Monday, April 30, 2007

Dependency amidst estrangement is the trap

It was time for an influx of inspiration, so a troupe of OFDers went to down the road to the Golden Gate Theater last week for a healthy dose of culture. Nothing like theater to stir the soul, drawing as the best of it does on timeless myths and stories of humanity to give us bearings in modern times. It's no wonder that the impact lasts several days after the performance ends, as if needing time to work through the sub-conscious to be fully absorbed. In today's on-demand oriented society, it is a refreshing departure to so much entertainment and so many experiences whose influence lasts no longer than the moment they are being consumed.

The performance of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wood was generally excellent. It's a play that is as demanding as it is economical: it features only four characters who depict the entire story in a single setting: the living room of the house belonging to Martha - daughter of a College President - and George.

While there is a darkness to the play, this rendition was notably lighter than the film version (with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) for all but the final act. Some lines were given comedic delivery and timing, and elicited their intended effect. It's a testament to the scale of the work that it has the breadth to accommodate such variations. While the overall darker and more brooding film verssion was preferred by this OFDer, it's unclear which approach is closer to Edward Albee's original intent.

The damning commentary of the play has to be how hopeless this estranged couple remain, locked in battle over differences and grudges that can never be forgotten nor forgiven yet lacking the courage to disrupt the vicious cycle or the strength to face their own vulnerabilities and flaws to make any progress on the road to self improvement. It is a wise cautionary tale for these times: sometimes the worse thing to do is to do nothing to change the circumstances: that the comfort of the familiar is a deadening, life diminishing road to perpetual unhappiness.

A triumph in depicting the darker side of relationship culture, a stiff drink is recommended after the show accompanied by a toast to relief - that one's own life is so unlike the tragedy of this play.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bad case of the affluenza going around

It's official. Too much money can indeed be detrimental to you mental and emotional health. It doesn't take Motley Fool to understand, though this respected source of financial related advice recently reviewed the book Affluenza: how to be successful and stay sane.

According to MF:

In his travels around the world, which took up most of 2004, Oliver James discovered that a worldwide surge in material affluence, coupled with the demands of 21st Century living, appears to increase our vulnerability to emotional distress. Thus, in societies where people place a high value on acquiring money and 'designer' brands, looking good in the eyes of others, and wanting to be famous, the incidence of anxiety, depression, personality disorder and substance abuse is high.

It is not surprising that this chase serves to place happiness further out of our reach. The deep irony is not lost on us here at OFD. That when the search for happiness is an outer-directed one, in can take one to the furthest corners of the globe but one is destined not to find it, because it is an inner-directed journey. The capacity lies within us, latent, waiting to be unlocked when we are ready.

Perhaps this calls for a new play for these troubled and typically unsatisfying times. In the spirit of Godot maybe its Waiting for Happiness?.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Are you Cappin' on me?

It was over-heard in a coffee shop directed by one member of staff in a jocular but indignant tone to a colleague.

This OFDer was unfamiliar with the term but not bashful about finding out. It means teasing, or making fun of, which explains the good-natured way in which the apparent recipient of this behavior had delivered the accusitory question.

"How do you spell it?"

"Don't know. Never seen it written before. C-A-P-P-I-N-apostrophe?" came the quizzical reply, as if she suspected the questioner already knew the answer and was trying to catch her out.

It speaks to the organic nature of language that new words are created and become part of an accepted vocabulary even though they've never been seen in written form by people using the term.

This example is merely one of several it transpires, #6 out of some 18 versions given at urban dictionary. The variations in meaning is rather alarming. Be sure you and the recipient share the same interpretation lest the confusion has fatal consequences for it could mean the difference between being teased and being shot.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Impressionism not delivered by bricks and mortar

One of the simple joys of a new city is the newness of everything. Happening upon unanticipated sights and vistas. The endless surprises that engage the senses in unexpected ways.

And so it was with walking past the Renoir Hotel on McAllister street. The name itself evokes so much color and richness, the essence of this artist's creations. Whatever the interior might offer to delight a visitor's senses the outside was in stark, drab contrast to the promise implied by its name.

