Tag Archives: thoughts

Giving Value: A practice in blogging

It’s about time I put an actual blog post on this blog. Mostly people have contacted me saying I should call it an ezine since blog seems ill-used here. I don’t often post my opinions, and I don’t cover popular topics. Is this, really, a blog?

IT IS NOW !! MUAHAHAHAHA.

**

The echo chamber

A general word of advice in blogging is to give value to your readers, to provide some service that they find worthwhile. This theory is so well accepted that I hear it at least five times a day through various social networking sites and how-to-blog services.

The very existence of such an echo chamber should serve to make the irony of a statement about providing value so stark that serious readers couldn’t ignore it. However, the statement merely provides the words which the reader should repeat as the writer so that his reader can repeat them, (seemingly) ad infinitum.

However, it is also said that, while web viewers claim to view the internet for entertainment and education, they in fact expect to learn nothing and, while browsing hundreds of pages, somehow manage to learn nothing. Also, the subjects of their entertainment are so abused as to weather away fascination, and yet they, the readers, keep plugging away at article after article waiting for some new tidbit to come up that they can gleam or meme, twist or copy as long as they can link. Millions of readers of this type exist, just as do millions (probably only thousands, but what the hell) of blogs.

To change tactic a little bit

Gold. The word looks closely related to God. For all intents and purposes, it doubles, either critically or actually, for a god. It replaced the materials in the scales of justice. It has moved countries and reshaped societies. It has single-handedly killed more men than any other artificial force on this planet, fueling wars (even [or especially] the religious ones), driving slaves, falsely empowering some men over others. In its mythic power, gold has generated false cities and idols, and even fabricated tales of glory.

One story in particular matters to us today because it shows a symptom of blogging as a means of American entrepreneurialism, which we usually hold so high. The people of the gold rush weren’t concerned with adding to the wealth of our nation, though a drive for success fueled them as mightily as any tycoon; the rushers wanted, as many of us dream, to get rich, preferably for as little effort as possible, but who’s going to complain about a few days’ worth of digging?

Unfortunately, quite a few of them died trying (for a fun expiriment, research how many actually died), and the ones who survived their trials merely settled wherever they ended up. The greatest problem they faced, as anyone playing the game Oregon Trail soon learns, was a lack of planning. The thoughts that run through your head–generated by the basic managerial imagination we each have, honed to greater or lesser extents by experience–are not sufficient to survive the trip. Even the people that did survive found out quickly that they had no idea how to look for gold or even where to find it. But the west coast looked pretty good by the time the Rockies were behind them, I bet, and you can read a brief history of Seattle if you want to see where the survivors’ remaining entrepreneurial instinct took them.

Blogging, to writers, resembles these traits. We put our ideas onto electronic drives where they appear as pixels to whatever ghostly visitor happens to stumble across them for whatever reason. Just like the ’49ers, we bloggers barely grasp the technology, hardly fully or in a way that would benefit us most, and more importantly we understand or misinterpret the tools and benefits of social media. Yet despite the technical inability of most writers and our lack of ambition to succeed in the ethereal communities of the internet (as opposed to our ambition to succeed in the commodifiable community of publishing), we press on into this dream. Why?

Blogging: A mythopoetic

Because we hear tales, of course, great tales of success. The recent movie Julie and Julia highlights the basic success fantasy that lies under most of our attempts: write blog, gain readers, break the media ceiling, get published. In what ways is social media most useful to us? Doesn’t matter; people will find the blog somehow, and my uneducated efforts will help. How hard do I have to work at generating compelling content, and what does that even mean, anyway: compelling content? I can write, we answer; I have thoughts.

To these arguments, I answer with an Eve6 lyric: “The liar in me says something’s gonna happen soon because it must.”

Despite our overpowered fantasies, there is no moment in which, climactic, the phone will suddenly ring, filling our voicemails with phonecalls from studios seeking our hands. In the current market, where blogs are a cute fuzzy place where MFA students and other writers post their cute fuzzy brains, there’s only one instance in which that might happen, and I promise you that you don’t want to follow that path.

Ashley sent me an email copied from her friend Steuart [sic] that addresses this hope:

I think that there are some individuals that understand social networking sites and how to leverage them effectively, but most don’t. Typically, the larger the company/corporation/label/band the more they -don’t- get it.

The power in social networking sites doesn’t have anything to do with your own individual or your group’s/company’s presence on it. You don’t need a twitter account to leverage twitter to your advantage. The power of social networking sites are in the PEOPLE that comprise it. From a marketing standpoint, twitter is best viewed as the ultimate in word-of-mouth amplifiers, NOT just another place to plaster plugs for yourself.

Marketing over social networks and the internet, as things sit now, is not about yelling the most and yelling the loudest yourself; it’s getting other people to do the yelling for you. As it pertains to the music business, people will be happy to start ‘yelling for you’ IF your music is good, with very little extra effort on your part. But if that takes up 95% of your efforts…well you’re doing it backwards and doing it wrong.

The only way in which Steuart’s breakdown of social marketing rings true is through viral marketing. It works one way: you produce something so astounding that it constitutes a freakshow, it doesn’t matter whether it’s genteel or actual freakishness. Child prodigies, the “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” guy, Shamwow… the list goes on quite a while and is mostly comprised of multimedia, not text. Companies trying to break into viral marketing attempt to break it down to a list of rules, but really it flows from this basic socio-instinct: one thousand quirks snap quite suddenly and almost inexplicably. That’s all it takes to generate a meme, as irrational as it is unpredictable.

