The Tiny House Movement and Privilege

These days, thanks to the recession, it’s “trendy” to downsize, when people living in shacks in India are not trendy in the least.

“Tiny Houses” are most famously from Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

This bed is not for the claustrophobic, window or no… The ladder up to the bed is not for the broken-legged, the heavily-pregnant, or the faint of heart.  (Of course, the whole idea isn’t for you if you’re not a minimalist.)

This site has some demographics if you scroll down, but nothing about renters, race, or disability status.  It seems to say that tiny houses are for educated rich people (though stories abound of people with more time than money doing it themselves).  I guess these guys did it on the cheap, even if it took a long time.

Fat or tall people can’t live in those tiny houses, nor can people with many disabilities (these homes often involve climbing, reaching, and/or bending, limited use of a bathroom such as no tubs and composting toilets, etc.).  My partner and I could never physically fit ourselves into most of these places, especially the beds.  No, a queen-size mattress squished between 2 walls won’t do it, and we’re not the largest people.

A lot of these places have beds you can’t sit up in, and has anyone ever seen a person of color with one of these?  They seem like a certain kind of class marker.  (N.B.  Maybe I take it back:  here is a woman of color who lives in a tiny house with no electricity or running water.  #2 notes that in the South ancient tiny houses without electricity or running water are unfortunately not as uncommon as they should be, and the ones without sanitary services are almost entirely lived in by African Americans, but you don’t read about them in articles about tiny houses but instead in articles about racism and lack of city services.)  In apartments: more fit, white dudes who could afford to hire architects.  These white people paid a bunch of money to not be able to cook or store their clothes at home.

Let’s examine class stereotypes.  Custom-built tiny houses are “trendy, hip, environmentally friendly” but trailer parks are “trashy, low-class, full of meth users”.  Stuff on Apartment Therapy is tres cool, but cramming people into tiny spaces could also be called a tenement.  People who spend huge amounts of money designing a tiny apartment in a major city (if you have that kind of time and expertise) are “the next wave of design” but people who live in one rented room at the YMCA are “losers”.  Wagons are appropriated from the Roma, who are still widely stigmatized.

You could spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours engineering a cool, very flexible apartment in the city, but you have to own it ($$) or lose your security deposit to make all that engineering work.  (I love how the dude in the video opens a closet and calls it “a bit of a mess” but there is ALMOST NO STUFF in there.)  Good luck with the condo association.

Live wherever you want; we’re not judging your personal life choice.  The engineering can be pretty cool for those who can afford it, and you can run the numbers on environmental impact.  But the trendiness of the movement is highly class-based.  As with everything, there’s one rule for the rich/white/able and quite another for the poor/POC/disabled.

Who’s with me, Grumpy Nation?  Is there anyone out there who gets around a tiny house in a wheelchair?

I trust my body

The great irony is that I learned to trust my body at the point at which it was most broken.

Let’s step back a bit.

I started getting a little chubby around the time when my period started in middle school.  In high school I lost a lot of weight because my religion forbids me from eating poorly prepared food and our cafeteria food was worse than prison-grade, so I ended up doing this kind of feast and famine thing where I’d starve during the week and fill up on the weekends.  This was especially bad between when they stopped providing Total cereal in the cafeteria during junior year and before I was able to ask my parents if I could have a food allowance senior year (money was always really tight at home and I didn’t want to be a burden, plus the dorms only had microwaves and fridges for food preparation).

When I got to college I grew two inches.  People complained about the college cafeteria, but the lettuce was never brown or even yellow.  There was fish!  Nothing sat in tubs of melted grease.  Cold-cuts!  Cheese!  Whole wheat bread!  The milk was never sour.  They served juice made from actual fruit!  No, not as good as home cooking, but the salad bar alone was like heaven after years of starving.

