Monday, January 19, 2009

What I Was Reading

I had three books I wanted to share with readers that have been on my nightstand. I am in the middle of all of them and am rotating them around so I thought I would give a little update on what is feeding my blog-brain for the future.

I had to title this post "What I Was Reading" because, given the crazy climate for buying a house, my husband and I put much energy into hunting down, finding, and are now in the home inspection process of buying a new house. Thus, I have not been reading these books for a couple of weeks so that will delay blog reflection even more! But, as a public service announcement I just had to say to women everywhere--call a mortgage professional if you think you may want to purchase a house. This is not our first house so we aren't eligible, but it is my understanding that there are amazing deals for first-time home-buyers. Look into it. This is a little about empowering women to take charge of their finances ala Suze Orman. Don't rent forever if you know you might be in the same place for the next few years. Houses/condos/new construction is on sale as well as interest rates. The climate is unlike any other in my lifetime. My mortgage officer said she hasn't seen rates like this in the 22 years she has been in the business.

We also learned that when it was once insulting to offer 10% off of a purchase price to begin negotiations, these days that is often a normal starting point. So you can afford to bargain and wait for the right house, especially if you aren't dying to move (which we weren't).

OK, back to the books I was reading before I became overwhelmed with real estate...

Misconceptions, by Naomi Wolf
This book is a great way to get childless-feminists to understand mother-feminists. It should be required reading in Women's Studies depts to help women understand the biology behind motherhood. How your brain, along with your uterus, changes so that you will mother a child to the best of your ability. Not with the ability to succeed in a labor force that was designed for men (which women have proved they can do), but instead gain the ability to have extra patience and extra empathy for a tiny dependent creature. Even if you have never thought of yourself as liking babies or small children, please read this book so you can understand what has happened to your feminist friends. They are still feminists, they just march to a different beat. What makes this book so important is that Naomi (much like myself) thought many of the mothering stereotypes wouldn't happen to her. I am loving her reflections on how she thinks pregnancy alone needs to be viewed as an accomplishment in society. I haven't read yet about her birth or her new baby.

The Sexual Paradox, by Susan Pinker
Nutshell: Girls that do very very well in school often choose to leave the labor force as adults while boys that do very poorly in school find holes in society where they can be experts and end up working long hard hours, often leading to great success. For instance, we often think of cooking as women's work but professional chefs are usually men. Turns out that this profession is incredibly intense and used to turn off many would-be female chefs (I trust the tide is turning). One man Pinker discusses is one who was dyslexic in school and never could do well. He found a profession where reading was limited and excelled. Much more to read, much more to dissect.

A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink
"Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future." I did not begin to think of myself as a right-brainer until recently. I was a rule follower and a just-do-the-standardized-test girl and felt pretty good about it. The world worked for me and I worked for it. The system was just fine, not perfect, but not that bad either. But then college, then studying abroad, then Sept 11th and most importantly, motherhood broke me out of my good-girl upbringing. The idea of telling my child to respect authority because that what authority demands is *not* how I want my children to think. I realize that I was still very left-brained when I worked on Wall Street. I did not understand why we were making so much money, I did not see the value we added to our clients. Nevertheless, I trusted my superiors and kept my nose to the grindstone. When I left that job, I promised myself I would always check into my instincts and believe in them. Reading about pregnancy and childbirth further helped me believe that our instincts are rarely given a priority when we make decisions today. Too much is decided on "that's just the way you do things" or "well, I owe it to my parents/education/peers to do something viewed as successful" when really, success finds you after you follow your instincts, at least that is my current philosophy. I am not saying every gut reaction is one to follow to your death. I do think each one is worth checking into and understanding where the instinct comes from, what you might know that others do not about yourself and how you see the world. But whoops, off topic, Pink doesn't really talk about instincts, he talks about design, empathy and story, and other skills that we (as a very left-brained society) don't view as skills at all. One point that is very simple to illustrate his thesis is how how MFA programs are landing their graduates similar positions at Fortune 500 companies as MBA programs. Corporations today know that story and design are huge. And if you haven't shopped at a Target yet, you should do so before reading this book. Much of what he uses to exemplify the abundance we have in our country and how our minds want more than left-brained solutions is showing how design is practically Target's middle name. The store, the products, and the actual designers of their items are a focus...the simple utility of objects is no longer enough for us.

