Schooled by Monopoly

A couple of weeks ago, my eight-year-old son played his first game of Monopoly.* He played with me, his dad, and one of his aunties, Amelia.

When results were tallied at the end of the game, Amelia and I were shocked to discover Li’l D had won. We each remembered him buying one or two properties, in contrast to the 10-12 his dad confirmed he’d actually bought.

Thanks to having read portions of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, I quickly grasped what had happened. Continue reading “Schooled by Monopoly”


Building Pyramids

A couple of weeks ago, my eight-year-old and I visited family in Portland, Oregon. One of my few specific hopes for the weekend was that we’d make it to Powell’s bookstore. This we did–and then some!

In addition to visiting the main “city of books,” I was able to make a side trip. Early on, Rache (the sister I was visiting) and I separated from my brother, my brother-in-law, and the kiddos to put ourselves in queue for Slappy Cakes.* We were told to expect a table in 75 to 90 minutes. To me, that seemed an absurdly long time to wait, but (1) it was Rache’s birthday and (2) she needed her some Slappy Cakes!

Thank goodness for her insistence, and the length of our wait!

We ended up passing time by strolling through an Oregon drizzle. Our stroll took us by Powell’s on Hawthorne, which looked small from the outside but seemed to stretch a mile back. Continue reading “Building Pyramids”

Being Human

Many times over the last year or so, I’ve wondered: What one thing do I wish everyone knew? What one thing, if known, could make a better world possible?

I’ve come up with a hundred answers. Each time, I can find more counterarguments than arguments to support a given answer, so I discard it.

Finally, last week, I landed on a one-thing with few worthy counterarguments.

Over the last couple of weeks, my third-grade son has repeatedly reflected right-answer thinking. This is a kind of thinking that perceives the world in dualities instead of dimensions–yes/no, black/white, Democrat/Republican, right/wrong–and which struggles to account for systems, complexity, and the interdependencies that grow in complex systems.

So I’ve faced a question: In a social world constructed to cultivate such thinking, how does one teach other ways? How does one reveal its shortcomings in ways that can work for a third grader, especially when that third grader is stuck in a system that rewards right answers over piercing questions? Continue reading “Being Human”



A few weeks ago, a friend and I sat on my couch and had a long, meandering chat about nothing and everything.

Somehow, our conversation turned to a point where I explained how loneliness is at the core of much suffering in the United States. Ours is a society that has elevated consumption over connection, competition over collaboration. We buy what we can buy and beat whom we can beat, only to discover there’s an ache inside that neither trophies nor toys can touch.

After I’d finished trying to explain this, my friend said I might enjoy Russell Brand’s Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions. She said that he and I shared similar perspectives, and that she found solace in his words. Continue reading “Recovery”


All that exists within

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at my three-year-old and thought, “If he’s made up of trillions of cells that aren’t ‘his,’ what does it mean to love ‘him’?”

As I almost always do when facing a question I can’t fathom answering, I sat down to read. I quickly found Michael Pollan’s “Some of My Best Friends are Germs” in New York Times Magazine. It began, “I can tell you the exact date that I began to think of myself in the first-person plural — as a superorganism, that is, rather than a plain old individual human being.”*

I didn’t finish the article; I’m more of a book-reader. Beside that, I’d found enough to hold me over: Pollan had shown me that others outside “me” were doing the work of updating their mental models of the world … and themselves. Continue reading “All that exists within”


Talking Books

Yesterday, my family and I went to a book-themed birthday party. On the ride there, my husband, Anthony, asked our eight-year-old, Li’l D, about his favorite book character.

Li’l D first named Clay, a dragon from the Wings of Fire series. We spent a few minutes talking about Clay before moving on to favorite human characters.

At first, Li’l D couldn’t think of any human characters. Anthony and I offered up four names for D’s consideration: Greg, Rafe, Miles, and Niles. Rafe (Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life) got the gold medal for being so funny; Miles (The Terrible Two) got silver, because he’s so good at improvising pranks.

After a good ten or fifteen minutes talking about Li’l D’s favorites, I asked if he had any questions for us. He said, naw, I don’t want to hear about scary books! I pointed out that I read a lot of not-horror books; my favorite author, Neil Postman, wrote cultural critiques.

I could practically hear Li’l D roll his eyes as he said, “Postman, Postman, Postman.”

(See, even he knew it’s not all horror for me—though, to be fair, some of Postman’s critiques exposed horrifying possibilities!)

After a pause, Li’l D asked us about the scariest books we’ve ever read. Anthony and I agreed on The House of Leaves. We spent another ten minutes or so trying to explain its creepiness, with Li’l D completely unpersuaded. He couldn’t believe I’d slept with lights on and all inside doors open for weeks after I’d read it alone in rural Japan. Anthony, for his part, couldn’t believe I’d dared read it in such circumstances.

The conversation tapered off after about thirty minutes, but the minutes it lasted were delightful! For all we all love reading, yesterday highlighted how little we talk together about what we’re reading.

Now, we’re going to consciously set aside time for such talks. I’m already looking forward to our next one.


As flawed as who writes it

Yesterday, I wrote “The beauty of King’s divine dissatisfaction about reading more of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words. This morning, as I continued reading The Radical King, I encountered a man I’d not yet met in any of my prior readings: Norman Thomas.

This June 1965 King article excerpt on white socialist Thomas began thusly:

Truly, the life of Norman Thomas has been one of deep commitment to the betterment of all humanity. In 1928, the year before I was born, he waged the first of six campaigns as the Socialist Party’s candidate for President of the United States. A decade earlier, as a preacher, he fought gallantly, if unsuccessfully, against American involvement in World War 1. Both then and now he has raised aloft the banner of civil liberties, civil rights, labor’s right to organize, and has played a significant role in so many diverse areas of activity that newspapers all over the land have termed him “America’s conscience.”

(In 1963, King’s father described Thomas as “for us before any other white folks were.”)

As I read through the essay, it seemed more and more remarkable Thomas wasn’t included in any history I remember reading. I closed the book and reflected on that for a moment, and upon “history.” Continue reading “As flawed as who writes it”