Monthly Archives: March 2019

Beware the Webinar

Just a quick one this week. Was your week crazy too? Did the Super Duper Full Worm Moon have anything to do with it, do you think?

So in the grab bag of life, I received this email at work. The last blogworthy one I got had more corporate gobblegook than an HR policy 150 page PDF.

In this one I was cordially invited to a seminar on engaging employees. I do internal communications for doctors, so the invitation itself was not so unusual. It caught my eye, and not in a good way.

“Hi Sandy,

With your role in communications, I thought you’d find value in the highly-requested replay of a webinar we hosted with the CMO/CCO of Booz Allen Hamilton, Grant McLaughlin, on connecting and engaging dispersed employees.”

Um. “Booz Allen Hamilton”? It sounds like a name Saturday Night Live would make up for a skit. Booz? I work at a respected academic medical center, and I would be embarrassed to even say that to my boss. I’m not a complete Pollyanna. I mean maybe of you’re a music promoter, or a “lifestyle” guru, or someone who actually sells alcohol for a living. Then it might be kind of funny. I’m a Word Girl, names of shit matter. But Booz, and I’m supposed to take you seriously?

So then I must apologize to the younger set. I next thought, “Ooooh. This must be one of those young, happening, slim suit, bearded, buzzed side cut, overly gelled hair swoop on the top guys. Maybe with tats.” You know, this guy:

hipdude

I know, I’m being youngist. Apologies. I clicked on Booz’s CMO/CCO-kookookatcho Mr. Grant Hamilton’s link. Yeah, no. He’s one of my generation. Ugh. Now I’m even sorrier and can’t unsee it.

Grant McLaughlin

Now I’m into it like a dog with a bone. As if Guy Smiley here wasn’t bad enough, I decided to find out who the other esteemed speaker is, the “Communication Expert,” capitalized because, you know, that’s a Very Important Improper Noun. Here’s Becky Graebe.  You ready? Here she is…

Boozblogpic2

Is she even real? She looks like a Barbie doll. Becky? Are you in there? Does she blink? And what’s with the hanging light bulbs? If you look fast, it’s like a starry ballroom or something, with our slightly vacant-eyes “Expert” floating around.

As is fitting punishment for making fun of my fellow human beings, now I was just totally creeped out.

These people are out there. Giving webinars, seminars, and doing who knows what other “educational” things to unsuspecting, hardworking communications people.

All I can say is, stay sharp and watch your back. Booz and Becky are coming.

 

 

As

What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Browse?

When I took that class a few months ago on white privilege and fighting racism, one of the reading assignments was on a website called Medium, which aims to curate “Stories to keep you informed, sane, and entertained,” with a liberal bent. It’s definitely a quality site with respected sources, and they send me daily emails with stories that cover the gamut of racism, Black experience, women’s rights, and lighter fair in dating and relationships. The daily feed is a bit too much content for me — I’m a delicate flower and these days it doesn’t take much to push me into overstimulation. But as long as I can browse and pick and choose, I’m good. Kind of like radio, you know that old-fashioned thing — I pick the station like Emerson College radio or classic rock and they do the rest.

But then I got an email that said, “Hey, we noticed you read some articles on this topic, here’s a bunch more for you.”

Wait, what? No, no, no! Don’t algorithm me! This is why I stopped liking songs on my Pandora Donna Summer station. I was young and naive when I first started listening, so I clicked on the little thumbs up icon and “liked” an ABBA song, and suddenly I was deluged by ABBA deep cuts. No, no, no! I don’t like them that much, I was just being electronically nice. So now, I don’t “like” anything, and am content to listen to repeat songs after an hour of listening. It’s a small price to pay, and feels a lot like an actual radio station.

I get that a lot of people want to control every aspect of their lives. In certain aspects of my life, I’m looking for less control. Job, family, and friends take a lot of my energy, which is good and right. Do I want to spend what’s left on micromanaging my music and reading? Not really. If I want to hear or read something specific, I’ll go find it myself. Otherwise, I kind of want you, Pandora station and Medium articles, to throw random things at me. I’m cool with it, really.

But the algorithms are on the prowl, and trying to turn me into a more narrow reader than I already am. Talk about the “echo chamber” effect. This is like the echo of the echo. I’m already a lefty leaning snowflake, so please don’t make it worse by just sending me the stuff I read. I’m not really the best judge — if I had my druthers, I’d mostly read funny articles about bad dates. But I do have some curiosity and if you show me something well-written on another topic, I may read that. But then I may be done, or I may want to know more. But I don’t know that until I get there.

While I’m browsing the shelves at the library or a bookstore, sometimes I prefer to wander the aisles and see what catches my eye. This is how I stumble upon a book I wouldn’t normally read. Or I may go right to the bodice rippers section and dive in, cuz that’s what’s on for this week. But I don’t want the librarian or the bookshop person to see my books and start telling me all the books that are similar. Unless I ask first. See how that works?