In college I was surrounded by beautiful skinny women who were always complaining about how fat they were.  Everyone dieted.  I resisted, but somehow they got to me (I didn’t even *notice* they’d gotten to me until my first year of graduate school when someone asked why I talked about my weight so much… oh, man, I’d been indoctrinated).  I counted calories.  I ate a lot of sugary things that had no fat because the no-fat diet was in.  I was always hungry.   I don’t remember ever consciously thinking about doing this– if asked, I would have told you I was against diets and poor body images (and happy with my breast size!), and yet, I was doing what everybody else did.  And I continually gained weight.  I was my heaviest weight ever by the end of college (I can *totally* fit into my college clothing, though I don’t because styles change).

Scratch that, I was actually my heaviest weight my first year of graduate school.  BCP and depression and not having to walk very much caused me to gain all the weight I’d lost the summer between college and grad school and some more.  (I’ve seriously blocked this time from my memory.)  After getting the depression under control and moving where I had to walk more to get to school, I dropped some, but was still was heavier than the healthy weight for my height, and not because I had too much muscle.

Then we decided we were ready to have children.  I went off BCP.  I cycled once.  Then twice.  Then not again.  So I went to the doctor who sent me to another doctor.  And then another doctor because my insurance changed, and then another.  The second doctor suggested PCOS (and POF and thyroid).  The third doctor confirmed PCOS.

For a year and a half my body was broken.  Every three months I’d take a provera challenge to get my cycle started again.  I was poked and prodded and found out I had a blocked tube on top of not cycling.

During this time I found out a lot about PCOS.  I found out I’d been doing the diet thing all wrong for me.  No fat was ridiculous for my body and was the reason I kept gaining weight while always being hungry.  I cut out HFCS.  Then sugar.  Then refined carbs.  I upped my fruit, nuts, and full-fat ice cream intake.  I began snacking.  I stopped being hungry all the time.  Sweet things began to taste more sweet and I started being able to appreciate dark chocolate for the first time.  Weight started falling off effortlessly at a pound or two a week.  I stopped having mood swings.  My acanthosis nigricans went away.  I stopped being sad for no reason (other than the infertility-related reasons).  My rational mind had much better control.  Eventually I added Metformin to get the insulin under control and weight slipped off even faster.

The major thing that happened (before the Metformin) was I started listening to my body.  I started listening to my hunger.  I started noticing what foods made me feel crappy later, and what foods filled me up.  I ignored calorie counts (mostly– it’s still kind of ingrained, but now it’s more, is this an 80 calorie hunger=apple or a full 200 calorie=small meal/larabar hunger?), instead listening to my stomach and to my moods.  I learned to recognize when my  blood sugar was dipping and always had something on hand before it could get out of hand.

And listening to my body is so much easier and less stressful than adding up points or calories or trying to be the mental command-economy for my body’s caloric intake and outtake.  I don’t need a calculator, just some mindfulness.

Now, that’s not quite everything.  I still have a very addictive personality and very little willpower.  But I’m also very good at putting in commitment devices in pretty much all areas of my life.  If I’m aware of my triggers, I can keep out of their way.  For example, if there are chips in the house, I will eat them, even though I know I’ll feel cruddy later.  Same with chocolate frosted donuts.  So I don’t keep these things in the house.  I don’t buy them.  DH isn’t allowed to buy them, and if DC1 buys them they belong to hir and I can’t have any.

That’s not to say I never eat junk… but when I get a boxed lunch at work, I give back the chips right away, unless they’re cheetos (I allow myself cheetos of opportunity).  I have rules.  I only eat sweets if they pass a certain quality threshhold (chocolate chip cookies from the good bakery, yes!  from the grocery store, no!), same with pizza (local place, yes!  Domino’s, no!), and with donuts, if there’s a chocolate frosted, I’ll take it, but no other kind.  (When I was pregnant I avoided even the above because of borderline GD with the first and that nasty wheat allergy with the second– I have a lot of willpower when it’s someone else’s life on the line).  When DH bakes something, I’ll usually eat some (and he often cuts the sugar and substitutes wheat flour if applicable).  I keep a bar of Green and Black 70-85% dark in my desk drawer at all times and take a square whenever I have a craving.  I don’t deprive myself, but the junk food has to be really good for it to be worth it, and if it is good enough, then I generally don’t need that much to be satisfied.

