There’s More to Be Said: Happy Blog Anniversary

As of today: Happy six years of reading this blog! For my new readers – I’m looking at you Filipino bots – happy one year anniversary! In honor of the occasion, here’s a conversation – or unsolicited advice – I’d gladly have with each of you:

Perel, discussing a colleague who uniformly flatters: He definitely does that to everyone.

Me: Treat him like the really nice guy he probably is –

Perel: You think so?!

Me: Yes. That way if he’s plotting you’ll have lulled him into a false sense of complacency.

 

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Novel Approach to Getting What You Want

Like most Russian women she is full of practical relationship advice that only works if you are dealing with another Russian: “Of course, when I want something, like new refrigerator, I tell my husband, ‘I think your idea is good and we should get new refrigerator,’ and he say ‘Eh?’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, at first I think you were wrong and we not need this thing, but now I see you were right and so maybe yes,’ and even though he never say these things about refrigerator now he say, ‘I told you this and was right thing,’ and ‘You should listen to me, Iri,’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, you were right,’ and he go to store and bring me refrigerator next day.”

 from The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Membership is More Than Money

If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try, again!

My first attempt to convince a shul that membership dues are a thing of the past failed. I thought my letter to leadership was comprehensive and persuasive. I was wrong on at least one count: they were not persuaded.

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Fearless Leaders,

As you gear up for the membership drive, please consider the shul’s long-time failure to gain or retain members. A prime reason is membership costs. The currentlsystem  disincentivizes becoming a member for those who are struggling financially. Rather than allow people to pay what they wish, you demand that they demean themselves by telling the shul office that they are too poor to pay full price. Effectively, you’re saying that they can join us, but since they’re poor they can’t be counted as regular members of the community.

New graduates, the majority of the annual communal influx, are unlikely to spend an amount totaling their first paycheck on shul membership. Because you miss that initial window when someone first moves in, they adjust to not being a shul member. By making the membership price out of their reach, we all lose out. But a member isn’t just a person who pays a subscription fee; it’s someone engaged in the community. In many ways, the failure to bring in members has weakened the volunteer basis on which shuls operate. Volunteering in shul activities strengthens peoples’ bond to the shul, making them more active members of the community. So make volunteering part of membership. Allow people to pledge their time, and make that the standard for their membership fee. Let those who wish to do so pay off their membership in hours rather than dollars.
Those who currently volunteer for the shul are the selfsame people who already give back more than they receive; and that’s the same thing we want from all members – to invest themselves in the shul’s future. By enabling people to be members by giving their time, they’ll see how much further their money can go. And when they have the means, they’ll bring that too.
The ideas above are part of a larger conversation. Meanwhile, I beg that you change one thing immediately – don’t force people to contact the office to say that they don’t have the money to be a full-fledged member of the community. Allow them the option to sign up online as a member, in good standing, at whatever amount they can afford.
Thank you.
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As you can imagine, the powers that be didn’t bite. But I’m not giving up yet. I think maybe they just couldn’t visualize what such a membership sign-up would look like. So, I’ve written it for them:
Hello! I’m delighted to become the newest shul member and pillar upon which the community rests. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m up to the challenge. Here’s what I’ll be doing to keep the community running:
Hero Membership
I ain’t got much to  give, but what I got, I’ll give to you. 18 hours of my priceless time, plus $18 so you can get yourself something nice – like salt for those winter sidewalks.
Welcome Membership
It takes money to keep the shul open for each of us. But what kind of shul would it be if we didn’t always have room for one more? At $2,000, welcome in the stranger on me!
Utility Membership
It takes $1,000 per person to keep the shul open. Keep the doors unlocked and the ac pumping and you have yourself a deal.
Choose Your Own Adventure Membership
I’m happy to pay the most affordable shul membership fee of $[my choice] I’ll ever be asked to pay!
Because, at the end of the day, if you want to be a member – you should be a member. If you don’t want to be a member, don’t be a member. Either way, you’re always welcome here.

Arbitrary Arbitrators

My dad told me I’d enjoy college; that one day there I’d look around and realize that I – by far – was not the smartest person in the room. He was right; I enjoyed that as an undergraduate, and learned so much from learning with people far brighter than I am. But as a graduate student it’s been much harder to enjoy the sense the I lag far behind my classmates.

