The happiest life?

February 26, 2008

Right before I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I had a conversation with one of the poets on the faculty about life after college. She explained her path after graduation with a quote that I believe she attributed to Simone Weil: “The happiest life is the one with no choices.” (Fortunately for her, having no choices meant that she only got into Iowa… a no choice I think most of us would be happy to have!)

That thought has stuck with me, not as a kind of guiding principle or anything, but as a check to my constant urge to keep my options open, even though there are costs to doing so.

Turns out, I am not alone. See John Tierney’s Findings for today: The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors:

The next time you’re juggling options — which friend to see, which house to buy, which career to pursue — try asking yourself this question: What would Xiang Yu do?

Xiang Yu was a Chinese general in the third century B.C. who took his troops across the Yangtze River into enemy territory and performed an experiment in decision making. He crushed his troops’ cooking pots and burned their ships.

That’s right, no retreat for that army, you have no ships. You must go forward. The piece goes on to explain that behavior researchers have found that people are kind of pathological about keeping doors open, even when there is no rational reason to do so. Dan Ariely, the author of the book Tierney is drawing this from, has his own story of useless door opening:

When he was trying to decide between job offers from M.I.T. and Stanford, he recalls, within a week or two it was clear that he and his family would be more or less equally happy in either place. But he dragged out the process for months because he became so obsessed with weighing the options.

Ah that’s so familiar! Well, not the MIT and Stanford part, but I remember agonizing over my first job after college. I had to choose between two, and there were no clear reasons why one or the other would be best (they both had major drawbacks). I literally made myself ill in the course of a day from worrying about it too much. Of late, the main agony has been, stick with the professional path I’m on or make a drastic change… and I do have to say that in the last month or so, as I’ve become more focused on taking the next step in the path I’m on I’ve felt less need to worry about the paths I’m not on. And it’s felt good.

Of course, it’s hard to tell the difference between obsessive door opening and genuine questions about what the best choice is. I’m not opposed to making a commitment, I don’t think. I just have no idea which would be the right one to make, or if there even is a “right” one, and the pressure to at least try before I get too entrenched in one at times feels overwhelming. On the other hand, it’s a lot of wasted energy that could have gotten me well down any one of them if I had just let the others go.


Well, I did play the game. The first time, I opened 14 doors and scored about 1600 points. The second time, I opened 4 doors and scored almost twice as many.


“Make art, make art!”

February 25, 2008

Oh, staying up to watch the Oscars just got completely worthwhile. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova just won best song for “Falling” from Once. Like I said earlier, I have had a cynical, pragmatic hangover since 2004 and that song and that movie still charmed me to tears. Oh! It just got better–Marketa got cut off by the orchestra, and Jon Stewart just brought her back out to give her an uninterupted chance to say her thank-you’s. “Enjoy your moment,” he said. Good advice.

If, as Brian suggested, I am doomed to lose the good fight over the correct use of “enormity,” I am not without company, as Boswell informs us:

 He found fault with me for using the phrase to make money. ‘Don’t you see (said he,) the impropriety of it? To make money is to coin it: you should say get money.’ The phrase, however, is, I think, pretty current. But Johnson was at all times jealous of infractions upon the genuine English language, and prompt to repress colloquial barbarisms… He was particularly indignant against the almost universal use of the word idea in the sense of notion or opinion, when it is clear that idea can only signify something of which an image can be formed in the mind.”

Uh yeah, clearly… or not so clearly anymore. And have any of us ever given it a second thought?

This NYT story is not happy news for those of us who have sat out the housing market b/c we refuse to pay too much money using risky loans for a home in an overpriced area of the country:

Elizabeth and Ben Kilgore are back in the real estate market. All it took was a little-publicized section of the economic stimulus package President Bush signed into law last week that lowered the borrowing cost of buying a more expensive home.

And if the limit on loans backed by a government-backed housing finance entity like Fannie Mae is raised from $417,000 to the full $729,750 she has been hearing about, Ms. Kilgore said, “we will be able to get a 30-year fixed mortgage for less than what we’re paying now plus our homeowner’s dues.”

