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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.

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.
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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!

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.

I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home dad/full-time grad student for the last five months or so, now, which really mostly means I’m not getting as far ahead on my dissertation as I’d like. That said, thanks to Violet’s near-constant demands for entertainment and my interest in saving my lower back by sitting as much as possible and letting her go unheld as often and long as she’s willing, I can now play guitar–badly, but I can decisively call it playing guitar now, not just whatever it was I did when I held a guitar and interfaced over the last near-decade. I now know all the basic chords and can string them together at will and have memorized a bunch of songs, many of which include at least one drop of the f-bomb. This is complicated.

Many of my favorite songs feature the f-bomb, and at their best, they feature it just the once (the exception that proves the rule: “F$%# and Run” by Liz Phair) , but it serves an essential purpose–it’s either the part of the song where the decrescendo ends and you need to imply that the meaning is still emphatic, even if the sound is not loud, or it’s the part of the song where the crescendo has occurred and the words contain too much denotative meaning to express the necessary, and so only expletives can get the job done, and when one is grasping for an expletive, anything worth doing is worth doing right: hence, f-bomb. (example of the first: “1330 Oak 1995” by Kind of Like Spitting. example of the second: can’t think of it right now–feel free to come up with one of your own and holler if you like)

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I got a mailer on the introduction of FF Meta Serif, which is a font for those out there not into design. It’s exciting because I liked FF Meta a lot, but mostly because now I’m pretty much an economist/dad and I like that I get mail when new fonts are invented.

This isn’t a paid promotion or plug–hell, I bought FF Meta with expenses paid, so I don’t know that I’d pay for it; plus, I’ve never used it. Still, if you want to see what looks like a nice, fat, readable font, go for it: http://www.fontshop.com/features/newsletters/nov2007_a/

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Now, for what I intended originally to write about. Cheryl and Violet and I have become members at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, and it’s been a really great experience so far, a few months into attending. I have an elaborate religious life-story, so I won’t go into it here, except to say that it’s been uniformly positive, and still I’m an atheist. Going to/joining what is, effectively, a church, definitely seemed like a complicated idea–one I bristled against at first when Cheryl said she thought we should try it out.

I comprehended my hesitation a little better during today’s service. There’s a quiet period in the service, an “Invitation to Meditation” is what I believe they call it. As the meditation closes, the minister names those people who are having milestones or hardships so that we may keep then in thoughts/prayers as we see fit. After he says names, everyone is invited to say their own names, out loud or silently. It’s a beautiful ritual, the effect of which is at least to give everyone there a moment in the week to think about the people in their lives and try to figure out if anyone is experienced abnormally great joy or sorrow. I don’t believe in any metaphysical powers of prayer, but I still find I really like it.

Not to mention the “sanctioned” or what-have-you stating of names/events made by the minister, which often involves requests for cards/flowers/visitors/donations/condolences in the case of people in the hospital or grieving and merely information in the case of landmarks.

The rationale of it notwithstanding: today the Rev mentioned a member whose name I had never heard and don’t remember. She had, evidently, after a long and difficult process, successfully brought her adopted 18-month-old daughter home from Nepal.

I’ve been really callous, internally, at least, about international adoption (I have begun/continued to default on really callous, internally, I’ve begun to notice–which is one of the reasons why I sort of need to be part of a spiritually nourishing and challenging congregation) and sort of miserably failed at viewing it as a personal milestone, and seen it more as sort of a weird upper-class white affectation.

It dawned on me today that the brief reference Rev. David was making was a really watershed moment in someone’s life. She had sought out and successfully taken responsibility for a new person. A new person in her life.

A new person! A new person. A real, live, life. A new life. Someone different than everyone else–not even just everyone else you know, but EVERYONE else, ever.

I don’t know–for many people, this may be far less complicated than it is for me. I have spent a lot of spare brain cycles justifying decisions to strip people away, to reduce interpersonal connections. These were people who had other people; I am (or at least have been historically) almost universally unnecessary in the lives of others. This isn’t just a fear of commitment–I’m fine with commitment, which is sort of a well-delineated and totally enforceable contract, the optimal length and terms of which are totally solvable.

To some extent, it has been a question of the best way to climb that mountain.

(That mountain, here, is how to be good–which is sort of the central question of my life, I think.)

When being good is a destination, even if it is a destination in only the most abstract sense, it becomes simple, sometimes, to see other people as hindrances. It’s like trying to go to the movies in large groups. It’s difficult, verging on pointless, at times. It’s just better to all go by yourselves.

This is sort of the dominant meme of personal existence in a lot of our culture, I think, and it’s certainly something I’ve imbibed. The explosion of the nuclear family is in part, a result of this and a cause of this. Growing up, I definitely was urged to move out and move on, as my father had done before me and his before him. The suburban American dream involved perfect labor mobility, a lack of emotional and personal attachment to a place and people and a culture and a tradition.

We are not atomic; we are not built thusly. And people have expectations of us, they place constraints on us, on our hearts, even through no wish or fault of their own. These are the ties that bind, and they sometimes constrict.

More often in my life, if I choose to be honest with myself, people know me better than I know myself. They know my best self, at least, and when I have guests, my house gets clean, and when I cook for other people, I make everything more delicious (the trick is that extra stick or two of butter), and when people disagree with me, I either figure out why I’m right, or find out I’m wrong and then I can be right forreal, forreal.

A new person. I know better now what that means, because I have one of them. In fact, I have lots–not just Violet but new friends, fellow members of the congregation. I was going to say “So often,” but the truth is “Always…” Always, the other people sitting in the service are total ciphers, and not only do I neither know nor care, but I can hardly fathom that they have lives outside those walls, that things happen, that they lie awake at night hoping that they outlive their children, hoping that they get to see all of it, then when they face their own personal end, that it be sweet and not bitter, and that the version of themselves they get to know therein is someone with honor and honesty and decency.

I never really saw other people as keys to that before today–I must have known on some level, because I’ve spent much of my life attaching and detaching–I mean, I am living a full and healthy life (much of which has been rigged in my favor, I’ll admit). I still think of conversation as an unpleasant necessity sometimes, and I think I’ll embrace it more, now.

I’m glad to be necessary, to feel like I have to–like it’s a moral imperative to– sacrifice some of my maximization just to help out, that maybe that’s maxing something else–a better function (by maximizing of course, I really mean blindly staggering generally northward, metaphysically, but the modeling thereof is similar, WLOG, I argue).

A new person. It’s a whole new life opening up ahead of you, every time you engage. And I think I thought it stood as good a chance of being bad as good. I was almost certainly wrong. New people are almost always a boon, a gift; even to brush up against people briefly and tangentially is to live a richer life. As I say that, a part of me I’ve known for a long time rebels, but the evidence is against him, and I don’t know that the argument of experience is enough to quash the force of identity–but it’s definitely a conflict worth embracing.