Monday’s List

In which I gather random, unrelated things in short list form.

  • Never having made pizza before, I made 10 pizzas yesterday.
  • I worked as a youth in a nursing home, and gained a lot of experience taking care of elderly people. There was something quite beautiful about the old people
  • I am going to dig into the archives of and other sites around the internet where I’ve done some writing. I will repost some of the better posts, update some, and so on. Many of the posts have been offline for years, but I still have all the archives, going back to the late 90s. Nearly 20 years of blog posts should provide some fodder.
  • I’ve read some exceptionally good books recently, which I will write about soon in greater detail.

Where the term “Conventional Wisdom” came from

It was John Kenneth Galbraith, the hyperliterate economic sage, who coined the phrase “conventional wisdom”. He did not consider it a compliment. “We associate truth with convenience,” he wrote, “with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. We also find highly acceptable what contributes most to self-esteem.”

Greetings from Utopia Park

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A cast of characters doesn’t get any better than this: Levitating yogis, a dreamy, beautiful, transcendent mommy, Midwestern thugs in metal t-shirts, and one wide-eyed, unicorn-loving, pure-hearted girl–all of this in, yes, Greetings from Utopia Park, by my friend Claire Hoffman.

This childhood was not easy, you gather from Claire’s story. She tells of the ups and downs of growing up in a religious community, in this case the Fairfield, Iowa community built by the famous guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the home of Transcendental Meditation. TM was made famous by some of the Maharishi’s disciples: Paul, John, George and Ringo, and was subsequently slammed by the same. David Lynch (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet) is another famous proponent of the sect, who has written books and made videos in support of the organization, and has become its unofficial spokesperson. In TM each person is given a special, magic mantra, all of their own. They use it to meditate, and eventually, hopefully, reach enlightenment.

Claire’s mom, a single mom, managed to pursue peace and truth while raising two children and struggling to make a living–a feat in itself. Claire and her brother grew up as members of a community that sought enlightenment and harmony, but struggled under its share of controversy. She thinks hard about her experiences, and what they meant, and how they shaped her. To live in a utopia–what a privilege! But to look behind the curtains almost destroys her belief. How do you know you’re on the One True Path? Sham or Shangri-La? Were the rumors about her guru true? All believers must confront their doubt. All seekers must question what they find. In the era of Hoffman’s childhood, many sought something greater, something higher. Many of them were parents, who wanted the best for their children, and brought them along.

The beauty won from this alternately lovely and terrible childhood was hard fought for. She details the picnics and ceremonies, the school days and meditations. She feels the pain of being an outsider among the uninitiated. Watches her friends go astray. And in the end, after her angry teens and resentful twenties, now a married mother in her thirties, Claire goes back to what was good and true about her upbringing, and returns to her spiritual home. She goes back to meditation, to reap its fruits. She makes her peace with her childhood and her mother’s decisions. And she takes her small daughter down to the TM center to learn her mantra, and meditate.

The suffering can be borne and meaning wrung out of wasted days. Deceptive gurus and false messiahs litter the paths of pilgrims. But they don’t have the last word. First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is. Sometimes you climb the mountain, and you fall and fail. Maybe there is a different path that will take you up. Sometimes a different mountain. Greetings from Utopia Park tells you the path of the seeker is a path with a heart.

Keep climbing, keep seeking.

Smart people are happier with fewer friends

Interesting article in the Washington Post conjecturing why smart people appear to be happier with fewer friends. Or, as I interpret it, fewer social obligations. The sociologists interviewed guess it might be because smarter people have bigger goals, like writing a novel or curing cancer, which friendships can distract from. Others guess that smarter people are better equipped to adapt to dense, urban environments and many interactions with many people. But my guess is that it is the social obligations that come with being smart. I remember a smart friend of mine, a lawyer, complaining after a very frustrating day that her job was to be smart and competent, for people who were neither smart nor competent, and it was wearing on her.

Designing for a grandpa, not an abstract ideal

"I liked architecture going into college, and Berkeley’s hippie culture made me like it even more. A lot of the professors came up in the 1960s and emphasized the personal, human scale of architecture. One of them had a favorite story: 'At the top of every stair you should put a bench, so that the grandfather can read a book to his grandson.' When I came out to New York for grad school, everything was very theoretical and academic. You were hardly ever designing for a person. You were designing for some type of abstract ideal, not a grandpa."—@dongpingwong. Follow #CreativeNewYork for more from Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu of design office @family_newyork over the coming days, and read the full #PopRally Q&A at the link in our profile. [Family New York. Rendering of the Circle Bridge. 2010.]

A photo posted by MoMA The Museum of Modern Art (@themuseumofmodernart) on

The perceived value of the work declines when a woman does it

When women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.

In a discouraging article in the New York Times, I read that the pay gap, often explained by the fact that women are in more of the lower-paying professions, such as teaching, admin work, and social work, is actually better explained by the fact that when women do work, that work is automatically devalued, though the same work was done by men. The study from Cornell University provided evidence that employers believe that work done by women has less impact, doesn’t contribute to the bottom line, and is less important than work done by men.

I also learned from this article that of the 30 highest-paying jobs, including chief executive, architect and computer engineer, 26 are male-dominated.



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