer a model of responsible masking. As a native of Alabama, I want to say to my people back there: Just get vaccinated, and then ditch the masks. 

Anyway, here are a few things I might write about at greater length if I were a little more coherent and energetic. 

My friend the Rev. Jessica Martin has begun her Bampton Lectures at Oxford, and all signs point to a brilliant set of discourses. I am looking forward to listening to them all and talking copious notes. 

Re: this thoughtful post by another dear friend, Adam Roberts, if I were to write an essay for the Journal of Controversial Ideas I would make the argument that “gender” is a word that is meaningful only in the context of grammar.

Yet another dear friend — I have so many smart friends! They are amazing! — Rick Gibson, writes in the Hedgehog Review about “the newest inhabitants of ‘liquid modernity.’” I’ll definitely comment further on this one. 

Ted Gioia: “We have nurtured two sharply contrasting musical cultures over thousands of years. One celebrates conciliation and the settled life of the rural world, while the other revels in the nomadic triumphs of the fierce and passionate human predator.” Country music is for herders and their animals; drum-driven rock is for predators. 

Every summer needs a song, and pretty obviously this is the one for 2021. One note: it’s significant that Lake Street Dive has been around for about a decade and is very much an indie band. How can you tell? Because the song begins with a slow intro before kicking into that irresistible groove. A song calculated to maximize streaming-service revenue would never do that: because Spotify only pays artists for listens of 30 seconds or more, studios are forcing their songwriters to frontload their songs’ choruses. “Hypotheticals” as a composition is a relic of the past; we’ll get fewer and fewer songs structured that way. Another reason — along with that sweet groove and Rachael Price’s amazing voice — to appreciate a terrific pop-R&B throwback number. 

updates on this and that

In the wake of the jury’s determination that Derek Chauvin is guilty of the murder of George Floyd, I’ll just say that I stand firmly by what I wrote last August

I wish to align myself wholly with what Tish Harrison Warren says here about the “whole life movement.” Preach it, sister, I’m here for it all

In the wake of what appears to be the imminent collapse of the European Stupid League, I will just say that the most accurate and concise summary comes from Manchester City defender Aymeric Laporte: 

And in other positive news, I have added to my repertoire of media ecology essays with this entry at the Hog Blog on Substack (and other new platforms) as Distributism for writers and artists. 


On the one hand, it’s good to stretch yourself intellectually; on the other hand, when you do so you might pull a muscle. In my recent essay on Cosmotechnics, I got in over my head — delightfully so, for me, but it led to at least one embarrassing error.

In my first footnote I talk about Yuk Hui’s use of the word qi and I get it wrong. I received a very kind email from a Sinologist named Nils Wieland explaining my mistake:

qi 氣 is the Qi non-Chinese speakers have heard of as some sort of energy or spirit, which Yuk Hui romanizes as Ch’i.

qi 器 doesn’t have the same popularity, it’s a standard Chinese word meaning container, vessel or instrument, and it’s the Qi from Yuk Hui’s Dao-Qi-duality.

(Both qi’s sound exactly the same, so I guess differentiating them by romanization is a good approach; what’s odd is that he chose the nowadays standard Pinyin spelling for the less famous qi – throwing people off 😉 )

Dammit! I knew something like this had to be the case; you wouldn’t believe how long and fruitlessly I googled the question. Again, this is what happens when your reach exceeds your grasp — and (trying to be meaningfully self-reflective here) I think on some level I was afraid that if I contacted a Sinologist I’d get the information but would also be told that my whole essay was nonsense. And I really wanted to write that essay.

I also have received a very kind message from Tongdong Bai, whom I quote in my essay, pointing to other work of his on the political implications (or lack thereof) of Daoism. Nils Wieland suggested some further reading too. So while I am embarrassed at my rookie error I have some interesting next steps to take in this project.

a reflection

Þere parfit treuthe and pouere herte is and pacience of tonge, Þere is charitee.

Piers Plowman

“Patience” is the title of the essay about Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life that I published earlier this year, just as everything was beginning to go all lopsided.

