Seat at the Table: When A Workplace Conference Room Symbolizes Workplace Hierarchy

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This article is about the observed workplace and communication dynamics at an American pharmaceutical research company. To protect the identity of the employees, the company is not named and only first names are used, in some instances pseudonyms.

INTRODUCTION

It’s 1998, two years before the start of a new century. William Jefferson Clinton is mid-way through his second term as the President of the United States while in the midst of a scandal involving his sexual relationship with then-White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Famine is decimating hundreds and thousands of people in South Sudan. Legendary singer Frank Sinatra, feminist activist Bella Abzug, American conservative and politician Barry Goldwater, famed film director Akira Kurosawa, American assassin James Earl Ray and Olympic track and field athlete Florence Griffith Joyner have died. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Viagra, the first oral medication for the treatment of male impotence. Celine Dion,  Green Day, Lauryn Hill, Law & Order, Teletubbies, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and the ‘Titanic’ were dominating the American entertainment and pop culture scene. James Byrd, Jr. an African-American, was killed in Jasper, Texas by white supremacists who dragged him to death behind a pick-up truck. Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was beaten, tortured and left to die on a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. The Euro (single monetary unit/currency for most of Europe) made its entrance. France won the World Cup. The Winter Olympics were held in Nagano, Japan. The search engine, Google was founded.

Also in 1998 and of little seismic note, was a mid-size research company located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, attempting to find its business-footing again.

CULTURAL SCENE/WORKPLACE OBSERVATION

CorporateBldg.Nv.Article.YETBWThe cultural scene (workplace observation) is a pharmaceutical  research company whose purpose is to help clients conduct pharmaceutical research studies on new and generic versions of drugs through the recruitment of study participants.  Through this research, the company analyzes and reports on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the client’s “new” drug(s). The company has been in business since 1972 and has gone through major staffing changes since the mid-1990s. This company was a major player in the national pharmaceutical research industry until 1995, when the FDA fined the company for minor paperwork violations (e.g., sloppy filing and inconsistent “paperwork” procedures).  This violation, nevertheless, tagged the company with the reputation of data falsification regarding pharmaceutical research,  resulting in the company’s economic free-fall. Within three months of the FDA fine, the company laid off hundreds of employees and reduced many others from full-time to part-time staff. Entire divisions such as the laboratories and marketing departments were either diluted or decimated in order to cut costs. By 1998 (the time period of this workplace observation), the company’s core staff consisted of 13 middle to upper management positions with a general staff of 65 part-time employees, ranging in positions from janitorial to clinical operations. The long-term psychological noise of financial problems and downsizing, along with the current problems of insecurity and fear, have combined to produce a potentially serious problem among the staff.

CULTURAL/WORKPLACE  SETTING

StaffMtgPeopleStanding.Nv.Article.YETBWThe setting for this workplace observation is the twice-a-week staff meeting between the major employees at a pharmaceutical research company. This scene was selected for the following reasons: 1) the ability to observe constant interaction between the staff members in the same or similar setting on a regular basis; 2) the ability to observe how the participants have made adjustments  to their communication habits and the constant hierarchical changes due to the company’s upheaval; 3) many of the staff members have been employed by the company at least six years and 4) the new recruiting and screening manager, who is one of the core staff members, though only has been working with the company for less than a year. Accordingly, the new employee is able to provide a different observational aspect, given she is still as an “outsider” because of her relative “newness” to the company.

EMPLOYEES/CULTURAL SCENE PARTICIPANTS

The following is a flowchart of each participant’s position in the company’s hierarchical chain of command along with their work ‘characteristics.’

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Company organizational chart (Design/Image: Angelia Levy, October 2018)

Employee’s ‘Work’ Characteristics:

• Mike He’s from the United Kingdom and is primarily based in the Maryland area; Has a medical background that is more scientific than pharmaceutical in nature (e.g., experimenting with lab animals regarding medical research); Joined the company in summer of 1996; Is very interested in turning the company around and at times sees himself as the only person who can accomplish this feat because he wasn’t associated with the company during the FDA incident; Is very concerned about making money and is willing to spend for the best, to a certain extent; Can be easy-going, but has volatile temper that has upset several staff members; Generally is open to new ideas; Travels a lot to market the company to new clients.

• Barbara is a physician who reviews all the study-related paperwork to ensure that the medical records are organized; Rarely shows up for staff meetings; Barely interacts nor speaks with the rest of the staff except for Rachel and Susan;  Usually stops by after business hours to do her work.

• Bruce has also been with the company for a number of years (has the second-longest tenure); Not the stereotypical numbers man; He keeps to himself, mainly because, like Marie, he doesn’t interact with the rest of the staff on a regular basis; Usually remains in his office from 9-5 and leaves at the end of the day, having spoken with few people; Would give you the impression that he is very impersonal; however, he is a friendly and helpful individual.

• Chris joined the company three months ago; Seems interested in implementing new financial and management policy changes, but doesn’t like to rock the boat; Very agreeable, doesn’t like conflict; Always upbeat, at times viewed as being overly upbeat;  Some staff members see him as a ‘don’t bring him no bad news’ type.

• Dawn has been with the company for over eight years; Her position is administrative in that she is responsible for handling all research study reports; Is considered by most staff members to be pretty relaxed and easy­-going; Generally, doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone; Tendency to get behind in her work because she doesn’t inform others that she needs help; Not very good at handling management concerns; Other staff members are bothered that she doesn’t follow up on problems that her part-time underlings cause other staff members.

