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douglas adams

In an infinite universe, the one thing sentient life cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.

One of my favorite sillinesses (sillini?) about the human condition is the distance between our self-image and our situation — the gap between how big we feel and how small we are. It is the central joke in the human comedy. I make myself the butt of that joke just about every day.

Every time I sit down to post a blog entry, I feel a twitch of self-loathing — until I remember I’m not significant enough to hate, at which point I laugh at myself and blog about it. At which point etc.

Case in point: my self-worth continues to be joined at the hip with the Amazon rank of Parenting Beyond Belief. To see a running chart of my mood for the past couple of months, click here. Note the horrible slide during the post-Newsweek-dry-pipeline debacle of late July, which I won’t even mention.

The book launched in the second week of April in Amazon’s top 0.1% — around 3,300 out of 3.5 million. This was good, because the success or failure of this book (frankly) will determine whether or not I make a go of authoring as a second career. Just when you thought it was all about raising the next generation of freethinkers, eh? I have five other books in the pipeline, you know, dammit, three of them finished and waiting for publishers. Anyway.

Two days ago, the Amazon rank dipped for a moment to 6600. This is still outrageously good for a book of this type, especially so far after launch, and yes, I know that most authors would sell their sisters to hit 6600 at all — gee hey, how’s my novel doing? — but having become all-too-accustomed to that top 0.1%, my mood darkened several clicks anyway. I had my 4 o’clock G&T at 2:30. A mistake I had made for my favorite freelance client was crushing my conscience. I was a failure as a father, as a husband, as a provider, as a writer, as a citizen of the world.

This morning, as we entered the sixth month of availability, the rank is at 2,600, and everything reversed. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. I am Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the Titanic, albeit better-looking.

The eye-rollingly pathetic lunacy of both of these reactions is plenty clear to me without help, thangyavurrymush. But help was present nonetheless on the same screen that brought me both ends of that silly-monkey emotional spectrum:


It’s M104, the Sombrero Galaxy, among the more elegant things in space and (lucky it) my current desktop background. And it doesn’t care what my Amazon rank is. It doesn’t care what I am. Nor do any of the quadrillion intelligent beings who most likely live in M104 know or care that one of the species on one planet in the galaxy they call “that smudge” has named their galaxy after a hat.

It is some comfort to realize that they surely have their sillini, too.

I’ll close with a perspective booster that made each of my three kids say OMIGOSH, NOWAY, or YOUGOTTABEKIDDING three times in one minute:

It’s not a Total Perspective Vortex, but as Douglas Adams pointed out, don’t even wish for that.

I still hate that he’s gone.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.