rabbit holes

I have grown to love using the internet, but am very susceptible to links within links. Rabbit holes are energizing, engaging and fun — especially when there’s an important task that I ought to be spending time on instead.

Duke likes rabbit holes, too. At breakfast Monday, I was on my laptop, he was reading the paper, and our desultory conversation led me to these searches:

  • Confirming that a furled flag is folded up, an unfurled one is flapping in the breeze
  • Recalling the lyrics to “Little Bunny Foo Foo” — Duke, out of the blue, asked whether there was a refrain to this favorite song of Katie’s (when she was little, not now at almost 33). Apparently, he had been singing it to himself and feeling that something was missing — there was! See it here, performed with hand gestures, as my kids learned it.
  • Determining the exact title of the brilliant, funny Steve Martin play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which we’ve seen twice on stage. The plot revolves around a fictional 1904 meeting of Einstein and Picasso in a café called the Lapin Agile (nimble rabbit) in Paris. If you ever get a chance to see it, do. Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays is available to buy as a book. The other plays in the book are Zig-Zag Woman, Patter for a Floating Lady, and Wasp. [Clicking on the title of the book will take you to the site bookshop.org, which I am trying to discipline myself to patronize instead of the behemoth Amazon.com. Every purchase supports independent bookstores, which I love and miss.]
  • Re-finding a BBC article my sister Nancy sent me a couple of days ago to tell Richard about. It’s called The movements that betray who you are, about “non-verbal dialects:” how facial expressions and even the way you walk can indicate where you’re from. There are lots of links in the article that will, if you have the time and interest, take you into some rabbit holes of your own. Enjoy!
  • On a related note, if you haven’t already done it, take the 2013 dialect quiz from the NYT. It’s short, and at the end is a map showing where your answers indicate you live/have lived. The first time I did it, it came up with Denver and Phoenix, which is mighty close. I just did it again, however, and it told me Omaha and Jackson, Mississippi! (I must be traveling a lot in my dreams!) My brother-in-law Jim’s was uncannily accurate, naming Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he was born and raised. If you take the quiz, report the accuracy of the results in “Leave a reply” below. . . I’m curious.
  • Finally, I searched to be reminded of the current rules for which titles to italicize and which to frame with quotation marks. This link from Grammarly.com has the answers from four different style manuals: Chicago, MLA, APA and AP. Because of my advanced years, my training was to underline what we now italicize since the latter was not an option on typewriters. Hmmm. . . now I’m trying to remember how we used to underline on typewriters. . . better look it up! [We had to type the title, then back up and add the underscore. And we did it without complaint. Typewriters were magic enough in those simpler days.]

the queen of rabbit holes: Maria Popova

Maria Popova is “…a Bulgarian-born, American-based writer of literary and arts commentary and cultural criticism…” (thanks, Wikipedia). She is beyond brilliant, sharing knowledge and, more importantly, insight on all kind of subjects. She seems to spend all her time in rabbit holes, yet somehow, never gets lost. She produces a blog, Brain Pickings, that started (as did this one) as emails to friends. There, the comparison to my posts ends, because hers far outshine mine in variety of topics, depth of analysis, and luminous perception. To give you a taste, below is an excerpt from one of her posts followed by a few more that I liked:

I was introduced to a lovely book of fifty drawings called Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World. “Words belong to each other,” Virginia Woolf said in the only surviving recording of her voice, a magnificent meditation on the beauty of language. But what happens when words are kept apart by too much unbridgeable otherness? “Barring downright deceivers, mild imbeciles and impotent poets, there exist, roughly speaking, three types of translators,” Vladimir Nabokov opened his strongly worded opinion on translation. Indeed, this immeasurably complex yet vastly underappreciated art of multilingual gymnastics, which helps words belong to each other and can reveal volumes about the human condition, [a must-see 3-minute video is linked to in this link] is often best illuminated through the negative space around it — those foreign words so rich and layered in meaning that the English language, despite its own unusual vocabulary, renders them practically untranslatable.

13-Year-Old Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Prejudice, Its Antidote, and the Five Documents That Shaped Humanity

For the bird (and poetry) lovers among you: Of Owls and Roses: Mary Oliver on Happiness, Terror, and the Sublime Interconnectedness of Life

For those who need an emotional / spiritual pick-me-up (who doesn’t?), here is the September 18 issue of Brain Pickings: “I Go Down to the Shore”: Natascha McElhone Reads Mary Oliver’s Spare, Splendid Antidote to Melancholy and Personal Misery

A Visual Alphabet-Dictionary of Unusual Words Check out these illustrated endangered words. My daughter Katie told me after seeing them that she likes to be montivagant and is often yonderly (which she came by honestly through her father). I know her husband Wayland to engage in pogonotrophy. I am the very opposite of a leptosome, I often feel scripturiant, and the news these days often gorgonizes me. I plan to start regularly using quockerwodger as an insult.

I just happened on 13 Life-Learnings from 13 Years of Brain Pickings, developed after many years of studying, learning, and interacting with others. Maria, at age 35 or so, is wiser than I’ll ever be — but then, it’s not a competition. I’m happy to learn from her.