• Howard is very dedicated to his job and wants to make sure that he is doing everything right, which has led to his tendency to seek reassurance about what he is supposed to do; Isn’t viewed highly by the staff because of his tendency to loudly clear his throat of excessive saliva and his seeming inability to do his job without triple-checking with others.

• Jaimie works under Chris and handles all the processing and mailing out of payments; Doesn’t feel comfortable attending the staff meetings because of her non-pharmaceutical background; Normally she is very outgoing and opinionated.

• Joyce is responsible for copying and distributing all research documents. Seems very concerned about maintaining her position within the company; Doesn’t voice her opinion much; Doesn’t like to call attention to herself.

• Kathy is still trying to feel out her place in the company. She doesn’t have an immediate supervisor and isn’t sure who she is supposed to report to; Complains that she is left out of the loop and that no one informs her about what is going on with current studies.

• Marie is the longest-tenured employee and the sole survivor of the pre-FDA era at the company; Has a medical degree (M.D.) and a Ph.D., credentials which some staff find to be intimidating; She is self-assured, yet is a relaxed individual (once you get to know her) who cares that the company’s pharmaceutical research studies run smoothly.

• Nicole is the newest member of the company. Her background is in retail and market research; concerned about how receptive the staff (especially her director, Rachel) will be to changes she wants to make in how the company recruits and screens its study participants.

• Rachel is viewed as a very aggressive individual who gets things done and isn’t afraid of confrontation; Doesn’t like being inconvenienced by others and becomes irritated when she perceives others not working as hard as she does; Responsible for the clinic staff- the largest department in the company; Appears to be very aware of what is going on in her department and knows what she has to do to alleviate problems.

• Susan is the company’s spokesperson and point-of-contact when Mike isn’t available;. Is responsible for notifying the rest of the staff members regarding the status of potential, current, and future research studies; Tries to keep the staff in a good mood; Acts kind of flighty, as if she’s disorganized, but is practically always aware of what is going on throughout the company; She is the one who normally leads the staff meetings when Mike isn’t available.

WORKPLACE TENURE: COMMUNICATION STYLES

The main employees of this cultural scene are Marie (Director of Quality Assurance, who has been employed by the company for over 15 years) and Nicole (Manager of Recruiting and Screening, employed by the same company for eight months). The following is a breakdown of each employee’s strengths, limitations, and credibility involving the cultural scene:

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Chart: Interviewees’ Participation Value to the Work Observation (Design/Image: Angelia Levy)

Each of the employee’s play an important role in the twice-weekly staff meetings. Marie provides the other staff members with a “face of continuity”, reminding them of where the company has been. Nicole is a sign that the company is back on the right track because of its financial ability to hire new full-time staff members.

The differences that Marie and Nicole represent to the company can be seen in their communication styles and roles. An example of their differences is through their verbal behavior, which is connected to their position in the workplace/cultural scene. Marie’s technical background and experience with the company’s turmoil has affected her verbal behavior. Her verbal behavior is a sign of her role in the cultural scene as the company historian. Whenever she is asked her opinion by Mike, the company president, regarding the company’s ability to conduct certain pharmaceutical research studies, Marie normally answers using fillers such as “well” or a combination of fillers and qualifiers such as “Well, I think that ….” as if she doesn’t want to suggest anything that may place the company into a tailspin they’re still recovering from.

Furthermore, anytime Mike questions the company’s past history (e.g., its research performance, marketing history, profitability), Marie is expected to reply due to her lengthy tenure with the company – whether or not she has the knowledge and/or experience to reply. On the other hand, Nicole’s verbal language is similar to Marie’s by her use of disclaimers before being asked to comment, such as “Well, I haven’t been here long as the rest of you have so…..” or making use of a general qualifier with a disclaimer by leading off with “I don’t have you guys work background, but I think ….” as an example.  Nicole’s role as a new employee (participant), however, allows her to pick and choose when she feels the need to use disclaimers, which is normally when she is asked about “pharmaceutical things.” When she is asked a out subjects that are within her area of expertise (e.g., marketing materials that can be distributed to potential clients), she does not make use of qualifiers, possibly because she is discussing non­-pharmaceutical issues.

PHYSICAL SETTING OF WORKPLACE/CULTURAL SCENE

ConferenceRoomChairsOvalTable.Nv.Article.YETBWThe staff meetings are held twice a week at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. The meetings last approximately one-hour and are held in a mid-size conference room that is normally used for client visits. The meetings are also held in this room because it is set up with an intercom/speaker phone (see example) in which Mike is able to “attend” the staff meetings when he’s out of town. Note: In the 1990s video conferencing technology via commercial use (let alone personal) was still fledgling, hence not widely available as it is today. The room is set up like most conference rooms: cream-colored walls, light-beige wooden table forest-green cushioned roller chairs, dry-erase marker board, brown cabinet stacked with all the non-alcoholic liquid amenities for thirsty clients. Additionally, there is a black malleable sofa against the wall if you get tired of sitting at a conference table. Unfortunately, the conference table is oval-shaped and can not seat more than nine people comfortably, which results in some staff members sitting at the table and some sitting on the couch when a staff meeting is in session. This situation has affected the ability of some participants to be heard clearly by others because part of the staff is sitting two to five feet from the conference table.  Furthermore, it makes those participants who are forced to sit on the sofa to feel isolated from the staff members who are able to sit at the table (mainly because they arrived early for the meeting).

