(1) ENGLISH MAJORS - As a chemist turned lawyer turned photographer, Steven Pearlstein's Washington Post editorial, Meet the Parents Who Won't Let Their Children Study Literature, really spoke to me (and reminded me that I have to step back and let my kids make their own paths.
"You might not expect college freshmen to understand that careers don’t proceed in straight lines, but surely their parents ought to. In the real world, most physics majors don’t become physicists, most psychology majors don’t become psychologists, and most English majors don’t become writers or teachers. You’ll find a surprising number of philosophy majors at hedge funds and lots of political-science majors at law firms. I was an American studies major. Among chief executives of the largest corporations, there are roughly as many engineers and liberal arts majors, in total, as there are undergraduate majors in business, accounting and economics combined. Indeed, one study found that only 27 percent of people have jobs that are substantially related to their college majors — a reality that applies even to the STEM fields. “Choosing a major is not choosing a career,” says Jeff Selingo, author of “There Is Life After College.”
. . .
It’s worth remembering that at American universities, the original rationale for majors was not to train students for careers. Rather, the idea was that after a period of broad intellectual exploration, a major was supposed to give students the experience of mastering one subject, in the process developing skills such as discipline, persistence, and how to research, analyze, communicate clearly and think logically.
As it happens, those are precisely the skills business executives still say they want from college graduates — although, to be fair, that has not always been communicated to their human-resource departments or the computers they use to sort through résumés. A study for the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers agreed that a “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a job candidate’s] undergraduate major.”
(2) HOUSEKEEPING - I loved Rachel Cusk's "Making House: Notes on Domesticity." (And thank you to Julia's Bookbag for the recommendation).
"Like the body itself, a home is something both looked at and lived in, a duality that in neither case I have managed to reconcile. I retain the belief that other people’s homes are real where mine is a fabrication, just as I imagine others to live inner lives less flawed than my own. And like my daughter, I, too, used to prefer other people’s houses, though I am old enough now to know that, given a choice, there is always a degree of design in the way that people live. The man who admired my peeling Formica was crediting me with, or accusing me of, doing something deliberate, and I don’t doubt that the apparent artlessness of my daughter’s adopted household is, however half-consciously, a result of a carefully considered set of convictions. That those convictions so closely echo my own makes the illusion — if illusion it is — more tantalizing still.
Entering a house, I often feel that I am entering a woman’s body, and that everything I do there will be felt more intimately by her than by anyone else. But in that house it is possible to forget entirely — as the passengers on the top deck of a liner can forget the blackened, bellowing engine room below — what is surely nonetheless true: that a home is powered by a woman’s will and work, and that a curious form of success could be measured in her ability to suggest the opposite. I can’t see any difference, in my daughter’s adopted household, between what it is and what it seems to be — the home of a kind, artistic and educated woman — and yet I find myself unable to believe that difference isn’t there."
(3) CAREGIVERS - Anne Marie-Slaughter has moved from saying mothers can't have it all to arguing that nobody can.
". . . the biggest change came when Slaughter’s husband’s aunt sent her a small book called “On Caring.” Published in 1971 by American philosopher Milton Mayeroff, the book is a treatise on caring for others as the foundational work of society.
“It was like, wow, this is about investing in others. And this is a set of skills,” Slaughter recalls. “That was the moment I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, there’s a big idea here.’ ”
Slaughter’s book, “Unfinished Business,” which is out in paperback this month, hasn’t reached nearly as many readers as the Atlantic article but approaches the topic with much more nuance. She argues that across the board, we give caregivers the shaft, dismissing stay-at-home parents at dinner parties, barely paying nannies a living wage and punishing those who take career breaks to focus on family with a challenging on-ramp back to the professional world. We have no national standard for paid parental leave or universal child care.
But she doesn’t define this simply as a woman’s issue. Slaughter heard from enough men to see an often overlooked end of the equation: that the pressure to be the breadwinner comes at the expense of time and relationships with family.
(4) - THE NOVELIST DISGUISED AS A HOUSEWIFE - New York Magazine's profile of Shirley Jackson, entitled "The Novelist Disguised as a Housewife", made me want to read more of her work.