Anyway, I'll be trying to finish one of these books soon and I hope to give a real review...or even a proofread one! With a June move date one might hope I could finish at least one book but, well, I know myself better than that. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Far Left, the Far Right and a Political Mobius Strip

I like how blogging forces me to see if there are others out there who think the way I do so that I do not recreate a blog post. Given my constant distractions, I would rather link to a much more articulately written post with which I agree than craft it myself. I would appreciate others to let me know of other posts bringing the Left and Right together, in my searches I haven't found quite what I had in mind.

I have been bothered by the political spectrum lately. How the spectrum is described in our media and how our politicians cater to certain segments. I had not looked for alternatives to our the standard Left-Right linear spectrum until today.

I was very excited to find The Political Compass. It provides a great visual to the kind of thing I am describing. At one point during my brainstorming about this topic, I had come up with Political Venn Diagrams but got lost listing just how many circles might need to intersect to find the ideal government. The Compass is great and I hope it can help a lot of people from seemingly different perspectives see where they do agree.

Before I found the Compass, I had come to the conclusion that the normal political spectrum looked more like a mobius strip. The farther to either side you walk, sooner or later you have found yourself walking with people that walked from the other direction. The Compass has edges. I like the idea that sometimes you are walking next to someone that may be on the other side of the Compass from you. For instance, I know a very liberal man who is very authoritarian when it comes to the death penalty. The more we recognize outliers to any of these political spectra, the more we can be aware of how often people who often could work together get played against each other.

Here I want to list a few of the ways the far left and right have similar interests, but I would love to hear what is the first thing that comes to your mind if it isn't listed here. I think the theme for many of these crossovers is that "less government" is not necessarily a Republican virtue anymore (if it ever was). It just depends what *kind* of government we are discussing.
  • Homeschooling and its laws. For instance, in the state of Virginia, a parent who has a college degree has fewer requirements to fill than a parent without the degree. I have heard this is under debate. Homeschoolers span the political spectrum, despite being stereotyped as something of the Far Right in years past.
  • Midwifery and homebirth access. I was stunned to learn a few years ago that often the biggest friends to these issues are Republicans. Meanwhile, most of the families I know choosing midwives in my area voted blue this fall.
  • Anti-Bedsharing/cosleeping education. Publically funded outreach to discourage parents from bringing their babies to bed with them. Spending tax-payer money to make a mother feel bad for sleeping with her young like any other mammal. The latest Mothering issue did a fantastic job counteracting this campaign.
  • Legislation to encourage Breastfeeding. Whether you prefer longer leave for new mothers or you insist the government create flexible schedules for parents (and anybody else who needs flexibility) and remodeling government spaces to be baby-friendly, you can find liberals and conservatives coming together on topics like these.
I have have used up all my blogging time for today (and yesterday, when I began this post). Please excuse errors and confusing sentence structure. My goal in the New Year for this blog is to post with self-forgiveness so that I post more often. I don't want to sit on posts waiting to actually give them a 2nd (and 3rd) read-through someday.

Also, many of these thoughts were encouraged by one of my great commenters to my Newton's Laws post. She mentioned how the word "feminist" might need to be thought of more like the word "mother" or "writer." I think that is a great concept and in need of much more discussion. Feminism too spans the political mobius strip. In rebranding feminism today, we need to portray feminist thought as more fluid and on a continuum. In doing so, women can come together on so many issues instead of often seeing each other as far far away on the other side of the linear spectrum.