The conference table has inadvertently become a status symbol for the participants where certain staff members are expected to sit at the table (Susan, Rachel, Marie) because of the nature of their constant interaction with Mike. They are the dominant speakers at the staff meetings due to their positions in the company. The physical setting has also been an excuse for some staff members to withdraw from or remain uninvolved in the meetings. At times, staff members will purposely seat themselves on the sofa when there are seats available at the conference table. Simply put, the physical setting for these staff meetings is detrimental to the communication process because it creates a kind of psychological “noise” (Drs. Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver‘s Shannon-Weaver Model of Communication) that causes staff members to not be mentally in attendance at the staff meetings due to seating arrangements.

COMMUNICATION CONTEXT

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Intlculturalmindnbody Chart by Yoko Hisano

Each meeting starts out with Susan bringing the meeting to order either by announcing that Mike is available to commence via intercom or she just simply starts reading from the timeline agenda. The timeline is a listing of the status of past, current, and potential studies. The staff meeting procedure is that Susan reads off the names of the studies and study numbers then waits for the appropriate party to speak regarding the status of the study. For example, if the status of study is in the recruiting phase, Nicole reports on the process. If the study is in the statistical analysis phase, either Bruce or Marie comments on the status of their work. Once commentary by person X on study Y has tapered off, Susan then goes to the next study.  This procedure is repeated until each study listed on the timeline has been discussed . The communication process of the staff meetings are affected by the following circumstances:

  1. Seating arrangements
  2. Presence of the company president
  3. How ‘well’ work went the day before the meeting
  4. Staff seniority

1. Seating Arrangements

To reiterate, seating arrangements play an important role in the communication process between staff members. The ‘seating arrangements’ context makes it easier for some staff members to distance themselves, have limited or no involvement with the ‘cultural scene’ of the staff meeting. This results in staff members having to shift their body to make eye contact with someone who isn’t sitting at the table. When directing a question at a staff member not seated at the table, the staff member precedes the question by calling out the staff member’s name in the form of a question. If Rachel had a question for Joyce, she would say “Joyce?”, for example before asking the question- as if she wasn’t sure if Joyce had been paying attention. The impression is that those who sit at the table are more attentive and involved in the meeting procedures verses those on the peripheral (couch seats) who are seen as “just showing up because they’re expected to” (to quote a staff member).

2. Presence of the Company President

Mike is not normally in attendance because he is based in Baltimore. In order for him to remain involved in the staff meetings, the meetings are conducted with him via intercom in the conference room. Because Mike isn’t physically present, he’s not aware of who’s in attendance. Similar to the seating arrangements context, Mike precedes each question with a question of who is and isn’t in attendance. This occurs a few times throughout the meeting until he finds out if a particular person has finally arrived for the meeting and/or to see if they are still there. This is usually done in the following manner: “Is Marie there?,” “Has Rachel arrived yet?,” or “Did Bruce leave?”. Then the person whom Mike wants to speak with usually answers (in a loud and enunciated manner) by saying, “Yeah, I’m here Mike.” Another result of Mike ‘s ‘intercom presence’ is that the meetings are ten to fifteen minutes shorter. A possible reason for this occurrence is the staff’s seeming uncomfortability with this type of interaction (e.g., speaking to an intercom). Many of the staff members have expressed dissatisfaction with having to “yell” their comments to Mike and having to repeat their comments because of the “crappy” intercom set-up. In comparison to the more detailed staff meeting discussions (e.g., study status, client comments, company’s history with the drug, more potential business with current client, etc.) that occur when Mike is physically present, it appears that the staff lessens their comments to Mike when the meetings are conducted via intercom because he’s out of town. This results in the staff members exchanging varying degrees of information regarding the status of studies (e.g., limited to expansive) – depending on the nature of their involvement with a particular study, their perceived status with Mike and their interest-level in the staff meeting.

3. How “Well” Work Went the Day Before the Staff Meeting

This communication context has a similar result as the aforementioned ‘intercom context’. If a staff member or members’ work has fallen behind schedule or has not gone as well as scheduled, the staff experiences upward and horizontal communication to discuss what steps have been taken to alleviate the situation.

Upward communication has “multiple functions” which is exemplified by subordinates telling their supervisors about the highlights of their work and solving work problems (Cohn, Study Guide, 8.19). Several examples of this occur regularly in the staff meetings, such as 1) Rachel questioning Mike regarding the inclusion/exclusion criteria of a study; 2) Howard asking Mike about a drug shipping date; 3) Joyce speaking with Dawn about the due date a report needs to go out.

Horizontal communication is defined as “messages flow[ing] laterally between persons of the same rank or department [in order to] coordinate work tasks, solve problems, resolve conflict and build alliances.” (Cohn, Study Guide 8.19) Usually this type of communication doesn’t occur in staff meetings. It is a component of this company’s staff meetings, however, therefore it occurs on an occasional basis. At times, the exchange of messages between the department members is irrelevant to the rest of the staff members as a whole and takes up a portion of the staff meeting. An example of this is when Rachel and Howard have discussions concerning the appropriate freezer temperature to store drugs or the possible adverse reactions that the study participants may have to a drug. The staff members who do not have a pharmaceutical and/or medical background (Nicole, Kathy, Joyce, Chris and Jaimie) are inadvertently excluded from the conversation, which results in silence until the departmental discussion is interrupted by Mike or the problem is resolved.