We also do psychological things like use salad plates for meals instead of the big plates.  We take multiple little servings so we can better judge when we’re no longer hungry.  Sometimes we freeze a batch of cookies to dole them out in smaller amounts later.  Back before DC1 was so big, we’d take half of a cake we’d just made to daycare so we wouldn’t eat it ourselves.  These things help us to pause so we can listen to hunger and desire.

And no, doing these kinds of things alone probably won’t put most people at the bottom of their healthy range.  (And some of my eating needs are specific to PCOS and my body. YMMV, which is why it’s important for you to listen to you.)  Depending on how much junk I’ve been adding (because with nobody’s life at stake, and DC2 not eating whole wheat, refined carbs have snuck in), how much exercise I’ve been getting, and whether or not I’m hard-core nursing, I can be anywhere within that range, usually between the middle and the top unless I’m on metformin or the baby is getting most of hir calories from me.

But I don’t need to be super thin.

I just need to listen to my body and take care of it so that it will take care of me.

And that fits in with the greater grumpy rumblings philosophy… mindful laziness with a side order of commitment device can do great things, with health, child-rearing, even career concerns.  Figure out what works for your specific situation, set up an environment where it’s easier to achieve those goals, and change things when they’re not working.  Complete flexibility within a rigid setting.  Mindfulness creating a low mental load.  Grumpy rumblings is vast: contains multitudes.

#2 would like to remind everyone that, whether or not you would like to make food and exercise changes, a great thing to have is radical self-love.

Even the super-confident super-awesome are not immune to culture

Occasionally I have to take a break from mommy-blogs.

Why?  Because they make me anxious.

I know, you’re thinking, how could *I* be anxious about parenting?  I’m the laziest (non-negligent) parent on the planet and my kids are disgustingly perfect (though of course you note that I would never use the adverb, “disgustingly,” I would say they’re “awesomely” perfect or something [actually I would say "amazingly," but I grant you our frequent use of "awesome"]).  Both of these are true.

But mommy-blog anxiety gets even to me.  Culture is *that* strong.  There’s only so many blogs on having to lose the baby-weight, worrying about what/how much baby is eating or how much screen time toddler is getting or worrying about whether something is too early or too late or too long or whateverthe[expletive deleted] before even I start questioning if these are things I should be worrying about and are my kids really as wonderful as they seem [spoiler alert:  they are!] and if so, what’s wrong with them [rational answer: nothing!].

Now, I’m not talking about blogs where the kids or parents have actual real problems+.  [Also, I'm not singling out any one blog right now.  This unnecessary anxiety seems to be a contagion that is going through a huge number of mommy blogs right now.]  I’m talking about blogs where the kids are seemingly perfect, and the mom is seemingly perfect, but instead of acknowledging that fact, it’s anxiety this and worry that.  If their seeming perfection is wrong, then maybe I’m wrong about mine.

Of course, I’m not.  Even when the skinny girl complains about how fat she is, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my normal weight.  But (just like in college with the weight thing) I can only stand so many repeated hits before it starts to get to me.  The patriarchy is expert at using the virtual paper cut as a primary weapon.  It perfected the ton-of-feathers attack.  Any one blog or post or NYTimes article can be brushed off, or given a supportive comment in response.  At some point part of me wants to say, “CALM the [expletive] down!  You’re working for the patriarchy!”  But that’s not supportive so I try not to, especially since it’s not any one post’s fault or even any one blogger’s fault– it’s the culmination of many posts and blogs with the same message to be more anxious.  I get grumpy because the patriarchy does that to me.

And you may be thinking, “You’re grumpy because deep down you know things aren’t really that perfect.”  But that’s not true.  Deep down I know they really are, because I have huge trust in my family.  I have trust that even if there’s bumps and growing pains, that they’ll figure things out for themselves even if I’m not doing whatever is “optimal” for them.  I trust that there is no “optimal,” that there’s just “different” and “sub-optimal” is another word for “learning experience” (or, as my mom would say, “character building”).  I trust that my husband and I love our kids and will always be there for them and that they know that.  I don’t have to trust me to know deep down that my kids are doing great, I have to trust them and my husband and that we’ll tackle the challenges as they come.

