Worthwhile Reading

Seven Questions

When I went on the Big Trip back in ’91 (and yes, I will be continuing that saga shortly, I promise), I had the notion of setting up a table in the town diner of every new town I landed in, putting up a little sign that said, “Tell me a true story, I’ll pay you a dollar.” And I’d sit there with pen, paper, and tape recorder, ready to interview anyone brave enough to sit down opposite me.

I never did it, of course. But I think I will next time I take a long road trip.

In 2006 a blogger I admire, in an attempt to get lurkers to come out of lurk mode, offered to interview readers if they would post the interview in their own blogs. A year and a half later, a more highfalutin’ version of the project (apparently unrelated to my acquaintance’s offer) appeared on another blogger’s site:

Did you ever notice that whenever some expert is being interviewed on Oprah or the Today show, the person just happens to have a book coming out the following week? It’s as it wasn’t important to tell us the cure for cancer until the guy’s book comes out, and then they don’t even tell you the cure so you have to buy the book. Continue reading

Categories: The Interview Project, Worthwhile Reading | 14 Comments

From A to Zyxt

by Nicholson Baker, The New York Times

Ammon Shea, a sometime furniture mover, gondolier and word collector, has written an oddly inspiring book about reading the whole of the Oxford English Dictionary in one go. Shea’s book resurrects many lost, misshapen, beautifully unlucky words — words that spiraled out, like fast-decaying muons, after their tiny moment in the cloud chamber of English usage. There’s hypergelast (a person who won’t stop laughing), lant (to add urine to ale to give it more kick), obmutescence (willful speechlessness) and ploiter (to work to little purpose) — all good words to have on the tip of your tongue when, for example, you’re stopped for speeding.

Shea’s book offers more than exotic word lists, though. It also has a plot. “I feel as though I am eating the alphabet,” he writes halfway through, and you want him to make it to the end. This is the Super Size Me of lexicography. Continue reading

Categories: Language, Words, Worthwhile Reading | Leave a comment


From an online forum:

Many of my friends in their 30s are starting to play around with psychedelics again. Mushrooms & LSD.

I guess we all got bored with reality.

Categories: Body and Mind, Great Quotes, Psychology, Spirituality | Leave a comment

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Categories: Worthwhile Reading | 3 Comments

How to Sing Like a Planet

Scientists say the Earth is humming. Not just noise, but a deep, astonishing music. Can you hear it?

By Mark Morford
San Francisco Gate

This is the kind of thing we forget. This is the kind of thing that, given all our distractions, our celeb obsessions and happy drugs and bothersome trifles like family and bills and war and health care and sex and love and porn and breathing and death, tends to fly under the radar of your overspanked consciousness, only to be later rediscovered and brought forth and placed directly in front of your eyeballs, at least for a moment, so you can look, really look, and go, oh my God, I had no idea.

The Earth is humming. Singing. Churning out a tune without the aid of battery or string or wind-up mechanism and its song is ethereal and mystifying and very, very weird, a rather astonishing, newly discovered phenomena that’s not easily analyzed, but which, if you really let it sink into your consciousness, can change the way you look at everything.

Indeed, scientists now say the planet itself is generating a constant, deep thrum of noise. No mere cacophony, but actually a kind of music, huge, swirling loops of sound, a song so strange you can’t really fathom it, so low it can’t be heard by human ears, chthonic roars churning from the very water and wind and rock themselves, countless notes of varying vibration creating all sorts of curious tonal phrases that bounce around the mountains and spin over the oceans and penetrate the tectonic plates and gurgle in the magma and careen off the clouds and smack into trees and bounce off your ribcage and spin over the surface of the planet in strange circular loops, “like dozens of lazy hurricanes,” as one writer put it. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, Nature, Spirituality, Worthwhile Reading | 1 Comment

If It’s December, This Must Be Sedaris

In years past, I’ve circulated among my email friends and acquaintances—or rather, re-circulated—one of my favorite holiday essays, David Sedaris’s “Six to Eight Black Men,” which was originally written for Esquire Magazine. Last year I posted it here.

This year I found that someone made a YouTube video of it, sort of. The soundtrack is Sedaris doing a live reading of the story (slightly updated from the print version, which is interesting for editor-types like me who like to see how essays can be improved with a little judicious snipping or amplification or the change of a single word here or there), while the video is a compilation of rather interesting stills and film snippets that quite nicely illustrate Sedaris’s narrative. Continue reading

Categories: Christianity, Holidays, Humor, Worthwhile Reading, Writing | 1 Comment

Ronald Reagan on Shrub

From the recently published Reagan Diaries. The entry is dated May 17, 1986.

A moment I’ve been dreading. George brought his ne’er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This so-called kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I’ll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they’ll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work.

Categories: Great Quotes, Humor, Politics | 2 Comments


Did I ever tell you that Dr. Seuss gave the commencement speech at my college graduation ceremony? It was the shortest speech in the school’s history, lasting about a minute and thirty-five seconds.

This is the entire text of his address: Continue reading

Categories: Great Quotes, Humor | 3 Comments

This Very World

Right meditation is not escapism; it is not meant to provide hiding-places for temporary oblivion. Realistic meditation has the purpose of training the mind to face, to understand, and to conquer this very world in which we live.

Nyanaponika Thera, Power of Mindfulness

Categories: Buddhism, Great Quotes | 2 Comments

Who’s Minding the Mind?

The New York Times | July 31, 2007

In a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale altered people’s judgments of a stranger by handing them a cup of coffee.

