Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there wouldn't me much of a story. But in life? -The Sense of An Ending
Tony, the protagonist in Julian Barnes's thoughtful novella, wonders about this. I wonder, too. I've written over the years about the faults in my character I care to change -- my great master of avoidance; that I often feel disconnected from those I care most; that I tend to supress my own emotions when around those who "feel" more expressively. I have internal conversations regularly with myself when I catch myself doing this. I demand change. I bargain the terms. And then...what? Not much. I still avoid those challenging conversations. I still don't face my odd anxieties around familial connection or deeper friendships on a consistent basis. I still give up my emotional rights more often than not.
All in service of keeping the peace.
It's a masterful lie I tell myself.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately because there has been the perfect storm of these kinds of situations. Old friends reaching out for connection that I have avoided for years now. My emotionally expressive wife. My parents rightful demand for my attention.*
And I'm a bit emotionally cocooned up here. In here. Still. After nearly 37 years.
Will I develop over time? I wonder...
Still today is not anywhere near a miserable one. My new car arrives shortly. I had a great business lunch and productive meetings. The weather is perfect. My home is happy. I feel loved. And alive. In The Sense of An Ending, Tony feels like he's settled. Trading passion for self-preservation.
In truth, that isn't my world at all. There is passion. And decadence. Desire. And risk.
I could probably stand for a few more tantrums and heated arguments and emotional openness in my life but on most days, like today, I am far on the opposite side of sad or depressed.
At the moment, the little green globule burst in mouth, my eyes widened and I had to stifle an unexpected laugh of surprise and delight. The number of firsts in my life are few and far between these days and even more rare when it comes to food. I can have exquisite meals, interesting meals, unique meals but a true "I've never had anything before in my life" kind of meal? Not really. Except for last night when a molecular gastronomic interpretation of an olive exploded over my tongue giving me the most intense olive flavor I've ever had in my life and a pure, perfect moment of first time wonder.
The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel was a magnificent dining experience. Beyond the taste buds, however, it's an adventure for all your senses. My eyes were drawn to the Philippe Starck decor, the eclectic crowd, or the making of my liquid nitrogen caipirinha being made at the table. I spent more time than usual smelling what was put before me like the notes of ginger and lime wafting from my perfect moscow mule to the smoky scent of the Jamón ibérico to the fruity aroma of our panna cotta dessert. Textures abounded begging for my fingers to feel.
And still the food shined above it all. The cotton candy duck livers were unlike anything I have ever had in life. The cauliflower "cous cous" was the most creative and most intriguing bite of the night. Hell, we were so uncertain about what we were eating that we ate the (inedible) paper that our japanese tacos came wrapped in.
And liked it.
Food adventuring has become an unofficial goal of 2012. Next month we have Picca Peru and then, after that, ink. or Animal. I'm not sure if any of those places will be able to bring the shock and awe like José Andrés and staff do at The Bazaar but I can't wait to see them try.
Fitbit. I got one of these this week and am already loving how it's impacting my physical activity decision making. I take the stairs way more often at work and really notice when I'm being idle for no good reason. Also love the sleep data. I'm actually a better sleeper than I thought I was. Not a long sleeper (6 1/2 hours each of the past two nights) but I only rustle about once an hour. I would not have expected that.
This is America. This is Blackness. This is Post-Blackness?
I ask the question because it's been the topic of conversation with my wife, with my in-laws, and in my head for most of the last week. I read Touré's book, Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? over the course of the last two days, essentially in two four-hour sessions, and, as usual, my mind was set ablaze by discussions of Black Identity, this fluid intriguing thing that used to be the primary focus of this here blog. This is not a review of the book, though. That'll come later.
No, this is just an acknowledgment of how much "Blackness" can dominate the psyche. My mother-in-law likes to talk. But, invariably, my conversations with her always turn to her life experience, her Black life experience. How does she herself and how does she see the world? How does that conflict with my father-in-law's experience who sees the world differently than she does. Beyond that, how does that jibe with how I see the world? How Tiffany sees the world? How we see ourselves?
We all know the Black narrative. We know it's tropes and it's confines as well as its many layers. And yet, our four experiences of what it means to be Black in America today are wholly different.
And...And what? My president is black. My boss's boss, too. And I'll be goddamned if I know what that do. To me. And how I see myself. Anything? Everything? Nothing?
Maybe Baratunde's upcoming How to Be Black will help me figure this whole thing out.
Being part of a big company with a long history, we go through this cycle a lot -- there's a big idea to change the business; we spend 18 months implementing that change (often not going far enough or making trade-offs for those seeking to protect the status quo) and then as soon as we launch, we look up and see we're too late. Again. And so we start the cycle anew.
"[O]ur traditional teams are too slow. We're not innovating fast enough. We need to systematize change." - Beth Comstock
Over the last few months, my team has been pushing. We want to use our latest tools. We want to see what works and what doesn't. We want to adapt and learn. This leads to breaking some eggs. Change doesn't come without being faced with resistance. But just like at the gym, you grit your teeth and keep pushing. The alternative, in today's business world, is madness.
The entire world of business is now in a constant state of agile development. New releases are constant; tweaks, upgrades, and course corrections take place on the fly. There is no status quo; there is only a process of change.
So, I implore you to not stick with what you know. Learn something new. Do something new. Be okay with the risks involved. Be okay with a little failure and tough conversations and skepticism coming your way. But, and this is important, be good at what you're doing. Be great, actually. Innovation and change are key to everything that we do but do it well. Just because you say you're agile and work in Agile processes doesn't, by it's nature, mean you're creating great products. I've seen a lot of stuff that wasn't made better just because just because we iterated.
