Thursday, August 30, 2012

Do Managers Merit Admiration?

"Look at me, you fools!"
As I settle into a retired, more gratifying lifestyle, I am in a perpetual state of disbelief. I've never been in a situation where I am not working and not looking for a job. The fact that I never have to return to my workplace of nearly eighteen years seems totally unbelievable.

In my last year at work, the environment deteriorated completely. The element of forced scheduling and overwork certainly  were contributing factors but these alone do not explain how the relationships between my own immediate superiors and myself eroded so rapidly and thoroughly.

I have come to realize that when the iron fists emerges from the velvet glove all the veneer of civility falls away. As a worker, I lost my subtlety as well. No longer could I go through the motions of a devoted employee when we were under such blatant attack. The glue that held the precarious employer/employee relationship together in the past was gone. A huge component of that glue consists of the qualities of admiration and emulation which management types rely onto do their dirty work. No matter how bitter the pills are, that underlings are expected to swallow, many swallow them readily because, someday they would like to be the ones distributing them. When it is clear that a worker holds no desire to climb that ladder they are on, management has no more carrot. They are left only with the stick.

 I admire and wish to emulate many people. Among them are writers, artists, musicians and political activists. I admire all kinds of scientists, doctors, professors and intellectuals putting forth interesting hypotheses and theories. You know, people who actually accomplish something. They do not have to achieve mainstream "success" to earn my admiration, only to be engaged in worthwhile pursuits.

I have zero admiration for people whose main goal is to get others to perform tasks for them. Managers are no more than puppeteers who reap the rewards of manipulation and deception while profiting off the labor of others, an inherently repellent idea whose time has come and gone.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Do Negative Experiences Build Character?

The other day I was indulging one of my favorite downscale diversions, watching Judge Judy. A twenty-four year old woman whose dog had been killed by another dog was telling her tale of woe. Without wavering she described the death of her dog as the most painful experience of her young life. I both pitied and envied her.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love animals. When I was a teenager my cat, Saka died of poisoning. We found her in the backyard with her eyes open, forever staring into space. I was devastated. By the time I was twenty-four I'd also experienced the death of my mother, the suicide of my grandmother, dealing with the juvenile court system, alcoholism, mental illness, a whole raft of issues that for me and my friends were just par for the course. Would Saka's death have been my most painful experience? I doubt it would even make the top five.

Do I think that people with more difficult lives are better people? Au contraire ma chere. I actually kind of lean in the opposite direction but would be last to apportion blame. When I first had the opportunity to get to know "rich" people (who were actually upper middle class) I found them very nice...hard to get to know at first, but sweet, soft and fluffy compared to the razor-edged folks I was accustomed to.They might offer to do things for you like picking you up at the hospital after you had your impacted wisdom teeth removed. Their parents had often, but not always, modeled caring behavior for them. It was such an unusual experience for me, to feel nutured and appreciated.

My hard-scrabble friends' support was there but erratic. It was more dependent on the convergence of many factors, the ebb and flow of their personal lives. Sometimes they were pillars of support, sometimes they couldn't be found. Do they have more character? I'm not even sure what that means. They may have more resilience and stamina and now, as a writer, I can definitively state that they have more material.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pussy Riot, Teachers, Workers and Repression

Repression in Russia is all over the news after Putin and his goons conspired to sentence the feminist punk band Pussy Riot to two years incarceration over an anti-establishment video that took place in an Orthodox church. There is outrage everywhere, including from Madonna who had supported the band's politics with a washable tattoo, visible on her back when she removed her shirt on stage. Lack of free speech is a travesty but hearing Amy Goodman repeatedly say, "Pussy Riot," with a little Mona Lisa smile, was priceless. 

Perhaps it is time to take the advice of their innovative name and think in terms of a pussy riot here, to defend the incredible, shrinking specter of women's rights. It would be open to pussies of all genders, of course. 

So much depressing and scary news, it's hard to know where to begin. In New York City only 55% of teachers were granted tenure after their probation. The NYTimes is writing about an upcoming movie that targets that newly much-vilified enemy of capitalism...The Teacher's Union. It's called "Won't Back Down," and sounds absolutely appalling.

