Slow Down

Today’s affirmation arrived over a decade ago. I was attending a professional development workshop that included an optional visualization activity in which you identify an obstacle to your success. For me, the obstacle itself was unclear, but my reaction was to whisper to myself, “Slow down.”

Those words made sense to me. In order to achieve goals that matter to me, I need to slow down rather than hurry up. Not stop. Not avoid. Not hide. Keep working but accept that it takes time for the work to unfold. It reminds me of when I took art classes and the goal was to look again and again at the model to see what I was missing in my attempt to draw what was in front of me. It took hours.

I’ve heard and read similar advice in recent years for writers specifically. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard not to feel a bit sulky about this advice. I don’t want to slow down. I want to be some kind of super-writer, soaring across the pages, generating enviable daily word counts that amaze every reader. Every reader! (Ha. I had to rewrite that phrase because it reminds me of another thing that makes me sulky as a writer is the fact that I won’t be able to connect with every reader. In fact, the only way to connect with every reader is to say almost nothing, and that seems, um, pointless.)

This advice also reminds me, at least as a caution, of one of my favorite pieces of advice from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He describes a man leaning his ladder against a wall and climbing up the ladder as fast as possible. The man appears to be moving quickly, but what good is this effort if the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall? In time management terms, you have to slow down at least long enough to find the right wall. Make sure that your efforts are leading you in the right direction.

I suppose this affirmation relates well for where I am right now. I have been taking stock of my writing and re-assessing next steps. It makes me feel restless and uprooted. I am much happier when I am in the thick of a longer writing project. The direction is set, and I can move forward, sometimes quite rapidly. Even then, though, I reach a point when the work grows unwieldy, and I have to navigate more choices and search for changes to make it better. No matter where I am in the process, I always observe other writers generating a constant flow of polished, published works while I move at what is sometimes a snail’s pace within an endless round of not-yet-finished drafts.

Our culture is not a fan of slowing down. I am a bit amused by the memes of people outraged that someone in front of them in traffic is moving more slowly than necessary. The sight of someone paying by check rather than a card seems to wound the people waiting in line at the grocery store. The assumption is that if we aren’t moving quickly, we are falling behind.

But what if the only way to do something well, to say what you mean to say, to fix a problem rather than put a band-aid on it, is to move slowly, thoughtfully, forward? Of course there will be moments when the best response is a quick response, especially in an emergency. And then there’s the siren song of procrastination, so I guess I need to remember that slowing down is not the same as NOT doing the work. It is okay to be slow. This is not a race, not if “this” is something meaningful.

Let others pelt down paths that might lead nowhere. Find your own path. Take one step forward. Another. Breathe. That one step forward is the destination, no matter how small or gradual the movement.

laptop

Relaxed and happy

So one of my oldest affirmations, or perhaps, quasi-affirmation, or well, if I am honest, this was my mission statement in 1994, so I was young, and this sentence is now violating so many grammar rules that I think I will start again. Ahem. One of my oldest affirmations is “Be relaxed and happy like that woman we met in the grocery store.”

Impressive, hmm? Clear as mud. So a mission statement is a statement of what you want to be in the moment, not what you want to accomplish or possess. Around the time I was developing this mission statement, my now-husband and I ran into this woman he knew in a grocery store, and she was super relaxed and laughing as we chatted with her, and I thought, yes, that’s how I would like to be.

It wasn’t all I wanted to accomplish, but there was something admirable about not tackling every activity with a turbo charge but rather taking a breath and appreciating that which brings joy rather than focusing only on that which elicits sorrow, rage, or despair.

As I mentioned, I am revisiting my affirmations to bolster my commitment to writing, so I might explore briefly what this affirmation could mean for me as a writer. Relaxing instead of writing would not be what I want, but relaxing as I tackle my writing projects could be beneficial. What if I allow my writing to be a way to relax and smile, to celebrate the moment?

Can I make progress on anything if I am relaxed and happy as I work? Such an approach defies the Puritan work ethic. Can the act of writing be something positive and fulfilling? Can some of the issues I want to unpack be serious and consequential, at least to me, yet the work itself still allow me to be relaxed and happy? Can I be a caring, engaged part of the greater community and be relaxed and happy? At least, some of the time?