Social networking as marketing

If you’re serious about your work and the work you make has value on its own, people are less likely (in my own, brief experience) to take the effort to spread it around. If anything, they’ll expect you to succeed on your own without their help outside of their continuing to view what you produce.

So what’s the right answer here? Buy a spambot that will get a thousand other spambots to follow you so that you have a thousand viewers, none of whom are listening to you because they’re all just bots that help you feel cozy at night? Well, no; the answer is work hard and do your research, even though I know that doesn’t sit well with some of you.

My strategy for maximizing my Twitter experience is relatively simple and, if I knew how to code, could be mostly automated.

  1. If the tweep have over two thousand followers, it’s unlikely we’ll be friends.
  2. If the tweep has a follow ratio larger than 1.5, same goes.
  3. New tweeps are found only by crawling retweets from friends and follow fridays, though some friends prove their recommendations more worthwhile than others.

I’m beginning to add people by channels, but it’s proving largely unnecessary as I’m fairly aggressive about following the tweeps my friends retweet. I use several websites to aggressively cleanse my list of followers and followees (contact me if you want a list, but I’m not certain I’ve got the best tools). If you don’t follow back after a few weeks, toodles. If you follow me and you’re a spambot, you get BLOCKED. If you follow me and I’m not sure I want to follow you back, you have three weeks to respond to any of my posts via mention or retweet or get blocked. I strictly maintain a near 1:1 ratio and keep Twitter bloating to a minimum.

Also remember that despite the upgrade in technology, this basic axiom still applies: You will be your greatest supporter. Connections through a network will amplify your advertising, but if you don’t speak out on your own behalf, how can you expect that of others? Rather, even if your fans/viewers are inclined to send out a message on your behalf, it will generally be in the form of a repost/retweet, which necessitates that you have something fresh in the stream for them to repeat when the mood strikes.

But such a force will strike rarely and in full force only on others who are paralleling your struggle. You have to work hard and work reasonably. You have to sing like an angel and then shout like a demon about it. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re not prepared to succeed. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re setting out on the Oregon Trail without a shovel. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re chasing the myth rather than living the dream.

And for those of you who are prepared to tread down the well-worn path of celebrity and political gossip rather than make the psuedo-tantalous trip up the path of creativity, fair you well with your immediate success, and may you keep your viewers. May you carry your banner into the mudpits that might’ve been fields, and may bugs sting your ankles forever.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Journalism, Publishing

Manager, a character sketch

I read this piece at Emerson’s Graduate Reading Series in Spring 2009, and the audience received it well. Enjoy!

**

Give anger a body, a well-crafted superbly sculpted male, screaming and tense. … In the moments where the veneer of pursuit wears thin, when the film and crust of years of wasted life begin to dry and crack from overuse and abuse, humans revolt, find their lack of faith and their faith’s lack of substance disgusting. Too scared to recognize their dilemma, too overwhelmed to reasonably place blame, they rage. … They will define themselves in terms of their distraction in order to again pull their mind away from their pain. When I craft them, they light themselves afire and scream to heaven, “See? I have virtue, too! I give off my own light, and it is beautiful!” The pain distracts them from the fact that their light is fueled by their skin, the energy is borrowed from a system that is not their creation nor was ever under their control.

**

Underappreciated. Unappreciated. I had so much energy at the start of this job, this step forward in my life, this salaried position, this point in the American dream. I had so much hate when I was younger, half my lifetime ago; is that the key to it all? Lazily, I watch the walls, my chin resting in the crook of my left arm. Or I watch the internet, same position, trolling websites. People online are so cruel; it makes me laugh. I can’t match their cruelty. I rarely even have the energy to respond. That’s why I’m a troll: I watch and crawl and envy. If I ever do decide to try and join in, the ridicule is so brash that I can’t possibly continue to care or to follow through.

Work isn’t much different. I used to care, young and hopeful and dreamily wet-eyed. My parents were so proud, and so was I. The gap between graduation and employment had seemed like torture, so gratuitously long. I had dreams of walking up to the suits, those people in charge, and convincing them with merely my passion that I was the one for the job. Interviews, though, are so much more difficult than dreams. I went through plenty of them before an offer was made, and when one was, I jumped at it. I was ravenous for work; the desire to prove myself had so much weight, more even than the desire to separate myself from my parent’s pocketbook. What happened to it? I can’t even be bothered to recall; that was years ago, so very long ago.

Exercise used to help. After a long day of mind-numbing work, for no position I have ever filled has required much thought, I’d rush off to the gym. The weights I lifted felt so much more like an accomplishment than almost finishing my inbox, only to watch the work pile up again right in my face. No matter how fast I typed, how efficiently I stampeded through and pushed forward, the mail just kept flying in. Weights were different. One hundred and fifty pounds; one eighty; two hundred: Look at the increase! Look at the progress!

The energy it generated was only mechanical in nature, and the more I exercised the more I wanted to exercise until eventually I couldn’t give it anymore time. I was running, weightlifting, sweating. My body worked until I didn’t really control it anymore, not scheduling my workout around work but working around my workout. But God I looked beautiful! The women I picked up at the gym or out at the bar with friends were nearly as beautiful as me, almost identical in mindset. I wish it could have lasted.