Patience (patientia) is related to passion (passio). Both connote suffering and the endurance of suffering; the acceptance with dignity of what cannot, and sometimes should not, be avoided; the willingness to wait until this present darkness passes. Jesus bore his passion with patience; those who endure to the end, who are likewise patient in their suffering, will be saved.

I try to cultivate patience because I am commanded to do so. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12), says St. Paul, who also begs me “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1–2). And does not the book of Proverbs (15:18) teach me that “Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife, but those who are slow to anger calm contention”?

I try to cultivate patience because I am by nature — as my family will quickly and perhaps eagerly tell you — extremely impatient. In public life I am easily frustrated by what I believe to be intellectual error, especially if I think that error stems from a lack of charity. Uncharity makes us all stupid, and my tendency to be uncharitable to the uncharitable is one of my worst faults. Reflecting on that sober fact led me, some years ago, to make a case for the canonization of Jonathan Swift.

I try to cultivate patience especially along three intersecting axes: the ecclesial, the political, and the technological. I am especially interested in the ways that our dominant communications technologies mediate both political life and religious life, and entangle those with each other. (Anyone who has lived through the Trump Era will not need me to explain what I mean.) Especially our social media tend to make us madly impatient with disagreement and difference and to try to quash dissent through words and actions alike. We might demand that everyone be with us wholly or against us wholly; we might long for a King who will rout our enemies and bring about perfect unity.

But anyone pursuing such practices has succumbed to the temptation to immanentize the eschaton. And the only remedy for that particular temptation is to practice patience. And you will only do that if you understand the real import — which is political as well as spiritual — of the parable of the wheat and the weeds, about which I wrote, some years ago, here. In the end, we are told, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” but to live now, to live in “the time being,” is to live, with as much patience as we can manage, in the plural world. That is why I have written a good deal recently about plurality:

But any attempt to live patiently in plurality meets with profound resistance from the gods of our age, who want us to live wholly and reactively in the present, who teach us fear and loathing of the past, what I call palaiphobia. We can begin to overcome that, begin to escape the direhose, first by understanding that our current social hatreds are driven by fundamentally religious impulses.

And then, equipped with that understanding, we can practice listening to the voices of the past; attending to the apparently irrelevant; cultivating handmind; learning to be idiots. And on basis of all that, we can then, perhaps, make a bet on mutuality.

A last word: For the past couple of years I have become more and more convinced that there are vital resources for those of us who want to cultivate patience, who want to be peaceable towards others, who are drawn towards technologies that help us to be more peaceable and patient, in the philosophical tradition of Daoism. (As opposed to Daoism as a religion, in which I am not interested. I follow Jesus.) That’s why I published this essay, the writing of which, as I recently said to a friend, felt like “opening a door for myself — but I still don’t know what lies on the other side of that door.”

Because I want to pursue this new direction, I expect 2021 to be a quieter year for me. I want to write as much as ever, but I think patience now requires me to consider and reflect more while posting and publishing less. Of course, there’s a part of me that hopes that a time of silence will in the long run yield essays and books. But one of my goals for the next year is to make that part of me less vocal, less dominant.


I normally don’t respond to reviews, either positive or negative, but because I’m getting a good deal of email about this:

— I’ll make three brief comments.

  1. My book isn’t a defense of great books, at all; it’s an argument for encountering the past. Only one chapter (Chapter 4) deals with reading the classics as such. Elsewhere in the book I refer to texts that are usually designated as classics or great books, but that designation isn’t relevant to my use of them: what matters to me is that they are old.
  2. Callard speculates on who my audience might be, but there’s no need for speculation: I say in the Introduction that it’s readers who are in need of a more tranquil mind.
  3. In her review Callard asks, “Could it be that those of us whose connection with the past is supposed to be rock solid, who are supposed to profess the deepest and most abiding love of great books, are struggling with our own attention problems?” And she suggests I write about that. But I already did, a decade ago. And then again a few years later.

