Monthly Archives: January 2014


Power is most appealing to those who want more.

Sometimes it’s the nearly completely powerless who abuse what little they have.  “I know my goddam rights,” screams the welfare client.

The young woman on the highway, powerless at work or in her relationship, abuses the power of her vehicle, going 85 mph, weaving in and out of traffic.  The young man on the residential street, peeling out, using his power to make obnoxious noise, because he lacks the power necessary to get a date with the girl he covets.

Sometimes it’s those with a bit of power who, sensing more power within their reach, wield the little they have to show how well they will handle more.

How well, or how poorly.  Because it’s the truly powerful, the quietly authoritative people, who use power with deft restraint.  It’s the powerful parent who can show the expectation of behavior with a glance; no raised voice or slap necessary.  It’s the powerful boss whose silence speaks volumes about hoped-for outcomes not met.  But the boss who snaps, scolds, derides; the one who, lacking the power to inspire, wields the power to stab– this is the one who will not handle more power well, and wants it for its own sake, to feed a hungry ambition.  If you must make me look small, you’re not so tall after all.

I’ve had my taste of conventional power and I would not seek it again.  Having power over people’s work lives is like being a super-hero– “with great power must also come great responsibility,” to be fair, to motivate, to understand, to have high expectations while recognizing people are human– that’s very hard stuff.  No thanks.  But I will support and have the back of anyone who does it well.

The power I now have is to endure and trust a good outcome.  I don’t fear those who have power, because those who use it for ill will reveal themselves as the naked emperors they really are.  And when they do I will do my best not to giggle.


We work.  We work hard.  We sit with people in pain, people in the aftermath of their own bad decisions, decades of bad decisions, generations of bad decisions.  We absorb a lot of that pain, we absorb their anger at the inequity of life, their anger at us for being on this side of the desk.  We respond to that anger with varying degrees of success, our immunity to it a product of our own lives– did we argue with a partner last night?  Was the youngest up with fever, did we get four hours, five hours of sleep?

We drive in snow, ten minutes, forty minutes, an hour and ten.  We’re on time– all the time, most of the time.  Some of us manage that well, some poorly.  We are going through divorces and sick children and bankruptcies, we get bad news, we get good news.  We come in.  We work.

We seek hilarity or silliness now and again to keep us alert, to buoy the immunity, to combat the cynicism, sometimes to feed the cynicism.  Sometimes cynicism is the immunity, because we can’t be fully present for all problems, all extenuating circumstances.  We can’t handle that.  We can’t handle, “you don’t understand.”  For we do understand– we’ve heard it all.  But we can’t cry about it all, that would leave us completely depleted.

In exchange for this front line defense, in exchange for being the face of this massive organization, we get “your numbers are low,” “you need to clean this up,” “I need this done by close of business today.”  In exchange for this we hear, “oh I know, I used to do exactly what you do.”  No, you didn’t, at least not with these new corporate values, at least not for this long, at least not with this supervisor, at least not with this spartan curmudgeonly atmosphere where we’re caught only doing something wrong, never doing something right.

We’re caught being unprofessional, being inappropriate.  Our emails are read, our conversations overheard,  the minutes late noted, the hash marks of each collated into a dossier of naughtiness.

The office knows within minutes who is in trouble.

Picture this: the office knows within minutes who’s been given a $5 gift certificate for coffee, for doing something right, something management has overheard, having noticed someone being patient, being kind.  Picture this: everyone gets two free “lates” a year, two times when unforeseen things kept us 15 minutes later than anticipated.  Picture this: we are thanked or praised regularly, singularly: no blanket “thanks” at holidays to cover the whole year.

It’s not nirvana, it’s a positive support system for a difficult job we do week in and week out for years.

We need that, because we work.  We work hard.

Masculine Convexity

The ad reads as follows: “Lack of sleep.  Is it aging your skin too fast?  New research says– it is.  New.  Advanced Night Repair.”  This is an Estee Lauder serum, with 40 ingredients, two of which (“dye” and “water”) are not sciencey terms, and 25 patents pending; the cost?  $120 for 2.5 ounces, or more expensive than mercury, more expensive than Dalmore 50 year old Single Malt.  I see Advanced Night Repair as a masculine solution– one that is more expensive, more complicated, than it needs to be.  The feminine solution?  Just get more sleep.

These are feminine approaches: conserve.  preserve.  protect.  reduce, reuse, recycle.  avoid.

