The Big Picture

Off the Grid: The Lot 12th & Broadway Oakland CA

Is it that obvious? I’ve walked by this fence more than 150 times. I took pictures of artwork in October. Yet, it wasn’t until last Friday night, when my friend Audrey was driving me home that I realized, there were letters, there was a name, “The Lot.” How did miss it? When I took the photo, I was too close. When I walked by, I was in motion. Stopped at a traffic light, marveling at the city nightscape, the writing was clear. We often hear, look at the big picture. What does that really mean? Step back, relax and take a different approach. Look for the patterns, look for the disruptions.  What does it tell you? This makes me wonder, what things have I missed that were glaringly obvious that I missed because I was either too close, or that I didn’t stop to notice? This week, what can you stop and observe. Pause and ponder a stance diametrically opposed to yours. It doesn’t mean your view changes, it means you see something you haven’t seen before; you see the big picture.

 

A Failure to Communicate; Can We Laugh about it Now?

Suddenly there was silence. My brother and I were in another room during our parent’s Christmas party and the only sound was fast approaching footsteps. The door flew open and my mom’s expression indicated she was not happy. We were 20 and 21, home forwinter break and got a look from my mom that indicated we were in trouble. We held our breath waiting to hear what offense, we’d done. But, my mom couldn’t seem to speak. Mrs Bryant, looking upset, pushed my mom out-of-the-way and asked, “Why did you two let your mama buy that record? That language was awful. I am so shocked” Looking at my mother, my brother responded, “you said you wanted a comedy party album for tonight.” I add, “you asked us if that Richard Pryor album was funny and we said yes.” We never heard either of our parents use anything near profane language. We weren’t allowed to say darn or shot or gee. The Richard Pryor album contained “adult language.” Maybe, I thought, “adult language” meant language only adults could use, and once you became a certain age, your vocabulary could expand to include a sub genre of the profane?

Tony Robbins said, ‘the quality of your life is directly proportional to the quality of your communications.” In that moment with my mom, the quality of my life and my communication was proportional. Poor communication resulted in a room full of upset people.Often there are questions we don’t think we need to ask or conversations we don’t think we need to have. But how do we come to those conclusions? This week, think about your all your communications, what you hear, what you understand and what you express. How well can you do these things? Consider, is the quality of your life proportional to the quality of your communications? Cheers to a wonderful life.

P.S. The happiest of birthdays to my brother; in memory of the Ps – happy anniversary.

Rainy Days, Books and Commitment

I write each week out of fear. This is the perfect day to read; it’s raining, I have hot tea and a stack of books to read. So why am I writing? I could take a break this week. With over 150 posts, surely one can be reused, or can’t I just post “on vacation?” But, I fear one week off will turn into two weeks and before I know it, my latest post will be 18 months old. I write because I fear I will lose the ability to find a topic each week. I fear I’ll lose the discipline it takes to post every Sunday by midnight.  I fear, creativity will shut down and I will miss the happiness when a reader responds and relates to something I wrote. Not writing is a failure and a sense of losing something that makes me happy. So, I guess it’s wrong for me to say I write out of fear. For now, I write out of a commitment to myself with a sense possibility and joy.  What about you? What are the things you are committed to that bring you joy? If you can’t think of anything, is it time to make a commitment to happiness and do something?

 

Banned Books, Chasing Rabbits and Thanksgiving

I’m doing nothing for Thanksgiving, I have a stack of books for a reading frenzy. I’m going on a literary feast of words; I’ll be swept off into other worlds; presented with challenges, dilemmas and triumphs. This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful to be able to read what I want. A book once disappeared from my e-reader. I was in mainland China; I thought I’d read before bed to help with jet lag. It was gone. The book I was reading during my flight was no longer on my device.  No notice, no book, nothing. Then I remembered, the preface of the book said it was banned in China. Ughhhh. This book was banned in China just like Alice in Wonderland.  There is book censorship in China and violation can lead to imprisonment. So, yes, I’m thankful this thanksgiving to be able to read any book I want or can I?  Are there books banned in the US?

I fell into the rabbit hole – a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation which it is difficult to extricate oneself. Banned Books Week (September 24–October 30). Huh? There is banned books week in the US and that’s because there are banned books?  I haven’t thought much about banned books. I think Huck Finn was banned because of language and there were some schools that banned Harry Potter? Reading various list sand reasons for banned books fascinated me. In the mid 60s, Where the Wild Things Are was banned because it was “problematic” that Max was sent to bed without supper. In 1983, the Alabama state textbook committee banned The Diary of Anne Frank because it was a downer. In 2006, a parents group in Kansas had Charlotte’s Web banned for depicting two talking animals; talking animals must be the devil’s work. Harry Potter was banned in many places in 2007 for sorcery. At times I was relieved when  I read the phrase,“challenged, but retained,” knowing someone my favorite books were still allowed in libraries. Some of the debate is understandable about required reading, though a few of the books banned in college curriculums was surprising.  The banned books a cultural statement; especially the recently banned books  that are  over 50 years old, long thought of as staples are banned from libraries. More on banned books can be found here http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/rebelreader)

Two hours later, I was nearly out of the rabbit hole only to fall deeper. Books banned in prison. In August of 2013, the State of Connecticut prison system lifted its ban on Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin; the basis for HBO’s Game of Thrones. The books were banned for ‘safety and security” reasons.  The State of Texas prison systems has banned The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Bag of Bones by Stephen King, It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class by Lawrence Otis Graham, books  I have read. What was confusing was the rational and logic that was used to ban these books seemed not to apply to Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and David Duke’s My Awakening, these books are acceptable. More information on books banned in prisons can be found here (http://www.bookstoprisoners.net/banned-book-lists/)

Emerging from this rabbit hole of banned books, I don’t have a point so much as an experience. Like reading a book, I was swept off into other worlds; presented  challenges, dilemmas and triumphs as I became aware of things I didn’t know existed, learned something and emerged with more compassion and appreciation for things I take for granted. Now, That’s something to be thankful for. Let the reading begin.

