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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.

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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.

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

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Once the holidays had started, Ron and Harry were having too good a time to think much about Flamel. They had the dormitory to themselves and the common room was far emptier than usual, so they were able to get the good armchairs by the fire. They sat by the hour eating anything they could spear on a toasting fork — bread, English muffins, marshmallows — and plotting ways of getting Malfoy expelled, which were fun to talk about even if they wouldn’t work.

Ron also started teaching Harry wizard chess. This was exactly like Muggle chess except that the figures were alive, which made it a lot like directing troops in battle. Ron’s set was very old and battered. Like everything else he owned, it had once belonged to someone else in his family — in this case, his grandfather. However, old chessmen weren’t a drawback at all. Ron knew them so well he never had trouble getting them to do what he wanted. Read the rest of this entry »

Six to Eight Black Men (excerpt)
by David Sedaris

(from Bill Stebbins’s Christmas Jokes Page)

“When do you open your Christmas presents?” is another good
conversation starter as it explains a lot about national character.
People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit
more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas
morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return
to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to
eating another big meal.  Gifts are generally reserved for
children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It’s nothing
I’d want for myself, but I suppose it’s fine for those who prefer
food and family to things of real value.
Read the rest of this entry »

the ancients believed that the earth was the back of an elephant that stood on a tortoise that swam in a bottomless sea. Of course, what held up the sea was another question. They did not know the answer.

The belief of the ancients was the result of imagination. It was a poetic and beautiful idea. Look at the way we see it today. Is that a dull idea? The world is a spinning ball, and people are held on it on all sides, some of them upside down. And we turn like a spit in front of a great fire. We whirl around the sun. That is more romantic, more exciting. And what holds us? The force of gravitation, which is not only a thing of the earth but is the thing that makes the earth round in the first place, holds the sun together and keeps us running around the sun in our perpetual attempt to stay away. This gravity holds its sway not only on the stars but between the stars; it holds them in the great galaxies for miles and miles in all directions.
Read the rest of this entry »

To Violet, on the first week of Advent

I
While you sleep, at long last, in what is hopefully a warm room,
the searchlight of a roving mind swings around, time after time.
In the car
on the way home
your mom and I make up a Death Cab for Cutie song:
“Another cold night in Cleveland
in my brown corduroy jacket
I drove alone”
And this is that through which we move, my love.
A mountain range, a peak of which we each are fast approaching,
and as Poincaré before me, I fire light across the distance,
trying to tell you the time.
.
II
1999. Two-by-fours in the barn, ready to go,
I sat with a piece of scratch paper, trying to figure this out:
A regular pentagon contains a rectangle and a triangle;
three-sixty plus one-eighty is … five-forty, which means…
and I couldn’t figure it out then; a little bit of shame in front of my grandfather.
Now, though, a better version of me:
five-forty divided by five is one-oh-eight,
and so each of the five exterior triangles is isosceles
and the paired angles then have angles of…
one-eighty minus one-oh-eight is seventy-two
(which divided by two is thirty-six) and there are
five pairs of those angles, which means that
those angles take up five times seventy-two
is three-sixty degrees of the total interior, which
means the total amount in the points is five-forty
minus that three-sixty,
which is one-eighty,
which you divide by five,
so that each point in a regular star
should have thirty-six degrees.
.

III

Lay me in a bed with amber glow filling the room,
and place the sound of fun outside, ready to start playing
at the moment I am to awake, so that I can lie there
and bathe in vicarious jubilation.
Place me in the back-right of a blue Ram van, driven by
my father, and let us stop at Great Bend or Clarks Summit.
Let me know when we see “Deer Crossing” signs,
so I can count down from ten.
Put me back again in the passenger seat,
with my head in my hands, not yet on paper half the man
I couldn’t quite convince myself to convince them
I would come out to be.
Sit me in the dark, illuminated by punctual flashes,
with you on my lap, and your mother’s warmth behind us,
and the lights of the tree. We bathed in our own jubilation
and you in the middle of us all.
So this one I just wrote. Happy Advent!

“The Ice of Boston” by The Dismemberment Plan

( Check it here: http://krucoff.com/2006/01/pop-open-3rd-bottle-of-bubbly.html)

Pop open a bottle of bubbly…yeah.
Here’s to another goddamn new year.
And outside, 2 million drunk Bostonians
Are getting ready to sing “Auld Lang Sine”…out of tune.
I sit there in my easy chair, looking at the clouds, orange with celebration
And I wonder if you’re out there.
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time
Pop open a third bottle of bubbly
Yeah, and I take that bottle of champagne
Go into the kitchen, stand in front of the kitchen window
And I take all my clothes off, take that bottle of champagne
And I pour it on my head, feel it cascade through my hair
And across my chest, and the phone rings.
And it’s my mother.
And she says “HI HONEY HOW’S BOSTON?”
And I stand there, all alone on New Year’s Eve
Buck naked, drenched in champagne, looking at a bunch of strangers
Uh, looking at them, looking at me, looking at them, and I say:
“Oh, I’m fine Mom—how’s Washington?”
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time, time, time, time, yeah…
So I guess the party line is I followed you up here.
Well, I don’t know about that.
Mainly because knowing about that would involve knowing some pathetic, ridiculous, and absolutely true things about myself that I’d rather not admit to right now.
Woke up at 3 A.M. with the radio on, that Gladys Knight and the Pips song on
About how she’d rather live in his world with him
Than live in her own world alone
And I lay there, head spinning, trying to fall asleep
And I thought to myself: “Oh, Gladys, girl, I love you but, oh—get a life!”
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time
Hey! The ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light, in day or night
And I slip on it every time

—–

I don’t know that “Ice of Boston” is the best introduction to the D-plan if you’ve never heard them before. I think my favorite song would be “Back and Forth” (an explication of which (or an effusion of glee regarding) I also owe you, followed closely by “A Life of Possibilities.” That said, “The Ice of Boston” captures something for me.

