Why are you silent?

Why are people silent? The two clearest reasons: you either are trying to listen rather than speak, or you’ve got nothing to say.

I grimace when hearing the most common broadsides leveled against social media and communications. “What could I say in 140 characters?” “Who wants to know what I had for lunch?” Et cetera.

Can you imagine if people had had such lack of imagination 150 years ago? We would have let the telegraph rot. We have the means today to draw ourselves closer and share more intimately than ever before in history, and suddenly many of us seem to be struck mute.

Witness. Speak. Share. If you refuse to speak using the media of our time, it’ll be assumed in the future that it was because you didn’t have anything to say. That you didn’t have much to witness to. That maybe there just wasn’t much going on there—much soulfulness, much vitality, much life. (That won’t be a fair perspective, but the future often marginalizes the past and so it’s worth thinking about how to defeat its stereotypes while we still have time.)

I think about everything that my grandparents left behind in heirlooms and artifacts and especially in writing, and how my heart aches for the same sort of things but from every generation of my family over the past 200+ years in this country. How I wish I could read even the slimmest diary entries from my frontier ancestors and what their lives were like. I know some things from newspaper records, church records, etc. These aren’t particularly intimate things, but they’re something.

We have the means to speak and to be heard more simply than ever before.

Figure out what’s worth saying, and say it.


Complaining about your strengths

“Hey, great to see you. Nice hat.”

“Oh, it’s not new. Pretty old actually. I really need to get a new one.”

A better response?

“Thank you.”

I had this exchange almost verbatim recently. A simple compliment, given earnestly. But not well received, and instead turned into mild self pity.

How often we do this to ourselves. Turning our strengths into a weakness, and in effect complaining about a strength.

We don’t always conceive of the thing as a strength, though. Others often do, because they’re not in our doubt-filled heads. They just see the nice hat, and want to give a compliment.

Even when a strength is only perceived (rather than real), better to just go with it:

“Hey, thanks.”

Novelty, time, and experiments

David Eagleman, in short: seek novelty if you want to savor time.

I think of seeking novelty often in the form of running small experiments. An experiment from a few years ago while staying in a State College came from asking myself, “What happens if I leave my door unlocked for my stay?”

I stayed eight days without locking my door. Nothing happened.

Statistically (and especially in State College) perhaps this isn’t too surprising. But the liberty of not carrying keys with me for a week was worth the experiment alone.

A friend to whom I mentioned this experiment, incredulous, asked: What happens if you’re robbed? “Then I wouldn’t have my things any longer,” I replied. Life is simple if we let it be, and if we let go.

This experiment (or novelty) slowed down time for me initially because I was left wondering (more out of curiosity than worry) whether or not my things would in fact be there when I returned. So that week in State College sticks with me.

Seek novelty. Run experiments. Let go.


Goldberg Variations

It was in one of William F. Buckley’s sailing books, I think, that I was first tantalized by his description (really, his praise) for Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations:

The Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, is a work for harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach, consisting of an aria and a set of 30 variations. First published in 1741, the work is considered to be one of the most important examples of variation form. The Variations are named after Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may have been the first performer.

I was in Miami in January 2013 when I had the chance to attend a solo performance of the complete variations by Simone Dinnerstein. In effrontery to the Bill Buckley, Dinnerstein’s rendition was not on harpsichord but, instead, piano. Luckily for me as an amateur appreciator with little ear for the technical soundness of a performance, it was a delightful hour and a half experience.

Sharing impressions jotted down at the time: the Goldberg Variations can be tough listening even on piano at a slower tempo than almost anything a millennial would typically hear. Tonight’s rendition had strength and force enough to keep me attentive even as I shut my eyes to wander mental landscapes. It was a pleasant but not particularly transformative experience. I’d like to hear it again with someone able to dissect the performance’s quality and judge it sufficiently rather than sentimentally.

Worth hearing? Absolutely.

