Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: essays

Discovering Bertrand Russell

If the only thing I got from this book was Bertrand Russell, it would be 100% worth all the hours and pages.

Amazingly (because I thought it would be extremely boring or maddeningly condescending), I’m about halfway through The Portable Atheist – Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever selected and with introductions by Christopher Hitchens. I’ve changed my initial feelings about the book and now say they are essential readings by anyone, nonbeliever or believer. The essays have certainly shed a new light (for me) on many authors I thought I knew and helped me to think in a whole new direction. I wouldn’t say the collection has convinced me to become an atheist, but I can see their point of view more clearly.

bertrand russell

My problem with atheism is the same as theism. You’re saying you hold a position of belief, one that cannot be proven. I prefer to remain agnostic. I do not know. I have a belief that brings me peace of mind and directs my actions, but I would not go to battle over these beliefs or waste my efforts in forcing anyone else to believe them. My beliefs may change, probably will. In fact, I hope they will, because that means I’m learning and adapting, which seems to be the best way to live.

This past week, I read an essay in The Portable Atheist by Bertrand Russell called An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish. I’ve heard of him, seen quotes from him on social media, but I’ve never read any of his work. I’m sorry that I haven’t, and I’ll certainly be searching out more since I’ve read this.

The following are excerpts that outline some incredibly useful rules for anyone attempting to make their way through this plane of existence.

“To avoid the various foolish opinions to which mankind are prone, no superhuman genius is required. A few simple rules will keep you, not from all error, but from silly error.”

Not ALL error because every human is fallible. We make mistakes, big ones, even incredibly intelligent and famous people, even people in power like government officials and church leaders. Gasp!

#1 “If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself.”

Don’t assume you know something. Go find out firsthand, if possible. And if not possible, you can ask, read, research, and come to your own conclusions, but they will always be yours alone.

#2 “If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do.”

I am SO guilty of this. My husband is much better at being curious. What we should be doing is thinking, “Hmm…this stirs something in me. Why?” And then asking questions to see if that person knows something we don’t.

“The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.”

#3 “A good way of ridding yourself of certain kinds of dogmatism is to become aware of opinions held in social circles different from your own.”

Getting your news from your favorite radio or television station, or social media, is not the way to do this. Branch out, be curious, see what else is out there and respect other people’s opinions.

#4 “Be very wary of opinions that flatter your self-esteem.”

There’s a perfect example of this in my circle of homeschoolers. We tend to pass around a meme that has a list of all the brilliant people that were homeschooled. It makes us feel good that we are in that company, but it is not proof that it is great and good. It IS, but it isn’t proof. (That’s me being funny. Insert sarcasm font.)

“It is more difficult to deal with the self-esteem of man as man, because we cannot argue out the matter with some nonhuman mind. The only way I know of dealing with this general human conceit is to remind ourselves that man is a brief episode in the life of a small planet in a little corner of the universe, and that, for aught we know, other parts of the cosmos may contain beings as superior to ourselves as we are to jellyfish.”

Maybe you can’t find a nonhuman mind to argue with, Bertrand, but some of us can. I’m not saying who. Let’s just say, some of us have ways of getting off this planet, and some have ways of getting on. At least, that’s what I’ve been led to believe by Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Rick & Morty.

#5 “Other passions besides self-esteem are common sources of error, of these perhaps the most important is fear.”

Fear. Yoda has it right, my friends. Fear is what keeps us from the greatest things in life and drops us into the depths of human depravity.

“Fear is the main source of superstition and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”

Let me repeat that last line because I believe it is now my new mantra.

“To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavor after a worthy manner of life.”

Simple, right? I know that it isn’t. We get one down and then forget another. I’d like to create a poster with these and frame it on the wall where I read, write, and socialize most, my living room. Maybe then, I’d do a little bit better.

The Roving Mind: A New Read

I started reading “The Roving Mind” by Isaac Asimov this morning, my first tentative step into read more of his non-fiction work.

The Roving Mind

After much tweaking of my mourning routine, I have finally caught the reins and started a more consistent writing schedule…again. And now I get to post about my latest book right as I start to read it, instead of after I finish like I have had to do the past month.

