Monday, March 24

Riding the Metra rails: an observation in motion

It's spring break in the Chicagoland area. The train is an unusal mix of passengers. Not the usual employee commute but kids of all ages, including a lot of teens. The younger children with their families are quiet; shushed to good behavior by their vigilant parents. Some of the older kids are napping, their hoodies pulled up and over their heads. Some of the kids sitting alone are wearing earbuds and speaking loudly on the phone (take out the buds and turn down the music.)

In my car there is a particularly loud group of teens in the back. They are laughing. A lot. Which is good. I'd rather they laugh than swear. There is an older woman sitting towards the front who has been trying to read her paper. She keeps looking back towards the kids and gives them that disapproving look. If they've seen her, they've ignored her. I suspect they haven't seen her. She keeps shaking her head and muttering to herself. At one point she put her fingers in her ears but soon gave that up as it made it hard to read her paper.

I love riding the train. Not just because of that mournful sound of the train horn nor the sway of the train on the tracks, but the people. The train is one of my favorite places for people watching.

The older couple with the one-way tickets. Heading back to the city after a visit with family? They are a bit non-plussed to find the late morning train so crowded but an alert individual moves to share a seat with a stranger so the couple can sit together.

There is a weird anonymity about the train, but also a weird proximity because individuals are so often required to sit next to a complete stranger. The one already in the seat scoots over toward the window to try to allow sufficient space, huddling belongings close to the chest before trying to situate it on the floor and still have room for legs and feet, possibly balancing a cup of coffee.

There are those who take their seats, adjust their earbuds or headphones and are soon fast asleep, head lolling to one side, mouth agap, snorts of deep sleep punctuating their breathing.

Far too many folks don't look out the windows. Granted in the Chicagoland area towards the end of March after a particularly cold and snowy winter there is not a lot to see if one is look for a particular sort of scenery. But there is always something to observe, and often what we don't really expect to see because we're not really looking for it. Like the well-dressed woman pacing the platform who is probably going for a job interview or some sort of important meeting. The man wearing comfortable shoes, an expensive watch, and a well-worn backpack whose story is indeterminate but fascinating to try to weave. The art work that some might call graffiti on surfaces along the route. The changes in housing. Even in March, a few remnants of Christmas decorations--and I can only imagine the shouted conversations each weekend about putting away the damned Christmas lights. The snow plows not yet parked in the far corners of a heavy equipment lot because a spring snow or two is threatened. Thin layers of ice on covers of above ground pools. Cleverly concealed water towers or furnaces atop buildings. The remnants or beginnings of rooftop gardens. Orange-garbed workes on break? Or maybe it's their job to stand against the big container filled with bags of something. Hard to know. Sparse-looking naked trees, brown and grey yet undaunted. So much going on in those trees just now before the burst of buds that signals spring is really here.

The older woman who was giving long looks to the kids has just stood up to put on her coat and scarf. As she did, she looked towards the back of the train, frowning. The kids were effervescently unaware. With a loud "Tsk!" that could have been directed to anyone or anything about anything, she sat down. Poor thing. I hope she has a better day.

Wednesday, March 19

The Giver!

I used to teach The Giver in my Adolescent Literature class. My college students LOVED the book. I distinctly remember a colleague expressing some concerns about the book when her daughter was in the 4th grade and it was on the reading list. I appreciate/d her concerns. It's one of those books that has a particular quantitative reading level but can operate on a much different level for the qualitative and, if you're thinking about text complexity, for the reader and task.

So the trailer for The Giver is out and is going to generate some singular excitement about this film.

Jeff Bridges. Katie Holmes. Taylor Swift. Meryl Streep.


Sorry, I lost my head there for a moment. She doesn't have a big part, but who cares? It's Meryl Streep. In fact, the cast is pretty awesome. I would love to think it's because the book is such an amazing book, but we'll have to wait to see how Mr. Weinstein and company treated the text.

What I'm hoping for is a sort of revival of talking about this book, the role of government and the lengths to which some might go to help be sure "the people" don't make wrong decisions. I can't help but think about Divergent and The Hunger Games. Each of the dystopian novels give us a group of people who believe they know what's best for everyone and who let power go to their heads.

Perhaps as our students reflect on what's happening in Ukraine and Crimea, they will think about leadership and power and democracy and why it's important to vote, why it's important for everyone to have a vote, etc. Perhaps they'll engage in conversations about lobbyists, PACS, and SuperPACS and all the millionaires and billionaires who can help buy someone a place in the US government. Maybe they'll even talk about Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."

Maybe they'll talk about roles and responsibilities in communities and societies.

Maybe they'll think about how they can help implement some changes in their communities. Maybe they'll have conversations about what it means to be tolerant and diverse. The list of possibilities is endless.

When I used the book in my Adolescent Literature class, I invited students to write the chapter after the last chapter in the book. Some of them struggled with that because it seemed to lead not to a tidy conclusion, but to more questions and more possibilities. Exactly.

Tuesday, March 18

Malls, networking, and ready-to-go office space?

