The Friday Poem ‘Theme for English B’ by Langston Hughes

The headlines of the past week included coverage of the school teachers’ strikes in Oklahoma and Kentucky, and the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Often these events seem remote, not touching our daily lives. But they do.

The Friday Poem this week is ‘Theme for English B’ by author and poet Langston Hughes.

At the time Dr. King emerged onto the national stage, Langston Hughes was more well known. Until 1960 the poet and civil rights activist maintained a close friendship, ending when rumors of Hughes being a communist sympathizer appeared to threaten the future of the civil rights movement.

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

     Go home and write
     a page tonight.
     And let that page come out of you—
     Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Langston Hughes   ‘Collected Poems’   1994

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Image: Pastel Portrait Winold Reiss, National Portrait Gallery

 

The Saturday Read – ‘Sweetbitter’ by Stephanie Danler

Who will you become? That’s the question we should ask when we consider a new job, but often the promise of a new opportunity obscures the answer until we find ourselves caught in the rip tide of the unconsidered.

The Saturday Read this week is ‘Sweetbitter’, a novel by Stephanie Danler perfectly captures what it’s like to be 22, taking your first job in New York City.

“Let’s say I was born in late June of 2006 when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light, before the exhaust rose, before the heat gridlocked in, windows unrolled, radio turned up to some impossibly hopeful pop song, open, open, open.”

There it is. That moment when we shed one identity and begin to sculpt the new. This is the magic of the author’s prose; transforming the familiar.

Set to debut as a six-part STARZ series on May 6, I encourage you to snag a copy and read this book while imagination is still your own and small screen images can’t get in the way of literary transport.

“…nobody remembers what it feels like to be so recklessly absorbent.
When you can’t see in front of you life is nothing but surprises. Looking back, there were truly so few of them.”

I’m not sure why we rely on non-fiction to inform our knowledge of life@work. Best seller lists are full of management philosophy exuding from ivy covered walls and concrete corporate towers. But it’s the fiction writers who add a touch of imagination and humanity to the workplace, who are the true management gurus.

“I don’t know what it is exactly, being a server. It’s a job, certainly, but not exclusively. There’s a transparency to it, an occupation stripped of the usual ambitions. One doesn’t move up or down. One waits. You are a waiter.”

‘Sweetbitter’ is a book about work and the communities we build around us to manage the connection between self and the enormity of place, in this case, New York City. It’s about expectations colliding with reality in a spot where following your dream invites on-going comparison to an alternate career path.

“We called them the Nine-to-Fivers. They lived in accordance with nature, waking and sleeping with the cycle of the sun. Mealtimes, business hours, the world conformed to their schedule. They were dining, shopping, consuming, unwinding, expanding while we were working, diminishing, being absorbed into their scenery.”

On the last night of her paperback book tour last June, the author read from the novel and shared her own career narrative with a group of readers at independent bookstore, Pages in Manhattan Beach, California.

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She alluded to similarities with her main character, Tess, and her early career working as a waitress in Seal Beach and later in NY at the Union Square Cafe. “At age 22 you are in the stream of experience, nothing is premeditated; autonomy without consequences. After six months at the Union Square Cafe I was no longer a writer.”

She pursued a successful path in the restaurant industry until she was confronted with “a hinge moment – the crushing feeling in your chest” when you realize your current commitment @work is delaying your dream job.

She applied to graduate school, went back to serving tables, took notes and spent 12 hours on Tuesdays creating a manuscript – ‘Sweetbitter’.

“That is the story of how I stopped waiting tables.”

One more thing, Stephanie Danler is obsessive about poetry. And that’s the strongest argument to read the novel before viewing the series. The book is beautifully written, in one instance transforming the cacophony of random dinner conversation into a poem.

If you’ve ever been a server, this book may stir a memory or two. A restaurant is where many of us started out, absorbing and ignoring life lessons on the fly. It was our workplace and Ms. Danler was one of us.

 

 

 

 

#WorldPoetryDay ‘Poetry Is a Sickness’ by Ed Bok Lee

Today is World Poetry Day, a day to honor poets and global oral traditions. It was initially established by UNESCO in 1999.

“Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures. In celebrating World Poetry Day, March 21, UNESCO recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.” 

To celebrate #WorldPoetryDay, and recognize the work of the global community of poets spend a few minutes with the words of St. Paul, Minnesota based poet Ed Bok Lee, and his poem ‘Poetry is a Sickness’.