I enjoy writing these New Read posts because my initial impressions about a book are usually pretty different than my thoughts at the end. There was a reason that I picked up the book in the first place, (and, yes, I’ve promised to get better at remembering that reason). There is also a reason I’m picking the book off the TBR shelf today, which may be different than my reason for buying it.

What are my initial impressions of Isaac Asimov’s “The Roving Mind?” I started reading the Foreword, the Introduction, and the tributes from other science and sci-fi writers and teared up. I didn’t realize how much loved he was as a writer and a friend; it sounds like he was fascinating person. Then again, how could he not be? He’s written so much about science, non-fiction and fiction. I know him for his fiction. I’ve read Foundation, The Gods Themselves, and The Fantastic Voyage. I plan on reading more! So far, The Fantastic Voyage has been my favorite, but I think it’s mostly because the movie from the 60’s was so fun (and scary) for me when I was a kid. My husband has read more of his non-fiction. I have some of them on my bookshelf behind me right now.

I don’t consider myself much of a scientific thinker. I lean more on emotion and feeling, more concerned with getting along and making connections with people than thinking along the lines of repeatable experiments and data tables. When a scientist says something is true, I tend to lean more on “Can I trust that person?” than “Is his data provable?” But Asimov…he makes science approachable for people like me and I’m excited to start reading more of his work.

My edition of “The Roving Mind” is a collection of essays originally published in 1983 but republished in 1997 after his death in 1992. I bought it from Amazon, probably because I had the thought to read some of his non-fiction after finishing Foundation. It’s been sitting on my TBR shelf since 2013. I don’t think anything has sat there that long, but it’s science, it’s hard, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Three essays in and I’m wishing I had read it years ago. This is going to be fun!

Want to follow me through this book? Read more at the following links.

Chaos & Peace: The Roving Mind #1
Media B.S. and Scientific…ahh, who am I kidding?!
Isaac Asimov: Robots and Space Travel

Four Reasons a Newsletter is Better Than A Social Media Feed

I can hear you now, “I don’t check my email. I never read newsletters.” But hear me out! Checking your email each morning and opening a couple newsletters each week, could be a far more efficient use of your time than scrolling any social media feed.

Newsletter vs Social Media Feed
Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash
Photo by Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash

If you’re an avid reader of mine, or happen to know me IRL, you know I’m an evolver. I’ve never been one to sit still long. It’s not because I’m bored and need to be entertained, like most people might think. It’s because I crave a new experience to learn from, something new to grow on. I’m a sampler of the world, a taster, not one who gorges (unless we’re talking about tacos).

I wander with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

That personality holds true to my writing and blogging, as well.

I’ve been blogging about books for over year now and that’s pretty damn consistent for me. My monthly newsletter, inspired by a book I read in January 2020, “Ten Years in the Tub” by Nick Hornby, (man…that feels like a million years ago), has been sent out a total of fourteen times.

Over the past year, I have learned a lot. I’ve become a much more predictable blogger. I’ve begun to find my voice through writing about what I read every day. This past month though, I’ve felt the pull to try something a little different, but I haven’t been sure what that is.

Right now, I’m looking at the monthly email newsletter a little differently since I listened to the Creative Nonfiction Podcast last week. At the end of an interesting interview, he mentioned that he had left social media almost completely over the past few months out of frustration mostly and was starting over in small ways. That’s where my ears perked up. I’ve been in the same boat. Once again, my thoughts and actions are not original, others are reacting to the world around us in similar ways!

And then, hours later, at lunch with a friend, she mentioned that she hadn’t seen something I posted until I messaged her directly about it. This happens often and I wish more people were aware of it. Social media feeds, specifically Facebook, aren’t timelines exactly. You don’t open it up and see what everyone you follow has posted chronologically. What you see is a curated list of what they think you want to see and what they want you to see. It’s not malicious. It’s just what it is.

While I was gone from social media, I found myself relying on email newsletters from websites, podcasts, and blogs that I follow. Now that I’m back on Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, (I’ll admit, I just want a place to share the funny things I find and get likes for my hiking pictures) I’m not “liking and following” pages anymore.