UPDATE: So now, thanks to this review, I am getting emails from people about my “defense of the classics,” my “advocacy for great books,” and my “defense of the literary canon” — none of which are in any way the subject of my book. (I don’t even mention “the literary canon.”) None of these people have read my book, of course; they’re just assuming that a review in the Wall Street Journal couldn’t possibly have misdescribed the content of the book. I think this must be what Rod Dreher feels like when people who have not read a single word of The Benedict Option opine confidently about their agreement or disagreement with its argument, because of some review or (more likely) some tweet they read. I’m now realizing how blessed I have been over the years that most of the negative reviews of my books have responded to what I actually wrote. 

summary, with tags

I’ve spent some time recently sorting through my online writings, and it’s not easy, given my susceptibility to logorrhea. But I’m thinking it would be useful to summarize a few things.

First, I have links to all of my recent essays and the various sites at which I have written over the years on my home page, so please check that out if you’re interested.

Second, I want to talk about this here site. My posts here are organized by tag, or mostly they are — I have never been as disciplined or consistent about tagging as I should be. But I’ve done some work lately to clean things up, which has been useful in part because there are some topics that I had been thinking of writing about that, it turns out, I have already written about. Quelle surprise.

Anyway, I’m thinking it could be useful for me to summarize the key themes of this blog by listing some of the most frequently used tags.

  • Here I write on themes associated with my book How to Think — largely cognitive errors of various kinds.
  • Here I write about whether there is such a thing as a “Christian intellectual” and, if there is, what sort of person that might be.
  • It seems that I have written a good bit on that vexed term evangelical.
  • I have posts on the Christian life and posts specifically on theology — though I’m not sure I do a good job of distinguishing those.
  • I’ve written about Left Purity Culture (LCP) and race and racism.
  • I’ve written too much about politics here, but let this one post stand for what I most deeply and consistently think about politics. The posts specifically on pluralism reflect something I think about a lot. Likewise my posts on ethics.
  • Here I write about certain pathologies and absurdities of academic life, and here I write about the nature and character of the university more generally.
  • There are some lovely images in my posts on architecture and drawing, many of which feature John Ruskin.
  • In addition to Ruskin, I have posts on several thinkers who have been especially important to me over the years, including Rowan Williams, W. H. Auden, and Michael Oakeshott.

And finally, I have written some things that I want to revisit, for my own sake, on the uses and purposes of blogging:

This has been a useful exercise for me because it reminds me that, when I look at this blog along with my published essays, I’ve said all I ever need to say about a great many subjects. I don’t have to revisit the “What is an evangelical?” question again. I have fully developed my Unified Theory of Wokeness. I have no new thoughts about the character of the university and where it’s headed.

Moreover, with the release of Breaking Bread with the Dead I have completed my Pedagogical Trilogy, which is to say, I have now related for the benefit of the public pretty much everything I have learned as a teacher. For the next year or so I will be working on my critical edition of Auden’s Shield of Achilles and focusing on teaching, which will be challenging. So this will be a good time for me to do a lot of slow thinking about what to do next. I’ve got some ideas — but I want them to simmer slowly on the back burner for quite some time.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this I have commenced a series, likely to be quite lengthy, called Invitation and Repair.

The Shield of Achilles

I’ve prepared two critical editions of long poems by Auden: The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (originally published in 1947) and For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio (originally published in 1944). I love this kind of job.

It requires patient and thorough archival work — Auden’s notebooks and manuscripts are scattered in several locations, but the work he did after his move to America is largely held in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library and in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas — and meticulous attentiveness to variations in published work. This latter is especially important for Auden, who was an inveterate reviser.

Then, once you have established the text, you have to annotate it carefully — not the easiest thing with a poet as learnedly allusive as Auden — and provide a synoptic introduction that will make difficult poetry comprehensible to its readers without inserting your own personality and preferences.

And maybe that’s what I like best about textual editing, and especially the preparation of a critical edition: Not one element of the job is about me. It’s completely focused on Auden, and on connecting him to his readers and potential readers. And then there’s this: Not one of the monographs I have written will last nearly as long as these editions will.

So I am extremely pleased to say that I am going to be editing another book of Auden’s — though this one will be a rather different enterprise. This time it’s not a long poem, but, in a first for the Auden Critical Editions series, a collection of lyric poems, The Shield of Achilles (1955). This is worth doing because of all Auden’s collections — counting them is complicated, but there are around ten — The Shield of Achilles is the most carefully organized and internally coherent. Individual lyrics, including the great title poem, sit in the middle of the collection, bookended by two magnificent sequences, “Bucolics” and “Horae Canonicae.” Teasing out the complex relations among these texts, and understanding the whole that they make, will be challenging but deeply enjoyable.

