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An Atheist’s Prayer

Oh, Lord, allow me to begin this potentially awkward conversation by directly and succinctly addressing the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room. No, I do not believe in you. I do not believe you exist in any real corporeal sense (though I am prepared to concede acceptance of the concept of you). What I believe is that you are the fabrication (many different ones actually) of people desperately searching for answers that will enable them to make sense of a world they do not fully understand. Which is not to say I feel that I fully understand the world either, only that I choose not to resort to believing in supernatural entities in order to get my head around it. That said, if belief in you was simply a means of trying to get a grasp on ...

Shop

Officially it appeared on the curriculum as Industrial Arts, but it was known colloquially as simply Shop.  Whichever moniker you prefer, it was, during my adolescence, a rite of passage for teenage boys attending pretty much any public school system in the U.S. It was book-ended, at least in the sixties and seventies, by Home Economics, the analogous gender-role-reinforcing “academic” requirement for junior high girls. Never having myself stepped up to the challenge of putting children through school, I’m not entirely certain how this tradition has evolved in recent years, but at that time and in that place it was understood, and accepted without too much whining or debate over gender stereotypes or political correctness, that ...

Being in Band

In my dream[1] I run aimless and panting up and down the neutrallypainted, cinderblock-lined corridors of Brunswick High School, trying desperately to recall which of the countless thousands of lockers stretching before me is, in fact, my locker, and, having eventually located it after much fretting and fuming, struggling with even greater desperation to recall the specific left/right/left combination that will open it. It doesn’t help that all of the lockers look exactly the same—battleship gray, arrayed in a grid two high and effectively infinite in length, extending down both sides of the corridor to a distant vanishing point. That each is uniquely numbered with a small riveted brass plate is of no use either, since, given my ...

An Imperative for Growth

~ Transgenic Technology and the Foods We Eat ~ Humans eat food to survive. Most, if they’re fortunate, do it multiple times each day. And if we go very long without doing it, our bodies have limitless creative ways of making their displeasure known. But we also eat for pleasure—pleasure derived from taste and texture, from culture and tradition, and, for some, from the very process of creating food in the first place. That creation involves three distinctly different types of individuals. Best known are those who combine raw ingredients in creative ways—sometimes exciting, sometimes banal. These are the chefs who craft memorable dishes, the artisans who bake fine bread and pastry, the vintners who magically turn the humble grape ...

The Pessimist Within

Morte nihil melius[1] Anonymous Introduction I know what you’re thinking, sitting there, furtively skimming this introduction, hoping no one sees you holding the manuscript. Why on earth would I read this? Who, for that matter, would even publish such a thing? Pessimism? Dear God, things are so bleak and heinous these days; what the world needs is optimism, damn it. Well that, my friend, is where you’re mistaken, and I mean to spend the next few pages explaining precisely why. Now please don’t get me wrong. This is, after all, a self-help piece. And self-help books and essays are about achieving happiness, success, self-actualization, and other hard-to-define but generally positive states of being. My working hypothesis ...

The Maine Attraction

Growing up in Maine, it is reasonably assumed that my halcyon youth was filled with an unending orgy of skiing, camping, fishing, hunting, and all the other rustic backwood sorts of recreation that out-of-staters generally associate with the place. The bitter truth of the matter is that I never—not even once—participated in any of these activities until I was fully grown and had moved away to other places.[1] Non-Mainers harbor, as well, one additional myth about native downeasters, viz that we daily gorge ourselves on great heaping platters of lobster. Indeed, it was the popularity of this myth that prompted an associate to suggest that I might be uniquely qualified to expound in an entertaining (perhaps even informative) manner ...

Why I Don’t Have Childre ...

I never doubted for a moment that this day would come. At some point in nearly every introductory conversation I have, the topic of children comes up. Do I have any? None, huh? Why is that, exactly? Then, sensing discomfort, awkwardness, we tacitly agree to move on to some different, safer topic of conversation. It’s at these moments that I frequently feel compelled to retort with something like, so, why did you decide to have kids? How would you rate the pros and cons? Would you do it again if you had it to do over?[1] We live, though, in a society that regards child bearing as so self-evidently worthwhile, indeed necessary to the advancement of civilization, that daring to scrutinize the process with anything approaching ...

A Day on the Mountain

Or Why Skiing is an Especially Apt Metaphor for Life Itself What do you get when you combine the annoyance factor of golf, the vast expense of scuba, and the bodily risk of skydiving? That’s right—skiing, a pastime whose origins are lost to antiquity, but which, in all likelihood, involved some Swiss or Austrian misanthrope—let’s agree to call him Gunther—living high on a mountain, who awakens one day to discover he is snowed in by a couple of feet of fresh powder from the previous night’s storm, and on the very day he had meant to go into the village at the base of the mountain for his semi-annual consignment of groceries. Well, shucks, our antiquarian hero[1] says to himself, looks like the only way I’m going to ...

On Why the Designated Hitter R ...

Americans are positively infatuated with scoring in sports. I don’t mean scoring in the sense of keeping score, though goodness knows there exist more than a few hard-core fans who, not content to simply sit and watch a game, will, instead, labor over every pitch, hit, throw, and error that occurs, writing each down in arcane hieroglyphics on score-sheets, for what possible use afterward one is hard-pressed to imagine. I’m talking here, though, about our national obsession with seeing the score of each sporting contest rise to as high a level as possible. There is something ingrained in our psyche that not only fuels the need for clearly defined winners and losers, but also demands that the actual productive output of each event be ...

On Being First

Introduction For as long as I can remember I have had a problem with books. As a general matter, I love them, and, as a consequence, cannot bear to part with one once I have it. This state of affairs has been true pretty much since college, and to prove it I still have every book I ever bought back in those heady days, including many engineering books now so hopelessly outdated[1] they may as well be about how to manufacture rope from indigenous grasses. Doesn’t matter though; I still have them on my shelves and that’s the important thing. But my inability to discard books is not, strictly speaking, the topic of this essay. I mention it only to provide context for the somewhat dense and recondite material to follow.  The task I have ...