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The Whippet #108: The egg-collecting underground

McKinley Valentine — 10 min read

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Hi folks!

I like newsletters a lot, inherently, in my heart.

And I’ve never felt more grateful for having The Whippet than I have the last week.

Writing on the internet is divided into two types: transactional and relational.

(I didn’t come up with that terminology, just read it somewhere.)

Transactional is where you google “facemask fogging glasses” and the top result is an article called “5 Surefire Ways to Stop Your Glasses Fogging Up When You Wear a Face Mask”. You click on it, you get your answer, you don’t take note of the writer name or publication and you never seek them out again.

Relational is what you get on a newsletter or a podcast. You don’t know exactly what the person is going to talk about, but you’ll give it a read just because it’s them saying it.

When I write to you here, I don’t just write any thing that’s in my head, it’s not a diary — I try to sift through my thoughts for things that have messages or take-aways that you can apply to their own life or disagree with in a way that makes you think, or that you’ll just find interesting.

But I don’t have to be transactional, either. I don’t have to think “what problem can I promise the reader I’ll solve,” which is really how you have to think for any content that’s going to be subject to google’s algorithm.

In the past fortnight I started writing articles for Medium publications — that is, not just using Medium as a blogging platform, but tailoring them to picked up Medium curators. And I’ve been successful — one piece got picked up by Better Humans and they paid me US$500 for it, which is actually a decent freelance rate.* [might be published by the time you read this, not sure]

But I’m not convinced the writing is better than what I do here. It’s neater and tidier and a bit slicker, but I’m not sure it’s better.

In reality, self improvement is this muddy, 2 steps forward, 3 steps sideways, 1 weird shuffle backwards, type of process. It’s not so much about whether you stop screwing up (you won’t), but if you can screw up less frequently and correct your mistakes a bit quicker. Sometimes you’re doing badly, and a new method helps a bit, but doesn’t transform your life. Sometimes you’re actually doing pretty good, and a new method makes it an increment better. There’s rarely one pivotal moment.

But that’s not the narrative that gets clicks. The narrative that gets clicks is your standard Western story structure — start at your lowest point, and show how you rose triumphant. And then give it a clickbait-y headline that promises results.

I mean I click on this stuff too! I goddamn love a standard Western story structure! I’m an absolute sucker for articles that promise me This One Thing will help me grow more muscle / feel more mentally alert / etc. I started taking cold showers this week because of one of those articles! (And it was a transactional read — I couldn’t tell you the name of the writer who recommended it.)

But still, I’m grateful to have a relational model here, where I don’t have to try and package up what I want to say to you and wrap it in shiny paper.

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Oh PS I would suggest not thinking about Medium is as a potential sidehustle unless you’re already an experienced writer — I was successful because I know how to write to a brief, and the piece took me 7 hours to write. Even the kanban piece, which re-used stuff I’d already written in The Whippet, took an hour+ to tailor to the Medium algorithms. There are a lot of articles out there trying to convince you that Medium is a way to Get Rich Quick, but they’re making all their Medium money off… articles telling you how to make money on Medium.

“My face blindness is embarrassing – but it tells me a lot about other people”

This article by a woman with full face-blindness — not just your more typical “I’m not great with faces”, but actually can’t recognise her own family — is really fascinating and a surprisingly relateable account of neurodiversity. I don’t not-fit-in the way she doesn’t, but the feelings she describes are similar, all the little tricks she uses to seem normal, and how tiring that is. How social chitchat with acquaintances feels like a test you have to pass, “can I get through this without slipping up and doing something weird”.

And what people’s reactions to you say about them:

I increasingly use my face-blindness as a sorting device. I tell people about it on our first meeting, and the way they behave after that reveals a lot. Some are touchingly helpful – one friend always finds a way to shoe-horn her name into the first sentence while I orient myself – but I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t think I’ll be blind to their face, uniquely. They seamlessly translate my face-blindness into a failure to love them enough, rather than a neurological difference. Disclosing it has become a reliable measure of people’s kindness, their neediness, their ability to put their ego aside.

And this. It’s common for people to see ADHD stuff as a sign of disrespect. Lateness, obviously. And sometimes I get distracted when someone’s speaking, and miss what they said, because of nearby sounds or getting caught up in a train of thought. I’ll say “I’m sorry, I accidentally tuned out, can you say that bit again?” because I genuinely want to hear it. I can see how it’s frustrating to have to repeat yourself, but some people are like “FINE, if I’m BORING you” — not just frustrated, but offended.

Having something different about you lets you quickly find out if people treat things that are just part of you as being personally and deliberately directed at them. This is good information to have.

I recommend the whole article, there’s more I loved about it.

Tattoo suggestion

“Copy of a painting of a lion in the Tomb of Khnumhotep III at Beni Hasan [Khnumhotep III was a vizier, serving Pharoah Senusret III in1880ish BC]. “Lions were worshipped in Ancient Egypt and were associated with having divine or supernatural powers.” via the Ashmolean Museum on twitter.

The notes on the file from scholars in 1890 AD say the rosettes probably relate to solar energy.

I’ve never cared as much about anything as an oologist cares about eggs

Oology (pr. Oh-ology, not oo-logy) is the study of bird's’ eggs, nests, and breeding habits, and the hobby of collecting rare eggs. Collecting eggs used to be seen as a respectable scientific pursuit, in a 19th century gentleman-botanist sort of way, but has become more of a nerd-hobby, like bird-watching combined with stamp-collecting, if it was made illegal to collect stamps in 1954.

