The week@work – why the world comes to NY, the last ‘corner office’,”the things I shrugged off” & Shalane Flanagan

This week@work we remember the victims of terrorism on the bicycle path in Lower Manhattan and reflect on why the world comes to New York. On Sunday, the weekly ‘Corner Office’ column came to an end, a journalist shared her experience in the ‘gray area’ of sexual harassment and an American woman won the New York Marathon.

Memory
“I remember so well the first time I visited New York.” Contributing Op-Ed writer, Aatish Taseer shared his personal connection to the city as he honored Tuesday’s victims. “Most of the eight people killed in the terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday were foreigners visiting New York. One group, especially — five friends from Argentina celebrating the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation — had been planning their trip for years. They were part of a great unorganized commonwealth of people, out in the world, whose imagination New York has captured. It is heartbreaking to think that those for whom the dream of New York is most alluring should be the victims of so vivid a nightmare.”

Leadership
After 525 ‘Corner Office’ columns, journalist Adam Bryant ended his series with ‘How to Be The Big Boss’.

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“It started with a simple idea: What if I sat down with chief executives, and never asked them about their companies?

The notion occurred to me roughly a decade ago, after spending years as a reporter and interviewing C.E.O.s about many of the expected things: their growth plans, the competition, the economic forces driving their industries. But the more time I spent doing this, the more I found myself wanting to ask instead about more expansive themes — not about pivoting, scaling or moving to the cloud, but how they lead their employees, how they hire, and the life advice they give or wish they had received.

My vote for career advice goes to something I heard from Joseph Plumeri, the vice chairman of First Data, a payments-processing company, and former chief executive of Willis Group Holdings. His biggest career inflection points, he told me, came from chance meetings, giving rise to his advice: “Play in traffic.”

“It means that if you go push yourself out there and you see people and do things and participate and get involved, something happens,” he said. “Both of my great occasions in life happened by accident simply because I showed up.”

Harassment
“What do you do when the big bank CEO calls your hotel room at 11 p.m.? Journalist and radio host Lizzie O’Leary reflected on a career of compromises and broadened the audience who might identify with #MeToo.

“Over the course of my career, I have shrugged off things that horrify me now. I learned to push through the routine humiliation. As an ambitious woman, I often ran an internal calculation about how much “trouble” I was willing to make. Should I fight about the story I want to do or the unwelcome remark about my legs? Time and time again, I went with the former. If I hadn’t, I don’t know if I would have been as successful. I’m not ashamed about wanting a career, but I can’t look back at some of my actions without wincing.

Now, in a senior position, I look at my brilliant younger colleagues, and I never want them to endure what for years I told myself was “gray stuff.” Ignoring it, as I’d learned to do, only lets it fester and continue.

I don’t know how to change centuries of conditioning. How to make men see women as peers. To let us just do our jobs. But maybe acknowledging that we live in a culture that doesn’t do that, is a start. I’m a radio host now. I believe strongly in the power of conversation. It is incumbent on everyone to talk about this.”

Career
What did you do on Sunday for two hours and 26 minutes? Shalane Flanagan ran through the streets of New York to become the first American woman in 40 years to win the New York Marathon.

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Bonnie Ford reported on the athlete and the race.
“How my career ends is super important to me,” she told me in early April, still recovering from an iliac fracture that kept her out of her hometown Boston Marathon and unsure when she’d be able to resume high-volume training. “It doesn’t mean I’m going to win a major, but at least I’m going to try to win a major marathon in the U.S., and I need at least two more events.”

She said it again and again and again, right up until the ever of Sunday’s race. She’s also savvy enough to recognize that happy endings are especially hard to come by for marathoners, who generally have just two chances per calendar year in the window between their mid-20s and mid-30s, if they stay healthy.

Will New York be Flanagan’s walk-off run? The emotional lure of Boston is still out there, not to mention her instantly increased marketability. But her business, in a deeper sense, is finished. “This means a lot to me, to my family, and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women to just be patient,” Flanagan told reporters Sunday. Patient until the road starts to run out, and it’s time to make a move.”

 

Photo credit: Shalane Flanagan – AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The Friday Poem ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ by Bob Hicok

The Friday Poem this week captures a moment when a telephone rings and life changes for two American workers. ‘Calling Him Back from Layoff’ is poet and English professor Bob Hickok’s intimate portrait of the effects of economic downturn.

Written at a time when Detroit was the epicenter of job losses in manufacturing, the words continue to resonate today, as we address income inequality and the impermanence of the ‘gig’ economy.

Calling Him Back from Layoff 

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones

hear?