And the Caterpillar workers in Illinois accepted a contract that was unacceptable even to the Union leadership. It included a six-year wage freeze, increased payments for health care and reduction of pensions. In the new anti-worker environment people are understandably frightened for their jobs. The entire state of Illinois, where the Caterpillar workers are, is talking pension reduction for all civil service employees. 

So, as bad as Obama may be, we can only hope that the R&R ticket of Ayn Rand fanatics doesn't get into office and do away with Medicare and Social Security.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beauty, Humor and Healthy Pessimism

David Rakoff
David Rakoff has died at 47. The gay essayist, comic, avowed pessimist and self-proclaimed neurotic Jew has crossed over to the other side. His book of essays, "Half Empty," extolled the virtues of a realistic, pessimistic attitude when looking at the world.

The cause of his death was a tumor caused by radiation treatments he had for lymphoma when he was 22. Like any logical realist, his own demise was an option he was prepared to accept with the same humor and grace he used to write about his cancer.

Like Jewish tribal affiliate and fellow cancer survivor, Barbara Ehrenreich who wrote "Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America," he espoused a realistic, rather than a sugar-coated view of life. Of late, psychologists and psychiatrists are arriving at the conclusion that this attitude is healthier for many people than a sunny-bunny perspective that leaves sick and depressed people saddled with guilt and blame for their own illnesses.

Like Rakoff and Ehrenreich, I too, am a cancer survivor. After my Clark's level 4 melanoma diagnosis in 1991 I contemplated for the first time the fact that my life might be concluding shortly. As a terminal Jew, healthly skepicism, i.e. pessimism was always been my modus operandi anyway.

But surprisingly, I actually came away from my cancer experience with a lot of practical and positive resolutions that a cheerier person may not have adopted. I made a list of concrete proposals to change my life just in case I survived the ordeal. That was nearly 21 years ago, so I was one of the lucky ones.

I promised myself that I would write and try to get my work published, that I would hold world travel and language learning as life priorities and that I wouldn't be consumed by the workaday rat race. Four years after my diagnosis, I took a part-time job and have never worked full-time for the capitalism dream-shredding machine again. Yet my overall, dark-sided nature has remained fundamentally unchanged, although in many ways I have definitely mellowed with my(unanticipated) advancing age.

True creativity is not born of sunshine and lollipops, it is a survival mechanism that comes from profound inner struggle mixed with existential angst and humor. Farewell David Rakoff, we will miss you and we will bear in mind that we are all coming up right behind you!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In Mexico Sitting and Relaxing is Legal

Plaza in Tlaquepaque
I came back to news of San Francisco's enforcement of the new sit/lie ordinance that makes hanging out on public sidewalks against the law. Not only is this not the case in Mexico, sitting and relaxing are actually encouraged in public spaces such as the beautiful old colonial-style plazas that grace almost every city and town.

There are benches everywhere, much like the ones that were removed from Civic Center Plaza in the mid-nineties when I worked at the nearby Public Library. Yes, in sleazier towns there are occasional scruffy guys or borrachos (drunks) but the night markets don't sell alcohol and the problem is nearly non-existent compared to this country.

Public spaces are for the people and they come alive at night with stands selling tacos, pozole, tamales, homemade potato chips, even hamburgers. The people are so friendly it made me a bit embarrassed for our country of rush and bother. I am trying to be more Mexican now in my new retired state. To me that means more conscious of others and more aware of myself as a member of a community that transcends ethnicity, race and gender identity.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Passing as a Man in the Guadalajara Bus Station...

 A Female Man in Guadalajara
Yes, there are queers in Mexico, one woman bus driver was butch as all get-out, but in general women tend toward ultra-femme. Gay men, of course, are more visible. This must be the reason that I was so often addressed as senor. Deb and I decided to make the best of it and try to pass as a heterosexual couple. It worked as long as I didn't speak. My voice is not exactly in the male range.