Monthly Archive for January, 2010

Ruckus and Martin: A Piece of the Legacy

Excerpt:

It is not vision alone. We have learned the limitations of vision without action. Our lack of collective power now stems from the space between those who say they share the dream of King, and those willing to share the practices, or invest in the practices. King’s legacy inspires us because there are so many strategic, successful actions in it. If he had simply been a marvelous orator, he would have lacked the credibility that his tireless and incendiary action earned him.

Read the rest!

observing a grieving period for family

I feel like I and those I am close to have come to a slow and painful stop this week. I feel like I should be wearing black, weeping all the time and tearing at my clothes. This? Again? Those beautiful faces again?

I kept going through tasks and to-do lists and then coming back to the various blogs, pictures, accounts of what is happening in haiti. It looks so…familiar. And, futuristic. That crisis, that inability to respond, to communicate, to extract ourselves from man-enhanced disaster.

We have grown so reactionary as a species, when we need to be evolutionary.

Now we will invest, not before.

Now we will speak words of community, family, duty, what is right. Before, we conspired, intervened, destabilized.

Now we know the lay of the land, we jump in on the politic, we send millions.

To me this is the most devastating aspect of the failure of capitalism, the main story of this moment in human history. We know we’re wrong, but we will open up our hearts and bank accounts afterwards. We think we can ever afford the tourniquets and pop-up hospitals and flights and donations…the lives. The piles of bodies, children and elders and women and young strong men covered in dust and shock. That, that look in the eyes of the living.

The price to our humanity is so incredibly, unbreathably high. It is our humanity that keeps us clicking through images, articles, stations looking for news. It is our humanity that has us passing on information for how to find the lost, and redistributing wealth to those who most need it.

This is how we should always be – concerned with dignity, survival, reality. Sovereignty. History. The way we are open and attentive to Haiti now is how to be humane at our best. Not imperialist. Not neoliberal. Not covert. Not horribly damning and judging, racist, defined by our fears. None of that. Simply loving, feeling present with, and caring for – each other human. As if they were your family.

Because they are.

good reading

books will open you up, challenge you, turn your mind around. here is a journey that starts and ends no where, any order will work.

The Dispossessed, Ursula K Leguin

Varieties of Scientific Experience, Carl Sagan

Parable of the Talents, Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh

the $20,000 spiderbite, and oh haiti oh…

today was not a good day for my bank account. some checks due to me were late. some checks given to me bounced. and a lot of parking tickets that were once small pounded into me like a bunch of massive snowballs rolled all the way from california. and the bill came in for my mysterious ‘spiderbite/compost’ hospital stay. $20,000!! and we still don’t ACTUALLY know what caused it!

i was telling my favorite canadian how grateful i was that i am only responsible for figuring out how to pay a couple thousand of it, and she said it was so sad that anyone would have to pay for medical care. right. reframing, reframing.

but it is deep how fast your story can become a story of multiple jobs and impossible debt.

but i can’t even keep any focus on the money right now, because there is this crisis in haiti that is beyond my comprehension. earth, quake. such a terrifying thought for those of us who live on earth, that she can just quake, just quiver, and destroy a nation.

i finally slowed down enough to actually read the news, look at the pictures, do more than just give money, feel the crisis that is happening, feel the fragility and incapability of any human infrastructure to respond in a meaningful way. in the way that we do in this information age, we quickly become experts on haiti, on the politics of the nation, on the places to point and finger out blame.

but what we need to become is experts on generosity. i was told of two organizations that are trustworthy, credible places to give.

Partners in Health
and
YELE

we can discuss the politics later.

with love for all those who struggle…

My interview with Race, Poverty and the Environment

Really pleased with this interview in terms of capturing current thoughts on where Ruckus, Detroit and my evolving understanding of the world all intersect right now, thanks to Jess Clarke and the folks at Movement Generation for pulling it together!

Email Aikido!

E-MAIL AIKIDO (edited and adapted by Robert Gass from the brilliant ravings of Merlin Mann www.43folders.com)

PRIORITIZING E-MAILS

Understanding that a handful of messages in any given day are far more important and timely than all of the others combined is perhaps the most important place to start if you ever want to see your inbox fit onto one screen again.

First: You have no control over the world’s demands on your time and attention, yet you are the single person who has any choice over how you deal with it.

Second, there is no way you will ever be able to respond to — let alone read in exquisite detail — every email you ever receive for the rest of your life.

