The Meanest Scientist I Ever Knew

Whether I am reading a book on the history of bees or looking at a particular map of the United States, traces of Charles Darwin continue to swell into conversation. For those who have a predilection for visually compelling forms of communication, here is an infographic on Darwin created by Charles Trujillo that has proven to be good reference material as of late:



Last summer, for admittedly the third time, I picked up On the Origin of Species and read it alongside The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Reading On the Origin of Species wasn’t necessarily a transforming experience, but there are passages that still surface:

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.”

When I read Darwin, I found philosophies referencing body positivity and anti-nationalism. Even the perhaps more boring paragraphs of the book did not compare to the outright tediousness of passages in the Old Testament. Tonight, I hope you look at your bodies and smile, because you are the vision of perfection. Or at least, you are in maddening pursuit. Happy Darwin Day, friends!

To [read] aloud is very brave – (138)

During the past six months, I have been told that I read poorly aloud by multiple people. Never in my life has anyone said this to me so frequently.

When I was twelve years old, I started becoming interested in public speaking. (I say my interest starts at twelve, because I remember going to nationals for the science fair that year. I was more con artist than scientist affectionately.) I began participating in debate groups, dabbled in stand-up comedy for awhile, and even started recording myself just talking about things to see how it sounded. It’s something I still do. I loved standing in front of a crowd, but now I wonder if that love is leaving me.

I have been feeling down lately about it all. Even if my writing isn’t that great, I hope to at least read a piece well before an audience and connect with someone. In the last six months, I keep hearing things like:

“I can’t pay attention, because I get lost in your voice.”

“You sound robotic.”

“Stop reading that way. Just let me read it to myself.”

These words rebound in my thoughts too often. Just this past week, I was going to read a few paragraphs from Chris Offutt’s “My Dad, the Pornographer” to my student organization, a group that I am considerably comfortable with, and I hesitated before reading and became apathetic to a degree. I thought for a moment that I should have asked for someone else to read and spared them all the sound of my voice.

I like to think back to a moment in my Keats class last spring when a student said to me during discussion: “Sarah Key, I love it when you read aloud. It just makes things click.” I think back to my best friend and how she was the first person to ever tell me that she liked my voice. I think back to last summer when one of my students raucously shouted, “I love your voice!” over the drum of other oddities being yelled my way, and that stands out to me more than anything.

Lately, I hear the words robotic and stop when I begin to read aloud. I wonder if I am dragging my feet to submit an abstract to this forum or neglecting setting up certain local lit events, because I don’t want to hear my own voice at them. I wonder if I have stopped reading to myself in the mornings when I am alone for the same reason.

World Book Night 2014

World Book Night was a blast. I gave out copies of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. (This is my second favorite Pollan novel, preceded only by The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)


The book is sectioned into four topics: apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. During the giveaway, we served snacks themed according to the book. Potato salad, apple juice, and caramel apple pie cookies. All that good stuff.

I re-read the passage about potatoes and the epilogue earlier this morning. I wanted to share a quote from the epilogue here:

“Sooner or later your fingers close on that one moist-cold spud that the spade has accidentally sliced clean through, shining wetly white and giving off the most unearthly of earthly aromas. It’s the smell of fresh soil in the spring, but fresh soil somehow distilled or improved upon, as if that wild, primordial scene had been refined and bottled: eau de pomme de terre. You can smell the cold inhuman earth in it, but there’s the cozy kitchen too, for the smell of potatoes is, at least by now, to us, the smell of comfort itself, a smell as blankly welcoming as spud flesh, a whiteness that takes up memories and sentiments as easily as flavors. To smell a raw potato is to stand on the very threshold of the domestic and the wild.”

Pollan’s book could be considered an inspirational tool for the average gardener. (Last year, when I was angry at my corn for shading my squash, this would have been a good book to read. An anecdote for the frustrated or tired.) This book makes me think about our distinctions between wilderness vs. nature and the Apollonian vs. the Dionysian. The way The Botany of Desire speaks in conversation with literature alone is in itself enough to keep me reading and returning to Pollan’s work.


Check out World Book Night if you haven’t before! A number of my friends were givers this year, and I have loved reading the blog entries and social networking updates today about the strange and fulfilling encounters people have had while emptying out their giver’s box.

Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire Writing Prompts

– Michael Pollan’s subtitle for The Botany of Desire is “A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.” Write a short piece of fiction or poetry from the perspective of a plant. You may use one of the plants mentioned in Pollan’s novel (apples, tulips, marijuana, or potatoes) or choose your own.

– Pollan spends a large portion of the first chapter discussing the tale of Johnny Appleseed. Using the Johnny Appleseed legend as a model, write a similar story involving either tulips, marijuana, or potatoes.

– The third chapter of the novel begins begins by comparing the Genesis account of the apple’s “forbidden knowledge” with the contemporary forbidden nature of marijuana. Pollan concludes this first section with a method of questioning:

“Why in the world should this be sowhy should evolution yield plants possessing such magic? What makes these so irrestible to us (and to many other creatures), when the cost of using them can be so high? Just what is the knowledge held out by a plant such as cannabisand why is it forbidden?”

Write an essay comparing two forbidden topics, practices, objects, etc. while performing a social critique. (Or take two ordinarily accepted practices and make them forbidden.) The social critique should unfold naturally in your writing. Use Pollan’s questions to help guide the essay.

To those who asked for prompts, I hope these are somewhat profitable. I want to extend my gratitude to all who helped make World Book Night a success in Clarksville. Happy reading and writing, folks!