Try To Stay Present

After a fun fiction jag, I’m reading David Brook’s #1 Best Seller in Philosophy of Ethics and Morality, The Second Mountain: The Quest For a Moral Life.

I’m only a third in, but my overwhelming thought so far is that it’s uneven. Some parts are clear, insightful and inspiring; others however, like Chapter Six, “Heart and Soul,” are so vapid I wonder if his editor is afraid of him. Brooks is like a batter that drills one pitch off the wall for a stand up double and then strikes out looking the next time up.

He argues Millennials are lost, which of course, is an exaggeration. Lost because nearly every American institution has declined in importance and young people are left with the admittedly inane advice to “do you” whatever you may be. He argues all people would benefit from living more committed lives to some combination of a vocation, marriage, philosophy and faith, or particular community.

He tells his story and stories of many others who prioritized their work lives and wealth and notoriety at the expense of deeper, more meaningful commitments based upon mutual vulnerability and selfless service. He’s best when he explains how these “Second Mountain” people lose themselves in listening and caring for others in ways that are mutually transforming.

The problem he slips into though is highlighting people whose transformations are so radical as to be nearly unrelatable. Like Kathy and David who extend dinner invitations to a hodgepodge of 40 struggling young people on a weekly basis. David left his job to create a nonprofit, All Our Kids, and gave his kidney to one of the young women when she needed a transplant.

Yeah, I’m sure I can high jump 10 feet if I just put my mind to it.

Or Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman in Holland during World War II, who maintained a supernatural inner peace and joy all the way up to the point that her parents, brother, and she were killed in Auschwitz.

I set Brooks down for awhile to watch the first episode of HBO’s Chernobyl which is as scary a story imaginable for anyone who has ever worried about exposure to radiation at the dentist and/or airport. After that harrowing experience, I sought refuge in The New Yorker instead of immediately jumping back into Brooks.

There I think I found a more subtle and nuanced way forward for mere mortals like me. In a very short story about Maggie Rogers’s rise, John Seabrook, who hangs with her in New York one afternoon, tells this story:

A fan recognized her. “Wow,” he said. “Biggest fan. Can I actually ask a question?”

“Dude, I have no idea what I’m doing,” Rogers said, laughing.

“That’s what your album is about, right?” the fan asked. He was her age.

“Exactly,” Rogers said. “I’ve just really been trying to stay present.”

How does one stay present? By giving off a particular vibe that communicates “Heck no I’m not too busy for you.” By maintaining meaningful eye contact. By thinking about what others are saying instead of what you want to say the second they pause. By asking clarifying questions. By empathizing instead of problem solving. By learning to appreciate what’s unique about others.

Much easier to write than do.

 

 

The Great Millennial Novelist

Sally Rooney. Or so “they” say. I just finished the 28 year olds second novel, Normal People. Eldest was mostly right about Rooney’s core readership.

From inside the cover:

“Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.”

Two-thirds of the way through I texted Eldest who devoured it in one marathon session:

“Normal People. Past half way, but having a wee problem with the intensity of their feelings for one another and their proclivity to spurn one another. Doesn’t ring true to me.”

Eldest, at 26 years young, is in a much better position than me to assess the believability of two characters in their early 20’s and she respectfully pushed back, to which I wrote:

“Yes, but in my experience, that’s the diff between high school and college. In college you quit caring what your friends think of your bfriend/gfriend.”

That prompted the most Millennial of texts:

“Hahahahahahaha. I WISH!”

Sadly, it appears I’m losing touch with today’s young adults.

By the end, the story not only rang true, it left me immobilized in my reading chair, like a great film sometimes does. The last sentence of my favorite review of the book resonated most with me:

“It is a long time since I cared so much about two characters on a page.”

And to think she’s just getting started. Here’s hoping expectations don’t take a toll.

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On Workism

Derek Thompson’s Atlantic essay “The Religion of Workism is Making Americans Miserable” deserves widespread discussion around dinner tables; and in churches; synagogues; and heaven for bid, workplaces.

It’s hard to excerpt from because the whole thing deserves a close reading. In particular, the conclusion is strong:

“Workism offers a perilous trade-off. On the one hand, Americans’ high regard for hard work may be responsible for its special place in world history and its reputation as the global capital of start-up success. A culture that worships the pursuit of extreme success will likely produce some of it. But extreme success is a falsifiable god, which rejects the vast majority of its worshippers. Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight. A staggering 87 percent of employees are not engaged at their job, according to Gallup. That number is rising by the year.

One solution to this epidemic of disengagement would be to make work less awful. But maybe the better prescription is to make work less central.

This can start with public policy. There is new enthusiasm for universal policies—like universal basic income, parental leave, subsidized child care, and a child allowance—which would make long working hours less necessary for all Americans. These changes alone might not be enough to reduce Americans’ devotion to work for work’s sake, since it’s the rich who are most devoted. But they would spare the vast majority of the public from the pathological workaholism that grips today’s elites, and perhaps create a bottom-up movement to displace work as the centerpiece of the secular American identity.”

