Whistling While I Work

This morning, this post by Carol Saller really caught my eye. Or did it catch my ear? (Just kidding, but seriously folks, I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waiters.) I was particularly surprised by the fact that there aren’t many recent or thorough investigations of the effect music has on productivity.

I always listen to music when I’m working, or really, when I’m doing anything. I guess that has always made it seem so natural to me: I listen to music when I’m doing almost everything else in my life, so why wouldn’t I listen to it while I work? (Right now, it’s Counting Crows – Underwater Sunshine). I never connected these two ideas before, but I taught myself to play bass and guitar by ear, which Saller loosely connects to being a “by ear” person, so maybe that plays a part in this.

When I’m doing deep thinking, reading, outline or the beginning stages of writing, I have trouble listening to music that I know the words to. When I know the words, I find myself think-singing along with the song, and distract myself from the words I’m trying to read/write (but I don’t really buy the idea of the writing being “music” on the page, but maybe I’m just not a very good writer). A real game-changer in that department was when I figured out you could put movie scores into Pandora—listening to the Lord of the Rings score while reading makes it feel like you’re on an epic journey to finish. I’m always looking for more instrumental music for this purpose, so if you have any suggestions let me know (please, someone educate me on jazz).

Once I’m in a writing groove though, I can listen to stuff I know a little bit better. For some reason, one I still can’t figure out, I write best when I’m listening to rap music. I listen to rap regularly, so it’s not out of the ordinary, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why I write so much better when listening to it. My guess is that it has something to do with the rhythm of the words or something.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the way I listen to music when working before that article, so I thought I’d share where I fall in that debate. I couldn’t get anything done without a good pair of headphones, and a good set of speakers.

Brian Balogh, A Government Out of Sight

Brian Balogh’s 2009 book A Government Out of Sight: The Mystery of National Authority in Nineteenth-Century America reflects the political climate in which it was written.  Balogh explicitly seeks to discern the historical antecedents over debates about the role of government in the lives of citizens.  Balogh notes that in current debates, there is broad agreement between conservatives and liberals that the national government played an extremely limited role during the nineteenth century, taking a laissez-faire approach to governance.  Balogh seeks to overturn this historiographical and popular myth by demonstrating that in fact, there was no such distinction between public and private action during most of the nineteenth century, and that, while government intervention often remained hidden or disguised as “natural” processes, the national government played a central role in addressing problems of national importance, especially those relating to economic development or expansion.

Balogh argues that nineteenth-century Americans often turned to the national government for solutions, and that the government frequently provided assistance that seemed “natural,” and hidden by facilitating the involvement of state and local governments or voluntary and private groups.  There was no sharp distinction between public and private functions during most of the nineteenth century, Balogh contends, pointing to the way the federal government “created a nourished a corporate-driven market, stimulated expansion by subsidizing exploration and removing Indians, and influenced trade patterns through communication and transportation policies” (4).  Through his synthesis of the mountain of other works on nineteenth-century America, Balogh convincingly argues against the notion that the national government only took on an expanded role in the lives of Americans in the twentieth century, and as such argues that the idea of a laissez-faire nineteenth-century government being heralded or feared in current political debates are off the mark.