Rebecca Goldstein has done it all, or so it seems. She has earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, won a MacArthur ‘Genius Grant,’ (among dozens of other awards), published several award-winning novels, and teaches college. Between all of this, she also is a mom to her two daughters. (I personally don’t know how she finds the time to do all of this.)
In particular, Goldstein has been recognized for bringing philosophy into the conversation, specifically Spinoza and Gödel. But she’s not just known for academic writing, however. Her bestselling fiction, such as her acclaimed book “The Mind-Body Problem,” is also what contributed to her receiving a MacArthur award. Clearly, she’s well-rounded.
As someone who keeps myself too busy, I always wonder how other women manage to balance careers, passions, projects, relationships, and motherhood. Rebecca spoke to us about prioritizing (because we can’t really “do it all”), what Jewish holiday she would be, and her weirdest family tradition:
1. You’re essentially the definition of a “renaissance woman,” as you basically do everything—you teach, write an array of material, won prestigious awards and grants, and are also a mother. What’s one way you’ve balanced it all?
I don’t think it’s possible to balance it all. What you have to do is prioritize: decide which among your many obligations and desires are the most important and what sacrifices you’re willing to make to other goals. This was particularly relevant to me when I had young kids. I’d think a lot about what I’d most regret in the future, having published one fewer academic paper or having let my kids grow up feeling that they’re not my number one priority. As you might guess, I published very few academic papers. And now it’s the future and I was right.
2. What are you working on right now?
I have a new book that I’m gestating, but since I’m teaching an entirely new course at NYU this semester, and still keeping up my hectic outside lecturing schedule, I don’t have any time to write. In my list of priorities, my obligations to my students is near the top. The book will eventually get written.
3. Biggest pet peeve:
Smugness in all its forms.
4. If you were a Jewish holiday, which one would you be?
I suppose Purim, because it’s so different from all the others, with its carnival atmosphere and shedding of all that solemn dignity that usually accompanies religion. And I like the novelistic story behind it, and that its happy ending comes about through the actions of people rather than some supernatural intervention.
5. Childhood goal:
To become as educated as possible. I wanted to know everything. I still do.
6. What’s your weirdest family tradition?
I don’t know that it was weird, or even that it was a tradition, but my daughters and I would spend Friday nights telling each other stories. Each girl—I have two—and I had our own serial story that we would take up each week, the same protagonist facing a new adventure. My youngest daughter, Danielle, who’s now a poet, indulged her own distaste for smugness by creating a self-righteous little fish who went about the ocean chastising everybody for not being sufficiently good; he always got his comeuppance. My older daughter, Yael, who’s now a novelist, had a romantically deluded heroine who always learned a lesson, which she’d promptly forget the next week.
7. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
I read the New York Times.
8. What’s the last thing you do at night?
That depends on the night.
9. What was your favorite children’s book or young adult novel growing up?
I had so many. Probably Alcott’s “Little Women” and Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” affected me the most deeply. I also loved a book on mathematics called “One, Two, Three Infinity“ by Gamow. That book blew my mind.
10. What personal object could you not live without? (Besides your phone!)