I'll be away from the internet 'til next week. Take care of it for me.
See you then.
One of these days I'm going to sit down and think through some things I'm noticing about how my life is different these days. It's different being married than it was being single, and it's different being in a job I love than it was in a job that made me restless. And of course it's way way better, but there are things that I miss about the restlessness I had before. Something about being more awake, or more open to the world. Also more tender and more easily hurt and more lonely and more dissatisfied, so I wouldn't trade.
Part of getting what you want is that you're not searching any more. I like searching. I've always liked searching. When you are in the mode of searching you notice all kinds of things that you don't notice when you're not looking. I've found a lot of treasures I wasn't specifically looking for, simply because I was looking hard for something else.
My job is really satisfying to me because it brings the searching to me. Every half hour a different talented bright person walks into my office and sits down and we talk about what they want, and how they can get there, and where they are stuck, and how to figure out a plan to get unstuck. It is structured restlessness, somehow. I live in restlessness, and it's my job, with an office and a schedule and four walls and some pictures of sailboats hanging on the wall. I love that I get paid to have the kinds of conversations and meet the kinds of people I find most fascinating.
One of my jobs is to help people who are applying to graduate school or law school. Part of my job is to really kick the tires, and make sure they have thought through the decision, and aren't just going because they're scared of being out of school or because they're getting pressure from their parents. But another part of my job is to help them put together a clear and cogent application. I read a lot of personal statements.
This year, I've read and re-read and talked about the following topics:
More, too, if I could stop and think. It's my job to read these and help the authors get clearer about what they want to say, and find some way to tell their own story as compellingly as possible. Can you see how interesting this is? Meanwhile I've gotten emails from China and Copenhagen and India this week. It's so much fun.
I led a workshop today for staff at the college about professional development and reflecting on your own career at intervals during your career path, whether you're in a moment of professional restlessness or not. It's useful to reflect. I talked about how to use emotions -- envy, admiration, the sensation of flow, satisfaction, even shame -- to pinpoint areas for growth or to uncover hidden strengths.
It is so much fun to do this work but the pace, it is relentless. I am very tired. I am mostly very satisfied. My brain and my sociability and my drive to write -- the things that made me a good blogger once upon a time -- they are really heavily engaged in my daily work. I'm learning a lot, and I'm sorry I don't get to stop and write about it more, because I think there's a lot to say. For now, though, you just get these occasional blurts.
I had my perfect nephews on Wednesday. They're five and three. Anand and I took them to the park in the afternoon. Then we dealt out hands of gin (the one where you can take the other person's spreads if you can continue the run), and figured we'd hear about it if something went wrong. I didn't hear any shrieking or anything, but I looked around one time and saw the little one sitting across the park on the tire swing. There were two big boys with him, and he was pointing at me to a woman. So I went over to see what was up.
They were very sweet, a woman my age and two boys, maybe eight or nine. Man, if you spend the morning with the five-and-under crowd, eight year olds are practically colleagues. Talking to them is so direct. Anyway, the woman said that my little nephew had hopped up on the tire swing with her boys and was raring to go. But she wasn't going to push a little one as high as her boys wanted to go until she knows it is OK.
There's a hill and wall on the playground we normally go to. The kids take off running on the top of the wall while the hill slopes away until the wall is a three foot drop (which for them is head height). I once saw the three year old run to the end of the wall and jump. At the top of the arc he stretched out, straightening his legs and pointing his toes. Then he landed in a split-foot crouch and kept running, and after that I was all, "Play however you want, Jet Li. You can handle it."
So, lady, thank you for checking. That was super thoughtful, but it is fine. He'll go higher until the chains bounce and then he'd like some spin on that, but thank you for checking. So she pushed Smalls and her boys, and then went to a different swing with one of the older boys and I pushed the two remaining boys higher. Smalls was loving it, and I suddenly realized the older boy was holding on to him too. It was subtle, and I think un-needed, but the eight year old would reach behind his back, or hold my nephew by the wrist. I was so very touched. The kid had a very nice smile, so I wouldn't expect him to be mean or anything. But to see him care for a little boy who jumped on his swing at the park was really more thoughtful and kind than I expect from kids. I keep thinking about it, because the light was all golden and the kids were different races, so it was picturesque, you know. Basically, he made my week.
You know how it is on a Sunday afternoon, when you're tired enough from staying up late two nights in a row*, and you just don't have the courage to stand up and start working on your sprinkler system like you've been doing for weeks**? So you know how you do what everyone does on a long slow Sunday, and re-listen to all the versions of Bess, You is My Woman Now? I like the operatic versions, but I've wanted a jazzier version my whole life, and I finally found it.
Oh man, when she starts in with that huge voice. I knew I wanted that, and when I got it, it was everything I've missed.
I like this one too, by lounge-y suavementé Brazilian singers. They're no Frances Faye, but I really like the clarinet, and they do my favorite version of singing together at the end in all the duets I've heard.