Renoir's works - like others in his genre - were an other-worldy landscape of vibrant color and textures. Like a technicolor dream. It is perhaps asking too much for bricks and mortar to capture and express the wonderful mood embodied by impressionism. Unless of course, Cirque du Soleil went into the hotel business. This brand has a ethereal, colorful essence to their peformances. No doubt through their mastery of form, playfulness and light they could create a facade - and guest interaction with staff inside - that could live up to the promise of an impressionistic name.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Human waste?

Lives discarded on the sidewalk. In shocking numbers San francsisco streets are lined with the destitute. Passing by it is clear that communities have formed at this, the lowest level of existence, offering companionship and human warmth amid the hardship. And protection too one imagines.

The hypocracy of religions to aver that their deities care for all of mankind. The hypocracy of our so called civilization to allow different human existences so glaring in their disparateness to live side by side.

But this damning indifference plays out on the streets of poorest third world countries line India, its citizens walking not just around but over those unfortunates lying on the street too infirm to move. Those who will perish in a matter of hours or days - they might as well be branded like a scarlet letter, for they are marked.

Whether it is as formalized as a caste system or just the conditioning we've unwittingly absorbed in our own culture, the result is the same. We live by the value that all lives are not created equal. We do not have to think for ourselves, it has been done for us. It is convenient this way. It does not disrupt the order or our own lives.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Panhandling: the art is a transaction

It's almost impossible to walk down Market street through the Tenderloin district without being approached not once but several times and asked to give away money. Usually they are are numbingly unimaginative. "Spare change?" is the most frequent, rhetorical request.

The Economist within our group at OFD wondered aloud why panhandlers don't adopt an economist's sensibility as they go about their endeavors. The 'market' for donations is a highly competitive one along the stretch of Market street between 9th street to New Montgemery. It is not unusual to be solicited a dozen times along this route. In the art of getting people to give away money what makes one practitioner better than another?

The economist in our midst suggests that those taking a transactional approach to their undertaken will be more successful. One could argue that in giving away money any donor implicitly gets a feeling of charity or compassion. But this does not involve any contribution or outlay on the part of the panhandler. There is something about the passivity of most of them - in making no more effort than extending a hand - that discourages many would-be philanthropists.

It was the effort and wit which one such charity-seeker displayed in his cardboard solicitation that this group of OFDers amply rewarded him for. 'Bet you read this sign. $1.00' It was more than the entertainment value that made us happy to part with the money, it was the principle. Putting effort into his pitch rather than expecting a hand-out made this an even, respectful exchange, a transaction rather than a give-away.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The change

They had never actually worked together. But there had been many times they passed each other around the place, the way one inevitably does when sharing the same space. Those instances were fleeting, their minds elsewhere, and often they didn’t register each other’s presence even at a subliminal level as they went about their work.

He noticed she often held a downward gaze when they passed, not uneasily as some might have thought but rather he felt her mind was elsewhere: far away and out of the building as if unconstrained by routine, and commitment and time. This was not a dreamy look but one of the deepest contentment. He longed to know what this place looked like and wondered if it could be possible to be there, not to share it with her for that would be intrusive and he was sure that the solitude was a large part of the appeal. But just to see how she was and she moved in such a different domain.

But after that day when they talked more than they ever had he found it was he who changed not her. Quite in contrast he became weighed by a downward gaze, no longer could he pass her as he had done countless times before. He was not afraid but a part of him trembled. So strange for a man some 15 years older and that fact made him irritated more with himself than with her. He longed to look into her eyes in search of some recognition of a new-found understanding and, possibly even the beginning of love.

For their exchange had meant more to him than she could possibly imagine and was borne of a life where moving at the earliest signs of any commitment became a lifestyle. Despite the roots he and his brother had learned to take with them he yearned for the quality that had always evaded him, the way it is so often with people who long for the one thing they are destined not to find.

