Everybody’s Working for the Weekend

I Prologue

To some of us, this land is still a land of Saturdays

and I am making my way
as best as I can,
just like the rest, all across the fields
all amber and vermouth,
slyly smiling, tired and retiring for the day,
under a windswept sky.

It’s an end to party-hopping, a farewell to great huzzahs,
you can hear the torrent slowly fade
to chattering, the chips grown stale and old,
becomes a mumble as the rubber of your soles sticks on the floor,
down to a whisper, the creak and hard knock of a door closing then shut.

There is the voiceless tap and shuffle, followed by the sounds
that still remain: the sharp and sudden pop of bone and sinew
as we toss and turn, trying to settle down. What a Saturday.
What a lovely shuffle, ending an aimless carefree day.

Through my window at night come the lights and sounds
of quiet city streets. Amber vermouth slow fades to blue
as the night ends and I sleep until another lovely Saturday
begins.

II Passage

You miss it, moment by moment.
Like a background hiss on a tape of a tape
or a tape of a tape of a tape.
You can’t see it, whipping your line of sight

quick to one side, trying to catch
the faintest glimpse of the back
of your head.

That’s when your glasses go flying.

Green to blue to violet.
This is how our Saturdays became Sundays.
The watch that I was wearing lost five seconds every hour.
All our clocks, as it turns out, slowed two minutes every day.
That is how our Saturday became, one day, Sunday.

III

I never minded the smell of death in there.
It’s not that I can’t care, but I won’t.
I understood from the first that Wilbur had to die for my ham sandwich.

A red and black and blue of downcast eyes and misspent youth
has come at last to stake his claim;
down here it’s our time.
It’s our time down here.

Our Saturday is Sunday now. Our Saturday is why it’s Sunday now.
The green and black were violet inside. They built the blue and red.
It’s Sunday now, so put the bottle down.
This is a war; a war you have to be sober to win.

The sense of violation [is not the smell of death]

(and there is a sense of violation)
is the disjoint, fracture,
a total lack of order

It’s that I can’t stop them taking my children’s toys and their children’s
clothes away. And I can’t understand this. And I can understand everything.

Today’s the day we finally used up all our Saturdays.

My birthday is November 2. It’s also St Crispin’s day.

IYI: I’m going to adopt a particular innovation in notation, created (as far as I know) by David Foster Wallace. It goes like this: most of what I’m writing is pretty straightforward and I’ll cover pretty much everything eventually. If I’m talking about something a little abstruse that’s tangential enough that it doesn’t warrant further elucidation, like, right away, then I’ll mark it “if you’re interested”—IYI—before the section to set it off. These are what I think are interesting or important, but not essential, qualifications or excursions.

Two of the things I’ve always been interested in are closely related — desirelessness and effortlessness. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to articulate their connection, in my mind, and why I think it can be so advantageous to cultivate both senses.

I have essentially two goals in life: to be happy and to make the world a better place. You can think of these as products. The first is creating my own happiness and the second is creating, fostering, supporting happiness in everyone else.

IYI: Defining “happiness” is pretty tough, but kind of important. I don’t mean contentment and I don’t mean short-term pleasure. The best definition I’ve come across for what I mean is more properly referred to as “eudaimonia” or “doing and living well.” Economists might refer to it as “utility,” although revealed preference makes the definition of utility endogenous, and I definitely don’t mean “whatever the underlying thing is that I’m evidently optimizing for,” because one of the things I’m trying to do is transform my utility function so that it becomes an eudaimonia-maximization function. As noted in the little part in the Wikipedia page that discusses Elizabeth Anscombe, this has the advantage of “ground[ing]  morality in the interests and well being of human moral agents …without appealing to any questionable metaphysics.” = Yay! IYI2: My personal morality differs from my prescriptive morality, so this is more a benchmark for me, rather than a standard to which I hold other people, about which more later, perhaps.

These seem reasonable enough that I’d like to teach Violet what I’ve discovered vis-a-vis happiness-production technologies when she begins to start thinking about how to produce happiness in herself and others.

If you’re someone who has ever struggled with motivation, then I find one of the easiest ways to be productive is to do things of value that don’t feel like work. One of the best ways to be happy is to want the things you have, and to extract as much enjoyment from them as possible. These approaches use desirelessness and effortlessness as inputs to production. I think of them as expanding on the intensive margin.

