What I learned this week, December 17, 2021

Travelin’ Light, Alison Saar, Bronze, Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Sunday night anxiety: how to alleviate the “Sunday scaries,” according to an expert

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of dread which creeps in on a Sunday evening, is there? Despite your best attempts to push away thoughts of the week ahead – to “make the most” of your time off and forget about work for a little while longer – they somehow find a way in.

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans

Surprising ways to beat anxiety and become mentally strong – according to science

Do you have anxiety? Have you tried just about everything to get over it, but it just keeps coming back? Perhaps you thought you had got over it, only for the symptoms to return with a vengeance? Whatever your circumstances, science can help you to beat anxiety for good.

Running of the Bulls, New Orleans, Louisiana

Twenty-Five Useful Thinking Tools

Most people think being smart is about having more facts. Trivia-shows like Jeopardy! epitomize this view of knowledge. The smartest people are the people with the most names, dates and places stored away inside their mind.

This is probably the least important and useful part of learning though. Instead of facts, I’d prefer to focus on knowledge that acts as tools. The more you have, the more ways you can approach different problems.

Virtual money flowing across the surface of the sculpture. Fountainhead Charles Long Northpark Center Dallas, Texas

What You’re Really Worried About When You’re Worried About Money

Once you’ve met your most basic needs, an obsession with your bank account might be hiding deeper anxieties.

1957 Thunderbird

The American Addiction to Speeding

How we became obsessed with driving fast, no matter the cost.

Collage by James Michael Starr, Carrollton DART station.

A Brief History of Zork

“You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.”

A wide angle view of Dealey Plaza at dawn on the morning henge day (or two days later). The brick building in shadow on the far left is the infamous Texas Schoolbook Depository. President Kennedy was shot on the curved road on the left, almost fifty years ago.

Our Extinct Cousins Reached ‘The Roof of The World’ a Long Time Before Homo Sapiens

If it wasn’t for an extinct relative of modern humans known as the Denisovans, some researchers suspect our own species might never have made their home on the highest and largest plateau in the world.

What I learned this week, March 12, 2021

(click to enlarge)
Book With Wings
Anselm Kiefer
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

7 Fiction Books That Change The Way You Think


Why Channel 37 Doesn’t Exist (And What It Has to Do With Aliens)

23 Signs You’re Secretly a Narcissist Masquerading as a Sensitive Introvert

I took the test. I’m not. Not even close.

Graffiti in Deep Ellum. This warrior is nothing if not well-muscled… plus he is carrying off his prize of war.

Resistance training: here’s why it’s so effective for weight loss

Weight lifting, also known as resistance training, has been practised for centuries as a way of building muscular strength. Research shows that resistance training, whether done via body weight, resistance bands or machines, dumbbells or free weights, not only helps us build strength, but also improves muscle size and can help counteract age-related muscle loss.

More recently it’s become popular among those looking to lose weight. While exercises such as running and cycling are indeed effective for reducing body fat, these activities can simultaneously decrease muscle size, leading to weaker muscles and greater perceived weight loss, as muscle is more dense than fat. But unlike endurance exercises, evidence shows resistance training not only has beneficial effects on reducing body fat, it also increases muscle size and strength.

Deep Ellum
Dallas, Texas

What Is Space?

It’s not what you think.

Downtown Square, McKinney, Texas

Phone call anxiety: why so many of us have it, and how to get over it

I hate talking on the phone… always have. I thought I was the only one.

Sailboats on White Rock Lake, Dallas, TX

Goblin Death Cult Practices Dark Arts on Shores of White Rock Lake

The Joy of Life

“Did not one spend the first half of one’s days in dreams of happiness and the second half in regrets and terrors?”
Émile Zola, The Joy of Life

 I am now a good chunk (have been reading for over a year) into Emile Zola’s twenty volume Rougon Macquat series of novels. Attacking this pile of books in the recommended reading order:

