The practice of meetings

I recall a clip of Allen Iversen, former all star guard of the Philadelphia 76ers saying, “We talkin’ about practice.”

This was at a press conference where Iversen seemed irritated (at least to me) that he was having to spend time answering questions about what he was or wasn’t doing during practice. They weren’t talking about games or opponents but what was rumored to have happened at practice. Namely what had occurred between Iversen and his coach. He had plenty of reasons to be weary of how the press portrayed him, since they had portrayed him as a ruffian from the time he was 18 years old.

I remember Allen Iversen’s irritation years later because it reminds me of feelings that so many people have towards a constant irritation in their own lives. It is not basketball practice that they are obligated to attend, forced to go through, and then go back to over and over again. It is not anything sports-related, but it is the job-related meetings that people are required to attend, to go through, and go back to over and over again, even when they don’t go well.

Like a bad practice, a bad meeting feels terrible. The difference is that most of us, unlike professional sports athletes, don’t get skewered by the corporate media afterwards. There may be gossip about what does or doesn’t happen in a meeting, but rarely is it in front of video cameras and reporters.

In the last month, I have heard instances of two friends who were feeling a lot like Allen Iversen. They were stewing after long, onerous, and horrendous days. Their work days did not consist of hours of practice, but hours of meetings. Meetings that people loath. All-day meetings that feel useless or, even worse, are counter-productive. Meetings that take people away from what they feel a need or obligation to do, and have to sit through something else. To be in a physical space, or on a phone call that obstructs and distracts.

I find this practice/meeting metaphor more poignant having just read about how people steal your most valuable asset, your time. Time which unlike money cannot be compensated, reimbursed or retroactive. When I heard Iversen’s quote, it sounded like he was doubly frustrated. Frustrated at a practice that seemed like a waste, and then having to spend time listening to people ask him questions about an incident that they were not a part of, and that he did not want to revisit.

A question that we ask in our house is: How does this serve you?

How do meetings serve you? More importantly, which meetings don’t serve you? And, what is causing us to continue to subject ourselves to terrible meetings. It has been 13 years since a book with the title, We Have to Stop Meeting Like This written by Tony Jeary and George Low, came out. I haven’t read it, but whatever meeting status quo the authors hoped to address and disrupt seems to carry on.

Rather than get wiser in how we do meetings, we have gotten stuck. It seems to me that all meetings consist of some fundamental elements:

<ul><li>two or more people</li>
<li>one or multiple topics to address</li>
<li>how the people in the meeting communicate with one another</li></ul>

In my math mind, this feels like an equation:

X = P + T + C

Where X is a meeting, and the three variables are People, Topics, and Communication. Depending on the set-up, and the power dynamics, a different meeting could mathematically be written as:

X = (4P x 3T)/C

Where four people are present and they have three topics on the agenda.  Like in any good equation, any of these variables (P, T or C) can greatly affect the outcome of meeting X. But, oftentimes, it seems to me that communication, C, is the variable that most affects both the people in a meeting and how they talk to/address/shout at/disagree/pummel/reprimand/present to/inform the other people/person in a meeting.

As social beings, how we communicate with one another tremendously impacts how well or how poorly we get along. As is the case in any team sports, chemistry has as much to do with performance as talent. As a child, and as a younger brother, who often played sports and pick up games, I learned how a team with more synergy and less talent could often win over a team with more talent and less synergy.

Our working environments and campaigns need meetings with better synergy and more attention given to the chemistry and dynamics between People. The old and entrenched habits around meetings need to be broken. We’ve got to figure out how to drop these bad habits, as they are lethal to our health.

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The Internet, an adventure of books

Over the last 18 years, the Internet has been a boon for my reading. I still choose paperback and hardbacks, and I increasingly choose books from the public library rather than abebooks.com. I have made buying a book from an independent bookstore a simple act of selecting a sweet gift for a friend. (And, no, I don’t buy books from amazon.com as it cannibalizes the industries of writing.)

This morning, I had a fascinating 25 minutes as I sought the name of a young adult science fiction book that I read a couple of years ago. I could remember the name of one of the supporting characters, Dikeagou, because his name is a familiar and repeated name in our home. But, the book’s title escaped me. And so teh internet searches began (mind you through duckduckgo.com where they don’t track and store your searches like they do over at “do no evil” google).

It took multiple searches, and a few marvelous stops along the way that are sure to stoke my reading this winter are:

Oh, and the book I was looking for is listed on that third blog, 8 YA Books. It is The Shadow Speaker written by Nnedi Okorafor-mbachu, who lives and teaches in Chicago. Published in 2010.

Calling for Attention

The large hand-written signs used to say I AM A MAN.