Such desperation he knew in time would take its toll in his own life and transform a relationship that began as something gently beautiful into something twisted and disfigured, just as his growing awkwardness had triumphed into being despite his tortured struggle to contain and confine it to the depths within him.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Re-election of Tokyo Governor linked to art exhibit

Shintaro Ishihara's 8 year governorship has been marked by a belligerence which has angered several groups, including school teachers, the French and women.

This week saw him re-elected for a third successive term. Some are attributing this outcome to the unexpected effects of an art exhibit at the Mori art museum. It features two collections of related themes: “The Smile in Japanese Art: From the Jomon Period to the Early Twentieth Century” and “All about Laughter: Humour in Contemporary Art”.

Since the exhibit opened on January 7th, local newspapers have reported a noticeable sense of well-being permeating the visitors hall as people are leaving. Remarked one museum attendant speaking on condition of anonymity "There is a big difference in how people leave from when they arrive. They are buzzing with energy, look happy and talk to people they don't know. They don't even look at other people when they're waiting to get into the exhibit."

The total number of people estimated to have seen the exhibit since it opened is almost double the margin Shintaro Ishihara secured over his rival Shiro Asano.
If the effect is true, it suggests that exposure to the exhibit has a profound impact on the well-being of visitors, one that lasts many months. It also suggests an interesting new development in the political arsenal of election time tactics.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bacon Marketing: sell the sizzle not the steak

What's true for cows is true for pigs.
A recent study by British scientists at Leeds University spent over 1000 hours exploring an extensive variety of permutations across the different elements that make up the humble bacon buttie (sandwich). The results found that texture and sound are just if not more important than taste and smell.

It suggests a corollary of the time-honored maxim for marketing beef: selling the 'sizzle' is more evocative and effective that the steak.

The research - sponsored by the Danish Bacon and Food Institute - has cracked the code on how to prepare the perfect bacon buttie:

Ideally, 0.4 newtons should be applied to crunch the sandwich, creating 0.5 decibels of noise. The formula uses these values: N = force in newtons; fb is the function of the bacon type; fc is the function of the condiment or filling effect; Ts is the serving temperature; tc is cooking time; ta is the time taken to insert the condiment or filling; cm is the cooking method and C represents the breaking strain in newtons of uncooked bacon.

For bacon lovers everywhere, the holy grail is:

N = C + {fb(cm) x fb(tc)} + fb(Ts) + fc x ta

Saturday, April 14, 2007

In a hierarchy of needs happiness is missing

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an intriguing construct. It attempts to capture the nature of human endeavor in the form of a ladder, arranged according to different types of pursuit, reflected by levels. The theory is that the drive for a higher tier of need only exists once the preceding level has been fulfilled. Thus it is only when the most basic survival needs of food, water and air are achieved that an individual is focused on safety needs.

There are two elements worthy of note:

!. It suggests that the drive for better and 'improving one's lot' is fundamental to human nature. This might suggest that our species is destined never to be happy, with an ever-higher level always calling and always our pursuit. OFT's dear friend Mihaly weighs in appropriately and dissents on the matter:

"This paradox if rising expectations suggests that improving the quality of life might be an insurmountable task. In fact, there is no insurmountable problem in our desire to escalate our goals as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way. The problem arises when people become so fixated of what they are trying to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens they forfeit their chance of contentment,"

2. Where does happiness fit into all this? Given how basic Maslow's ladder of needs appears to be to people's orientation and how they direct their energy, the lack of happiness explains a lot. After all, evidence suggests - as noted in this blog only yesterday - that rising material affluence does not increase happiness, and several poorer, developing countries report a higher average happiness despite lacking further progress up Maslow's hierarachy.

OFD would be intrigued indeed to hear people's thoughts on what form a hierarchy of happiness takes and how it aligns with Maslow's forerunner.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happiness Revisited

OFD’s original post (Ebay vs. Happiness) asserted that heavy promotion of material goods is questionable because it encourages people to look for a source of happiness in the wrong place: external acquisition of things vs. internal focus and control.

One contributor asserted that such a view is idealistic on the grounds that global market development has created a demand for labor (though in exploitable terms) that has enabled people in China and India to pull themselves out of poverty; one must be happier out of poverty than in it.