Inexplicably, I lost interest. A void appeared in my schedule, which for all of my late-twenties had been so tight, and it’s not like I was bored for an hour and then had something else to do; I had nothing to do. That’s when my internet trolling began, but my decline in interest at work was already well established. My youthful zeal had spurred me to produce high-quality content on-time and ahead of schedule, but I hadn’t learned how to balance a salaried position and the demands of life: finding a place to live, buying and cleaning clothes, my exercise and social routine, etc. My production came in bursts, mostly when life was calm, and life has a tendency to work in waves, calm only between trough and crest. Slave drivers, my bosses wanted to get out of me all the time what I gave them at my most prolific. I suppose that’s where the burnout began. I fought, trying to reason with them, imploring their sympathy as my apartment lease ran out, as my friends got married or divorced, as life presented many and various obstacles. I shouldn’t have expected their pity, and I certainly didn’t get it.

The hours at work became longer as I tried to make my productivity consistent, stretching like a rubberband where the tension is never released. The exercise compensated for the unfulfilled desire of punching my bosses in the face. Eventually I began to hope that they would fire me, end my necessity to try to please them. I could slouch, then, and complain about the injustice of my termination. Everyone would listen, I fantasized. Everyone would buy it. Instead, I received a promotion. Now I had underlings to produce for me, and it was my responsibility as manager to make them produce. The employees looked so much like I had at first: hopeful and ambitious. I would have quit if I had known at the time that their career paths would have been exactly like mine, if I had known it was my face they would picture punching during their workouts.  I did not quit, however; I watched the drones crawl towards their futures.

Sometimes I see myself in my employees, or maybe I recognize the way they understand me. I know their feelings; I can see them through the salty whites of their eyes. I anticipate the pitiful shaking of my fearful employees, the way their irises contract under pressure. Their legs tremble under their pleated slacks, and they worry too much about whether I can see their shaking, too much over their individual humiliation, to truly listen. The young seem to harbor a perpetual and almost preternatural inability to focus. But that’s alright; my reprimands ceased to help them be better employees shortly after I gained the authority to give them. Tears well in their eyes, washing away the old, bitter salt which deposits anew when they dry. My underlings guarantee their lack of salience with a pool of saline. But no, they’ll not cry, not in front of me; Employees never transgress professionalism openly.

And here I am. I can’t distract myself from my employees’ fates without the truth of my own progression breaking my concentration and ruining the numb experience of it all. At home, I can’t pick a show to watch, and when I do settle I pay it little attention or far too much. I’ve stopped sleeping well. I get little to nothing out of it, the six to eight hours dwindling away regardless of their productivity. My dreams haunt me.

In one, I am a teenager again, screaming at my parents, blaming them for my future. I reach out to beat my father who assures me that I cannot know what the future holds, yelling savagely back at him exactly what my life is like, tears streaming down my face. My fists won’t hit him; my screams reach deaf ears. I punch and punch and punch, and he laughs at me and my claims of clairvoyance. My mother looks at me sympathetically, but she assures me that if that’s what life has in store for me, I should be glad for it. I could strangle her, but my hands won’t touch her. I grab and grab, but they always miss. I wake up sweating and furious, but the effects are always gone by the end of my morning shower.

Another has me as some gargantuan glutton. I feast on my underlings, their succulent fingers first. I throw the rest to a disposal, which grinds the leftovers and does away with them. I wake with my stomach in knots, and I often wretch. If anything does come up, I’m glad to see bile only.

These nightmares torment me much more thoroughly than my hopeful dreams of employment filled my youth. I rarely go a night without soaking the bed in my sweat. I rarely wake without disgusted chills so severe I nearly lose my feet in the morning on the way to the shower.

Mostly, I hate them. My waking hours are filled with dreams where my nightmares are books. They line the wall behind my desk, elegant proof of my technical proficiency and industrial wherewithal. I unconsciously imagine myself ripping them to shreds. I burn them. If only they’d be destroyed so easily! I hate them. I can’t be rid of them!

What is it I’ve done differently than everyone else that makes me deserve these things? I’m just a man, and I’ve done all the things that are expected of me! But no, I’m not just a man: I’m me, and I’ve lived my life and done my actions, but I’m just a manager among managers. I’ve never heard other people complain of such horrible visions! Why must they plague me? Why? Why me?

I’ve never complained of them. What would people say if I confided? See a shrink, who has a mind for such things. But my war isn’t with myself, but with my dreams! If they’d just leave, I’d have nothing to be angry about!

Ugh, but I can’t stand it anymore! I can’t empty my mind! I can’t live my life! What is this that I can’t avoid? Why can’t I ignore it? I hate it all! I hate it!

I’m too good to be so tormented. I work my job. I pay my way. I have friends. I’m a debt to no one! Why, then, do I feel so twisted and so alone? Why do these haunting thoughts make me see myself so wicked? I’m not wicked! I’m not evil! I don’t force corruption on anyone! I’m a consumer! I’m a worker! I’m what a man should be!

I’m fucking disgusting. But I don’t hate myself. I love myself, unappreciated as I am in this world. If I were appreciated, I wouldn’t dream these horrible dreams. My employees should respect and thank me for the effort I spend on them! I should be proud of the life I lead! I should love my proud parents and be happy that they are pleased for me, but I hate, hate, HATE, HATE these fucking dreams! If only I could sleep.

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A Paradigm Shift in Project Management: Hierarchy to adhocracy

“Sharing power is not the ideal of some ‘utopian’ future. It’s the ground truth of our hyperconnected world.” – Mark Pesce

**

In my search to uncover blogs about copyright issues, I discovered The Human Network. Mark Pesce’s video presentation to the Personal Democracy Forum and transcript both struck me as worthy of the attention of internet community members and people interested in the new organizational structure we’ll see soon; a new structure seems a nearly necessary outcome to the victory of efficiency, a consistent human pursuit.