Poetry Is a Sickness

You write not what you want,
but what flaws flower from rust

You want to write about the universe,
how the stars are really tiny palpitating ancestor hearts
watching over us

and instead what you get on the page
is that car crash on Fourth and Broadway—
the wails of the girlfriend or widow,
her long lamentation so sensuous
in terrible harmony with sirens in the distance

Poetry is a sickness

You want to write about Adoration,
the glistening sweat on your honey’s chest
in which you’ve tasted the sun’s caress,
and instead what you get
is a poem about the first of four times
your mother and father split up

Want to write about the perfection of God
and end up with just another story
of a uniquely lonely childhood

If I had a dime for every happy poem I wrote
I’d be dead

Want to write about the war, oppression, injustice,
and look here, see, what got left behind
when all the sand and dust cleared
is the puke-green carpet in the Harbor Lights Salvation Army treatment center
A skinny Native girl no older than seventeen
braids the reddish hair
of her little four- or five-year-old Down’s Syndrome daughter

Outside, no blinking stars
No holy kiss’s approach
Only a vague antiseptic odor and Christian crest on the wall staring back at you

I didn’t say all this to that dude who sent me his poems
from prison

You want everyone to feel empowered
Want them to believe there is beauty locked in amber
inside each of us, and you chip away at that shit
one word at a time
You stampede with verbs, nouns, and scalpel adjectives
Middle-finger your literalist boss
Blow grocery cash on library fines
Sprain your left knee loading pallets all day for Labor Ready
You live in an attic for nine years
You go bankrupt
You smoke too much

Drink too much
Alienate family and friends
Say yes, poetry is a sickness, but fuck it
Do it long enough, and I promise like an anti-superhero
your secret power will become loss

Loss like only old people must know
when the last red maple on the block goes

and the drizzle turns to snow

Maybe the best poem is always the one you shouldn’t have written

The ghazal that bled your index finger
Or caused your sister to reject your calls for a year
The sonnet that made the woman you loved fear
That slam poem you’re still paying for
The triolet that smiled to violate you
through both ears

But Poet, Sucker, Fool
It’s your job
to find meaning in all this because
you are delusional enough to believe
that, yes, poetry is a sickness,
but somehow if you can just scrape together enough beauty and truth

to recall, yes, that Broadway car crash was fucked up,
but the way the rain fell to wash away the blood
not ten minutes after the ambulance left
was gorgeous

Or how maybe your mother and father would sometimes scream,
but also wrapped never-before-seen tropical
fruit for one another every Xmas Eve

How in the morning before opting out I watched
that tiny Native girl fumbling
to braid her own and her now-
snoring mother’s long black hair
together
in a single cornrow—

If I can just always squiggle
down like this:
even half as much
as what I’d otherwise need
to forget

maybe these scales
really will one day tip
to find each flaw that made us

Exquisite

 

Ed Bok Lee     ‘Whorled’   2011
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Can we apply the architecture of March Madness to job search?

Let’s say you’re totally undecided (confused, terrified, ambivalent) about your next career move. All you know is you’re not happy with your current options. Where do you begin?

Try categorizing your interests using the bracket system. Instead of four regions, fill in four career fields that might interest you. Next, identify sixteen possible employers in each field. Once you have your potential employer roster identified, begin your research.

This may be a good time to develop a parallel list of contacts: a bracket representing your network. Use the same four career categories and identify folks who have broad expertise in the profession. In this ‘exploration’ phase you are aggregating data about industry trends, market leaders, and potential for growth.

As you progress with your data gathering, you will begin to eliminate some organizations in favor of others. Once you get to your ‘elite eight’ employers, schedule your in-depth information interviews.

As you talk to people you will begin to establish a realistic assessment of ‘organization fit’, and evaluate your chances for success.

The ‘elite eight’ forms your target list. By the time you have narrowed your selection to eight, you should feel comfortable that each employer presents a realistic starting point in the next phase your career.

As with any selection process, you don’t have total control. The employer extends the offer and you have the choice to accept or continue to pursue other options.

Add a little ‘March Madness’ to your job search, and some fun to a typically stressful routine.

The Friday Poem ‘After Work’ by John Maloney

It’s Friday and the poem selected to start off this weekend is ‘After Work’ by stonemason and poet John Maloney.