I know that my being stressed and miserable does not help anyone else, and it tends to undermine my ability to support others or create anything worthwhile. Being relaxed and happy does not mean I am not pursuing ongoing growth and improvement. Nor do I have to pretend that it is possible to be relaxed and happy all the time, nor that writing isn’t sometimes a difficult and frustrating activity. Indeed, as I think about it, what I most need is not necessarily to feel relaxed every time I write, but to relax rather than worry about what I am writing or where it is leading. Or how long it takes to get there.

Think Small

The following is an excerpt from the second edition of my e-book on time management, now available on Amazon.

Welcome to the second edition of Time Management: The Basics. My goal is to offer the reader a way to take small steps to manage time more effectively. I have transformed the lengthier discussions from the first edition of this book into short passages that highlight one strategy at a time.

Here’s my deep thought: Anyone who wants to manage time better doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on the process. 

Here’s another deep thought: Success in improving the way you manage your time results from a series of small changes rather than a massive or overwhelming shift in how you spend your time.

Yes, that’s my advice, at least to get us started. Think small.

Thus I provide you with a menu of strategies. Consider reading one strategy at a time and then giving that strategy a try for the day, week, or month. Focus on that one tweak to your routine. I like the word tweak because some of these strategies may not seem new or transformative to you, yet committing or re-committing to them could be beneficial, perhaps in subtle ways.

You don’t have to read these strategies in order. You have my blessing to hop around to whichever strategy calls to you first. 

In addition to including one strategy per section, I end each time with a prompt for reflection. That’s because I don’t think time management works without reflection. That is, you need to spend a few minutes thinking about what is working and what needs to change. Devoting a little time to reflect will help you develop a time management system that works. Once you fine-tune that system through reflection, you may wind up spending less time on the system because the various steps and tools will become a habit, at least for as long as you need them.

Reflect: Take a moment to consider your experiences with time management systems in the past, both paper-based and digital. What worked well? What didn’t? Why?

Listening Notes: 1619 podcast, Episode 5, Part 2

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/11/podcasts/1619-slavery-farm-loan-discrimination.html

“The Land of Fathers, Part 2” is the last episode of the 1619 podcast series.

Phew. This podcast picks up where it left off by highlighting the weight of the grief and loss experienced by a family of African American sugar cane farmers. They compare the way this family was treated by a bank (perhaps better described as sabotage) with a landmark class action law suit on behalf of African American farmers.

I hope you have listened to this series of podcasts, too, especially so you can get the impact directly rather than through my comments. I will share some of my takeaway points, which will likely make more sense if you have listened to the episode.

First, the bank that sabotaged this family was doing so with money provided by federal government, specifically the USDA. In fact, I learned something about how this works in the alarming book that I blogged about earlier called the Fifth Risk. Banks often tout how much they are helping the community when the truth is, they are just a conduit for federal support. In the Fifth Risk, the author even documented one time when a conservative legislator pointed to one such loan as an example of how private enterprise solves problems better than the government.

So basically, this bank used my tax dollars to undermine this family by giving the family less than what was needed to succeed and by providing it to them too late in the season to succeed.

I was curious if the reporter asked the belligerent white man who now owns this family’s farm if he believed it possible to farm well without the funds or the time to do so? By the way, is it just me, or does it start to feel like, what’s the word, a ‘tell’ when someone like that gets angry, it usually means he knows that he is not in the right but he’d rather get mad than make amends?

It is painful to reflect on this episode and think, hmm, setting people up to fail, lying about what happened, and blaming individuals rather than the larger system… that sure sounds familiar, as if it is the same game plan used throughout history by people without morals, conscience, or any kind of guide rails who are pretty much steering our world to devastation right now.

This episode also made me think about farming as a so-called private enterprise, and I wound up having so much to say that I will move it to another post because it is somewhat tangential to this podcast (though some of those connection points are significant).

