So, it was the worst of times, and it was the worst of times. A surfeit of tension, antagonism, despair. What the hell are we doing? What the hell is going on?
I had a manager once, not quite the worst one I’ve ever had, but pretty close. To her credit, the system was horrendous. To her detriment, she had drunk gallons of the Kool-Aid and had tremendous faith in the “process”. What she didn’t understand was that she had sold her soul to that machinery, and sacrificed her own humanity for it. She questioned nothing, and had come to understand that only one of us would survive the experience, and it was going to be her.
That experience was more painful than most bad manager experiences for me, because we are both women of color. She couldn’t quite understand they were using her to do the dirty work, the unpleasant work, the work they didn’t want to do. They berated her for me all the time, because I just wouldn’t play right and was making her look bad, they told her. So, finally, she took me out and all was well. Until they took her out a little more than a year later. That’s how it goes, missy. Hope things are good for you now.
I have little patience for women taking each other down, and much less patience for women of color taking each other down. The system has never done much for any of us, so how and why turning that on each other makes sense mystifies me. I attribute that phenomenon to internalized oppression, but it is maddening to watch. But, corporate America does that to people, then chews them up and spits them out.
I don’t want to be chewed up and spit out by anyone or anything ever again. I can do that just fine on my own, so I don’t need to sell out to a contractor to do that. There’s nothing corporate America can do for me, and probably nothing I can do for them. The work is soul numbing, and my brain was regressing. We de-evolved there. Knuckle dragging was not far behind, and fortunately I left (or was ejected) from the piranha pool before I went all the way down.
There are people in corporate America, with incomes of six or more significant figures, who cannot write an intelligent sentence. This manager of whom I speak was one of them. Right before she was able to get rid of me, I could tell they had rallied around her to preserve the integrity of the process, and sent her to some business writing classes. Her communication skills didn’t really improve much, but grammar and punctuation at least did. English was not her first language, but her thought process was sketchy in general. She basically made no sense, and could only quote policy and procedure if there was a dispute. She had learned “the company voice” by rote, and it showed. She could not have resolved the real issue if her life had depended on it, only find it on a checklist that outlined the instructions for “what to do if…”. Bless her heart.
Corporate America is full of people like her. I’m sure she meant well, but again, when it came down to who was going to survive, it was her. Too bad for me. And that’s fine. I really wasn’t supposed to be there, I was supposed to be somewhere else, I just hadn’t realized that yet. I was still trying to squeeze myself into their framework, into their Jell-O mold, and it hadn’t worked in a while. I had managed to compensate until my mother died, then…I had a moment of clarity and realized the pointlessness of it all. I no longer liked the job, I didn’t like those people, and they didn’t much like me, either. I couldn’t have made a valid contribution for them if I had invented a new computer system. It was just…over.
I am slow to realize when things are over. Always have been. I always feel that if I just do this one more thing, or change this other thing, or try just a little harder…it will work. Sometimes no matter what I do, it’s never going to work, but still I try. I was angry for quite a while after I was laid off from this last place, mainly because I was still in such a bad place with my mother’s death. She died August 29th of 2017, and I was told my job was over on October 15th of the same year. I felt hopeless, like a loser, as though life was over.
I had to redefine, and recreate, myself in so many ways. I was no longer defined as someone’s daughter, or as someone’s employee. So, that left me with trying to figure out just who the hell I really was and how I fit into the world. It has been one hell of a ride doing that over the past nearly three years, but…I’m much better for it. I’ve been able to figure out what feeds me, what I enjoy, what seems to give me purpose, what seems to contribute to larger purpose. I feel like I’ve got somethings I can do…professional sports is not one, professional musician probably not one, mathematician definitely not even a remote possibility. But, there are some other things in the realm of social justice and communications that I might contribute. So, that’s where I’m pointing right now.
Certain things get my sense of fairplay and justice rolling, and it seems like there are many opportunities for that right now. Every day, I am reading about police brutality, and it’s no longer where someone gets black eyes, busted lip, broken ribs and thrown into a jail cell. They die. People are dying from restraint tactics and arrest procedures that are more brutal than what has been described in the days of fugitive slave retrieval. The weapons are more sophisticated, the mechanisms of restraint even less forgiving. The suffering more pointed.
What is more unforgiving in the modern system of policing, though, is the hatred. The inhumanity. The psychological detachment of some of these officers is frightening. And that doesn’t even include the racism, or the homophobia, or the xenophobia of individuals. There is, however, a distinct allegiance to the process, to the overly militarized mindset, to the insistence on conformity. That allegiance goes beyond race, and gender, and sexual orientation. The individuality is seen as a hindrance and liability to the job of law enforcement. To protect and serve is practically an oxymoron.
In some accounts of military boot camp and orientation of enlisted personnel, individuality is repressed. Conformity means everything, and solidarity with one’s fellow service members is essential. Working together like the proverbial well-oiled machine is seen as the best chance for survival in combat. Without the conformity, a combat situation ight well result in death of individuals or whole battalions. This, then, is the rationalization for stripping individuals of their compassion, sentimentality, and in some cases humanity. All of that is frequently seen as threatening to outright survival, and…success. Victory. For God and country, and ego.