For example, the ideal corporate workplace is an hierarchy: you know via network or job title who is responsible for what and how they should be approached, and you also know to whom you and they are responsible. Therefore, when an assignment falls to you, you track down the people you need in order to complete the task under budget and ahead of schedule. You have to negotiate the political struggles that exist in large workplaces as people strive to either make their name or shirk any work possible without standing out as a slacker. If you do this successfully, your project will likely succeed. Situations of this type gave rise to my favorite capitalist maxim: Successful business is not about money; it’s about pooling together the correct assortment of talent to fulfill a need and the money you need to do that.

However, anyone who has worked in a corporation long enough to dry their wet ears and withdraw their big eyes knows that luck plays a larger role in whether you’re equipped to handle any given project than coordination and that the budget and schedule have as much tendency to be unmanageable as they have to be set by someone other than you. You also know that the larger a company is, the more difficult it is to find the person you’re looking for. Instead, you become complacent with your social circle within the company and rely on them to either help you complete your project or to put you on the path to a person who can probably help. Initiative, while praised, is your prerogative, and you learn thatmore often than not its only reward is hours spent tracking down a person who’s too busy to help you anyway.

And while sometimes it’s assumed that the smaller the company the more efficient because people do more tasks than their job title allows, there are obvious flaws that small businesses constantly evidence. Job-title creep breaks the ideal of division of labor and results in shoddy jobs that require more time than an expert would take. In addition, sometimes the relevant expert simply isn’t available, and the financial position of the company makes tracking down an expert either impossible of futile.

Even in the best of all corporate hierarchies, when we let go of the fallacies and human error that plague all communities and look at them at their most sublime, politics, ignorance, and misinformation exist as constant variables in the equation of efficiency that downsizing attempts to get around and networking tries to nullify. Yet they persist.

Adhocracies are communities whose networks are far less structured than hierarchies and yet are more capable of sustaining efficiency for several reasons. Examples include Wikipedia–where a crowd (hence the term crowdsourcing) generates information that, through editing, supposedly reaches an unbiased state–and open source communities such as SourceForge.

First, unlike the top-down hierarchical structures of corporations whose efficiency depends upon the trickling down of responsibility and the ability of the lower castes to find proper function-matches within their own castes (about as reliable as Malcom’s demonstration of water falling down your hand in Jurassic Park), adhocracies post jobs and users volunteer. Whether or not the job gets done on time and according to parameters is guaranteed only by the community’s ability to organize itself around a set of priorities, which, since their communication tool is the internet, specifically their website and whatever design functions are built into the core site, users tend to fulfill reliably.

Second, the pure universality exposure of posts and searchability of online communities resolves the hassle of finding the right member with the right skill set to complement your project. Rather than your cubemate Bill telling you that Janice from tech support might be able to assist you, plop your requirements into a search bar and go–as any seasoned HR personnel can tell you, if you have a specific problem and need a specific skill, you’ll find everything you need is hotword coded, thereby searchable–or let the talent pool come to you.

The end game of adhocracies is a more dynamic community layout able to complete projects more efficiently than hierarchical structures. Some problems will remain.

First, and most obvious, is human error on a small scale, including typos and erroneous information or algorithms. It exists and can only be mitigated by assuming it will occur. Wikipedia, for one, has this angle covered in more ways than by reminding you that they make no claims of accuracy. Many of the tools they have on their website including a cache of previous pages, editor tracking tools, and their editorial team all work to mitigate human error from their site. Also, the flexibility of their project (due largely to their disclaimer about accuracy but also to the community’s commitment to accuracy) allows them to update pages long after a corporate campaign would have to have moved on.

Second are the major snags that that bog down all projects. Scope creep will not disappear due to a more efficient allocation of resources. Volunteers or even whole communities biting off more than they can chew due to ambition or greed cannot be wholly mitigated.

Therefore, what’s truly at stake in the discussion between hierarchies and adhocracies is the way in which projects are managed. This situation is not, though I enjoy Mark’s rhetoric, a meeting of the finite and infinite, but rather a clash between an old paradigm and a new one where the business world is awaiting a widespread shift from one to the other. If we assume that these stated management problems will continue even after the widespread adoption of the new project management paradigm, are we left with the cataclysm Mark discussed in the linked entry? No; rather, we’re left with an old question which wants to guarantee security in an endeavor (That is, Who is responsible for completing the project?) to a question that seems to have less though actually implies more security (Namely, Can the project be accomplished?).

Having said that, I must admit that I see the inherent power shift to which he’s referring, and I must assume that those in power will resist the necessary transference. For all the badgering about Communism that techies and internet junkies receive, the paradigm into which we’re moving is community-based. However, when you hear about the power of communities to organize themselves and complete a task, do not think about Stalinist Russia, which was in itself an hierarchical power structure where responsibility trickled down from, well, Stalin. Instead, imagine a thousand separate and independently functioning Craigslists where DNSs define the national lines and Google checks all the passports. Somewhere in one of these communities, someone posts, “I need y” and a multitude responds, first from within the community and then from without, “I can supply y” and the poster is left to pick out of the responses who he’ll trust to fill his need including but not limited to accepting all offers for help.

Money, along with other project limitations, will and must exist and sets limits to the amount of effort a community contributes to any particular project. For nonprofits, which most adhocracies are today, the community acts on passion and does all things at all times. As the paradigm shift occurs, however, money will become a prime concern for adhocracies as people become professional rather than volunteer, as we can see occurring with Amazon‘s Mechanical Turk and on Craigslist itself. In these instances the efficiencies of adhocracies remain and yet the community’s desire to do all things is severely limited by their desire to eat and to guarantee such necessities as housing.