4. Staff Seniority

This factor plays an important part in Mike’s interactions with the staff members, specifically with Marie and Bruce. They have been with the company for over ten years, which Mike seems to acknowledge through his solicitation of their opinions, especially after a less senior staff member has commented upon a study dealing with Marie or Bruce’s area – whether they were involved in the study/work or not. The following is a conversation of ‘staff seniority’ context in effect:

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Staff Conversation about pharmaceutical study (Image/Source: Angelia Levy)

Another result of staff seniority context is that the senior staff members can question Mike regarding meetings he has had with potential clients. If a lesser senior member, such as Jaimie, ask about a client meeting, Mike usually responds by stating “I don’t think it will work out,” “It went well as could be expected” or simply “Fine” in a way that doesn’t allow nor welcome an opportunity for follow-up.  However, if Marie or Bruce ask about how a meeting went, Mike will provide them with a detailed description, such as potential profit, client characteristics, and the possible studies the company would do on the client’s behalf. What makes this communication process so unusual is that it occurs consecutively, as if Bruce or Marie are asking a follow-up question. This type of interaction has made the younger and less senior employees more hesitant in attempting to find out about the company’s progress.

CULTURE SPECIFIC JARGON

The jargon used by the employees at this company is heavily medical or job-specific in nature. It is full of terminology that many laymen would have a hard time understanding, unless they are a part of the cultural scene. There are times, however, that participants who haven’t been involved in a scene or have left a scene may not be familiar with the terminology, even though they are a participant. Nicole has been working for the company for almost six months, for example, and yet she still continues to come across terminology with which  she is not familiar with. Marie has informed Nicole that most of the word usage in the company is a carryover from its “old days”, but with the influx of new staff, some new definitions cropped up in certain departments, especially among the clinical staff. Most of the jargon consists of shortened names or acronyms exclusively used by this company. The following is a glossary of the terminology used by this company:

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Chart: Company Jargon (Design/Image: Angelia Levy, October 2018)

COMMUNICATION RULES

According to Dr. Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, “every culture or social group has patterns of communication unique to that group that a new member of the group must learn to display appropriate knowledge of communicative behavior at some point in his or her life to be accepted,” or in Nicole’s case to be able to conduct herself appropriately in the twice-weekly staff meetings. Marie informed Nicole regarding the terminology used by many of the staff members, but she did not inform Nicole of all the staff meeting “rules”. This may have been due to the fact that explicit (stated) rules are more recognizable than implicit (unstated) rules or agreements concerning communication. The following is a list of the explicit and implicit rules that are followed in the staff meetings:

A. Explicit Rules

  1. Each participant (meeting attendee) can only take x-number of timeline copies based on their department. For example, since Marie works alone, she could not take three copies of the timeline agenda.
  2. When Mike is attending the meeting via conference call, the participants (meeting attendees) are expected to announce to him that they are present by saying something to effect of “Yeah! We’re here.”
  3. The meetings start at 11 a.m. If a participant can’t be there or will be late, then he/she are expected to inform Susan before the start of the meeting.
  4. Once a participant enters the conference room, he/she is expected to remain until the meeting is over.
  5. When Mike is attending the meeting via intercom, sotto voce communication (talk among participants) is prohibited.
  6. If a participant is dissatisfied with another’s performance regarding an issue – it is to be handled outside the meeting. Staff members/participants are expected to work it out among themselves, in order to combat dissension. If the members are unable to handle it, then Mike steps in to help resolve the matter.
  7. Questions are to remain strictly study-related and based on the studies listed on the meeting timeline/agenda. If a participant wants to address the staff at the meeting regarding unrelated issues (e.g., building security), he/she must inform Susan a day before the meeting – so that she can place it on the meeting agenda.

B. Implicit Rules

  1. Susan always brings the “meeting to an order.” This is done when she distributes the handouts (the timeline agenda) and starts reading off the study number and then waits for the appropriate person(s) to comment and/or question the status of the study.
  2. Susan sits the closest to the intercom/speakerphone (the head of the conference table) so that Mike can readily hear her managing the meeting.
  3. When Mike is physically present at the staff meetings, he sits at the head of the table and leads the staff meetings by reading off the study names/numbers (taking Susan’s place as the meeting lead).
  4. If there is confusion and/or need for more discussion regarding a study between a departmental head and his/her staff – it is to be done after the staff meeting, not in front of other staff. For example, if Rachel was concerned about a comment Nicole said regarding a study, she would not question her about it until after the meeting.
  5. No eating allowed! This implicit rule is enforced in a subtle manner. When Chris joined the company, he brought some donuts with him to his first few meetings. The staff immediately made comments such as “You forgot to eat breakfast today?” or “Make sure not to get any sticky-stuff on your notes!” For the next couple of meetings, Chris dealt with these comments in an amicable manner. After his third meeting, Chris no longer brought food with him. The staff then commented that he had finally found the time to eat breakfast before he came to work.
  6. Attendees are not to make negative comments regarding the clients (especially when it concerns their lack of payment) at the meetings when Mike is in attendance (in person or via intercom).
  7. When Mike complains about the company’s database problems or any problems that the company is having, attendees/participants should not make unsolicited suggestions for improvement during the staff meetings.

WORKPLACE RULES

Normally, we follow rules, whether we are aware of them or not, because we never think that we have an option not to follow them. The old saying that “rules are meant to be broken” never mentions that there are consequences for breaking some of those rules. Generally, we follow rules, whether there are minor or severe consequences for breaking them. Psychologist Frederick R. Ford has five ‘Family of Rules‘ that can also be applied in the workplace: 1) the rule; 2) the counter rule; 3) the rule of qualifications and exceptions; 4) the consequences of breaking the rule and 5) the rule that tells how the rule should be implemented.

