Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lazy, Lazy Thinking in the Noon Day Sun

I always used to talk about racism when I talked about logical flaws in my composition classes–that stereotypes came from generalizing badly. Sample size too small, oversimplifying, etc. (I don’t spend much time on logical flaws now, and I miss them–such fun names! Such color and metaphor–one day, the Straw Man smelled a Red Herring and Ergo, Propter Hoc!)

It never occurred to me until I read “Study: Racial stereotyping linked to creative stagnation” on Salon.com that racism was connected (in inverse proportion) to creativity. It makes sense, though.

I’ve written once before in this blog on the notion of lowering associative borders, in a post called “I Can’t Get No Satisficing.”  Having high associative borders is similar to what this study (described in more detail in in this article, “Racial Essentialism Reduces Creative Thinking, Makes People More Closed-Minded” in Science Daily) calls categorical thinking.

The lead researcher, Carmit Tadmor, and her co-authors say that although creative stagnation and racism “concern very different outcomes, they both occur when people fixate on existing category information and conventional mindsets.”

The study is hopeful that people can change their thinking. I am too–part of the reason I want to begin doing workshops on creativity is that studies show people can become more creative thinkers. We’re not stuck with what we were born with.

What I would call a “creativity workshop” is typically called “enhancement training” or “creativity training” in cognitive research. Hsen-Hsing Ma published an article in 2006 with overall terrific news about the possibility that we can become more creative.

Ma cites an early researcher, Paul Torrance,  who found that “programs teaching children to think creatively were at least 50% successful.” Another study from those rockin’ 1970s by Mansfield, et. al., showed “most evaluation studies of creativity training programs seem to support the view that creativity can be trained.”

SO WE’VE KNOWN THIS FOR A LONG TIME.

For the 2006 article, jazzily titled, “A Synthetic Analysis of the Effectivieness of Single Components and Packages in Creativity Training Programs,” Ma did what is called meta-analysis of studies (reading LOTS of studies on an issue and summarizing and analyzing their results), showing the following:

Good news item #1: “Overall, the finding of this study confirms the result of Torrance’s (1972) investigation; namely, that children can be taught to think creatively.”

But oh, gracious, the news is better than that:

“This study also found that creativity training programs tended to be more successful with older participants than younger ones.”

So–watch out old racists and stagnant thinkers everywhere. The times they are a changin’ (NOTE: if you’re old enough to recognize that song, you’re just the right age to benefit from creativity training.)

We can become more creative.

We can become more creative.

___

(Image from Creative Commons on flickr, “Coloured Rooms Doorways-Brian Eno Speaker Floers Sound Installation at Marlborough House” by Dominic Alves.)

On the Enduring Appeal of Bureaucracy

A roller coaster isn’t scary because
The car’s attached to the rail (you hope it is),
However high you loop, you’re certain you will
End up right where you started. A reliable thrill.
A blanket. Mowed trails. Molded cafeteria tray.
We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.
And if you want to make a radical change,
We’ll say no. Quickly. Firmly. Again and again.
“So rather than shift to what it needed to do,
The Army would continue doing what it knew
How to do, which is how bureaucracies act
When they lack strong leadership.” Thomas E. Ricks.
Of course it worked so well in Vietnam.
So we do what we do and thus stay safe and warm.

_____

Cafeteria trays at the Googleplex

Cafeteria trays at the Googleplex

The cafeteria tray I had in mind was the kind that has spaces for your food–elementary school tray, of course. But aren’t these Googleplex trays pretty? Gosh. Might make you think it was possible to have a mix of the creative and the tried-and-true.

Also:  The Generals is just an amazing book. I applaud Tom Ricks once again.

_____

(Picture from Creative Commons on flickr, taken by John “Pathfinder” Lester)

Longing for the Sh*tty Barn

All those blizzard letters snaking across
the yard spelling “shiver,” spelling “cold,”
and one whole sentence, “spring will never come,”
they piss me off. An icicle of frozen piss
hangs down from a neighbor’s house, gold
in direct sunlight, briefly. Nope. Now it’s gone.

How I long for a warm night in May at the Barn,
Chastity Brown singing “oh la oh la” and then drums,
those drums…when I listen in the car, I pound
the steering wheel, I thump it, I hit it hard,
I sing along. Winter’s stalled. The doldrums
(“a belt of calms and light baffling winds”)
sound utterly lovely compared to this.
This snow. This mood. This lack of beer. This ice.