In graduate school I’ve had teachers suggest I consider leaving my academic program; reflecting doubts I’ve had. Professors have told me I wasn’t suited to the work; I don’t fit the mold. I’ve failed so many exams that you’d think I did it for fun. It’s hard not to take the comments and poor grades personally, since I’m the one earning them with my performance. But the truth is that while my professors’ statements hurt, their grading should not. Every single professor – so far – has awarded me a passing grade. Sometimes it’s the lowest possible passing grade, but that doesn’t hold me back. As they say, actions speak louder than words. Even though the words sting.

 

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Message that greeted me outside school. Perhaps they shouldn’t give the students chalk during finals week.

Words, on the other hand, also show that how grades are earned can vary on the day. One of my professors assigned each of us to a group of five, and then had those groups both write a paper together and present it as a team. Since it was a group presentation, all of the comments were supposed to address the full group. However, the professor made an exception for me, writing; “Hannah’s presentation was very powerful. She came across as very well prepared and confident. Really grabbed our attention. Very convincing.” This is the same teacher who felt that our paper – heavily edited by yours truly – was “very lively, but at times it seemed a bit overly expressive given the subject matter of the paper.” Same verve, different grade.

So, maybe I can’t win. But I can accept my grades with good grace. While a bad grade may make me feel stupid, it does not mean that I am; it just means that I’m surrounded by people who know more than me.

Chicago Charms

“Chicago has two season: winter and construction,” I was warned. What no one gave me was advice on what to do once I got there. So, like a Chicagoan shoveling out the snow, I made my own way – in both seasons.

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Boat tour: Lovely views of the city and surrounding traffic without having to be in any of it. Plus, there are some boat rides that provide architectural tours. Or ones that take you to an unfamiliar neighborhood for free and leave you there, like the kind I took. It seemed like the unfolding plot of a horror film where you get kidnapped and wind up enslaved to a drug cartel. So I used the unexpected docking as an opportunity to find a post office so my family could know my last location. Turns out that it’s easy to find a post office, and get an elevated train out from wherever the boat may drop you.

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Toto, I don’t think we’re in Chicago anymore

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But the zip code says we are

The El: Public transportation that works for most of the public. Unless you want to
gamble
.
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Art Institute of Chicago: It’s got Monet’s lilies for the old-schoolers and edgy modern art for the new. For those who don’t care, it’s also where Ferris Bueller’s Day Off filmed a few scenes. So if you prefer, skip the museum and watch that instead.

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Museum of Science and Industry: They let you watch baby chicks hatch and form your own tornado. Take the family, spend the day.

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Howard Washington Library:
 There are cannons. A 3D printer. Seven floors of books. Librarians who allow people to hide in the stacks till closing. The place is so big I wouldn’t be surprised if it also fit a few coffee shops and maybe an airport hanger. There’s basically everything you’d need to run a small city except people who live there full-time; I’m happy to volunteer myself to make Chicago the first city to have a self-sustaining community living in its library.

 

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WBEZ: Chicago’s NPR station is on a pier. If that was intended to deter sightseers, it doesn’t work. Requests for a tour of active recording studios and a place of business were met with incredible goodwill and cheer. That friendliness that held strong even when I showed up on the wrong date for my tour. Their programming is awesome, they let me hang out with a statue of Studs Terkel, and someone even gave us the inside scoop on the Chicago news-agency softball league. Ask them about it, but don’t mention me.

img_20170305_231241.jpgBusy Beaver Button Museum: Yet another place of business that will let you in to disturb the hardworking men and women of Chicago, turning serious professionals into amateur tour guides. It’s a working button business with an immense collection of slogan buttons. They couldn’t be more gracious about visitors unless they worked at WBEZ. You can see Abraham Lincoln’s campaign button and about a thousand others. Remember the Reading Radicals! button from your childhood? It’s there. Along with the sorts of pithy phrases, pathos, and poetry you didn’t think could fit onto a button.

Chicago Federal Reserve: There are armed men everywhere, so it’s best if you take the opportunities provided to learn about the millions of dollars surrounding you rather than trying to steal them. Also, it’s free – so basically you make bank by just showing up.

Lake Michigan: It comes with a small beach and there’s probably boating somewhere. Sometimes its toxic, but the city puts up helpful signs. No signs? No toxicity!

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They told me there was a Bean. Instead, I found a garden. Next trip, someone bring a map.

