Assorted Musings

About once a month I post a splatch of assorted musings — thoughts too short to justify full blog posts, too long to fit into Twitter (where I micro-blog a couple times a day), and always half-baked. What follows are cheap shots, bon mots, and quick thoughts….

1. What is it that's so appealing about the "tortured genius" archetype? Has easygoing depression always been endowed with hipness? If an artist is insanely happy and optimistic about the world, does she lose credibility among her fellow artists? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, touches on this a bit in her excellent TED talk.

2. When explaining dissatisfaction in a romantic relationship, women frequently say, "I've always thought I liked you more than you liked me."

Reciprocity matters. In friendships, it's not ideal if I consider you my best friend but you don't consider me your best friend. Either way, true friends don't spend much energy trying to decipher how much the other person "likes" the other.

But in romance this is paramount, especially for women. Women seem to pay closer attention to whether the like or love is flowing bi-directionally at the same clip. And she will stress if she feels her level of love is not being reciprocated by the man.

The problem is that men communicate their like / love in ways different from women, making an apples-to-apples comparison nigh impossible.

"Love" is an intentionally vague word — it allows us to avoid having to communicate the finer fluctuations in our feelings, but at the risk of those finer fluctuations being misinterpreted.

3. For writers or journalists, Dan Baum has been posting some terrific stuff. Here he is on why you should never accept a comment "off the record." Here's an interview with him about freelance writing. Here are failed proposals he pitched to magazines. Here are all his Tweets, well formatted, about his getting fired as a staff writer at the New Yorker. Tons of inside dirt.

4. Pick-up artists believe women are attracted to men who display aggressiveness, narcissism, and general asshole characteristics. The pick-up community also concedes that you needn't be an asshole all the time — just when you're spitting game at women. But can you really turn off the alpha game once you've turned it on? Isn't there a risk of asshole-tendencies, originally developed to help you on a Friday night, infiltrating your overall character during the week? I bet you hard core PUAs have weaker male friendships than their non-PUA counterparts.

5. People who preface points with, "The point I'm trying to make is…" too frequently give a sense that they're not effectively making the point. Just say "My point is" instead of "I'm trying to…"

6. Perhaps people use religion as their token "irrational" vice – that is, to be rational all the time is too high a burden, so religion is our one out. It's similar to people who say coffee is their one addiction. (H/t Tyler Cowen)

7. Why isn't there a kissing school / kissing tutors? A place where you can practice kissing with a paid instructor of the opposite sex in a private room? The key is it's not just for couples. It's for single people who want to practice kissing. It seems like there's a business opportunity here if you can ensure it doesn't devolve into prostitution.

8. Meghan Daum, in her column on commencement speeches, writes, "One of life's greatest, saddest truths: that our most 'memorable' occasions may elicit the fewest memories. It's probably not something most commencement speakers would say, but it's one of the first lessons of growing up."

I've written elsewhere that the most intense social bonding happens when we least expect it, i.e., not during the carefully manicured moments or celebrations.

9. It's revealing whether a woman enjoyed her high school years. Happiness in high school has most to do with the success of your social life. Women who loved high school probably had a successful social life. To have a successful social life means you were "in" (in vs. out group dynamics reign supreme). To be "in" usually requires adeptness at emotional manipulation. Research shows teenage girls use verbal attacks and emotional bullying to establish power structures.

So if an adult woman tells me she had a wonderful high school experience — God forbid "the best four years of my life" — it might predict certain undesirable qualities.

(The male high school experience is less intense, less emotional and more physical, and thus a less useful predictor of adult personal qualities.)

10. Speaking of criticism, it's hard to take it when it's about self-perceived strengths. And yet this is very important to hear. Also, the hardest type of criticism to hear is when it's half-true, half-false and hits at a deep, private insecurity.

11. On nouns and grammar. We say, "Is she a lesbian?" We do not say, "Is he a gay?" We say, "He is gay." Lesbian is a noun. Gay is adjective. Lesbian feels more domineering. If I say he's gay, gay is just one of several pertinent adjectives. If I say she's a lesbian, she is neither man nor woman — she is this other type, lesbian.

Another random spotting of a new noun: "a water." E.g., "Can you get me a water?" instead of a "water bottle."

12. Government does such a good job at running things into the ground. Amtrak, education, social security, medicare. Here's a long article on how the government has totally fucked up the U.S. Postal Service. Read it and weep. Up next: General Motors!

13. Having "more experience" than someone else is not by itself enough. It's about how well you can draw the appropriate lessons from the experiences. It's about how well you can distinguish specific experiences as generalizable versus anomalies. I'd hire the reflective 30 year-old over the unreflective 50 year-old with more experience any day of the week.

14. Consider three individuals. One is lower class. One is middle class. One is upper class. The lower and upper class persons are most likely to spend money on "unnecessary stuff" — a fourth pair of shoes, the impulsive ice cream cone on a hot day. Of course they do so for different reasons. The middle class person is more likely to be frugal.

Another thought on money. In poor families it's more common to give cold hard cash as a gift. In rich families to give cash as a gift is seen as unimaginative, even offensive. I think the intuitive explanation here is the right one — when you don't have much money cash is more important than symbolism. "It's the thought that matters" is an expensive principle. So, attitudes toward gift giving are probably an accurate reflection of class.

15. I do feel a strong community sense from the familiar strangers I see every day at the gym. The familiarity factor. This type of community is not to be dismissed just because there's no interaction among its members (I've never spoken to them).

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