Now they say DON’T SHOOT.

If this is the message, it suggests that our humanity (our manhood, our womanhood) as Black people is no longer in doubt, but the sanctity of our lives as Black people is what is at play. The question, then, is what will it take for the state to respect the lives of Black people, and therefore all people.

There’s a reason that Lani Guiner and Gerald Torres called us the canaries in their book, The Miner’s Canary. [for more on the book visit: http://www.minerscanary.org/about.shtml]

from Ferguson, Missouri — August 2014

Instructions in Writing, week 2

What I heard and remembered to take notes on in Week Two of Fast Flash Fiction at the Santa Fe Community College were. Much of last night’s class was about editing one another’s work and what else to remember as I re-read and revise my own stories. Number 3-6 are cited from a handout given (citation needed):

  1. Anticipation | Hold someone on the edge of their seat until they are almost impatient.
  2. Beautiful moments | “I take out beautiful moments in each piece.”
  3. Personify objects/emotions | in ways that the reader won’t expect.
  4. Unfamiliar similes | will jump out at readers in positive ways.
  5. Conflicting images | take what readers expect in a character and turn it upside down by choosing conflicting images.
  6. Metaphors | are often what can propel or kill a story.
  7. Surreal | make it work.
  8. Stick to your core | “[There are] parts of your piece that you are going to hold onto with dear life. You have to remember that your voice is your voice.”

There were also a few quotes that resonated:

You want every paragraph to matter.

I create stories from what I remember in childhood, and change the ending.

Use adverbs sparingly. I love adjectives.

Instructions in writing, Week 1

I began my first writing class last week. The title is Fast Flash Fiction is a six-week course taught by Meg Tuite at Santa Fe Community College. Tuite, the instructor, cusses, inspires, and tells stories with plenty of tangents like thet legions of great storytellers that I know.

Tuite dispensed multiple dosages of simple truths in writing on the first night:
1) Read it out loud.
2) Keep your core.
3) Get it out | “I am not sure that I’ll call it vomit. Maybe, pink vomit.”
4) Deadlines are good.
5) Every page matters | in flash fiction where we have to condense our work.
6) Start thinking about the senses.
7) Brevity and ambiguity | These are essential in flash fiction, leaving the reader wanting to know more, to be taken along.
8) Gamble. That is where your voice is.

A couple of other choice moments were:
– “I get a lot of people published. Because you work hard in this class.”
– “Write about something that you are close to. Emotionally invested. Risk, risk, risk. The most exciting part of life –> getting close [to something].”

Lastly, there are three, simple questions to guide the workshopping and feedback shared with classmates are:
What do you love?
What makes sense?
What is confusing?

What qualifies as amazing

A friend asked me about “three things that you find amazing” and I replied with:

First thing that is amazing to me is the possibility that there is enough fresh water on this planet for all of us, just as there is enough sunlight and solar rays for all energy needs. We’ve been socialized to believe that there are finite resources and that they must be fought over, hoarded and controlled. I just said possibility, it may be more fitting to say notion or reality.
Second amazing thing is how I am allowing more and more of the illogical to pervade. I am in a new phase, the post-intellect, that is more aptly returning to how we as humans and nature fundamentally are. This is a condition that gives rise to the recent curiosity about freshwater.
Third amazing thing are the new experiences, new challenges and new learnings in my lived experiences. I have been baking one loaf of sourdough bread a week for much of this calendar year. I began taking a six-week, fiction writing class at the community college this week where I was exuberant as I walked the hallways towards room 571 and after the inaugural class. I learn, read and ruminate the animal totems that I encounter around me. This week alone, they have included magpie, praying mantis (a white, albino one), and deer.

Prompts can tremendously help me out. Amazing is enticing.

Expanding through life

In recent days, I have had reminders of containers, opening, expansion, and the ways that my soul can adapt and does adapt to the stimuli of life. At times, the container feels like a crucible; on other days, it is a jar or a pitcher full of water or some other liquid. A few years ago, during a more tentative time in my life, it felt like my container was a wee teacup sloshing through quakes, waves, whirlpools, and other tremors of tumult that had the insides spilling out and over the rim.

My container is less teacup, and more of a vast expanse. Something that is like an aquarium yet nimble, with tall sides yet accessible, wide and broad. My nephew told me about his first attempts at throwing clay in the past school year, and expanding my container feels like a slower version of throwing. Instead of starting with a new mound of clay, I add another layer of clay on top of what was already there or add spots to touch up.