Rules, Measurements and a Tipping Point

I optimistically emerged from my post Futurama cartoon binge coma. I’m ready to write. How does this sound as a Hollywood policy and process for filing a sexual harassment claim?

The accuser must first engage in 30 days of counseling with a legal counselor in the Office of Compliance. After 30 days, they can choose to go into mediation with a representative within the office with whom they’re lodging complaint against. That mediation would last at least 30 days. When mediation is finished, the accuser must wait 30 days — but not wait longer than 90 days. It is only then, after those steps, could the accuser officially file a formal complaint and pursue a hearing either with the Office of Compliance or Federal District Court, but not both.

OK, you may or may not recognize this as the dispute resolution process for sexual harassment claims on Capital Hill for some 30,000 employees of the legislature. But wait, there is more. The settlements are paid by the US Treasury, not by the office against which the complaint is launched. The US taxpayers pay the sexual harassment settlements. There is proposed legislation underway to change this process and do regular reporting to gage if progress is being made.

This is logical, a rule is put in place and you need a measurement to determine if it’s working. The legislature has rules forbidding sexual harassment in the workplace, there needs to be a measurement to determine if it’s working.

The fair pay act passed  2009 – women should be paid the same as men for the same job. Data shows that women are still paid less than men, on the  average of 83 cents to the dollar. In 2014, President Obama enacted the fair pay and safe workplace order requiring companies to report how much they pay workers by race and gender. Obama’s executive order also barred forced arbitration of sexual harassment claims. These were known as coverup clauses. President Obama’s ban on “cover-up clauses” stopped companies with government contracts from using the forced arbitration clause to keep sex discrimination claims out of the courts and off the public record. Makes sense, there is a fair pay act, there needs to be a measurement to see if it’s working.

In April of this year, President Trump signed an executive order revoking the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order. Hence, companies (that do work for the federal government)  do not have to provide data that would help determine if women are paid less than men for the same work and forced arbitration to keep sexual harassment out of the court continues. This is reprehensible especially in light of the existing policy on Capital Hill for sexual harassment claims. Are recent events signs of a tipping point? A point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change where the norm is equal pay for women and a harassment free environment? Or is that truly Futurama, something that only exists in a cartoon parody?

The Binge

I am on a binge; a Futurama binge. It started last week and now I’m 84 episodes in with 56 left to go. I’ve calculated 20 hours left of viewing time with an estimated completion day of next Saturday. Hmmmmm, is this normal?  Am I in avoidance mode? I read that binges are a way to deal with negative emotions. Since I did spend 4 hours nightly over the last week watching an animated cartoon series that debuted in 1999 I figured a little self diagnosis was in order. Día de los Muertos! This week was the day of the dead holiday, a remembrance of friends and family members who have died.I realized the show for me is oddly nostalgic; reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid and the family would watch cartoons over a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and shoestring fries. It was the one day of the week breakfast time was not punctuated with hurry and finish, you have to go to school or church. It was the one meal of the week we could eat while watching TV. For my brother and I, Saturdays were special. Is binging on a tv show different from other binges?  This week’s binge was not avoidance or procrastination. It was break from reality, a connection with the past and a lovely indulgence of remembering my parents and cherishing the memories of them that remain.

Trick or Treat, the Bogeyman and Ordinary People

The bogeyman is a hoax; it’s some made up creature that spans multiple cultures, albeit with various other names, used to frighten children into good behavior. We’ve seen children reduced to tears, fearful of the threat of mythical bogeyman. But this trick is not just for kids. Consider the adult version of the bogeyman. It starts with concepts of good and bad, left wing and right wing, for and against. Even Halloween has a polarizing tagline of trick or treat.These are polarizing abstractions that give rise to the adult bogeyman. Categorical opposites are demonized and loathed. As adults, we’ve turned ordinary people into an army of bogeymen.Our prioritized fear against this threat has left us with an unpredictable irrationality and inability to move forward.

Crap. I had a decent hypothesis and opening for this blog post, it fits with a Halloween theme, but now what? I put the bogeyman in the story and now I see no way out of this existential crisis.   I lucked out. This week, I saw Van Jones in conversation with Alexis Madrigal at a City Arts event. Van Jones described on stage and in his book his friendship with Newt Gingrich.

     The former Speaker once told me something profound, as we discussed ways to think about bipartisanship: “Your ‘ninety percent enemy’ can still be your ‘ten percent friend’ – on every point where you agree.” Newt and I still passionately disagree on 90 or more the issues. But in those places where our views align, we look for ways to work together. When i comes to topics like fixing the justice system or ending the opioid epidemic, we owe it to ordinary people to try.¹

The concept that your enemy can be your friend on every point you agree is a way to turn that army of bogeymen turn back into ordinary people. Turning on the “proverbial light” to banish the monsters requires us not to act as if everyone is a trick or a treat, but an opportunity to find common ground to solve common problems. A version of insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Fear,  loathing and demonizing the “other side” does not work. The choice is yours, keep your boogeyman or consider the possibility of working with 10% friends. Maybe this new trick will give ordinary people a treat.

 

¹ Jones, Van Beyond the Messy Truth, Ballantine Books, 2017, p128

² Forum Radio Interview: https://ww2.kqed.org/forum/2017/10/20/van-jones-goes-beyond-the-messy-truth/

 

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