In this cultural scene/physical setting (e.g. the staff meeting), there may not be severe consequences for breaking explicit and implicit rules, but you may receive a dirty look or two. The rule of the staff meeting is that Susan always signals when the meetings are about to commence.  The counter rule is that if Susan is not available to conduct  the meeting and Mike is not available, then Rachel takes over the role. The rule of qualifications and exceptions is that when Mike is physically present, he will initiate the staff meetings. The consequence(s) of breaking the rule of ‘Susan starts the meetings’ is that the person who attempts to start the meeting may be viewed as rude and/or will receive a look that will dissuade them from continuing. The rule that tells how the rule should be implemented is when Susan distributes the timeline agenda to the rest of the staff members and says something like “okay, let’s get started.” (Leeds-Hurwitz, 31-33).

NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION

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Communication Model Pie Chart (Communication Model by Albert Mehrabian; Image by Toolshero)

“Nonverbal communication refers to those aspects of communication other than the use of words.” (Cohn, 9.5) As the old axiom goes, one cannot not communicate. Nonverbal communication is a perfect example of a just because you’re not using your voice does not mean you’re not communicating. While Mike was discussing a study, for instance,  Nicole had both of her hands pressed into her eye sockets.  Mike then asked her if the study was going well recruiting-wise (the study was not). Mike made the correct assumption with Nicole’s nonverbal movements that she was concerned about the recruiting process of the study. Another example of nonverbal communication being very communicative is when nonverbal communication contradicts verbal communication. In one of the staff meetings, Rachel wanted to know if Bruce would have the statistics she needed so that she could ship the report to the client Federal Express. Bruce assured her that she would have the statistics in a couple of hours. Meanwhile, he was tapping his pen incessantly against his notebook, which would signify that he was not as sure as he professed.

Nonverbal communication can also be used to demonstrate status and power within a given context or setting. In the company’s staff meeting, all the participants normally sit in their chairs in a similar manner. Everyone usually sits straight, look straight ahead and keep their swiveling to a minimum. Mike doesn’t seem to affect this type of behavior at the staff meetings. He swings and rocks his chair back and forth, places his arms behind his neck and stretches his leg out. At times, he puts his feet on the conference table when he is in the midst of an explanation.  As he moves, the staff members follow his movements with their eyes. If you walked into the room without any knowledge of the company hierarchy, you would know that Mike is the person in charge.

Nonverbal communication consists of certain categories that we use in our daily lives to aid in our “unseen” human interaction. This can especially be the case when you are in attendance at a staff meeting, as in this particular instance. At times, the employees/participants are being frugal with their verbal communication, but their nonverbal communication provides important  information that cannot possibly be heard.  Chronemics  as one form of nonverbal communication deals with the usage of time to communicate. If some of the staff meeting participants are constantly late, it is assumed that they consider the meetings unimportant.  As a result, when one of the latecomers ask about something that was discussed in their absence, they are told to “get here on time” if they want to know. Costuming, cosmetics and organismics are a form of communication that is applicable when the company has potential clients coming to visit the facility. Mike warns the staff to “dress up” in order to make the impression that they are a professional organization. The use of haptics, communication via touch, comes into play only when Mike grabs a participant’s shoulder to express his feelings that the individual did a good job.  Haptics is usually not incorporated into staff meetings. Objectics (use of objects) to aid in communication (or in the case of the conference table, to hinder communication) during the staff meetings are minimal at best. The best example of an object being used as a tool of communication is the timeline agenda, which helps the participants follow the meeting.  Oculesics (use of eyes) and kinesics (body movements and gestures) to communicate nonverbally in the staff meetings is mainly done to show approval, disapproval, concern, irritation, anger, or agreement with what is being discussed at the meeting.  An example of kinesics was when Nicole was rubbing her eye sockets while Mike was discussing a particular study which was causing her some distress. Olfactics (sense of smell) is rarely a part of the staff meeting at least based on the definition, which is “targeted to evoke a particular memory perception or motion.” The only time it becomes an issue is if a staff member comments on  a smell outside the staff meeting area. Proxemics (personal space; space between others) is communicated in this setting through the unofficial seating arrangements of the staff members. As discussed previously, those who have a lot of interaction with Mike are usually the ones who sit at the conference table. Vocalics (voice expression) plays an important role in symbolizing the status of each of the staff members through their vocal behavior, whether someone speaks loudly and concisely to make sure that they are heard or someone who speaks in a hesitant tone.  All these styles are signs of non-verbal communicative behavior. (Cohn, 9.5-9.7).

CONCLUSION

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In a perfect world, everyone would  know how to communicate  in a format that is always  acceptable, comprehensible, non-contradictory, and error-proof. Is this possible? In order for communication perfection to be possible, we would have to have a stream-lined communication process, one without deviation. Leeds­-Hurwitz would find this to be impossible because of her view that “communication [that is] bound to context is multichannel.” One of these channels is communication as behavior in context. “No behavior has meaning in and of itself, outside the situation in which it occurs (Leeds-Hurwitz, 153). For example, outside the staff meeting context, Mike’s solicitation of Marie and Bruce’s opinions regarding Rachel’s statistical tables may just be viewed as a sign of respect for their experience. Within the meeting context, however, it has a host of other connotations, one of which can be his apparent lack of respect or faith in Rachel’s ability to do the job.