Jackson often complained about the mental calisthenics required to be at once a mother and a writer — the “nagging thoughts” about finishing the laundry or preparing meals that often interrupted her creative work. When she was working on a novel, she once wrote to a friend, she preferred to “lock myself up in my cave for four dogged hours a day, and sneak a minute or so here and there for writing letters and making lunch (‘You will eat vegetable soup again today and like it; Mommy’s beginning chapter three’).” But many writers, especially women writers, learn to derive imaginative energy from their constraints. Alice Munro has said that she began writing short stories because as a young mother she had no time to write novels: “When you are responsible for running a house and taking care of small children, particularly in the days before disposable diapers or ubiquitous automatic washing machines, it’s hard to arrange for large chunks of time.”
. . . .
The housewife role also provided Jackson with a form of camouflage. Bowing to stereotypes, she preferred to present herself to reporters and critics — virtually all of whom were men — as a women’s-magazine-certified happy homemaker who tossed off her stories during breaks from dusting. “I can’t persuade myself … that writing is honest work,” she said cheerily in an interview with Harvey Breit of The New York Times Book Review. “Fifty percent of my life is spent washing and dressing the children, cooking, washing dishes and clothes, and mending. After I get it all to bed, I turn around to my typewriter and try to — well, create concrete things again.” The pose sometimes worked too well. In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan myopically criticized Jackson as part of “a new breed of women writers” who wrote about themselves as if they were “‘just housewives,’ reveling in a comic world of children’s pranks and eccentric washing machines and Parents’ Night at the PTA.”
(5) GROWING UP AS A WHITE NATIONALIST - The White Flight of Derek Black in the Washington Post is a must read on the "family" of racial supremacy. It is hard to excerpt, so if you have time, try to read the whole story.
"White nationalism had bullied its way toward the very center of American politics, and yet, one of the people who knew the ideology best was no longer anywhere near that center. Derek had just turned 27, and instead of leading the movement, he was trying to untangle himself not only from the national moment but also from a life he no longer understood.
From the very beginning, that life had taken place within the insular world of white nationalism, where there was never any doubt about what whiteness could mean in the United States. Derek had been taught that America was intended as a place for white Europeans and that everyone else would eventually have to leave. He was told to be suspicious of other races, of the U.S. government, of tap water and of pop culture."
(6) - PERFECT HOMES - I seem to be smitten with articles about the home lately - Kim France wrote an excellent essay on the difference between a place you live and a home entitled "This Is Not My Beautiful House."
"I felt fortunate to live in rooms that were so beautifully composed. It was all completely my taste, but nothing I could ever had conjured myself, and it felt like such a cool trick that you could actually pay somebody to do that for you.
Less cool, unfortunately, was actual life in the Brooklyn house. The first problem was the place itself. There was so much room — too much room for two people by far — and yet there was not one spot in the entire house that felt comfortable or warm to me. Like home. The living room was beautiful, but the real thoroughfare of the house was the ground floor, and somehow, traveling up a floor to relax after work, instead of just plopping down at the kitchen table — with its stylish-but-none-too-comfortable midcentury chairs — never felt quite intuitive. The red room was dead space — the books lived there, but aside from that, there was really no reason to ever enter it. One afternoon, my husband settled into the womb chair to read a New Yorker, and that New Yorker stayed on stool next to the chair for the next six months."
. . . .
A few years after selling the house, I received a package at work. It was the bon vivant’s first coffee table book, warmly signed. I was giving it a quick flip-through when I saw something that looked awfully familiar: it was the red room from the brownstone in Brooklyn. And on the facing page, my old living room, with the two long, low sofas and the African gourd lamps. For a moment, I hadn’t recognized those pictures as my home, the place where I had lived while I was still married. The rooms had never felt particularly warm, and here they looked especially vacant: of any soul, all memories. I remembered how naked I felt when buyers came to tour the house once we put it up for sale; how obvious it was that the life of a typical Brooklyn family was not being lived there — that the three small bedrooms on the top floor hadn’t been filled with children and wouldn’t be — and I felt, for a moment, naked once more. But of course it was nothing the casual reader would ever pick up on, and that’s when I realized that a spell had been lifted: never again would I envy the lives of people whose homes I saw in books or magazines, no matter how perfect they may have appeared. Because mine looked pretty nice in those pages too."