The last takeaway is based on Nikole Hannah-Jones’s parting comments at the end. I realize that I tend to be most concerned that injustice and discrimination are happening today, and they are built on what happened before, and that is absolutely a problem, but there is also a parallel question of how to reckon with what has happened, how to acknowledge it, how to make sure that this knowledge informs how we move forward. And that reckoning is painful and infuriatingly elusive,

Given her statements here and elsewhere, I worry about and also deeply respect the way she engages in this work given the emotional toll it can take.

Which is why I want to return now to the closing lines of the podcast episode by Wesley Morris reflecting on the history of Black music, which I will copy below, because it hints at a way to keep fighting while allowing for the possibility of joy:

What you respond to in black music is an ultimate expression of belief in that freedom, the belief that the struggle is worth it, that the pain begets joy, and that that joy you’re experiencing is not only contagious, it’s necessary and urgent and irresistible. (Wesley Morris)

Listening Notes: America Dissected

Thanks to some extra time on the treadmill, and it’s true that I am glad I got on there after I’m done with the workout, I caught up on a new podcast called America Dissected with Abdul El-Sayed.

He has released three episodes so far, the first on modern quackery, and my main takeaway point was that some website named Goop is bat*&^%crazy (so I immediately warned my children, since I don’t think I’m the target demographic), and it’s a good reminder that one should not trust any celebrity who wants to sell you something. The next episode on Anti-vaxxers had a helpful insight to remember that the victims swept up by the anti-vax movement are motivated by fear and the desire to keep their children healthy. But since I am old-fashioned enough to think it is good when people don’t die of preventable diseases, I especially liked his statement that refusing to vaccinate is a lot like choosing to drive drunk—you are not just putting yourself at risk.

Warning, I am about to vent a little, so avert your gaze, if you’ve had enough venting this week. But anyway, I inexplicably chose to read some of the reviews of the anti-vax podcast, which is like reading comments on Twitter, (i.e. don’t), but it did expose me to the term “the vaccine-injured,” which turns out to be as effective a red flag as a mention of Hunter Biden to identify the speaker as a conspiracy theorist. I appreciate these little red flags, though in the latter case, it’s also a red flag of “the ethically-injured” because they are trying to ignore alarming factually-supported crimes by focusing on fabricated rumors, which, oddly enough, don’t erase the existence of the actual crimes. But hey, that’s what it means to be an American, I guess—just ignore everything we learned through massive research and heartbreak about what might protect us all from harm in order to embrace random *&^% so that a handful of the ethically-injured can make a quick buck.

Anyway, back to the podcast: his third episode was lit, and I rate it as a must listen because he unpacks the way pharmaceutical companies jack up prices for products literally made possible by tax payer funding.

photo of treadmills

Back on the treadmill

I don’t spend as much time listening to podcasts as a glimpse of my podcast library might suggest. At times, I feel as if I have as many “must listens” in terms of podcast episodes as I have “to be read” books on my shelf. Unlike my TBRs, I will sometimes rebel and delete the episodes just to say, okay, I give up. I don’t have time to listen to them all. But I still care about (fill-in-the-blank issue).

Still, I have been getting on the treadmill a bit more often lately, an activity that makes my mind go, “Oh, not this again, please distract me, please,” so I find a podcast episode. Watching television shows or movies is not an option for me because they are so time-consuming and I don’t want to risk getting addicted, but if it’s not addicting, I don’t want to watch it. So anyway, podcasts it is, though even then, my mood varies. Sometimes I go for writing-related topics, sometimes political junky venting, and sometimes something new.

So just as I sometimes share Reading Notes, I think I will post a few Listening notes, because I have heard a few podcasts this week that I want to blog about. Stay tuned :).

Word Search

I have been kicking around titles for this blog post. One was “Awkward segue” since I will return to random topics after spending a few weeks focusing on the painful history of American slavery and its ongoing impact on American society.

Another possible title was “The unbearable whiteness of being” in case you were wondering about me. Although there are no biological differences between groups of human beings, there are social constructs that affect what each of us experiences, as well as culturally empowering identities that can aid those who do not benefit from white privilege. So I wanted to say yes, if you were wondering, I am socially constructed as white. For that matter, I am cisgender identifying as female, preferring she and her, aka boring. Due to most of those constructs, I am unfairly privileged in American society, which is not boring but tragic in a country that claims to be a democracy.

