Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Mind, intractable thing

The Mind, intractable thing

even with its own axe to grind, sometimes

helps others. Why can't it help me?

-Marianne Moore

That I suffer from periodic bouts of insomnia is well known to family & friends. It’s the result of bad sleeping habits, an irregular schedule, stress and an overactive mind that takes a while to shut down all its spinning wheels.

Over the years, I’ve developed some effective tactics against insomnia that don’t involve sedatives. Having a firm, comfortable mattress in a cool, dark bedroom. No caffeine after 4 p.m. Nothing to eat after 8 p.m. No excitable television (e.g. news, action movies, horror movies, etc.) before bed. No running mentally through the next day’s events, “to do” lists or preparation steps. A little quiet time before bed. Creative visualization when the mind is running wild.

Sometimes I use melatonin, which helps shorten the time it takes to fall asleep and deepen the sleep I get (no matter how small) but which gives me odd dreams.

But at some point of tossing and turning, I give up, get up and stop fighting war against IT. I resort to reading from few books that reliably relax me. Not that they are boring, soporific books, it’s just that, for what ever quality they possess, they drain away the insomnia.

The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton. I have a small Modern Library edition from the 1940s I keep near the bed. The descriptive prose and the involved plot, made familiar by repeated viewings of the Scorese film and rereads of the book itself, are so comfortingly evocative of 1880s New York society that it’s like falling into a John Singer Sargent painting.

I also love slipping into any of the many collections I have of Guy de Maupassant’s Short Stories, the master of the short story set during the Franco-Prussian War. Although some of his stories have a twist or a barb at the end, it’s his unrushed telling of them that I like.

Collected Short Stories of Eudora Welty. I usually go for the less showy authors after midnight, like Welty or any other of the New Yorker short story school, like William Maxwell, John Cheever, etc.

Any work by Australian writer, Peter Carey. Carey, who won the Booker Prize for Oscar & Lucinda, writes with this intelligent, precise prose that it’s easy to get lost in for a few hours.

Sometimes I’ll pick up one of my favorite children’s novels, like The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, or The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, or Padraic Colum’s telling of the Norse myths, Nordic Gods and Heroes, complete with art nouveau illustrations.

Then there is the anthology The Literary Insomniac, edited by Elyse Cheney and Wendy Hubbert which is chock-a-block with tales of sleeplessness by famous writers. My favorite entry is "Waking Up" by E. Annie Proulx, who, when she gets up in the middle of the night, does literary research, reads her weeks old recently delivered New York Times or clog dances (she lives alone).

If I’m desperate, there’s the various technical reading I have. The manuals for my Mac, for Office 2008, for my camera, for my phone. Some pedestrian nonfiction on a subject I like. Grammarians. Trivia and fact books. Books to learn a foreign language.

And if those fail, I get up at 2:35 a.m. and write.

Monday, September 28, 2009


My reading has been directionless and serendipitous lately. One of the movie channels ran a series of films based on great books and so after my stint with the Spanish Flu, William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows, (which was slightly disappointing compared to his great short story collections and the magnificent So Long, See You Tomorrow), and Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, I let this cable station steer my literary rudder.

Triggered by the films I’ve seen, I read or reread E.M. Forster’s Howards End and A Room With a View, then Peter Carey’s wonderful Oscar and Lucinda. Merchant and Ivory managed to perfectly capture Forster’s spare prose and deceptively simple plots but Gillian Armstrong could not visually paint the magical language of the Booker Prize winning Oscar and Lucinda, despite starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett as the leads.

Into the Wild on HBO shamed me into finally reading a book I’ve been hand selling for years to parents of “boys who don’t like to read but like outdoors stuff”. Kind of funny, considering how I devoured Jon Krakauer’s other book about the fatal to climb Mount Everest, Into Thin Air, in my drafty third floor apartment in New Haven under a quilt during a bitter cold snap. Better there, than on Everest.

I had an advanced reader’s copy of Into the Wild, a prepublication edition sent by the publishers to reviewers and booksellers, which means I’ve been putting off reading it for 13 years. It was well worth it. Sean Penn’s adaptation really just focuses on Christopher McCandless’s journey across America and makes it look epic, but the book has a much larger scope and, of course, more material about the people McCandless met in his journey. It’s short, just under 180 pages - very non-threatening to some kid who thinks reading is agony - but it’s also very well written.

Then I stumbled across some very schlocky film adaptations of some H.P. Lovecraft stories, which drove me to reread from my collections of his schlocky works. Lovecraft is one of those writers whose ideas sound great on paper and are very influential in horror fiction, but whose images just look silly on film . Neil Gaiman said something once about how Lovecraft’s great monster, "the green, sticky spawn of the stars", part dragon, part octopus, part demon, Cthulhu looks absolutely ridiculous when depicted on screen. They sometimes look silly on paper too.