Okay, do I get this right? The stimulus package is going to help our economy because it will allow people w/ 700k houses to obtain nice, normal mortgages.  Were they really the ones who needed our help?

700k, the article goes on to explain, is really just a number. It sounds outrageous to me and others who live in cheap-old southeast Florida, but the median price of a home in San Francisco, for example, is about 777k. So really, this change in jumbo loan backing is geared toward helping average people who live in the most exorbitantly priced places in the country.

No wait, I still don’t get it. It seems like those ordinary people would have been helped more by what the market is actually doing right now (unless it causes them to lose their jobs), which is falling in real terms. Housing prices in the SF bay area have fallen close to 20% in the last year, as they should when the market is flooded and has been overvalued. Hmmm, would I rather pay 777k or 650k for my house, let me see… They’ve started to fall here too, which could eventually help people like me… if it were allowed to continue. But it looks as though one of the package’s main goals is to prevent that from happening, favoring some of the very people who got us into this mess and some people who just plain don’t need help, people who could either afford very expensive homes in the first place and people who took on loans they couldn’t handle. Oh yeah, and only people who live on the coasts:

In areas where median prices do not exceed $271,050, such as the entire state of Alabama, the basic loan limit will be $271,050.

The economic stimulus package of 2008: some states left behind. Again, this seems to be exactly the kind of short-sighted, instant gratification-oriented thinking that got us (all of us, even those of us who tried to spend responsibly and not take on more mortgage than we could afford) into this situation. Either housing prices should fall and let waiting buyers back into the market, or they should rise naturally and encourage people to flow elsewhere. I know the jobs have to flow elsewhere first, and they would be more likely to do so if the there were not unnatural subsidies for being located in an expensive place to do business.

Oh well. I didn’t really want to own a home in Florida anyway, so at least this could help keep me motivated to move along.

Friday Red: At last

February 22, 2008

Wow, I think it’s been a month of Friday’s since I last got to keep my favorite tradition of red wine + free time. It’s been a hectic few weeks in which my last remaining uncommitted brain cells have been invaded by the word “job.” Which is more than a little futile, seeing as I won’t have my library degree until August and most search committees won’t look at my app until I have it in hand. But some will, and I am slowly discovering them.

The last time I blogged, I would not have predicted that I would feel so unconflicted about this. I think economy woes + nearing graduation + meeting a few more really cool librarians made me wake up and say, you know, I do enjoy this job, and I want to give it shot, and heck, I will actually be qualified for it without another 5-8 years of school unlike my other two fantasy jobs of late. No more self-created inferiority complex. And having said that to myself, all of a sudden the future looks a little more promising. Like, it won’t be the end of the world if I just go with what comes my way.

Other than that, not much to report. Currently reading: Joy Kagawa’s Obasan, Carlyle on Boswell,  and a bunch of articles about standards in medical information and ontologies for clinical research (and a vast yawn echoes through the blogosphere, but really, it’s fascinating, I promise!)

D got a bike. He’s in love with it. I’m just trying to make sure he practices protected biking. For me the answer to “Would it be okay if I just rode along A1A w/o a helmet?” is always NO.

Last week I took my second canoe trip along the Peace River in central Florida. Last year, the whole drive there through dark cane fields on two lane roads felt like an epic of stress, but this year the drive just flew by. Why is that? Why does Clewiston no longer scare me?

And now, I think I am going to focus on the perfect beverage in my glass and the perfect weather on my patio. Sometimes it really does pay to live in Florida.

Good reads via Seacoast

February 18, 2008

It takes a lot to make SJ smile on a day in which she experienced what she calls a “Double Shot of Adulthood”–1k in dental bills predicted for hubby and a check engine light in the new (!?!) car. Fortunately, there’s good semi-colon news today, and Emily totally scooped me on that story, and pointed me toward a good piece on American aspirations and the phenomenon of workplace and school shootings. So do check it out, if you haven’t given this blog up for dead.

Oh snap: poetry version

February 13, 2008

George Saunders explains why “poetry is not only transcendent, it’s super-easy. ” Don’t forget to check back next week, when “we’ll look at some other poetic forms, such as the rondo, the villanelle, and even the Pig Latin.”