It would seem that the main communication problem that is occurring in this staff meeting context is that Mike is not physically in attendance on a regular basis. When he attends the meeting via intercom/conference call, several behavioral problems occur such as 1) lessened information discussed between him and a staff member about his/her assignment and even less among the staff as a whole; 2) Mike’s questioning of who is and is not in attendance gives staff members the impression that certain individuals have a higher status and are deemed ‘more important’ than others; 3) the fact that the staff cannot see how Mike is reacting to the discussed information causes members to tailor their response(s) based on their interpretation of what Mike’s tone, pauses or silence denotes. As a result, staff person(s) might understate a work problem or to get into a lengthy discussion about project X or task Y if they think he is or is not concerned about the situation.

A solution to this situation may be something simple as having a video conference call (instead of using a speaker phone) when Mike cannot be physically present, where the members are able to see and hear him. On the other hand, since communication is multi-channel, this format can bring about a host of other behavioral situations due to this particular context.  In other words, communication, context and behavior can never be perfect.

The largest communication problem that occurs in the staff meetings has little to do with technology, but has more to do with psychological noise. As defined by Shannon and Weaver, psychological noise can include feelings of anxiety, depression, boredom, and anger (Cohn, 1.4).  It can also include feelings of insecurity and fear, which are the two bits of psychological noise present at the staff meetings.  Mike’s constant need of feedback from the two employees who have the most experience with the pharmaceutical company (Marie and Bruce) while limiting and/or excluding feedback from the other staff members creates an atmosphere of insecurity for the staff as a whole.  A staff member’s insecurity could be about their ability to perform their duties, their level of intelligence, their qualifications, their place in the company, or even the possibility of termination.  Mike shows signs of his own insecurities and fears by not soliciting comments, concerns or questions from staff members who happen to have less than ten years’ worth of company experience.  Mike is insecure about his position as president of the company, and needs to affirm his standing by garnering opinions from his most experienced staff members.  In short, the pharmaceutical company’s recent history of problems and downsizing — a form of long-term psychological noise — combined with Mike’s lack of experience with the company (has been president for roughly 20 months) has caused a fear of failure to creep in Mike’s communications with the staff. This fear results in Mike taking a hard-line approach during staff meeting in limiting discussion to the company ‘s pharmaceutical studies rather than discussing any problems or issues regarding the company’s operations.  Staff members explicitly or implicitly pick up on Mike’s psychological noise and, in turn, have become insecure and fearful regarding the company’s future status.

Whether the pharmaceutical research services company obtains new equipment for video/internet conferencing or not, the problem of long-term (e.g., downsizing, financial shortfall) and short-term (e.g., insecurities and fears) psychological noise must be solved to achieve a better flow of communication. Mike must become more secure in soliciting opinions and questions from all of the key staff members, not just the most experienced ones. Issues that might be problematic and painful must be aired in a more open format for discussion, and staff members must be made to feel secure that they will be listened to if they disagree with Mike or with each other. Otherwise, the company’s psychological noise might turn into the physical noise of younger staff members clearing out their offices and leaving to take other jobs.

Update: Nicole was terminated in 1998 (nine-months after the start of her tenure) due to conflict in regards to her role/duties with the company. The rest of the staff had been terminated or resigned by 2006, including the president. As of 2018, only Rachel has continued to be employed by the company, in a higher-ranked position.

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REFERENCES

Cohn, Ellen, Communications 300: Introduction to Non-Verbal Communication Study Guide, University of Pittsburgh, Spring 1998

Leeds-Hurwitz, Wendy, Communication in Everyday Life: A Social Interpretation, Praeger Press, 1989

Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication. Communication Theory. Retrieved from https://www.communicationtheory.org/shannon-and-weaver-model-of-communication/. (Last retrieved, October 31, 2018).

 

Music Moment: My ‘Top 50 Most Played Songs’ On Spotify (Not That You’ve Asked)

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Artists on YETBW’s ‘Top 50 Most-Played Songs On Spotify’ List (Image/Angelia N. Levy)

Have you ever wondered which songs you’ve played ad nauseam on Spotify? I’ve been a Spotify user since 2012, became a paid subscriber (premium user) in 2016. Yet, until recently I had no idea, data-wise, which songs and/or artists I listened to the most on Spotify’s streaming music platform. After doing some online digging, I found a database that detailed my Spotify music preferences.

Below are my top 50 ‘most played’ Spotify songs (ranked #50 to #1), which includes links to the songs and artist biographies along with commentary. At the bottom of the article/song rankings is a playlist which includes the songs on my ‘Top 50’ list.

My Music Streaming Services

Besides Spotify, I do listen to and discover music via other video and music services such as YouTube, Amazon Music, Apple MusicPandora, AccuRadio and iHeartRadio. Nevertheless, Spotify became my streaming music service-of-choice, primarily because of its then (2016) huge music catalog of over 30 million songs. Note: As of September 2018, according to CNET, Apple Music has the largest music library at 45 million songs, with Spotify in second at 35 million songs. Since I’ve become a heavy listener of streaming music, I don’t purchase or download music as much. As a result, I’m an inconsistent iTunes user (e.g. purchasing or saving music on my Mac Laptop or iPhone) and I rarely purchase music CDs.

Gathering the Data

One of the drawbacks with Spotify is that ‘readily accessible data’ about individual streaming data (e.g. what songs or artists you’ve listened to the most) is not available on Spotify. Other services such as Apple Music’s iTunes readily provides such data, but for whatever reason, Spotify has this information on lockdown. The only data you do see on Spotify is how many times a song has been streamed (listened to for at least 30 seconds) per individual.

You can find out what were your top Spotify songs for the most recent year via Spotify’s ‘Wrapped Feature‘ playlist, but unfortunately, the service doesn’t do a similar individual playlists for your ‘most played or popular’ songs. Therefore I had to find other means to retrieve this inexplicably and needlessly ‘top secret’ Spotify data. 