_____

Fortunately, the lack of beer can be remedied. Were I at the Sh*tty Barn, it would be a Fatty Boombalatty I’d be drinking. So I will hoist one, this evening perhaps, and trust that someday soon, I’ll be at the barn.

And if you haven’t listened to Chastity Brown, you oughta. The song where she’s singing “oh la oh la” (and I’m not at all sure how to spell that) is called “After You.”

how do you like your blueeyed boy Mister Weinstein

As we close out 21 Days of Bradley Cooper, I am so happy that Silver Linings Playbook won SOMETHING last night at the Oscars, and I’m pretty crazy about Jennifer Lawrence, even without watching these videos, in which she gushes over and then is kind of annoyed by Jack Nicholson “Is he back? I need a rear view mirror.”  And also expresses actual authentic reactions to media-ishy questions, post-Win.

I loved Winter’s Bone, too. And in Silver Linings Playbook, her character Tiffany had my favorite line from the movie:

“I was a slut. There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you capable of that?”

To me this is one of the signature lines of the movie, not just because of the brashness and crassness, but because it’s about integration, moving beyond shame, and redeeming your own self, from the inside out.  Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany teaches Bradley Cooper’s Pat how to do that.

Which reminds me, this was never 21 Days of Jennifer Lawrence (maybe that’s next! probably not).  It was 21 Days of Bradley Cooper.

He didn’t win. It is entirely possible that only his mother thought he really had a chance to. As much as I’ve enjoyed my little foray into Bradley Cooperstown, I have to admit that I agree with the “brutally honest director” who did a think-aloud of his Oscar ballot, who said, “For Bradley Cooper, the nomination is his award.”

One wonders about direction after the Oscars–I think if Mr. Cooper had won, people would have remembered him as the guy who stole it from Abe Lincoln, not as the guy who took huge strides in the role of Pat Solitano.

I was hopeful Silver Linings Playbook would win more, though–the movie hit me at just the right time, and I really, really wanted the Academy to give more love to a smart comedy with a happy ending.

(I’m sure I should want to see Amour. I do not want to.)

The “brutally honest director” said this about David O. Russell’s chances for Best Director, that  “it took David O. Russell to figure out that Bradley Cooper is a great actor,” and Nate Silver had the movie trending a little for Best Picture, so I was hopeful.

Nonetheless, the Oscars are over, and I find that I still have not answered my friend Jen’s question, “So there is a movie in which Bradley Cooper’s character is not a psychopath?”

His character, Pat, in Silver Linings Playbook, begins the movie figuring out how to manage his bipolar disorder. So, not a psychopath. Previously delusional and violent, but no, not a psychopath. And in the movie, appealingly upbeat, hopeful, earnest, vulnerable, and relentless.

There is corroboration for the psychopath idea, though, here: “The Creepiness of Bradley Cooper,” in which the author says she sees “something of the psychopath about him,” but is ultimately not troubled by it: “Dark times call for dark celebrities, and these times are dark.”

Amen.

That article featured his turn in Limitless, which I see as essentially an ambivalent fable about Adderall.

All my Google searches and alerts had not turned up that article, though–it was referenced in this one in the New Republic Article, “Bradley Cooper: Beefcake Thespian How the “Silver Linings Playbook” star became a serious actor.”

This article is pretty heavy on the snark, emphasizing Mr. Cooper’s tendency to play characters you wouldn’t necessarily trust. Or like.

And it seems to have multiple axes it wants to grind. Curious.

My favorite Bradley Cooper article is this one from Esquire, “Dinner with Bradley,” post-Limitless, pre-Silver Linings Playbook, which likens him to a young Senatorial Jack Kennedy. It’s smart writing, and seems to give Mr. Cooper credit for some of the same things the New Republic article criticizes him for (pushing himself to be serious, being ambitious). It does this thing where I wondered if the author was trying to imply SOMETHING HAPPENED, (“Eleven o’clock on a Saturday morning and Bradley Cooper is sleeping. Russell Crowe is Robin Hood on the television and there has been another day of Limitless publicity in between and Cooper is tired. Five days earlier, Entertainment Weekly declared that ‘A Serious Movie Star Is Born.’ He is on his side and unshaven and not snoring and smiling.”) but is otherwise pretty interesting.