I get that places like to customize the customers experience — what with that incomprehensible alphabet soup of “UX” and “UI” and UTI, oh, wait, that’s something else. But maybe you can give me a choice first? You can even make fun of me. I would totally check a box that says, “I grew up with the randomness of radio and get crabby about having my echo chamber double echoed back at me. Please keep your algorithms to yourself.” Look you can even roll it into your goofy “branding.” Like the store Moosejaw (HQ in Michigan, don’t ya know) where I bought a coat online and had to call customer service about an issue. Those poor souls have to answer the phone, “Welcome to Mooooooooose (higher pitch) jaaaw (lower pitch).” They could make the option say, “Would you like our Mooooooooose jaw antlers to stay out of your coat buying choices? Then go ahead and click on the moose hoof. We don’t mind!”

That would actually make me crazy too, but I’m trying find a compromise here. I’m not quite sure what to do about Medium; Pandora at least gives me an option to not press the like button. How do I not read articles? Or do I have to read all of them and go crazy, or do I have to go to the main website and sift through pages of filter choices (if they even have them). Ah yes, turns out I do:

  • Recommended stories
    Featured stories, columns, and collections that we think you’ll enjoy based on your reading history
    OnOff

Off, please! OK. fine. That works. I’m still crabby that I had to go to the site in the first place to turn off something I didn’t ask for. If your algorithm really worked, you should have known that about me and turned it off yourself. Or you could at least use my wording — that’s a customization I can get behind.

 

The Garden of Gardner

On a recent visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I found myself drawn to the center courtyard, an enclosed space with water, plants, and a skylight 4 stories up. It’s one of my favorite places to escape in the cold winter weather. Isabella designed the garden and building with the Renaissance palaces of Venice in mind, and also incorporated numerous architectural fragments from European Gothic and Renaissance structures.

In previous visits I looked at the garden for a little while and headed the other rooms and three floors of artistic treasures of paintings, furniture, tapestries, ancient statues, and more.

But in this visit I decided to just stay near the garden and try to see everything I could in it. To look at it in a way I never have. Sort of in a meditative way, where you actually see the object, not the imagery and thoughts your mind thinks of when you look at it.

gardner 2

I don’t know how successful I actually was, but I periodically moved from seat to seat slowly making my way around it, to see it from different perspectives. I was also trying not to photo bomb all the young women who were taking selfies and then photographing each other on the stone bench with the garden in the background. One young woman spent so much time fussing with and flicking her long blond hair in preparation, I started to wonder if Vogue was doing a photo shoot. It made me feel wise and superior — oh look at those vain, young ones — as I leaned in slightly toward them to see if I could make them take a photo of themselves at an awkward angle to keep me out of the frame. Ah, youth. So fun to mess with.

There was a lot to see, and even though I spent about an hour and a half looking from the different angles, the details just kept coming–there was no way to see it all.

On the other side of the garden I found a book about it. It’s set out on the bench, so you can learn a little more. It said that most of the garden statues were of powerful women and goddesses, like Athena and even Medusa — death by snakes is pretty powerful. It teasingly mentions that Odysseus is tucked in the corner (I never did see him), and then the booked asked if that was Isabella making a statement about the power of women. Heck yeah! Her wealth and presumably a husband who was a good partner allowed her the independent life she led. So, yeah, I’m going with strong chicks in the garden for $500, Alex.

Then I noticed that the flowers in the book looked very different from the current flowers I was looking at — mostly white, which is a color I was getting all too much of outside. There were pages describing the careful attention to changing flowers for the seasons, spring, summer, fall — and all the elaborate cultivation of “warm” purples and oranges and yellows. Strangely they didn’t mention any elaborate preparations for winter, when the visitors are at their most color deprived.

Then in my little Zen experiment of being calm and really “seeing,”  I started to feel ripped off. In fact one passage said they start these long hanging orange flowers called nasturtiums with seeds in June and then grow them for 9 months, like a baby, until they are 15 ft long. There were pictures of the flowers hanging two and three stories from the gothic windows along the sides of the garden. Suddenly I’m counting 9 months after June — wait a minute. That’s right now. Where the heck are my pretty orange cascading nasturtiums? All I get is bunches of cold white flowers? There were a handful of pretty flowering maples in the back, which remind me of my beloved Memere, who grew them, but still. Mostly white flowers.

Where are my pretty, “warm,” colorful flowers?

I might as well have been flicking my gray/brown wavy hair and taking a selfie with all of the “wisdom” I was feeling right then.

Then the book explained what the big stone box was that I was sitting next to:

grapes

Because of all the grapes along the top, and because it is a good-sized box, I thought it was maybe used for crushing grapes to make wine. Can’t you see Lucy and Ethel stomping around in there? What? I’m a child of the 70s and 80s. Plus all the carved people are either looking at each other, or trying to grab their neighbor’s beautifully carved buttocks while also gazing at the other neighbor’s accurately carved naughty bits. Usually alcohol is involved in these situations.