There’s a line of demarcation, even in the 24/7 workplace, where we cross over from the identity we carry @work to perhaps the more authentic persona of how we see ourselves. It’s that transition space in a car stuck in LA on the 405, hanging tight on the subway in NYC or driving a pickup on the backroads of Tennessee. “No one can take away the contentment of the first few miles.”

After Work

They’re heading home with their lights on, dust and wood glue,
yellow dome lights on their metallic long beds: 250s, 2500s—
as much overtime as you want, deadline, dotted line, dazed
through the last few hours, dried primer on their knuckles,
sawdust calf-high on their jeans, scraped boots, the rough
plumbing and electric in, way ahead of the game except for
the check, such a clutter of cans and iced-tea bottles, napkins,
coffee cups, paper plates on the front seat floor with cords
and saws, tired above the eyes, back of the beyond, thirsty.
There’s a parade of them through the two-lane highways,
proudest on their way home, the first turn out of the jobsite,
the first song with the belt off, pure breath of being alone
for now, for now the insight of a full and answerable man.
No one can take away the contentment of the first few miles
and they know they can’t describe it, the black and purple sky.

The week@work: digitizing common sense, Vatican women@work, Dee Rees on cinema and Radhika Jones on journalism

Since we’ve done so well with humans’ ability to demonstrate common sense, it follows that there would be an effort to teach machines ‘native intelligence’. This week@work we follow the efforts to digitize common sense, and explore the lives of women@work in the Vatican, cinema and journalism.

Common sensesound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence”. It’s one of those ‘must have’ components in a successful work/life portfolio. Cade Metz reports on Paul Allen’s endeavor to translate ‘native intelligence’ into ‘artificial intelligence’.

“A.I. “recognizes objects, but can’t explain what it sees. It can’t read a textbook and understand the questions in the back of the book,” said Oren Etzioni, a former University of Washington professor who oversees the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. “It is devoid of common sense.”

Success may require years or even decades of work — if it comes at all. Others have tried to digitize common sense, and the task has always proved too large.”

Perhaps it’s impossible to duplicate what’s not totally present in the original.

The ‘random’ compensation of nuns

If you were raised Catholic or attended Catholic schools, you’ve probably been influenced by the women, ‘sisters’, who served as teachers, administrators and counselors. In a stunning report this week, in a monthly supplement to the Vatican daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, these women confidentially shared the realities of their 24/7 workplace.

vatican nite.jpg“It is hard to evaluate the extent of the problem of the unpaid or badly paid work of these women religious which is in any case barely recognized…Yet it is not only a question of money. The matter of financial compensation constitutes rather the trees which hide the forest of a far greater problem: recognition of how matters stand. So many women religious have the feeling that much is being done to give new value to male vocations but that very little is being done to do the same for female vocations. “Unfortunately behind all this lies the idea that women are worth less than men and, especially, that the priest is all whereas the sister is nothing in the Church.”

“We are religious in order to serve to the very end and it is precisely this that causes a slippage in the subconscious of many people in the Church, creating the conviction that paying us does not fit into the natural order of things, whatever may be the service that we offer. The sisters are seen as voluntary workers to be made use of as desired which gives rise to real abuses of power. Behind all this lies the question of the professionalism and competence of women religious, which many people have a hard time recognizing”.

As we reflect on the ‘power’ relationships in film, politics and corporations, perhaps @TIMESUPNOW should broaden the tent to include folks who took a vow of poverty not realizing it meant losing their voice, being invisible.

Dee Rees delivers a tutorial on the art of cinema
On Saturday, writer-director Dee Rees was awarded the Robert Altman Award for her movie, Mudbound. She accepted with a speech that many industry insiders described as a cinematic manifesto. It’s a must read for anyone who considers themselves a film-maker.

DGWG0odUMAEyXHa.jpg“I know that as Independent Filmmakers, as the so-called Rebels, as the Outsiders creating without respect to means or access…

I know that we, of all makers, are far, far beyond any Identity Tokenism or Snobbery of Form 

In both production and distribution

Because we know that cinema lies not in

A strip of celluloid 

A length of magnetic tape

Nor across the blind plain of an image sensor 

No, we know that

Cinema lies in absorbing , electrifying Performances by committed actors 

That make audiences feel, that make them think, make them observe themselves and world around them in a more expansive way

Like Rob Morgan’s intelligent, deliberate, emotionally exquisite performance of Hap Jackson, a man whose capabilities, ambition and work ethic are continually undone by the ancient and overlapping systems of social and economic oppression that still exist today 

We know that cinema lies in the thoughtful and narrative Composition and Choreography of subject, movement, color, and light 

