Where I attempt to dust the cobwebs off of my brain and get back to writing for writing’s sake.
Constant communication and the vanishing membrane of home
An Open Letter to Matt Maloney, CEO of Grubhub
A Week of Healthy Recipes (for mom or you)!
In the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin discovers an aquatic lizard, cousin to the Iguana, that lives on the edges of rocky beaches in the Galapagos. “It is a hideous looking creature, of a dirty black color, stupid, and sluggish in its movements.” The lizard never ventures more than ten feet from shore, but with its flattened, sinuous tail, can swim out to eat the plentiful seaweed that grows on the ocean floor just off the coast. And yet, the compulsively curious Darwin is shocked to discover that “when frightened, it will not enter the water.” No matter what he does—cornering it, cowing it, tossing it again and again from land to water—the “stupid” lizard refuses to escape by jumping into the water, and when tossed into the water from shore, swims in a straight line right back to land, to the source of the assault.
Darwin finally figures it out. The lizard has no landbound predators, and never has; it only knows to fear the sharks it faces when it swims for seaweed. It has no precedent, no instinct, for harassment from land, from a predator in its home. Danger is out there, not in here.
People have a primal need for shelter. Shoshana Zuboff calls it our “yen for nests and shells.”
When danger lurks within our shelter, when the enemy is in the nest, we—like the sluggish Amblyrhynchus cristatus—don’t have an adequate response in our repertoire. We delve deeper and deeper into home, trying to find safety. We even try to make it more convenient, so we never have to leave.
Our yen to nest exists in relation to our yen to move, to leave, to venture. Our need to boogie for our supper is what gave us legs and brains and the impulse to use them. To cross the Bab Al Mandab strait and beachcomb out of Africa, some 70,000 years ago. These twinned yearnings—to venture and to hunker, to leave and to stay, to explore and to understand—are at the heart of what it means to be human. As Young says “Leaving the nest, even just to get outside, is how we grow, challenge ourselves and discover things that have not been tailored to our relevant interests by an algorithm.”
Darwin spent four years aboard the wind-born Beagle, traveling the globe, seeing its mountains and oceans and islands and the wildly varied creatures who’d made these different places home. In order to know, he had to wander, to touch, to sail. To grab lizards by the tail and fling them into the surf. As he travelled, as he moved through the mysteries and wonders of the natural world IRL, an idea, a web of connections, traced between dots of his peripatetic wanderings, coded in memory as smells and touch and taste and sight, began to percolate. Then he went home again, home again, and sat sifting and sorting and synthesizing his experience for years, before finally publishing his theory. It marinated, incubated, and—finally—became.
I wonder if, by some quirk of spacetime, the facilities and ease of modern life were magically given to Darwin, and he never had to actually travel the globe (which was incredibly dangerous, after all), would he have been able to imagine the epic scope of evolution? Would his mind have stretched wide enough to encompass a story through long space and time if he had binge-watched footage of the Galapagos live-streamed on a tablet, in his sweatpants, back in London? Could a virtual Voyage of the Beagle ever have given us On the Origin of Species?