Anyway, in case Youtube has led you astray, distracting you right after the classic versions, I thought I'd direct you to these two. About half the counts on each clip come from me.
Thanks for the kind words, friend. I really wasn't so worried about the gay marriage vote -- I went to the rallies and did some phone banking, gave some money, had the bumper stickers on my car, but I was pretty confident it would pass. The legislature did the right thing, and our governor got over his qualms and got on board, and that's what it's all about, right? We're a republic. We elect people and empower them to make the laws for all of us, right? Plus Maine has had a few of these kinds of referendums (referenda?) before, where we were invited to vote against gay rights and we did not do so. I was not too worried that we would lose this one.
Since gay marriage got voted down I've been trying to come up with kindhearted ways to explain it to myself. I get, although I do not agree with, the concept of marriage as a particular social institution that's mostly about paternity of children and the allocation of property, and the associated rights and responsibilities. I get the idea that maybe the state shouldn't be involved in that anyhow, for anybody, and just because it is already tangled up to some degree isn't any reason to expand the state's involvement in domestic arrangements. I can understand how some people would think the state should have no involvement with anyone's marriage. I get how somebody who's a stickler but not a bad human being might get nitpicky about changing the definition of a word that has had one social meaning for thousands of years, although it starts to get hard for me to imagine someone like that believing the semantics are more important than the desires and hopes of real-life people. I can play this game for only a few moments before my heart starts to sink. I can imagine a few people with these motivations, but it doesn't explain the numbers. Some Mainers must have shown up to vote against gay marriage because they don't realize they know and love gay people. That's the best I can do. The alternative is worse; people showed up to vote against gay marriage because they think that they don't like, don't trust, and don't respect gay people. This breaks my heart. I really do love my state. I like to believe that the people who live here are sensible and kind. I'm having trouble holding on to that confidence.
I've never liked the fact that in this state any lunkhead with a clipboard and some time on his hands can gather signatures and force things to a vote. We're not supposed to be a democracy. It's cumbersome and expensive to vote on everything. Not to mention all that stuff we learned way back in grade school -- the stuff about factions and the rights of minorities. It was Federalist # 10, yes? You can't trust the big group to protect the rights of the smaller group if you just put every single issue to a majority vote. I'm really mad that we did it right here in Maine. We people convinced the legislators. They did what they are supposed to do -- they debated and they had a hearing and they heard testimony and they voted, and the Governor, a Catholic who started out against gay rights but was willing to listen and learn, he signed it into law. That's how it goes in a republic.
I'm trying not to become a crank, but the part of me that is mad and sad and disappointed is fixating on the referendum process. I don't know how to change people's minds, or how to hold on to my belief that the people in this state are a pretty accepting bunch. It seems more clear how to tinker with the mechanism of what gets put in front of the voters, and right now it seems to me that that process is broken.
I was so sorry to hear that the marriage equality bill failed in Maine. That sucks. It sucked here, too, on what otherwise was such a good night. It felt crappy, the realization that your people, half of the people who make up your (Californian, Mainer) identity would do that to your other closer people. The next day, when I had lunch with Margie, like I always do, I couldn't stop apologizing. I'm sorry, Margie. I'm so sorry that small, uncompassionate people voted that your marriage isn't a real marriage. I am even more sorry that we are in this ridiculous situation where people get to vote on someone else's marriage at all. How can we possibly be in this situation, where I get to vote on someone else's marriage? It is a preposterous thought. How would it feel to have someone else vote on my marriage, my partnership, my family? Some realms are entirely incongruent with other realms, like buying humans, or voting on families.
I have bad news, from a year ahead of you guys. You might want to be prepared for this, because I didn't expect it. What you're feeling, the outrage and sorrow and shocked realization that you were this close to living in a humane and equal state and once you hoped for it, that is what you really, really want, those feelings don't go away. My sister and I were driving somewhere and with no context, in the silent car, she said "Prop 8 just gets more insulting every day." It does. We're both straight, so we're not even the direct recipients. But I look at my friends, at my own family members, and I cannot fucking believe that we got to vote on their intimate lives and worse, that we voted wrong. The first day after, I was shocked and disappointed. A year later, I'm more disappointed, and angrier.
I don't know what to tell you, because it sucks and it is wrong. There's next time. I did some small campaigning last time and it is the only thing that keeps me from shriveling up in shame. I honestly thought Prop 8 would fail. I couldn't see how people could be cruel enough to choose to make some of us second-place citizens. Now that I'm that much more motivated, and that much more discouraged by half my state, I'll do a lot more. But that's next time. In the meantime, it feels bad. I'm sorry, hon. It is going to feel bad up until everyone knows that my state respects and protects their lives and loves and families the same.
Recently two former law school classmates reached out to me for a favor. One of them did it right, and one of them did it wrong. I'm really glad about it, because it helps me do my job better.
