Friday, July 17, 2015

Weekend Reading: The Facing Reality and Finding Hope Edition

Last night, I went and saw Twelfth Night at the Old Globe with my sister. She has a season subscription, and we usually pick one play to go see together. I had fun- it was a beautifully staged production, and it is a fun play. But I got home after 11 p.m.

This might not have been a problem had I gotten decent sleep the night before, but I hadn't. Petunia came home from camp on Wednesday exhausted and not feeling well. We never figured out if she was sick or had gotten too much sun or something else, but she went to bed early, and woke up at 11 p.m. and came into our bed. Instead of snuggling nicely like she usually does, though, she took over half of the bed, and I ended up sleeping on the sofa. We have a comfortable sofa, but it still wasn't great sleep.

So anyway, I'm tired and now I'm also grumpy because instead of taking a nap like I wanted to this afternoon, I waited for a 3 p.m. phone call with a LegalZoom lawyer and that went incredibly poorly. I wanted a review of a draft contract. I knew it needed work, but instead of providing constructive advice, the lawyer basically snarked on what I had written, oscillating between petty observations ("consultant needs to be capitalized") and insulting incredulity ("you're missing entire sections"). She didn't listen to me when I tried to explain why I had written it how I had, and what my concerns were with her advice (which was essentially to take the 20+ page consulting contract in the LegalZoom documents packet and tweak that).

I cut the meeting short and won't try using LegalZoom's lawyer network again for anything except the most basic questions. I am sure this lawyer is a fine lawyer, but I doubt the LegalZoom system compensates her sufficiently to have her spend the time it would take to give me personalized advice. I wanted someone who would listen to what I'm trying to do and how I want to run my business, and give me advice about how to create the sort of contract I needed to do that. What I got was condescending cookie-cutter advice. Blech. I liked LegalZoom for helping with the basic paperwork of incorporating, but I think I've hit the limit of their usefulness.

But neither tiredness nor grumpiness shall keep me from my appointed duty of sharing links with you!

My theme this week is "finding hope" and I think you'll see why. In keeping with the theme, I'll provide the hopeful end to my lawyer story: I had tried to take a shortcut, essentially using a retail service for something that needed custom tailoring. That went just about as well as that sort of thing ever  does. I vented about it on Twitter, as is my wont. And one of the people who follows me reached out and might have a lead for a lawyer who can help me. So there's hope from a situation in which I was feeling a little hopeless.

Now, the links.

Did you read the amazing New Yorker piece from Kathryn Schultz about the possibility of a really big earthquake in the Pacific Northwest? If you didn't, you should. It really is a very good piece of science writing. And then, you should read this follow up interview with one of the scientists who was interviewed for the piece, to get a sense of hope back. Just don't let the feeling of hope lull you into complacency if you live in an earthquake zone! As is so often the case, the hope comes from facing the reality of the situation and taking appropriate steps.

Speaking of facing reality: I'm still planning to read Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, although I don't know when. I tend to get to things a year late, but I do get to them. If you've somehow missed the buzz about this book, here is an excerpt. There has been a lot of online silliness about this book, which I've only somewhat followed, because it seems to be mostly white people missing the point. This is not a book written for us, or about us. I gather from Twitter that David Brooks has taken issue with Coates' lack of hope with regards to racism in this country. I know that Johnathan Chait had a similar complaint with Coates after an earlier article (the back and forth over that is summarized here).

I've thought a lot about this argument, because I am an essentially hopeful person. I do believe that America can get better, and that we can improve what I'll call "race relations" only because I can't come up with a better term. Coates' bleakness on this front brought me up short when I first encountered it, too. But he is a very good writer, and I think he does a good job of explaining the reasons for his opinion. Having forced myself to face those reasons, I have to say, I agree with him- there is no reason he should be hopeful about racism in this country. He would have to ignore too much painful- and recent!- history, and read too much into the progress we have managed to make.

But I should be hopeful. I am not sure I can explain this well, but I think we white Americans need to be hopeful about our ability to change this horrible situation that we and our ancestors have created. Without hope, we will not change, and change we must. We have to believe that we can do it, so that we can continue to make progress, and maybe, eventually, we will earn back the hope of Black Americans like Coates. We have to have our hope even in the face of Coates' rejection of it, though. We cannot demand that he feel that hope. We have to accept that his experience of American history is fundamentally different than our experience of American history. In fact, we need to really take that on board and have that show us why we continue to struggle with racism.

So, I guess I think that Coates' lack of hope and the hopefulness that people like Brooks and Chait feel when surveying the same history are both right. We need them both.

But I don't need to read David Brooks' opinions of Coates' book, so I didn't. I did read a some really thoughtful reviews that actually engaged with Coates' ideas and explored what the book does well and what it does not do. Those were by Shani O. Hilton, Brit Bennett, and Josie Duffy. Maybe skip Brooks' piece and go read those instead.

And maybe also ponder what it means that when we imagine a post-apocalyptic future, we leave out people of color.

Some other topics:

How can we best help people caught in conflict zones? It is not simple.

More good but heart-breaking science writing: a personal essay from Brian Vastag, a science writer living with myalgic encephelomyalitis.

Some good news out of IBM: it will now help traveling employees ship breastmilk home. Having struggled to get milk expressed on a business trip home, I think this is a wonderful move, both for the symbolism of the gesture and from a practical standpoint of making life just a little bit easier for nursing mothers who need to travel for work.

A little bit of crass commercialism:

A tiny plug for my upcoming short seminar about running better meetings. You have one week left to register if you want to attend the live session.

You can pre-order the book my little publishing company is publishing about the endangered Cape Mountain Leopard.

Also, I'm looking for more manuscripts to consider- read the information for authors page and/or the back story about my publishing ambitions if you want to know more.

The fun at the end:

Check out the names of these paint colors.

A new tumblr that I love.

Here's a cat in a flip-flop:


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