Why? Because the emails were far more reliable. Instead of getting only the posts that Facebook decides are important, along with ads for closely related items, I get the information that the poster believes are important. The weekly newsletters highlight things the specific blogger or podcaster wants me to see and when I click the links, I get to their page directly without the distractions embedded in Facebook. It takes less time and I get more of what I actually want.

Which leads me to thinking about my own newsletter. Should I change it from a monthly rundown of the books I’ve read to a weekly highlight reel straight to your email box? I think so and I’m sitting with paper and pencil (my go-to when I need to plan) attempting to create an outline this week.

I’ll be honest, a weekly newsletter seems a bit much for me. I’ve never been good at a weekly anything, just ask my kids. When the prospect of required weekly attendance came up for any of their activities…well…I broke out in a cold sweat. But this feels different.

In the past, I challenged myself to read for two hours every day and have been getting so close to that goal. I decided to write consistently about the books I’m reading; once when I start the book, quotes from the book, and a paragraph or two about it when I’m done. And then I took up the challenge of writing a newsletter once a month and did it. I think I can do this.

Why should you sign up for my newsletter, let alone any other email subscription? Well…

Here are my positives of an email newsletter. Maybe that will help you decide.

  1. It’s there when you want to read it.
  2. When you’re done reading it, or you decide you’d rather not, you can delete it and it doesn’t come back in your feed over and over again.
  3. There are no ads for related goods and services (at least not in mine). And if there are, they benefit the author of the newsletter, that person that you esteem so much that you subscribe to their news.
  4. If you open a newsletter, you stop reading at the end of it. You don’t get sucked into scroll mode!

What would my newsletter include?

  • Books, of course. Books started, books finished, links to articles about said books written by yours truly or others.
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with them, so I’ll be highlighting my favorites each week.
  • Funnies? Possibly.
  • One liners. Things I’m pondering but haven’t written whole paragraphs about.

When will this glorious piece of genius come out each week? I’m thinking Tuesdays. It’s my most productive day of the week, but I reserve the right to change that. The bottom line is that I’ll only harass you with in ONCE a week and I won’t be selling your email addresses to third party BS.

There it is! While I’ve written this, I’ve decided. I’m going to start writing a weekly newsletter instead of the monthly rundown. Will you join me?

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“A Man Without a Country” by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut book cover on a desert planter background.
Old Books Smell Good

I’m not a fan of Vonnegut. I know! Everyone likes him! But I find him funny in a negative way, not an uplifting one. Like…we’re all going to die, everyone is horrible, ha ha…kind of way. It makes me sad. And, according to my astrological sign, that’s intolerable to me.

And it is, really! That’s what’s so strange to me. I know not why, but I looked it up yesterday. My squirrel brain was overly active, so I decided to let it run free and follow it, much like I’m doing right now.

I’ve always been fascinated by horoscopes but a little skeptical, but then something comes up that is so right, and I think, “The stars know me!” Yesterday was one of those days. I swung all the way from “This is ALL SO much bullshit!” to “I’m basing every decision from here on out on what my stars tell me!” in a matter of minutes.

Where was I?

Oh, yes!

Kurt Vonnegut makes me sad, so I make him go away. But his stories are good, I’ll admit that. This book, specifically, is another one I picked out of the redistribution library back in December, “What Did My Blog Accomplish in 2020?” Why did I pick up a book by an author I’ve already read but don’t enjoy? Because I’ve heard of it and if I’ve heard of it and haven’t read it, it goes in the TBR pile!

So here I am reading it, laughing, and then then thinking, “Geez, Kurt. Way to be a downer.” I don’t always agree with him. Our politics are different and so are our personalities and outlooks. I’m giving it a chance because even if we have NOTHING in common, I can still find something to enjoy about a book by another human that lived on this earth.

Do you like Kurt Vonnegut? Have you read his books? Watched the movies? You can find his books at Thriftbooks.com! Leave me a comment and tell me what you think! Hell, leave me a comment and tell me what your sign is. I’m a Sagittarius, but you probably already know that.


