Departments

(Anniversary)

Today is the anniversary of the first two posts of the Ruricolist. The observation of an anniversary is a calendrical superstition, but it has two uses. It excuses saying things worth saying, but which, savoring a little of boasting or cant, would otherwise go unsaid. And, as gathering sand grains makes a sandhill, by gathering inconsequential and insubstantial expressions, it gives them substance and moment. So I will take this chance to expatiate on a few things that have pleased me, and on my intentions.

I am pleased that without any overall plan or object, the Ruricolist has found themes and concerns, and a unity of its own.

I am pleased that, by this effort, I have become a better writer. My vices as a writer have always been density and impatience; and though all the pieces here are sound, in the later ones I have learned when to open the windows and let a little air in.

I am pleased that in writing these essays, I have not merely expressed opinions; but I have also discovered new ones—even important ones—and I have changed my mind where the necessity of clear exposition has shown me that an old opinion was lazy, hasty, or presumptuous.

I am pleased that I have found readers. I did not aim to find them only because I thought that, unless undertaken for itself, this effort would not be sustainable. But I am not indifferent to it.

Here I must pause to thank publically Armand Frasco of Notebookism, and Litlove of Best New Writing on the Web, for having presented esssays from the Ruricolist under their approval.

Why did these two essays—"Notebooks" and "Writing on the computer"—go over so well? I revised them from notes that I had written for myself to understand why, without being averse to technology as such, I find it more agreeable and practical, to write by hand than on the computer; and particularly, to write in notebooks, instead of on loose paper. I must suppose that I am not the only one who has found this, and that others in the same situation have found these two essays helpful.

I intend to continue the Ruricolist for at least another year. Beyond that, I would have to decide afresh; but, for now, I doubt that the Ruricolist is even half-finished.

I intend, if possible, to move to posting twice a week. That is not now possible, and may not ever be; but once a week, even consistently managed, is perhaps too infrequent for a blog.

I intend, as I have done, to attempt now and then new species of writing, which fit in with the rest of the Ruricolist. What these might be, I do not yet know; but I am always looking to try something new, and I do not find what is here diverse enough.

For anyone who wishes to look over the previous 54 entries, without meddling with archives, I have assembled the following index of first lines.


  1. (Notice). I find writing its own reward, but something cowardly in spending time amassing what is not to be shared.

  2. On essays. An essay cannot be usefully defined.

  3. A house in the country. City people's country houses are always easy to recognize—not just by the signs of wealth.

  4. After the tawdriness of psychoanalysis, evolutionary psychology is an inspiring project

  5. You are an entrepreneur and the inventor of an all-around innovative product called the better mousetrap.

  6. New Worlds. The survival of humanity through cosmic timescales will not be secured unless we venture into the cosmos; but the extinction of humanity is assured if we resign ourselves to chasing the perfection of the species down the dialectical spiral of reform and nostalgia.

  7. A little learning. All learning is dangerous.

  8. Victorian hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of the Victorians is the spittoon of critics: everyone feels entitled to take a passing shot at it, whether writing about actual Victorians, or recognizing in a contemporary a whiff of of wool, velvet, dust, or Macassar oil, of the confined and confining spaces of that age.

  9. Beauty is a philosophically well-tilled field.

  10. Fanfiction is a modern, at least a twentieth century, idea and practice.

  11. History of Thankyouism. It is agreed by all, even those of other faiths, that Mother Thanks (research has revealed her birth name and background, but here we may acknowledge her belief that her old name and life were irrelevant to the work she was called to do) was a great woman, a living saint in her own time, and one of the great spiritual leaders of the XXth century.

  12. The sleep of reason. Introspection is always an delusion.

  13. Urban exploration. Somewhere, sometime, people made all the machines that made all the artifacts and buildings that make up all cities.

  14. The society of trees. It is hard to imagine some immemorial hominid first leaving the trees for the plains.

  15. Bacon and Montaigne. Suppose yourself a child, and that two old men live near you.

  16. The Fable of the Old Man and the Ravens. There was once an old man, a farmer, who every day drove his cart to the market, and every day stopped to throw seed to the ravens.

