Monday, December 26, 1994

1994 Top Ten

10) The Noose of the News: The year certainly had more than its share of wacky news events. Locally, the cracking of the arson case raised a proud smile. In the sports world alone, we had the sale and salvation of the fighting Woofies; we had yet another baseball strike and the first missed World Series since the turn of the century; and to top it all off, the incredible OJ circus. With the growing influence of tabloid journalism, we see personal lives being dissected under the guise, the perpetual battle cry of legitimate news gathering and the "right to know". The ultimate example of this of course, was the incredible saga of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, perfectly scripted, purposely pursued by the "media" into one of the all time surrealistic journeys into the world of competition, corruption, greed, insecurity, insincerity and hype. All that was proven though, was that the escapism of the entertainment world is increasingly being mixed with politics and art into something perverse that is supposed to occupy us, concern us and matter to us. The unquestioned myth is that what is news is what is reported not that the corporate monopoly of the major news organizations and the sole basis of choosing what is reported is the film available, the gossip quotient, and if it makes compelling viewing.

9) Fabulous Babes of the Year: Sandra "SJL" Bullock and Liz Phair.

8) We Want Newt: Politics as usual? No way. Anything but that. OK, the government needs to "downsize" and the folks in Washington seem to have lost all grasp on what they are actually there for. Still I swear, I for one, will never vote again until someone, anyone comes out and admits they are a "liberal," a proud part of the counterculture, and deny the rewriting of history, that the mistake of Vietnam was nonsupport, and that JFK and MLK were deviants, and admit that government can help people, and that for some programs tax increases are necessary and that being tough on crime doesn't merely mean that you're against it and want more prisons and death sentences and so on and so on....

7) Bob's Events of the Year: In 1965 he plugged in and combined the dizzying, swirling effects of rock and roll with the pure joy of the written word. In 1994, he unplugged again and proved his contributions to his fans can take on so many different forms. One only hopes that the unreleased material from his MTV appearance will someday see the light of day (a version of Desolation Row was among that left out of the broadcast). His new song, Dignity is another timeless and priceless ranting from our best poet. Best lyric of the year? "Got no place to fade, got no coat. I'm on a rolling river on a jerkin' boat, trying to read a note, someone wrote, about Dignity." You want live performances? His was the only concert I attended all year and it was down in Rochester shared with a friend. Mr. Dylan proved even after the tenth time I've seen him, that he is still the most charismatic, most relevant singer/songwriter in our lifetime. Constantly challenging expectations, constantly questioning, and constantly coming up with ways to make one see something, feel something differently, Dylan continues to prove the power of music. If this is what growing old means, with grace and dignity and mercy, please sign me up.

6) The Song of the Year: A tie: Madonna's Secret, and Liz Phair's SuperNova. One song will years from now bring on memories of what this year was all about for me, the other continues the ascent of a shooting star.

5) The Album (CD) of the Year: For most of the year it wasn't even a question: Freedy Johnston's This Perfect World was like a breath of fresh air. I have played it over and over and there isn't a moment during the song cycle that doesn't ring true and add to what came before. The pictures painted beginning with Bad Reputation all the way through to the climactic Evie's Garden couldn't say any more. This is the one CD that I will still be playing years from now. But, the true gem of 1994 was Madonna's surprising "comeback" effort, Bedtime Stories. In danger of becoming a parody of herself with her recent output of music, books, movies and the embarrassing David Letterman appearance, who would have expected such a lush and moving collection of songs? The first two singles, Secret and Take a Bow are so well crafted that one is forced to reevaluate all of Madonna's recent excesses and once again consider what she might come to be in the future.

4) The Movie of the Year: The rollicking, rolling, always entertaining bus ride of a movie, Speed.

3) The Film of the Year: Hands down, Pulp Fiction. The mixture of dazzling dialogue, the threading together of multiple story lines, and the mastery of movie making and the love of the art itself was more than impressive. This movie stands as far above the rest as last year's best picture, Schindler's List did.

2) Television Event of the Year: During the unbearable, obnoxious, snobbish pledge "week" of our local PBS outlet, KTCA, came a gem of a rebroadcast, Frank Sinatra's 1974 concert, The Main Event. I owned the LP for years but to see it video wise, TV wise and other wise, was a treat. It's priceless just to see and hear Howard Cosell's introduction and the ultimate Sinatra banter, "I've never felt as much love in one room as I feel in this room tonight..."

1) Day of the Year: November 9. Reflection, deliberate introspection, evaluation and analysis. Survival and blessings for all that has passed and all that is still yet to come...

Monday, December 12, 1994

Those Wacky Wacky Staff Meetings

You always told me, people don't do what they believe in, they just do what's most convenient, then they repent..."

If you throw a group of people into a room, people with various skills, different amounts of knowledge, different motivations and levels of commitment, and have them discuss common issues and agendas, the results you get can of course, vary.

Throw those same people into the same room on a regular basis, and certain truths in group dynamics emerge. Some people will lead the discussions while others remain silent, either actively or passively listening. Some will become emotionally charged when an issue strikes their interest; others will always seem to be aloof, completely indifferent to discussions, giving the impression they would rather be anywhere than where they currently are.

The quality and importance of staff meetings varies as much as the people involved. I have sat in on meetings where the value of the outcome was definitely enhanced by the power of group thinking; where the sum was noticeably greater than the parts, where the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few.

