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(Done with Mirrors)

(Statistical blah blah blah)

Other Blogs I Read
Regularly Often

Athletics Nation

Andrew Sullivan
(Daily Dish)

Kevin Drum
(Political Animal)

(Obsidian Wings)

 Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Blogs I Love

Last week I discovered Penelope Trunk's blog. I am smitten. I am utterly fascinated by her compulsive openness as a diarist.

Now, she will be the first to acknowledge that a blogger is not truly transparent since she controls the story and decides what to tell and what not to tell. And there is plenty of evidence to suggest she wouldn't hesitate to reinvent herself. Even so, her blog does not read like someone trying to assert control of her identity by saying, "this is who I am". Rather, it reads like someone on a long voyage of self-discovery, lovingly detailing all her fascinating discoveries like young Darwin on the Beagle. I love that.

In retrospect it seems surprising I never discovered her before. She has a knack for finding notoriety on an almost monthly basis (most recently, here), and her blog is apparently a large and prominent one. But then, if I look at a list of other large and prominent blogs, I find that most of them I've never even heard of. Apparently, vast as it seems to me, the Internet I inhabit is just a small corner of the universe.

It wasn't until later that I realized this actually isn't my first encounter with her. Back in July, links from some other conversation led me to this post, a dramatic one even for her. But I had read it in only in isolation and didn't explore her any further. Last week I read dozens upon dozens of posts — which Penelope, ever the self-promoter, makes very easy with tons of links — before I stumbled upon that one and realized it was the same person.

The post explains quite a bit, but I'm glad I didn't make the connection until later, because I think it would have distracted me in a way that would have kept me from appreciating her. I have also since discovered that the people who hate her (and there are many) really really hate her. And they write about it with such conviction that it makes me question myself and wonder if I should hate her too. So I do question myself, and the conclusion I reach is that no, I still like her.


Aside from her disarming openness, Penelope Trunk shows personality of a type familiar to me: the strong and independendent, slightly crazy diva, who is always on the go, afraid of nothing, and invariably the center of attention. I have a history of being attracted to women of this type. If I knew Ms Trunk personally, I would probably be in love with her. That's not a good thing. I have gradually come to discover that women of this type — as much as I adore them, and even, I would venture to say, understand them better than most men do — simply aren't compatible with me. Actually I question whether they're compatible with anyone (and I doubt Ms Trunk would disagree).

(Note: This is not a veiled reference to my wife. I hate to have to even say it, but I know if I don't some readers will be tempted to misread between the lines. My wife resembles some of those things and is very different from some others, but in any case she isn't what I'm talking about.)

An example of a personality type that I don't fall for but probably would be very compatible with is my other favorite blogger, Megan McArdle. She writes about herself far less often, so I can't be sure of this, but my sense of her is that while she is very adventurous intellectually, in real life she is a geeky and girly, cozy homebody.

What I love about Megan McArdle is how she thinks. She manages to have that impossible combination where she has earthy common sense that refuses to take conventional wisdom for granted, but at the same time prodigiously knowledgeable about her topics and ready to go digging and find out about anything she doesn't know. I love that. Too many bloggers are intelligent or clever or brilliant. McArdle is just smart. Smart like dirt.

Perhaps there's some narcissism here, because in some ways she thinks like I do. Her initial instincts are to take a libertarian view of everything. But that's just a framework, and when she fills in the details it's always more complicated than the libertarian model. She writes often enough on political matters, but I'm not sure how one categorizes her politically. I've seen her called "conservative", but she doesn't seem especially conservative to me. I think she just gets thrown into the "conservative intellectual" rubric only because the mainstream Republican Party has become so backward and stupid that anyone with an interesting thought who isn't clearly inside the Obamanian big tent must necessarily be counted as "conservative".

Hers would probably be my favorite blog by now if it weren't for the fact that I'm so utterly uninterested in her main topics of discussion. (Financial markets and health care reform. Ugh.) But I love reading her anyway, because I love how she looks at things. And fortunately she occasionally writes about something else.


I'm not really keen on Penelope Trunk's main topic of discussion either. In fact, I hate it. In theory, she writes career advice, and I basically hate anything careerist. But her "about this blog" page acknowledges two topics:

This blog is about career advice. And about me.

She may as well add that her third pet topic is the search for personal happiness. Of those three topics, I like two.

I confess that Penelope has re-inspired me as a blogger, but only by her example, not by her advice. She has several posts filled with pointers about how to have a successful blog, and I hate them all. They're all about career goals, networking, staying focused on your core topic, attracting links, and building up traffic. Blech, blech, blech, blech and blech. But her example ... it's wonderful.

On the happiness topic, she loves to quote Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, which I recently picked up from the library but haven't started yet. Apparently somewhere in there Gilbert claims that $40,000 a year is the amount of money it takes to make a person happy, and anything beyond that does not meaningfully correlate with personal happiness.

This rings true to me, because I had unconsciously intuited the same number. Presumably the careerists Ms Trunk is advising are approaching this figure from above, assuming that more money will make them happy and being told that this smaller amount is all it takes. As a lifelong under-achiever I've always approached it from the bottom. There have been a few times in my life when I've had a career, and looking back at them, I notice that my annual income always plateaued right around $40,000. As soon as I reach that amount, that's when I start looking to reduce my hours, take unpaid leave, or quit altogether. It's as if I instinctively know that I've got all the money I need and would rather start to reclaim my time for other projects rather than make any unnecessary excess.

Since this post is turning into an all-Penelope love poem anyway, I may as well quote a few of my favorite passages from her, just because I want to. (Unlike me, she loves to be quoted and linked.)

PMS is just your body telling your brain that you need to start crying about the stuff that you’ve been ignoring all month. [full post]


If you’re wondering how bad your commute is, try asking the people you come home to at night. If your roommate says you’re a monster until you’ve had two beers, you know you’re in trouble. If your roommate is a cat, you might not get such helpful feedback, but you can take a look at averages. [full post]


Here’s another idea, David. How about approaching all those guys with Blackberries at soccer games? Let me ask you something. Do those guys check their email when they’re getting a blow job? Of course not. Do you know why? Because it’s INTERESTING. They are checking their blackberries during soccer because soccer is boring. [full post]


You think the eccentrics are trying to be eccentric, but they are not. It's not fun to be eccentric if you really are. It's only fun to be eccentric if you aren't. [full post]

And one from Megan McArdle for good measure:

You do not have better willpower than they do. You do not "care about myself" more. You are not more "serious about a healthy lifestyle" because you took off the eight pounds you gained at Christmas. You are no more qualified to lecture the obese on how to lose weight than I am qualified to lecture my short friends on how to become tall. You just have a different environmental and genetic legacy than they do. You're not superior. You're just somewhat thinner. [full post]

Hmm. McArdle's writing does lend itself as well to excerpting. That's probably another one of Trunk's "how to be a successful blogger" strategies.

10:43:58 PM  [permalink]  comment []