Third, accept that your workload exceeds your resources — that you are the first and last filter for what deserves your time — and you’ll already be better off than you were even two minutes ago. Less can be so much more.

KEEPING IT BRIEF

I used to think one-line email responses were the height of rudeness. That’s the past! Do not treat every message you get like the internet equivalent of an engagement ring. Let go, already. Lose the guilt.

USING TEMPLATES

Use templates for Basic “thank you” responses, Responses to frequently asked questions, and Responses to administrative information requests

“Here’s a link”
In combination with a templated wrapper, “Here’s a link that might be what you’re looking for…” is a great and super-fast (non-prose) response.

“Do you still need this?”
If you’ve sat on an e-mail for a long time, send a very low-threshold question to the sender: “Do you still need this?” Honestly, it might be the most time-saving question you’ve ever asked.

The “I don’t know”
If you don’t have an answer for something, please just say so. Definitely don’t do the opposite — tap-dancing gamely for three screens to try and seem smart.

“I have absolutely no idea” is a valid answer and gives the sender exactly the information needed to keep looking; “I don’t know — but here’s three people who might” is even better and might make you the big hero.

YOUR SALVATION: THE DELETE KEY
Seriously: is this an email you are ever going to respond to? If it’s more than a week or two old, either answer it or delete it now.

If this strikes you as unsatisfactory then ask yourself under what conditions, in your mind, will this email magically become more “answerable?” Delete it, move on, and don’t look back. Believe it or not, deleting fast and well is actually one of the most difficult skills to master, since it requires you to be straight with yourself starting from the moment a new message arrives.

AUTOCHECK
The idea of not checking email for 30 minutes can cause hives, twitching, and minor bodily leakage. “What if I ‘miss’ something?” Are you checking the email…or is it checking you? Text or aim things that need a short response.

E-MAIL DISCIPLINE
Think about how you might be able to break off those responses into “dashes” — ganging your related email work into a focused few minutes of hard-edged activity performed on a regular schedule.

Here’s a sample schedule:
1. New email check + scanning + super-fast responses: 2 minutes every 60
minutes
2. Non-critical responses: 10 minutes or 5 emails every 90 minutes
3. Processing “the pile”: 2 minutes every hour + 15 minutes at the end of
the day
4. Metawork: 10 minutes twice a week
5. Further culling, responding, and clearing “the pile”: Through the day, as
available, in 5-8 minute dashes

And apart from that? Email is off. Closed. Quit. You’re doing other things. Can you do it?

WELCOME! YOU HAVE 500 E-MAILS: E-MAIL TRIAGE
First, delete the obvious spam, chain letters, and kitty photos, unnecessary mailing lists and blog comments (sorting by subject is great for this), all the while identifying, flagging, and relocating all the actual important stuff to a “pending” folder — that’s the stuff that will take your real brain power and valuable time. Just get that sucker down to zero now. Fast. Go. Only when you’re at zero do you return to “pending,” concentrating on short responses and generation of to-dos. If you start getting exhaustipated, just take a break and return.

CLEARING OUT THE HUMONGOUS “TO-RESPOND” FOLDER
Give each message as much attention as it needs and not one iota more. Remember triage: if you keep trying to care for dead and doomed patients, you’ll end up losing a lot of the ones who could have actually used your help.

DO UNTO OTHERS: WRITING SENSIBLE E-MAILS
First: Understand why you’re writing

Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:
1. Why am I writing this?
2. What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?

If you can’t succinctly state these answers, you might want to hold off on sending your message until you can. People get dozens, some hundreds each day, so they gravitate toward the messages that are well thought-out and that clearly respect their time and attention. Careless emails do not invite careful responses.

Although the possible topics and content of messages are theoretically endless, I’d propose that there are really just three basic types of business email:
1. Providing information – “Larry Tate will be in the office Monday at 10.”
2. Requesting information – “Where did you put the ‘Larry Tate’ file?”
3. Requesting action – “Will you call Larry Tate’s admin to confirm our meeting on Monday?”

It should be clear to your recipient which type of email yours is. Get the details and context packed into that first sentence or two whenever you can.

Write a great Subject line!
You can make it even easier for your recipient to immediately understand why you’ve sent them an email and to quickly determine what kind of response or action it requires. Compose a great “Subject:” line that hits the high points or summarizes the thrust of the message:
* Lunch resched to Friday @ 1pm
* Reminder: Monday is “St. Bono’s Day”–no classes

In fact, if you’re relating just a single fact or asking one question in your email, consider using just the subject line to relate your message. As I’ve mentioned before, in some organizations, such emails are identified by adding (EOM)—for end of message—at the end of the Subject line.