When I try to write some of my thoughts on these topics, words elude me, possibly because the words we most often use/hear/absorb are insidious tools reinforcing divisions.

Still, let me try to explain why it is so important that I read and reflect on these articles. Because I am human, the history of slavery and its aftermath is 100% relevant to me. The fight for justice and democracy for all human beings is 100% relevant to me. But also, because I am socially constructed as white, this history, and its continuing impact, is 100% relevant to me in that I have an obligation to help dismantle systems which benefit me unfairly.

Recently, I had the privilege of hearing Bryan Stevenson (a saint on earth) give a keynote lecture at Appalachian State University. He called on the audience to commit to several actions to make the world a better place. One of them was that we must “tell the truth before justice is possible.”

I recently heard some people of privilege in a documentary say, “Oh, let’s just move on. It’s over,” (meaning, I suppose, the history of discrimination that, um, actively benefits them every minute of every day). But we can’t move on until we acknowledge the truth of what has happened and what is continuing to happen.

So if I engage with this history on my blog or in my novel set during the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, it is an attempt to reckon with what has happened. And what continues to happen.

On the other hand, I know I am more likely to make mistakes because the systems that provide privilege make me blind (or just plain stupid, to be honest), often just when I think I’m figuring something out. So something like the own voices movement is so critical to this project of speaking the truth/hearing the truth/reckoning with the truth.

One can be tempted to say, oh, in that case, the people who are negatively affected should be the only ones to speak of these issues. I would agree that when it comes to a topic in which I am the recipient of privilege, I should close my mouth and listen to those who have experience and insight into how to understand and address these challenges. I should do this as often as I can, even if it hurts sometimes to ponder what has occurred. What continues to occur.

But the same system of privilege that makes me blind at times is also what makes it tempting to stay silent. I should wait my turn to speak, yes. I should check my words, my facts, my interpretation, as often as I can. But staying silent and letting others do all of the work is yet another way to exercise privilege, which I want to dismantle. So, when I can, as humbly as I can, I have to engage. I know I will make mistakes, choose the wrong words, and sometimes realize, no, now wasn’t the time to speak. But another time might be.

And I will continue to seek the words I need.

And since I don’t yet have all the words I need, I will close with more advice from Bryan Stevenson, saint on earth: “We have to get proximate to our challenges.”

I recall similar advice from DeRay Mckesson on “Pod Save the People,” who urged listeners to get close to the work because that proximity makes visible what can and should be done. In both cases, they mentioned the insights they gained from visiting people in prisons.

Next goal: “We have to get uncomfortable.” Any meaningful reform requires it, Stevenson said.

And finally, my favorite, though I get why this can be hard, Bryan Stevenson urged us all to “Stay hopeful. Hope is our super power.”

1619 Project: Final articles

With this post, I bring to a close my endeavor to read, reflect, and spotlight the articles of the 1619 Project. There are several final essays worth reading:

One of the final essays, “Their Ancestors Were enslaved by Law. Now They’re Lawyers,” is a photo essay that focuses on several graduates of Howard University’s Law School and their family’s connection to slavery, a moving testimony and a way to celebrate some hard-earned triumphs. Photos are by Djeneba Aduayom, and text is written by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Wadzanai Mhute.

 

 

 

Another article by Logia Gyarke reports on the making of this issue of the New York Times Magazine, including the fact that the print copies sold out. Gyarke interviews Nikole Hannah-Jones, who led the effort.

 

And there is a lively essay by Kurt Streeter entitled “Is Slavery’s Legacy in the Power Dynamics of Sports?” He explores the possibility that this history relates to the NBA, and all of sports, and how fraught it is to refer to anyone as the “owner” of a sports team.

 

 

I have many thoughts percolating thanks to this series, which I may share in later posts. For now, let me state how grateful I am to the writers and editors who made this project possible.

1619 Project: Stewart

For some reason, I had difficulty finding this article the first few times I tried. I think perhaps I kept clicking on another worthy article, that I will discuss in my next post. So feel free to use the link below in case you have trouble reaching it, too.