Bob Hicok  ‘Insomnia Diary’ University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004

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Listen to Bob Hicok read the poem for ‘Poetry Everywhere’

 

The Saturday Read ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy

Are you one of the many who fumbles their way through a conversation of the classics, with vague memories of the Cliff Notes version, having never read the original? You’re not alone, and the ‘Saturday Read’ this week is the first step to fill in the blanks with ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy.

“Do you feel pressured to read certain books?” Journalist Alison Flood posed this question after a poll conducted by market research firm, ‘YouGov’, found that “Britons are weighed down with regret over novels they haven’t found ‘time and patience’ for”, garnering a series of Twitter comments concluding, you should try it, you might like it.

“…maybe it’s a classic because it’s good, not because it’s hard. I did precisely that with War and Peace; giving it a crack because I felt I should, and then being startled to discover that it was actually fun. Not a trial at all.”

Only 4% of Britons surveyed had read War and Peace, but that began to change with the broadcast this month of the Harvey Weinstein produced, BBC Television production of the novel as a four part, eight hour mini series.

“Judging by our recent sales … an awful lot of people have finally crossed this classic off their must-read list. Four different editions of the book have hit our bestseller list, shifting an almost equal number of copies each,” said Waterstones buyer Joseph Knobbs.

At publisher Wordsworth Editions, managing director Helen Trayler said that sales of War and Peace had grown steadily after the first episode of the new TV adaptation, with its edition in the top 20 of the Bookseller’s small publisher charts ever since the show launched.”

In December, 1,300 people joined together for a live, four day, marathon reading of the novel on Russian TV.

“Tolstoy’s great-great-granddaughter Fekla Tolstaya coordinated the participants, who are each reading a two to three-minute passage of the novel’s more than half a million words from schools, museums, libraries and other locations around the world.

Readers include Polish film director and Oscar winner Andrzej Wajda, Bolshoi Ballet director Vladimir Urin and Russian politician Valentina Matvienko. Cosmonaut Sergei Volkov contributed a reading from the International Space Station, and French readers were coordinated to read the book’s French sections”

 

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Yes, the book is written in French and English in the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation.

Clara Bell, reviewing the novel in 1886 for the New York Times criticized both the novel and Count Tolstoy’s domestic environment.

“In fact, War and Peace may be called an illustrated historical essay rather than a novel, there being no semblance of a plot, and the characters serving to develop the public events rather than being developed by them. This inversion of the usual rule, together with the subtle but unmistakeable savor of fatalism which pervades the whole work, disturbs the reader with the same sense of vague discomfort that must have chilled many of Count Tolstoi’s foreign admirers when they found their hero living in a shabby, comfortless, untidy house a little way out of Moscow, where carpets and clean tablecloths appeared to be equally rare.”

So we avoid reading ‘War and Peace’ because it’s described as daunting, boring, long, confusing and required. What if we took the advice of journalist Flood and read it for enjoyment? I did and it is long, but amazing and you will find the seeds of many subsequent classics, and ‘not so classic’ in the story.

It turns out Count Tolstoy had a lot to say about contemporary issues; the individual, happiness and occupation-work. One example, the thoughts of character Pierre Bezukov after he is released from prison at the end of the war.

“The absence of suffering, the satisfaction of one’s needs, and the resulting freedom to choose one’s occupation, that is, one’s way of life, now seemed to Pierre the highest and most unquestionable human happiness.

“…the satisfaction of his needs…now that he was deprived of them all, seemed perfect happiness to Pierre, and the choice of an occupation, that is, of a life, now, when that choice was so limited, seemed to him such an easy matter that he forgot that a superfluidity of life’s comforts destroys all the happiness of the satisfaction of one’s needs, and that a greater freedom to choose one’s occupation, the freedom which in this life was granted him by education, wealth, social position – precisely that freedom made the choice of an occupation insolubly difficult and destroyed the very need and possibility of an occupation.”

This is why we read ‘War and Peace’. It’s why Russian TV devoted four days to a live reading. And why one of Hollywood’s leaders decided to executive produce a screenplay of his favorite novel.

If you are still a bit of a skeptic, Philip Hensher of The Guardian offers ‘War and Peace: the 10 things you need to know (if you haven’t actually read it)’

” 7. Anyone who tells you that you can skip the “War” parts and only read the “Peace” parts is an idiot. The bits that interest you personally and the bits that you find of only abstract curiosity are going to change when you read the book at 20, and again at 50. The book is the product of a very big mind, who lost interest in almost everything War and Peace was about before he died. It is a living organism that is never quite the same as you remembered when you go back to it.”