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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Working alone

Emily Bronte, that author of Wuthering Heights and many poems, was the paradigmatic introvert as artist. She refused to accompany her sisters to London when Charlotte decided that they had to show themselves to prove that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were three different writers. Emily never wanted to leave home and had absolutely no craving for society or its adulation. Yet, she had a clear sense of herself as artist, composing without an audience.

 In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking  Susan Cain  suggests that solitude is necessary for great achievement.  She quotes the following from  Steve Wozniak's memoir iWoz (pp. 73-74):

Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me – they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.

There is a rather Romantic (with the capital R) association with the artist as solitary figure. William Wordsworth certainly cultivated that image with poems that refer to his solitary walks, "I wandered lonely as a cloud," and the like. 

In fact, he was often walking with his sister Dorothy or his friend and fellow-poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but he liked to project the image of the solitary artist alone in nature with his imagination capturing its sublime aspects. He also often reviewed the experience of his wandering by reading the account carefully transcribed in his sister's journal and projecting his solitary poetic presence into that to come up with poems that focus on his singular reaction to what he sees and experiences. So not exactly working on his own.

 The Bronte sisters actually began their expeditions into the world of imagination together with a famous account of naming their brother's toy soldiers and then using those names for the characters who peopled the literary landscape of some heady works.  True, they then went off in their own direction, though they did form their own kind of writing community.  In fact, no literate writer really works completely alone because s/he has the knowledge of the works of poetry and prose that came before. It may not be a conscious collaboration, certainly not the product of deliberate teamwork, but still the product of more than a single mind isolated from others.  

Related post:

The Great Introvert

This past summer, I reread The Great Gatsby. What I recalled from my first reading of this great American novel was that many of its strands are already in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. We have the outcast anti-hero who is desperately in love with a woman who marries another man. Her choice gets her the security of wealth and social position. In the mean time, her first love goes off and amasses a fortune in a some mysterious fashion and takes up residence near her home. Edgar treats Catherine with a lot more respect than Tom treats Daisy, and Heathcliff is a lot less sympathetic as a character than Gatsby.

I can't say, I had a great revelation at the time that I reread Gatsby, though I did mark the way Gatsby has to erase his past, which includes Mr. Gatz, his father, who shows up at the end of the book (rather like Josiah Bounderby's mother who reveals that his own life story is largely is his own creation in Hard Times).

 Now I have a somewhat different perspective on it, after having read Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.  Jay Gatsby who worked his way up assiduously through careful planning and delaying self-gratification exemplifies the profile of an introvert. He remains invisible at the huge parties he hosts, only relates to one person at a time, attempts to create a new persona for himself, and never quite feels at ease in the social circles he attempts to penetrate.  Tom exemplifies the extrovert, supremely confident and outgoing -- so much so that he shows off his mistress to his wife's cousin. In contrast, Gatsby has remained constant to his love for Daisy even years after her marriage to Tom.

The fact that Gatsby still feels connected to Daisy is not a reflection of their deep, spiritual connection, as is the case of Catherine and Heathcliff, but of the introvert's tendencies to form deeper attachments to fewer people. He has latched on to Daisy and then latches on to Nick, the only character in the book who has the ability to appreciate Gatsby for all he is and tries to be. In Wuthering Heights, Catherine's daughter is the one who has that ability and who can assure a brighter future for the next generation, which redeems the sins of the previous one.Thus Bronte's vision proves more optimistic --despite the haunting gloom it is associated with -- than Fitgerald's vision.

Related post:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Prices rise, but not evenly.

I've notice the rise in prices of groceries and gas in the last several years. But I'm not old enough to know exactly how they compare to decades ago. I got curious about it after seeing a supermarket scene in a movie from the very early 60s. Eggs were advertised at 49 cents. Granted that's cheaper than what they sell for today, but not so much cheaper as one may expect. Eggs are generally priced anywhere between $1.50 and $1.99 a dozen, and I even managed to pick up some on sale for 99 cents this past year -- something that was far more common a few years ago.

It seemed to me, that given the rate of inflation, 49 cents would have been not so cheap back then. I looked up some price on Perhaps the 49 cents was some kind of special because, according to that, the price in the 60s would have been 57 cents, higher than the cost of a gallon of milk, which it puts at 49 cents. Currently, in my area, milk gallon prices range from $3.49-$4.99, with an average of about $4, depending on the store, the brand, and whatever other factors come into play.  That would mean that while milk prices have risen about 10x, the cost of eggs have only risen 3 to 4 times their cost then. Oh, and the cost of gallon of gas was 31 cents, so that has actually gone up more than 10x. Interesting, though, that the postage stamp then was only 4 cents, which would have made it cheaper than a local call in a payphone. A new home is said to cost $16,500.

If you jump ahead a decade to, you find  moderate increases in prices. The stamp now costs 6 cents, still less than call.  The gallon of gas is 36 cents. The dozen eggs are up to 62 cents. But the gallon of milk has more than doubled in price to $1.15.  The median household income is given as $8,734 (no comparable figure appeared for 1960). A house would have proved to be a good investment (as you can't hold milk for 10 years) because the new home price is $26,600.

By the time you get to 1980, home prices would have tripled over the decade to$76,499, though the median income would have only about doubled to $17,710. Other prices are as follows:

Cost of a first-class stamp: $0.15 
Cost of a gallon of regular gas: $1.25 
Cost of a dozen eggs: $0.91 
Cost of a gallon of Milk: $2.16 

The cost of a home would have doubled again by 1990 to  149,800. Other indexes include:

Median Household Income: $29,943.00 
Cost of a first-class stamp: $0.25 
Cost of a gallon of regular gas: $1.16 
Cost of a dozen eggs: $1.00 
Cost of a gallon of Milk: $2.78 

For the rate of inflation applied to British products and prices, see Eggs are a lot more expensive over the Atlantic than they are over here.
How prices have changed in 49 years