Limit to one screen:
There’s one visual trick most likely to improve your message’s success: fit it onto one screen with no scrolling. Got more to say? Put it in separate emails with—again—excellent Subject lines, and a descriptive, concise opener.

What’s the action here?
In the subject line, put FYI if it’s just for folks to see, FUN if it’s a fun thing, and RESPOND if its actionable or REQ for a request of someone. Apply to forwards!

(that one has been particularly helpful for emails amongst the staff at ruckus!)

A reminder never hurts:
If you’re following-up or responding to an email that’s more than a few days old, provide context right at the opening.

Never mix, never worry:
Unless your team really prefers to work that way, do not mix topics, projects, or domains of life in a given email.

SUMMARY: KEEPING YOUR INBOX AT ZERO
I reckon that my biggest “secret” to inbox zero is no secret at all. It’s based heavily on David Allen’s Getting Things Done book, and consists primarily of quickly answering a few escalating questions about each email message in my inbox:
1. What does this message mean to me, and why do I care?
2. What action, if any, does this message require of me?
3. What’s the most elegant way to close out this message and the nested action it contains?
And the immediate To-Do:

1. Shut off auto-check – Either turn off automatic checking completely, or set it to something reasonable, like every 20 minutes or so..

2. Pick off easy ones – If you can retire an email with a 1-2 line response (< 2 minutes; pref. 30 seconds), do it now.

3. Write less – Ask for more information, pose a question, or just say “I don’t know.” Your well-written message can and should be as concise as possible.

4. Cheat – Use something like MailTemplate to help manage answers to frequent email subjects.

5. Be honest – If you know in your heart that you’re never going to respond to an email, get it out of sight, archive it, or just delete it.

avatar

i couldn’t not see avatar. i read reviews, spoilers, heard first hand accounts. i’ve lately been reading up on the singularity, i’ve always been a science fiction lover, i’ve literally drawn other worldly humanoid figures since i could put pen to paper, the technology was groundbreaking, AND it was in 3D, AND it was a story of ecological or environmental justice?

(from here out this is a journey of spoilers. go see it, and then read this, if you like surprises.)

overall it was stunning, enthralling, a journey in and through a magical world, a success.

and it was a white hero story.

and the gender dynamics got murky in the end.

and it was a mainstream movie that had the audience cheering when the military was outmaneuvered.

complex.

    the good:

- visually my breath was jolted to a full stop in my body several times as I experienced flight, ducked unimaginable creatures, lifted through floating mountains…I want to see it over and over, and go there, and do that.

- the organic technology presented in the film and by the film…to be able to embody a physical avatar, to be able to easily physically bond with an animal or a plant…the way they animated the creatures based off of actors performances…this is leaning into ‘the singularity’ thinking in ways that should make us uncomfortable, but mostly made me feel giddy. [half of me is running towards the composting simple life of what we can grow, living within the space we can walk. the other part wants to fly, time travel, space travel, integrate technology and humanity towards a more evolved and capable existence.]

- the ecological analysis, that the world is a web of complete interconnectedness, of life…that life is precious, that a planet and everything on it is connected…this is very much what i believe. it is what i have spent the last several years trying to slow down enough to experience, to lean in close enough to smell and feel, to embody in my work. they made it phosphorescent, magical, lighter than life. but this planet can feel like that, too.

- the critique of war, particularly the war on iraq, was overt and radical and impressive in a movie with such a mainstream target audience. the terms “shock and awe” and “preemptive” were used by the bad guys, the destruction could have had a halliburton stamp on it. i appreciated the grief and anger james cameron put into the script, written and directed and produced parallel to iraq, afghanistan.

    The bad:

- I hated that the strong female indigenous lead, who teaches the human avatar Jake Sully to speak, eat and live, has to step back and jump behind him (physically and hierachically) after they mate, when danger strikes. its not for long, and she comes back into her strength before the end, but that moment was too alpha for me.

- the fact that ultimately the white human in avatar body has to not just be accepted but has to become the leader of the struggle, the hero, and the one who lives…this reinforces a level of white supremacy that goes all the way into the heart of whiteness. if he had come to fight, taking leadership from the Na’vi (the indigenous people on pandora), providing his intel and taking a place in the tribe, it still would have been a reach. this is the part of the story that most needs to be relinquished. if there is ever to be redemption between white people and all the peoples they have conquered, displaced, oppressed, enslaved, bamboozled, hoodwinked, jim crowed, concentration camped, left to die, forced to work, exoticized, called minority and worse, and felt superior to…then there must be a true release of the hero myth.

