Song of the Day: Mindy Gledhill, “Whole Wide World”

Simple pop perfection. Catchy without being obtrusive, singer songerwritery without being overly twee, but still twee enough to be sweetly poppy.


Commonplace: Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Gwendolen. Yes, I am quite well aware of the fact. And I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative. For me you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you. [Jack looks at her in amazement.] We live, as I hope you know, Mr. Worthing, in an age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.

Jack. You really love me, Gwendolen?

Gwendolen. Passionately!

Jack. Darling! You don’t know how happy you’ve made me.

Gwendolen. My own Ernest!

Jack. But you don’t really mean to say that you couldn’t love me if my name wasn’t Ernest?

Gwendolen. But your name is Ernest.

Jack. Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else? Do you mean to say you couldn’t love me then?

Gwendolen. [Glibly.] Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.

Jack. Personally, darling, to speak quite candidly, I don’t much care about the name of Ernest… I don’t think the name suits me at all.

Gwendolen. It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a music of its own. It produces vibrations.

Jack. Well, really, Gwendolen, I must say that I think there are lots of other much nicer names. I think Jack, for instance, a charming name.

Gwendolen. Jack?… No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations… I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moments solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest.”

~ Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Song of the Day: She and Him, “Fools Rush In”

I’m actually not the biggest fan of She and Him. I can’t explain it exactly because by all rights I should be. I’m a huge fan of Deschanel’s work as an actress, and I love the sitcom she’s on the New Girl. (I hesitate to call it her sitcom. While it began as a vehicle for her, it evolved into a great ensemble show.) Perhaps that’s the reason why. At any rate, I actually adore this spare, updated version of “Fools Rush In”.

Into the last week

My father loved to argue. Our running joke was that dad would argue with a brick wall and win. He wasn’t particularly logical in his arguments, sometimes clinging to talking points, etc., but he always gave full-throated support to whatever he believed in. During elections, particularly when the brother and I got old enough to argue back, our house took on the appearance of a battleground. Talking points, information, and opinions flew all over the place. Mom got good at tuning us out. I joke that politics were a bloodsport in our house, but I’m not really kidding. I treat elections the way most people treat sport team support.

Now that dad is gone, I’ve realized two things about all that arguing that I think is apt for our current political climate, especially as we march our way into a hurricane and the last week of campaigning in a fierce election. First, no matter how strong our political differences, dad never loved either Jordan or me one jot less for not agreeing with him. Nor did he make us feel that we were somehow betraying him by disagreeing. In fact, I’ve come to suspect that he took great pleasure from the fact that his kids were willing to go toe to toe with him on issues. And I think we were able to argue because we knew it wasn’t damaging our relationship.

The other thing is that it is important to remember that the people we are arguing with now about politics and issues are also our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends, best friends, colleagues, etc. These people make up the fabric of our being. Argue away, but remember that these are the people you also love and care for, and if you’re like me, you’re currently planning Christmas gift making for. So as you argue, be forthright and true to your ideals while realizing that the privilege of living in this country is that we are guaranteed the right to disagree. In a civilized world, people stand up to disagree, they make their cases, they correct misconceptions, but real disagreement on the issues also involves listening and learning, even if it is learning that you may just have to disagree. Be proud that the people in your life care enough about you to fight with you and care enough about the world to critically think about the issues.

I don’t think I’d be so clear in what I believe if dad hadn’t cared enough about me to let me try out ideas with him. I had to know my onions to argue with dad, but it also meant I had to go do the work to be informed about why I came to think the things I think. It was a privilege to argue with dad.

Call the Midwife

I’ve been raving about BBC and PBS’s Call the Midwife to anyone within listening distance the past few weeks. As a historical drama, it’s spot on. The texture of the show and its attention to detail is astounding. The way Lynn Redgrave’s voice over blends a narrative of love, hope, and triumph in the face of the real tragedies of everyday life is profound. The series functions as memoir (unsurprising given that it’s based on Jennifer Worth’s series of memoirs about her time as a district midwife), and thus occupies a space of nostalgia, but without turning away from too many of the realities of 1950s London. It’s one of a slate of recent BBC shows looking back at the post war generation: White Heat and the elegant thriller The Hour both focus on the 1950s and 60s. In some ways, these shows are a response to the popularity of AMC’s Mad Men, but all three shows are looking back as a means of looking forward. Below is a wonderful snippet of an interview with Jennifer Worth. Her joy in the work she did is palpable.


The Power of Quiet, or Productivity and Its Discontents

I’ve posted about Susan Cain’s book Quiet before, but it’s still on my reading list. The above is a posting from Andrew Sullivan’s blog explaining the central premise of Cain’s book. Below is Cain’s TED Talk on the subject. What I find most interesting about Cain’s premise isn’t that introversion is better; rather, Cain’s argument is that both qualities are necessary for creativity and productivity, and that our social, business, and educational systems over-emphasize extroversion (and group collaboration) over the need for individual solitude. 

While I’m still interested in reading Cain’s book, I think a lot of her talk is directed at business culture, who use group work and collaboration in order to get more things done. A lot of what she’s saying other productivity experts talk about when discussing the need for meditation, yoga, and prioritizing tasks. Isn’t it strange to be in a world where we have productivity experts and self help guides on how to be more productive? I sometimes feel like we’re all being trained to be automatons, working to produce more and more…what exactly? In the academy, I at least have an idea of what I’m supposed to be producing–scholarship–but by far and large, a lot of what productivity experts discuss I’m at a loss about. Why do we need to be so productive? And why do we beat ourselves up when we seem to fall behind the productivity metrics we’ve put in place to measure all of this producing? And, again, what are we making?

My dissertation director, Linda Hughes, had a wonderful metaphor for the need to work through an idea–you were percolating it. Ideas need time, and just churning out work for the sake of producing more pages, etc. didn’t necessarily produce what you needed. (See the ridiculously long chapter two draft that got cut in half in the finished version.) The collaborative project I’ve been working on has taken a long time, but in taking that time, we’ve all learned and discovered so much. I wouldn’t have wanted us to be more productive or faster in making the project. Percolating, collecting information, and learning from it has made the project what it is. And I think the emphasis on productivity means we all think what we produce has to be perfect from the get go. I’ve talked two students away from panic this week by telling them to stop trying to be perfect. They were both so worried about getting it right that they had become frozen, and I can only suppose that they had been told or gleaned along the way that being productive as a student meant being perfect. I have my own moments of perfection panic, which is why I have a note to myself on my desk to work for messy. Perhaps the real point of learning to embrace introverts and extroverts is to stop trying to be so damn productive and so hideously perfect.