And I’m sure there will be challenges and we’ll work through them.  But if there aren’t any right now, I don’t need to @#$#@ing create any.

I could do one of three things.  1.  I could comment super-supportive calming words on these blogs in an attempt to spread confidence (though of course this sometimes backfires because tone is difficult in writing among other reasons), 2.  I could do lots of introspection and re-affirm my core confidence and awesomeness, or 3.  I could avoid the anxiety paper-cuts by not going to those blogs.  Guess which option is the least work and most conducive to getting two more papers and a grant proposal out before summer ends?++

So… currently taking a break from mommy blogs, at least until swim-suit season is over.

+And we are *certainly* not talking about things like post-partum depression.

++Also note that we are not blaming people for working through their anxieties via the media of blogging.  It’s the patriarchy that is the ultimate root cause of that kind of unnecessary anxiety.  But that doesn’t mean we have to read about it if it has negative effects on our own well-being.

In which #1 tries to cajole #2 into blogging about her move

#1: We don’t have much in the blog queue. A bunch of ask the grumpies though, so we’re set on Fridays for a few weeks. I put a book review on Monday, but there are many other Mondays ahead if you feel like doing something monetary.
#2: I dunno bout money.
#1: Well, anything to do with the move and career is money, because career is money. And quality of life can be money.
#2: Hm. I’ll think about it.
#1: I bet our readers want to know what’s up with you, even things you find boring.
#2: We don’t really know what we’re doing right now anyway
#1: you can post about that
#2: sometimes we have a serious talk, and then sex.
#1: I don’t think they need to hear about the sex
#2: (sometimes we have sex without the talk beforehand, too)
#1: it would be sad if you only had sex after serious talks. I’d be like, let’s talk about global warming.
#2: I’ll warm your globes, baby!

Also…

#2 would like to espouse the opinion that moving is the MOST TEDIOUS of all things and it even bores ME, and I’m the one doing it.  Oof!

What do you all want to know about #2′s current situation given that she’s quit her job, recovered from pneumonia, and is in the process of scheduling a move, finding a new job, and reinventing herself?  (Note that talking about the logistics of moving makes her seriously grumpy– speaking from experience.)  Please keep it PG-rated.

Taming the Work Week: A review

Taming the Work Week is a short e-book by M. R. Nelson, aka Wandering Scientist aka Cloud.  In it, she makes the argument that everyone has a work limit, and that working beyond that work limit not only leads to diminishing marginal return (she doesn’t use that language), it can also lead to costly mistakes that actually create more work.

She notes that although research is clear that for early 20th century factory workers, 40 hours/week is the limit, we have no idea what the work limit is for knowledge workers.  And we really don’t.  It probably depends on a lot of factors (task mix, personal ability, etc.).  However, she provides steps for individuals to figure out whether they are working efficiently, and if not, how to work more efficiently.

It’s a short book with a lot of good tips.

Some may work better for some people than for others. For example, if you get more of your socialization at work than at home or after work, you may need that daily down-time with your colleagues interspersed with work, rather than waiting until you get home.  You won’t be as efficient or productive per-hour at work, but you’re also filling that socialization need on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if your home and social life provide a lot of social interaction already, cutting down on interruptions could greatly increase your productivity, allowing you to get out of work earlier without guilt.

Similarly, just going home when you’re not being productive doesn’t work for me because suddenly I become less productive earlier and earlier in the day as the days go on because I’m rewarding bad behavior and I have no self-control.  Instead, I need to task-switch from doing thinky research work to doing unrelated scut work like teaching prep or service.  That way I’m still being productive on stuff that has to get done eventually and I’m not training myself to leave before it’s time to pick up the kids (which is my hard deadline at the end of the day).

Nelson acknowledges these different kinds of different work styles.  Probably my favorite part of the book is where she provides some of the standard “how to be efficient” advice and points out when it doesn’t work for her and why. (Just going home doesn’t work for her either, but for different reasons.)  This added discussion of “why” really illustrates how you can think critically about the advice that’s out there to craft your own methods to improve your efficiency.

