Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for more Joyful Kids and Happier Parents by Christine Carter
This book got some nice mentions on BoingBoing and I’ll agree that it’s a good read. Carter does a nice job of distilling a lot of science that’s been done about the effect of various parenting techniques into ten lessons with tips and takeaways. A few thoughts:
Steps one, two, and nine are broad approaches having to do with setting up a joyful environment. Some of these seem obvious to me (interview and carefully consider your child care providers?) while some are good reminders or new information. I like the first step–the suggestion that children should know their parents have lives beyond the children. She also reminds us to maintain and build adult networks that give us places to go and people to be with outside the childsphere.
Steps three, four, and eight focus on how we act as parents. It’s a reinforcement of other books I’ve read, including Kohn’s Punished by Rewards. These chapters essentially remind us to treat children like their own people, to be kind and forgiving and authoritative without being authoritarian. Great reminders and advice. One new takeaway for me here: expressing gratitude regularly. We’ve started saying things we’re thankful for as part of our evening dinner routine.
Step five probably has the most take-aways for me from this book. Carter talks about “Raising their emotional intelligence” by talking about feelings as we navigate experiences. I’ve already used this when Avery’s slipping into tantrum mode to defuse situations. Just asking her what she’s feeling helps her step back from the tantrum cycle and into a more metacognitive space. She also suggests using meditation and teaching it to your kids as a way to handle tough emotions and get ready for new experiences.
Step six urges “form happiness habits,” and offers some positive ways to get kids to act in ways that will make them happy, while step seven reminds us that self-discipline will serve kids well later as they have to start navigating the challenging waters of the world beyond home.
Overall, it’s a good read, with plenty of science-based advice and conversation. Carter brings her own experiences (including errors she’s made in the past) into the mix, and offers some new advice. If you’ve read other books, you’ve probably encountered some of this stuff before, but even so, it’s nice to read again.
We just finished our second round of planting, with peppers galore, some sweet potatoes and sweet onions and tomatoes. It’s going to be a really hot week so we’ll hope they take to the ground. Lots of water from our new rain barrel.
The Eternal Smile collects three lovely short comics. Each one has a kind of moral or message without being preachy, and each has a strikingly different art style. The first is a story about a medieval page boy who goes on a quest but discovers something sinister haunting him; the second is a Carl Barks parody poking fun at the fiscal side of religions; the third feels a lot like Craig Thompson, with a touch of the magical style of Windsor McCay. Each has its own charms, though I think the third one is by far the best.
This comic really illustrates how important the choice of art style is to comic drawing. The parody of religions, for example, works as a humorous send-up by making the money-grubbing preacher a caricature. His froggy-ness takes some of the sting out of the criticism. By contrast, the cross-hatched, monotone, realistic frumpy style (sort of Craig Thompson meets Chris Ware, without the architectural majesty) of the third story translates the ambiance of the office life drudgery to the page brilliantly, like the work of Peter Bagge or even Harvey Pekar.
1. When I was in high school, I took four years of French. I started out of interest and a little impetus toward college prep. I continued because I liked it, somewhat. Then, my senior year, I took French 4 just to hang out with one of my friends. At some point, during a particularly frustrating moment, I grumbled to our harried teacher, “Why can’t everybody just learn English? It would save so much time.” I thought her head would explode.
2. I teach a course called “New Millennium Studies: The First Year Seminar.” It’s a general Liberal Arts course designed to get students thinking about the relationship of their art to their thoughts about life, the world, and culture. Columbia’s motto is Create… Change, so we’re trying to help them think about what that means. Kinda. Anyhow, I put a lot of stress on ethics as a primary way to dig into those ideas. One of the guiding concepts for the way I lead them to explore their ethics is “how do you know that what you believe to be right and wrong is true?” Anyhow, in their final “Manifesting Vision” essay, one of my students wrote “What difference does it make where a person gets their ethics and morals from? What is important is that those are the morals or ethics they have, who cares how they established them.[sic]” I thought my head would explode.