This exchange raises two needed points of clarification:
1. A developing country is a very different economic and market context from that under examination in the original post, which was a western world, affluent consumer culture setting for exploring the material good-happiness link

2. People’s relationship with material goods as a medium for happiness is likely to be strongly influenced by context. To the anonymous commentators point, a person previously in poverty is likely to be happier at new found ownership of a fridge, whereas most people in the western world have been used to having a fridge however modest their means. Even in regard to the same object, context plays a key role in significance.

Therefore, any serious examination of happiness must look at its occurrence across contexts of differing economic and market development.

The World Values Survey has done just that. A longitudinal study beginning as early as 1958 in some countries, it researches happiness along a number of dimensions in addition to other aspects of human experience.

The findings are telling indeed.

Which countries top the happiest nations league table?

It is not first-world candidates you might expect:
* Nigeria
* Mexico
* Venezuela
* El Salvador
* Puerto Rico

Source: New scientist courtesy of the BBC

According to an assessment of the study by the BBC:

“The researchers for World Values Survey described the desire for material goods as "a happiness suppressant".

They say happiness levels have remained virtually the same in industrialised countries since World War II, although incomes have risen considerably. The exception is Denmark, where people have become more satisfied with life over the last three decades.

Researchers believe the unchanging trend is linked to consumerism."

The relationship between wealth creation and happiness is directly explored by The Economist from earlier this year - Happiness (and how to measure it):

It concludes that capitalism can make a society richer and keep it free, but not necessarily contribute to its happiness. It notes that – not surprisingly) while rich people report being happier than poor people, affluent countries have not got happier as they have grow richer, there being no change in the former since WW II.

OFD’s take on this all:

*Context (economic, market and political) must be taken into account in an assessment of happiness
* People have mistaken prosperity with happiness
* Capitalism has a clearer role in advancing happiness in developing countries and those in poverty
* Rising affluence in developed countries does not itself create happiness
* Ebay does encourage us to buy shit that itself is unlikely to make us happy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Musical Chemist

I arrived with suitcase in tow, an hour before the rest of the assembly was due. Finding the warden and placing my luggage in safe holding, I returned to the door and looked out to the street. The wind buffeted the trees preventing snow from accumulating on their boughs. The tracks I hadn't realized I had left in approaching the building were disappearing fast. And so it seemed this was the perfect metaphor to mark the occasion. Our life is so short it leaves a negligible imprint during our time on earth, and it begins to erase as soon as we are gone.

I'm really not very good at funerals. Part of it is the weight that comes with such a somber occasion, as if the atmosphere inside the church comes from another planet with a much heavier gravitational force. Perhaps on that planet funerals are a more joyous, upbeat affair and they compare the floating sensation to that of being temporarily transported to a planet with a lighter gravity? Either that or soul crushing weight.

The other reason is the general awkwardness. The simple reason why I'm better at weddings is because I've had more practice. It's not as if experience with that kind of congregation is much value for coping with the one today, in fact it has already proved to be distinctly unhelpful. "Umm, I'm with the bride" I volunteered to the ushers intending to convey I was with the wife of the deceased.

The chapel was housed inside a rotunda within a larger rectangular building, with rings of chairs fanning out from the alter in all directions. Seated uncomfortably in the third row from the front my mind began to wander. Aloft above the center of the rotunda and obscuring what looked like a large skylight was the upside down spaceship from The Day The Earth Stood Still.

It seemed at first an unexpected setting, but then with the pattern of concentric circled seating all drawing towards the center it dawned on me: people are coming to church to seek passage to another world after all, so the visual motif makes perfect sense.

My mind needed something, a yo-yo, some juggling balls or a piece of string to keep it occupied and distracted. As I swiveled in my seat to watch the rest of the congregation it was as if the cast from a Pedro Almodovar movie about a circus was streaming in. Every single person had one body part unnervingly out of proportion from the rest. There was the human equivalent of a dachshund, a man with legs so short they were almost not visible beneath him; a woman whose head was half the size it should be for her neck, making her shoulders seem muscle bound in comparison; two brothers with noses so large that it shaped their walking gait, forcing them to lean forward to carry the cranial weight they bore, and an old lady whose arms were so impossibly long compared with her torso that her hands actually trailed on the ground as she walked.

