In this week’s Wednesday 5, we report on how Caracas’s poor have turned a luxury building into their home; learn more about Elizabeth Gilbert than the mainstream headlines have shared; take note of some clever zingers for when our adult children (accidentally) insult us; take more notes after reading The Gender Issue from The Chronicle of Higher Education; and applaud mother and academic Melva Sampson for her raw and candid telling of the challenges of being a good scholar and a good mother.


Housing  Poor Families

Here in New York, most of us were able to brace for Hurricane Sandy indoors. Yet our thoughts were with the hundreds of men and women in our city who are homeless, and who, because of a chronically challenged shelter system, were seeking other ways of shelter. In major global cities such as New York City, the growing rates of people who are homeless and/or living in substandard housing reveal a troubling contradiction to so-called progress and modernity. We are intrigued by a recent Fast Company article, “Will Cities of the Future Be Filled with Vertical Slums?” which reported that after a 45-story luxury building in Caracas, Venezuela, was abandoned by developers, 750 families moved in.

The world’s resourceful poor have for years manufactured makeshift communities on the edges of mega-cities. But this was a notably different model, a one-time high-end high-rise turning the sprawling shantytown on its ear. After all, why should such a formidable structure, designed by Venezuelan architect Enrique Gómez, sit vacant? If a luxury hotel won’t move in, why can’t the poor?

Read more about this design revolution and the call for architects and developers to start thinking critically about how to improve the lives of the world’s poor.


Elizabeth Gilbert on Life before Eat, Pray, Love

If you’re a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, Rachel Khong’s interview at The Rumpus offers up some new and intriguing nuggets about the writer who has made a career of redefining life after 40. In the interview, Gilbert is candid and open about the woman she was in her thirties—the woman whose stories have become a lifeline for many women. Believe it or not, Gilbert—of publishing and then Hollywood fame for Eat, Pray, Love—is embarrassed by a few of her short stories and credits her days as a bartender as a time of great inspiration for her work. We often think of success as this meteoric rise, but Gilbert, in this extensive interview, shares with us that her road to success has been fraught with flaws, scandals, and really bad decisions:

When I look back on those years, what feels miraculous to me is not that I was able to do any writing working as a bartender and a waitress—it’s that I was able to do any writing while I was making the stupidest fucking personal decisions anybody has ever made.

As you know, it does get better for Gilbert. Click here for the full interview.


TED Talks | Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius


Adult Kids Say the Darnedest Things

Linda Bernstein is back at it with her list of faux pas. We featured her article “Six Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child” in our Wednesday 5 a few weeks ago. In this iteration she flips the script and lists the “10 Outrageous Things Adult Kids Should Never Say to Us—but Do Anyway.”  Among our funny favorites are “Can I have that when you die?” and “Are you guys spending all your money, or are you planning on leaving me any?” The best part: Bernstein offers up some zingers for parents to make their own clever, yet, sensitive, comebacks.


Women of Academe

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Gender Issue is out. It looks beyond the data and explores the stories of women in the academy—where they are thriving and where they remain largely absent. Of note is Katherine Mangan’s article “In the Humanities, Men Dominate the Fields of Philosophy and History,” in which she argues that the “under-representation of women in science and mathematics is well documented, but it may come as a surprise to many people that men also far outnumber women in certain humanities disciplines.” And equally compelling is “Lady Academe and Labor-Market Segmentation,” where Marc Bousquet says that “The narrative of women’s success via higher education rests on a house of cards. Sure, there are more women in business administration, but they are far more common in the dead-end administrative and supervisory ranks of lower management.” A lot to consider in this Gender Issue.

The ‘Performance of Mothering’

And speaking of women in the academy, we are moved by Melva Sampson’s poignant and reflective story in The Feminist Wire where she, a mother of two girls, questions the cost of the rigors of an academic career on her daughters. The title speaks for itself: “I’m Exhausted but I Do Want to Be Well: Raising Womanish Girls, the Performance of Mothering and Wading in Murky Waters.” Sampson, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Religion at Emory University, tells us that she landed in the hospital for five days after driving herself too hard.

I have had to question does [my work] mean more to me than the well-being of my girls?  Does the isolating nature and competitive ethos of the academy arrest particular sensibilities that might impede healthy mothering? What will our daughters glean from our posturing and performance in the academy? My daughters cried when they had to leave me in the emergency room.  I cried too. 

While we are still debating whether the 21st century woman can have it all, Sampson’s story adds a new perspective to the debate: Is having it all truly worth it?

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  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson January 25, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Elizabeth Gilbert’s video posted on 5 was excellent!She is right. There are times that the words come through me, not from me, and that I hear a voice or message to drop everything and pen a rhyme. Thanx for reinforcing I am not crazy!!!