“Your numbers look great”: non-human solutions to very human problems

working-lifeWhen the twins were in kindergarten they were separated between two classes across the hallway from each other. Victoria’s teacher was a soft spoken, cardigan wearing woman with great patience and tenderness. Vanessa’s teacher was a loud, hostile, bitter old lady with no patience for little kids or the learning process. As the school year wore on, Victoria would come home happy, holding up a finger painting she’d done and talking about how she couldn’t wait for school again tomorrow. Vanessa would come home with her head bowed, somber and clingy asking if she can stay home and never return to that mean place again.

I thought Vanessa was simply having trouble adjusting; after all, some kids don’t take to socialization as well as others. But then the phone calls from Mrs. Bitter started to come in. Daily, I would get a call from a gruff, inpatient voice telling me how my daughter was hiding under her desk and refusing to come out or crying in a corner and cannot be swayed to move. Another time she called and said that Vanessa just wouldn’t stop crying, so Vanessa was separated from the group until she stopped being disruptive.

I finally had a meeting with the school and here is what they told me: “Mrs. Bitter can be a disciplinarian, but her numbers are through the roof; she forces her students to do the work by any means necessary, yes, she can seem a little harsh but she gets the job done.”

the-flourishing-classroom

The school cared not that my daughter was frightened out of her wits by this overbearing, unnecessarily harsh woman. Mrs. Bitter yelled at the children without cause and humiliated them by calling them names and getting the other children to join in. I knew this from witnessing it myself when I came into the class to monitor Vanessa’s behavior. Mrs. Bitter was horribly impatient and totally unqualified to be a kindergarten teacher – she had no patience for the job. But out of fear and harsh punishment, her students had the highest academic performance rate in the entire school.

After months of being a confused first time parents, my husband and I finally told the school that we wanted our daughter taken out of that class immediately. Yes, Mrs. Bitter squeezed out high tests scores but she also crunched the spirits of tiny kindergarteners and that was not okay. The school loved this lady because her numbers were great, never mind that she abused the students.

 

I find this mindset prevalent in America. The most successful are the most abusive. This mindset has to stop. Abuse is not okay, even if it gets the job done. The job can be done with compassion, levelheadedness, grace with respect for humanity. The twin with the nice patient teacher did just as well as the twin with the mean impatient one, so why are we rewarding destructive pathways to success?

girls-in-demanding-class

 

Our web-based lives further perpetuate this idea that cruelty as a strategy to produce perfection is okay. Increasingly our lives are maintained by algorithms, these complex applications choose our meals, mates, books, toys, fashion, schedules, careers, doctors, diagnoses, and prescriptions.

Technology is helpful and does create the feeling of ease and efficiency, hence my ability to post to this very blog right now. But computerized technology sends the message to its users that they can be as mechanically efficient both on line and off line. Educational systems are built entirely around the idea that pupils perform at the same scientifically established level. Exams transform human students into data elements that either successfully or unsuccessfully navigate algorithms.

We utilize computerized tools to demonstrate performance but the data is only half of the story. At work my performance is based on how well I navigate complex algorithms, not giving any thought to my humanity. If my report was done with accuracy, I’m good; no one cares that my grandma died, a colleague stole my idea, and I just found out that I have a serious medical condition. Human emotion is in play forever and always, yet our technological world turns a blind eye to the things that truly matter offline.

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Social media is thought to produce a layer of humanity for us but it is really insufficient. Our social media profiles are heavily curated advertisements of ourselves. There is really no humanity in our social media. There is really nothing authentically social about it. We post our stances, arguments, and position on issues but we are not really socializing. We are gathering data and arranging pseudo committees to further digitize our lives. I hear that some authentic friendships are made through social media and this is encouraging. Some people really do get married as a result of meeting online. However, speak to these people and they will likely tell you that their relationship was “set up” or “initialized” online but it blossomed offline. Therefore, our online activity serve as a tool to be used to live our lives not to be lived through

 

Bottom line: your numbers, on paper, on social media, on spreadsheets, on data reports, can look awesome, but you as a human being can be doing horribly. It is everyone job to continually remind each other that our “numbers” don’t represent us fully. It is fine to use data as guide but data will never replace humanity.

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poem: a writer

 

Behind my motherly exterior, I am a writer.

Cafe

Somewhere in there

A writer

plunking away in a café

Describing the flow of the wind

The glow of a smile

The tingle of a touch

The frantic, manic

Screams of happy children

Charged with youth

Energy

Of calcium rich bones

And

Adrenaline filled veins

Somewhere in there

A writer

black despair

thesearch

the search

The black American has a lineage that was washed away in the ocean.  A history that died on boats and in fields, on plantations, and in streets that brought despair.