Insightful and important, but incomplete. Thompson misses the sociological nature of workism. He implies well compensated Americans are consciously choosing to work to the point of exhaustion, but the dynamic is far more complex. More of a sociological sensibility is needed to understand two things: 1) the subtle and nuanced way status anxiety contributes to conspicuous consumption, and 2) how a few workaholics can create workplace cultures that lead others to haphazardly conform until a critical mass of pathological workaholism takes over.

Simply put, in some workplaces, you are not truly free to choose whether to make work the centerpiece of your identity or not. Your co-workers make the decision for you.

 

 

Wednesday Assorted Links

1. Jordan Spieth laughs off “very British” haircut. Dude seems totally unaffected by his fame. Personable and grounded. Now if he can just get the flat stick heated up again.

2. Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets. Related, I want one of these (the Plus to be specific).

3. No more free food for Facebook employees. Hope they are alright.

4. They don’t own homes. They don’t have kids. Why Millennials are plant addicts.

“Everyone made fun of me because I was sleeping on an air mattress and buying plants. But having living things to care for soothed me.”

“They don’t come in and buy $300 pots unless they are actors. They buy a lot of succulents, hanging plants and airplants.”

What the hell is an airplant?

5. 1 Hen, 76 Ducklings. Call me old fashioned, but I think if you’re going to have a baby, you should take care of it yourself.

Friday Assorted Links

1. Did you like The Brady Bunch? Do you have $1.885 million?

2. Attention drivers. Highway 1 is now open.

“After 17 months and more than $100 million replacing a damaged bridge and rebuilding the highway in two locations, drivers can once again skirt the western edge of the continent, forever burnished by wind, rain, waves and tide.”

Props to the much maligned public sector.

3. No PressingPauser would ever stereotype professional basketball players just because of their outward appearance, but just in case, there’s this.

4. If I ever suffer temporary insanity and pay $250 for a pair of running shoes, they damn well better make me (a lot) faster.

“Compared with typical training shoes, the Vaporflys are believed to wear out quickly: Some runners have said they lose their effectiveness after 100 miles or so.”

$2.50 per mile? As Millennials like to say, hahahahaha.

5. Forget a Fast Car, Creativity is the New Midlife Cure. Right on. I hope that means superficial, materialistic lowlifes like me can score a pre-owned Porsche for less.

6. Could not have happened to a nicer guy.

By Age 35

Earlier this month, Marketwatch published an article stating that by 35 years old, a person should have twice their salary saved for retirement.

In my view, an imminently sensible goal, but the Millennial blowback on Twitter was fast, furious, and funny. You know what “they” say, goals should be achievable.

Cases in point:

  • By age 35 you should have at least one fork in your cutlery drawer that you just don’t like, and actively frown at if you accidentally grab it.
  • By age 35 you should have a huge box of cables but you can’t throw them out because you’re pretty sure you still need a couple of them but you’re not sure which ones.
  • By age 35 you should have a kitchen cabinet dedicated entirely to plastic bags that contain other, smaller plastic bags.
  • By age 35 you should have approximately 10 times the existential dread you had when you graduated high school.
  • Listen. Meghan Markle wasn’t a duchess til age 36 so stop telling me what I should have by age 35.
  • By age 35, you should have hoarded more books than any human could possibly read in three lifetimes.*
  • By age 35, you should have a big bag of socks that have no matches that you are afraid to throw even one of them away because as soon as you do, you’ll run into its match.
  • By age 35 you should stop paying attention to condescending life advice from strangers writing think pieces.
  • By age 35 you should have a shitload of books. Some of them you have read and are too sentimental to give away. Others (you know in your heart) you will never read and yet you will keep these as well. All of these books have followed you through multiple moves.*
  • By age 35 you should have one pair of jeans you like and a four shirt rotation.
  • By age 35 you should be able to re-watch Bridget Jones and think ‘You’re only 30 and you manage to afford to live alone?’
  • By age 35 you should have a list of documentaries you tell people you want to watch but you don’t watch them because you just never feel like you’re in the right mood.

Go ahead, give it a go, by age 35. . .

*Alison

 

Friday Assorted Links

1. No rules recess. “Parents don’t tend to sue schools.”

2. In Fight Over Science Education in Idaho, Lawmakers Move to Minimize Climate.

Today’s science lesson—apparently, there are lots of invertebrates in the Idaho state legislature.

3. What $1.4m buys you in London.

4. Has a Civil Rights Stalwart Lost Its Way?

“William Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and critic of the SPLC, says the group has wrapped itself in the mantle of the civil rights struggle to engage in partisan political crusading. “Time and again, I see the SPLC using the reputation it gained decades ago fighting the Klan as a tool to bludgeon mainstream politically conservative opponents,” he says. “For groups that do not threaten violence, the use of SPLC ‘hate group’ or ‘extremist’ designations frequently are exploited as an excuse to silence speech and speakers,” Jacobson adds. ‘It taints not only the group or person, but others who associate with them.'”

5. Will Millennials Kill Costco?