Because adhocracies will accomplish tasks more efficiently than an hierarchical management structure, money will become an issue. I will not engage in the folly so early on as to think that such communism will mount outside the bounds of the internet; we have seen that it will not. Also, such communism is not done in the name of communism as an ideal but rather, as it stands now with nonprofits, for passion, and later, as corporations adopt adhocracy as a management style, for money.

This exact issue will demand the power shift that Mark mentioned, a shift of power from the hands of managers into the hands of the community, or, for rhetoric a lay readership may more readily appreciate, a shift from facetime to efficacy. The community will demand and have the power to secure absolute transparency within corporation as they have with the current nonprofits, especially when their efforts are combined with other communities whose sole stated purpose will be to establish said transparency; the adhocracies currently in existence have already set the tone for what users will expect from new communities in the future. The power and efficiency of adhocracies come from hyperawareness and hypervigilance spawned by a community’s open access to all relevant information, keeping account of all aspects within a company; thus, force will shift from the hands of managers, who for the large part will cease to exist, into the hands of the communities crunching and reviewing the numbers.

I have no doubt, as we have already seen, that managers will fight the elimination of their class at large. However, the shift of business from a worse to better solution will facilitate the shift over and despite their moaning. But don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge them their moment of complaint. Managers are people who have spent their entire lives developing a set of skills that in one fell swoop will become obsolete, and I pity the frustration that moment must cause. But happen it will, if only in the pursuit of efficiency.

I expect a class of community analysts to rise up in place of managers. Their main function will be–rather than spurring workers to get the project done, for that will happen of its own accord do to the nature of an adhocracy–to make sure that the resources are available within the community to solve the problem put before it. This will not be a source of governance but rather a source of publicity, or rather of recruitment. Multiple communities with the same aim already exist, and competition between online communities will rise as management structures shift into the new paradigm. Community projects will be posted and completed with little or no oversight, drastically reducing the overhead cost of corporations in addition to the simple benefit of efficiency increase brought about by shifting from an hierarchy to an adhocracy.

What will happen to governmental hierarchies… well, that’s another fun question. But that’s for another time and another post.

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St. Patty’s Day train ride

Thanks for the feedback on the last entry, those who posted and those who messaged me. When I ask for feedback, I’m asking for what Brooke offered by telling me what the piece was lacking and where she thought I could move forward; I’m not asking to hear how awesome I am. 🙂 Constructive criticism is win, so give me some.

**

You’re on the red line subway in Boston, Charles/MGH stop heading south. Green surrounds you, sparkly from hats or shiny on pins or soft on jersey-knit shirts or fluffy on toy leprechauns. It’s St. Patty’s day. For some reason, Irish pride shoves this Joyce line in your head: Ireland, they say, has the honor of being the only country which never persecuted the Jews. Do you know why? Because she never let them in!

The train lurches ahead going slower than normal, but that’s to be expected today. You’re going to the parade, and they say that even the real Irish come over to Boston for this. To be honest, you really expected the train to be a little more full.

You pull into Park Street unaware. Really, you should’ve known. This is like a Red Sox night; the Green line bears most of the burden. You look up from your thoughts. You’re submerged in a sea of green people.

Crack a joke about Tokyo, little Japanese karate masters with white gloves politely cramming you like sardines into the train. You know a girl teaching English in Japan, glad to be away from home.

Your mind goes back to Ulysses. He was in Dante; he tried to do what man just can’t do, tried to climb the mountain that man, without manna, cannot climb. He failed and fell.

Propose a thought experiment. Your mind goes dark places when you let it. Your girlfriend is embarrassed for you, but this is legitimate: imagine that you’re not going to the parade; imagine that you’re afraid, that you’re in Germany and that everyone around you knows just like you know where this train is going, or maybe not where, to be precise.

Imagine panic. It drains the blood from the white faces around you, shreds the atonal wails, broken only by the staccato of the men with the guns, few in number but enough to slaughter the lot of you, at least the majority of you; then, when the bullet cases are done hitting the ground, who will be left of the resistance?

No, you file into the train. The cabin is rank with stale sweat, but soon it will be urine. Soon children will lose control, then the adults. It will stink not just of body fluids. Someone will die because they won’t be able to breathe. The people around them will try to shuffle away through the crowd, and the people they shuffle past will let them, not knowing what new company they’ll have.

The walls are painted now with blood from fingernails that have ripped themselves against grooves. The doors are locked; the train is moving; the air is still, refuses to circulate, to become clean. All is stagnant.

Already a part of your humanity is lost. Already you’re afraid, clinging to your instincts to save you in this strange place, this strange time, to save you from this deadly peril. Some maintain through religion or stoicism, but that will all go away, too, under the tyranny of the camp. The metal rods and the senseless killings and the food rations and the showers; it will all strip away what you had just moments ago, moments ago when all you had ripping at your then-stable psyche was fractured wails. Now there’s the copper smell of blood, the fingernails stuck in the grooves. Soon it will be worse.

But no, the thought is ridiculous. You’re on your way to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in south Boston where the police will march, but they’re not going to arrest you. They’re not the ones who shuttled you onto this train. It’s not the same bureaucratic instinct that leads them to form lines with their concrete barricades that leads you away from the train and led Jews to the train. Let the experiment go. Celebrate.