I am able to commence this task thanks to the invitation of Edward Mendelson, Auden’s best critic, literary executor, and editor of his complete works, and to the agreement of the fine folks at Princeton University Press. This will be my fourth time working with PUP, and the previous projects have been the best publishing experiences of my life, so I am looking forward to this more than I can easily say.

IMG 1175 2

a few items added

One little project that I’ve been working on as time allows — and time very rarely allows — is to move some things I’ve written from somewhere else online where they might disappear to this here site o’ mine. Here are three essays I originally published on Medium before I decided that Medium is a deceptive hellhole: 

And one more thing, not published elsewhere: An annotated anthology I was invited to edit — and then disinvited. 

summing up

I said in my previous post that I would be taking a break from this blog, but it occurred to me that a good way to mark that break would be to take a look back at the decade that’s just now concluding (or that everyone thinks is just now concluding, except for the precisians who insist that the decade will end a year from now).

For my family, it’s been eventful. Teri and I moved to Texas after twenty-nine years in Illinois, and have come to love Texas very much. Our son graduated from college and started his own life as a grown-ass man. I once again became a member of an Episcopal parish, something that in 2010 I would have deemed inconceivable. I entered my sixties. I am still a teacher.

I published six books, a few dozen articles, hundreds of blog posts, and thousands of tweets. I regret all the tweets and some of the blog posts. The rest of the blog posts did no harm, but also did precious little good. Given that I don’t regret the books or the articles, maybe I should focus on that kind of thing in the decade to come.

I miss Books & Culture, and the First Things that was: for many years those were my two periodical-publishing homes. I now write for several venues that I never imagined I would be able to write for, but I would have been very happy to spend the whole of my career writing long reviews for Books & Culture and essays for First Things. Now B&C is defunct and FT is not interested in the kind of thing I write — which is fair enough, I suppose, because I’m not interested in the kind of thing they now publish.

The world overall is not in the worst shape it could be in, but online life seems to be chiefly a cesspool. I am glad that it is only a part of life; I hope that in the coming decade it will be, for me and for others, a decreasing part. One can always hope.

I won’t say that I’ll never return here, but right now I feel that the blogging season of my life, which started around 2007, is over. I’m excited about the work to come, the reading and thinking and writing that awaits me, and I’m especially excited about doing all of it in a less internet-connected way.

A blessed next decade to us all!

unforthcoming attractions

This is why algorithmic time is so disorienting and why it bends your mind. Everything good, bad, and complicated flows through our phones, and for those not living some hippie Walden trip, we operate inside a technological experience that moves forward and back, and pulls you with it. Using a phone is tied up with the relentless, perpendicular feeling of living through the Trump presidency: the algorithms that are never quite with you in the moment, the imperishable supply of new Instagram stories, the scrolling through what you said six hours ago, the four new texts, the absence of texts, that text from three days ago that has warmed up your entire life, the four versions of the same news alert. You can find yourself wondering why you’re seeing this now — or knowing too well why it is so. You can feel amazing and awful — exult in and be repelled by life — in the space of seconds. The thing you must say, the thing you’ve been waiting for — it’s always there, pulling you back under again and again and again. Who can remember anything anymore?

Buzzfeed. It’s really great to be out of all this. I’ve been away from Twitter and Instagram for more than a year now, and the thought of going back to either of them prompts nightmares. Partly, but not wholly, because of my recent troubles with WordPress, I have even become disillusioned with this blog. Step by step by step I’m removing more of my life from the online world.