In my response to the portfolio, I wrote (among other things):
The overall message of your manifesting vision essay, on the other hand, seems shockingly incurious. I’m pretty surprised that you could come through the class and think it’s not important to know where your ethics come from. If you don’t know where your ethics come from, how can you ever change your mind? Nearly every moral and ethical advance human culture has made came with a shift in ethics. To use one blaring example: slavery. Many people have felt, in the past, that slavery was ethical. We’ve come to understand that it isn’t, through a variety of forces engaged in tackling that ethical question. If we don’t question our ethics, we can’t grow as people and societies. And we can’t question our ethics if we assume they’re just a given.
What’s really frustrating is that I failed so utterly to get that message across during the semester. It shakes my confidence in how I teach the class down to my roots. Of course, the course is a “you get what you put in” kind of course, so perhaps that student just didn’t put much energy into it. But it’s still stunning and disheartening.
By the by, when I muttered my comment about English in French class, I got a ten minute lecture on the relationship between culture and language, and the idea that cultures embed themselves in languages. I still remember her saying “every time a language dies, a culture dies.” I also remember joking to a friend after class that if we’re down to one person who can speak a language, that culture’s already dead. Ah, youth.
A student working on a paper sent me these questions:
1. Where and how did the legend, or belief in zombies begin?
People around the world have spoken about undead creatures for centuries — in Europe they were often called _revenants_. But these legends often didn’t make clear distinctions between ghosts, vampires, zombies, and ghouls. The ‘zombie’ arose in the voudoun culture of Haiti, where belief held that a powerful bokor (a voudoun priest) could raise someone from the dead and compel them to work for him, usually as a field hand.
2. How have zombies evolved through time?
The figure of the zombie shifted from the mindless servant to a more menacing monster slowly from the 1940s through the 1960s. It was in the late 1960s that George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD made these slow-walking mindless figures into cannibals. He also removed the idea that they were under someone’s control.
In the years since, many versions of the zombie have emerged, including undead, hypnotized, diseased, and insane figures. The sustained elements seem to be mindlessness and hunger for human flesh–of course, there are examples that break each of these rules as well.
3. What are some common beliefs about the afterlife, and how do zombies challenge those beliefs?
Many world religions imagine a non-corporeal part of the human–a soul, perhaps–that leaves the body when the person dies. Zombie films upset that premise by making the body animate on its own. The delicious fear of these films comes from our belief that the zombies are no longer the people they once were, but our instinct that they retain some essence of their former selves. The figure of the zombie upsets many assumptions we make about the split between mind and body.
4. What fascinated you so much about this topic that you decided to incorporate it in with your work and life?
I think zombies are fascinating and frightening, and stories told about them tap into deep ideas we hold about what it means to be alive. Zombies also become an easy site onto which we can map fears about modern life, such as manufactured viruses or environmental concerns. Many zombie stories are simply survival stories that replace raging floodwaters or angry carrion birds with bloodthirsty ghouls.
5. What do the Haitians truly believe about voodoo?
Voodoo is a religion still practiced in Haiti and elsewhere. The religious traditions of voodoo are well documented, and are predicated on the idea of the Loa (gods) interacting regularly with people on earth through various rituals. As for what percentage of voodoo adherents would profess belief in zombies, I can’t say.
6. If you had to summarize the most important thing you’ve learned about zombies, what would it be?
Double tap. That’s a ZOMBIELAND reference, of course. To return to question 4 again, it’s that zombies are us. Any good zombie story pushes us to see not just how humans succeed or fail, but also to see how zombies mirror our own experiences. Sometimes we learn the most from zombies by thinking not about how we differ from them, but how we’re the same.