**

Where I’m thinking about going with this piece:

American feeling towards bankers was German feeling towards Jews, coupled with anti-Semitism left over from Middle Ages. Write up scene involving American rhetoric against bankers during 2009 economic crisis, switch bankers with Jews. Point is to re-humanize the German forces; un-PC, I know.

German Holocaust as related to meat-packing industry

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She climbs into bed

It’s not “new” content, but I wanted to test the waters with using creative works here instead of articles. I’ll be guaging your responses carefully, so please comment.

**

She climbs into bed, lays down besides you. Her hand reaches over and softly touches your shoulder. You’re not awake, groggy and exhausted and altogether not in the moment with her.

“I’ve been putting on my medicine,” she says, “so that we can have sex again. I’m horny, and I want you.”

Your body, with little regard to your perceptions, starts that chain of reactions that desires for release, that empathizes with her plight. She wants you, and your body wants release.

You’ve been fighting, you two, and you’ve threatened to leave. In reality, you know you will leave. You know that it’s over, that she can’t do anything to make you stay, that her every effort at reconciliation pushes you away further because it was inspired by a fight, by fear of your leaving rather than by love of you. You like in the most abstract sense that she wants you, but she should’ve wanted you before that dreadful night, before that explosion of “You used to love me! Where did it go?” and her admission, her response that she knew it had gone and she didn’t know why or where. But still she wants you, to have you.

None of that matters now. She’s crawled into bed with you, and she’s woken you up and told you she wants you. The idea of a blowjob, vague and nonspecific, floats into your mind. Your erection starts to form, causes you to roll onto your stomach, pushes at the twisted cloth of your boxers.

The idea of a blowjob wakes you up, completely awake, and she lays beside you, telling you that she wants you.

“Should I shut up and let you sleep?” she asks. You grunt in response, becoming aware that sleep is leaving you involuntarily and won’t be gotten again until this scene plays out.

You take her hand and put it against your straining hardness, hoping against your ever-increasing cognizance that she’ll do it, that she’ll act on impulse and please you.

“Not now,” she says. “I’m all medicined up. I’m filled with medicine.”

You push her hand away, awake and horny and rejected and annoyed.

“Don’t be grumpy,” she pleads. “I want to have sex with you, but I can’t like this.”

You ask yourself what the fuck she had woken you up for, then.

“I’m not grumpy,” you say. And it’s true. Grumpy is a cute little kids word that can’t come close to describing the ferocious tendencies towards destruction your emotions are encapsulating at this point. You turn away from her, fetal position, your pulled back hips making your arousal increasingly uncomfortable. You spit, “You woke me up at three in the morning to be a cock-tease.”

“Not to tease you! I want to but I can’t!” She’s desperate. She doesn’t know how to stop the spiraling descent of your exhausted deflation. She wants to blame you for this in some small, innocent way. She thinks that her intentions were good when she woke you up. She had just wanted to talk; you were the one that wanted to fuck.

“I’m not grumpy. I’m tired and horny. And I’m awake.” The last one isn’t true. You fall back asleep within seconds.

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Controlling passion

This blog post is complete but is also part of a larger article. Your reactions in the comments will decide how quickly I move on to part 2.

Also, I’m still looking for user submissions for the creative part of this blog. Message me with a real story from your life as brief or as full as you’d like, and I’ll make a fiction story out of it.

**

Look into your lovers eyes, those great orbs in whose depths passion has stirred and whose force has partaken in the greatest moments of your life. Her life is crumbling: run your fingers through her hair and tell her it will be alright. She’s put on weight, and her fear of her mother’s harsh criticism has driven her hysterical: call to her lightly, put your hand on her stomach, and tell her that your opinion is the one that matters and that she looks good to you. Look into those eyes and lie. We convince ourselves of the necessity: sometimes such lies are necessary, sometimes little white lies help instead of hurt.
A girl looked at me once, halfway a woman but not quite and me not yet a man, she looked deep into my eyes, placed her hand on mine in the darkness of her Chevy Malibu, and requested of me, “Promise me you’ll never make me cry.” That’s one of those opportunities we men see at the start of nearly every relationship. You listen to her cry about lost loves and what bastards they all were, and then she turns to you and asks you not to treat her like they treated her, to love her where they failed. You don’t know yet whether you can succeed in this task or not—the relationship is young, unformed, and you are inexperienced with her quirks and she with yours. All you know is that you can make her happy if you agree to this demand, and she may leave you if you refuse.

For better or worse, I refused. I told her that I don’t make promises I can’t keep. Thus started the next three torrential years of my life with Christina, artsy Christina, parasitic flower whose maintenance killed me and whose beauty would made me glad to die in such service.

Perhaps six months went by before she asked me her next favor. Christina and I were driving around doing errands in that little blue Chevy of hers when she asked me to promise that I would never cheat on her. Promise me, nineteen year old boy, that for the rest of your life (for I thought our relationship might just last that long) you will never love a woman other than me. She didn’t even make the promise specifically carnal; she asked me to never love another woman.

We know what to do in this situation. We know that the aesthetically correct response is to blindly say, “Yes, honey. You’re my girlfriend, I love you, and I would never cheat on you.” But I’m a man of principle, and I had already refused her once on the grounds that I don’t make promises I can’t make in good faith. I knew that I could not fulfill this one, and I declined; I said I would not promise it, and I didn’t.

