Luckiest kids in the world

I stumbled across this video of Jay Walker’s library in which two lucky little blighters get a personal tour of my personal version of Heaven. If there was a grown-up version of Make A Wish, I’d ask to go there. But it’s just as well I can’t go because they’d probably have to call the SWAT team to get me out and I wouldn’t want any of the books to get damaged in the ensuing fracas.

The Beginning of Average

I just started reading “The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness” by Todd Rose. I am both enjoying it greatly and getting freaked out by it. The author tells the story of Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874), a Belgian astronomer who started applying mathematics to human beings after his observatory (and country) was taken over by rebels. He wanted to understand humanity, and thought measuring them would help. But he went further than merely crunching numbers.

Quetelet developed the view that the “Average Man” was perfect, as God and/or Nature intended, and any variation was a “deformity” or “monstrosity.” What he ended up doing was putting a scientific seal of approval on racial, criminal, and psychological stereotyping, and mid-19th century Europe lapped it up. It fit right in with their program of subjugating the rest of the world and keeping everyone in their place at home. We all know how that turned out.

It took the bloodbath of World War II to discredit this kind of “science,” but general discomfort with the diversity of humans remains. The notion of “average” or “normal” human beings (e.g. “we all want the same things”) is so ingrained in our culture that it takes great effort (and years of therapy) to fully accept others and ourselves as we are. Try as we might to celebrate diversity, the Hydra of conformity sprouts another head and we rush to stuff ourselves or someone else into the locker of normalcy. Perhaps knowing exactly where these ideas came from can help us accept more deeply the unique qualities of every human being.

The shared solitude of writing and reading

Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Every once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns to mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?

—Rebecca Solnit, “The Faraway Nearby” (via Brain Pickings)