Spinoza: What a weirdo

I get that everyone has hobbies, and that whatever your hobby is, someone is going to think you’re a nerd for it. I’ve spent way too much money on yarn and knitting needles. I garden until I hurt and I’m sunburned. I’ve even been accused of LARPing. All of this is laughable in some way to some people.But really, Spinoza’s hobbies …

Rembrandt: The selfie-made man

perhaps no one pioneered the selfie quite like Rembrandt van Rijn, the most famous of the class of painters known as the “Old Masters.” Over his career from the early 1620s to his death in 1669, he is known to have created more than 90 self-portraits. These include full-size paintings, sketches, etchings and several cameo appearances in many of his famous works.

So what gives? Was Rembrandt simply smitten with himself? Or was he using himself as a character study?

A confession

No one had to tell me how important the first page is. I got it already. I got it each time I picked up a book in a store, opened it up to the first page, read a paragraph and set it back on the shelf. 

There’s no such thing as a Jewish vampire*

Until now.

He’s not a bad guy, not really. But you can’t say he’s really good, either. So he makes his living doing the bidding of some shadowy underworld types. I mean, that’s not great. But on the other hand, he’s also the sort of uncle who comes home from a business trip with a giant stuffed animal for his nephew. It’s just that the business trip involved mob money.

An origin story in old Amsterdam

If it seems strange that a group of Jews from Portugal wound up in Amsterdam in the 1600s, it helps to understand what started in Spain a little more than a hundred years earlier. In 1478, a Dominican friar convinced Queen Isabella of Spain that Jews who had converted to Christianity were still secretly practicing their old beliefs. The queen and King Ferdinand petitioned Pope Sixtus IV to start an inquisition.

Where did it come from?

When I talk to nonwriters about my project – heck, even when I talk to writers about it – I’m asked any number of things, but “Where did you get that idea from” has got to be one of the things I hear the most.