The biggest downside to this e-book is that the writing is uneven– it starts out stilted (carefully avoiding using contractions, for example), then shifts to a more conversational tone that is much easier to read.  Keep reading past the opening section or two– it’s worth it.

Is who we are what we do?: A deliberately controversial post.

Usually these posts start out with someone complaining about being at a cocktail party and being asked what they do.  The person complaining generally does not have a job.  Ze is financially independent or a SAHP or HouseSpouse or unemployed etc.  Depending on who is writing, the post becomes an ode to not working for The Man (and how you can only discover who you really are through Early Retirement and going to exploitative conferences in Portland, OR), a discussion about how taking care of hearth and family is the Most Important Job, or how to turn awkward and unfair conversations into networking opportunities instead of reasons to feel bad about ourselves.  And they all talk about how we’re so much more than our jobs and we shouldn’t be defined by our jobs.

This post is going to go a slightly different route.  I don’t know about #2, but I haven’t been at a cocktail party that wasn’t attached to a conference for *ages* (me either!) and when you’re at conference, you’ve got those helpful name-tags plus everyone knows that more likely than not you have a discipline-specific PhD.  Especially once you no longer look like a graduate student.

So this post is specifically going to focus on the question– is who you are what you do?

We say, Yes and  No.

We were both raised Catholic.  (We are recovering.)  And if you’re Catholic or Episcopalian, then belief is not as important as Good Works.  You’re not a nice person if you torture puppies even if you feel sad when you torture them.  If you ignore the impulse to torture puppies even though you desperately want to, you have as much of a shot at salvation as someone identical who would never dream of torturing puppies, maybe more, because you resisted a temptation that most people don’t have.

In economics terms, we tend to only believe preferences when they’re “realized,” which is just a fancy way of saying, “what you did”.  You’re showing what you preferred through your actions and your choices (very behaviorist!).  In that scenario, desire to torture or not torture puppies is meaningless– the lack of torture means that you preferred not to torture given the circumstances.  You are not a puppy-torturer unless you actually torture puppies (given your budget constraint).  We don’t know what’s in the black box or what the shape of your utility function is, but we can see exactly where your utility function hits your budget constraint.

In some sense, what we do defines us.  There may be some inner person trying to get out, but we can’t measure it unless it comes out.  We are what we do.

But also, no… Who are we if we’re not what what we do?   We are what we like and don’t like.  We are how we organize information. We’re a bundle of preferences and actions– we are what the outside world sees of us, though usually we are not how the world perceives us.  The patriarchy tends to twist our actions and our very existence to fit its own warped narrative.  We are bundles of energy and stardust masquerading as humans for now.

We are social scientists, through years of training.  Our disciplines shape how we see the world: how we make sense of the external world and our internal thoughts.  The narratives we tell ourselves, how we make decisions.  One of us used to be a mathematician, but that aspect has been dulled and replaced over time with graduate training and day-to-day work.  We are feminists of various flavors, and that shapes how we interact with people and information.  What we are directly affects what we do, and what we do shows who we are.

However, we are not our jobs.  They’re what we get money for, and they’re not all that we do.  We will still be social scientists without our current jobs.  We will still be teachers without our jobs, even if we never give another formal lecture.  We’ll still be cat-lovers and feminists and book-lovers and partners and friends and almost everything else that labels who we are.  We may no longer be “professor” without our jobs, but very little will change in terms of personal essence in the instant a job is left and a new job taken (or not taken).  Personal growth and change can (and will) come before a job change and after, but we don’t suddenly lose who we are or become a new person with a change in employment.  Maybe a happier (or temporarily sadder) person, but that kind of happiness seems to be more of an “estar” (in the moment temporary kind of being) thing than a “ser” (permanent kind of being) thing.

Who are you?  And how do you even define that?

The Shoe Drop’t

I quit my job.