I’m sort of exhibit A of how nominations can bolster a movie–it definitely caught my attention because of the Oscar talk, and I’m pretty sure that’s why it showed at Sundance (and when I go see a movie, I typically would HOPE it would be showing at Sundance).

It’s been a fun ride for me. But Bradley Cooper had WAY more fun as evidenced in this Happy Hugger slideshow.

Full disclosure: in regards to my plan three weeks ago in which I imagined myself posting something about Bradley Cooper every day until the Oscars. That didn’t happen because
1. I got bored.
2. I got busy.
3. My calculated and cynical attempt to bolster blog traffic by blogging about a hot commodity was not successful. I think I’m still getting all those David Bowie hits because there weren’t that many people blogging about his new single. Whereas there are approximately (number approaching infinity) people blogging about Bradley Cooper.

One of my blogs, though, wondered about all Harvey Weinstein’s machinations on behalf of Silver Linings Playbook, thus the title.

"Stop looking at me, Bradley Cooper."

“Stop looking at me, Bradley Cooper.”

(photo by wrestlingentropy on flickr, Creative Commons)

“How do I do that? How do I become a person who says no to things?”

(If you’re keeping score at home, this is also “How to Get the Pay Raise You Deserve, Part V”)

Here’s one of my favorite drums to pound:

You can raise your hourly wage by working fewer hours.

(You have to be on salary for the math to work.)

How? Here’s how to do less:

10. Take people at their word. Take them up on their offers. For example, when I get an email from someone who says, “Would you like to do X, or do you need me to do it?” I mostly say, “That would be great if you would do it! Thanks!” Because what are the possibilities there?

a. It was a passive-aggressive way of asking me to do it.

b. It was a genuine offer to do X.

c. It was a way to try to shame me into doing it, hoping I wouldn’t admit to “needing” anything.

So, for a. my response is that I might sometimes accede to passive-aggressive bullshit without realizing what I’m doing, but when I see it, I like to mess with it, and play dumb, and pretend like I’m dealing with someone who says what they mean. (Because they totally should say what they mean, or at least stop talking to me.)

For b., my response is THANKS! Then I try to make the offer back  when I can. (I’m not a selfish jerk. I’m just trying to stay relatively sane.)

For c., I would, if I were forced to name names, say call 1-800-Shame Resilience and ask to talk to Brené Brown. She’ll give you the what-for. And I have many, many needs about which I have so little shame that I’m happy to let someone else feel needed.

My need to admit I have needs and someone else’s need to feel needed = pie and ice cream.

This is how great it feels to be needed.

This is how great it feels to be needed.

9. Ask for help. Don’t even wait for someone drive their passive-aggressive sedan by you so slowly that it’s easy-peasy for you to grab the bumper and ride your skateboard along in their fumes for a while. Just ask for help.  You’re a good person. You’re helpful. When someone who isn’t ALWAYS asking for  help asks you for help, do you think that person is horrible?  (Don’t tell me if you do.)
8. Pretend you’re someone you’re not. Would the Mansplainer say yes to everything asked of him? He would not. If you were a rock star, would your personal assistant field this request to you? He would not.
7. Wait to say yes. Lots of people have talked about this, so I won’t say much. But it’s pure gold in terms of effectiveness. It’s hard to say no in the moment of social pressure ACK ACK ONE OF THOSE BAD DREAMS WHERE I CAN’T SPEAK, but it’s way easier half a day later to email and say, “I’m sorry. I just looked at my to do list and my calendar and I just can’t.”

6. Don’t LIE and say you looked at your to do list and your calendar. Actually do it. And try to make it a really accurate to do list and a calendar on which you’ve sketched out when you’re going to do what’s on the list. (Please allow me once again to recommend Things and “Sunday Meeting” by Kerry Rock-My-World.)

5.Stop thinking up new things to do that no one even asked you to come up with.

4. Don’t wait until your wicked-burnout ways land you in a health or relationship crisis (they will, eventually). Get that calendar back out and imagine you’ve been warned that approximately two weeks from now, there will be a one to two-day crisis that you absolutely have to deal with.

