This just in

This just in from Mar-a-Lago:

The former president expressed surprise at the controversy surrounding the visit. “I really enjoyed our dinner together. He talked about his heroes, and I told him, by coincidence, my uncle is also named Adolph. So that was nice.”

In all seriousness, how can someone who wants to be President of the United States not have a staff that does even a cursory background check on visitors to his compound? Have these people never heard of Google?

Tessering through the wardrobe

Remarkably, today is the birthday of both C. S. Lewis (1898) and Madeleine D’Engle (1918). Born exactly twenty years apart, with very different literary styles, the two authors had a remarkably confluent influence on the fantasy genre.

Each, in their own unique way, used journeys of children through fantasy worlds as a way to discuss deep spiritual issues. And each had powerful things to teach us about the eternal struggle between good and evil — a struggle that we all face in our own lives.

Thinking of the two of them together, all I want to do at the moment is tesser through a wardrobe. Come to think of it, I wonder whether that was how Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy actually got to Narnia.

Three words

I read once about a creative writing teacher who would help out struggling students in the following way. When a student couldn’t think of something to write about, the teacher would suggest three words, and tell the student to write a story that tied together those three words.

Invariably this did the trick. Armed with those three words, students would turn in wonderful and inventive stories.

Here’s the interesting part: The teacher had a method for choosing the three words entirely at random. Of course he wouldn’t tell the student that the words were randomly chosen.

I wonder whether this idea can be applied to other fields. Suppose somebody is stuck on anything — perhaps modeling a kitchen, or writing a song, or painting a picture.

What if somebody were to give them three elements to work with, chosen at random, and task them with creating something that combined those elements. Imagine how many wonderful creative new ideas might start to flow!

Why and how

When I am explaining a new idea to somebody, I usually start out by explaining how it works. That is mostly because I’m excited by how it works and I want to share cool new techniques.

But in fact, that is generally the wrong way to do it. Most of the time, people won’t respond to your description of “how” until you explain “why”.

Problem is, I am usually already way too immersed in the “why” to remember that other people aren’t. I am already excited by all the things that I will be able to do with this new technique, so I forget that other people aren’t there yet.

I am guessing that I am not the only one with this problem.


Celebrations are mysterious things. On one level they are simple: People gather, eat food, drink wine, maybe dance and give speeches. Then it’s over.

But a celebration is never really over, and that is the mystery part. A good celebration marks a moment when a particular group of people were connected, when they formed themselves into a kind of collective tribe.

Decades later you can still easily recall some celebrations. You still feel connected to people you met there, even if they have long departed from this Earth.

I suspect that there is something deep in the evolution of humans that privileges celebrations. As lighthearted as they may seem on the surface, they help us to form and to affirm the powerful ties that bind us together. They may be one of the reasons that our species has survived so spectacularly well.

Universal dates

Yesterday’s discussion of a Fibonacci Day exposed a tension between how dates are written in different parts of the world. In the U.S., the date is written as month/day/year, whereas in lots of other places it is written as day/month/year.

This suggests that we might want to look for universal dates — dates that are interesting everywhere in the world. We had one of those just 13 days ago.

The date 11/11/22 was wonderful, because the month and day add up to the year. And this was true wherever you were in the world.

Another interesting pair of dates is due very soon. February 3, 2023 and March 2, 2023 are written as 2/3/23 and 3/2/23 in the U.S. and as 3/2/23 and 2/3/23 elsewhere. One of them is “23” written twice and the other is a palindrome.

Depending on where you are in the world, they swap places, yet both dates are numerically interesting everywhere. You can find lots of other interesting universal dates or universal date pairs on the calendar, once you start to look for them.

All of this might seem silly. But it’s a happier thing to do on Thanksgiving than read up on the sad history of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Fibonacci day

Today is the only day of the year in which the month and day digits form the beginning of the Fibonacci series.

At least that is true here in the US. In Europe, where the month is written after the day there is no such day.

Unfortunately, the only year in recent memory which the Fibonacci series could be written as a date beyond the first four digits was 1958. So you may have missed it.

Fortunately you don’t have all that long to wait, since there will be another one in 2058. Only another 36 years until the next 11/23 ’58!

No class on Thursday

This morning I taught my class, which I do on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today as the class was ending, I reminded my students that there is no class this coming Thursday.

“We will be meeting again next Tuesday morning,” I told them. “Meanwhile, remember that there is no class on Thursday. I hope everybody has a happy Halloween.”

As soon as I said it, I realized that I had gotten the holiday wrong. But once you’ve said something, you can’t just unsay it. So I had no choice but to roll with it.

“Oops,” I continued. “I should have said Thanksgiving. Then again, I guess it depends on how scary your family is.”

Fortunately, that got a laugh.

Character arc

When you read a novel or watch a movie that you really like, it can be difficult to think about why you really like it. You have the experience of having met some interesting people, and going on a great adventure with them.

The changes those people go through in the course of the story seem natural, just as such changes would be in real life. It all seems so simple and reasonable.

But when you read a bad novel, or watch a bad movie (like the one I discussed here the other day), you realize that crafting a good story is a serious skill. Characters don’t just magically appear and develop — they need to be constructed.

The better the story and its character arcs, the less you notice the handiwork of the artist. It is only when a story fails, when you see a lack of good character development, that the artistry behind good stories becomes clear.

This reminds me of something that Steven Spielberg said many years ago: “The best special effects are the ones you don’t see.”

How much more true this is of creating good stories and characters!