(7) LEONARD COHEN - The New Yorker's profile of Lenoard Cohen is INCREDIBLE, since reading it I've played Cohen constantly.
"Leonard Cohen lives on the second floor of a modest house in Mid-Wilshire, a diverse, unglamorous precinct of Los Angeles. He is eighty-two. Between 2008 and 2013, he was on tour more or less continuously. It is highly unlikely that his health will permit such rigors ever again. Cohen has an album coming out in October—obsessed with mortality, God-infused, yet funny, called “You Want It Darker”—but friends and musical associates say they’d be surprised to see him onstage again except in a limited way: a single performance, perhaps, or a short residency at one venue. When I e-mailed ahead to ask Cohen out for dinner, he said that he was more or less “confined to barracks.”
. . . .
There is probably no more touring ahead. What is on Cohen’s mind now is family, friends, and the work at hand. “I’ve had a family to support, so there’s no sense of virtue attached to it,” he said. “I’ve never sold widely enough to be able to relax about money. I had two kids and their mother to support and my own life. So there was never an option of cutting out. Now it’s a habit. And there’s the element of time, which is powerful, with its incentive to finish up. Now I haven’t gotten near finishing up. I’ve finished up a few things. I don’t know how many other things I’ll be able to get to, because at this particular stage I experience deep fatigue. . . . There are times when I just have to lie down. I can’t play anymore, and my back goes fast also. Spiritual things, baruch Hashem”—thank God—“have fallen into place, for which I am deeply grateful.”
Cohen has unpublished poems to arrange, unfinished lyrics to finish and record or publish. He’s considering doing a book in which poems, like pages of the Talmud, are surrounded by passages of interpretation.
“The big change is the proximity to death,” he said. “I am a tidy kind of guy. I like to tie up the strings if I can. If I can’t, also, that’s O.K. But my natural thrust is to finish things that I’ve begun.”
(8) LIFE ATER BALLET - Elle Magazine's "The Afterlife of a Ballerina", profiles Alexandra Ansanelli. "At age 16, Alexandra Ansanelli was anointed a prodigy. By 22, she was a principal for the New York City Ballet. At 26, she was a principal for the Royal Ballet. By 28, she had given it all up."
"We know of no other occupation that requires such extensive training, that is held in such esteem as a contribution to culture, and that pays so little," the authors of the 2004 survey write. Even during peak earning years: in the U.S., an average dancer's annual total income is just $35,000—about half of which comes from non-dance activities. Even stars might not earn much more, or find themselves better equipped for life on the outside. After his body gave out in his late thirties, Edward Villella—a star at New York City Ballet in the 1950s and '60s, who had danced for four presidents—lived for a while on $5 a week.
. . . .
At 35, Alexandra has only recently come to a realization that most of us are forced to reckon with much, much earlier: "You can try to do everything right and it still may not work." Though she spends many of her days in an office, she says she's not an office person. Learning to communicate verbally has been a challenge. "I didn't realize how introverted I was. I had been so used to emoting silently and physically." Nonetheless, she is seemingly ahead of many of her peers. She is aware of the limitations that her career imposed, and actively working to overcome them.
When I ask her how her personal life has changed, she answers, "It exists now." But it's hard to catch up on everything her peers went through as teenagers and young adults. "I feel I'm learning all the time, what to do, what not to do." She worries about what new acquaintances will think of her past. "It's freaky to a lot of people," the way she left her career. "Did she have some kind of mental breakdown?" she imagines they wonder.
She wants a serious relationship; both of her sisters are married. She's tried Tinder and recently joined Bumble. For obvious reasons, she doesn't like the apps that make you fill in your whole biography. Does she miss her old life—the drama, the spotlight? "I don't think real life has enough glamour," she says. But she also says that she doesn't think glamour is "enough to base your life on."