Saturday, February 21, 2009


Yesterday, I went to see my massage therapist, who I have known for 10 years.

She said, "So, mumble mumble getting married!"

I said, "How did you know?! Has my mother been talking?"

She said, "Wait, I'm getting married!"

"Oh! So am I!"

Yes, folks. It's true. Jacob and I have made the decision to get married sometime in the fall.

I enjoy being in his presence and I have very tender feelings for him that make me want to sacrifice my own comfort to make him happy, which is what I consider to be love. To quote Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, "My neural pathways have become accustomed to [his] sensory input patterns."

However, this is not what make me want to marry him. I have felt those emotions with other men. They are necessary to the process of marriage, but they are not quite enough.

I want to marry Jacob because he wants the same things out of life that I do. He wants to make the world a better place through intentional community and by being a good person. He wants a family full of laughter and simple living. He wants a life that honors God.

More importantly, I want to marry Jacob because I know from experience that he is willing to do the hard work of compromise that is required for a long-term relationship to work. He has demonstrated with his behavior and said with his voice that I am more important to him than just about everything else. Because of this, I can trust that any hurt he may cause me will not be through selfishness but will be unintentional.

There is a great freedom for me in that. Because he is deliberate about treating me well, I am free from the fear that I am not worth being treated well. I can become everything I want to become and do all the things I want to do in that safe circle created by our partnership. It is the closest thing that I will find to the unconditional love from God that gets reflected through my parents and my brothers to me.

And I intend to take advantage of it.

Jacob believes that I am capable of reciprocating this attitude. For that, I love him and will do my best to live up to his expectations.

If I do, I will come much closer to being the good person that God wants me to be.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


When I was 14 or 15, I got to be a tool of God.

I'm sure it has happened more often than that, but, in a very powerful way, I feel like on that day, my personality, energy, ego, and intelligence all got pushed aside as God used me.

One of my friends was somewhat painfully shy in high school. He generally stood with one set of toes resting on top of the other and his shoulders kind of slumped forward. I don't know if he talked less to strangers than other people but his energy sure gave off the feeling that he did. Some of my best moments in high school were had in his company. The time we sat in the computer lab with Doug writing a Naturalistic short story about lemmings come to mind. We made sound effects to help us get into the spirit of it. I also remember writing a poem with the two of them that responded to The Passionate Shepherd to his Lover. I believe one of the lines went, "Intelligence? You have none. / There is no burger twixt your bun." English class aside, late evenings on church retreats were spent pouring our hearts out to each other.

On a Sunday morning that was designated as "Youth Sunday," my friend was giving a testimonial about what God had done in his life. That in itself I find kind of amazing since he was thoughtful and intelligent and funny and cynical. Kids like that tend to scorn organized religion in adolescence. But he had a deep spirituality and wanted to share it with the entire congregation of probably 300 people. I was sitting probably 3 rows back because I assume I was doing something with the music. He was up so high in the pulpit the pastor normally stands in. As he was talking, he got a little choked up or couldn't remember what came next or something. He just stopped talking and the silence went on and on.

This is the moment that God used me since I have no memory of thinking at all before I acted. I just stood up, walked up to the pulpit and held his hand. He began to speak again and finished his testimony.

If I had thought about it, I would have been mortified to break the set expectations of who participates when during a church service. I would have worried what people would have thought of me. I would have worried that I would make my friend even more embarrassed that he had to be helped.

Instead, I stood up and went to him, which was exactly the right thing. I am still powerfully grateful to have been able to play a role in that communication between God and my friend. He quailed and God comforted. I was just a middle man. It's one of the great honors of my life.

Yesterday, I stood up and spoke in a church in front of about 80 people: all pastors and lay-leaders of Presbyterian churches. I talked about my experience in finding my church and what it means to me. I talked about how hard it was to say that a church that gave me so much no longer met my needs, especially when so many of them led churches that were very similar to the one I grew up in. I talked about what a blessing Wicker Park Grace has been to me, giving me community and supporting me as I move closer and closer to God.

After the presentation, a couple of people came up to me because they had been at my church when I was a child and they remembered me. I didn't know either of them. However, as one man was clarifying who parents were, he also asked, "Were you the young lady who stood up with your friend when he stuttered so much he couldn't keep talking?"