Or, if that feels icky, imagine that the grandmother of a former student wants to give your campus a check for $100,000 dollars and because that student spoke so fondly of you, you have to accept the check in person. Two weeks from now. It will take two days.

What would you do? Cancel some stuff? Ask people to cover for you? Reschedule some stuff? Imagine blocking out two whole days. Make a plan.

Then follow through.  Or, if that feels too indulgent, do it for one day. Or an hour.

If you really can’t do it just for yourself, to get caught up, or catch a movie, or take a nap, or work on your favorite part of your job that you never get to work on, or go on a date, or WHATEVER, then schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional and use sick leave. That is what sick leave is for. It is for when you have a health problem. If you can’t make time for what is important, you have a problem.

3. Find that one thing on your to do list that you haven’t done yet, that you don’t want to do, that you keep putting off, for whatever reason. Cross it off your list. If someone else needs to know you’re done with it, email them and say, “I’m so sorry, but I said yes to too many things this semester/month/week/year/time on the planet. I am not going to do this. I am very, very sorry.”

This is not the BEST way to be a people pleaser, but you know what? Ms. People wasn’t pleased at how long it was taking you to do whatever. At least now Ms. People can make other plans.

And even though it wasn’t taking up your time because you weren’t doing it, it was taking up a lot of psychological energy hanging around on your to do list. Kind of like that creepy guy that kept asking you what kind of batteries he should buy with his special massage implement when you worked at Spencer’s Gifts.

2. Check in with people who know you & will tell you the truth (their truth, anyway) who can fulfill these roles (these might or might not be people you actually work with, and these may be the only useful roles the fun house mirrors play in your life):

MIRROR: person who sees things pretty much as you see them in terms of philosophy, values, work-life balance, who respects you and cares for you. Ask the MIRROR person: am I working too much? am I working enough? Jussssssssst right? Make adjustments as needed, in consultation with that person.

FUN HOUSE MIRROR SKINNY WORKAHOLIC VERSION: ask someone who lives to work and works to live the same questions. If that person EVER, EVER, EVER says something along the lines of “You’re working an awful lot lately,” you know it’s crisis time (see #4 above).

(Don’t wait for that person to say “You’re working too much.” They don’t believe that is possible.)

FUN HOUSE MIRROR LOVE-HANDLED BELUSHI-BOY: if you say to this terrific guy, who’s probably wearing a Hawaiian shirt & shorts with 700 pockets, “hey, am I working enough?” and he says, “No, you’ve been super mellow and ready to play pool a lot lately” go back and double-check with your MIRROR and then make a plan if you need to. Could be you’re making time for a precious friend or it could be you got TOO GOOD at setting boundaries. Don’t worry if that happened, because

Here’s what there will always be plenty of: people asking you to do stuff. You will never lack for opportunities to do a little back-fill if you realize you were slacking. Which you probably weren’t.

1. Do whatever you can to be the kind of person who operates from a base of worth and plenty rather than inadequacy and scarcity.

I still struggle with this, but I’m trying to listen less to the voice in me that wants everyone to like me all the time, especially the people I don’t like. I’m trying to listen more to the voice that says I am enough, and that I get to be picky about who rides on the bus with me. People who bring me down can’t get on my bus. Or they at least can’t sit in the back where we’re singing “One Tin Soldier.”

This isn’t possible for all of us, I know, at least maybe not now, not this year, not this week, not with this boss, not in this job, not in this economy–I get it. I feel it. I feel gobsmacked by it sometimes. But when and where it’s possible, we need to listen to Nancy Reagan’s quavery, moneyed, seat-of-power voice:

JUST SAY NO.

Getting the Pay Raise You Deserve, Part IV

Part of healing from burnout is learning to set boundaries. Making time for what’s important (yourself. family. friends. fun. community. yourself again) other than your work.

Easier said than done. Really easily said. “Set boundaries.” Unless you have a cute little hint of a lisp the way John F. Kennedy, Jr. had. Then it’s a little harder to say.

Pretty hard to do.

But those of us who’ve emerged from the Pretty Good Depression still employed find ourselves picking up the slack left behind when people were laid off, or  not replaced, or carrying a heavier load in terms of student enrollment, juggling new initiatives, etc. etc.

It is just so easy to do too much for too long and end up having your soul scrape up against your to do list like bone-on-bone-bad arthritis.

