“Let’s do everything!”
I found those three words spilling unbidden from my mouth the other day when I was talking to my wife, Fiona, and realised that I’d inadvertently summarised my life. It’s my blessing and my curse. I want to do it all.
So here’s what I have on right now: first, there’s my family — wife and three sons. Then my day-job in programming. I’m working on various other programs in my spare time, including a couple that are nearly ready to release but need a bit more documenting. In my spare-time palaeontology, I have to get my sauropod neck anatomy talk written up as a manuscript and submitted to a journal, then finally finish the description of “the Archbishop”, an African sauropod in the Natural History Museum in London; then, well, there is a whole stack of other palaeo projects that I want to do. I have this blog to feed, of course (lots of half-written articles in the to-be-finished queue), plus Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, which is currently in the middle of a series on camel necks and recently obsessed on my ostrich skull, which I now find myself wanting to turn into an illustrated cranial osteology of Struthio, also to be submitted to a journal. I have plans for a novel that I want to write. Also, I realised when I went to Oxonmoot the other weekend that I wanted to give a talk on Mortality in Middle-earth and Aman, which quickly mutated into an article that I want to write for Mallorn, the journal of the Tolkien Society. I lead worship once a month in our church, playing guitar and singing. Very occasionally, I preach. Tonight, Fiona played in a local folk club, and it made me realise that I’d like to do that, too. I’m reading a bunch of books out loud to various subsets of sons. I’m reading other books for myself, but there are yet others that have been on the To Read list since forever. Also, I like to watch TV series: Veronica Mars and Buffy are my favourites, but I’ve recently been watching The West Wing and Ally McBeal. And, I like to cook, especially sushi.
I’ve been a bit unwell this weekend, so pretty much the only part of all that big list I’ve made any progress with is watching TV.
Why am I telling you all this? I am not honestly sure, except that it’s on my mind, and this blog is basically here so I have somewhere to say what I’m thinking. I’m not complaining: I wanted it this way, and if I didn’t I could change it. It would be with me the work of a moment to junk the Tolkien article, or stop blogging, or decide that just rebuilding my ostrich skull is enough and I don’t have to publish on the subject. But of course I don’t want to.
Actually, if this article has any actual point, it might be this: we can do anything now. We live at a time when the resources are there for us to do all kinds of things that we couldn’t do ten or twenty years go. Want to be a palaeontologist? Go right ahead! You can read the blogs, join the mailing lists, get PDFs of the primary literature, write papers and get them published. Want to dissect an ostrich skull? Google for ostrich farms in your country, email them and ask whether they’ll send you a head. (Mine was free, plus £15 to get it couriered to me.) And of course: want to tell the world what you think? Start a blog on one of the many free hosting services.
So this is a call to arms. Go on: do it! Whatever it is. Dissect it, write about it, discuss it, publish it, sing about it. Whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to do, stop procrastinating, and start doing. Apart from anything else, it’s the only way to find out whether you’re actually able to. (If it’s any help, I can tell you that I was quite sure I couldn’t do palaeontology until I proved to myself that I could, and my Ph.D took me completely by surprise.)
And isn’t it exhilarating? That we can do anything? That we can make things that our parents couldn’t? I think that “Let’s do everything!” is going to become my motto. I might get it translated into Latin and made up into a crest.
These are the days of miracle and wonder. We have resources, we have information, we have how-to guides, we have connectivity. In fact, there’s really only one thing we don’t have any more: excuses.