Chasing the Devil’s Tail is an historical mystery set in the Storyville era of New Orleans, when prostitution was legal in a specific section of the city and seedy stuff was happening in it. The story revolves around Valentin St. Cyr, a creole detective who can pass as white, thus giving him access to halls of power and dens of inequity. He investigates several murders in brothels, each victim a prostitute connected to his friend, the early jazz (jass) pioneer, Buddy Bolden. It’s an atmospheric novel with solid characterization and a decent (but not great) mystery. Some additional thoughts:
The historical research in the novel is really solid, and it shows. The details of the storyville era leap off the page, becoming quite vivid. Fulmer does a great job integrating his fictional people in with the numerous real people the novel characterizes.
The best sequences describe the music of King Bolden and his band. Bolden is credited as one of the originators of jazz, playing his coronet with a frantic style that attracted people from all walks of life. Fulmer brings these scenes to life with a sure hand for detail and the action of the music.
The novel’s treatment of the prostitutes works really well. It’s frank about the difficult lives they lead and the challenges they encounter, but it doesn’t caricature them. This book reminds me of Sin in the Second City, which also seeks to make plain the harsh realities of the prostitute’s life without losing sight of their humanity. As one person in my reading group put it, this book reminds us that “whores are people too.”
The weakest part of the novel is the mystery. It really serves as a vehicle for the atmosphere and the excellent setting, but it doesn’t shine as an example of the genre. That said, I didn’t mind at all that the mystery doesn’t drive the story very strongly.
My mystery reading group got a chance to do a phone conference with Fulmer after we’d discussed the novel for about an hour. It was interesting to hear how much the history drove the novel (quite a bit) and to hear about his writing and plotting processes.
The vagaries of the publishing industry were interesting as well. He’d originally planned to do a series of novels about the emergence of jazz, following the scene from city to city through the eras. Alas, the publisher was much more interested in seeing additional novels in this setting than in seeing the other settings emerge. The story about the title is pretty funny too — the publisher wanted a different title than Red Light, which was the original, so Fulmer and his agent came up with this one. And then he worked it into the book to credit Jelly Roll Morton with the phrase. He phrased the epigraph to say “credited to Jelly Roll Morton” because he’d made it up. He later learned that some historians of jazz were tearing their hair out to find the source of that quote. Ha ha.
At Columbia College Chicago, faculty instructors get a nice break if they don’t teach over the summer. If they DO teach over the summer, they get a week. This is the end of that week. Grading is done, my new classes are ready to go, so I thought I’d take a moment to glance back and look for some highlights of the spring semester.
My First Year Seminar class had many interesting conversations about ethics. One in particular stands out in my mind — we were discussing ethics, particularly how secular societies should debate ethical issues, and we talked for a little about gay marriage. In the course of the conversation, we discussed some of the arguments that have been made against gay marriage, including the spurious and irrelevant “slippery slope” argument that says ‘if you allow gay marriage, next you’ll have to allow polygamy, and bestiality!’ So we talked about the false assumptions making up that statement, but I also urged them to really think about polygamy–why is it illegal? And then we talked about bestiality and why that should be illegal. After they got over the shock of talking about it, they had a fruitful discussion of the idea of consent, which helped us think back to polygamy and other kinds of relationships. At the end of the conversation, I said, “Well, if nothing else, you can tell your parents that today you finally learned why it’s wrong to have sex with animals.”
Once again, my students confirmed that the “weekend roundup” (a casual segment in which we discuss life and events in the news before each week’s class begins) stands out as one of the most satisfying elements of the course. It’s taken me a while to wrestle with the idea that a conversation about stuff happening around serves a purpose, but it surely does. I’ve come to think of it as a kind of intellectual modeling–showing students in conversation the kind of curiosity and approach that integrates learning into daily life. I also encourage them to read a lot.
In Game Culture this semester, we had quite a bit of fun playing a variety of games — from a simple nomic to the Prisoner’s Dilemma to Werewolf. I didn’t feel like we did enough abstract analysis of them, but the students disagreed (in conversation, at least). By contrast, the reading responses and blog posts continued to be a real challenge in terms of administration, dedication, and value to the experience. Frustrating.