Like  Rachel Morrison’s compelling, sculptural,  humanistic photography that elevates reality into a visceral, highly textured symphony of feeling…”

(Full text and video at deadline.com)

Radhika Jones on culture, conformity and journalism
In November, Radhika Jones was introduced as the new editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, adding to her resume of experience at Time and The New York Times. March marks the first issue under her guidance and in her first editor’s letter she connects her background to storytelling and her new “responsibility to interrogate the culture’s most powerful players and hold them to account.”

edit-master768.jpg“There’s a movie coming out this month that I’ve been waiting all my life to see: A Wrinkle in Time, based on Madeleine L’Engle’s fantasy novel, which was published in 1962 but is only now receiving its first big-screen adaptation. There was almost no novel to adapt. Twenty-six publishers rejected L’Engle’s manuscript before John Farrar, of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, took it on. You can imagine how A Wrinkle in Time may have perplexed publishers. The plot hinges on shortcuts through the space-time continuum; it leavens its central fight against evil with amusing scenes involving midnight liverwurst sandwiches. But at its core L’Engle’s tale tackles a problem most people have to cope with sooner or later: how to be yourself in a world that prefers conformity.

I was born in New York City and grew up in Cincinnati. My first name, common enough in India, was unusual and often threw people off. I tried not to mind, though I secretly wished I were called Elizabeth. I grew up, grew into myself, became an editor, and learned the delights of helping writers shape their stories.

For those of us who care about storytelling, about influence, about soft and hard power, this is a singularly rich moment to be in journalism. I had my first, heady conversation about the editorship of Vanity Fair on September 20 of last year. Two weeks later, The New York Times published the first of its series of reports about Harvey Weinstein. Arguments that have simmered for years—about the importance of championing women, new voices, people who come from a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds—are finding an audience.”

And, one last storyMichael Cooper‘s profile of conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the new music director of The Metropolitan Opera.011618_2330a.jpg

If binge watching ‘Mozart in the Jungle’ has prompted you to consider a career as maestro, spend 14 hours ‘shadowing’ the new conductor at the Met.

“If there is one thing Mr. Nézet-Séguin has been criticized for, it has been for taking on too much: He is also the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestre Métropolitain in his native Montreal, and is wrapping up his final season with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. But earlier on Friday, as he headed back to conduct “Parsifal,” he had brushed off the suggestion that he was overstretched.

“Yes, I do have a high level of energy — that’s clear,” he said. “That’s maybe why I love New York. There is this kind of pace. But I am able, definitely, to also stop and do nothing.”

 

 

 

 

Photo credits: Ms. Jones – The New York Times, Mr. Nézet-Séguin – Rose Callahan Met Opera

The Friday Poem ‘The Benefits of Ignorance’ by Hal Sirowitz

Sometimes the Friday Poem is the perfect exclamation point for our times. This week’s selection is ‘The Benefits of Ignorance’ by poet Hal Sirowitz.

“If you’re not getting the benefits that most people get from acting stupid…”

The Benefits of Ignorance

If ignorance is bliss, Father said,
shouldn’t you be looking blissful?
You should check to see if you have
the right kind of ignorance. If you’re
not getting the benefits that most people
get from acting stupid, then you should
go back to being what you always were –
being too smart for your own good.

Hal Sirowitz  ‘Father Said: Poems’ 2004

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A new definition of success for the ‘gig economy’

How do we find meaning@work, when work is a 24/7 hustle? An article in the March/April issue of the Harvard Business Review offers some answers. ‘Thriving in a Gig Economy’ builds on research published by McKinsey in October, adding results of interviews with 65 gig workers.

As more folks opt for independence@work, new models emerge beyond the stereotype of ride-hailing service employee. The McKinsey survey of 8,000 respondents across Europe and the US found “up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States—or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population—engage in some form of independent work.” This is no longer a trend, but a significant employment sector, attracting new members daily out of choice or necessity.

Authors of the HBR article: Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford and Amy Wrzesniewski discovered commonalities among those who chose the ‘gig life’.

“We found remarkably similar sentiments across generations and occupations: All those we studied acknowledged that they felt a host of personal, social, and economic anxieties without the cover and support of a traditional employer—but they also claimed that their independence was a choice and that they would not give up the benefits that came with it. Although they worried about unpredictable schedules and finances, they also felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts.”