I still love posting to my Pinboard page and writing my newsletter, so those are the primary places to find me in 2020. It’s also possible that I will post the occasional photo here, though I’m not sure about that. I will have another little project to announce … later. But I expect I will make that announcement, and others, on my official home page. There won’t be much, if anything, going on here for the near future.

a partial fix

Still lots of weird things going on in my WordPress installation; a complete fix would take, yeeeesh, weeks probably. ButI’ve sorted out a few things. More of the recent posts at least should appear in the timeline, and the posts tagged “Christmas” should all be there. So there’s that. 

something strange

Some very strange stuff is happening to my blog right now. Many posts, at least recent ones, have disappeared from the homepage, though they’re still online and visible if you know the URL. At first I thought only photo posts were missing — see for instance this and this and this — but now I see that some text posts are missing also. And tags don’t seem to be working properly: some of them turn up no posts, others turn up only a few when there are in fact many. 

Ironically enough, one of the posts missing is one in which I admit that I don’t own my turf

I don’t know when I’ll get a fix. Other things are on my mind this Christmas Eve! 


One of the ongoing themes of my online life is accidental dispersal — I inadvertently accumulate sites of digital presence, and then at a certain point realize that I need to consolidate.

I realized recently that, as much as I enjoy having a blog devoted to soccer called The Pacey Winger, I just don’t post often about soccer to justify a dedicated blog. I also realized that I had created the blog in part because I thought that people who read the kinds of things I post here wouldn’t be interested in soccer — but you know what? Those people don’t have to read my soccer posts. Just pass them by, ain’t no big thing.

So here’s what I’m trying to do now: thoughts (about whatever) go here, and quotes — with, occasionally, a sentence or two of commentary — go on my Pinboard page. And that’s all.

There, I fixed it.

here and there

As some of you may have noticed, I’m not posting here very frequently. I think for the foreseeable future I’m only going to be using this blog for longer reflections — long by internet standards, anyway.

From day to day you’ll find me posting to my micro.blog account — and if you haven’t checked out micro.blog, please do! People sometimes describe micro.blog as a “Twitter replacement,” but that’s not quite right. It may be better to think of it as what services like Twitter and Instagram could have been if they had been devoted to the open web and not subservient to the demands of venture capital. It’s a great place for low-key connection with others, and the best possible way to get started in blogging. It’s not free, but then Twitter and Instagram aren’t free either — those services just make you may in currencies other than money. Micro.blog serves no ads, respects your privacy, and allows you to own your turf. Try it!

I continue to post bookmarks — with useful excerpts! — at my Pinboard page, which I have been using for … [checks site] … ten years and two weeks.

Finally, I think my newsletter is pretty fun — a bit of a break from the incessant seriousness of our political moment.

reasonably worthwhile blog posts from last year

It occurred to me recently that I do a lousy job of keeping track of my own blog posts — I regularly forget that I have written about something, and occasionally I discover a post that it would have been useful to me to remember. So I’m going to start keeping better records. As a beginning, here are the posts I wrote in 2018 that I want to remember:

interim tech report

Over the past year I’ve been making some significant changes to certain elements of my technological life — significant, but incremental and slow. I have tried not to change too many things at once, because when I’ve tried that in the past it has never worked out for me. Here’s a summary of my progress:

  • I deleted my Instagram account. (I have not had a Facebook account since 2007.)
  • I deactivated my Twitter account. I haven’t yet deleted it — I still wonder whether I might find a use for it some day. But I am not on Twitter and do not miss it, so deletion remains a possibility.
  • I have been using a Micro.blog account for short posts. The community there is almost wholly pleasant, but I have had just enough tense exchanges to make me wary. I feel that all of us have learned our social-media habits from Twitter and Facebook and it may take us a little time to become fully decent again.
  • I started a newsletter
  • I have almost completely eliminated reading daily news, which, for me, has primarily meant deleting news sites from my RSS reader.
  • I have shifted instead to reading more weekly and monthly magazines, especially in print, but sometimes on the Kindle. My new favorite magazine is The Economist — at which I looked askance for many years because I thought it a key mouthpiece of the neoliberal order, which it kinda is, but overall it’s a great magazine. I begin by reading the summary of the week’s news, and then turn with particular interest to reports from parts of the world that I wouldn’t ordinarily think about. It does a lot to put American kerfuffles into meaningful context.
  • I am moving more and more of my data out of the cloud, and am moving back towards regular backups to hard drives, supplemented by key files stored in Apple’s iCloud. I have pared back my use of Google Docs and Dropbox to the bare nub, and may well delete my Dropbox account altogether in the coming months.
  • I have moved all my online calendars from Google to iCloud, have moved my personal email from Gmail back to Fastmail — despite some problems I had with Fastmail last year, I am giving them another chance — and have deleted Google Maps from all my devices. (That last one is tough, because in my experience Apple Maps continues to be significantly inferior.) I have also moved to DuckDuckGo as my default, and since the move only, search engine. You can see where this is headed. Within a year I would like to have my Google account deleted.