Wisdom and guidance of how to do so abounds with metaphors outdoors, guidance in books, recipes, food, and in conversations with others. Just last night, I read about the “generosity of the universe,” an obvious statement yet a teaching that does not get mentioned as frequently, or a worldview that is not as pervasive, as scarcity as supposedly shown through Darwin’s theories of evolution and elimination.

The generosity of the universe has me guided by intuition more than ever. With this, verbal communication has taken a back seat to the unexplainable or illogical. Stimuli are sudden and by letting go of the cause, source or motivation, I can accept things just as they are. I spent a lot of energy and time spinning my wheels trying to defy, denounce, and change what was. I

sensory apocalypse from the mail pouch

In my early teens, which were the Swaziland years, I read Sports Illustrated magazine regularly. It gave me some perspective of what was happening with sports back in the U.S.

The magazine would come through the “mail pouch” each week, which I believe meant that there was a large canvas pouch placed in the cargo section of a commercial airplane. As best as I understood the set-up, mail from the U.S. was sent to an APO or FPO address somewhere in the metropolitan Washington D.C. region that would then be sent by plane to the Embassy in Mbabane. Though, I never saw the mail pouch, I imagined it to be manila. There were so many manila envelopes inside the Embassy, particularly that had to do with communications so I associated the non-descript color to the mail pouch.

Earlier today, Sports Illustrated came to mind as I remembered a section in the opening pages called “Signs of the Apocalypse,” a pithy indicator of what was remiss in the wide, whacky world of sports and society. All of this came back to me because of a banana and hard boiled egg in my bag that I anticipated eating. In the midst of so many other smells, I considered a few other signs of the apocalypse:

  • the preference for the smells of Febreze to bananas
  • that Glade Plug-ins get commended while garlic breath is ridiculed
  • a cloud of cologne or perfume is more desirable to the lingering smell of onions on one’s breath or fingers.

Such preferences bewilder me. I find the artificial chemicals of cologne or perfume so pungent that I may lean away or even gag. I suppose that it may be due to a sensory sensitivity hard-wired in our brains that has little to do with choice.

________

In this era of the Internet and NSA, that pouch seems so quaint. Even though the pouch was the primary means of getting us personal mail from stateside throughout the final years of the Cold War, it seems like such a rudimentary way to get contents from the U.S. to us in different countries. All of these memories make me wonder just how simplistic or elaborate that manila “mail pouch” actually was.

Twin guards of the Old Guard

In academia, the twin guards of the Old Guard, White Supremacy and Misogyny be triflin’.

That’s the pithy one sentence reaction I had after reading “The Tenure Game” by Teresa Steinhoyer in the Yale Daily News, about the miserable and failing efforts by Yale University between 2006 and 2011 to greatly catapult the number of women and people of color in faculty ranks written. I encountered the story since a FB friend, and former professor of mine, who instructed me in one of my most instrumental undergraduate courses titled, Black Public Intellectuals, posted it. It was in this course in the Fall of 1998 that I read Ida B. Wells for the first time and learned her history. It was in that course that I wrote one of my best papers about the lyrics of Tupac Shakur, citing passages from the 2Pacalypse Now album, released in 1991.

I recognize that this social blight — this epic failure, this structural deficiency — is not just at Yale. This discrimination is not just in academia, as similar dynamics, subtleties, and closed doors pervade the social profit sector, government, the military, the private sector, and K-12 education. In other words, any mixed race or coed institution. This is what it feels like and what the humbling (if not humiliating) demographics look like for any predominantly institution or workplace where white males are predominant in numbers, particularly so in the upper layers of an organization that have the authority and power to determine other’s fate.

What is insidious about how academia does it, is that the hoops of being considered for tenure most often depend on jumping through hoops years in advance. As this article indicates, an aspiring professor spends somewhere between 3 and 7 years of showing their merits before actually being given the yeah or nay on getting tenure. Since the Civil Rights Movement opened up new paths to academic positions and hastened the integration of education from pre-school to post-doctoral four or five decades ago, it appears that academics and academic institutions have figured out a variety of ways to track disproportionate numbers of professors of color and women into some second-class status all but guaranteeing that they will not get tenure, and not be around for the long-term. A whole lot of pomp and circumstance that isolate individuals so they cannot coordinate and collectively wield power. I call it insidious because Misogyny and Supremacy have cleaned up their decorum. They don’t tar and feather quite like in lynching’s heyday, but they sully people and women and people of color who attempt to stand up, they diminish and belittle research and rigor that focuses on the experiences of Chinese Americans, or facets of immigrant lives. It may not be lethal in a life/death sense, but not getting tenure is lethal to one’s academic profession and academic pursuits, or so it appears to me from my non-academic perspective.