There are several website out there that claim to do what Spotify can’t (or won’t) do for its listeners. I decided to use this one (FB 107.170.81.187:8080/public/top) since I’ve seen it referenced on social media and several websites (e.g. Reddit, AltPress, Twitter). It’s simple to use since it only requires you to log-in to your Spotify account to get your desired data. The website provides you with a list of your top Spotify songs/tracks and artists over a four-week, six-month and long-term (years/all-time) period. The only drawback, albeit a notable one, is that for these data retrieval sites, including the aforementioned one, is that they don’t provide you with how many times you’ve played X-songs (data that is readily provided by iTunes). Therefore, you have to trust that the algorithms used by these non-Spotify data-gathering sites are providing you with accurate information about your Spotify listening preferences.

My Spotify Music Preferences

Overall my Spotify ‘Top 50’ list does reflect my varied music interests such as hiphop, neosoul, alternative rock, rhythm & blues, country, folk and electronic music (e.g. Sampha, Rihanna, Hozier, Blackmill, alt-J, Chris Stapleton). The occurrence of multiple-songs by X-artists on the list is probably due to 1) the fact that my Spotify library (200+ songs) isn’t as extensive as my iTunes library (3500+ songs) and 2) my Spotify library includes mostly songs that have been released within the past ten years, again, unlike my iTunes library which has songs from the 1930s to the Present.

As for whether any of my ‘Top 50’ Spotify songs were deemed ‘popular,’ some did make Billboard Magazine‘s ‘Top 100’ during its release year, such as ‘What You Know’ by T.I. and ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ by Chris Stapleton. However, according to my rudimentary calculation, at least 80% didn’t make that particular chart cut. What can I say? I find my music my own way.

There were a few songs on the list that I’m sure made the list simply because it followed a song that I really liked and for whatever reason, I didn’t immediately ‘skip’ over it or hit the ‘stop’ button after I heard my selected song. This phenomenon most assuredly explains why there are five songs by the Norwegian group, Wardruna, on this list (I don’t like them that much). Overall, I would estimate that over two-thirds of the songs on my Spotify  ‘Top 50 Most-Played Songs List’ are ones that I did and still do enjoy listening to regularly, some probably a tad obsessively such as ‘Incomplete Kisses’ by Sampha.

This list is chock-full of information and links for your music knowledge and pleasure. You can either breeze through the list or do a deep-dive. My hope is that you will discover new songs and artists to add to your music library, and maybe inspire you to take your own ‘Spotify’ music journey.

Note: Make sure to visit the ‘Music‘ category on this site for additional music commentary. 

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50. Heartbeat (Chase & Status Remix) – Nneka

I have Pandora to thank for helping me to discover Nneka. I love how her music is a wonderful mesh of styles (neosoul, African/Nigerian, hiphop). Plus her vocals are just aching, yet also soaring. I like the original ‘Heartbeat’, but this mix takes the song to a level that’s just in-your-face with its awesomeness. The guitars, the keyboards, the thumping beat along with Nneka’s vocals just makes this an epic music moment that is worth numerous repeats.

49. Broken Halos – Chris Stapleton

I’m a bit surprised that this Chris Stapleton song is on the list. I really like Stapleton, but when I think of his music, this song doesn’t come to mind. It’s a good song that shows-off his mix of country and bluegrass style along with his strong vocals. However, I don’t think it’s one of his stand-outs, though music critics and fans have said otherwise. Then again, there are A LOT of music acts where this song would be a career and musical highlight.

48. Ledges – Noah Gundersen

Gundersen’s music has a quiet, neo-folk, gospel, pop style that I like, especially since it shows off his crisp and distinctive vocals. This isn’t one of my go-to songs by him, but I do enjoy listening to it. His hoarse vocals, the guitars, soothing lyrics and the soaring fiddle at the end all come-together nicely.

47. Shivers – SG Lewis featuring JP Cooper

SG Lewis specializes in chill, moody songs that have an upbeat quiet-storm vibe. This song exemplifies SG Lewis’ cool style, which JP Coopers’ wonderfully smooth, soulful vocals ably support. I also love the piercing guitar and soft piano work that adds to the song’s soothing vibe. Though the ‘Shivers’ album version is good, this live version is superb.

46. Restless – Nneka

Interesting that this song by Nneka ranked higher than ‘Heartbeat’ (song #50 on this list) though I do prefer the latter. I can only assume that the higher ranking for this Nneka song is due to the fact that it was a more recent download, hence I inadvertently listened to it more. Nevertheless, I really, really like this song. The way it starts out acoustically lets you hear Nneka’s characteristic, emotive vocals. Plus, the lyrics such as “there’s darkness surrounding my world” are just heartbreakingly personal. When she starts wailing “You don’t need me no more. Now my work has been done. And I set you free.” It leaves me kind of gobsmacked.

45. To Be Alone – Hozier

Hozier’s music has a deep and ominous undertone which is a perfect match for his vocals. He has other semi-upbeat songs he’s known for such as ‘Work Song‘, but I think his more intense songs really show-off his musical prowess. His live versions of his songs are almost always better than album versions, as with this song (which is definitely not a knock against his albums). His lyrics to this song are something else such as: “You don’t know what hell you’ve put me through. To have someone kiss the skin that crawls from you.” Don’t be surprised if you find yourself listening to more than just a few of his songs.