Nikita Stewart’s article is entitled “‘We are committing educational malpractice’: Why slavery is mistaught –and worse–in American schools.” She discusses the failure to teach the history of slavery adequately and/or accurately in our school systems, which resonated for me both because I have already complained about the fairy tales that are perpetuated in our society and because I used to teach middle school, (I lasted four years–during which one of my goals was to improve my ability to teach history, including taking a NC History class at Appalachian State and learned, for the first time, about the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot).

Here’s the link:

She covers some important ground in this article, both what has gone wrong and ideas for change. Her closing words stand out, after recounting the stories her grandfather told:

He wanted listeners to understand the horror of the institution, even if he was too afraid to condemn it outright. For me, it’s a reminder of what our schools fail to do: bring this history alive, using stories like these to help us understand the evil our nation was founded on. (Stewart)

 

1619 Project: Lee

In one of the final essays in the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, Trymaine Lee writes that “A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and exclusion, separates black and white America.”

Again I want to highlight a few quotes that struck me.

The period that followed the Civil War was one of economic terror and wealth-stripping that has left black people at lasting economic disadvantage. (Lee)

One goal that I may or may not achieve by spending extra time on these articles is to (maybe) have a better grip on the words that might help me if/when I dare to speak about the challenges we face. I have more frequently used the word terrorism to describe the events that took place during the period after reconstruction, but it doesn’t fully encompass what happened. Yes, there was violence, the kind used to intimidate, bully, and degrade human beings, and there was murder, torture, and truly twisted sick events that make one question the humanity of the perpetrators. But also/in addition/sometimes simultaneously there was this: economic terror and wealth-stripping.

Lee touches on some of these acts of terror as well as data on the lasting impact in terms of wealth gaps. He even references the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot (aka violent white supremacist coup), which took place in my home state, as one example of the systematic disruption and displacement (and murder and terror) that affected the ability of the Black community to thrive.

He points out that government programs designed to help people originally excluded most African Americans: Social Security did not cover agricultural laborers or domestic workers (which I have heard before but still find mind-boggling), the Home Owners Loan Corporation helped the housing market but excluded Black neighborhoods, and the G.I. bill was administered in a way to limit support for African Americans.

I would like to highlight this quote by William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy and African-American studies at Duke University:

“The major way in which people have an opportunity to accumulate wealth is contingent on the wealth positions of their parents and their grandparents,” Darity says. “To the extent that blacks have the capacity to accumulate wealth, we have not had the ability to transfer the same kinds of resources across generations.” (Darity as quoted by Lee)

I wrote earlier about how the 1619 Project aims to make visible our actual history, rather than the sanitized, self-serving fairy tales that have been proffered as substitutes within our culture. In this context, I want to connect with a conversation between Sam Sanders “It’s Been A Minute,” and author Malcolm Gladwell:

I read a paper – an article – an essay written by a historian at Chicago named Charles Payne, and it was called “The Whole United States Is Southern!” And it is and remains one of the single most brilliant things I’ve ever read. And Payne is talking about the kind of Southern – the white Southern project in the era of the civil rights movement. In response to it was to shift the frame from a discussion about institutions and practices and laws to a discussion about people…

SANDERS: And the heart.

GLADWELL: The heart.

SANDERS: Are you racist?

GLADWELL: …To personalize it.

SANDERS: Where’s your racist bone?

GLADWELL: Yes – to say that we can end racism if only we all got along and we were all – if our hearts were pure, and we tried really hard. That was their response to the kind of broader argument that was making. And Payne’s essay is all about how that side won, that they managed to transform the debate in this country about racism from one in which we were considering these larger structural issues to one where we were just personalizing everything

(From Sam Sanders “It’s Been A Minute”)

One of the fairy tales used to cultivate inaction and the illusion of powerlessness in the face of grave injustices is the idea that it all comes down to individual choices. Indeed, the same strategy is being used successfully to delay the kind of sweeping reforms necessary to address climate change.

Sure, it is good to recycle. It is good to be against racism. It is good to make wise choices. But when the systems and structures are designed to impoverish one group of people to the advantage of another, we must interrogate and reject those systems. As individuals, we are all fallible. But together as a part of the larger democracy, we can and must do better.