This motley cast, unified in their diversity were coming together today to pay their respects to a lovely man. Chemist by training, Choir director and singer by passion. A man with a genuine affection for those he spent time with. Who tickled himself when recounting a story he found amusing, the skin crinkling around his eyes as they twinkled.

I'll miss you Larry.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The coach to London

Their encounter opened a door inside her as if he had pulled gently on a handle and walked in, creating in that instant an entire house of which the doorway was a part. She'd never thought of her love this way before, as a place, one with room for it's different forms and varied character.

From their first meeting she felt his presence, the way one does for someone who is the next room but quiet and out of sight. And it lingered too after he had left town and she remained at the table, his coffee unfinished, the cup still sitting in front of her where he had last touched it.

The discovery that day of her love as a place was at once strange and yet immensely familiar. The moment it was created transformed her understanding of herself. She was changed she knew, the sudden awareness could never be reversed and she could no longer remember what it felt like before it had happened. The knowledge felt as old as time, and it gave her a deep comfort in their long times apart, as
if she was a part of something far bigger than she was or could comprehend.

Now she was leaving him behind for the first time, and wondered if he would ache as much as she had each time upon their separation. The northern country sped by in the jerky rhythm of the horses' gallop. It made her queasy. She put her hand on the window ledge to steady herself, and tried to fix her eyes on a point further in the distance that would make her less susceptible to the oscillations of the countryside passing as a blur an arm's length away.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

An engulfing separation

My darling Charmaine,

It has been so long. Your countenance once vividly frozen in my mind has begun to fade so much I can barely remember it. It pains me terribly. The other day I was crossing the Avenue and passing me not 50 yards away was a two horse carriage heading in the direction of Youngstown and - I swear upon my life - I saw your resemblance in one of the passengers riding in the back. My heart leapt into my throat. It took all the self control I could muster to resist crying out impulsively, commanding the coachmaster to stop. I could not bear to bring shame upon my family that such an altercation would have caused, heaven knows they have been through enough already.

But my darling, it leaves me stricken with an unease which all the faculties in my possession are unable to dispel. I dearly want to believe that my mind is indeed playing a torturously cruel joke upon me. That my deep longing to reignite your memory and reverse the dissipating clarity of your likeness is creating illusions of a palpable nature. But a corner of my heart is unable to let go, challenged as I am by the evidence of my own eyes. It appears desperate I know to need reassurance of any kind and furthermore I should honor the reputation of your family in all matters of business or domestic servitude, and accept your departure this Friday past upon your word.

Perhaps it is because I was not there to see it myself that part of me cannot fully accept it. I hear that a lack of personal witness to a funeral accounts for why many find it difficult to accept the truth and irreversibility of an absence. Perhaps this conditions plagues me? How contemptible I feel about myself right now in doubting you! You said our love would be put to the test in these long months of separation that lie ahead, yet you have been absent barely a week and already I feel with a sickening certainty that I am no longer present in your thoughts. There is perhaps small consolation that I received word via messenger today, the 10th, that a personal communiqué had been received by the postmaster general in the town.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Chief Apology Officer

And so it comes to pass.

The issue OFD covered a dog's age ago in reporting terms - February 16th - resurfaced recently. In Jeff Bailey's New York Times piece Airlines learn to fly on a wing and an apology he writes: "Airlines are getting serious about saying they're sorry. After a spate of nightmarish service disruptions, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and others are sending out more apologies, hoping to head off customer complaints and quell talk of new consumer-protection regulations from Congress." He goes on to describe Southwest Airlines' senior manager of proactive customer communications as a sort of Chief Apology Officer.