Tears came to me immediately both at the memory of the experience and to think that I was remembered by a total stranger in that moment of pure grace.

For all of the bitchy things I've done. For all of the insecure, mean things I've done. For all of the mistakes I've made.

This man remembered me in my purest form.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A Jumblety Quilt

Quilts are interesting things.

Different people quilt for different reasons. At the local quilt store, I overheard one of the owners describe her customers: "Many of them have engineering backgrounds."

These women tear through patterns like they were puzzles. The backsides of the quilt are neat and tidy pieces of art in themselves.

Historically, women (and Jacob's grandfather) have quilted to conserve fabric, to promote community, and to pass the time. Over the years, patterns have gotten complicated and techniques have become standard.

I incorporate neither of those last two elements in my quilts.

I like fabric. Fabric designs have become works of art in and of themselves these days. It kills me to cut it up into little pieces because then the grandeur of the illustration itself is lost.

Also, I like color. I like finding sets of things that coordinate. However, rarely do the matching colors also have patterns that complement each other. Another strike against lots of little pieces.

Geometry used to compensate for a limited palate. But I have discovered that I like quilts with great big piece of cloth.

Additionally, I'm a little lazy. Who has the patience for precise cuts and measurements?

So, let me show you my process that is guaranteed to horrify every "real" quilter out there.

First, all my designing is done like this.
Measurement is rough and the pieces of cloth are big. This occasionally causes cursing because some little bit of subtraction got done wrong in my head. However, since there is no picture of what it needs to look like, I can usually improvise a fix that looks like it was intention.
Generally, I just cut a little snippet at one end of the fabric and tear to make a straight line. Occasionally, this leaves the edges a little ragged but the benefits of avoiding crooked, jagged edges (I cannot get the hang of rotary cutters) outweighs this cost.

Again, measurement is often relative. How long is this piece? Hold it up against the other piece and cut. Sometimes, I even cut in my lap when I can't clear the table. This can also result in cursing but I can't seem to learn my lesson.When I lived in Washington, Rachel, one of my favorite women there, told me that she sometimes uses old wool blankets as batting. Following her lead, I collected wool suiting from the 60s or 70s that came into the resale store where we worked.I loved this project particularly because every piece of fabric came out of my stash. I needed a blanket to put in between other blanket layers so that only my side was warmer. EAch of the big pieces were purchased either because I could not live without it or because I thought I would use it for a different project. As I was sorting through my collection, they found each other in a great harmony of color. I love that the patterns are so different but they all use the same palette. I was also able to use some of the fabric that I used to back my brother's wedding quilt. I bought it before I knew the final dimensions and just bought the bolt because it was on sale. It is a design of marigolds, which is the traditional flower for Indian weddings.

I did the most basic of machine quilting to keep all the layers together. I don't put much stock into straight lines. Finally, rather than binding the quilt, I just folded over the edges and stitched them down. There were a lot of uneven bits and I just ran right over them with the machine, stretching and pleating to make it all work.
It turned out pretty well, don't you think?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Costly signaling

For the past two weeks, we have been studying wage disparities that seem to be caused by race. With quantitative analysis tools, we can only prove that certain variable are not the cause of the disparity. Since racism is almost impossible to measure, deeming racism to be the cause of lower wages for black people must be done by proxy. If we cannot interpret wage regressions that show black people make less money when all other measurable factors are held constant as being the result of racism, it is alarming to have to conclude that black people are just less productive than other people. Therefore, researchers try to focus in on other unmeasurables that employers might be showing preference for to make them measurable. Because of this type of research, it is plausible to theorize that certain traits that are highly correlated with being black, such as speech patterns, are part of the problem.

There is research that posits that the difference in intonation between black speech patterns and white patterns is “one of the most important features for the communication of attitude in all social situations.” It goes on to explain that black speech patterns have a wider range of intonation than white speech patterns, which can lead to misinterpretation as white listeners must simplify what they are listening to in order to process it. Human nature tends to trust how something is said much more than the literal meanings of the words spoken. In a world where managers and employers are still more likely to be white, this poses a problem from black people and their wages. Professor Grogger’s recent work on black speech patterns and the racial wage gap is descriptive work that identifies that speech patterns are correlated with levels of schooling, test scores and wage disparities without identifying causality.

