Appreciating Marilyn Robinson

Not dead – just new to me!

A friend of Lori’s got us tickets to the Library of Congress’ tribute to Marilynne Robinson last spring. (Robinson had won the library’s 2016 Prize for American fiction.) The panelists honoring her were a thoughtful and incredibly brainy group: Alan Lightman (whose Einstein’s Dreams I’d enjoyed so much years ago), Pulitzer winner Geraldine Brooks and Pulitzer winner Paul Harding. Alice McDermott was in the house too. But Robinson stole the show, giving no inch on any debate, tackling the metaphysical/spiritual like she had been thinking of its issues all day. Which she probably had been.

It was fun to be there, both for the conversation and, as it always is, for a few hours in the Library’s main home, beautiful and provocative in its grandeur.

The reason the event comes to mind is Robinson’s long-read in a recent edition of Commonweal, a piece called “Wonder Never Cease,” making a strenuous case for belief in both science and God. Many parts of the essay are above my head (or take a bit more time than I have available to climb steep mental ladders), but her closing argument is clear and vibrant – fascinating no matter your beliefs.
The modern world, insofar as it is proposed to humankind as its habitation, is too small, too dull, too meager for us. After all, we are very remarkable. We alone among the creatures have learned a bit of the grammar of the universe. Einstein was known to mention God from time to time, which need not imply theism in any traditional form, only the sense of a universe more intrinsically orderly, capacious, and finally unknowable, than theory and formula could capture. For him the Lord seems to have been another cosmological constant, an undemonstrated given necessary to allowing the reality he wished to describe its full character. We have in ourselves grounds for supposing that Being is vaster, more luminous, more consequential than we have allowed ourselves to imagine for many generations.

Combining a few favorites…

Combining the mystery of the Hoh Rain Forest (where we spent a wonderful dark and rainy day last spring), the writing of Meghan O’Rourke (a lyrical favorite of mine), and the meditations on silence of George Prochnik (blogged about here a couple times previously), here’s “Lessons in Stillness From One of the Quietest Places on Earth” in case you missed it earlier this month.

THE OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK stretches down coastal Washington and east toward Seattle on a thumb of land known as the Olympic Peninsula, some 60 miles long by 90 miles wide. Around a three-hour ride by car from Seattle, it feels much farther, as if you have passed into an otherworldly realm. Within it are volcanic beaches scattered with the remains of massive Sitka spruces, evergreen-crowded mountains, broad, flat valleys and the Hoh Rain Forest, through which 12 miles of hiking trails and the glacier-formed Hoh River run. The Park, in total nearly a million acres, is home to what may be the most complex ecosystem in the United States, teeming with big-leaf maples, lichens, alders, liverworts, Monkey flowers, licorice ferns, club mosses, herbs, grasses and shrubs of remarkable abundance.

I’d believe it. A picture from our walk in the Hall of Mosses…

‘A microaggression against Cheerio fans’

So says friend Melissa as she sends this picture from somewhere during her recent journeys in East Asia, and she’s not wrong. First of all, there are lots of kind of Cheerios these days. They’re all over the map, and many sound flat-out unappetizing: pumpkin spice, very berry, peanut butter chocolate, ancient grains, and even fruity, which would seem to be the Fruit Loops of Cheerios. (I am, however, interested in the dark chocolate crunch.) Also, appreciating plain Cheerios is an art form, a finding of truth requiring the most refined palette. I’ve argued as much for the last 37 years. So, let us not forget a truth about the Loops. Says Melissa, “Fruit Loops aren’t even good. And they are all the same flavor.”

The best parts of Black Friday

This Bryce Harper garden gnome that looks nothing like Bryce Harper but is all kinds of creepy, especially as you imagine it lurking in your garden.

This anti-snoring solution that has made the 2017 list of Oprah’s favorite things. The device listens to snoring and then inflates under your pillow as you sleep, pushing your head around until the snoring stops. The video is great.

This $200 toaster that says “TOAST” on the side. How else will you know what to do with the machine? But the idea of clamps for holding bread slices is great. I say this as someone who’s recently been toasting mini-English muffins.

Mind-boggling process

But it makes John McPhee’s work so good. Via Lindsay.

The process is hellacious. McPhee gathers every single scrap of reporting on a given project — every interview, description, stray thought and research tidbit — and types all of it into his computer. He studies that data and comes up with organizing categories: themes, set pieces, characters and so on. Each category is assigned a code. To find the structure of a piece, McPhee makes an index card for each of his codes, sets them on a large table and arranges and rearranges the cards until the sequence seems right. Then he works back through his mass of assembled data, labeling each piece with the relevant code. On the computer, a program called “Structur” arranges these scraps into organized batches, and McPhee then works sequentially, batch by batch, converting all of it into prose. (In the old days, McPhee would manually type out his notes, photocopy them, cut up everything with scissors, and sort it all into coded envelopes. His first computer, he says, was “a five-thousand-dollar pair of scissors.”)

 

Never tired of Dusty Baker quotes

In the Post, on struggling Nats catcher Matt Wieters:

Before the game, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker — going out of his way to point out that he is a non-Catholic, and therefore not necessarily qualified to say so — speculated that Wieters is spending this month in purgatory. Purgatory, in Baker’s baseball-driven mind, is that place where a hitter is “behind the fastball and ahead of the curveball.” In other words, no man’s land.