When multiple female mentors tell a younger female factuly that they have to choose two of three between “husband, children or career” is internalized misogyny placing career over children. Particularly, when only 19% of male faculty (compared to 43% of female faculty) felt that they did not have to choose between their academic pursuits and family lives. This is what gender imbalances look like in capitalism. In academia, tenure-track and supremacy reward patience with the Old Boys network, the kind of patience that has to last longer than a presidential term or olympic cycles. This is a long game.
~~~

These are the same recurring dynamics — of recruitment and retention — that I saw as a college student. As a sophomore and junior, I attended countless meetings and meals focusing on how to recruit and retain more students of color. In a nation where people of color were a much larger percentage of the population than the student population, something was undemocratic and skewed in who attended Macalester College. Yet, the numbers did not change, and got worse from the mid-90s to the late-90s. This lackluster system was exacerbated by an administration and faculty voices that espoused how international students could make up the difference. But they did not. The math did not add up.

We could talk about the social aspects of what could attract/repel a prospective student of color. However, those exchanges led by a Black employee in the Admissions Office rarely, if ever, brought up the material matters of budget decisions, financial aid, and what financial resources were being expended to make a four year, liberal arts college degree more of less accessible to more students of color or what considerations were being made for students who were coming from high schools segregated by class and race. The systemic imbalances of K-12 education were glossed over, as were the structural deficiencies at Macalester that were ill-equipped to grapple with institutional racism and institutional sexism.
~~~

The section in the Yale Daily News article about assertiveness is dicey. And saddening. The Latina quoted in the article was cognizant of having to be assertive from her freshman year at Yale and continue to do so into her first years as the first tenured Latina professor in the Law School. The diceyness of the entire set-up is that people of color and women have internalized messages that we get angry too hastily. We have been pummeled with the notion that the playing field is level and will give us a fair chance so long as we work hard. Most people of color and women sublimate their assertiveness because it is spun as anger. The micro-aggressions are one form of it, and the internalized racism and internalized sexism are another. (And, I consider the latter more harmful because it is what we do to ourselves rather than what someone else is doing to us.)

In the last 50 years, Supremacy has learned how to give the appearance of fairness, when the reality is far from that. In the five decades since the Civil Rights Act, we have had scattered progress as segregation and bias has gone from de jure to de facto. What this has meant is that the guards of the Old Guard have determined what can be done to pass a legal test yet uphold segregation and the persistent imbalance of access and power, evolution and adaptation. The figures cited in the YDN article demonstrate how persistent the Old Guard is, and how craftily they have figured out how to protect their neck and protect their tenure protocols so they will endure the test of civil court, or when someone files a discrimination suit with the EEOC. These are the house rules in a game that the Old Guard still dominates, decades after the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement.

So long as there are a fixed number of positions, or metaphorical seats at the table, then there are those who will lose their seats. This is the case in academic departments, in Congress, and in any workplace, political body, civic association that has a limited number of slots. Capitalism is a social order that suggests that there will always be a fixed number, less spaces than what we desire. Fostering competition and animosity rather than instilling a sense of shared destiny, this perceived stagnation creates ire causing some to hoard power and figure out how to subjugate others.

And those who have historically occupied those seats, in the 240 years of the United States, are not going to simply give up what they have known as their’s. There is greed and selfishness, and there are also just old habits that are hard to break. As Frederick Douglass said [credit is due to PublicEye.org for making this lengthier version of his “power concedes nothing” quote more accessible],

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

To fear or not fear the homeless

I was running an errand this morning, thinking that I was going to the public library. It turned out to be much more of a visit to see my own thoughts and patterns.

I noticed the line between the subconscious and conscious minds and how I was making choices about which side of the street I walk on, and whether I make eye contact with someone or cast my eyes elsewhere.

I gave the silent head nod to a man squatting at the edge of the parking lot on the backside of the library. There was no visual response, and I continued on with my affairs. After walking out of the library doors, I noticed a pair of people sitting on a doorstep, sitting in the sun. The young man was in a t-shirt soaking up the rays of sunshine despite the brisk morning air.

I noticed my own split-second pause as I debated whether to cross the street onto the sidewalk that would take me within four feet of those two. If I had opted to stay on the far sidewalk, twenty five feet removed, I could have kept my eyes from peering across the tarmac chasm at the two human beings sitting in the New Mexico sun. Whether I recognize someone else’s humanity is that sudden and subtle. I can live in mini-moments that dignify the life and essence or others, or I could have stayed far away on the other side of street pretending that my non-seeing was the result of which sidewalk I was on rather than my choice to see or not see. To fear or not fear. More precisely, to be bound by the fears of my own narratives or not be bound by the fears of my own narratives.

These are a few of the choices that blur my conscious and subconscious.