Snails for Dinner

Jeanette Winterson, reviewing a new biography of Patricia Highsmith in the New York Times:

She [Highsmith] collected snails, liking their portable hiding place and the impossibility of telling which was male and which was female. She traveled with snails in her luggage and kept hundreds at home. If she was bored at dinner parties, she might get a few snails out of her purse and let them loose on the tablecloth. As she didn’t eat much, she was often bored at dinner parties.

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Random Quotes

After a few hours of searching around the web to decide, first, whether I wanted to do this in PHP or in Javascript, and second, which script I wanted to appropriate and modify for my purposes, and then some fiddling around with the template for my website, tweaking a line of code and re-uploading the page and seeing whether I had gotten any closer to what I had envisioned and trying again, I have gotten a random quote to appear in the sidebar of every page of my website — not this one, my blog, because WordPress.com won’t let you embed either PHP or Javascript into your template, but the website about my libretto writing, Juggling in Handcuffs, at dsmarley.net.

My plan is to have two random quotes displayed in the sidebar of each page that comes up, one being a random quote from my reading and the other being a random quote either from a good review of my work or from one of my librettos.

The curious part of this process is the preparing of the array of quotations. I cannot for the life of me figure out where among the many, many files for my old blog the list of my quotations was kept by the random-quote plug-in script I was using. I’ve tried to untangle the PHP script that find a pointer to where each quote was stored; I’ve tried doing searches on the files for “quote” and for the names of a few of the authors and for a few of the words from the quotes, and haven’t turned up anything. How can the data not be somewhere in the old blog files? Maybe the software was secretly storing everybody’s quotes on some server in Uzbekistan that is going to be the future home of the ultimate quotations website and all of us innocent users have been doing the work of inputting the billions of quotations that will make up its database, a collection so vast that nobody will ever bother visiting any other quotations websites again and all the Google ads revenue will be theirs alone.

However, not that long ago I had made a PDF of a browser display of a list of all my quotations, and so, not being able to figure out any more direct method of creating the array I need, I’ve been cutting and pasting from the PDF, one quotation at a time. And the result is that, as I go, I’m spending a few moments revisiting each quotation and remembering, or in a few cases trying unsuccessfully to remember, why I liked it and added it to my list.

What’s clear is that I’m not quite the same person who compiled this list. There’s overlap, of course. Some of the quotations still hit home very strongly for me. Others, though, no longer have quite the same punch for me that they once had. A few have so little punch left that I’ve deleted them from the list, though mostly I’ve leaned in the direction of letting the borderline ones stay on the list, maybe out of a feeling that I ought to preserve a feeling of friendly regard for my past selves, or maybe from the geeky desire never to throw away a piece of information that might someday be useful. Who knows, maybe in a few more years I’ll become once again the sort of person who finds this particular quotation stirring and I’ll want to find it again. Realistically, I know the odds are astronomically against it ever happening, but who knows, it might.

I carry around the illusion, of course, that I am the same person from one moment to the next, and no matter how much I understand cerebrally that this is only an illusion due to how slowly, though constantly, I am changing, it’s still always a strange and startling thing to come face to face with who I was long enough ago that the differences are very noticeable. I look at the next quotation and as I cut and paste it into my list, I remember why I jotted it down and where my head was at back then. Sometimes it’s something that used to be important to me but I hadn’t thought about in years. Sometimes it’s still important to me. Occasionally I can’t remember why I jotted the passage down at all.

And of course I’ve been continuing to jot down favorite passages from my reading, so I have new items to add to the list, too. I’ve already put a few of them in, though just a few so far. I’ll get them all in. I want to give my future selves something to think about, too.

What’s the Traditional Gift for the Eleventh Anniversary? Oh, That’s Right: Excedrin

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my brain surgery. I celebrated, appropriately enough, by waking up at 4:30 a.m. with a mild but persistent headache that faded in and out but never completely went away for the rest of the day. (I’m pretty sure it was due more to the approaching storm than to the anniversary, though. Over the last few years I’ve been finding that the headaches coincide more and more frequently with big changes in atmospheric pressure.)

When I got up, I took a hot bath. I’m not really sure if that actually does much good or if it just gives me somewhere pleasant and relaxing to lie down while I wait for the headache to pass. Three or four drops of lavender or rosemary in the bath water sometimes seems to help, though.

Constantine’s Bible

After five chapters, I took a break from Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God — terrific but dense with information and ideas, and not a book to try to absorb quickly, I think — and picked up David L. Dungan’s Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament. I found it both interesting and disappointing. Interesting because it clarified a lot for me about the political situation in the Roman Empire in the first few centuries, especially as to why the early Christians were so hostile toward the Jews who didn’t follow Jesus, and why the Christians wanted so strongly to distance themselves from them.

Disappointed because after four terrific chapters about the history leading up to the canonization of the New Testament, including the influence of Greek philosophy on early Christian thought, when we finally get to chapters five and six, about Eusebius and Constantine, Mr. Dungan suddenly reveals his agenda and becomes an apologist and cheerleader for the perfect scholarly correctness of Eusebius’s judgments about which books were worthy of inclusion and which were not. A whole lot of church politics, then, is being glossed over. For that matter, even by Mr. Dungan’s own account, Eusebius took the books that he knew were of dubious authorship at best, and he divided them into two groups, the ones that his branch of Christianity approved of and used (which made it into the New Testament), and the ones that only other branches of Christianity approved of and used (which didn’t). This is presented as being good scholarship rather than politics, and give me a break.

So after a long buildup, full of interesting political information, when we finally get to the actual making of the New Testament, there really isn’t much about the politics involved in it, despite the book’s subtitle.

Pre-existing Condition

From this week’s New Yorker, start of the Talk of the Town section:

“At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without compulsory health insurance,” the Yale economist Irving Fisher said in a speech in December. December of 1916, that is.