However, the little book that taunted me with pretty flowers informed me it’s a sarcophagus. As in coffin. Excuse me, the Farnese Sarcophagus. According to the website:

‘The Farnese Sarcophagus is one of the most important works of art in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Its glorious images of cavorting satyrs and maenads has inspired generations of artists, collectors, conservators, and viewers.

This large, rectangular marble coffin was created in the area of Rome in the late Severan period, around 225 AD. The occupants of the monument are unknown, since the lid was lost or destroyed. It was rediscovered in Tivoli in about 1535 and its beauty inspired Renaissance artists.”

So, what do I know? I looked, and with my I Love Lucy education, made a really wrong guess. How can we ever really know what old things mean to the people who made them, 1,800 years ago?

We can’t. All you can do is be quiet and look as best you can. And try to not to photo bomb the young ones’ pictures.

 

 

Let Us Now Praise Spike Lee

Today I want to sing the praises of Spike Lee. I have been a big fan of his work since I saw “She’s Gotta have It” in 1986. As I started to write this blog, I felt like I was repeating myself, which is either a sign I’ve written about him before and forgot (plausible), or I keep writing about him in my head, and I can’t access my Jedi powers well enough to just transmit that to the blog without typing (also semi-plausible and a writer’s occupational hazard). I  searched my posts, and so far I have only mentioned him a few times. So this is way overdue.

I’m so happy that he and his fellow writers (Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtell), won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman”; the movie is based on a true story of a Black undercover cop in the 70s who infiltrated the KKK using his white voice (echoes of “Sorry to Bother You”) and his white, Jewish partner. I never watch these award shows — they make me stay up too late for movies that I like, don’t like, or won’t be seeing. What do I care if they win a prize? And that’s not just the sour grapes talking because the movies I like don’t often win awards — like most of Spike Lee’s movies. I know some people don’t even watch it for the movies, but for the fashion, which it also lost on me. Nice dress! Weird dress! Red dress! Repeat!

I tend to tune the whole thing out, so as it happens, I learned Spike Lee won by reading about the comments about his acceptance speech. That’s kind of messed up, but here we are. This broke down in two ways: white people — He’s too political! He’s racist! (Because apparently talking about race is racist.) He’s using the platform inappropriately! And of course Cheeto flea had to tweet his illiterate nonsense. The Black people were more like: Yes! Thank you, Spike! We love you! Actually I think they said it in a cooler way, that was me white paraphrasing.

Now I was intrigued. Hmmmm. What did that fiery artist say now? He has always been outspoken about race and social justice — have you seen the pivotal scene near the end of “Do the Right Thing” where his usually non-threatening character has to decide — does he join a riot prompted by the unjust death of a Black man in his neighborhood or hold back and not destroy the pizza shop window of his white employer? As I was leaving the theater after that movie, all the black people were pumped up, and all the white people looked pale and uncomfortable. As they should. Spike has been telling us what’s what for more than 30 years now, He’s directed more than 24 movies and produced and created even more short films and documentaries. There’s even a Netflix series, based on the movie “She’s Gotta have It,” but I haven’t seen it — I’m experiencing FOMMM (fear of messing with my movie).

What does my artistic role model and inspiration have to say now in 2019, such as we are? I watched the clip, with some anticipation.

And there he was, a man of middle age, gripping a piece of paper, visibly shaking and doing his best to speak the Truth in his allotted time of almost 3 minutes. And what did he say that got some people’s panties in a twist? Calling on remembering the slave ancestors and the sacrifices they made. He named his grandmother, the daughter of a slave and graduate of Spelman College, and thanked her for saving her social security checks so he could go to Morehouse and NYU. She called him Spikey Poo. He called for remembering the genocide of the native people and said connecting with our ancestors would bring us wisdom and help us regain our humanity. Oh, and there was a bit about 2020 presidential election being right around the corner: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate.” Then he said “Do the Right Thing,” and he laughed, “You know I had to get that in there!”

So, yes, it was altogether shockingly … calm? Inspiring? Heartfelt with personal thanks to his grandma? Funny? Similar to what any non-Trump supporter is saying about 2020? Rooted in facts that are already established? Yes, Black people were brought here from Africa as slaves, Natives were definitely killed en masse, and there is documented hate going around.

I can totally see how shouting out to your grandmother is really just wasting people’s time with useless personal thanks. Thank your industry buds, your spouse, and move it along.

None of it matters. Spike Lee, after 5 nominations finally was recognized for the work he has been doing tirelessly, with integrity, honesty, and passion. Thanks Spike for your inspiration and for setting this white girl on a path of better understanding 30 years ago about what it means to be Black in America. And thank you for doing it with humor, music, clear-eyed Truth, and without apology. I’m going to watch your video again and get to work.