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, these days I do most of my posting — largely photos and links — at my page, and in this post I explain why I do that and why you also should consider doing it.

Third, 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 wokeness 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 imminent release of Breaking Bread with the Dead — see link to purchase at the top of this page! — 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.

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.

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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 account — and if you haven’t checked out, please do! People sometimes describe 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. 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 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.

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….


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.

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.