My Honors Writing and Rhetoric 2 class was quite fun to teach, with high quality projects from nearly all the students. I really like the work they did. Our project draws on Sebald’s Rings of Saturn and a flaneur approach to history. The students who jumped into the project with both feet came up with some really cool stuff.
Looking ahead: Over the summer, I’ll be teaching two sections of Writing and Rhetoric Online. It’s a tough class for a lot of students, because they don’t plan to spend the kind of time they need to spend in order to really do it right. More front-end work this semester to really get them on board right from the get-go. We’re using Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder as our source/model text this year, so that should be, um, interesting.
Jeff’s recent post about Facebook. Here’s one apt paragraph, though the whole thing’s worth reading:
The bizarre response to Facebook and issues of privacy baffles. A sense of privilege has taken over the application’s users who believe, because they log in and tell their friends that they “like” something, they are outside of the company’s need to make money. The shock of all shock to Facebook users is that this free application uses user information to. . . .wait. . .. advertise. (link)
And then xkcd ran this comic which seems to stem from a similar “well, yeah” perspective.
I finished the second, third, and some of the fourth seasons of Columbo available for streaming and discovered that I’d seen a number of the episodes before. A couple thoughts about these new ones:
In the first season, Columbo pretty much always solves the crime by noticing a few niggling details that unravel the murderer’s case. He stages moments to catch them unawares, but usually does so with full possession of the facts. As the show goes on, though, he has to come up with more and more elaborate ruses to catch the killers, including fake-arresting someone to force a confession, the old ‘we’re gonna search the mountains in the morning’ ruse to smoke out the murderer’s secret stash, and even some subliminal advertising.
We also see a lot more jousting with murderers, people who realize that Columbo thinks they did it and taunt him because he lacks evidence. One particularly awesome exchange from season four has Columbo talking to one guy and the guy says “You’re a devious man, Columbo.” Columbo answers, “That’s what I’m told, sir.”
I’ve noticed that not only does he drive the same car and wear the same rumpled raincoat, he wears the same brownish/pinkish suit every episode. I haven’t decided if he intends to lose his pencil in his pocket or not. Jenny and I also wondered whether all the stories about his family that he uses to throw off his suspects are true or made up. And once again, we find a bit of personal belongings in with the evidence he brought along to make his case.
The class warfare continues, but we also see a technological divide emerging, with people from science and entertainment the focus of the murders in season two and three. In particular, one person concocted an alibi with a tape recorder and motivated his victim with subliminal advertising. Another used a robot (Robbie the robot, I believe) to manufacture his alibi.
A couple great lines: “I’m afraid of heights, sir. I don’t even like being this tall.” And, in response to someone asking if he has a first name, Columbo says, “I do. But my wife is pretty much the only person who uses it.”
A few other miscellaneous bits of awesomeness: In one episode, Columbo visits a homeless shelter where a nun mistakes him for one of their clients. After he reveals that he’s from the police, she congratulates him on his undercover costume. Celebrities in the recent batches include Dick Van Dyke as a villain and Bruno Kirby as a high-school age military academy student. Columbo wears a size 10.5-11 shoe. That’s pretty big for someone as short as he is.
The best moment from this new viewing batch comes at the end of the episode starring Johnny Cash as, um, Tom Brown, a Johnny-Cash-like singer who murders his holy-roller wife/blackmailer so he can get out from under her thumb. At the end of the episode, Columbo offers Brown a ride back and they have this exchange:
Brown: Aren’t you afraid to be alone in this car up on this mountain with a killer? Columbo: No sir. [turns on the radio to hear the spiritual song “I saw the light” which Cash’s character has been singing throughout the episode] I had a feeling even if I didn’t catch you, you would have turned yourself in. Brown: I would have. It was weighing on me something awful. I’m just glad it’s over. Columbo: If I may, sir. Any man who can sing like that can’t be all bad.