Nostalgia is a natural human emotion, a survival mechanism that pushes people to avoid risk by applying what we've learned and relying on what's worked before. It's also about as useful as an appendix right now. When times seem uncertain, we instinctively become more conservative; we look to the past, to times that seem simpler, and we have the urge to re-create them. This impulse is as true for businesses as for people. But when the past has been blown away by new technology, by the ubiquitous and always-on global hypernetwork, beloved past practices may well be useless.
Unlike Pete Cashmore, I do have a healthy respect for the past. I just recognize that the past isn't the future. Hell, today isn't tomorrow. Just because something sort of works now and you know how to do it with your eyes closed doesn't mean it will work the next day. What it really means is blood is in the water and the sharks are already gnawing on your limbs. So, recognize what the core value of what you're doing is and then...change. Not who you are and what you're all about but how you do it. Be comfortable with ambiguity.
Post-Blackness. Tiffany and spent a good hour or so last night talking about Toure's book (which neither of us has read yet) and Baratunde Thurston's upcoming one and what it all means. It turned into a discussion of our different childhood neighborhoods (she grew up in predominantly Black one in New York; I grew up in mostly multicultural suburbs on both coasts but mostly in California). I've already got How To Be Black on Pre-order but Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness is very likely my travel read this weekend.
Much like a diet for weight loss, limiting the intake of information I receive every day is harder than you might think. One week into taking the Information Diet challenge and rescue time is telling me that I spend more time on social networks than 87% of other people using the service.
And an amazing amount of that time is on Facebook! Ugh. But not the most. Friendfeed is my most common distraction which is both surprising and not. Even though I have been trying out Faveous as a way to aggregate social activity I want to remember and, perhaps, go back to -- friendfeed still does this better than everything else that's out there that I've tried. I regularly go back to the site to see what I favorited but didn't read or tweeted that I want to revisit. Plus, even with other services (most notably Google+) that do a lot of the same things, friendfeed is still where my friends go to talk to each other more privately.
So, it's a process. One of the things I did learn this week is how much notifications where guiding my activity. Turning off push notifications on my iPad and phone as well as disabling most desktop notifications on my work laptop has been a great boon to focusing my attention. Now, when I begin a task (which I'm also being more deliberate about tracking now that I'm back to using Astrid), I have to make a deliberate choice to step away from it rather than being pulled away easily by a nudge in the corner of my screen or a flashing light on my iPad.
I now calendar both work and distractions in my daily schedule. I also think a lot more about what my primary activity is and whether or not that means I should close my laptop or iPad and focus on that when I'm at home. The television has been off a lot more in the house this week. I was much more productive at work (and on this blog) than I normally am. I'm also not spending my nights worrying about what didn't get accomplished and I'm finding more time for things like reading and more engaging conversations with Tiffany.
So, you're not likely to see me respond immediately to Words and Hanging with Friends plays these days. Or talk about my obsession with Tiny Tower. This is for the better. You will, however, see me answer personal emails faster as sanebox is making my gmail management a dream.
This coming week I'll be removing facebook from my bookmarks bar. It's, by far, my least satisfying distraction.
I want to tell you a story of a woman born in the 1930s in a small town in Arkansas. Born to a father who came into the world at the turn of the century and a mother who was half his age. Her father's parents are a mystery shrouded in whispers of murder. I want to tell you of the only "grandparents" she knew, an anomaly of the day -- a white family who wasn't afraid to openly show kindness to a black child in the Jim Crow South.
I want to tell you that story but even though that's the beginning, it's the one I know the least well.
I want to tell you the story of how she migrated north to Detroit at the age of 9. How she was already strong and independent (something she would instill in all her daughters) and how, at 17, she got it in her mind to go to Chicago and see the world. How she'd meet a handsome man, just a few years older than she. He was a smooth talker and knew how to show a girl a good time and before long they were with child. And not long after that, they were married.
I want to tell you the complicated story of their love but I'm not sure it's mine to tell.
I want to tell you about the Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the removal of barriers to education that that brought, which sent this woman, who had only worked as a housekeeper, back to school. I want to tell you how she became a librarian so that she could be sure to always have her own money and never feel like she needed that man she loved but... (like I said, it's complicated). And, also because she adored books. I want to tell you how everything they owned, from the house to the cars, were in her name. Bought, generally, with her money. And, you should also know, that all her children, most of whom, like her, had children at a young age, all went on to college or the military and all of whom, those that still walk this earth, are at the top of their fields.
I want to tell you that story so that you know, and I know, that my good fortune isn't from magic but from the hard work and determination of generations before me. Women, mostly. But my story isn't her story.
I want to tell you that at 76 years old, this woman is still vibrant. She may walk slowly and have to rock herself out of chairs. She may repeat her anecdotes often and confess that she's lonely in that empty house of hers and still broken hearted by the losses that living this long brings. But, she's alive. Her laughter and her eyes still light up a room as bright as they ever did. She is still excited to learn and see new things. She can still spin a delicious yarn when she gets going. It is still the best thing going when she forgets she's talking to her grandson and lets out a curse word in the most jaw-droppingly delightful way. It is still a pleasure to spend time in her presence. She's alive and doesn't have plans on quitting this plane anytime soon. And I'm all the better for it.