And this is why effortlessness and desirelessness are so useful and important on a personal level: A. they’re cheap, B. they’re sustainable, and C. they’re investments in human capital–improvements in production technology–so expenditure on them isn’t burned, it’s stored and reused. Like everything else, they’re subject to diminishing marginal returns, but when you think of the emotional depth and maturity of the average human being, I think we still have some pretty low-hanging fruit here.

For a parent, they’re great as well. They encourage your kid to seek internal validation rather than measuring her success by the amount of stuff she has or the amount of money she earns. They teach your kid to naturally follow a course to find interests that feel consonant with a coherent worldview, ethic, aesthetic, and eventually choice of career and lifestyle. Finally, for parent and child, they make it so you never get panicky or string yourself too thin, so you have untapped emotional reserves to ride out the vicissitudes of life.

At the same time, I think it’s important that these aren’t confused with laziness and self-abnegation. They sure are a nice alternative to solipsism or materialism or consumerism, though. One way to solve this problem, I guess is to want the things I will have, and to enjoy the wait.

So yeah: work to want the things I have and to want to do the things I must, and live my best life. More on my experience with this later.

So I’m on the job market. It’s a terrible time to be looking for work; friends of mine who are in much better positions than me are freaking out. I’m pretty level-headed about the whole thing. I’m pretty level-headed in general. I like to think this is a good thing—I’m adaptable, not easily fazed, etc. It’s quite possible this is a bad thing—I am prone to accepting the things that I can indeed change.

It’s hard to know.

The more I look around, though, the more I’m convinced that it’s neither apathy nor denial. Allow me to justify my sangfroid, or moreover, let me evangelize to you. It’s especially important for parents, because if your kid is anything like mine, there are fan blades and there is excretory matter and sometimes things go flying. Keeping it together is how we get from here to the other side—and, for me at least, a foundation that I can rely upon for why I should just let it go, well, it’s a source of strength in dark and dangerous times.

So. To econ it up a little bit, let me motivate it thusly: Let’s say you face a choice. You can either have a fifty-fifty chance of winning $1.60 or $2.00 or a fifty-fifty chance of winning $3.85 or $0.10. If you’re like most of the subjects in the now seminal Holt and Laury 2002 paper, Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects, you’d go with the “safe bet”, even though you’ll earn less in expectation; roughly 2/3 of their subjects made such a decision.

Why? Why the heck do people leave 7 cents on the table every time they make this decision? There’s very little out there that critiques this decision. This particular field of economics is justifiably concerned primarily with documenting and describing human decisions—positive economics—and not so much with how people ought to make decisions—normative economics. This is all good and well.

The take-home I’d like to present is this: please, please, PLEASE take the risky, high-payoff bet when the stakes are this low. If you want to remain contented with your lot, this is almost impossible without some groundwork first, because people don’t like to walk away with ten measly cents.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I drew up a quick Excel table with random numbers and what-have-you, and recalculated it five times. In the first drawing, the safe bet outperformed the risky bet in 2 of 5 recalculations. Once, choosing always-safe outperformed always-risky over 100 independent drawings, earning $5.95 more than always-risky. But in all the other sets of drawings, risky beat out safe. The five outcomes were (π(risky) – π(safe) )= (-$5.95, $20.85, $7.45, $37.60, $30.90).

I’m not saying you should take big risks. I’m not even necessarily advocating that you take on more small risks. Mostly what I’m trying to say is: it hurts to go home with a dime, but it’s best not to put too much weight on any one event. You barely miss the train one day and just make it another day. A crappy waiter at a restaurant? It happens. A bad interview can hurt, but over the course of a lifetime, these events even out, and the brainpower we spend on them is almost certainly wasted.

By the same token, so your kid is brilliant and polite at age 2? Might not last to age 3. The baby lets you sleep through the night at 4 months? Enjoy it while it lasts.

Paying attention to the long view can make you more confident, more humble, and more grateful; more emotionally and financially stable; and better at handling momentary crises. If that’s not a recipe for a good tactical parenting, I’m not sure what is.

with backup vocals by JuneBug:

http://bit.ly/tpmoR (on YouTube)

From Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers

(stolen from a blog post from last year at Mange Merde)

And numerous indeed are the hearts to which Christmas
brings a brief season of happiness and enjoyment. How many families, whose members have been dispersed and scattered far and wide, in the restless struggles of life, are then reunited, and meet once again in that happy state of companionship and mutual goodwill, which is a source of such pure and unalloyed delight; and one so incompatible with the cares and sorrows of the world, that the religious belief of the most civilised nations, and the rude traditions of the roughest savages, alike number it among the first joys of a future condition of existence, provided for the blessed and happy! How many old recollections, and how many dormant sympathies, does Christmas time awaken!

