Thursday, April 29

Beckett at the Beach

The most recent issue of Bookforum arrived with photographs that have much amused Beckett (my husband) and me. If you find these photos amusing, too, then perhaps you might understand why the idea of going on a beach vacation with Beckett (my husband) is more or less unimaginable to me. Even though I technically have done so.

The Paradox of My Karma

While reading TheOrganicSister's response to a recent kerfuffle about unschooling (about which I was otherwise unaware), I felt again the paradox of my karma, which has some 98% of my income generated via my editorial contributions to educational products that, for the most part, I cannot endorse.

We live in New York City, and so educational options for the Critter abound. On the other hand, with Mayor Moneybags and Joel Klein in charge, public schooling in this city has meant testing, testing, testing. And so for us, the unschooling option is definitely on the table. Except that to choose that path, I would need to continue to work mostly at home, which would mean continuing to work on those educational products that support the practices that are the reason why we would keep the Critter out of school.

Unschooling or not, gotta find a new line of work.

Monday, April 26

PB&J Revisited

Should you ever plan to do something crazy like take care of your child (or, yikes, children!) while working from home, my advice to you would be: get organized. Would that someone had advised me so before I set forth on this path!
Exhibit A: Work at home with child
OK, things have improved since I took that photo last November, but still too often I find myself either pumped up with adrenaline, stressed about an impending deadline, or in a scattered haze of uncertainty about what I should be taking care of just now. The late nights don't help matters.

Writing up a weekly menu and doing the grocery shopping on Sundays does help matters, and most weeks I do manage to do so, though I go through spells, like now, when I honestly can't remember what I know how to make for dinner other than pasta dishes. (I aspire someday to create something like this meal calendar, but first I would have to come up with twenty different easy-to-make meals.) Even when I can remember what I know how to make for dinner, though, lunch tends to be the big mystery. Writing up the weekly shopping list, I tend to list the needed breakfast staples first, then the ingredients for the dinners I've planned, and then the needed staples for Beckett's lunch ... and then, I draw a blank.

But not this week! For lunch this week we have PB&J for grown-ups! Not that limp, peanut-butter-and-white-bread-soaked-with-grape-jelly sandwich that I loathed when I was a child! You see, I've figured out the obvious: that if you use good fruit preserves on good, thick, whole wheat bread, the sandwich doesn't get soggy. Plus, for less than what I have been spending on take-out lunches on Fridays (when I usually go to a client's office for work), I can have a whole week of sandwiches with almond butter. Yum, yum!

Tuesday, April 13

What Matters More Than the Practice

Over at Stop Homework, FedUpMom has a different take on the topic I took up in my last post. Though she does see that it takes hard work to develop talent, she doesn't believe that "the biggest dif­fer­ence between me and Mozart is that Mozart got more prac­tice." She continues, "My biggest fear about the idea of hours of prac­tice is that it will be applied unthink­ingly to our kids, many of whom are already overworked."

I share her fear, though for a different reason: I don't believe the practice matters most, but the hunger. Asking children to practice practice practice in order to excel at something they don't give a damn about or (even worse) at something they enjoyed once upon a time before the practice beat the pleasure out of it for them is asking them to give much too much of themselves to an exercise in hollowness....

Tuesday, April 6

It's Your Fault You Suck

As described on a recent-ish (two weeks ago! I'm so slow....) interview on the Brian Lehrer Show, The Genius in All of Us, Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk argues that, for the most part, genius is not in the genes. Though some people may be genetically advantaged (or disadvantaged), these advantages do not in themselves "cause" genius. Far more important is practice practice practice and a persistent mindset — a hunger, really — that drives one to learn from failure and push oneself beyond one's current abilities. Shenk does not claim that talent is solely the result of practice or that there is a recipe for creating genius, but he does believe that by thinking about giftedness in the ways we usually do (i.e., that it is innate), we are probably selling ourselves short.

These ideas don't seem to be particularly new to me. Anyway, as a feminist, I've long been suspicious of arguments that claim that any particular human qualities are innate, because such arguments have tended to be used to keep women in whatever place the culture finds most convenient. (I've just read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's take on this tendency in her preface to Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species and was moved to tears.) Nevertheless, new or not, I find the idea liberating: it doesn't take genius to be a genius, it just takes hard work!

But of course, with freedom comes responsibility, and thus, I suppose, the somewhat angry calls to the Brian Lehrer Show. Easier by far to believe in the specialness, the otherness, of genius than to find out who you really are, dig in, work hard ...

Sunday, April 4


My mother once said that when I grew older, I would prefer Easter to Christmas. As it has turned out, I still love Christmas — it spangles the darkest month of the year! — and no longer observe Easter. Springtime itself is the resurrection I celebrate. Today would have been my mother's sixty-third birthday, and it was glorious: the sun warm, the sky cloudless, and all over the city, the magnolia trees in full bloom ... "In arriving not an atom is added ... In departing not a particle is lost ..." wrote my teacher in the capping verse to a koan. I wish I knew what that means.