I wonder how many people have spent New Year’s alone. I talked a little bit about solitude, and I think that winter and solitude are kind of linked–snow carries with it such silence, and everyone seeks shelter indoors, so there are times when you’re all alone.

I remember, in Baltimore (whoa–just had a moment of deja vu. have i written this before?) a time when…so, I need a little back story.

In Baltimore, for the last year and a half or so, Cheryl and I lived in an apartment in Mt. Washington, a really great little neighborhood that had a little businessy district type thing with a few restaurants and a pottery place and a psychic, and then a Light Rail stop, and then a fancier little place with a Whole Foods and a wine shop and some other stuff–a garden shop. Anyway. The closest thing to us was Mt. Washington Pizza, about a 2 minute walk or a 60 second sprint. The two nice things about which were that it also served Indian food (really common in Baltimore: Pizza/Indian food place. who knows?), including kickass Chicken Tikka Masala, and B. that you could order a pizza when the Simpsons started, head over when the second commercial came on and get back before the commercials were over.

So the memory is during one of those commercial breaks, heading out, walking down the steps, walking across the street, going inside, exchanging my cash for pizza, heading back out, walking back across the street, and going inside again. It must have been mid-to-late December. There was a thin layer of snow on the grass (it never really sticks to the streets that far South), and outside it was completely silent–as silent as I have ever heard it anywhere outside. In rural areas, there is honking of geese, which carries, and falling snow and cracking limbs, but there were no cars, and the snow muffled everything so much, and it was just my footsteps. I went inside the pizza place and it was filled with an amber incandescent glow tinted blue by a television set, and it was warm and loud and bright when I opened the door, and when I went back outside, I was warmer because I was carrying a pizza, but it was still silent.

That’s not what the Ice of Boston brings to me, though, although the silence is part of it. In the winter of 2000-2001 and the winter of 2001-2002, I stayed in the apartment of my grandparents’ barn. So my grandparents bought an old farmhouse when they decided not to move to a smaller, more manageable place like sane people in their early 50s. The barn of which has an attached “apartment”–kitchenette, bathroom w/shower stall and one big room. It has brown carpeting, a treadmill perennially covered with boxes and boxes of read romance novels, a refrigerator full of food that will get used shortly after nuclear winter sets in, and a shower stall perennially full of boxes and boxes of romance novels.

Two Christmas seasons I stayed in that room, chain smoking and watching 2 am infomercials for electroshock stomach tighteners. (reread that last sentence and really try to picture it) I’m not sure if I ever actually spent New Year’s Eve by myself, but I spent a lot (a LOT) of time by myself in that room, especially considering I spent a whole summer working at Hollywood Video, closing up shop, coming home with 2 movies, watching them both til like 5 in the morning, sleeping til noon and then doing it all over again.

In the cold of winter, smoking cigarettes under the electric blue of the barn light, with the orange glow of the cherry so shockingly contrasted, that’s what this song brings back to me. These are Christmas seasons that don’t often make it into postcards, but one of them was very formative for me. I was reading DFW’s Infinite Jest, and it was then that I realized how much I strive to be challenged by cool stuff. The book requires 2 bookmarks, one for where you’re reading and one for how far you are in the copious endnotes, as well as a dictionary on the side. It’s hard fun, and it was the first hard fun I’d had in a long time. It was the sort of thing that made you think “why the hell am I spending my time locked in this room? i need to go for a walk.”* At one point, i walked five miles at 10 pm to the nearest McDonalds, got a cup of coffee and took a piss, then turned around and walked the five miles back, just to kill some time. Didn’t see a single soul along the way, although a good half dozen cars passed. That much walking makes your butt hurt the next day. The Christmas lights were pretty though.

Previous time spent in the room bordered on madness, not gonna lie. Anyway, I raise a toast to all of you spending the holidays alone. It’s a different kind of life, one I miss in an odd sort of way. That said, I couldn’t be happier. Tree this weekend!

*I should note that DFW’s articulation of the philosophy of AA (and NA, by extension) is really very well-put and he obviously did a @$#%load of research and I only wish that he’d put a little more faith in it, personally-wise.

was a lot of fun. it’s always nice when the girls are having a good time and I don’t have to be bending over to pick them up or debating whether I should be intervening. Junebug’s still a little easier to deal with, physically, because she’s immobile, but V is definitely becoming willful–and it’s amazing,  because it’s expressed as a boundless curiosity and she’s a happy kid, upbeat and excited about things–but it’s still havoc on the lower back to chase, lift, re-aim, repeat.

All of which is totally the opposite tone from that which I meant to strike. I laid out a beach towel in the outfield at our local playground/rec center and put some cheerios out and Juniper sat in the grass and I lay back and watched the sky and Violet orbited like a spirograph, and they both thought that my lying down was just the funniest thing either of them had ever seen. Violet decided to tackle me repeatedly; I put my hat on Junebug and she spent five elated minutes trying to take it off again. Antics ensued…

Later in the day Violet saw real live ducks and that, as they say, was the cat’s pajamas.