  • “Egg collectors built large collections and traded with one another. Frequently, collectors would go to extreme lengths to obtain eggs of rare birds. For example, Charles Bendire was willing to have his teeth broken to remove a rare egg that became stuck in his mouth. He had placed the egg in his mouth while climbing down a tree.”
  • The British Oological Association was founded by Baron Rothschild and the Reverend Francis Jourdain. It was a breakaway group from the British Ornithologists' Union, founded after the BOU denounced egg-collecting. DRAMA
  • “In the UK, it is only legal to possess a wild-bird's egg if it was taken before 1954. However, the practice of egg collecting, or egging, continues as an underground or illegal activity.”
  • The British Oological Association continued to meet in secret, although membership dwindled after 1994, when a dinner of the society was raided by police, assisted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
  • “RSPB staff were being trained by soldiers from the Brigade of Gurkhas in camouflage skills and in surveillance, map and radio techniques, to better enable them to guard nests of rare birds.”
  • “Despite this, some of those who engage in egg collecting show considerable recidivism in their activity. One, Colin Watson, was convicted six times before he fell to his death in 2006, while attempting to climb to a nest high up in a tree.”

This is all from the Oology Wikipedia page FYI.

I just… imagine having a hobby you cared about that much. It would really erase a lot of the existential questioning from your life, surely. You’d think “what am I doing with my life?” and immediately follow up with “collecting eggs, silly, the best use to which a man can put his life.”

50 words for a field

Last issue I was talking about how Australians have 50 words for complaining, and how it’s always interesting to find words that have a billion synonyms (but the “50 words for snow” thing is a myth)

Mike from Michigan in the US wrote in to say:

Have you ever noticed how many English words we have for "land with just grass on it"?

Natural pieces of land with just grass on them can be meadows, fields, glades, prairies, and so on. Built pieces of land with just grass on them can be courses, courts, greens, lawns, yards, and an awful lot more. I've counted at least twenty in the past.

I had NOT noticed. “Paddock” is another one in Australia (in the UK I think it means closer to “corral”).

Which leads me to the expression “a roo loose in your top paddock”, meaning either that a kangaroo has gotten loose in the grazing area that’s highest up on your property, or that you’ve got a few screws loose. Another term that has a billion synonyms

Rainbow lorikeet growing its rainbow

See the full photoset by Angela Robertson-Buchanan. The rainbow lorikeet’s name is Bonny.

The Earth is making the moon rust

So firstly, the moon is getting rusty — that is, traces of iron oxide have been found.

This shouldn’t happen, because you need oxygen + iron + water to make rust, and there’s no oxygen on the moon.

Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii  reckons he’s figured out why:

The sun creates a “solar wind”. When it hits the Earth, it stretches Earth’s magnetic field out behind it. When the moon is full, the Earth is directly between the sun and the moon — the moon is “downwind” of the earth. So Li thinks Earth’s magnetic tail is pulling oxygen particles from Earth’s atmosphere and leaving them on the moon.

There’s still some unanswered questions and the whole article is worth a read.

(Please note how often in The Whippet I don’t have a conclusion beyond “this is cool”. You can’t do that on Medium, or anywhere you’re beholden to SEO. Newsletters <3 )

I don’t buy the “cult of busyness” argument

You’ve heard of the cult of busyness, yes? It’s the idea that “busyness” has become a status symbol, and we take on more work for the sake of appearing busy, and brag about how busy we are, and that this has done a lot of damage to the culture, and we need to stop, and say “it’s okay to just take a break and do nothing productive”.

I don’t think this idea is fake, but I think it’s missing a massive piece of the puzzle — especially for something that’s been talked about and thinkpieced to death.

Here’s my theory:

People say they’re “busy” because it’s the only kind of No anyone respects. If you want to convince your boss to work 4 days a week, are you going to say it’s because you want to loaf around and get some rest? Not if you’re smart. You’ll say you have a side project, or family responsibilities.

If a friend or family member asks if you want to visit, and you don’t feel like it, do you feel free to say “I kinda just want a day of nothing”? Or do you say “I’m busy, I’m sorry”. For most people, it’s the latter, and it’s not because you’re bragging and using
”busy” as a status symbol. It’s because people are [sorry but it’s true] weirdly easily offended by someone choosing alone time over socialising with them. See the first article about people taking things personally that aren’t about them.

Not all people, obviously, but often enough that it becomes habit to say you’re “busy”.

So the solution to the cult of busyness probably isn’t just not getting your self worth from how busy you are. It’s also not getting offended when someone doesn’t want to see you but doesn’t have a good reason.

Also, I reckon lying about being busy makes you feel more busy. I know that when I’ve historically called in sick to work when I wasn’t sick [relatedly, forced to lie by workplaces that won’t accept “I’m exhausted, I need a day off to get my brain right”] I kinda end up making myself feel a bit sick. I think if you cancel something because you’re “busy” when you really just need a break, you start to feel a bit hectic and frazzled, to line up with your lie.

Apart from the fact that it will help dismantle a culture of busyness, I think dignity and honesty are linked. Lying to someone is beneath your dignity, and forcing someone to lie to you (because your reactions to the truth are unreasonable) is beneath your dignity. Workplaces that force you to lie are doing something not good to your humanity, I reckon, and friends definitely shouldn’t put you in that position.

But you only get honesty when you have trust (if people are lying to you a lot, that’s actually probably a You-problem, not an Other People-problem.)

So my unsolicited advice is, if you’re not already, be chill when anyone says they don’t want to see you, even if they seem to have free time.

For solicited advice, reply to this email, or leave a comment!

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