These are masculine approaches:  REPAIR.  TACKLE.  MANAGE.  CHARGE.  BUILD.

We need both approaches, vive le difference and all that.  But the feminine approach is often discarded, poo-pooed, ridiculed as too soft, too small.

Why encourage people to drive less when we can build more roads and drill 10,000 feet to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracking?

Why encourage people to eat less red meat and exercise more when statins and bisoprolols can control cholesterol and blood pressure?

There are so many products hyped as NEW, with 30% MORE, more MEAT, even CHEESIER, with more BANG for the BUCK, and even MORE POWERFUL.

It’s not that new things aren’t good.  It’s that often what we have is really enough.  The solution isn’t always to create something new, sometimes it’s to want less.   There is a feminine concavity to wanting less– to being vegan, for example, or for taking time for enough sleep, or for conserving energy.  And traditional masculinity survives on fewer hours of sleep, doesn’t sit easily in a Prius, doesn’t care for bulgur when a burger is an option.

The best answer sometimes does not require power tools or electricity or more, new, or better medication; the best answer often is to sit still.  Or, to take a nap.


How Conservatives Think

I’m trying very hard (teeth clenched, smiling) to understand how conservatives think. What kind of future do they see that’s so scary?  Fewer guns.  More people in committed relationships.  More trust in people, to make decisions about their. own. lives.  Why is that so menacing?

There was an opinion piece in the local paper today about “restoring tolerance,” and by that, the author, Steve Cornell (a local pastor), means tolerance for homophobics (by definition, people who fear or have contempt for lesbians and gay men).  Mr. Cornell made three points: sexuality must always be viewed in the context of volition; it is propaganda to suggest that most Americans endorse gay marriage; it is childish to accuse someone of hate for disagreeing with a lifestyle.

One by one, here we go.  If sexuality is a matter of will, I should have no problem making love to a woman.  Mr. C should have no problem caressing a man’s chest– I could get WAY more vulgar here but won’t.  I tend to think, unless there’s something he’s hiding, that he would have a problem with doing that, as do I.  I cannot choose to be attracted to a woman.  I cannot ignore that from the age of- oh, ten or so, on, I have always been drawn to men- the sharp jaw, the broad shoulders– and not to the curves and softness of my own gender. I didn’t choose this, it just happened.  (Edit: Or as my brother said, it’s not like shopping for a new car where you choose the Accord over the Camry because it has a better package.)  For this columnist to suggest this is something we choose is to ignore his OWN EXPERIENCE.  So, one down.

The columnist uses as “proof” that most Americans do not support gay marriage the quick, loud, and effective response to Phil Robertson’s firing.  So.  A vocal relative few show A&E that they support a religious guy spouting centuries old rules, and that is proof?  The three top returns in an internet search show 50+%, 52%, and 55% of Americans support gay marriage; the flip side is not the remainder, either, because there is a margin of people who don’t care or don’t know– so those against it number in the low 40s.  The columnist’s use of “Duck Dynasty’s” small audience as a measure is like saying Ellen Degeneres is popular so it must be that most of us support gay marriage.  So, two down.

Thirdly.  I imagine that gay people do not care what you think about them.  They probably do not care if you think they’re going to hell.  So in that regard they’re not calling you a bigot because you don’t fully support them.  They’re calling you a bigot because you refuse to acknowledge that you’re depriving them of a civil right, to marry the adult of their choosing.  They were not given the chance to approve or vote on your marriage, so why should you hold that power over them?  No one’s asking you to marry someone of your own gender, no one’s demanding you divorce your wife– why in god’s name do you CARE so much about who a gay person might marry?  You say, Mr. Cornell, that Phil Robertson and by extension you and by extension all who hold your position do not demand “nationwide conformity”  and that GLAAD is trying to “marginalize and suppress the free speech of anyone who disagrees with same-sex lifestyles.”  (Edit: ugh, I’m so sick of calling gay people’s lives “lifestyles.”  A “lifestyle” is Winter in St. Martin, Spring in Paris.  Flopping on the couch to watch a movie with your partner of 10 years after the kids go to bed is– life.  To discuss this as solely about sex is to suggest ANYONE’s life after 30 or after kids is sexy-time-all-the-time, which is flat out ridiculous.)   I think GLAAD and by extension all of us who support same-sex marriage don’t give a shit about what you or Phil think or say- you may “KNOW” that gay marriage is wrong in god’s eyes but in the public forum you have to admit that you can only  “HOPE TO GOD” that it’s wrong, because religion is not fully comfortable without something to denounce.  Know why?  Because 1.) if it’s not, that may mean another fissure in the dam of your religion, and 2.), how can you fully enjoy basking in the sunshine of god’s eternal love, your heaven, without knowing that in some fiery hole others are suffering eternal damnation, hours and days and millennia of constant pain and agony?  You must admit that on some level you find that just a bit thrilling…

Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence.  Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.    William E. Gladstone, 1809-1898

Toxic Leaders

NPR had a story on this yesterday, about leaders in the military whose abusive behavior is a contributing factor in soldiers’ suicides.  Not the only factor, but a common factor among military men and women experiencing other stressors, like alcoholism, troubled primary relationships, and depression.  It’s about time we talked about adult bullies.

I was just talking to a friend about toxic leadership.  This is the type of leader infamous in movies, immortalized in story: the sadistic drill sergeant, the bitter orphanage director, the evil stepmother.  We all know this guy, hellbent on making us miserable because he gets a chubby doing so.  We know this woman, the one who enjoys the thrilling frisson of belittling her subordinates.

The objective is work of some kind, whether it’s in the classroom or the battlefield or the cubicle desert.  We’ve got this pile of work and some people have been promoted or designated or rewarded or honored with the task of directing it.  The toxic leader makes demands, doesn’t direct, doesn’t prioritize; she saves the worst tasks or the most unreasonable expectations for the objects of her derision.  The toxic leader does not take into account whether his staff or subjects have been properly trained and sure as damn doesn’t care whether they’re inspired.  The toxic leader knows only his own power and wields it like the puny erection he’s made of it; so proud of what it can do, unaware it looks silly, pathetic, laughable.  For all its napoleonic diminutiveness, it still can wreak havoc in these tiny fiefdoms, in a worker’s day, in a child’s science class.

A good leader: most of us know her too.  She admits to the daunting tasks of the day/week/month, he assures us of our ability to accomplish said tasks, promises to help when needed, and follows through on the promises.  The Good Leader (worth caps because it’s rare and special) pays attention and praises liberally, for it’s praise, not threats, that will make us go beyond what we think we can do.  The Good Leader inspires, by example, by reason, by character.  The Good Leader gets great results and gives credit to us, and inspires us to give credit back to her for good guidance and support.  The Good Leader gives us a chance to feel great about the work we do, whether it’s cleaning toilets, chopping onions, or reviewing actuarial tables.  The Good Leader does not need to berate, demean or ridicule in order to feel confident, competent, or worthy of his position. 

Too often it’s we, the subordinates, the students, the privates, whose performance is judged and graded  Too rarely is our performance said to be at least in part a reflection of the leader.  Much too rarely are the leaders given a grade by people whom they lead.  I think it’s time these bullies faced their failing grades and got credit for the damage they do.

Princess Lola

She is no princess, and in fact I HATE how we anthropomorphize our animals, but it’s too tempting as a post title.  I prefer animals without human names; Gary’s dog is Cricket, a perfect name for a dog.  I’ve heard of dogs named Paper Clip, Fury, and Parakeet– also awesome names.  But our dog was named Lola when we got her from the humane league and it did not seem fair to her to change it so she remains, named after a human, Lola.  At least, as a derivative of Dolores or “our lady of sorrows,” it fits.  She seems so sad to live in the Northeast, to have lived through yesterday’s high of 16 degrees.  A Chihuahua mix, she dreams of the hot sun south of the border, lazy afternoons spent outside in desert air, the freedom to run free and steal snacks from street vendors (clearly I have never been to Mexico but my imagination puts Lola near a tin shack.  That’s probably terrible stereotyping and I apologize).

Despite her dreams Lola lives in a tiny house with three humans and two cats, one of which just HATES her.  She is virtually housebound for the winter and is constipated by the cold– she will refuse to poop and then refuse to eat and I’m sure it’s to avoid having to visit the frigid loo.  Even sleeping in a king-sized bed with a hot-flashing queen is insufficient to warm her cold bones.

She’s cold and sad, yes.  But she is well-loved, indulged, sweatered, pampered.   She is the hyperkinetic center of the home’s energy, which really pisses Grimmy off and puzzles Billy.  She’s constantly, unwittingly entertaining.  Not a princess, but our court jester.