Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Happy 12th Birthday, Alex!

 My son's 12th birthday is tomorrow. He already had his party a little early (see the bottom picture), and since it's a weeknight, we won't be doing much more than going out to dinner and enjoying a decorated cookie. Still, I wish him all the best for the upcoming year!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Joy of Books

I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and I'm trying to apply it to our house. It's a slow process. I admit I'm not sorting items exactly as she recommends. Kondo says one should take all of a certain type of item (clothes, or possibly a subset of them), dump them all on the floor, hold each of them individually, and ask yourself if they spark joy. If they do, you keep them; if not, get rid of them. Kondo doesn't offer much advice on how to dispose of items sustainably, and she doesn't get into situations where two people in the same household have vastly different feelings about the same joint possession. Nevertheless, I've been using this method to get a lot of clothes out of my bedroom. (I plan to either sell them at a garage sale or find somewhere to donate them.) Once I finish going through my clothes, the next major category is books. Kondo got a lot of grief from book lovers for this, so I'd like to discuss her thoughts (and mine) on the subject in more detail.

If I recall correctly (I borrowed the book from the library), Kondo said that she personally tries to keep no more than thirty books. Somehow, people thought she meant everyone should reduce their collections to that number, and that's why there was a lot of articles about her back in January. (Here's one example by someone who understood Kondo's advice. And then there's this person...) Obviously, different things are going to spark joy in different people. Kondo may not be a bookworm, but I am, and I do enjoy seeing books on my shelves. Kondo, however, takes a very practical approach to books. She states that once you've read a book, its message is already inside you, and that you probably won't reread it. If you want to save a particular passage, you could rip out the page (blasphemy!) or copy the words into a file. While I do have some books I probably won't reread, I still obtain pleasure from having the physical book. I have purged some books when I get an ebook version, but other books I keep in both versions.

Although I've purged my paperback collection multiple times, this next purge might be more intensive. I also plan to examine some books that typically get a free pass, such as books on writing and the Beatles. We'll see how many books I ultimately end up keeping.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

As we learned from Avengers: Endgame, there are over fourteen million ways things can go wrong and only one way they can go right. This is why instead of writing dystopias, I try to write good worlds, where things may not be perfect, yet people's basic needs are met. A desire to learn more about what makes a society good is what drew me to read Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, by Nicholas A. Christakis. It's a long book full of ideas, and it took me a couple of weeks to finish. (I don't remember the exact date I started.) It starts off by discussing the history of communities. By examining the fate of people stranded by shipwrecks for an extended time (thus founding an unintentional community) or the history of intentional communities founded in the 19th or 20th centuries, the author looks to determine what traits make them successful or not successful. Communities where there is minimal hierarchy and a love of learning do well, but those that try to break familial bonds don't do so well. Christakis identifies eight traits as part of what he calls the social suite:

1. The ability to have and recognize individual identity
2. Love for partners and offspring
3. Friendship
4. Social networks
5. Cooperation
6. Perference for one's own group (in-group bias)
7. Relative egalitarianism
8. Social learning and teaching

The rest of the book is devoted to exploring the basis for these traits, many of which can be found in other animals.

It's worth pointing out that experiments show that when leaders are removed from a group, chaos and frayed social networks can result. But although leaders are necessary, too much hierarchy is unstable. Although my Season Avatars world is modeled on Victorian England, there are far fewer social classes in Challen than there were in the real world. Something else to consider is that preference for one's group is unfortunately linked to bias against others, even when the groups are artificially constructed. Forcing groups to work together on joint projects of mutual benefit leads to decreased hostilities. It's helpful to belong to many different groups to foster connections between them and to include all sorts of people in your group.

Although human cultures may seem quite different from each other, they also share many similarities. Cooperation is key to human success. As society becomes more and more global, we all need to draw on the principles of the social suite in order to survive and improve our world.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

An Ending Like Endgame (No Spoilers)

It already feels like it's been a while since I saw Avengers: Endgame with my family. We were able to find tickets for the Friday of opening weekend. I made my son this scaled-down version of the Infinity Gauntlet to take to the theater. We enjoyed the movie and plan to see it again this weekend.

We're fairly recent fans of the MCU. I was able to see Black Panther and Infinity War in the theaters, but my son didn't get into the movies until last fall. We're mostly caught up (we own most of the movies), although there are a few movies that I need to rewatch because I missed sections while I was doing other things.

Finishing a story arc that spans eleven years and twenty-two films is no easy task. I like that the directors threw some twists in at the beginning and that we got to see the characters react to what happened in Infinity War. What really made the movie work for me was how it revisited key places and events from earlier, as they worked well to show how much the characters have changed over the series. I've read series-ending books that have also revisited key people and places, but the character development wasn't so noticeable in them.

Since seeing the movie, I've read some of the articles about it, both in praise of it and some that are more critical. I think they make some good points (my biggest complaint is that characters' combat abilities feel inconsistent with what we've seen in earlier movies, as if the plot was manipulated a bit to force how it would end), but I really need to see Endgame again so I can pick up more details.

If you saw Endgame, what did you think of it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

IWSG: The Power of Language

Happy May Day! I hope the weather by you is more spring-like than we've had recently.

I'm itching to discuss Avengers: Endgame, but since it's the first Wednesday of the month, today is a day for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. You can learn more about them on their website, Facebook group, or Twitter. Our hosts this month are Lee Lowery, Juneta Key, Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin.

Our question for May is "What was an early experience where you learned language had power?"

I've always been a reader, so it's hard to pinpoint when or if I had a language epiphany. Instead, I'll share a couple of stories about events I mention in my bio.

I started to read when I was three years old (and as I say, I only stop when I absolutely have to). I probably learned how from watching shows like Sesame Street. My mom says she found out when she took me to a butcher shop. I read the brand name on the refrigerator display, and the person behind it asked my mom, "Is that your daughter?" When she said yes, the other person said, "Did you know she can read?"

Although my parents taught my brother German as his first language, they only taught me English. I studied Spanish from fourth to sixth grade, but when we moved and I entered a new school, I switched to German. Spanish and French were much more popular, however. When my middle school held a language Folk Fair, French and Spanish got all the attention with songs and dance performances by the students. In an attempt to give German some equal time, I wrote a little play/dialogue I called "A Little Demonstration of German." It had such immortal lines as "Ich muss mein Hund fuettern," which means (if I spelled everything correctly) "I must feed my dog." We didn't get to perform it, but I received a special certificate for German at the end of the school year. It might still be in our basement, but I'm not going to search for it.

Do you have any stories about language? If so, feel free to share in the comments.

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