The implication is that nonfiction is a higher calling, that fiction is a frivolous pastime while nonfiction is a serious education. This has been a push-pull throughout the history of the novel, especially since early novels tended towards salacious or scandalous, more Danielle Steel than Ian McEwan.
Poet Samuel Coleridge, (1712 to 1835) stated his case thus:
I will run the risk of asserting that where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind: it is such an utter loss to the reader, that it is not so much to be called pass-time as kill-time. It…provokes no improvement of the intellect, but fills the mind with a mawkish and morbid sensibility, which is directly hostile to the cultivation, invigoration, and enlargement of the nobler powers of the understanding.
My brain must be a mawkish mess because I love a good novel (currently reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, thumbs up). I love nonfiction too, but the escape and emotional charge novels provide have always been preferable to me (unless we’re talking narrative nonfiction, like Erik Larson’s engaging histories or a book I recently read in practically one gulp, The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home).
So I was gratified to read this New York Times story about the neuroscience of reading fiction.
Elisha Goldstein’s book, The Now Effect, has sent my brain spinning in yet another direction.
A professor stood before a philosophy class holding an empty jar. As the students took their seats, she began filling the jar with golf balls. When they reached the top, she asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then took a bag of pebbles and poured them into the jar, and they made their way between the spaces of the golf balls. Again she asked the students if the jar was full, and they agreed that it was.
But the professor had another trick up her sleeve. She brought out a bag of sand and proceeded to pour the grains into the jar, filling up more of the remaining space. Again the question came: “It’s full now, correct?” The answer was a resounding “Yes.”
The professor then took a sip of her coffee and dumped the rest into the jar, filling up spaces that no one thought was there.
The thought: how does our brain process negative space?
After you’ve rolled around together a few thousand times, sex can become rote, which is, to use the technical term, a bummer. People in long-term relationships do all kinds of things to try to keep the passion alive—dressing in costumes, role playing, bringing gizmos and gadgets into the bedroom.
Or they could try just talking, suggests a study titled “Day-to-Day Changes in Intimacy Predict Heightened Relationship Passion, Sexual Occurrence, and Sexual Satisfaction.”
Not any old talking, but the kind of talk that advances intimacy. That is, self-disclosure; telling your partner stuff he or she didn’t know about you. Of course, this only works when your partner responds with warmth and sympathy. And vice versa.
The researchers theorize that one reason passion is so high in budding relationships is because couples are learning about each other, and each sympathetically received self-disclosure causes passion to flare. Over time, however, the revelations slow, the new information dries up, intimacy reaches a plateau, and sex hits the doldrums.
I popped off at Laptop Dad, like he popped off at his daughter, like his daughter popped off at him. Interesting, huh? See how that works? Chain of fools.
I regret the tone but stand behind the content of my last post. So here’s a voice of reason to say it all better. Today’s guest post is by my friend Dr. Lara Mayeux, a developmental psychologist who studies kids’ peer relations at the University of Oklahoma, and mother of two young daughters (read about her wishes for them here).
If you want to read original research into parenting styles and child outcomes, Lara suggests looking for Nina Mounts (parenting and peer relationships); Joan Grusec (parenting and social and emotional development); Robert Larzelere (discipline and research methodology); Laurence Steinberg (adolescent development). Diana Baumrind is one of the pioneers in the study of parenting styles; a lot of subsequent research has been based on her work.
By Lara Mayeux
I have to get this off my chest: I’m really, really tired of seeing parents celebrated for their bad parenting choices.
Parenting is hard. I get that — I have two kids under the age of five. And none of us is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect each other to be. But there’s a big difference between allowing parents some room to screw up, and actually cheering them on when they’ve made a mistake. And I’m telling you, this laptop-shooting dad—he made a mistake.
(If you haven’t seen it yet, click here.)
The girl’s post complained about how her parents made her work soo hard and how she hated having to do chores and how instead of making her get a job, her parents should pay her for everything she does around the house and blah blah blah, etc. etc. etc. basic teenager bitching and moaning.