The speech patterns of President Obama elicit much attention. Although he occasionally draws on the historical rhetorical devices of black preaching, his accent is generally described as “normal,” which can be translated as “not black.” Early in the campaign, Joe Biden referred to then-Senator Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Many people believed that the combination of adjectives were implying that Obama had a chance at the presidency since he was the first black candidate whose mannerisms were white, unlike Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun or Al Sharpton.

With President Obama’s person being front and center in the world’s consciousness, it’s appropriate to examine the relationship between black speech patterns and success. I believe that some black people must choose to speak without a black accent as a form of costly signaling to overcome the discrimination they face as black people.

In pure economic models, the package that a worker’s skills come in shouldn’t matter. Only productivity should matter. However, the data does not support this. When regressions on wages are run that control for variables like income and education, black people still earn less than their white counterparts, either because of race or because of some other unmeasurable skill. Professor Grogger’s work indicates that one of those skills might be speech patterns since people who speak in an identifiably black way earn up to 10% less than someone who is in all other ways similar.

There are two ways to look at speech patterns in this context. The first is that it is a skill that affects productivity. In certain industries this seems plausible. Telemarketing and customer service seem likely candidates. There is a bias in this country that associates both black accents and southern accents with less intelligence and ability. In industries where voices are the only interaction consumers have with firms, the consumers’ prejudice affects actual productivity of a worker, unlike most industries where the employers’ prejudice affects the perceived costs of the work.

The second way to look at speech patterns is to see them as signals to a principal by an agent that balances the asymmetrical information problem faced by employers attempting to determine good type candidates from bad type candidates. Marianne Bertrand did work along similar lines, showing that identifiably black names negatively affect chances at getting jobs. Steve Levitt explained that this is probably because identifiably black names are statistically more likely to belong to people who were born to single mothers in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. It is not out of the realm of possibility to imagine that the same is true for black accents.

Employers who use statistical discrimination this way may not be prejudiced. Instead, they might simply be trying to increase their changes of getting an employee whose productivity is worth the wage that is being paid. Although the employer might be right on average, individual workers may be disadvantaged.

Costly signaling is a decision made by an agent to acquire credentials in order to indicate to a principal that she has other unmeasurable qualities. Although the cost is occasionally financial, it is more often opportunity cost. Agents pursue credentials at the cost of sacrificing time and energy spent on other endeavors. In the case of black speech patterns, if an employer suspected that a candidate went to bad schools or did not have the emotional stability to do the job well, lack of a black accent might communicate that a candidate had spent his time studying and assimilating, rather than taking advantage of social promotion or doing drugs.

Normatively, there might be a problem with scenario. By asking job candidates to “become white” even in scenarios when speaking black does not affect productivity, employers are affecting identity rather than simply providing wages. Economics shows us that if this model is true, adverse selection will take over and white speech patterns will ultimately become perfectly correlated with good type job candidates and people who speak in black speech patterns will be entirely unable to get a decent job. Economics has no problem with this equilibrium. However, many people, both black and white, would mourn the loss of intelligent, insightful, educated black people who create art and life through black speech patterns.

President Obama is intriguing in that in many ways, like the feminists argue, “the medium is the message.” He presents to the world an image of a black man with a Muslim name who speaks like a University of Chicago professor. He is the quintessential good type employee but he is an exception to most of the race data we have studied. The only exception is the way he speaks. President Obama chose to maintain the speech patterns of his white mother and grandmother when entering politics and this was positively correlated with getting elected. This definitely conforms to the data available.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Magician's Book



Yes, you!

I'm talking to you, my Diana, my kindred spirit.

I'm grumpy -really grumpy- so to spare Jacob the sharp edge of my tongue, I'm taking some time to read my new book so that I have one thing to focus on, which will let the rest of my mind and soul and body relax.

It's called The Magician's Book and it's by Laura Miller. I've only gotten through the introduction but she is writing about her relationship with C.S. Lewis's Narnia books as a non-Christian.