The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee — and asked for a hand with the cup.

That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.
Continue reading

Categories: Brain, Psychology, Worthwhile Reading | 1 Comment

Newsflash: Time May Not Exist

Not to mention the question of which way it goes. . . .

by Tim Folger, Discover Magazine

No one keeps track of time better than Ferenc Krausz. In his lab at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, he has clocked the shortest time intervals ever observed. Krausz uses ultraviolet laser pulses to track the absurdly brief quantum leaps of electrons within atoms. The events he probes last for about 100 attoseconds, or 100 quintillionths of a second. For a little perspective, 100 attoseconds is to one second as a second is to 300 million years.

But even Krausz works far from the frontier of time. There is a temporal realm called the Planck scale, where even attoseconds drag by like eons. It marks the edge of known physics, a region where distances and intervals are so short that the very concepts of time and space start to break down. Planck time—the smallest unit of time that has any physical meaning—is 10-43 second, less than a trillionth of a trillionth of an attosecond. Beyond that? Tempus incognito. At least for now.

Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality. If so, then what is time? And why is it so obviously and tyrannically omnipresent in our own experience? “The meaning of time has become terribly problematic in contemporary physics,” says Simon Saunders, a philosopher of physics at the University of Oxford. “The situation is so uncomfortable that by far the best thing to do is declare oneself an agnostic.” Continue reading

Categories: Time and Space, Worthwhile Reading | 1 Comment

The Time of the Lone Wolf is Over

by Jernigan Pontiac, Seven Days

It dazzles me, the commonality of message among wise-men and women the world over. From the Dalai Lama to an aborigine shaman—those with profound inner knowledge speak the same language, offer the same sage advice. In the often chaotic landscape of the 21st Century, don’t we need to take heart and direction from the Wise Ones? I know I do.

A friend of mine shared with me these words spoken recently by a Hopi Elder from Oraibi, Arizona. It hit me where I live. This kind of message is not for everyone (so I appreciate your indulgence), but for some it may be meaningful as well: Continue reading

Categories: First Nations, Spirituality, Worthwhile Reading | 3 Comments

Not Just for Budding Messiahs

Since I seem to be incapable of writing anything original these days, I thought perhaps you’d at least care to hear what I’ve been thinking about (besides Harry Potter, that is: I seem to have become obsessed with HP. I started re-reading HP and the Order of the Phoenix in preparation for the upcoming movie, and now I’m re-reading HP and the Half-Blood Prince in preparation for the release of the final book in the series, HP and the Deathly Hallows).

So last night I found my little copy of Richard Bach’s Messiah’s Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul, buried in dust on the floor under my bed, and the first thing I turned to in it was this:

Master’s Certificate

This is to certify that the bearer has been declared a Master of Spacetime, and is authorized to command absolute control over all personal life events and an indefinite number of simultaneous life experiences, to focus consciousness among them at will, to freely choose triumph or tragedy as she or he wishes, and to magnetize such like spirits as she or he desires for her or his personal education and entertainment. This certificate is subject to the following limits: [Self-imposed.]

It’s there, that certificate, in everybody’s pocket.

Then I turned to this page:

Like attracts like.

Be who you are,
calm and clear and bright,
asking yourself every minute
is this what I really want to do,
doing it only when you answer yes.

This turns away those who have
nothing to learn from who you are
and attracts those who do,
and from whom you have to learn as well.

Categories: Great Quotes, Spirituality | 2 Comments

Apocalypse of the Honeybees

How poetically appropriate that the End of Humanity should come from such a tiny, sweet source

By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

From outta nowhere the tiny ones came, while humanity was busy trembling and sweating in the face of major global cataclysm, of global warming and nuclear war and rainforest devastation and melting ice caps and E. coli outbreaks and Ashlee Simpson and lethal hurricanes and the Apocalypse-hungry Christian right and a simply stupendously vile Bush juggernaut that has threatened all intelligent life everywhere. Onward they came, buzzy and calm and happy to be our very own adorable, unexpected harbinger of doom.

Yes, now we can see it clearly. Now we can be appropriately alarmed and now maybe we can even say, Oh holy hell, maybe we should have seen it coming all along: Of course the end of mankind should come from something as sweet and commonplace and unforeseen as the honeybees.

Have you not heard? Have you not read of the dire honeybee apocalypse and what it might mean for the majority of the delectable food crops in America, how we might soon face a very serious food crisis and might be eating little more than bread and pine cones in the near future, thus inducing widespread panic as we engage in violent bloody wars not for oil or land or God but over asparagus and avocados and those incredible Buddha’s Hand fruits they use to infuse Hangar One Citron?

It’s true. It’s all because of the honeybees, those minuscule, absolutely essential, beautifully pollinating creatures that play such a vital role in our food supply, help nearly all flowering crops grow and therefore provide a simply enormous portion of the global diet including all citrus and many vegetables Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Environment, Nature, Worthwhile Reading | 6 Comments

A Little Bit of Healing

Writer, psychologist, and medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo tells an interesting little story about a famous neurosurgeon who is talking with a shaman in a Peruvian jungle:

Neurosurgeon: And what do you do?

Shaman: Well, doctor, I have my flock of llamas, and I raise a little bit of corn, and I do a little bit of healing. What do you do, doctor?

Neurosurgeon: I can cut open a man’s head and cut through the bone and pull out a tumor the size of a walnut, Continue reading

Categories: Great Quotes, Shamanism | 11 Comments

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