  • La Fortune des Rougon (1871) (The Fortune of the Rougons)
  • Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) (His Excellency Eugene Rougon/ His Excellency)
  • La Curée (1871-2) (The Kill)
  • L’Argent (1891) (Money)
  • Le Rêve (1888) (The Dream)
  • La Conquête de Plassans (1874) (The Conquest of Plassans/A Priest in the House)
  • Pot-Bouille (1882) (Pot Luck/Restless House/Piping Hot)
  • Au Bonheur des Dames (1883) (The Ladies’ Paradise/Shop Girls of Paris/Ladies’ Delight)
  • La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret (1875) (The Sin of Father Mouret/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression)
  • Une Page d’amour (1878) (A Lesson in Love/A Love Episode/A Page of Love/A Love Affair)
  • Le Ventre de Paris (1873) (The Belly of Paris/The Fat and the Thin/Savage Paris/The Markets of Paris)
  • La Joie de Vivre (1884) (The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life)
  • L’Assommoir (1877) (The Dram Shop/The Gin Palace/Drink/Drunkard)
  • L’Œuvre (1886) (The Masterpiece/A Masterpiece/His Masterpiece)
  • La Bête Humaine (1890) (The Beast in the Man/The Human Beast/The Monomaniac)
  • Germinal (1885)
  • Nana (1880)
  • La Terre (1887) (The Earth/The Soil)
  • La Débâcle (1892) (The Downfall/The Smash-up/The Debacle)
  • Le Docteur Pascal (1893) (Doctor Pascal)

The next one up was The Joy of Life (La Joie de Vivre/The Joys of Living/Joy of Life/How Jolly Life Is/Zest for Life).

It is a sort-of sequel to The Belly of Paris. The protagonist is Pauline Quenu – the daughter of the owners of the successful Paris charcuterie in that novel. Between the two novels she is orphaned, and sent at nine years of age, along with her substantial fortune inherited from the business, to live with distant relatives in a dismal seaside fishing village. She moves in with an older couple, the Chanteaus, and their 19 year old son, Lazare.

The title, The Joy of Life, is an ironic one – there is little joy in the Chanteau household. The old man is crippled with gout and his wife crippled by regret. The son is a dilettante and flits from one grandiose scheme to another – each one a greater disaster than the last. Pauline is a generous, good person – and is taken advantage of over and over by everyone else in the story. Her fortune is slowly wasted away, spent on wild ideas and hopeless charity until everyone is left in abject poverty. As she comes of age she inevitably falls in love with Lazare, which is the worst thing that could possibly happen to her.

The detailed portrait of Lazare and his wasted life is a fascinating chronicle of mental illness written before our modern understanding. Lazare suffers not only from depression, anxiety and ennui – but from what we would now call OCD:

With all this were mingled certain ideas of symmetry. He would take three steps to the right and then as many to the left, and touch the different articles of furniture on either side of a window or door the same number of times. And beneath this there lurked the superstitious fancy that a certain number of touchings, some five or seven, for instance, distributed in a particular fashion, would prevent the farewell from being a final one.

I guess it’s not surprising, given the detailed and heartbreaking description of mental illness and its disastrous consequences – The Joy of Life was the favorite book of  Vincent van Gogh and is included in two of his paintings: Still Life with Bible and Vase with Oleanders and Books.

Still Life with Bible, Vincent van Gogh (1885) including a copy of The Joy of Life, by Zola

Vase with Oleanders and Books, van Gogh (1888) with The Joy of Life, by Zola


The book was interesting for its characters and dire setting, but isn’t one of the better books in the series. It’s relentless pessimism becomes predictable and repetitive – it makes its point about human weakness and disaster over and over – hammering it home with no subtlety or relief.

Another problem is that I only had access to the contemporary Vizettely translation and the most dramatic part of the book – a nine page section of chapter ten outlining a terribly difficult birth scene – was cut out and replaced with one short paragraph:

There came a cruel and affecting scene. It was one of those dread hours when life and death wrestle together, when human science and skill battle to overcome and correct the errors of Nature. More than once did the Doctor pause, fearing a fatal issue. The patient’s agony was terrible, but at last science triumphed, and a child was born. It was a boy.

It seems that a depiction of childbirth was too much for the delicate English-speakers of the time.

At any rate – I did enjoy the book and found it very interesting even though it became a bit of a depressing slog.

But now I have a decision to make – the next book in the series, L’Assommoir – along with four of the next five – I have already read. Years ago, before the internet, I was able to get my hands on L’Assommoir, Germinal, La Bête Humaine, and Nana – but none of the others in the Rougon-Macquart Cycle. So, do I re-read L’Assommoir? Or skip ahead to L’Œuvre (which looks really interesting).

The thing is, I have other reading to do – a lot of reading. So I should take a break and by skipping the three I have already read I’m only four books from the end.

But the other thing is… L’Assommoir is a great book – one of the best books I’ve ever read – better than the others in the cycle (so far). I’m sure I would get a lot out of it reading it as an old man and having read all the novels leading up to it. Likewise, Germinal is a classic, La Bête Humaine a heart-stopping thrill ride and Nana a guilty pleasure. So I’ll probably take a break – read my Dostoevsky – and then take up Zola’s cycle in full.

Wish me luck.