What’s fascinating about this exchange for me is the extra-textual nature of Johnny Cash’s own life, which has a similar kind of madcap hedonism working in contrast with his better nature. While Cash’s acting isn’t bad in the episode, it isn’t great either, until the end. His face in this final scene carries lots of sadness, and reflects what we can see in hindsight as his own demons shining through this character. It’s almost like Columbo is speaking to Cash, not Brown.
We read this book for my speculative fiction book club and it was an interesting trip, not as thoroughly enjoyed by some members of the club as other books, but interesting nonetheless. The novel tells two stories, one of Lady Neku, a thirteen year old girl from the far future (maybe) who has gotten embroiled in a number of troublesome events in our near future, and the other of Kit Nouveau, a British Iraq War vet whose bar is blown up, and with it his wife. Then his ex-girlfriend’s gangster mom turns up and things get dicey.
I found the book hard to get into, but pretty interesting after the first half. The pacing of the mystery picked up once the characters and their relationships to one another were established. Grimwood has a roundabout way of writing that takes some getting used to, but his choices about when to reveal certain key details about Kit’s past work well.
Neku dances along at the edge of sanity, one moment seeming to be everything the narrative makes her out to be–a teenage refuge from a far-future dynastic war–and the next she’s a scared teenager flirting with a college boy. We had an interesting discussion about whether her dual story was real or not–I believe there are a couple bits in the book that prove it to be real, but they’re pretty shallow and could be read as psychological. I suggested that the similar structures of the events in her far-future memory segments and the current life events work the same either way.
I also couldn’t help but notice the similar plot structures to the much less well-written or interesting novel The Identity Plunderers that I read a couple weeks ago. Both books involve two stories, one from the current world, one from the far future. Both involve alterable memories and people trying to recover those memories. Both are not immediately obvious about who’s trying to do what or who the key players are. Both have titles that are only tangentially related to the novels they name.
The novel works very much like a classic hard-boiled detective novel, something like The Big Sleep. Kit gets thrust into a series of mysteries whose players and forces overlap in strange ways. There are big forces and plenty of beatings and warnings to stay out of it that don’t get followed. The resolution of the mystery also doesn’t come off as a big moment of revelation they way it usually does in classical detective stories. Instead it slowly seeps into the narrative, and the story of how the detective reveals the solution and gets away without being murdered holds much more interest for us. Also, he has little hope of winning out over the corrupt forces that rule the world. You can almost hear the character at the end of the novel saying, “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
The science-fiction elements of the book are actually pretty weak and I’m not sure they’re necessary. While they’re well-written and interesting, I’m not sure what would have been lost if Neku had actually been a contemporary girl with similar problems. We also pondered whether placing a book in the near future (10 years or so) without significant technological or cultural change (video phones seem to be the main new thing) makes it science-fiction or not.
Overall, a well-written book, but I’m not sure if I liked it enough to read any more of Grimwood’s novels. I’ll see if I find myself haunted by this book in the coming weeks or months.
Dreams keep turning up in my reading and watching:
Andrew‘s novel, The Dream Thief, has someone mucking around in other peoples’ dreams right in the title.
Jedediah Berry’s surreal Kafkaesque murder mystery, The Manual of Detection features a secret corps of dream detectives who follow and spy on people in their dreams.
The 4/29 episode of Fringe (“Brown Betty,” billed as a musical but not really all that musical) told a fantastical tale about a genius inventor who’d created wondrous things like rainbows and hugs. We learn that he got these things by stealing dreams from sleeping children and replacing them with nightmares.
I’m currently waiting to watch a movie created by Jean Pierre Jeunet’s creative partner, Dante 90. While this movie probably doesn’t feature people monkeying with dreams, my favorite film from their past, The City of Lost Children included stolen dreams.
