Happy birthday to my godless mentor, esteemed FTB comrade, and beloved friend, PZ Myers.

At my old blog, I would throw a virtual birthday party for him every year on this date, and celebrate with a collection of quotes, quips and bon mots that he’d written on his blog over the previous year. When his obsession was strictly cephalopods, it would look like this:

cameo photo of PZ Myers surrounded with purple balloons and floating presents, with a plate of fried calamari and black-colored cocktails in martini glasses.In 2016 I served fried calamari and Barchetta’s Spezia cocktails, made with vodka, caper brine and squid ink, with whole caperberry garnish. (I’ll have to come up with a spider-themed menu… hmmm.)

These days I’m not up for throwing a big bash, not even a virtual one. But I do want to celebrate PZ’s completion of another orbit around our sun. So today, I thought I’d share a quote from PZ that has long inspired me.

The general context of the quote is this. Back at ScienceBlogs in The Year of Our Lard 2009, PZ wrote a scathing, righteous screed about an apparently very terrible book by some Christian apologist named Terry Eagleton. PZ was stuck on a plane for 8 torturous hours with nothing to read but a SkyMall catalog (which, ! cultural anthropology FTW!), and a copy of this Eagleton book someone (evil?) had just given him in New York. He read the fucking thing twice.

As he was wrapping up, he wrote this:

“[I]magine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars.”

And imagine it I have.

It’s not like you can easily avoid encountering a crucifix on the regular, at least not if you live in the U.S. So I have been reminded of this quote on countless occasions ever since, and there is no end to it in sight.

I began to imagine, for instance, that instead of a tiny crucifix cast in 18 carat gold on a delicate chain worn around someone’s neck, I would see an image of “a child staring in wonder at the stars.” Exactly what that might look like I had barely the foggiest notion.

Until late last summer.

Our family had recently welcomed a new member, one who appears to prefer the pronouns he/him. His parents are not religious, so there was little chance he would grow up looking at a corpse on an instrument of torture every day on the wall across from his crib. But even if he did, that fact alone would not preclude him from growing up also seeing an image of a child staring in wonder at the stars…

That’s when it came to me.

The piece has now been printed onto a 16”x24” framed canvas from my digital master, and awaits some hand-painted details, including a few outlines, dots of various sizes, and some additional dimensional effects rendered with light-charged, glow-in-the-dark paint.

black silhouette of a young boy standing on a cut off "top" of the Earth, with the continent of North Amrica rendered in blues, bright greens and yellows. The boy is pointing up at the upper-right quadrant of the blue night sky, where his initial, B, appears in yellow dots. The rest of the night sky is filled with simple five-pointed star shapes and much smaller dots of varying sizes, all of them a bright yellow.


Benicio’s Sky
©Iris Vander Pluym
All rights reserved.

The trouble I’m having with finishing this (and two similar pieces featuring little girls with different ethnicities and initials) is that working with glow paint is challenging under the best of circumstances – and these are not those.

Now, this is hardly my first trip to the glow paint rodeo. (Oh, man, now that sounds like fun!) Initially, doing detail work involved applying the paint under bright lighting, then switching to total darkness to see the result… eventually… once my eyes adjusted. Lather, rinse, repeat TIMES A MILLION.

I soon figured a way around this; it’s still not ideal, but saved me a lot of time: close or cover one eye, apply the paint in bright light (but without the benefit of stereo vision…), switch off the lights, then switch eyes from covered to open and vice versa. The covered pupil is dilated and thus already acclimated to darkness so the glow paint pops instantly, in all its funky green glory (although this view is also not stereo). The problem, as regular readers may recall, is that most of the time I cannot see very well. Like, AT ALL. I’m especially prone to blindness, partial or total, in my left eye. My right eye is affected as well, only not as badly and more intermittently. Surgery will allegedly fix all of this. However, the recovery is a real fucking doozy, leaving me completely and utterly out of commission for three weeks and…

In the meantime, I get to enjoy three of these (unfinished) pieces in my home.

But now, oh irony of ironies! This morning I re-read PZ’s 2009 post about the Eagleton book, probably for the first time since 2009. I was thinking maybe I’d find something else to quote (and I did: “Eagleton would be the skidmark at my autopsy.”). Or, at the very least, refresh my memory of the complete context of the quote. Well, here is that context (emphasis mine):

We live in a culture where the contorted body of a tortured criminal is an important signifier of the human condition. Eagleton believes this is a good thing. […] I do not; it is an image that captures the imagination, for sure, but it has done us harm. It has short-circuited natural human thoughts and feelings into a dead-end chase after the transcendant rather than the immanent.

If we want a signifier for the human condition, imagine the culture we would live in now if, instead of a dead corpse on an instrument of torture, our signifier was a child staring in wonder at the stars. That’s representative of the state of humanity, too; it’s a symbol that touches us all as much as that of a representation of our final end, and we don’t have to daub it with the cheap glow-in-the-dark paint of supernatural fol-de-rol for it to have deeper meaning. We atheists, contra Eagleton, have aspirations, too; aspirations for humanity in all the meanings of that word. But we also expect that those aspirations will be built on reality.


My only saving grace (<-hahaha!) here is that I daub only with expensive glow-in-the-dark paint! Goddammit.

And that was… quite a digression.

Happy, happy birthday, PZ. The Earth is a much better place for having you on it. I wish you many more happy and healthy orbits (with Mary)!

With undying affection and appreciation,


  1. Bruce says

    As you gradually complete your original vision, maybe you can do a parallel path to put together an abbreviated 3-d version, suitable for wearing on a neck chain of some sort.
    You could use versions of these to spark more interest in your Death to Squirrels merch store.

  2. says

    Thanks! I deferred partying myself until I could get away today to visit my granddaughter. Birthdays are always better when you’re three.