Friday, May 30, 2014

Mr. Fix-it -- a summer program


At the end of an essay on poetry in the Times Literary Supplement (16 May, 2014), author and critic Clive James writes: "I still make plans to live forever; there are too many critical questions still to be raised. Most of them can never be settled, which is the best reason for raising them.

Well, yes. The questions and opinions that have been the meat and potatoes of the Science Musings blog are far from settled, and I could go on exploring them for another lifetime. But I don't have another lifetime, and my interests have turned from the questions themselves -- which are ultimately unanswerable in any universally definitive way -- to the origin of the questions. For me, that means exploring the dusty chambers of memory, and most especially memories of my parents, who laid down the outline of the person I am today. The influence of parents is universal, for better or worse, so maybe -- just maybe -- the turning which I propose to make here will be of interest to some of you.

Clive James is three years younger than me, terminally ill and very much aware of the narrowing margin to his life. He wonders if time devoted to literary criticism (such as his TLS essay) is squandered. "Better to think back on all the poems you have ever loved," he concludes, "and to realize what they have in common: the life you soon must lose."

Of the thousands of posts on the Science Musings blog, a goodly number evoked memories of my father. I have been excavating and collating those posts into the evocation of a life, my father's life specifically, but also the life of the kind of man -- technical, scientific, skeptical -- who inspired the life I have lived in this blog for the past ten years and in other venues for decades. To paraphrase James, I propose to put aside the critical questions about which I have little or nothing more original to say, and instead compile "poems" of memory -- all the "poems" of my father I have ever loved.

For a title, I have chosen Mr. Fix-It: The Handyman's Way of Living (and Dying). The memoir will unfold weekly, on Saturday, a "chapter" at a time. Tom and Anne have volunteered to contribute their unique competencies, archival and artistic. The totality will be a cyber book -- for my extended family, but for anyone else who cares to drop in. Since much of what you will read will be drawn from the blog, the memories have already been winnowed for themes of general interest. Inevitably, because of who he was and who I am, religious naturalism will play like an almost inaudible background music.

I know this temporary re-purposing of the blog will not please everyone who has been a regular visitor on the Science Musings porch, but it's where I must go while I still can. I'll begin a week from tomorrow.