In the long run, as I mentioned to my boss’s boss’s boss last Valentine’s Day (ahem), a system that is structured to rely on people burning themselves out LIKE OURS is not sustainable. (It also doesn’t get the best work out of people, even in the relative short-run–but that’s the subject of yet another blog yet to be written. Stay tuned.)

For me, the urge  to work too much (and the actuality of working too much and the guilt of perhaps not working enough) mixes with my long-term tendencies toward depression and anxiety into a toxic burnout brew that makes me less of everything I want to be (loving, enthusiastic, effective) and more of everything I’d rather not be (chronically irritated, cynical, spastically ineffective).

I’m still learning, but I’m making progress.

If you click on “burnout” in my blog categories, you’ll see it’s something I write about a lot. (cf: fixate upon.)

In Getting the Pay Raise You Deserve, Parts I, II, and III,

I acknowledge:

It is all too easy to come across as whining, and something like “I had to spend an hour on the phone getting my insurance coverage worked out today” can come across as ingratitude, a classic First World Problem….it is a luxury to consider what changes we could make to improve our lot. But you know what? A lot of us in academia do have that luxury, especially those of us with tenure.

I assert:

You can raise your hourly wage by working fewer hours.

I celebrate myself, I sing myself:

I don’t work too hard. I work hard enough.

Here’s how good I am at setting boundaries.  I got folks pounding on one of the walls I built hollering at me  like they’re possessed by the spirit of Chico Marx: “You no work enough.”

Here’s the contested boundary of the month:

In response to Scott Walker’s 2011 budget bombs (which resulted in less take home pay for my family), I looked around to find ways to save money. We love Culver’s just as much as we always did, but we don’t go as much as we used to. INSERT LOTS AND LOTS OF OTHER EXAMPLES OF BUDGET TRIMMING HERE. And then, to save money on gas, I started working from Spring Green some Tuesdays (my teaching schedule is MWF). That enabled me to volunteer in my son’s classroom now and then. That turned into a regular gig. That turned into a commitment. Which turned into a column in the Voice of the River Valley.

I do a lot of work on Tuesdays, and I check email a lot during the day. I’m considering setting up virtual office hours to make sure students and advisees remember that I am available on Tuesdays, just not in person in my office on my campus. And as I mentioned in one of the three prior posts in this series, I average more than 40 hours a week during the 9-month contract. Since I try to take a week off between semesters, and two days off at Thanksgiving, and two or three days off during spring break, and maybe Labor Day if I’ve got my course syllabi ready, that means I typically average 45 hours during an actual teaching week.  (I don’t count how many hours I work in the summer, but it probably averages to about 20. )

I don’t see why it’s anyone’s beeswax, if I’m accessible to students, if I’m doing my job well (I have official recognition of that), and if I’m doing my share for service (and I do), WHY it matters how many of those hours are in my office or on campus or in my kitchen or at a coffee shop or wherever.

But there are people for whom dedication to campus life is measured in hours worked (more hours = more dedication) and hours on campus (more = more). I don’t agree. I hope the issue goes away. If it doesn’t–well, gracious. You won’t like me when I’m angry.

Take this one boundary skirmish as a warning, all ye who dare to dream of  work life balance. Sometimes when you set a boundary, you have to defend it. But a lot of times, people don’t even notice.

If you’re brave enough, if you’re tired enough, if you’re burned out enough, tune in next time when I share my Top List of Ways to Work Less. (Remember: if you’re on salary, you can raise your hourly wage by working fewer hours.  The hilarious irony is that the quality of your work will actually go up, and in some cases, the quantity too–because you have more energy to focus on the things you’re still doing. Shh. Don’t tell.)

Meanwhile, Joshua blew the trumpet at Jericho and the walls came a-tumblin down.

This is what a system structured on burnout looks like. Eventually.

This is what a system structured on burnout looks like. Eventually.

_____

(photo from flickr, Creative Commons, by Babak Farrokhi, entitled “Office Under Construction.” So it’s not really about sustainable systems OR Jericho.)

The Bloggess and Bradley Cooper

That’s actually all I wanted to say.

The Bloggess and Bradley Cooper.

It’s fun to say.  Say it with me (lingering on the “s” and then popping on the “p”)

The Blogesssssssss and Bradley CooPer.

Good combo. It’s like ketchup finally, finally met mustard.