Ownership is the shared value of gig workers, productivity the measurement, uncertainty the trade-off, and work identity – it’s continually evolving.

“…the price of such freedom is a precariousness that seems not to subside over time. Even the most successful, well-established people we interviewed still worry about money and reputation and sometimes feel that their identity is at stake.”

What does success look like in this new workplace?

“Our conclusion is that people in the gig economy must pursue a different kind of success—one that comes from finding a balance between predictability and possibility, between viability (the promise of continued work) and vitality (feeling present, authentic, and alive in one’s work). Those we interviewed do so by building holding environments around place, routines, purpose, and people, which help them sustain productivity, endure their anxieties, and even turn those feelings into sources of creativity and growth. “There’s a sense of confidence that comes from a career as a self-employed person,” one consultant told us. “You can feel that no matter how bad it gets, I can overcome this. I can change it. I can operate more from a place of choice as opposed to a place of need.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Sourdough’ by Robin Sloan

Before the migration of the nerds, San Francisco was famous for its’ bread, sourdough bread, dating back to the time of the gold rush. Food and a magical ‘sourdough starter’ serves as the career catalyst for Lois Clary, software programmer and heroine in The Saturday Read this week: ‘Sourdough’ by Robin Sloan. 

This is a novel about work; how we find it and what we become. It’s the story of ‘career’ in the twenty-first century when success in Silicon Valley is defined by levels of exhaustion and the unexpected ‘side hustle’ offers a promise of something better.

Lois is working at Crowley Control Systems in Michigan when she is recruited from her “stubby LinkedIn profile”.

“Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”

And so it begins, as a cautionary tale for those who transfer ownership of career choice to the great algorithm in the sky, relocate to an alternate universe and join the tribe of the “Dextrous’ (employees of robotic firm, General Dexterity).

“We are on a mission to remake the conditions of human labor, so push harder, all of you.”

“In the months that followed, I had the sense of some vital resource dwindling, and I tried to ignore it. My colleagues had been toiling at this pace for three years without a pause, and I was already flagging after a single San Francisco summer? I was supposed to be one of the fresh-faced ones.
My face was not fresh.
My hair had gone flat and thin.
My stomach hurt.
In my apartment on Cabrillo Street. I existed mostly in a state of catatonic recovery, brain flaccid, cells gasping. My parents were far away, locked in the frame of a video chat window. I didn’t have any friends in San Francisco aside from a handful of Dextrous, but they were just as traumatized as I was. My apartment was small and dark, and I paid too much for it, and the internet was slow.”

Sound familiar? Can you imagine a call for take-out might transform your life? Did you know there was a Lois Club? For Lois Clary, these human connections are career turning points.

“I needed a more interesting life.
I could start be learning something.
I could start with the starter.”

We follow Lois on her adventures ‘underground’ at the ‘Marrow Fair’, interacting with a diverse group of artisans, connecting the dots of technology and food, robots and recipes.

“At General Dexterity, I was contributing to an effort to make repetitive labor obsolete. After a trainer in the Task Acquisition Center taught an arm how to do something, the arms did it perfectly, forever. In other words, you solved a problem once, and then you moved on to more interesting things. Baking by contrast, was solving the same problem over and over again, I mean, really: chewed and digested. Thus, the problem was perhaps the point.”

The lesson for the rest of us? Get out there, build relationships, get a more interesting life, solve problems, like your work. (You don’t need a career guide, just a great novel – Sourdough)

Innovation and invention are everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Friday Poem ‘For My Daughter in Reply to a Question’ by David Ignatow

I was looking for a poem to capture both the sorrow and optimism in the aftermath of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. There’s not a ‘perfect’ poem, but there are these words from poet David Ignatow, published 50 years ago.  Described as ”a poet of the community, of people who work for a living”, the Friday Poem this week is his, “For My Daughter in Reply to a Question’.

“We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.”

For My Daughter in Reply to a Question

We’re not going to die,
we’ll find a way.
We’ll breathe deeply
and eat carefully.
We’ll think always on life.
There’ll be no fading for you or for me.
We’ll be the first
and we’ll not laugh at ourselves ever
and your children will be my grandchildren.
Nothing will have changed
except by addition.
There’ll never be another as you
and never another as I.
No one ever will confuse you
nor confuse me with another.
We will not be forgotten and passed over
and buried under the births and deaths to come.

David Ignatow   ‘Rescue the Dead’ 1968 & ‘Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934 – 1994’  1994

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Photo credit: Poetry Foundation