“Four Reasons a Newsletter is Better Than a Social Media Feed”
Bypass the social media algorithms and sign up for my weekly newsletter. Each week will give you a rundown of my favorites posts, podcasts, and few funnies. Read what you want, when you want, without getting sucked into the endless scroll mode!

New Read – “A Literary Education”

Some of My Friends

It happened again. I forgot why I put this book on my wishlist. I need a better system. Or do I? Does it really matter where I got the recommendation? I suppose not. I’ve learned to trust my list. It’s there for a reason, so I buy them when I can.

As I sat down to read, I remembered; my mother-in-law had recently shared an article with me that she thought I’d enjoy. We’ve lived together for 18 years and the woman knows me well. She had pulled it out of a magazine and brought it over to me, old school sharing. There is something awesome about that. I have it still sitting on my desk. What do I do with it now? Share it with someone else maybe? By mail? Before the internet, I had a folder of pulled articles like that, some photo-copied and sent from friends and relatives.

“A distinction needs to be made between solitude and loneliness. One chooses solitude, one is afflicted by loneliness.” Alone Again (Unnaturally) by Joseph Epstein – National Review

My favorite line from that article was, “Proust notes that books have over friends that you can call upon them only when you wish and dismiss them at your discretion. Proust also felt that reading could be an aid to solitude, especially to the indolent mind that is unable to think in solitude but requires rubbing up against, through the stimulus of reading, a finer mind than itself.”

Long before all this “social distancing” stuff, I always had a hard time navigating the social world. The past six months has made that much worse. I feel like I simply don’t fit in, not for any specific reason, just in my head more than anything else. But yet I crave conversation, that back and forth with another thinking human. On a weekly basis I cycle through, “I need solitude to think. Thank you, world!” to “But I want to sit in a coffee shop with friends or join a writer’s group!” to “Screw it. People suck!” Books have been my compromise, the “rubbing up against” that I need to spark my own thinking. Books ask for so little in return and they never get in my way, despite how my family feels about the bookcases.

Reading the article, I suddenly felt less lonely and far more secure in my solitude. I immediately went online to look for the author. Maybe he has a website. What else has he written? I love the internet, and especially Amazon, but I found myself longing for a well-stocked bookstore where I could thumb through and pick out the book I liked best, maybe get a cup of coffee and talk to a person…there I go again. I picked this one mostly because of its title. “A Literary Education” is what I’ve been working on for the past ten years.

Do you read the introductions to books? For fiction, I don’t want someone else’s thoughts to color my reaction to a story. Sometimes, I’ll go back and read it though. For non-fiction, or collections, I generally do read them…unless it’s boring!

Last Friday, I really wanted to chill and read my new book, so I went around the house looking for a spot. I’m easily distracted, so I need a very quiet space to read and that is hard to find in the afternoon in a small house with four adults. My husband was still working in our room. My younger son was in his room working on his college classes. And my older son was doing some research on the computer in the livingroom. The perfect scenario!

I gathered my book, glasses, notebook, and a cup of tea and settled myself into my favorite spot on the couch. It was glorious. Right from the start I knew I had the perfect book in my hands.

“Initially my essay collections were divided between what I thought of as literary essays and familiar essays; the former were essays about other writers, the latter about the world at large, or at least those things in it that captured my fancy at the time.”

…drops pencil…what the…other people write about these things?!

There are times when I wonder what the point of my blog is. Ok…I’ll admit…most times I feel that way. But then I come around to, I write about what I like to write about, what I find interesting, and because it makes me happy. I don’t look for and write to a specific audience. I write my point of view, my opinions, my thinking, in the hope that someone out there might want to hear it.

I kept reading for over an hour, smiling and nodding, tearing up and underlining pieces that spoke directly to my poor little writer heart. When my time was up, I marked my place, closed the book, and went off to get dinner started feeling on top of the world. I’d found encouragement to keep working, keep reading, and to keep writing and I wasn’t even looking for it.

Once again, my “follow the trail wherever it leads” way of living has paid off big time. I can’t wait to read more of these essays. And the world will be reading mine as well. I’m not lonely, I’m in solitude, quietly working away in the background building worlds to share.

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