My job is to help college kids get comfortable with "networking" -- a word I hate, but that stands for a concept we all have to learn. You'll need help some day, and learning how to ask for it well, from people who are mildly favorably disposed toward you, is a skill that will pay really big dividends in your life.
There are some counter-intuitive things that come with asking for help. You get better at learning to ask for help by practicing giving help and doing favors. The more you do that, the better you understand, intuitively, what kind of favors people are glad to do and what kind they aren't. You understand what the "payoff" is for the favor-doer. Because that's another counter-intuitive thing. When you need a favor, you can be blinded by what YOU are getting out of it, and you feel ashamed and encumbered and sorry that you aren't the one in the powerful position of offering help, rather than being in the humbling position of asking for it. But you shouldn't be blinded! By asking for help, you are GIVING the OTHER PERSON a small gift: you are flattering them, you are putting them in the powerful position, and, especially if the help you ask for is easy for them, you are letting them feel generous and valuable and proud without having to do much work.
That's why people like you more after they have done you a favor than they do before you asked them for one. Strange, but true. (At least, I seem to remember believing it is true after reading Influence.) When someone has done you a favor they feel better about themselves (because they are a generous person who is sought after for valuable advice and powerful help) and they feel better about you, because they have invested some time in you, and they must have done so for a good reason, and also they now have a stake in you, and when you succeed, they look better, and also, you now owe them a favor, so they would like it very much if you get to a place where you can return the favor someday.
Anyway, so I was favorably inclined to both of my old classmates, each of whom I hadn't heard from in a while. They both buttered me up in a good way with their approach -- I have this interesting problem, and you seemed like the right kind of person to help me get unstuck with it. I know you have a lot of good ideas, and you're well-connected, so I wonder if you'd be able to help me.
If you want me to help you that's a really good way to ask. It taps into something that I am proud of about myself, and it lets me know that my natural tendencies will probably be enough to assist you -- so the investment of work on my part isn't likely to be so cumbersome, which is important because I am busy. That's important if you are not someone whose prior relationship with me makes me ready to move the earth on your behalf -- if I have a mild interest in your success, but it doesn't keep me up at night. Meanwhile both of the requests tapped into my natural curiosity -- what kind of intriguing problem is this, I wondered? Probably narcissism helped, too. It's nice to have smart, successful people seeking me out, and I wanted to learn a little bit more about what kind of problem they see me as particularly suited to help.
And then one of them botched it, and the other one didn't. Maybe part of it was in the delivery, but I don't think so. One of them was on the phone, and made the introductory pitch by voice -- I was thinking about you, and this seemed like a problem you could solve. I said, yeah, go on, and he went into it. We were on the phone for about two hours on a weeknight -- a lot of time for me to work on a stranger's problem. I didn't mind, though, because my friend was right about the kind of problem, it was right up my alley, and he was there with me, listening to me think it through, so I got to feel smart and helpful and appreciated for those two hours, and he asked good questions and gave me feedback and now and then said, ooh, that's really helpful, I hadn't thought of that, I'm so glad I called. Tiny rewards, but they helped me through.
The other one approached me by email, same proposition, intriguing problem, thought you might have a good viewpoint on it. I said, hmm, intriguing, would be glad to help if I can, I'm available for coffee or a beer in the next few weeks. And he botched it, and thinking about why has taught me some helpful stuff. He ignored my suggestion of coffee or a beer and instead sent me the problem by email. There was homework -- go follow this link, learn this background information, and then help me find a solution to it. It became an assignment without a payoff. I immediately didn't want to help anymore, because I'm too busy to go follow the link and watch the videos. I'm not too busy to have a beer with an old classmate, or to listen to him talk about a problem, or even to spend 2 hours on the phone on a weeknight if something turns out to fascinate me, but I don't want to get given a homework assignment about something that I haven't chosen to be interested in, to work on alone. I expect doing the homework assignment wouldn't take anywhere close to the 2 hours I spent on the phone with my other classmate, so why am I resistant? Because he jumped too far with the ask. If my first classmate had said, hey, do you have two hours right now to talk about someone else's problem, I probably would have said no. But I had a few minutes to be intrigued, and then I got caught up in the problem, and rewarded by the small but affirming bits of feedback I was getting from interacting with my friend, asking questions and hearing him respond to my thoughts. In contrast, an equally compelling project, delivered by email from someone who doesn't want to make time to talk to me about it, just made me feel lousy.
I am mildly put out by the second guy now, and I like the first guy a tiny bit better, even though the first guy made more of an imposition on my time and the second guy, theoretically, was more conscientious, by outlining the whole problem and inviting me to solve it at my convenience. The problem is, people who do favors get a reward by doing it. Part of that reward is in the interaction itself, the feeling that you are strengthening a relationship by helping. The second guy focused on the problem and forgot about the relationship.