‘Big Dreams’ a poem by April Halprin Wayland

Time to add a bit of whimsy to the end of the week with ‘Big Dreams’.

We discover our first dreams in the magic of children’s literature: the poetry of great writers, and the illustrations of great artists. The Friday Poem this week encourages us to revisit those dreams through the words of April Halprin Wayland.

“For four and a half years I worked in the marketing department of Pacific Bell, which became AT&T. I knew that world was not for me. To keep my sanity, I took a class at UCLA Extension called Writing for Children, taught by Terry Dunnahoo. Terry’s class changed my life. It was as if I had fallen madly, deeply in love. When I walked to lunch with my corporate buddies, the men at construction sites whistled at me. They hadn’t whistled at me before I was in Terry’s class. Something huge had shifted in me; I was electric. I knew I had to take the leap. In one of my last meetings at AT&T, I pretended to take notes, but was actually writing a poem about a child who runs away to live with rabbits and slowly turns into one. I don’t know if I was writing about me, turning into a corporate bunny…or if I was writing about my desperate need to run away from the corporate life.”

Big Dreams

The scruffy house cat
aches to fly—
she dreams all day of
wings and sky!

So tonight
she climbs the ladder,
mounts a platform,
nothing matters

except to catch
a thin trapeze
then hold on tight
with grace and ease.

She swings herself
by both front paws
then somesaults
to wild applause

of kitchen mice,
who, though dizzy,
encourage Cat,
to keep her busy.

April Halprin Wayland

What do you do? Crafting an answer of identity @work

It’s the icebreaker question, ‘What do you do?’ It seems like a simple question, but it’s often difficult to explain our life’s work to strangers. Our workplace is defined by acronyms, our comfort zone is among our peers who share a common language.

It was the dilemma writer Elizabeth McCracken expressed in a 2014 tweet.

“21 years into a publishing career & I still have no idea what to say when someone says, “A writer? Have I heard of anything you’ve written?”

Maybe it’s not just the question, but the response we get when we attempt an answer. It’s the incorrect assumptions folks hold when they have a passing familiarity with a career.

Lincoln Michel used the query to imagine ‘If Strangers Talked to Everybody Like They Talk to Writers’.

“There is something unique about the way people talk to writers. Strangers seem very willing to offer career advice — “self-publishing is where the money is!” — literary advice — “People love vampires!” — or to oddly ask you to guess what work they’ve read in their life and if any of yours is among it. It got me thinking about what it would be like it people talked about other professions in this way.”

“Huh. A chef. Do people still eat food?”

“An accountant? Wow, I haven’t even looked at a number since high school.”

“Software programmer? Like, for actual computers sold in stores or just as a hobby?”

It’s not just writers. Most of us have embarked on career paths that carry with them a variety of inaccurate stereotypes.

Is it possible to craft an answer that informs, clarifies and avoids unsolicited advice?

Yes, and it’s storytelling without revealing the ending.

First, decide what you want to share about your work. Then imagine you are describing what you do to aliens. Finally, think function, product, audience and benefit.

Let’s go back to the writer, who may want to keep their work confidential, and avoid unsolicited feedback.

Authors are familiar with providing ‘soundbite’ summaries of their work to ‘sell’ a book proposal, and can employ the same technique to describe their work. For example: “I’m a writer and I recently completed a memoir that will be released in the fall. My next project is a profile for a weekly magazine which involves travel to Austin, Texas next week. Have you been to Austin? Can you suggest any good restaurants in the area?”

This sample response answers the question without divulging confidences, describes the work in familiar terms and redirects the conversation to connect on another, recognizable topic, food.

Who knew writers accumulate frequent flyer miles, get stuck in long TSA lines and patronize fashionable restaurants?