(Wild applause, cheering)

This means I’m getting off the tenure track by default, because I don’t have another t-t job, and I’m not willing to live in terrible places (like this one) and teach high loads anymore.  I would consider maybe coming back to the t-t for the right position, but that’s not how the market works.  If my dream job appears I might apply, but the probability is low.  The dream job involves no teaching but not being on soft money.  Uh… and a pony?  I tried to bloom where I was planted, but it turns out you can’t bloom in poisoned soil.

Quitting my job is absolutely the right move.  There has been a lot of unbloggable toxicity that’s been damaging my sanity and health.  I very nearly quit in week 2 of the semester, and all the tenured colleagues I talked to said that I probably should, based on what had happened.  My partner said he would support me if I did.  Senior colleagues at other universities have told me, privately, to run-not-walk on outta here.

However, for a long time I was ambivalent about the end of my tenure-track career.  SO AMBIVALENT!  Because now I have tenure, and I’ve been working towards that since I was in high school.  I love so many aspects of academia (intellectual freedom, flexible hours, my own office, a variety of tasks, getting paid to do research, library access…) and I will really miss the job security.  The security of tenure let me sleep at night.  I have applied for numerous other t-t jobs while I’ve been here and gotten no hits, and finally had to jump.  I don’t know what I’m going to do without tenure.  I’ll figure something out.

But I will NOT miss teaching.  The more I thought about it, the less I even *want* another t-t job, because I am soooo burned out on teaching.  I just can’t, with the teaching, anymore.  Not even a leave of absence or sabbatical would fix it, because I would still have the residue of this university on me like slime that won’t wash off.  No more.  Not even grad students, not even small classes, not even my favorite topics.  Not online, not in a seminar.  I can’t handle students sucking my life force anymore.  Every semester for years on end: too many students, too little money, and twice a year two hundred 19-year-olds get to write inappropriate comments about my personal appearance on course evals, and then my boss reads them.  Who needs it?

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my next job and/or career.  Something research-based, perhaps.  You may see some self-absorbed bloggy rambling (e.g., my ideal work day).  We are very lucky that my partner makes fat bank and is willing to support me while I figure things out.  First-world problems.

Let’s tally the blog peeps right now: I technically have tenure this summer but after that I will be formerly tenured and (temporarily?) out of academia entirely… and unemployed for a while.  My partner has never been an academic, thank FSM.  #2 is currently tenured.  Her husband is a former academic who is much happier in industry.  (#2 is also much happier with her DH’s non-academic salary!)

I guess it’s true that people who have just quit their jobs are the happiest people in the world.

We are moving out of state and back to civilization as soon as we can (Current plan is end of August).  It was going to be sooner but this state is trying to kill us, and we haven’t been physically able to plan and implement those plans.  First my partner got the flu real bad for 2 weeks (which never happens), then we had 1 week of being ok, then I got pneumonia, which I’ve had for 3 and a half weeks(!) now and am still not well.  Also my partner needs frequent physical therapy for his genetically-misaligned knee and might need knee surgery.  The cat is not well and is now on a specialized diet which may or may not be working; I’ve been too sick to get back with the vet and I had to cancel my massage and dentist appointments due to pneumonia.  HALP.

I will miss the horse I ride, and a few of the people here, but that’s not enough to make me stay in such a toxic place.  (#2 notes: she also got paid next to nothing, even with the tenure bump.)  We are working on downsizing from our ridiculous-large house out here in the boonies to an amount of stuff we can maybe afford the housing for in a city.  We have plans about when and where we’re going apartment-hunting, when we’re moving, summer travel plans that were previously in place, work, insurance, legal stuff, we have a plan.

Wish us luck.

June mortgage update and Big lumps vs. drips and drabs

Last month (May):
Balance: $55,385.40
Years left: 4.25
P =$983.37, I =$231.03, Escrow =788.73

This month (June):
Balance: $52,393.37
Years left: 4
P =$995.17, I =$219.23, Escrow =788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $7.90

So one of the things I’ve been noticing as we spend down our extra cash stock-pile is how irritating it is to see the balance go down every month instead of up.  Part of this decrease is because we’re prepaying the mortgage more than we can afford to on our monthly income alone.  Some of that money is coming from savings instead of a paycheck.