Perspective ≠ nostalgia

Alan Jacobs writes something so pitch perfect that I’m going to except the entire thing just in case his website ever disappears. On nostalgia:

Whenever you suggest that history is a matter of losses as well as gains, whenever you call attention to what we’ve lost along the way, whether it’s something we deliberately set aside or something we just forgot to pack, a great chorus starts shouting “Nostalgia!” You may not even want to have packed it; you may think that we chose as well as we could have in the circumstances; you need only hint that something of value, even of some tiny tiny value, that we once held we hold no longer, and it starts: “always the loud angry crowd, / Very angry and very loud,”, crying: “Nostalgia!”

It’s a bullying cry, but they’re not bullying you, at least not primarily. They’re bullying that little voice within them that wonders whether there might be more to the future than “everyone young going down the long slide / To happiness, endlessly”. Nothing could be more essential than to silence that quiet, that ever-so-gently skeptical voice.

Recalling better aspects of the past that seem to be missing from the present isn’t automatically a romanticization of the past, nor is it automatically a drippy sort of nostalgia. I think it’s more or less the definition of “perspective.” These two things don’t always go together, though often you can be nostalgic because of your perspective.

Perspective can be dangerous though, thus it’s often maligned.



Napa Institute

I’m taking part in the Napa Institute, which I learned about in May when I met John Meyer, its executive director, at the Becket Fund’s Canterbury Medal Gala. I’ll have more of substance to share next week, and in the meantime will be soaking the experience in as much as possible without writing more about it. In the meantime, I’ll share the Napa Institute’s background:

In the article, “Catholics and the Next America,” Archbishop Chaput delivers a prescient warning to American Catholics regarding a growing trend toward secularization in American culture, with Catholics facing dwindling relevance, threatening their ability to be heard.

In response, the Napa Institute was formed to help Catholic leaders face the challenges posed in the “next America” — to continue the work of the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops, heeding Christ’s call for ongoing evangelization.

By leading participants to a deeper understanding of the truth behind the faith, the Napa Institute emboldens Catholics to live and defend their faith with a peaceful confidence that is borne out of solid formation, fellowship and spiritual enrichment.


1)  To deepen Catholic leaders in the teachings of the Church, so they can evangelize others and defend their faith in secular society.

2)  To encourage religious freedom throughout our hemisphere.

3)  To inspire Catholic leaders to better stewardship of their time, treasure, and talents, especially in aiding Catholic organizations in their mission.

4)  To better form Catholics in a life shaped by liturgy, prayer, fasting, sacred art and music, and habits of holiness.

5)  To provide fellowship and recreation to relax the mind, body, and soul.


Mount Nittany Marathon

The beautiful sun and breezes of summertime are here, and it has me thinking back on my first experience running the Mount Nittany Marathon a few years ago. The marathon went for three years, but I think it’s now a thing of the past. In memory of it, I’m sharing something I wrote after running it Labor Day 2013 and enjoying the experience:

The Mount Nittany Conservancy, which owns/preserves 800+ acres of iconic Mount Nittany in Central Pennsylvania, hosted the Mount Nittany Marathon yesterday. It’s the first marathon in the Nittany Valley in, I think, nearly a quarter century. Since learning about the Mount Nittany Marathon last year I had resolved to run it.

Other than the Sloppy Cuckoo Trail Half Marathon in Philadelphia in 2011, I hadn’t run anything like this. In fact, the longest distance I had run prior to yesterday was 13.5 miles, most recently in February in Ave Maria, FL. In other words, I wasn’t sure I would finish, and mentally set the goal of “Lets give it a shot!” rather than “I must compete and finish with great performance.”

Starting the run from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park was perfect. It was my first time inside the park and with its sweeping view of Mount Nittany, there couldn’t have been a better way to start the Mount Nittany Marathon. (I should start going to State College Spikes games next year.)