We write these words now, many miles distant from the spot at which, year after year, we met on that day, a merry and joyous circle. Many of the hearts that throbbed so gaily then, have ceased to beat; many of the looks that shone so brightly then, have ceased to glow; the hands we grasped, have grown cold; the eyes we sought, have hid their lustre in the grave; and yet the old house, the room, the merry voices and smiling faces, the jest, the laugh, the most minute and trivial circumstances connected with those happy meetings, crowd upon our mind at each recurrence of the season, as if the last assemblage had been but yesterday! Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!

Cheryl and I watched Love Actually again last night. It’s a winsome movie, perfect for this time of the year. My parents got here today. They’re exhausted and temporarily without luggage, but glad to be here, glad to see Violet.

Cheryl made a wonderful bacon-mushroom quiche and I helped out with a delicious roasted-potato-and-mustard-vinaigrette salad. Dessert was molasses spice cookies and tea.

All are sleeping and snoring around me. It’s a lovely night.

...
Suddenly all REACT to a nearby CB transmitter which broadcasts.

						POWELL'S VOICE
			This is Sergeant Al Powell of the
			Los Angeles Police Department.  If
			the person who radioed for help on
			this channel can hear me, acknowledge
			this transmission...I say again...

172	INT. 33RD FLOOR - ON MCCLANE - NIGHT			172	*

						MCCLANE
				(to CB)
			I read you, Powell.  You the guy
			in the car?

		 Read the rest of this entry »

From Scrooged


FRANK:        It’s a night you’ve gotta party hearty, Marty.
Check this out. Whoa-ho! Don’t be so mean. Ugh!
Look!
[points to mistletoe]

There’s a rule, a tradition which says…
I have to kiss this girl.
She’s just upholding the law. It’s a federal law, actually.
Boy, that was very good. But you know what?
It wasn’t great. There’s only been one “great”.
There is a girl…
that I wish I were with tonight.
It’s a girl that I loved a long time ago.
A girl that I still love.
It’s not too late, is it?
Claire, you remember the Kama Sutra, page   ?
Our legs are like this. You circle me, chanting, before we begin?
It was practically impossible.
Tonight, we could do this without serious physical damage.

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ARTIST: Dar Williams
TITLE: The Christians and the Pagans
(from Gunther Anderson)

Amber called her uncle, said “We’re up here for the holiday
Jane and I were having Solstice, now we need a place to stay”
And her Christ-loving uncle watched his wife hang Mary on a tree
He watched his son hang candy canes all made with red dye number three
He told his niece, “It’s Christmas eve, I know our life is not your style”
She said, “Christmas is like Solstice, and we miss you and it’s been awhile”

/ G C Am D / / Em C Am D / / G C Am D / /

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And just before the meal was served, hands were held and prayers were said
Sending hope for peace on earth to all their gods and goddesses

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From the excellent, comprehensive, and highly recommend Oxford Companion to Food

COOKIE the name used in N. America for a small, flat, sweet confection, which approximates to a sweet BISCUIT as eaten in England, although cookies tend to be richer and have a softer, chewy texture. The name first appeared in print as long ago as 1703.

Generations of immigrants from all over Europe have contributed to the American tradition of cookies. Early Dutch settlers introduced their recipes for various types of koekje, Dutch for “little cake” (see BANKETBAKKERI), the name which needed only slight adaptation to become cookie. English, Scandinavian, German, and E. European settlers introduced numerous types of biscuit, including many which could be classed as cookies, and maintained their connection with feast days. Cookies were originally associated, in the USA, with New Year’s Day; references cited by Craigie and Hulbert (1938) from the early part of the 19th century show that cookies and cherry bounce (a cherry cordial) were the correct fare with which to greet visitors on that occasion, although already threatened “by plum-cake and outlandish liqueurs”, as one author put it. Read the rest of this entry »

From Chapter 17 – Celebration Days in
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Snow fell on our garden in December, leaving the dried corn stalks and withered tomato vines standing black on white like a pen-and-ink drawing titled Rest. I postponed looking at seed catalogs for awhile. Those of us who give body and soul to projects that never seem to end–child rearing, housecleaning, gardening–know the value of the occasional closed door. We need our moments of declared truce.

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