08 January 2023

Quintessence of Dust 2023 restart: the why

It's early January 2023, a little before sunset in Tucson. Live image below, showing the glorious Santa Catalina mountains (the snow on the upper reaches is more apparent earlier in the day) and my dinner preparations (shrimp and veggies on the grill).

I've decided to start writing here at Quintessence of Dust, after another long hiatus. Here are some of my reasons.

1. I like to write, and I have things to say, and I self-identify as an author. For eight years, I have co-organized and taught in the Scientific Writing Retreat at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. I'm a writer and I need to write, if only for myself.

2. I have an idea for a book, along with some introductory work (but no sample chapters yet) and writing here will help me develop those thoughts. The idea is over twelve years old and has never faded away, which I take to mean that I need to get it out of my system somehow.

3. I have other ideas kicking around in my head and most of them are worth writing about. I have one new intellectual passion that is totally worth writing about: the Sky Islands that nearly surround us here in Tucson.

4. I have an exciting new job with great new people at an organization that's all in for open science. I recently turned over the tens digit on my age-o-meter. My kids will very soon be all out of college. (One is about to start a postdoc!) All of this led, predictably, to a spasm of reflection on projects and vision. One clear result is that I'm feeling more inspired.

5. The demise of Twitter has led to a lot of useful commentary about the nature of social media. I left Facebook two years ago and all but left Twitter two months ago. I'm on a good server at Mastodon and I like it; maybe microblogging there can satisfy my desire for conversation and connection. But this recent piece at The Verge by Monique Judge convinced me that blogging could (again) have a place in the future.

Here's her summary, emphasis mine:
At the end of the day, we don’t know what is going to happen next with Twitter or any of these platforms. We don’t know what changes Web 3.0 is going to bring to the internet. We do know that we will all still be here, wanting to share our thoughts, talk about anything and everything, and commune with our people. Personal blogging is the simplest and fastest way to do all of that. 
That's what I want! A place to write, and (if I'm lucky) a place to discuss and "commune" with people. That used to happen a lot at Quintessence of Dust.

Okay, but why here? This blog is over 15 years old and was started when I was a Christian believer. Its founding themes were anchored in a desire to help Christians understand and enjoy biology, to help them shake free of misinformation and dishonesty. It has twice languished through long hiatuses and was remodeled back in 2017 a few years after I deconverted. Maybe it's time to start anew? I think not, for many of those same reasons: I'm still a biologist who loves science, still worried about misinformation, and still rooted in the power of scientific explanation. I'm still a bardolator and a Red Sox fan. I'm still me, and Quintessence of Dust is still my blog. The new About page is slightly remodeled from 2017, and hints at the next post, which will outline some new goals and ongoing projects.

A final note on inspiration, from Imani Perry, writing in her newsletter (Unsettled Territory) at The Atlantic. The piece is "Writing is a Democratic Art." It's for subscribers only but here is her challenge:
Thinking and writing at a faster pace stretched me and gave me greater confidence. Sometimes I changed my mind about what I’d written a day later. But that was okay; a newsletter is a moment in time. Writing it each week gave me a lovely rhythm in what has otherwise been a difficult and disorienting season in history. Feeling stuck can get you stuck. But writing can, and should, inspire deeds.

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