Other than the Great De-Googling, a consummation devoutly to be wished, what do I hope to accomplish in the next year?

I want to go back to the analog system of task management that I had been using for a couple of years previous to this one. I am happiest and most focused when I track my responsibilities in a notebook, but last year I found myself, during a period of particular stress, nearly dropping a few balls, and that led me back to my favorite digital task manager, Things. Things is a beautiful and exceptionally well-designed app — those are two different things, by the way: some apps are beautiful without being well-designed, and vice versa — but I don’t want to get too dependent on it, because….

Mainly I want to eliminate day-to-day use of a smartphone. I don’t imagine that I can do without one altogether — they’re too valuable when traveling and in other special circumstances. But for my everyday life I want to get back to a dumbphone like the one I was using three years ago — before it stopped working with my network and the iPhone dragged me back in. (There’s a new and updated version of the Punkt.) I want a life in which I have only one internet-connected device, and that device is my laptop, and my laptop spends a lot of time in a bag.

A note for those of you who don’t look at my micro.blog: I have deleted my TinyLetter account and moved my newsletter to buttondown.email. If you have already subscribed through TinyLetter, you should also be subscribed to the new one. If you have not subscribed, you may do so here

TinyLetter woes

Screen Shot 2018 12 16 at 9 08 09 AM

Well, I was excited about my new newsletter until, four days in, I got the above message. TinyLetter kept asking me incomprehensible questions (“Is there a record available to support that each of these contacts have gone through an opt-in process?” — to which the answer is, Yes, and you have that record, since they’ve signed up through your form) but wouldn’t answer any of mine, and now have fallen silent. So at the moment it looks like the newsletter is dead before it even really gets started. But we’ll see. 

preview of coming distractions

I don’t think I’m flattering myself when I say that I have a fairly broad range of interests — and keeping track of all those interests has always been a challenge for me. I’ve mostly tried to do the online part of it by creating silos, so that people who care about only some of the things I care about don’t have to see a lot of stuff that bores them. The most general of those has been my Pinboard page. More focused sites include my blog on technologies of knowledge, Text Patterns; my soccer blog, The Pacey Winger; the blog for my book, How to Think; my long-neglected but still much-loved site Gospel of the Trees. That last is a coherent and self-sufficient project, but the others could conceivably be brought together — and there would be some advantage to me if they were. (Thanks in large part to the beauty of tags.) 

So I’m taking some steps in that direction. Interesting things I read that I have been posting to Pinboard I’ll now post here; and any reflections related to How to Think will be posted here also. Text Patterns will remain where it is, though I might cross-post more often; and I’m still thinking about what to do with The Pacey Winger. 

Anyway, it’s gonna be a little busier around here from now on. And I have some further ideas for how to make this place more interesting that I will share soon. 

farewell to Twitter?

(Cross-posted, with edits, from Text Patterns

A few weeks ago I deleted my private Twitter account — it was a good way to keep up with friends, but I found it impossible to control it (via disabled RTs, muted strings, etc.) well enough to prevent the frustration from exceeding the pleasure. That left me just with my public account, which I have been using primarily for linking to my own writing (e.g. blog posts like this one) and to cool things I’ve read by others. But I really really want to be out of the Twitter ecosystem completely — for obvious reasons: everybody knows that Twitter is horrible, there’s no need to belabor that point — so I have now deleted the public account too.

My chief concern with being off Twitter altogether is that I’ll be unable to provide a signal boost to people who are writing or making interesting things that other folks might not notice — and for that reason I could, I must admit, come back. So when Twitter notifies me, 29 days from now, that my account is about to be deleted, I might have a moment of weakness and log back in. (Twitter does prompt you when your account is about to be deleted … doesn’t it?)