In crafting your response, consider your audience. How likely are they to be aware of your work? This is not about ‘dumbing down’ an answer, but about connecting through shared language and experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The week@work: Inequality on stage, Apple@40, ‘job crafting’ & odd interview questions

As the economy continues to improve, and include workers who had given up, playwrights are staging works that reflect the continued struggle and inequity in the workplace. This week@work we celebrate Apple@40, take a look at ‘job crafting’ as a way to reimagine work and pose a few interview questions.

Nelson D. Schwartz and Neil Irwin reported ‘Jobs and Wages Notching Gains Long In Coming’ for the New York Times.

“Companies have been hiring in recent months at a pace not seen before in this century. Wages are rising faster than inflation. Joblessness is hovering near the low levels last reached in 2007 before the economy’s downturn.

And perhaps most significantly, the army of unemployed people who gave up and dropped out of the job market is not only looking for work, but actually finding it.

“Wages and participation are where the rubber meets the road,” said Michael Gapen, chief United States economist at Barclays. “We will take our cue about the overall strength of the economy based on that.”

At the same time, the chasm widens between the average worker, still trying to recover with modest wage gains, and the quantum leaps in compensation for the wealthy.

It’s this divergence that is reflected in several theater productions, under the heading ‘Haves and have-nots: Putting America’s financial inequality on the stage’. The Economist article reviews ‘The Humans’, ‘Hungry’, ‘Hold On To Me Darling’, ‘The Way West’, ‘Dry Powder’, and ‘Red Speedo’ to illustrate how the economy and work are inspiring a generation of playwrights.

“There is something familiar about the Blakes, the American family at the centre of “The Humans”, a new play by Stephen Karam that is now on Broadway. Anyone who has navigated the emotional minefield of a family meal will recognise the affectionate way they bicker, their barbs softened with tenderness. But something else about this family will also resonate with a growing group of Americans: each member is struggling financially.

This conversation resembles countless others across the country, as Americans try to make sense of an economy in which working hard is no longer enough to afford a comfortable life. Parents who assumed that their children would surpass their own accomplishments are now startled to find so many of them sweating over rent and saddled with college debt. What does it take to get ahead? Why does the system create so few haves and so many have- nots?”

This past week marked the 40th anniversary of Apple. In his commencement speech to the Stanford class of 2005, co-founder Steve Jobs recalled the journey from start-up to his firing by the Board of Directors.

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“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4,000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

We know the rest of the story. Jobs returned to Apple in 1997. David Pierce and Michael Calore identify ‘Fifteen Products That Defined Apple’s First 40 Years’.

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#1 the iPhone

“If you want to understand the iPhone’s importance to Apple, just look at its earnings. But it’s not just that: Without it, our phones might still look like BlackBerries. We might never have learned to pinch to zoom. We might all carry point-and-shoots. It’s almost impossible to overstate the revolution the iPhone started in 2007, which has touched and connected billions of people around the world.”

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If you prefer to digest ideas via podcast, add NPR’s Hidden Brain to your subscription list. Last week’s installment featured host Shankar Vedanta in conversation with Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski on finding meaning in our work.

“Why do you work? Are you just in it for the money or do you do it for a greater purpose? Popular wisdom says your answer depends on what your job is. But psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski at Yale University finds it may have more to do with how we think about our work. Across groups such as secretaries and custodians and computer programmers, Wrzesniewski finds people about equally split in whether they say they have a “job,” a “career” or a “calling.” 

According to Wrzesniewski’s research “people who see work as a calling are more satisfied, engaged, and better performers”. These are folks who “go beyond notice” to craft the boundaries of their job to make work more meaningful.

The last story from this week@work is about interview questions. File it under the query, ‘What was the oddest question you were asked in an interview?’, from recruiting site, glassdoor.com.

Here’s a sample:

“What would the name of your debut album be?” (Urban Outfitters)

“What would you do if you found a penguin in your freezer?” (Trader Joe’s)

And here’s one that we should all be prepared to answer.

“If you were a brand, what would be your motto?” (BCG)

Think about it, and have a great week@work.

