February: month of skunk journeys and astonishing weather shifts, of walks under clear skies and under evening rain showers, of so-many-essays-to-grade for my students and so-many-people-to-thank for social media birthday wishes, of fears and hopes, of confidence and uncertainty, of ice clattering out of pine trees and daffodils illumining the space around the Chinaberry tree. And of learning things.
1. I learned that cyber-dogs are no longer merely the stuff of Aardman Animations’ Wallace and Gromit — though Preston the evil cyber-dog from “A Close Shave” makes these dog-like robots seem scarier than they necessarily should be:
2. Also on the scary-science front, I learned that scientists think human head transplants could begin to happen as soon as 2017. Obviously, the head-transplant would be for the benefit of the person possessing the head, not for the benefit of the person possessing the body. But the idea gives me the creeps, and I think I’d rather stay in my own body, even if it means a shorter, more painful life. (It also raises so many questions about bodies and souls and how they are connected. Is the head the essence of a person? This science seems to assume that our heads live on our bodies like hermit crabs live inside shells. But I don’t think it’s quite like that.)
4. I learned that sometimes the only morning in the week when you wake up eager to go to work is the day that, on threat of snow, work is cancelled and you stay home all day watching the trees ice over.
5. I learned how computer thesauri combined with poor grammar mastery can result in things like “role model subsequent.” It took me an unnecessarily long time to figure out that in the author’s mind “subsequent” = “following.” But while “following” can be an adjective or a noun — and in this case would be a noun — “subsequent” is just an adjective.
7. I learned about AirDrop on my MacBook — only a year after getting the MacBook. But so handy!
8. I learned that the sound of my empty classroom — a classroom with a computer at every seat — is like the hum in Uncle Andrew’s study in The Magician’s Nephew. In the book, the hum comes from the green and yellow rings which take you in and out of worlds — and is not, in some sense, a room full of computers a sort of wood-between-the-worlds? I take satisfaction in shutting down each of the 37 computers and reducing the room to silence before I walk out.
9. I learned even more of the complications of Middle Eastern politics as I listened to NPR reporter Robert Siegel talk of his recent visit to Jordan:
I’ll tell you what one Jordanian told me – and he would never be quoted on this publicly. He said what he had really been afraid of was that ISIS would hand over Moath Kasasbeh, the pilot, alive. What would have happened then, he asked? Would Jordan have turned pro-ISIS in the streets if that had been the result? It still worried him.
It reminds me of the frighteningly fine line between good and evil, and of the dangers of not giving bad things their proper bad names. (G. K. Chesterton points out that the Victorians allowed the propagation of all kinds of immorality because they were too prim to refer to ugly things except in euphemisms — and euphemisms cover the ugliness which, to be eradicated, must be exposed.)
10. Speaking of naming things, this article by Kevin Loria at Business Insider raises the question of whether we can see colors that do not have names. And it makes me wonder what I’ve wondered before: can we know that we’re all seeing the same things which we name the same? I saw the dress as gold and white, and it made me wonder. . . . Even in walking by sight it seems we walk by faith.
12. I learned that Marilynne Robinson’s newest novel, Lila, is good to read, though somewhat disquieting in its ending. It’s a novel in part about finding home and grace, unexpectedly and even perhaps against one’s will, in unexpected people and places. Many passages resonated, but I’ll share this one:
It felt very good. . . . Good like rest and quiet, like something you could live without but you needed anyway. That you had to learn how to miss and then you’d never stop missing it.
©2015 by Stacy Nott