We work during our lives to move past this historical hiccup.  We are damaged and aimless but we sober up and began a path to living.  Except some of us get stuck in the despair and cannot live a life of brightness so we scrounge and dig deeper into the underbelly of true life.  Addictions, illicit sex, a cloud of smoke follows the downtrodden wherever they go.  Some of us are cool and we wrap our bravado up in weed papers not knowing all the while our blunt is laced with despair.

The astute writer, Bell Hooks says, “It has been easier for everyone to focus on issues of material survival and see material deprivation as the reason for our (black america’s) continued collective subordinated status then to place the issue of trauma and recovery on our agendas” (p. 28).

There is overwhelming despair, grief, and trauma that has been poorly addressed with equal opportunity laws and governmental initiatives.  You cannot heal a heart with a law.  We cannot soothe the broken souls of black America by providing welfare checks or open door employment.

Money and riches doesn’t make you forget, cash doesn’t heal and it will not fulfill your soul.  Billionaire blacks still have to live with the reality of black despair. 

We should all do our work to move towards healing from our ancestral past that severed us from our heritage and left us scraping for a good life in a foreign land that we’ve now made our own.  

its possible to be happy

its possible to be happy

It is not about victimhood.  We are not victims. We have proved this. 

We are smiling and dancing and working and laboring and decorating and writing and living our lives.  We are human beings that have a complex history and deserve real freedom, which is in the mind.

Our bodies are free; we must now go about freeing our minds.

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

hooks, bell, 1952-. (c2003.). Rock my soul : Black people and self-esteem. New York : Atria Books.

life vs write

Okay.

I have been unable to write for pleasure.  It has been about four weeks now since I’ve written a coherent word that was personal or creative and served my own purposes.  I’ve written a hundred work emails detailing an injured employees medical status and return to work strategies, but I haven’t written one sentence that caresses my imagination and drives me to smile.

life goes on...

life goes on…

I have reviewed my finances, planned the twins back to school wardrobe, written grocery shopping lists, called in prescription refills, attended parent-teacher meetings, helped my husband arrange for a out of town trip, swept the floors, moped the floors, washed dishes, prepared meals, washed hair, combed hair, dropped kids off at appointments, retrieved kids from appointments, and watched horrible television, yet I haven’t squeezed out a teardrop of imaginative writing.

This bout of writers block is further exacerbated with the obligations of young family life.  Some days I wish for old age.  I wish I was sixty years old and all the children are well adjusted grownups that still came by to visit but didn’t need me to prepare their meals anymore.  I would be retired and free to sit in my home library reading and working on a project that I’ve promised my agent I’d have done by an impossible deadline.

Dreams.

That’s my little pipe dream; to be mature, creative, and published.  I love my family life and I love my creative life.  The reality is that family does come first. Shared human experiences help pad my creativity, feed my soul, and keep me healthy.  We are here on earth to connect with one another and then write about it.

mind changing is allowed; hypocrisy is not.

Many people don’t use hypocrisy in the proper context.  They’ve muddled the meaning.  A hypocrite isn’t merely someone who says one thing but does another.  I am very slow to assign the label of hypocrite to others because human thought expands and shifts frequently.

hypocriteyes

hypocrite eyes

 

Some of the things I believed as a teenager, I no longer believe as an adult.  I allow wiggle room for beliefs updates, converts, and maturity.  Mind changing is allowed; hypocrisy is not.

 

True hypocrisy always involves a blatant lie.  It denotes known deceit.

When my uncle would puff his cigarettes then blow the smoke in my face and say, “don’t you ever start these things…they’ll ruin your life.”  He wasn’t being a hypocrite, he was being honest.  He didn’t hide his use of cigarettes while bad mouthing the habit in public. He used openly and bad mouthed openly. He was not a hypocrite.

Sometimes we can slowly drift into the hypocritical realm without being aware like accidentally giving donations to a slaughter house because you didn’t read the form right and you are a known animal rights advocate with a website and everything and recently updated your site condemning meat eaters.

It is very rare that one is unaware that they are being hypocrite.  Most of us know, rather acutely, when we have veered past the beliefs that we’ve pretended to live by.

The girl who preached to me about the wickedness of premarital sex whilst having it herself yesterday is a hypocrite.

If you scold someone for a sin and then find yourself in that same sin a year later, I do not consider you a hypocrite.  You are simply a misguided individual who spoke too soon.  If you however, continue to scold people for the very sins that you regularly indulge in, then you, my friend are a fabricated, fictitious, master of the stage, worthy of an Oscar, bona fide hypocrite.

 

Flying birds

Hypocrites are typically the double-lifer’s; you know, those people who live in two opposing worlds. People like the president of a rape prevention organization, who rapes women in his spare time, and the upstanding preacher who casts out homosexual demons yet maintains a homosexual relationship in private are the paradigm of hypocrisy.

The thing to remember about hypocrisy is that it is based on contradiction.  It is not based upon changing your mind (truthfully), learning, growing, or changing perspective.  I guess this is why it is not a good idea to be judgmental, preachy, or disparaging towards others.

