The Friday Poem ‘The Familiar Has Taken Leave’

Why are we always surprised when national events veer from a predicted trajectory? Maybe we’ve been spending too much time with analytics and not enough time with the poets.

Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic last week about the role of poetry in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. “Campaign in poetry; govern in prose,” the old adage goes. This moment, though, has in many ways flipped that idea: The 2016 presidential campaign was decidedly lacking in poetry. Yet in its aftermath, as Americans consider the contours of their new government, they are, often, turning to poems…”

She interviewed Don Share, the editor of Poetry magazine to discover why poetry was having a ‘moment’.

“Well, it’s always been speaking to people—and it’s always been speaking to people about the kinds of things they’re taking about now, because one of the things poetry is really good at is anticipating things that need discussion. Poets are kind of like—it’s a bad metaphor, but—canaries in a coal mine. They have a sense for things that are in the air. Partly because that’s what they do—they think about things that are going on—but partly because they take their own personal experience and see how that fits in with what they see in the world. A lot of people might think that poetry is very abstract, or that it has to do with having your head in the clouds, but poets, actually, walk on the earth. They’re grounded, feet-first, pointing forward. They’re moving around and paying attention at every moment.”

Perhaps next time, we should survey the poets, not the pollsters.

Until then, the events of the past 11 days brought me to a poem selected by Matthew Zapruder for the August 16, 2016 issue of The New York Times Magazine.

The poem, written by broadcaster, documentary filmmaker and poet, Richard O. Moore was part of a “sequence of sonnets about the consequences of losing his sight in old age”.

At its core, the poem is about change…and how we respond.

The Familiar Has Taken Leave

Responding to a world turned outside in
Requires a fresh agility of will
And a surreal mode of thought, both distant
When the world was visible and real.
The only carry-over is the sound:
The hollow clatter of the commonplace,
Ancestral voices, sepulchral complaints
From many sources now invisible.

This is the most dispassionate I can be.
The familiar has taken leave with all I know
And what is left is mostly echo fading,
Never to return. What takes shape then
Is virtual and is a world apart
Assembled half by memory, half by art.

Richard O. Moore (1920-2015) from ‘Particulars of Place’ April, 2015

ParticularsOfPlace-Cover-1.5x2.25-300dpi-CMYK-200x283.jpg

 

‘Transmission’ a poem by Rachel Richardson

On July 2nd, 1937 aviator Amelia Earhart was attempting to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan had completed 22,000 miles of a 29,000 mile journey when transmission was lost. Ten ships, 3,000 men and 100 aircraft searched for the missing plane. The disappearance remains a mystery and has generated multiple conspiracy theories and continuing efforts by private organizations to discover the wreckage.

Earhart had become an early twentieth century role model for women. Her final note to her husband acknowledged the danger as well as her feminism.

“Please know I am quite aware of the hazards of the trip. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

The Friday Poem by Rachel Richardson captures an imagined ‘transmission’ from the final moments of that flight.

Transmission

There was a girl who heard it happen:
Amelia Earhart calling
on the radio, she and her navigator
alternately cursing and defining their position
by latitude, as best they could read it
in the bellowing wind, and by what
they could surmise of their rate per hour,
last land they’d seen. Stay with me, someone,
and the girl wrote each word
in her composition book, kept the channel
tuned, hunched to the receiver
when static overtook the line.
Why do I think of her?
The coast guard laughed at her father
holding out the schoolgirl scrawl
and sent him home ashamed. A lost woman
is a lost woman, he told her, and the sea
is dark and wide.

Rachel Richardson  The New York Times Magazine  January 22, 2016

 

 

The Saturday Read ‘Worklife: Rethinking the office for an always-on economy’

The Saturday Read this week is a compilation of articles that appeared in the February 28, 2016 ‘work issue’ of The New York Times Magazine.

A group of journalists and writers contributed coverage on a variety of work/life topics, adding new perspectives from groundbreaking research, demonstrating that, regardless of profession, it’s all about the culture. And the culture is in need of change.

Organization culture determines who succeeds, fails, and communicates ‘hints’ through recruiting practices, and the daily process of getting things done; meetings, teamwork and office space.

“We do often work at home. But we also work at work, before going home to work more. The office has persisted, becoming even bigger, weirder, stranger: a symbol of its outsize presence in our lives.”

The ‘work issue’ is an interesting survey of some of the most pressing issues @work today. The sampling of the content below is meant to serve as an introduction, with a recommendation to take the time to read the edition in its entirety.

NYT staff writer, Susan Dominus challenges us to think about balance beyond policies by ‘Rethinking the Work-Life Equation’, reporting on the research of Phyllis Moen of the University of Minnesota and Erin Kelly of M.I.T.

“Workers in the experimental group were told they could work wherever, and whenever, they chose so long as projects were completed on time and goals were met; the new emphasis would be on results rather than on the number of hours spent in the office. Managers were trained to be supportive of their employees’ personal issues and were formally encouraged to open up about their own priorities outside work — an ill parent, or a child wanting her mom to watch her soccer games. Managers were given iPods that buzzed twice a day to remind them to think about the various ways they could support their employees as they managed their jobs and home lives.

The research found that employees in the experimental group met their goals as reliably as those in the control group, and they were, in short, much happier: They were sleeping better, were healthier and experienced less stress. Other studies examining the same workplace found that the effects even cascaded down to employees’ children, who reported less volatility around their own daily stresses; adolescents saw the quality of their sleep improve. A year out, and then three years out, employees in the experimental group reported less interest in leaving the organization than those in the control group.

…sometimes there is little more than tradition holding organizations back from making meaningful changes that bring tremendous peace of mind to their employees.”

Five years ago, Google decided to determine what makes a ‘perfect team’. Pulitzer prize winning New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg reports on the results in an excerpt from his new book, ‘Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business’.

“For Project Aristotle, research on psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success. There were other behaviors that seemed important as well — like making sure teams had clear goals and creating a culture of dependability. But Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

However, establishing psychological safety is, by its very nature, somewhat messy and difficult to implement. You can tell people to take turns during a conversation and to listen to one another more. You can instruct employees to be sensitive to how their colleagues feel and to notice when someone seems upset. But the kinds of people who work at Google are often the ones who became software engineers because they wanted to avoid talking about feelings in the first place.

What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy. We can’t be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor.”

Nikil Saval, who wrote about the evolution of the office in ‘Cubed: The Secret History of the Workplace’, writes about new experiments with office space, ‘Labor/atories’

“The sudden efflorescence of the tech industry in the late ’90s took us from the desert of cubicles to the milk-and-honey offices of today. Many of the dot-commers had graduated from (or, very often, dropped out of) cozy university campuses to toil in big corporations. Starting their own companies, they recreated the effortless drift between work and play that characterized their college lives. The cubicle walls came down, and in the wide, open warehouse and loft spaces they occupied, exceptionally long workdays would be punctuated by frenzied Mario Kart races or fierce Ping-Pong battles. Creating a playful office became one of the standard ways of attracting skilled employees in a competitive environment: The hope was that a talented engineer wouldn’t leave a tech behemoth for the dinky start-up next door that didn’t have a gym and a resistance pool. Thus has the ‘‘fun office’’ spread throughout the world.”

Each of the articles provides a ‘take away’ to apply @work. If you’re a leader, you’ll rethink your approach as you begin to understand what your competitors are doing to recruit and retain employees. As a manager, you’ll learn ways to improve the daily routine of meetings, but more important, reinforce behavior that will encourage employees to be productive. For the rest of us, a window has been opened to view alternative approaches to work and workplace. What will you do on Monday to turn policy into practice?