I am aware, of course, that most people who read this blog get to it via my Twitter links, so I am perhaps making myself more marginal than ever. Who will even see this post? But if you happen to see it, and want to see more, please try RSS. It’s great. Most of the cool things I read or see are posted here, or on Text Patterns, or on my Pinboard page. And all of those have RSS feeds.

P.S. Have I written before about quitting Twitter? Have I quit Twitter before? Yes on both counts. I am pathetically irresolute. 

UPDATE (a few days later): Several people emailed me pleading with me to come back to Twitter, just for linkage. I guess for a great many people RSS is just a foreign technology. And since I can set up automatic posting to Twitter, why not? So that little experiment didn’t last long….

  1. Yes: ban porn. Ban it.
  2. A blessed Shrove Tuesday to you all.
  3. I’ll be back in Eastertide. Ciao for now.


I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but in between semesters I always take some time to re-evaluate how I’m spending my time, and over the last few weeks I’ve started implementing some fairly significant changes — especially in my online life.

Actually, I got a start on these changes a few months ago, when I said goodbye to Big Twitter. (I do visit from time to time but I don’t live there any more.) And then just in the past few days I set aside my Tumblr, which I had been faithfully updating for almost eight years. (My Gospel of the Trees site and my Book of Common Prayer tumblelog are effectively complete and have been for some time. I still like them, though.)

These two environments, Twitter and Tumblr, have something important in common, which they share with most social media sites: they invite you to measure people’s response to you. For many people this probably means nothing, but on me it has always had an effect. Over the years I developed a sense of how many RTs a tweet was likely to earn, how many reblogs or likes a Tumblr post would receive – and I couldn’t help checking to see if my guesses were right. I never really cared anything about numbers of followers, and for a long time I think I covertly prided myself on that; but eventually I came to understand that I wanted my followers, however many there happened to be, to notice what I was saying and to acknowledge my wit or wisdom in the currency of RTs and faves. And over time I believe that desire shaped what I said, what I thought – what I noticed. I think it dulled my brain. I think it distracted me from the pursuit of more difficult, challenging ideas that don’t readily fit into the molds of social media.

I started thinking seriously about these matters about a year ago, but after what was frankly a terrible 2014, marked by serious illness in my whole family and the death of my beloved father-in-law, I’m just now getting around to implementing what even then I knew I should do.

  • I’ll use Big Twitter (i.e. my public account) primarily for links and announcements.
  • I’ll use private Twitter to talk with my friends and family.
  • Instead of using Tumblr to create a commonplace book of fun images and snappy quotes, I’ll keep track of everything that interests me online on Pinboard, and much of it will be public. (This relieves me of a decision that I have had to make several times a day for the past few years: Does this go on Tumblr or Pinboard?)
  • Instead of using Tumblr to make brief and superficial commentary on whatever is current, I’ll use this space to write less frequently but at greater length on issues that have more lasting significance. I think often of a comment by the great computer scientist Donald Knuth about email: “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.” Tumblr and Big Twitter were for me ways of staying on top of things, but while I am no Donald Knuth, I need to get closer to the bottom of things than I have been for the past few years. This here site is where I’ll be doing that online.
  • I’ll be reading some books along with select groups of people and discussing them either in-person or online. (Amazing how that kind of environment tends to produce both accountability and coherent conversations.)
  • I will of course continue to work on my current book project, to write for Books & Culture, possibly to get back to writing for the Atlantic.

I won’t be writing less, nor will I be producing fewer words online, I suspect. But they’ll come in larger chunks, and I’ll either be getting paid for it or working out less coherent and fully-formed thoughts right here on my own turf, where Google Analytics isn’t installed, where comments are not enabled, and where, therefore, I don’t have the first idea how many people are reading this or whether they like it.

This is a test

This is a test. This is only a test.


hello and welcome

Following the advice of many wise people, I’m beginning to move my online writing away from prefabricated services and to my own turf. It’ll probably take a while for me to make this transition fully, so consider this a placeholder for action that is to come. I’ll be doing some test posts in the coming days and weeks.