This was just the medicine OFD dispensed a month earlier. It's certainly welcomed. It's fine time airlines woke up to the very human need people have for respectful relationships with the brands they buy. The fact that it makes sound business sense in an era of unprecedently poor standards in the airline industry explains the reason for its rapid development.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Happiness from flaming lips

"I believe this is something all of us can do: Try to be happy within the context of the life we are actually living. Happiness is not a situation to be longed for or a convergence of lucky happenstance. Through the power of our own minds, we can help ourselves. This I believe."

Check out this endearing account about Creating our own happiness and the possibility of it being within reach of ordinary people when one brings the right understanding and focus. It's courtesy of Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips and NPR's terrific I believe series

Friday, April 6, 2007

Happiness everwhere

A OFD colleague commented here in an ealier posting that raised awareness is often accompanied by a dramatic increase in the frequency of its obervation.

His last post on happeness has had a similarly infectious effect on me, one of which was while watching The Life of David Gage starring Kevin Spacey in which he delivers a stirring perspective that treads on the same turf as the last blog:

...about outer-directed fulfillment

"Fantasy has to be unrealistic because the second you get what you no longer seek you don't - you can't - want it anymore. In order to continue to exist, desire must have its objects perpetually absent, or out of reach. It's not the 'IT' you want, it's the fantasty of the 'IT'"

..about chasing wants and what happinesses truly lies

"Living by your wants will never make you happy. What it means to be fully human is to strive to live by ideas and ideals, not to measure your life by what you've attained in terms of desires but by those small moments of integrity, compassion, rationality, even self-sacrifice. The only way we can measure the signifiance of our own life is by valuing the lives of others"

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Life, liberty...but the other pursuit continues to elude us

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his highly engaging book Flow comes to a powerful conclusion. While it is a part of human nature to seek happiness, the reason why we are no closer to attaining it than Aristotle was in his day is that we are looking for it in the wrong place.

His basic thesis is that happiness is an inner-engineered not externally dependent experience. Success depends on the control of consciousness - not the variety of circumstances in the external, physical world.

It is precisely why people are able to reach the state of happiness despite being in situations in which outer conditions are - objectively speaking - difficult or threatening. He gives accounts from interviews with people from third world countries as well as incarcerated in concentration camps, in which remarkably some individuals described moments of serenity and deep inner calm, peace and more than well-being, profound happiness.

A casual stroll through that list of adjectives brings to OFD's mind one activity in particular: yoga. It is the act of yoking mind and body, but most importantly its intrinsic value is in bringing control and order to consciousness, to clear and focus the mind, the inner reality.

It leads us to a hypothesis which we shall venture out to explore. Whether people who participate in yoga regularly are any closer to happiness than other people.

That sound was the tent being unzipped. We're stepped forth into the wilderness, clip boards and interviewing questions at hand and ready to explore the realm of happiness amidst the populous.

We shall report back.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Men's Top 5 list - things they can't live without. Part II

Polled randomly from the Personal Pages of The Onion, here they are in descending order of category frequency (though not of individual elements within them):

* Possessions
spell checker
a good newsstand
a bottle of scotch
dark chocolate
my roadbike
my telemark skis
my passports
my skillet
more pancakes
food and wine
Swash 600
Black t-shirts (long sleeve), and black t-shirts (short
the obligatory I pod
a nice cup of coffee
My music collection
a toothbrush
the sound and the fury by faulkner
invisible monsters by palahniuk
anything by amy hempel
kafka's diaries
my Yankees cap
New York Times
Passports (US & Italy so far!)
Motorcycle (K1200S)
Sangiovese (the '99 Paleo is drinking quite well!)
Sig (226S)
a Loaf of Bread
A Flask of Wine
a Book of Verse
organic peanut butter
1961 Fender Telecaster Guitar
a filter to cope with the large volume of mail I get from this website!
iPod, Thai food
my bikes and clipless pedals
the iPod
a camera
A comfortable bed
REALLY cold water
A computer
My meditation cushion

* Relationships
family, friends
My pup (la bella Coco, the unlikely Pomeranian)
my cats
My Family My Friends
A girlfriend who is also a best friend, close friends
My friends and family

* Emotions and human characteristics
my goofy imagination

* Experiences and sensations
a feeling of achievement after a day's work
intelligent banter
A good laugh

fresh food markets
San Francisco
the Fillmore
Golden Gate Park
the ocean
a decent kitchen with a stocked larder
beneath the Bough

An Afternoon nap
playing with my 'monkey'

*Existence basics: none

Special mention to the individual whose collection of five things was positively hillarious:

"Pancakes, coffee, art, my skillet, more pancakes"

What's up with the art amidst the breakfast obsession??