Law enforcement has always been a para-military operation, but the militaristic tendencies have been honed to a fine point more recently. Surplus military equipment is no put into the hands of local police agencies for help with crowd control and natural disaster response. Most people had no idea this was a trend until Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson MO, and there were many days of protest. Like many people across the country, I was stunned to observe the Ferguson and St. Louis police departments rolling up to protest scenes in military grade tanks and sporting a cadre of military-grade assault weapons.
Come to find out, there was a Federal program that allowed (and encouraged) sale of surplus military equipment to local police agencies around the country. I was surprised to learn of this, and even more surprised to see how many agencies around the country had this kind of equipment in their warehouses or stored for the proverbial “rainy day”. Protesters in Ferguson told how wavering red dots of laser scopes danced across their chests and foreheads as they were marching in the streets in the days following Mike Brown’s murder. They couldn’t tell whether that was supposed to be an intimidation technique in and of itself, or if agents were taking serious aim at them.
Seeing a laser sight on your chest probably doesn’t stimulate a lot of trust in your local police force. All of the military posturing sends the message that you are considered an enemy combatant, and anyone who’s had any military training knows that enemy combatants are generally shown no mercy in a war. And this felt like war.
I suppose this IS war, this revolution thing. People on either side are trying to win, by any means necessary, in any way necessary, including lying, cheating, fighting, and killing. Any. Means. Necessary. My big question, though, is do we all agree on the prize? Do we all know what we are fighting for?
Black and brown people in America seem to be more or less agreed that we are fighting for liberation, for equity, for the rights that were promised to every American but that have been a little slow in coming for us. There are layers beneath that, like equity in education, job opportunities, affordable housing, reparations, and relief from persecution. It seems like most white people are fighting for life as they know it, for the promises that were made long ago and that have seemed to have been diverted now. I don’t know that either side comprehends the other’s position, or the other’s perspective. Black folks are feeling like white folks have nothing to complain about, and white folks are feeling like everything they have is being handed to Black folks. I don’t believe either one is absolutely correct.
So, which set of data do you believe? Any good debate position can be supported by a plethora of empirical data, opinion, precedent, historical reference, and so on. Often, the victor is simply the better orator, or the more persuasive presenter, rather than a preponderance of the evidence. The better talker wins, or the one who wins over the crowd is victorious. That often has little to do with the facts of the matter.
Listening to the political diatribe of late discourages me to no end. Politics, at least here in America, used to be the art of compromise. I’m not sure what it’s about any longer, except the craft of power. Some would rather nothing change. Ever. Status quo now, status quo forever. The only problem with that is…we are changing, from second to second, minute to minute. Day turns into night and into day again, but it is never the same day twice. You really can’t go home again, or back again, and you can’t stop.
I have been thinking today of my friend Jo, Joan, who passed out of our view last week. She was in her 80s, a fine woman, one who walked to her own beat and with incredibly erect posture. She I’ve know her for several years, and until she died I thought she was another NorthEastern transplant, maybe from Connecticut or Massachussetts. To my surprise, she was North Carolina born and bred, hailing from somewhere around Elkin. A retired journalist, she was a woman after my own heart – if you don’t understand punctuation, don’t come ’round here. She was a member of the Symphony Chorus, and sang a mean 2nd Soprano/Alto part with gusto. I will miss her, and I cannot remember the last time I saw her. That always distresses me, that I rarely know when will be the last time I ever see someone. I’ve got to get more intentional about how I spend my time, what I do with my energy.
Life is really very short, no matter how old you are. A series of seemingly linear events, i struggle to comprehend how there is choice involved, how all of the events in my life are connected in some way, with me as the common denominator. Do I really set all of this in motion, or is it predetermined? I cannot imagine that I set in motion this particular day, with a Dum-Dum lollipop between my lips, and some entirely unsatisfying cantaloupe chunks by my side. Or is it just a crap shoot, with things aggregating by chance? What good does it do me to be intentional in my daily walk if that is the case?
These are questions that have always taunted me, and I suppose that I have become more or less satisfied by the notion that I set in motion the big chunks of my event horizon. If my intent remains to be happy, unequivocally and unconditionally, then maybe it doesn’t matter about the smaller pieces. If having a dog makes me content, then in very many ways it doesn’t matter whether it’s this particular dog or some other. But, such a though distresses me, because I am attached to this particular creature, and she to me. (Even though I nearly killed her earlier today when, after a long time outside in the play area, she pranced right back in here and pooped on the floor. Shithead.) I suppose it is a part of my humanity to have attachments to people, places, things. Perhaps that is how I know where I am? I’m not sure, but that seems to be just the way it is right now, and I have no ambition to change that.
People used to accuse my mother of living in the past. She had such an incredible attachment to her younger life, with her grandfather alive, and her mother by her side. She always compared present time to those old days, and had such an innocence about those memories. Her sister didn’t remember them with so much hero worship as my mother, though, and was very clear there were ups and downs about those times. But my mother could not be shaken in her grieving about those bygone days, or about trying to recreate them to a certain extent.
I still grieve those times, too. When things had not gotten so complicated, or so tainted with betrayal, and lies, and death. Before reality came crashing in on my dreams, on my innocent belief that I could do anything. That everyone loved me. That nothing bad was going to happen to me. Before I began to do things I said I never would, before I HAD to do things I said I never would. Before the winds changed and the water came, and before I lost myself in the storm. Before I realized I had to save myself, because nobody else could. Yes, those were the days.
More than just a daisy past its prime….