 

 

 

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Seven Brief Lessons On Physics’ by Carlo Rovelli

It was the ‘chirp’ heard around the world. In February scientists announced the discovery of gravitational waves formed by two black holes colliding, confirming the century old predictions of Albert Einstein.

If you’re not a physicist or a physics major, you may have only a passing familiarity with the terms used in the previous sentence. And yet, we just experienced, in a ‘galaxy far far away’, what the New York Times science reporter Dennis Overbye described as a moment “destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.” 

The Saturday Read this week is ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’ by physicist Carlo Rovelli of Aix-Marseille University and the Intitut Universitaire de France. Spend some time with this exquisite book and become a bit more fluent in the language of physics.

“These lessons were written for those who know little or nothing about modern science. Together they provide a rapid overview of the most fascinating aspects of the great revolution that has occurred in physics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and of the questions and mysteries that this revolution has opened up. Because science shows us how to better understand the world, but it also reveals to us just how vast is the extent of what is still not known.”

Beginning with Einstein’s ‘beautiful theory’ of relativity, Rovelli follows the science beyond gravity to quantum mechanics and quantum gravity.

Is your hair is hurting? Hang in there.

“Physics opens windows through which we see far into the distance. What we see does not cease to astonish us. We realize that we are full of prejudices and that our intuitive image of the world is partial, parochial, inadequate. Earth is not flat; it is not stationary. The world continues to change before our eyes as we gradually see it more extensively and more clearly.”

Are we still talking about science? The magic of Rovelli’s prose is its simplicity in conveying painfully complex theories.

We learn the value of ‘wasting’ time.

“In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don’t get anywhere by not ‘wasting’ time – something, unfortunately, that the parents of teenagers tend frequently to forget.”

And that we live in “A world of happenings, not of things.”

Rovelli describes concepts visually.

“…before experiments, measurements, mathematics, and rigorous deductions, science is about all about visions. Science begins with a vision. Scientific thought is fed by the capacity to ‘see’ things differently than they have been previously seen.”

And reminds us that “Genius hesitates.”

The essays originally appeared as a series for the culture section of  Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian newspaper. Released last month in the U.S., the book is ranked third on the New York Times combined print & e-book nonfiction list.

Why read ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics’? Because it will take you on an adventure beyond your comfort zone in the time it takes you to commute to work.

“We are made of the same stardust of which all things are made, and when we are immersed in suffering or when we are experiencing intense joy, we are nothing other than what we can’t help but be: a part of our world.”

 

 

 

‘Fear of Happiness’ a poem by A.E. Stallings

Facebook Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg posed a question to the Barnard Class of 2011. “What would you do if your weren’t afraid?” It seems like a good query to revisit this week as high school seniors consider college choice, college seniors compare job offers, and the rest of us plan our next career move.

“She described a poster on the wall at Facebook: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” She said that it echoed something the writer Anna Quindlen once said, which was that “she majored in unafraid” at Barnard. Sandberg went on, “Don’t let your fears overwhelm your desire. Let the barriers you face—and there will be barriers—be external, not internal. Fortune does favor the bold. I promise that you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try. You’re going to walk off this stage today and you’re going to start your adult life. Start out by aiming high. . . . Go home tonight and ask yourselves, What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it! Congratulations.”

As you consider your answer, enjoy this week’s Friday Poem from A.E. Stallings.

Fear of Happiness

Looking back, it’s something I’ve always had:
As a kid, it was a glass-floored elevator
I crouched at the bottom of, my eyes squinched tight,
Or staircase whose gaps I was afraid I’d slip through,
Though someone always said I’d be all right—
Just don’t look down or See, it’s not so bad
(The nothing rising underfoot). Then later
The high-dive at the pool, the tree-house perch,
Ferris wheels, balconies, cliffs, a penthouse view,
The merest thought of airplanes. You can call
It a fear of heights, a horror of the deep;
But it isn’t the unfathomable fall
That makes me giddy, makes my stomach lurch,
It’s that the ledge itself invents the leap.

A.E. Stallings   Poetry, 2010

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