Pop-up stores became a thing in the late 90s. They were mostly specialty stores for holidays. We'd see kiosk and small free-standing independent and chain shopping areas in the wide aisles of the malls, too.

I rarely go to a mall though Woodfield Mall isn't that far from me. It's far enough and I really don't want to schlep all over the mall to try to find what I think I want. And I'm not a random window shopper so that part of a mall isn't appealing to me.

I started thinking about repurposing mall space after I read this article about the not-yet-demise of the American shopping mall. I think it's true that many of us used to go to shopping malls as a place to gather and hang out, to see and be seen. It wasn't really about the shopping at all.

"Ready-to-go" office space is a newer thing. Such space is ideal for start-ups and entrepreneurs who want and need office space but they're not sure how much they need or will need. Some offer a range of services while others offer only the basics.

So it occurred to me that perhaps some of that mall space could become ready-to-go office space. The space wouldn't have to be limited to office space, of course. Some of that space could become child care for those working in the office space or the shops or the food court. Some of that space could become workout places, yoga studios, massage therapy studios. Any hair salons might get more business. The services to support those using the office space could certainly grow and expand, and then there might be additional business for those pop-up stores.

The possibilities could be pretty interesting.

Wednesday, March 12

BAWSI vs bossy: Be a change maker

So I had to laugh when I heard Brandi Chastain describe her non-profit, Bay Area Women's Sports Initiative (BAWSI). She said, "We call it BAWSI" which sounded a lot like she said, "We call it bossy."

This in the wake of the conversation and brouhaha following Sheryl Sandberg's call to ban the word "bossy."

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, gathered some attention when she published Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I've not read the book because I've lived part of that story. An interesting follow-up to the impact of Lean In, which was met with some derision as well as applause, are the Lean In Circles which are meant to help women of all ages think differently about themselves. I applaud the concept of supporting women to be more assertive, to be more self-assured.

In her 2010 TED Talk, Ms. Sandberg reminds us of the reasons we have too few women leaders.

Now Sheryl Sandberg is a self-made woman. When you read her biography on Wikipedia, you might suspect that she had opportunities that are rare for many women. I think you'd be right. But it's one thing to have the opportunities and it's another to make use of them. Sandberg made use of them, and well.

So what does that have to do with the word "bossy"? If you listen to Sandberg's TED Talk or do any research on her concept of leaning in or even read her book, the first thing you'll note is that she says to "sit at the table." The bottom line is that "women systematically underestimate their own abilities."

Sandberg goes on to say that "women don't negotiate for themselves in the work force." Why? We don't have sufficient confidence in our own abilities or we believe that it is wrong or inappropriate to claim our success is because of what we know and can do.

Sandberg also says there is a correlation between success and likeability, something she apparently addresses in her book. One article I found on this was written by the lead researcher for Sandberg's book. Marianne Cooper writes in "For Women Leaders, Likability and Success Hardly Go Hand-in-Hand"
high-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success – and specifically the behaviors that created that success – violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave. Women are expected to be nice, warm, friendly, and nurturing. Thus, if a woman acts assertively or competitively, if she pushes her team to perform, if she exhibits decisive and forceful leadership, she is deviating from the social script that dictates how she “should” behave. By violating beliefs about what women are like, successful women elicit pushback from others for being insufficiently feminine and too masculine.
Carrie Kerpen concludes in her article "Professional Women and Likeability: Does It Matter?"
As women in business, we are faced daily with media that tells us what to do to succeed: Be likeable! No, be ruthless and stoic! The reality is that if you embrace the characteristics of great leadership–if you listen, if you are trustworthy, if you communicate well, if you have vision–then whether you realize it or not, you are, in fact, likeable.
Recently Sandberg has begun a campaign to ban the word "bossy." The likes of Jane Lynch and Beyonce have promoted Sandberg's campaign. There are those with a larger voice than mine who disagree with Sandberg. Peggy Drexler is one of them. She writes in her article "Sheryl Sandberg wrong on 'bossy' ban,"
In fact, moving to abolish the word "bossy" risks sending the message that there's something wrong with those characteristics associated with bossiness: taking charge and speaking your mind. Again, the problem isn't the word, or the behavior, but the reaction to the behavior, and the acceptance among women of the word as a disparaging one.
I agree with Drexler (obviously, I suppose), but I think part of the problem is the not only the reaction to the behavior but the behavior of the one who calls out a woman as "bossy" and intends that to be a pejorative. Any response to that behavior is fraught with unintended consequences, but the person who calls a woman "bossy" is also calling her a "bitch" and other unpleasant things. In that case, the person probably just doesn't like the woman and it may be because of gender or something else entirely.

Why did I laugh when I heard Brandi Chastain describe her non-profit for girls as "bossy"? Because the mission of that non-profit (@BAWSI on Twitter) is to awaken "the power of female athletes as change makers in the world." Love that. Love the idea of empowering women to be change makers.

So go ahead and be bossy. And thank whoever calls you that for recognizing you're a change maker, and working to change your world and the world for everyone to be a better place.