She interviewed her second-grade teacher, who first gave her the book.

"You were a child who needed to read C.S. Lewis," she said firmly when, not long ago, I asked her why.

"How did you know? How can you tell something like that?"

"I can't explain. It's just one of those things that happens."

Even today, this intuition strikes me as slightly supernatural, in the same way that Narnia seemed to emerge, by some miracle, out of my own unspoken self. "When you brought the book back," Wilanne remembered as we sat in her cozy apartment, surrounded by books, knitting, and cats, "You told me, and this I have always remembered, that you didn't know that there were other people who had the kind of imagination that you did."

Wilanne and I were not, I think, unhappy children. I grew up in a comfortable American home, in a big, intact family, with a lawyer father and a homemaker mom, and she still remembers feeling fortunate that her father had a steady job when so many others didn't. But we were neither of us, I suspect, entirely satisfied with that.

"You were automatically one of my kids," Wilanne said when I asked her what she remembered about first meeting me forty years ago. By this, she means one of those children "interested in the imagination and in the relationship between the real and the unreal. They are entirely capable of telling the difference between truth and falsehood, but they prefer falsehood occasionally." Nothing exciting had ever happened to me, was how I saw it, and I was convinced that nothing exciting ever could, as long as I was stuck in a world of station wagons and jump rope, backyard swim classes and spelling tests. Then Mrs. Belden handed me a book.

Could there be a truer description of both our childhood and the reason why we became teachers?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Alternative Gift Registry

For the first time, one of the families at church is pregnant. I'm pretty excited about what this means for our community. They're a very cool couple. They live in a community house with 7 other people. They all bought it together. They ride their bikes all over. The wife and I serve on the Leadership Co-op together and I am fascinated by how different our personalities are. I like them, but am not on the same personality wavelength so forming a relationship with them is definitely taking practice. It doesn't feel natural but I think that repetition of interaction will change that.

Which is why I was so pleased when she came over to me while I was washing dishes after dinner at church to tell me she was pregnant. How nice to be included amongst the folks who get told deliberately.

I recently dug up a scrap of newspaper for her that I had torn out about

Over the last several years, I've attended several showers at which not one of the presents was unexpected. All came from a list that the recipient had made at a particular store. In fact, I did this myself when I got married. But recently, this practice has started to disappoint me.

I've gotten to the point where acquiring the "perfect" thing has lost its appeal when perfect means "exactly what I decided ahead of time I wanted." I want good quality things and whimsical things and useful things but my happiness in a thing is no longer based on whether or not it is what I expected.

It's probably a reflection of my belief that if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.

I've lived that life of specific expectations.

Its only equilibrium is disappointment or dissatisfaction.

Also, I'm trying to consume brand-new things less and would often prefer used items out of the back of people's closets or from craigslist.

I want people to choose things for me that they know work well or that they believe I will like.

Being surrounded by manifestations of people's time and love and thought has become more important to me than getting what I think right now I will like forever.

Of my wedding presents, the only things I still have and cherish are my silverware (totally practical), a bowl a friend chose for me and measuring spoons another friend chose for me. Everything else was deemed unnecessary when I made the big purge before I moved to Washington.

Of course, this is all hypothetical. But I sat at a baby shower once and constructed a plan to make a generic list (changing table, diaper bag, etc) when I got pregnant someday and to have a friend manage it so that people could have the convenience of knowing what I wanted and knowing that they wouldn't be giving duplicates but that they would have the freedom to use their own expertise, closets, and style to help contribute to my family's well-being.

So, all of my daydreaming was fulfilled in Alternative Gift Registry. It does all of that AND let's you link to specific items or artists, as well as allowing you to link to charitable sites.

Happy baby, Emily. I hope you'll be the first of a new movement in gift-giving.

Monday, February 02, 2009

WPA art redux

ReadyMade Magazine has a neat article online about the New Deal and how the art from that era is relevant to our current financial crisis. 5 artists re-envisioned some of the slogans to create new posters. All of them are downloadable for free. Check it out here. I particularly liked this one by Christopher Silas Neal.