You may find that you feel differently later and people will mistake you for a hypocrite.

 

 

the psychosis of marriage

Prior to my marriage, I hated horror films.  I disliked all the blood, gore, and deep spooky music that made goose bumps scale on your arms.  Witnessing a beheading was a barbaric act and all those who found human mutilation entertaining were mildly psychotic.

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Then I got married.  I married a great guy, handsome, responsible, a good provider and in all of his goodness, there are also complexities that I cannot even begin to understand.  As I irritate him with my tendency to leave half empty glasses of water around the house, he irritates me with perpetual condescending questions.

As we tried to talk through our differences but sunk deeper into frustration, I began to feel anger building in my stomach.  I couldn’t understand why he felt the need to remind me seven times to mail the mortgage check and he couldn’t bare to see yet another forgotten glass on the nightstand. The tension in our talks sucked all of the air out of the room.  We could no longer breathe so we stopped talking.

Each day we go through the motions of daily living, caring for the children, running errands, reporting to work, and still I feel the bridge between us grow wider because we don’t take the time to discuss our grievances.

I know that our petty aggravations must be stress reactions put upon a fast-paced young family. Our fights are either stress related or they are motivated by some deeper issues that we would need a therapist to uncover.

The days rush by and we continue to plug away at our domestic duties in our suburban shell and I can feel the resentment tank filling to my chest now.  After helping the kids with homework, making dinner, giving baths, cleaning the kitchen, and prepping for morning, the house is finally quiet besides the snore of my spouse. I plunk down the sofa and take a breath.  I realize as I flip through channels that I could do with a little blood right now, and a healthy dose of gore would do me some good.  With all my frustrations and tensions, I can witness a beheading without wanting to gag.  I can yell at the foolish young girl who trips on purpose as her stalker gets closer.

A chopped off head symbolizes the severed bulk of connectivity in my marriage.  The monster hunting the teenage campers and slashing them one by one is the same evil that comes into my marriage flinging its machete causing chaos, confusion and unnecessary pain.

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The Void

My mother comes to me in dreams.  She is present in almost every dream that I have.  I wonder if this is just me missing her or if she is truly visiting me in this mystical way; perhaps it is a manifestation of both.

how do you move forward without anyone to nudge you?

how do you move forward without anyone to nudge you?

Fourteen years later, I still feel the shock of my mother’s death.  The pain of death never quite goes away, it dulls and numbs but it is still there.  The void of a missing piece looms over me raining its funereal rays down, following me around as I do life.  Most days I feel severed, like a feather blowing in the wind.  It started as soon as my mother’s funeral came to a close.

I became obsessed with job hopping.  I worked as a receptionist, a mail sorter, food service worker,  bus girl, catalogue customer service representative, credit card customer service representative, and a few others.  I thought that a job could give me the security that I needed to cope with my empty life.  No job seemed to soothe my aching soul.  I found all the positions boring and the environments hostile.

When I realized that a job couldn’t comfort me I indulged in an unhealthy relationship with an alcoholic.  My boyfriend I and moved in together and he helped me create a pseudo haven of security.  I needed something real and tangible to grab onto and hold.  He was there every day when I returned from work.  He stayed around never straying away from home for any reason.

I counted on him to be there for me and he was.  The drinking escalated as the years passed.  He was up to six beers per day and by nighttime he was so inebriated that he couldn’t speak in full sentences. One night I sat up thinking about how screwed up we both were.  Essentially we were two depressed people in isolation.

I began to see my boyfriend in a new way.  He wasn’t helping me to move forward, he was impelling me to stay put.  I was wallowing in my grief and I had company to wallow with.  Both of us struggled with abandonment issues, me from losing my mother and him from never knowing who his father was.  He said his mother, who was still living, refused to give him any information about his dad.  I thought this was very sad, he must have felt utterly abandoned by a father who is either dead or living some life without him.

We weren’t living, we simply existed.

I realized that a stable job and boyfriend wasn’t quelling my empty soul.  I was stuck, suspended in the air half way toward heaven but still close to earth.  After I rubbed my eyes and peeked out the door into the world I remembered that I had dreams.  I remembered that before my mother died, I was going to enroll in college and get a degree in social work.  I remembered that I wanted to work in the field for five years and then get to work on a non-fiction self-help book for urban teenagers.

I dreamed of the condo that I would live in.  I would buy it with the money I earned from book sales.  I was a young adult and I dreamed big.  Then I looked around and saw myself in this ratty old one bedroom apartment with moldy walls.  I lived with an unemployed alcoholic and neither one of us was working towards anything in life.

When my mother died, so did I; emotionally.  I went numb and stopped living.  I knew what I needed to do at this point.  I broke up with my boyfriend and asked him to find a place of his own.  I needed to be alone.  I needed to work on my plans for the future.  I needed to live.