Posts filed under ‘Work’

Mad Geniuses

For good or usually for ill, I’ve ended up working for more than my fair share of mad geniuses.

There was the obsessive-compulsive biotech entrepreneur who made a million dollars in the stock market and then decided to start a company based not on a passion or even an interest but on his research into market opportunities. There was the concert pianist who sent me out on errands with his driver and let his four Burmese cats lounge around on my desk in fur-crusted baskets while I was trying to work. There was the Internet entrepreneur whose guiding principle for dealing with his employees was “input not consensus,” meaning that he’d be happy to listen to our ideas, but he’d always end up doing exactly what he intended to do all along.

Heck, I’ve even ended up studying with a few like the wild, virtuoso violinist who was my primary instructor at music school. Early in his career, some of his role models told him he’d never learn to play, so he became a musician to spite them. For some reason this must have convinced him that students learn best through goading and humiliation. But, boy could he play. And tell amusing stories.

That’s the thing about mad geniuses, they’re a bitch to work for or with, but they have this exuberance that makes them a whole lot of fun to hang out with. I’d always thought it would be a blast to have a drink with Luca Turin, the scientist who writes deliciously evocative perfume reviews and developed a new theory about how the sense of smell works. When I read about how he used to run into his co-workers’ labs, shove noxious vials of (sometimes toxic) chemicals under their noses and ask them to describe the smell, I thought that maybe Turin might not be so much fun to work with.

This “nice place to visit, wouldn’t want to work there” approach has served me pretty well for the past few years, but then I read this interview with philosopher Slavoj Zizek in The Guardian. I’ve never read anything he’s written, but I know there are people who think he’s a genius. Here’s a taste of Zizek from the interview:

What does love feel like?

Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.

Have you ever said ‘I love you’ and not meant it?

All the time. When I really love someone, I can only show it by making aggressive and bad-taste remarks.

Yoiks! I can’t imagine he’d be all that fun to spend time with unless I was in a particularly misanthropic, self-loathing sort of mood. 

[Hat-tip to Light Reading]

13 August 2008 at 20:35 1 comment

Door #10: Gone Dinin’

Yes, dear readers, I’ve taken the night off.

The fellowship program I work for at Fancypants University (F.U.) is having its annual holiday dinner. The food and drink are lavish and delicious: salmon mousse, lobster, two different champagnes, port, cheese, chocolate.

Two years ago, I learned that I prefer 1994 Dom Perignon to 1995. Who knows what lessons this year will bring?

10 December 2007 at 1:09 Leave a comment

Finding My Tribe

Tonight I went to the weekly dinner sponsored by the post-doc fellowship program where I work. These are swanky affairs with sherry and mingling followed by a four-course meal in the program’s private wood-paneled dining room. As a part-time administrator I don’t usually go to these; but one of the fellows, M, an anthropologist had invited some colleagues, one of whom is a friend of a friend of a friend of mine, so I decided I’d attend this week.

When I got there, I introduced myself as one of the program administrators, and M added “And she’s an anthropologist.” I almost contradicted her, but then decided, anthropology is as much a way of being and thinking as it is an occupation, so why can’t I be an anthropologist — even if I’m not yet officially accepted into the program where I’ve been taking courses.

As the evening progressed and I chatted with them, it dawned on me that I really don’t need to be so intimidated. Not only did I understand what they were talking about, I even had things to contribute. The more I hang out with other anthropologists, the more I realize how much I enjoy the field. It all seems new and fascinating and exciting, and even more that that, it feels like I belong.

It’s almost the same feeling I had when I first found out that there were other people (here in the U.S. even) who were as obsessed with Swedish folk music as I was. When I described that feeling for an acquaintance of mine, he smiled and said “You’ve found your tribe!”

12 November 2007 at 23:19 Leave a comment

You Might Be an Ethnomusicologist…

…if you notice a guy on the subway platform rocking back and forth from foot to foot and tooting into a recorder and you actually stop to wonder what unknown (to you anyway) folk tradition his music comes from.

Eventually you realize that it comes from an unknown crazy tradition.

3 October 2007 at 17:20 Leave a comment


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