  17. Jacques Cadillac, the author of The Book of Mismatched Lists, was born in 1645, in Rouen, the illegitimate son of the favorite mistress of George Blanc, the Abbé de Lamothe.

  18. There are many dead languages in the world; most are aboriginal, but many are civilized.

  19. So many books. There is but one royal and straight road to the habit and power of thinking: reading.

  20. The rich and the healthy misunderstand poverty and sickness.

  21. The Fable of the Whale and the Dolphin. It happened in a cold sea that a dolphin and a whale became friends.

  22. Philosophy. Stare hard enough at any one thing, and it becomes transparent; pull long enough, and any one thread unravels the world.

  23. Not all curiosities are of scientific use or value; not all anomalies are indicative; but the habit of collecting curiosities, the gothic fascination which they cast, is the same as, or rises from the same disposition as, the scientific temperament.

  24. What is considered serious in modern letters is what it is impossible to disagree with and take seriously.

  25. In My Day. The old man rocked in his chair, puffed on his pipe, and began: ¶ "You kids today never really see the Internet. . . ."

  26. Educational methods. The more so as it is the more strictly standardized, lower education is a line to be held.

  27. Young and old. Even on common ground, even where much is said with profit and pleasure for each, when the old and the young talk together there is always something unsatisfactory.

  28. Eating School. I came without a journey to an ideal city.

  29. Instinct. It is doubtful to call anything human instinctual.

  30. The Fifth Proposition; or, the Bridge of Asses. A Love Story by Euclid. Let ABC be a love triangle having the side AB equally strong as the side AC; and let the unlived lives BD, CE be prolonged in a straight line with AB, AC.

  31. I have tried, and failed, to disbelieve in progress.

  32. Decluttering. Some feel a nameless, sharp-edged, sexually tinged pleasure in seeing someone else deprived of their individuality and stepping into the uniformed background.

  33. Writing on the computer. A writer using the computer must have the resistance to temptation of a desert saint.

  34. Notebooks. The difference between writing on loose paper and writing in a notebook is in the relationship of the writer and the thing written.

  35. Fable of the Spider and the Songbird. On the hot island of thick forest and air thicker with wet, a bright and brilliant spider like a hand, with legs like fingers, wove and strung her yellow silk into a golden web.

  36. Fiction and thinking. The mind is a lazy mapmaker.

  37. Esperanto. English is the farthest-spread auxiliary language in use; but it is not the only one, nor is it the most used.

  38. Formality. Architects can play with every other part of a building.

  39. Perpetual Peace. In 2045 the Endower Institute organized the GSPW (Group for the Study of the Phenomenon of War) to conduct an indisciplinary study of game theory, war-gaming, and evolutionary psychology.

  40. The sound of ticking is passing out of the world—at least out of the public spaces, and out of most private lives.

  41. Arts and science. Science is different from older ways of using reason to understand the world because of its connection with the arts, in the sense of mimesis.

  42. The White City. In the beginning, world was garden.

  43. Programming, though not itself a humanity, can serve as one in the same practical role that Latin did.

  44. Humanism. We are uneasy in this world, half because it is cruel, and half because it is boring.

  45. Gauss's Nightmare. "I know not, of course, whether you are right about the appearance of our own Earth from the Moon."

  46. The beach is as different from ocean and from land, as land and ocean are different from one another.

  47. Fable of the Hyena and the Comedian. A spotted hyena, having escaped the zoo, walked the streets that night terrified and disconsolate.

  48. Happiness is restful joy.

  49. Debunking is to science as criticism is to art—not useless, but not the thing itself, and often requiring a cast of mind opposite to what it tries to protect.

  50. Fable of the Whale and the Squid. A whale once determined to settle between himself and the greatest of squids which was the more terrible, and thereby master of the ocean.

  51. Internet or library. Research on the Internet is a meal made of cake and caviar—you may enjoy it, but you cannot live on it.

  52. Constructed languages. In life, we are the servants of language.

  53. Blue Devils. This was a few years before Katrina, when I was still in college and had time to do things like go to New Orleans to track down an immortal bluesman.

  54. Brevity. It is the lesson of poetry that more can be said briefly than can be said at any length.

  55. (Anniversary).Today is the anniversary of the first two posts of the Ruricolist.