I’m not asking today why Christina asked for such a token: I’ve heard her request from multiple sources and have answered it the same way every time. My response is the issue at hand. I’ve also heard the enough responses to my argument to call some standard or cliché. Let me deal with a few superstitions:

1) Fidelity is not a matter assumed virtue can resist. While traveling, I once found myself surrounded by four muggers. I wrestled in high school and trained lightly in several martial arts throughout my life; perhaps I could have fought back. But in a strange country, I let the mugging occur without resistance; I put my hands up in the air and let them slide my wallet out of my back pocket. Several friends, especially those currently in the armed forces, have said that they would have fought back. Others said I acted rightly by potentially negotiating my wallet for my life; perhaps one of them had a knife, or maybe four to one is a bad enough ratio for a deadly beating. Either out of fear or self-knowledge, I knew that I didn’t possess the ability to fight off my attackers. Others assure themselves in the abstract that they have the means at their disposal to resist such wrongs. Only fortune may provide them with an opportunity to back up their boasts.

2) Sexual acts are not always motivated by desire. Just as with any other human action—in fact, sex is rather notorious for this particular aspect, but people seem to forget its complexity when talking about infidelity—sex involves multiple and often warring emotions, including but not limited to confusion, daring, fear, and repression. When I got out of an asexual relationship last November, I traveled and found an opportunity to have sex with someone I didn’t desire at all, one of my sister’s close friends, and we did. Even in hindsight I can’t really say why; some have said that alcohol was a factor, others that sexual frustration from the prior relationship surely played a part, but neither correctly constitute my frame of mind in that moment. My sister was sleeping in the next room; perhaps voyeurism was the feather that broke my hesitation.Perhaps not; a confusing mist obscures the whole situation. I remember thinking as the scene was building, “I can stop this.” The scene was so fragile that just making an impolite or awkward comment, or perhaps just the no when she asked if she could climb into my bed so politely, would’ve made her retreat. But I didn’t, and we did, and there’s no clear-cut issue at hand except that desire itself had little to do with my part in the story.

3) I am not weak-willed. Friends and girlfriends often ask in relation to this refusal of mine whether I can imagine a situation in which I would cheat on them. Though I’m a fairly creative person, I cannot, never can. Just as much as any middle-class American, I hold fidelity as one of my primary values and assumptions in a relationship, especially once the relationship is official. Just as I can act on the principle of refusing to make promises I can’t keep in the face of adversity, I must suppose that I could hold to the principle of fidelity in the face of desire.

Point three, of course, goes back to the two previous superstitions: A situation wouldn’t necessarily spawn from my desire, and even though I feel confident at a distance saying that I wouldn’t act when confronted with my own passion, I know neither what pressures will appear during the confrontation of another’s passion nor how I might react. I do know, however, a great many men choose infidelity when given the chance and then are at a loss for how to explain their choice. I’m also aware that these other men’s decisions are not a matter of financial or political class; infidelity occurs in middle and lower class alike, in Republican and Democrat alike. This information gives me pause, and I wonder how anyone goes along with the promise in the face of such widespread and misunderstood failure except by ignoring the question and simply responding “Yes” because we know that’s the right answer.

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Youth in the workplace

An issue that’s close to home was revisited by my girlfriend Ashley the other day. We’ve both worked in offices where our youth made us stand out from the rest of the work force. It reminds me of one of my favorite analogies of the workplace: A corporation is like a tree full of monkeys: the monkeys at the top look down and see a bunch smiling faces, and the monkeys on the bottom look up and see a bunch of assholes. What the analogy doesn’t say is that monkeys are known to throw feces at each other, and in my experience, the whole treeful will aim for the lowest monkey most of the time.

Pressures run high in small business environments, especially new offices under seasoned overhead and low-budget not-for-profits. Directors feel the need to cut corners in order to make the book as black as possible, and one of the easiest corners to cut is to hire a novice to fill an insubstantial role. At first, the young and bushy-tailed worker looks for all the world like an anime schoolgirl who just had all her dreams fulfilled: wide and wet eyed, and jubilant.

One error continually recurs in all-to-common for us young-professionals situation: the pressure stored up in the older coworkers suddenly has a pinhole through which it finds release, and no one has the time or initiative to provide protection for the weakest link in the team.

Take Ashley’s situation, for example. One week she’s sick and isn’t in the office; the next week she’s in Florida. Her boss has agreed heartily to both absences, having been aware far in advance of the trip to Florida and nearly commanding that Ashley stay home when she was sick. During her absence, one of her coworkers places a piece of inter-departmental mail on a shelf above Ashley’s desk with no note specifying what type of mail it is or what department it needs to go to. Upon Ashley’s return, the coworker asks why the mail hadn’t been delivered yet and berates Ashley for not being vigilant about her workplace.

It could’ve ended there, but Ashley complained about her coworker’s rudeness to her boss. At first, her boss presented a mail-drop solution that the coworker could’ve used to specify that her parcel was inter-office mail without having had to speak to Ashley directly. No communication took place with the coworker to reach a better communication solution.

That also could’ve been the end of the situation. But Ashley’s boss has a lot on her plate this week and so is also under pressure. Later in the week, long after the situation had been at least partly resolved, Ashley’s boss pulled her into the office and told her that complaining about how a coworker treats you is unprofessional. She also went on to talk about how Ashley was obviously “losing enthusiasm for her job” and that she hoped and knew that one day soon the duties of an administrative assistant would just “click” (as if an administrative assistant’s responsibilities are so heavy that they’re not just a matter of training).

Take into account that Ashley’s boss made no specific complaints about Ashley’s work, schedule, or attitude. When Ashley asked for a specific criticism so that she could make an effort to improve her boss’s opinion of her, her boss said that she didn’t have any specific complaints.