The route turned out to be tremendous, offering an experience of the Nittany Valley unlike anything I had known before—and as a board member of The Nittany Valley Society, I try to know a great deal about the character of the place!

Experiences: Running through campus and hearing the Alma Mater and fight songs playing across early morning fields, passing through covered wooden bridges, streams, and surreal looking woodlands throughout Millbrook Marsh, seeing people throughout Lemont and Oak Hall with their distinguished architecture, passing through neighborhoods both large and small and seeing the most beautiful backyards and walkable pathways, hearing the cows mooing so loudly as we passed that it seemed they were cheering us on, experiencing increasing heat and fatigue after the first 1.5 hours as the morning gave way to day, and returning to campus for the close to the bustle of Labor Day weekend life. It was a joy, even as it became a blur.

I ended up syncing my pace with a Penn State sophomore who was also running his first marathon. We ran the last mile pretty hard and it was helpful having a “teammate” to come through the finish line with. The result was a finish in 4h:36m:57s, putting me 87th of 138 finishers.

Mount Nittany Marathon Map

What were some lessons from the run? First, take everything offered at every watering station. I can’t stress this enough. On shorter runs I routinely wave off water/gatorade stations, but for a marathon I was ready to take almost anything I could along the way—cups of water/gatorade, bits of watermelon, sprinkler showers, etc.

I also tried my first energy gel, Hammer’s Montana Huckleberry. A Ragnar teammate became nauseous and vomited during a stretch of January’s Miami to Key West relay after taking Gu gels, so I was a bit trepidacious about trying the Hammer gel—but I rationalized that I couldn’t afford not to, and am glad I tried it.

Another thing: I doubt I would ever have finished if not for a child-helper at the Mile 7 watering station who offered me an entire, freezing-cold bottle of Aquafina. It wasn’t clear to me that entire bottles were an option—typically only cups of water are offered as you pass. I carried this bottle for the next few miles and it turned out to be critical—I went through six more during the rest of the race and felt like I was burning fluids fast. I’m sure I would’ve faced serious hydration problems without those full bottles. So, thanks kid!

As mentioned, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to complete the entire marathon. Along the way, a critical aid in completing the run was a lack of visible mile markers between Miles 11 and 19. It was a major mental aid, reminding me to just keep running. Even though I could guess roughly how far along I was, it would’ve been pretty burdensome to be told every mile that there were still many more left to run. Also: Vaseline at Mile 19 was extremely helpful, for reasons that should be pretty clear.

I also broke with my customary practice of running with my iPhone for RunKeeper and music—partly because the battery would not have lasted for the entire 26.2 miles, and partly because I didn’t think I would want to be carrying the iPhone the entire time. This turned out to be the right call, at least for me. I only noticed a few of the ~150 runners with devices/earbuds.

Running the Marathon (University Drive)

The Mount Nittany Marathon was a really first-class event, with superb volunteers all along the way from the Nittany Valley Running Club, Penn State sports teams, families, and others.

A great branding effort was obvious throughout, with the logo even appearing on the sneaker tracker visible on my right shoe. I was surprised not to find a brochure touting the Mount Nittany Conservancy in the runner packet, but if you’ve registered for the run maybe it’s assumed you know about their great work. Seeing the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s John Hook and Vince Verbeke, two friends over the years, was surprisingly energizing. John and Vince are the two signers of my Mount Nittany Life Estate Deed, so it was special for me to see them both along the way. I can see why so many runners have their families cheer them on.

It’s safe to say that the Mount Nittany Conservancy really succeeded with the Mount Nittany Marathon, bringing people together from across the community to put on a great new event. A takeaway from Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism is that this is the epitome of the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s founding mission—it’s meant not only to steward the Mountain, but also to create cultural experiences that enhance through first-person experience the magic of the Mountain.

I’m not sure if or when I might run another marathon, but I’m thrilled to have been a part of the Mount Nittany Marathon and hope it becomes an annual part of the Nittany Valley’s cultural environment.