Marathon Running

Great essay by Hayley Birch on why she trains for marathons. I’m not there yet running wise. I’m not sure I want to be, but I know I miss the drive of training for the half marathon I did back at the beginning of March. It also has a tangible accomplishment at the end complete with a pretty medal. In academia, when so much work is rewarded with more work, scant praise, and almost never more remuneration, running races seems less crazy than you might think.

Questlove on Hip Hop

Questlove, the bandleader for the Roots and a writer on music, has a six part series appearing in New York Magazine on hip hop. The first essay is worth the read. He’s a thoughtful, meditative, and wry writer. I need to go read his book now. Just one of the smart things he says about hip hop in culture today:

I have wondered about this for years, and worried about it for just as many years. It’s kept me up at night or kept me distracted during the day. And after looking far and wide, I keep coming back to the same answer, which is this: The reason is simple. The reason is plain. Once hip-hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant. Not to mention the obvious backlash conspiracy paranoia: Once all of black music is associated with hip-hop, then Those Who Wish to Squelch need only squelch one genre to effectively silence an entire cultural movement.

It’s such a smart response to the ways that “thug culture”–i.e. a white cultural term for what white people think are the identifiable elements of hip hop culture or perhaps all of black culture–is a way of abolishing a whole musical movement, a whole culture and its divergent forms, and it’s forms of resistance. Questlove’s fear that all of black culture and music in its multitudinousness is being painted as a solid cultural block is well founded. No one assumes white culture is monolithic; if they even think about white culture existing at all they conflate it with extreme right or extreme left stereotypes–rednecks or Portlandia types. Yet, no one in the mainstream media speaks of black music of culture outside of hip hop. Indeed, even cultural studies types like Stuart Hall speaks largely of hip hop when he discusses music.

“We are star stuff”

This beautiful memoir by Sasha Sagan on her father Carl Sagan is well worth the read as it blends the personal with the memorial work of archives.

Two key paragraphs. The first on contemplating the finite nature of this life:

“You are alive right this second. That is an amazing thing,” they told me. When you consider the nearly infinite number of forks in the road that lead to any single person being born, they said, you must be grateful that you’re you at this very second. Think of the enormous number of potential alternate universes where, for example, your great-great-grandparents never meet and you never come to be. Moreover, you have the pleasure of living on a planet where you have evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and love the warmth of the closest star. You’re connected to the generations through DNA — and, even farther back, to the universe, because every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars. We are star stuff, my dad famously said, and he made me feel that way.”

I love the concept of connectivity presented here, and of course, the phrase “we are star stuff” resonates with every literate part of me. We are connected to the universe on the molecular level; all of us made of the same things. And the second part is how Seth McFarlane–yes the guy who got the Oscars so wrong two years ago–worked to get Carl Sagan’s papers properly preserved at the Library of Congress:

“But there is something else Seth did for my father’s legacy that has been significantly less tweeted about: He made it possible for all the contents of the Sphinx Head Tomb — all the essays on nuclear winter, the papers on the climate of Venus, the scraps of ideas, a boyhood drawing of a flyer for an imagined interstellar mission — to be preserved in the Library of Congress.

It’s an enormous honor that makes me feel that my father has, in death, achieved a kind of immortality — albeit a tiny, human, earthly immortality. But that’s the only kind a person can hope to achieve. Someday our civilization will crumble. The Library of Congress will be ruins, someone else’s Library of Alexandria. In the biggest sense, our species will eventually die out, or transform into something else, that will not revere what we revere. And then, a few billion years later, when the sun meets its own end, all life on Earth will die with it.”

Archives are in and of themselves our own attempt at immortality, at letting the words of those who came before us speak. It’s one of the reasons I love the scholarship I do. Archives are such a profound mix of the mundane and the extraordinary. Admittedly, this article perhaps hit a little close for me as I approach the fifth anniversary of my own father’s death. I find him vibrantly present this spring. He would have adored the new series of Cosmos.

BBC’s April Fools with Penguins

So the brother got me into Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe over spring break. I’m now listening to his Infinite Monkey Cage podcast when I run. Yep, science for non science people. True story, I took Calculus 1 and 2 in undergrad at 8 am as a freshman to avoid taking two lab sciences. I’m not a hands on learner. I’m also the only person who wrote a ten page paper on lasers in high school in lieu of a science fair project. Most boring paper ever still a better option for me than a science fair project. All of this to say, the above video combines the best of BBC science documentary stylings with April fools. Penguins flying = genius.