Now let’s make a move I’ve made before and compare workplace politics to relationships. If a guy or girl you’re dating and comes up to you saying, “Things just aren’t working out. It’s not really anything specific, I’m just not into it,” what’s your response? Fucking bullshit! Why? Because if there is no specific complaint, then there’s no complaint at all. The person is just hurting you; you know it, they know it. The symptoms of using obviously poor communications to wound are undeniable.

Second is the fact that Ashley’s boss is a social worker with over twenty years experience under her belt. I’ve met the woman: she knows how to talk. Talking is her job, and you can be sure if only by her years of professional experience that she knows that in order to properly communicate to fix a problem, specifics need to be mentioned and addressed. If she’s aware of that, why doesn’t she mention specifics when Ashley asks for them? Simple: they don’t exist. Ashley’s boss is using an unprotected workplace peon to relieve her stress.

It’s not uncommon, and one of the main reasons corporations employ human resources, aside from taking the responsibility of paperwork away from people whose jobs lay in other areas, is to handle poor office communications, to act as mediators in disagreements in order to make a workplace more amenable. A harsh reality comes sharply into focus for a young employee at this point: you’re easily replaced, and HR doesn’t give a fuck about you.

When in a directly parallel situation, I complained to my boss about the way a coworker was treating me. My coworker was in her early thirties and in charge of a large data-entry project worth a lot of money to the company. I, on the other hand, was a young copyeditor who had foolishly drained my workpool and, when eagerly looking to help around the office, had been placed on the data-entry project as my coworkers’s working subordinate. Therefore, my boss told me to can it and get back to work; it’s unprofessional to complain about mistreatment in the workplace.

I knuckled under this coworker for months. She made me and several others on the data entry project cry through her sheer abuse, and yet nothing could be done to get around it. The business was small and had no real HR program, and my only real boss told me to suck it up. When I asked my parents for advice, they told me to look for a new job and in the meantime suck it up. So I did. I sucked good and hard until I was purple in the face, until the sound of her boot heels thumping down the thinly-carpeted wood floor gave me heartburn.

In the meantime, my coworker complained to my boss about me, about my work ethic, about how slowly I worked and how many errors I inputted into her system. I had no defense against these complaints when my boss pulled me into her office to talk about it. Then my boss had me sign a sheet of paper that told me if my coworker’s opinion of my work didn’t improve in thirty days, she would fire me. I asked my parents what to do again, and my father told me to take notes about the amount of work I was doing versus the other employees and the harsh and unprofessional feedback my coworker was giving to me and others. I took notes.

After two weeks my boss pulled me in to tell me that my coworker’s opinion of me hadn’t improved and that she was preparing to fire me. This time I fought; I pulled in all of my notes about my hours, my productivity, my coworker’s rudeness. My sense of injustice had become so inflamed that I was sure my boss would finally move me to a different project, would finally confront my coworker about her inhumanity. Lolz: doesn’t that prove how young I was then?

My boss told me to go back to my desk and to prepare myself for what was coming in two weeks. I did, thanking my fucking lucky stars that they would finally fire me and force me to move on. Like Strong Bad says, “Oh, that’s it! I am so totally not going to quit this job but complain about it a little bit more!”

The off-site seasoned overhead found it prudent to fire my boss in the midst of all this and hire a replacement in a less-powerful role. My coworker immediately complained to this new boss about me, putting me again on thin ice. However, the paper stating that my old boss was going to fire me got magically lost in the sudden turnover. My new boss pulled me into her office and asked me about my coworker’s complaints. I told her that they were totally untrue and that I had documentation showing that my her were unfounded. My boss laughed at the documentation and had no interest in seeing it, of course. Still, Mom and Dad, it would’ve been a good idea if the dynamic hadn’t stunk so thoroughly of abuse.

I told my new boss that I would prove myself if she would just put me on a different project, which she did. The move didn’t improve my situation with that coworker at all, but it did make my job measurably better. When I completed my work on the new project, my boss took me under her wing to help her organize all of my old boss’s notes and to database freelance editors’ resumes and even contact some. I almost began to like that job again.

One day after she had been there about three months, my new boss pulled me into her office at the end of a workday to tell me the following: “I know that your coworker’s complaints about you are unfounded. I’ve been watching you like a hawk ever since I got here, and you’ve worked like a dog on that other project and for me. But now you’re doing the work of an administrative assistant, not a copyeditor, and we’re paying you to be a copyeditor. We’ve decided to terminate your position: I have to let you go.”

And that was that. It didn’t matter that I had thwarted my coworker’s complaints about my work ethic; it didn’t matter that I was so efficient at my job that they couldn’t keep me in work. All that mattered was that I was young and dispensable. After months of suffering under that coworker and months of reproving myself to the office, it ended.

I see in Ashley’s position exactly what I saw in mine, a young professional with no umbrella to protect him(/her) from the abuse of stressed out coworkers. Sometimes (Is it just sometimes? Usually?) people will shit on you if they can get away with it. They think it makes them feel better; you can’t do anything to get even (except maybe set their lawn on fire).

So to all the older coworkers and bosses out there who pick on the young worker in the office because you can, this post is a big fuck you. To all the workers who are considering taking a job where they know that their coworkers will be older than them but still think that age shouldn’t be an issue, it is; don’t take that job. To every young worker who is now in the position and suddenly realizing that there is no protection for themselves from this shitstorm, you have two choices: knuckle under and deal with it, or stand up for yourself. Either way, it’s likely you’ll be fired, and best to leave with your head high than covered in corporate-monkey feces.

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