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Shocking news just in! The male perspective is more shallow

OK, a fascinating experience for this male OFDer to create a female alias and identity and review male hetro profiles on-line for the top 5 things they can't live without.

Not surprisingly we find some similarities and differences from the female poll conducted recently as a man.

In descending order, the frequency of category themes was:

* Possessions

...a motorcycle

* Relationships; emotions and human characteristics - tied

...good friends

* Experiences and sensations

...a good laugh

* Places

...a kitchen

* Activities

...taking a nap

* Existence basics

Broadly speaking the overall order of claimed importance is the same across gender. Men however are far more likely to cite possessions as most important. They are also far less likely to be literal in their interpretation and mention existence basics: no one suggested air, water, heat, shelter or similar survival essentials.

Next, the specific examples of items men picked across respective categories....

Monday, April 2, 2007

Details of an indispensable life - women

So here are the specific details of the things women can't live without, in descending order of themed importance:

*a/c powered vibrator
*a camera
*a passport
*internet access
*baking Soda Toothpaste (with peroxide).
*beat up computer
*wahl Precision clippers
*my antique clawfoot bathtub
*morning coffee
*coffee and NPR in the morning
*my bookshelf full of my favorite books
*music from my iPod
*The technological package..mac, ipod, dig cam, cell,
*red Hermes address book
*laser printer with lots of paper in it
*my own money
*good clean coffee
*hot water bottle
*cowboy boots
*my macintosh
*paper towels
*other people's pens,
*stuff to read


*My friends and family (not items, but definitely indispensible)
*my dog
*my horse
*Family and trustworthy friends
*Casper the friendly doggy
*my wiener dog, Linus
*loved ones

*a sense of humor
*other people with a sense of humor
*sense of humor
*freedom to share my mind and speak my feelings

*the feel of your legs brushing against mine in impossibly
*fresh, ridiculously soft, cotton sheets.
*weekend trips

*a place to lie nude in the sun
*destinationless days off with the top down


As Monty Python would say: and there you have it. Next: a perspective on heterosexual men, the things they say they can't live without.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Comfort - Part Two

Once one starts rummaging around for things in the fridge one finds more than one expected. The same is true of heightened awareness of an issue, idea, pattern or a word: it starts cropping up with startling frequency.

So it was a discovery -- but not a surprise -- that the issue of 'comfort'(and discomfort), a topic OFD broached a couple of days ago here suddenly started appearing, one connected to a famous Danish filmmaker and the other to a University of Chicago Psychologist.

Escaping the clutches of comfort is what Susanne Bier seems intent on doing. "I have got this fear of becoming comfortable" she says, carefully pronouncing all four syllables and letting her face, her tone and her body language convey complete distaste.

It does not seem a purposeless focus or restlessness, rather she seems keenly aware that for her it represents losing a vital edge and clarity she brings to her works, among them Open hearts (2002) Brothers (2005) and After the Wedding (2007) the last having received an Oscar nomination.

The other context in which comfort came up is an academic study of the pursuit of happiness. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly in a great read Flow suggests the underlying function of a variety of pieces of cultural machinery - religion, philosophies, arts, rules of social classes, and comforts - help shield our minds from the tyranny of chaos and, as he puts it "help us believe that we are in control of what is happening and give reasons for being satisfied with out lot."

So there we have it. The pursuit of comfort is an illusion, a device to make us feel connected and secure in an uncertain world and fend of the ontological wolves of anxiety from the door.*

Post script
*This is a turn of phrase not an anthropomorphic reference.