Well, this made daddy soo angry that he posted a video online of himself sitting in a field, cigarette smoldering in one hand, his voice trembling with rage, telling his daughter everything that was wrong with the post, and how disrespectful she is, how hard he worked as a kid, and how he warned her about posting stupid stuff of Facebook. Then, to punish her, he pulls out a gun and shoots several rounds into her laptop.
I hate this video. I hate this man. I hate his indignant self-righteousness and thin skin.
I know teenagers can be aggravating, but they’re teenagers. They do stupid shit. They bitch and moan. They rail against authority. They get pissed at their parents. That’s all part of being a teenager. Parents’ job is to not to show them who’s boss or keep them in line, but to help them become grow up and become independent without hurting themselves or anyone else. In the scale of bad adolescent behavior, complaining about your parents ranks pretty low.
I picked up The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way To Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, Enhance Self-Esteem, by psychologist Guy Winch, in hopes of learning something about the chronic complainers in my life.
But the book taught me as much about myself as others.
Despite the many years that have passed since, I still wince remembering my last months on a job that had gone bad. I became the person whose friends ducked for cover when they saw me coming because they knew to expect a litany of complaints about my miserable life.
And a few years ago, when I was again floundering professionally, I realized with horror that friends had started looking at me with pity. It was an awful epiphany. As Winch points out. “By succumbing to the special attention pity offers us, the convenience of lowered expectations, and other secondary gains associated with being objects of others’ sorrow, we become victims in our own eyes as well as those of others.”
I am going to imprint those important words on my brain. I don’t want friends pitying or dodging me.
And while I’ve been feeling bad about wanting to avoid the chronic complainers in my life, this book helped me understand the risks of complaining for the sake of complaining.
There was one bright spot amid all the hand-wringing over Facebook and its supposedly negative effects on relationships. Psychologists thought that Facebook allows people with low self-esteem, who typically are wary of the kind of self-disclosure that fosters intimacy, feel safe enough to express themselves, thereby expanding their social networks. People with low self-esteem thought the same thing. Here, they thought, I can open up, show myself, make new friends.
This is a family with plenty of dough. The boy is well-educated and has been well cared for, despite some dysfunctional family fun, which few of us escape in this world. My friend complains that he’s lazy and over-entitled. He hasn’t been knocking himself out to find a job, and he’s drinking too much.
What’s a mother to do? she asked me, wondering if research might hold some answers.
Is tough love the answer? Is this a predictable developmental stage? Were we all like that at 22? When did we finally grow up?
I’ve been hearing lots about boomerang kids, who are of an age to be independent but can’t seem to get out there and do it. Of course, the lousy economy and unemployment rate don’t help and can’t be downplayed. But is there something more?
Don’t you wish I were about to give you the answers? I’m not and can’t. But here’s some food for thought.
(What’s Festivus? Watch the video here.)
Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to having anything in common with Frank Costanza. And I’d rather skip the Feats of Strength part of the holiday. And I haven’t put up a Festivus pole this year.
But the Airing of the Grievances? I’m all over it.
I’m not good at being a little ray of sunshine. I’m a pessimist and enjoy what I call recreational bitching and moaning. And I have found some good that can come of negative conversation—I wrote about it here.
So to air a grievance, I have to admit that I do get a little weary of people whose Facebook updates are relentlessly upbeat. And this is especially true during holidays.
My favorite is useful gifts. Socks, for example. A nice sweatshirt—nicer than I might buy myself. Something related to one of my hobbies. Food gifts are nice. They always fit and don’t take up space.
My least favorite is gift cards, which stress me out a little because then I have to decide what gift to buy myself. That’s a lot of pressure. And I’m at an age when tsotskes are a headache. I have a house full of stuff already. These are gifts I also rarely give.
Research has found that experiences make people happier than possessions. I like those, too. I don’t remember what gift my husband gave me on my last birthday, but I do remember the fun we had a baseball game that day. A festive dinner with friends is a gift in itself.
Gifts are interesting, when you really stop to think about them.
Dr. Dan Ariely, a Duke University researcher and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions has a nifty story in the Wall Street Journal about gift-giving.
Rational economists, he points out, think gifts are just like burning money.