Instead of paying an extra 2K each month, we could instead pay a big lump at one point and then not do any more prepayment.  We’d see a one time hit to our cash savings, but then they would start growing every month again, at least during the school year.  (Of course, our monthly mortgage update would be super impressive one month, and not as impressive each month going forward, though more of each regular payment would still be going to principal because of how amortization works.)

Getting rid of extra money in a big lump all at once instead of in drips and drabs every month means you can enjoy watching a money account growing instead of shrinking.

In the past, this has been what we’ve done when we’ve had more money than we needed.  It went straight into the stock market or to the mortgage in one fell swoop and I could just forget about it and go back to managing our money using cash flow instead of factoring in savings.  I’ve always liked that, sort of like skimming the cream off the top of our savings account and putting it someplace it will do good stuff while we drink the milk left behind.

But getting rid of money in a big lump all at once is still risky because you can’t stop it in the middle and it’s harder to reverse course.  Which is, of course, why we haven’t made a big lump payment to the mortgage and have instead been slowly bleeding out.

It would be nice to get all that excess spending done in one fell swoop (bathroom carpeting…), but as we’ve noted before, figuring out what to buy takes time and effort.  So we’ve been dribbling that too.  And putting things off.  (“What are your plans for the weekend?” “Mow the lawn” “Why not call the guy to set up mowing instead?” “I’d have to talk to him on the phone and I don’t want to.” “Want me to call instead?” “No.”  [update:  we finally did set up with the lawn person... the xeriscaping people never called back, but we did get a lawn cleanup done and they'll be mowing our lawn and doing light weeding once a week for $$])

Laura Vanderkam notes that a lot of people could buy a lot of lattes and housecleaning with the amount they spent on a wedding or a fancy engagement ring.  But maybe it’s easier to spend a large targeted cash stock-pile in one action rather than to spend it down slowly to zero over a longer period of time.  (If only we all had enough money to invest and spend off the dividends!)

And I suppose one could set up a separate savings account for the big lump and have it automatically transfer money to the regular account each month for the planned additional spending.  (Heck, one could even buy an annuity for right now.)  But eventually that account will run dry.  And you have to worry about it shrinking, because the only way to make it grow again is by putting in more money and then you’re in the same situation as if you didn’t have a separate account at all, just with more complications.

When you have a windfall or a bunch of savings, do you prefer to spend it/invest it all at once or to dole it out on a regular basis over a long time period?  Why?

Your Ideal Work Day

A few years ago, get a life phd asked readers to think about what their ideal day would look like.

My ideal work day definitely does NOT include teaching or ANY emails from students.  It does, however, include research and friends.

I was at this conference when I realized I was having my ideal work day.  No students.  No student emails.  I talked to colleagues about research:  theirs, mine.  I got inspired to learn about a new statistical technique.

I saw good friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I ate good food.  I had time for a nap in the middle.

I met a new research collaborator and we talked about what research we do and could share.
I could choose what was most interesting to go hear talks about.  Setting my own schedule is awesome.
That is an ideal work day.

#2

I think mine would start off with me checking my email to find a desk accept.  :)  Or an R&R from a top 2 journal.  Follow it up with a request to do something relatively trivial using my expertise for a large sum of money (like reading a proposal or giving a discussion).

These ideal day exercises aren’t so useful to me because my fantasy scenarios mainly depend on things that are outside of my control (last week was not an ideal week– the summer started with two conference rejections and a journal rejection, also our unscoopable paper that coauthor sat on for two years got scooped), and because I’m pretty happy with my life as it is and trying to optimize instead of satisfice just makes me grumpy.  It may not be a perfect life, but spending time and mental energy trying to make it better tends to make it worse and take time and energy away from things that actually help my life improve.  I remember the morning that I first heard about the willpower research on only being able to make a limited number of decisions each day, I was completely useless because I’d second guess making any decision instead of just making it, thus adding to my mental load.

Now, if I were miserable or unhappy, then the amount of time thinking about what makes me happy would be totally worth it.  A little bit of introspection might be able to make big short-term changes.  Fortunately for me, that’s not where I am right now (rejections aside).  We will see what the future brings.