- the whole idea of an individual savior is both put forth as necessary and questioned as hypocritical in the film. jake sully has to tell the Na’vi they are in danger, once he escalates their danger. and yet he is powerless, all the force he can muster is nothing compared with that of the creation force. he is vulnerable and needs community and nature and spirit. in a scene towards the end you see the tiny frail human in the arms of the massive Na’vi female and it was such a Pieta moment – her as the delivery system and protector of the savior. i am only glad he couldn’t have done it on his own tho, more action heroes need such a reality check.

    The gray:

- is this the only kind of story that will allow mainstream america to consider embracing indigenous wisdom and ecological sanity? we watched it in a suburban michigan theater and folks were cheering as english-speaking human military were taken out, collectively sad and silent in watching the destruction that humans were exacting on the planet. action scenes, white male hero, awesome technology…is that the only way to slip radical analysis to the masses?

- is it wrong that i felt jealous of jake sully’s journey? to be able to leave behind the human/western way of interacting with a planet and be fully embodied in a new life, new customs, new freedoms and spiritual connections. i came home and flipped through pictures i drew a decade ago that look like the world in that movie, i have been aware for some time that i am being called towards a belief system that is counter to how i was raised. ‘i want to go to there.’ beyond the cool flying part, and getting to leave capitalism behind, the idea of becoming indigenous again is one that i have heard come out of mouths of people i greatly respect (both currently indigenous and not – with melissa nelson as a key thinker on this) as ground we need to explore, carefully, with humility, without coercing or co-opting. the idea that a process of rediscovering our own indigenous history and building new connections to the land could actually be an organic one, and an opening past resistance to resilience, interests me.

the grayer:

fundamentally, this movie posits a theory that has been explored before – that it is necessary for a certain number of oppressors to actually switch sides and stand with oppressed peoples in order to end oppression. and while i don’t think that in that switching sides there should be a hero role, or even much applause (to paraphrase chris rock, don’t give credit for shit people are supposed to do), i do think there is a very necessary piece in that story to be considered. historically we have seen that the basic tenets of colonization and oppression have been so counter to some indigenous cultures that they were incomprehensible. in such cases, oppressors who liberate their minds can help win a victory for the oppressed peoples.

the thing is, jake sully doesn’t win. he is defeated after he alerts the life force of the planet about the danger to come. this is the life force which is networked throughout the entire planet – is all and knows all. it’s not even clear that sully’s warning was needed. that life force rallies all of its creatures and forces together to drive out the oppressor. as breathtaking as the action was, it is quite possible – it is the most plausible outcome – that the power of the web of life would have been generated without a hero.

the heroics of jake sully were a necessary part of his being able to participate in the revolution – i just don’t think they were necessary for the revolution to succeed. i have come across jake sully types in my work many many times. i, and other people of color and/or women, have spoken about this: is the only way a white man or any man can truly relinquish the power to oppress is to believe he is gaining a new power, a new and higher place in a hierarchy of people…in the case of white man, it is a trajectory from slavemaster to savior.

men, particularly white men, need to hear and see stories that help them (and anyone else engaged in violence and dominance behavior) recognize they have a part to play in a new way of living, and it requires a release of the whole dynamic of power over others.

but how does that message get delivered? even if it’s in 3D, i don’t know how many millions will turn out to see an eco-justice anti-war tale about mother earth rising up against the military.

and since the story is so deeply a story about our relationship to this planet, our obliteration of our natural resources, our disrespect of indigenous cultures and forgetting our own indigenous stories, our displacement and destruction of the only place we have, the only water that we know exists and can sustain us…since it is SO close to home…can we perhaps as people with analysis, see it as a step in a process?

i don’t know the answers to these questions, but i think the gray areas are very important in terms of us figuring out how to continuously engage in a revolution of behaviors and dynamics. we aren’t in a fantasy, we can’t just kick the oppressive destructive forces off the planet…they are in us, of us, with us. our solutions have to be ones that deconstruct the impulses and behaviors of oppression, and that has a place for ex-oppressors in our visions of the future. not a hero role, but a meaningful, life-affirming role.

p.s. i am ready for the coming wave of 3D movies, and may write something about how 3D is basically bringing the experience of safe group tripping into the mainstream.