I have also sat in on meetings where the group was so split, or so incompatible, or so poorly led that the results were downright demoralizing. The bottom of an admittedly mediocre state career was a staff meeting where the first agenda item we discussed was to define the meanings of the terms, "in" and "out." When was a person "out" of the office? Was it when they were outside the office proper, down in the breakroom, or did they have to be physically outside? To be "in" did they have to be at their desk? By the end of the discussion the eye rolling going on in the room nearly turned to tears as we never did agree on the definition of the terms but did prove that sometimes the taxpayers don't get their money's worth from state employees.

Now, as the leader of weekly staff meetings along with larger group meetings, I have learned the most important thing is to try and find a way to get everyone in the room actively involved, to create an environment where their input is encouraged at all times. To balance that with keeping everyone on track so the meeting doesn't turn into one long complaint or gossip session, is no easy task to accomplish. With effort, you do get better as you go along. The words Mr. Confident Conference Man, and the Personable People Person, and the Natural Born Leader all now appear bolded on my resume'.

The tone of the meeting is created not only in the chosen agenda items and their presentation, but in the room's ambiance, the mood set, the chemistry between the people involved, the structure of how the "leader" chooses to lead the discussion (do we go around the table and get/force everyone's input or do we create a give and take, free for all set up?), among many other variables.

Staff meetings can be a waste of time. With a desk full of work, often the last thing I want to do is set aside an hour to discuss issues rather than activelywork on them. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind the bigger picture; perhaps by participating in a discussion, an idea that wouldn't have occurred to me will be crystal clear to another. Meetings can be a place to see where the pieces fit together, how something I do, affects another's work and vice versa. Processes and procedures should always be questioned and examined. A group meeting is often the best forum for such an examination.

The attitude one brings into meetings makes a difference. Meetings can be WORK, a waste of time, but they can also be rewarding. To step back from the grind of one's workload to enforce the overall goals of one's group, can be a eye opening, educational experience. OK, it may not be as exciting as being on a speeding bus with Sandra Bullock at the wheel making googly eyes at you, but it can be fulfilling nonetheless. To want to make a difference, to want one's organization to be the best it can be, can be a job within a job. That's something those career conscious creatures long ago figured out how to best use to their benefit, advantage and advancement.

Monday, December 5, 1994

Write Away

So what does G.A.T.T. mean to you and me? Not a damn thing according to the Woman with Ideas. She is convinced global warming will do us all in long before the effects of G.A.T.T. take hold. Melt those polar ice caps. Burn those holes in our sky. It's only a matter of time.

But that has nothing to do with this week's topic. Rather, we would like to take the time now to tell you about a friend, and for purposes of privacy and anonymity, we will refer to him only as "Debbie."

"Debbie" has spent most of his adult life wanting to be a writer. For a long time, this meant taking classes, studying, participating in philosophical discussions on the art and history of the written word, and most importantly, sulking and suffering the way writers are supposed to do. Then one day, "Debbie" discovered a secret; to be a writer, one had to write.

These past five years have been far and away the most prolific writing period of "Debbie's" life. He even managed to get a steady writing job. Some say the quality of his writing has steadily deteriorated over the years. Some say his best writing these days are his two sentence e-mail memos he writes in his day to day responsibilities. Others say a significant piece of work is far beyond his reach and that he hasn't written anything substantial for years. Some would even say he has only mastered how to hide behind his words to avoid what he simply used to say. But "Debbie" persists. He'll write until someone tells him to stop.

He has learned it is often times difficult to hear one's inner voice. It is much easier to get wrapped up in one's job, in one's social life than it is to grab the pen and paper during the glow of the late night embers, further isolate one's self and try to communicate what's inside to others who will hold you in judgment for what you create. On top of that, the mind can be at odds with what's in the heart; and trying to find the right mixture of thoughts and feelings, working through the defenses, is one of the biggest challenges facing any writer. Thus to find another who speaks the same inner language can be an inspiring and sometimes overwhelming discovery. It certainly isn't something one should dismiss and walk away from.

But another lesson "Debbie" has learned over the years is it is possible to be inspired by the wrong things. Since writing is 90% inspiration and 10% suffocation, to "Debbie" this is one big mother of a serious lesson to have picked up along the way. Much of writing has to do with being synchronized with where one is currently at; another piece is striving for what one can possibly be. To use energy on ultimately futile endeavors is a criminal waste of the gift of inspiration.

"Debbie" certainly has learned a lot. Perhaps the most important lesson of all, is one many children have instilled into them at the earliest stages of development: To share can be one of the most fulfilling feelings a human can experience. To find a mirror who not only understands the reflection but encourages it, with humor, wit, kindness, and love, can go a long way to cure any ailment.

But one has to remain challenged. Even a mirror can't give a true, lasting image. One needs to touch to feel. It's equally valuable to find inspiration that will continue to question what one has come to take for granted; one who'll get under the skin, and in the heart, and just won't leave. To understand the intensity of pure light, often what is needed are walls to bounce the light off of, to give it a unique perspective. A ray of light can warm either from the inside out, or the outside in. You can't learn to blow smoke rings until you snap your jaw and hold down your tongue.

So what is the universal lesson we all can take from "Debbie's" education? That unchanneled, unchallenged passion can paralyze despite its importance to any artistic aspiration or any other accomplishment. You can analyze and examine our culture, our society to the point of hopelessness. Eventually one has to get up and just do it (sneakers speak). Some of the greatest accomplishments have never been done. You have to do the day to day to get to where you will be tomorrow. Angels may walk the earth, but you'll run across a few people along the way. Good night and drive safely.