After this reading sherbet, time for a bigger project.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

With the first hint of the cooler fall weather...

I think of this poem:

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon—
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

Emily Dickinson

Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Day 2009, by the numbers...

September 7, 2009 | An EPI Fact Sheet

compiled by Anna Turner

Note that all numbers are current as of September 4, 2009.

Print-friendly PDF format


• New jobs needed per month to keep up with population growth: 127,000
• Jobs lost in August 2009: 216,000
• Jobs needed to regain pre-recession unemployment levels: 9.4 million
• Manufacturing jobs lost since the start of the recession: 2.0 million (14.6% of sector’s jobs)
• Construction jobs lost in the recession: 1.4 million (19%, nearly one in five construction jobs)
• Mass layoffs (50 or more people by a single employer) in July 2009: 2,157; jobs lost: 206,791


• Number unemployed: 14.9 million (up from 7.5 million in December 2007)
• Underemployment rate: 16.8%; Share of workers un- or underemployed: roughly 1 in 6
• Under- and unemployed, marginally attached and involuntary part-time workers: 26.4 million
• Unemployment rate, ages 16 to 24: 18.2%
• Male unemployment: 10.9%; female unemployment: 8.2%
• White unemployment: 8.9%; black unemployment: 15.1%; Hispanic unemployment: 13%
• Unemployment rate, young college graduates: 5.9% (2nd worst on record); Worst recorded unemployment rate for young college graduates: 6.2% (1983)
• Traditional ratio of young college grads’ unemployment to overall rate:
50%; Current ratio: 70%
• Portion of unemployed who have been jobless more than six months: one third
• Average weekly unemployment benefit in July (including additional $25 per week from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act): $332


• Highest unemployment rate: Michigan, 15.0%; lowest: North Dakota, 4.2%
• When California’s Hispanic unemployment surpassed black unemployment:
2nd quarter, 2009
• Projected African American unemployment for Michigan, 2nd quarter of 2010: 24.9%


• Decrease in all prime-aged worker’s real median weekly wages, 2000-2007: $1; Decrease for African Americans: $3
• Annual growth rate of private-sector workers’ wages, last three months: 2.6%
• Annual growth of wages in managerial, professional, and related occupations, 2009, 2nd quarter: 0%
• Annual growth rate of real (inflation-adjusted), average, hourly wages since June 2000: 0.70%*
• Ratio of average CEO’s pay to typical worker’s pay in 1979: 27 to 1; Ratio in 2007: 275 to 1


• Share of minimum wage workers with high school diploma in 1979: 57.5%: Share in 2008: 72%
• Workers getting a raise from latest minimum wage increase:
4.5 million
• Share of affected workers with annual family income below $35,000: 57.1%; Share working at least 20 hours a week: 81.6%
• Extent to which the minimum wage’s real value is lower than in 1968: 17%


• Drop in children covered through parents’ employers, 2000 to 2007: 3.4 million
• Share of people under 65, with incomes in the top 20%, covered by employers in 2007: 86.4%; Share with incomes in the bottom 20%, covered by employers: 21.9%
• Share of Hispanic workers who are uninsured: 39.8%
• Percentage of under-65 Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance in 2000: 68.3%; In 2007: 62.9%
• Average monthly cost of COBRA with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsidy: $370; Without American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsidy: $1,057
• Rise in out-of-pocket spending for the 1% of adults with the greatest medical expenses, 2004-2007: 42%
• Increase in health care premiums since 1999: 119%
• Amount by which U.S. private health insurance administrative costs exceeded all Canadian national health spending in 2007: $25 billion**
• Share of total U.S. health care costs paid by private insurers in 2007: 35%
• Share of total health care costs paid by U.S. government in 2007: 46%


• Percentage of amount needed to maintain living standards that is held by average 401(k) participant approaching retirement: 20-40%
• Share of 401(k) assets estimated to be lost since 2007: 29%


• Share of employers that interrogate workers in mandatory one-on-one meetings, 1999-2003: 63%; Share of employers that threaten workers in such meetings, 1999-2003: 54%
• Increase in likelihood that firm will fail if unionized:
• U.S. manufacturing workers ranking on “value-added per employee,” compared to 16 nations with higher compensation: 2


• Likely size of this contraction without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: 3-4%
• Jobs lost with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2nd quarter, 2009:
1.3 million
• Jobs that would have been lost without the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 2nd quarter, 2009: 1.8 million at least***

* EPI analysis of CPS and BLS data
**EPI analysis of HHS CMS, OECD, and World Bank data
***Mark Zandi, Moody’s