Masters in Machiavelli

My graduate school teachers say group projects are where we learn to work with others in a collaborative, innovative environment. In actuality, group projects are where Machiavelli learned to conquer weaker-willed foes. The Prince is gone, the CEO lives – and he’s got all sorts of ticks up his sleeve. Here are the ones I’ve witnessed:

Hard ball: To play hardball you have to hold all the cards. If you’re holding all the cards, why are playing a game? Name your price and get on with it.

Charm: Sure, it’s important to know your audience in order to charm them into complacency. But more important: your silence. Silent enthusiastic agreement is a bridge builder. Say too much and you can set someone off. Silent? You might be thought wiser than you are. May that be the worst thing to happen to you.

Phantom: People don’t like you? Not a problem. Have someone they like talk to them. Even better, explain that a number of people have been suggesting – not you of course, you’d never think to question them – and you want to know how we, as a group, can best incorporate those suggestions. Best to try this one on a day when the sole beloved member of your group is absent.

Planting the seed: The people don’t hate you, yet. Play on their good graces, and make them think your idea was dreamed up by them. Phrase your idea as a question, and when they repeat it, jump on it as though you’d never thought of it. To seal the deal: praise their insight.

Prompt: Skip the planting and go straight to harvesting. Start the conversation by saying that you want to follow up on the group’s earlier idea. Who is going to deny having an idea once you’ve professed how its brilliance won you over – and would they be able to weight in on how you think it could maybe be expanded?

No alternatives: If you can all agree there’s a problem, you’re halfway there. Tell them there are a finite number of solutions, and propose truly horrendous ideas with no redeeming value. Remember, zero redeeming value, because people will fall on a weak idea like it’s a saving grace. Then, make the last option the only palatable one.

Booster club: If there’s a group project and you need a certain number of votes to go your way, cheer the influencers in inconsequential things. “Your hair looks amazing!” “Where did you get that coat? It’s divine.” “You led the last meeting with such a sense of command and insight, could you do so again?” When it’s go time, you’ve already made it clear that the two, or more, of  you are on the same team. You’re halfway there before you start. All that remains is to present your idea as building on something they’ve implicitly agreed to.

Scored earth: Tear down everyone else’s plans by any means necessary. It’s messy and potentially bridge burning. Do so only if the alternative is French occupation of invaded Russia.

Everyone but Me

Everyone is graduating. Except those people who already graduated. Oh, and me: still slogging through school.

My mind knows that there are other people still in school, I just find it hard to believe. There must be toddlers just starting on their academic career, high schoolers eager for college and even more for their senior year, and people I pass in my school’s hallways who have years to go before they earn their degree.

But I’m in my senior seminar. In the fall, every other person in that room will head out to work in the morning and home at night. They will not stop at school on their back. Instead, they’ll leave the office, go straight home, put on pjs, and fall asleep. Or maybe they’ll cook themselves a hot dinner. Or – possibly only the craziest among us – will leave their offices, drop their worries, and go out on the town. They’ll see a show! Get dinner with friends! Run through a sprinkler!

Meanwhile, come fall, I’ll go to work and will leave only to head back to school. I’ll have another semester of cold dinners – the kind that I cook on Sunday and hope aren’t rotten by Thursday. I’ll do all my errands on the way too, from, or at, work. Weekends, and any free nights, will be dedicated to homework and projects, and on those few precious weeks when I don’t have something due, grocery shopping.

One day, with god’s help, I’ll have those things again. Till then, run through a sprinkler for me.*

 

*I’m not actually a sprinkler-runner, but I’m happy to encourage fancy-free behavior if that’s your thing.

 

Keep Ya Head Up: Choices

My first performance evaluation came as a surprise. I’d been gainfully employed for years before I had one, so I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be the most positive version of a conversation I’ve had many times since.

“You come off as somewhat…” my boss paused before completing his thought. The rest of my performance review had exceeded my expectations, but he had said that there were some additional notes he wanted to share as well. “…somewhat aggressive.”

I blinked. He gave examples. I nodded.

“Ok,” I said, digesting this news. “How do we solve it?”

“I don’t think it’s a problem,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good. I know that I can give you an assignment and trust that you’ll get it done. You won’t drop it just because other people aren’t interested in working on it.”

I waited.

“But I want to make sure you’re aware. It can be helpful, but it isn’t always necessary. So you should decide when to be, and when not to be, quite so forceful.”