This last one’s a bit of a stretch, but I’ve been enjoying this season of Human Target, which features Jackie Earl Healey as an amoral operator of mysterious and vicious temperament. On the show itself, we’ve not seen the kinds of acts that result in the kind of reputation he has, but we’re assured that he’s a total badass. Healey has, most recently, played two nightmarish characters on the big screen: Rorschach from Watchmen and Freddy Kruger from the updated A Nightmare on Elm Street.
So what do we make of such confluences. Freud wrote about cinema as a dream-machine, suggesting a connection between the experience of watching films and the experience of dreaming. Dreams play a key role in shoddy storytelling — with every troubled protagonist finding themselves trapped in a nightmare world of laughing compatriots and lost sense of self. But what are we writing about when we make stories that involve monkeying with peoples’ dreams?
Perhaps there’s an unconscious (really? You’re going to go there?) thinking through of the disconnect between individual identity and the digital era. As we lose control of ourselves and our experiences (Facebook gives them away afterall), we feel more and more untethered. Telling stories about our dreams being manipulated may be one way we deal with such discomfort.
Chew, Vol 2: International Flavor by John Layman and Rob Guillory (issues 7-10)
Tony Chu, the ‘cibopathic’ detective who gets psychic clues by tasting bits of suspects and victims, wields his tastebuds once again. You’ll remember from Volume 1 that the comic takes place in the near future, when the F.D.A. has attained authoritarian status by outlawing meat, particularly chicken. This time we find our culinary detective in a tropical island where a strange new fruit that tastes like chicken has become the target of FDA approbation. Some thoughts:
The characters in the comic are drawn with strange proportions, the muscley men VERY muscley, the busty women VERY busty. Issue 7 of the comic (part one of volume 2) features a woman with gigantic breasts, and made me huddle in shame as I read it on the El. The rest of the art is good, but jeez-o-petes, those are some shockingly large breasts.
The comic features a continuing mix of good action and humor. The detective who continually must taste every bit of evidence stays funny as he gleans clue after clue from corpses, blood, and other physical yuckiness.
The villains are funny as well. We have the appearance of the hilarious Russian vampire and a Peter Lorre dictator with a passion for the mysterious chicken fruit.
My favorite detail was the new chef, a mute who communicates messages through his food. His rendition of dramatic theatre made people cry.
Overall, a nice addition to the storyline and mythology of the non-meat world.
The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darrick Robinson, issues 39-41
The story continues as we follow the superhero CIA in its quest to keep supers under control. Butcher finds out about Hughie’s unintentional relationship with a member of the Supreme 7, and the side characters discover that Butcher has been holding back information. Some thoughts:
The Super Duper team seems to appeal to the kind of resonance Arse-face did in Preacher. It’s a grim story about naive or stupid people, something that Ennis seems to revel in. I’m also reminded of the nice people in the meat-packing town in Preacher, vol 7 (or 8? The one with the Ross Perot clone) and the neighbors in Ennis’ early Punisher run, “Welcome Back, Frank.” They’re good hearted people who get by, but barely and without realizing the luck they’ve had because of our cynical heroes.
Ennis continues to complicate the narrative by using the comic-shop savant as an information source. In the world of The Boys, super teams make money through appearances and merch, so comic books are publicity and thus they tell sort-of true stories that make the team look good. This basement troll stands in for the history of all comics, and thus The Boys become a kind of policing of all comic history. One might suggest that the debaucheries we see in the Supreme seven and elsewhere are Ennis’ embodiment of Frederick Wertham’s warnings. Yes, Ennis says, Batman was molesting Robin.
New low: one of the debauched superheroes is caught on film murdering and eating people. The art dives toward the bottom in its attempt to out-Preacher Preacher.
I still can’t get over how much The Frenchman looks like Spider Jerusalem. Sure, it’s the same artist and he’s a thin bald guy, but still. Makes me want to go read Transmetropolitan again.
If you take a look at the comic, you’ll notice that Hughie looks a lot like Simon Pegg. Apparently, that’s not an accident. Just sayin.