What’s your ideal work day?

Crucial Conversations: A Book Review

Someone somewhere recommended that someone read Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, and we thought that was a good idea, so one of us checked it out from the library.  She had to recall it, and it has been recalled on her, so up on her Amazon wishlist it goes.

We think this is a great book, and wish everybody would read it.  As #1 was reading it, she thought back to previous crucial conversations and how the ones that went well tended to follow their advice and the ones that went off the rails really could have benefited.

The basic premise of the book is that if you pretend to (or actually believe in) give (ing) the benefit of the doubt to people and keep your thoughts focused on the end goals with that in mind, attacking problems instead of people, you’re more likely to get what you really want, make good decisions, foster a positive environment, deescalate potentially fraught situations, and get a reputation for being professional and reasonable that will help you in the future.

They summarize their technique with the following steps:

1. Start with heart. Focus on what you really want, and what you really don’t want.
2. Learn to look. Pay attention to emotions, problems, silencing, and the conversation no longer feeling safe for at least one party.
3. Make it safe. Fix misunderstandings, apologize as necessary. (I’ve found this step incredibly helpful in blaming things on miscommunications and going back to the big goal– what we both want– really does seem to defuse situations.)
4. Master my story. Separate facts from narrative– know which is which. State the facts.  Choose a good narrative. (This is where you give the best possible story behind the other person’s actions rather than the one that may actually be true. I have found that occasionally when I ascribe positive motives to people, they tend to start believing those motives themselves.)
5. STATE my path. Share your facts. Tell your story. Ask for other’s paths. Talk tentatively. Encourage testing. These are all things a good leader will do– you’re more likely to accept a decision you don’t agree with if you trust the process that came to it. (The difference between our provost saying, “I’m the decider” and a better communication of, “Here are the pros and cons of each choice. These are the reasons I made this choice over the other choice.” I really wanted to send hir a copy of this book. BTW, hir decision was terrible and has already had some pretty nasty consequences.)
6. Explore other’s paths. Ask. Mirror. Paraphrase. Prime. Agree. Build. Compare. These are ways of talking about alternative views and coming to the best decision for your main goal while making people with other views feel validated and focused on their main goals.
7. Move to action. Decide how you will decide. Document decisions and follow up. (A meeting in which you discuss, come to an agreement and then don’t do action items is a waste of time.)

They share a lot of really helpful language along with their process.  While reading the book, I thought back to good bosses I’ve had and bad bosses I’ve had, and the good bosses almost instinctively use these techniques.  Heck, my father-in-law uses these techniques.  It’s been helping me a lot with some of the dramatic fall-out of the provost’s bad decision.

It’s not a perfect book– it almost seems like there’s some victim-blaming in the middle, and it isn’t until very near the end of the book that the book specifies that no, a woman does not have to put up with sexual harassment on her own.  This is a shame because some of the examples they use are very close to sexual harassment, and although the actions they suggest are appropriate, they come too close on the heels of admonitions to accept the role you had in whatever tragedy is going on.  Their example seems to suggest that muggings are the only crimes in which the victim is not at fault.  Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault, and they would do well to point that out far earlier.

The book doesn’t separate by gender.  It tells everybody to use some of the softening language that Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office tells women to avoid, which may be problematic.  We know that people have different reactions to male and female managers saying the same thing in the same way– are the suggestions in this book truly gender neutral?  We don’t really know.

An interesting thing to note– in the back of the book one of the authors mentions that they get fan mail from people who have only read the introduction and the first chapter.  Apparently those first ideas of just giving people the benefit of the doubt and focusing on the big goals make a huge difference for some people.  We do think the rest of the book is worth reading through because it gives helpful language that does deescalate situations.

Also:  We’ve posted this on a Monday because it’s about work and career, but many of these techniques also work well in personal relationships.  They also give examples from marriages and dealing with teenagers.

What do you find works for dealing with other people at work?  Do you have recommendations for books on communication or otherwise dealing with coworkers?  Have you read this one?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 225 other followers