Subscribe to Brain Pickings here. It’s free, but runs on donations, which I’m sure many readers are happy to make. I make a small monthly donation since I rarely have the time and mental energy to dedicate to devouring it, but if I ever have to serve a long prison term and have access to the internet and have enough funds, I’ll increase the amount to acknowledge all the pleasure I get from Maria’s work.

this and that

For fun

This American Life is one of my favorite podcasts. On September 11, their episode, Audience of One, did not commemorate 9/11, which was fine with me because so many others did. Instead, it was a light-hearted look at movies. The tagline for the show is “At a time when going to the movies is mostly out of the question, we bring the movies to you.” The whole thing was fun, but my favorite segment, Many a Thing She Ought to Understand (15 minutes OR transcript to read), was about a woman who watched The Sound of Music many times as a child. She was telling a friend about this, and he said he had also enjoyed it, but added, “The part about the Nazis was scary.” She was astonished — WHAT part about the Nazis? Turns out she had only seen the first of two VHS tapes of it. Her seven-year-old mind had found closure and a happily-ever-after ending. They watch the whole thing together. I loved hearing about all the details she noted on viewing part one that her seven-year-old mind glossed over. Clearly, trouble was coming, but in her innocence, she missed the signs.

the nature of the voices schizophrenics hear in 3 countries

Fresh Air interview: Author Yaa Gyasi Says Writing Can Be ‘An Act Of Love And Justice’ Listening takes 36 minutes, but you can choose to read a summary and/or transcript. Gyasi, who came to the US from Ghana when she was two, wrote the novel Homegoing in 2017, and has just written another one, Transcendent Kingdom. I was intrigued both by Yaa’s story and both books, but what caught my ear while I was listening was this: She referred to a study of people with schizophrenia in three countries: India, Ghana, and the United States. The findings were so astonishing that I had to go down another rabbit hole. The study is called Hearing Voices in Different Cultures: A Social Kindling Hypothesis. You can read the whole thing (I admit I didn’t) but the abstract is below. I don’t know what conclusions can be drawn, but isn’t it fascinating? The fact that I didn’t even take the time to read the whole study shows that I have my limits regarding the depth of rabbit holes I’m willing to plumb. Maria Popova would have researched the hell out of this, connected it with other studies, hypothesized possible ramifications, etc. Me? “Hmmm. . . interesting.”

This study compares 20 subjects, in each of three different settings, with serious psychotic disorder (they meet inclusion criteria for schizophrenia) who hear voices, and compares their voice-hearing experience. We find that while there is much that is similar, there are notable differences in the kinds of voices that people seem to experience. In a California sample, people were more likely to describe their voices as intrusive unreal thoughts; in the South Indian sample, they were more likely to describe them as providing useful guidance; and in our West African sample, they were more likely to describe them as morally good and causally powerful. What we think we may be observing is that people who fall ill with serious psychotic disorder pay selective attention to a constant stream of many different auditory and quasi-auditory events because of different “cultural invitations”-variations in ways of thinking about minds, persons, spirits and so forth. Such a process is consistent with processes described in the cognitive psychology and psychiatric anthropology literature, but not yet described or understood with respect to cultural variations in auditory hallucinations. We call this process “social kindling.”


Great-tailed grackle
(I sure hope that’s what this is, Parker!)

I have recommended Parker Davis’s blog Birds Make Sound before. It continues to delight me. His latest is called Getting Started – Birding by Ear with Merlin, in which Parker tells how his interest in birds was kindled through hearing their sounds.

The stereotypical birdwatcher seems to be mostly interested in identification by sight — but then, for me “stereotypical birdwatcher” means Jane Hathaway on the “Beverly Hillbillies,” played by Nancy Culp. In this episode, Nancy is joined by Wally Cox playing Professor P. Caspar Biddle. I can’t imagine either of them shutting up long enough to hear birdsong. But Parker, like his friend my son Sam, has a gift for stillness and sensory awareness, as well as “big ears,” a term of art in the music world for “someone who listens broadly and deeply.” [Sam also literally has big ears, but Parker does just as well with his normal-sized ones.]

Parker wants all of us to listen to birds, and suggests several apps, Merlin in particular, to help identify birds around where we live. Richard and I are currently in Flagstaff, AZ for a few days, so I have no excuses. I’m going to use Merlin to find out what birds I’m likely to see here, get still for a while and open up my ears. I’ve been realizing how little time I give to opening my senses. Podcasts, for all their virtues, crowd my ears and my brain with words. Maybe I’d sleep more deeply and longer if I let some birdsong in.

If you don’t have time to read Parker’s blog right now, at least view (and hear) this Instagram post.


Here‘s the latest from our choir. Sam is not credited because the director, Benjie, ostensibly did the sound mixing. When I congratulated Benjie on his work, he laughed and said that he had texted and called Sam many times for advice, and that Sam did the final mix. It’s a complicated process, and I’m so glad the two of them are friends and help each other out. I’m proud of them both!

from the mouths (or pencils) of kids

I worked with Manuel off and on between the time he was four and twelve years old. Virtually every time we saw each other, I wrote down something he said that delighted me. When he was eleven, out of the blue, he reported, “I tried to teach my [14-year-old] brother the tango. I don’t think I’m going to do that anymore.
It was weird for both of us.”


  1. I got Worcester MA, Springfield MA, Providence RI, and (vaguely) WI. I was born and briefly lived in the midwest, so it seems fairly accurate for me.


  2. According to the dialect quiz I come from or am related to Birmingham, Jackson, or Columbus. Go figure! I’d love to visit these places. Maybe they won’t ask me when I’m going to speak properly….. Susan! 😃


  3. Detroit (I was born and raised there), Grand Rapids, MI, or Madison, WI. Pretty cool.
    What I didn’t understand was the Little Bunny Foo-Foo video. The best part was the end -We always ended that song with And the moral of the story is “Hare today, Goon tomorrow!” That’s the point of the song, isn’t it? 😉


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