44. A Formal Invitation – Cold Specks

Canadian Ladan Hussein (AKA Cold Specks) has a singing style that’s gloomy, intense and personal. Her music is a combination of soul, blues, country and world. As you can see, she’s hard to pigeon-hole, though she describes her sound as “doom soul.” The first time that I heard Cold Specks was on an episode of  ‘Sons of Anarchy’ in which they played ‘Lay Me Down‘ a wonderful acoustic blues/folk song by her. ‘A Formal Invitation’ definitely shows-off her self-defined music style.

43. Fehu – Wardruna

You may have heard this Norwegian band’s music before if you’re a viewer of The History Channel’s ‘The Vikings‘ series. Wardruna’s vocals and music are intense, melancholic and muscular as they honor their Old Norse roots. With ‘Fehu’ you get a deep mix of drums, chanting, fiddles and wind instruments – most of them homemade by the band. Think of the crap that you hear at those pseudo folk festivals and imagine what music of the early 9th-11th Centuries might have sounded like, but with a full-fledged band. That is Wardruna. Once you hear them, you might find yourself in a melancholic state or wanting to fight, drink and pillage.

42. In the Night of Wilderness – Blackmill

Blackmill isn’t a group, but one-person, an electronic music producer named Robert Card. Blackmill specializes in a type of electronic music genre called melodic/chill dubstep. His digital music soars in that you hear so many types of sounds (piano, nature, violins, guitar, keyboard, etc.) that helps create his transient, soothing, relaxed yet sexy music. This song is a prime example of Blackmill’s wonderful music catalog.

41. Slow Dancer – Noah Gundersen

This the second of three songs by Gundersen that is on this list (previous one is at #48). ‘Slow Dancer’ feels like a road song with a bit of a Tom Petty vibe to it. I really like how quiet the song starts, then you hear the words “Call me a snake and a liar. I will be the fire that keeps you warm” then the rest of the instruments and vocals just smoothly join him at just the right time. A nice gem.

40. Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene – Hozier

I didn’t expect that this Hozier song would be on the list, let alone be the higher ranked of the two songs (the other is at #45). There are other songs by him that I could’ve sworn I listened to more (Run, To Be Alone, Work Song), but the algorithm I used to create this list says otherwise. What makes this song notable is the call-and-response, gospel sound to the song. Plus, Hozier’s vocals are always crisp and personal. He never short-changes his songs, in that you don’t feel as if they’re filler in order to meet an album quota.

39. What You Know – T.I.

When T.I. came on the scene in the early 2000s, rap stars still mainly from the East and West coasts. Southern rap wasn’t on most people’s music radar, until T.I. came along. ‘What You Know’ is a slick, layered rap jam with a hard beat that will have you nodding your head in appreciation. I also really liked how it seamlessly combines Roberta Flack’s ‘Gone Away‘ and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe‘ in that the songs weren’t just used as background with rap lyrics lazily thrown over it. This song and ‘The Way We Ride‘ (another cool song) shows-off T.I.’s smooth, yet tough music style in a nutshell.

38. Living Signs – Cold Specks

The opening ‘waw-waw’ sound of the guitar sets the tone for ‘Living Signs’ which is kind of a definitive track of Cold Specks’ music style. It’s not one of her stand-out songs, plus it’s pretty short, in that it barely lasts two-and-a-half minutes. Yet, the dark and gloomy lyrics mesh well with the slightly ominous vibe of the music, both gives you a good sense of what you’ll get from Cold Specks. It’s far from being one of my favorite songs by her (though it’s the second of three songs by her on this list, the previous one is at #44), but it’s still a solid one.

37. The Love You’re Given – Jack Garratt

London musician Jack Garrett is a singer, producer  and multi-instrumentalist whose vocals and music style are a mix of R&B, pop, neosoul and electronic music. As soon as he starts singing “I’ve been trying to give you my love. But you wont’ let me, won’t let me” you will find yourself nodding your head to the beat of this slinky jam. The song starts out as kind of an achingly sweet lament about a relationship gone wrong, surrounded by a quiet beat, but around the 3:25 mark segues into a louder, scratchy, techno slow-jam. Yet, it all somehow flows quite sinuously.

36. Blood On Me – Sampha

I’m forever thankful to Solange’s ‘Don’t Touch My Hair‘ or I might not have ever heard of Sampha. His work on the aforementioned song is what turned me on to this talented dude with his truly original style. He looks like a teddy bear, but his vocals are raspy and higher-pitched than you would expect. His music is hard to define in that he incorporates a variety of genres such  hip-hop, rap, neosoul, pop and electronic music. This song jumps-out at you in that it has a quiet intensity, as shown in the chorus “I swear they smell the blood on me. I hear they’re coming for me.” I have annihilated Sampha’s  catalog in that I’ve yet to hear a song by him that I don’t like, which is why this is the first of three of his songs that are on this list.

35. Soul Sista – Bilal

It’s always disappointing when you hear a song by an artist and think ‘They’re going to be big’ and then it doesn’t happen. ‘Soul Sista’ has a wonderful and loving message about the beauty of Black Womanhood, especially for our darker-skinned sisters. The video, music and lyrics all admirably work together for a song that wraps around you like silk. Bilal’s aching, 70s-style of singing captured the essence of a truly sexy R&B song. Sadly, his entrance onto the music stage seems to have been his career highlight. Though he still puts out music, it’s nothing as original as this song.

34. Old Knives – Cold Specks

I’m kind of flummoxed that three songs by Cold Specks are on this list, since I haven’t listened to her music in awhile. At least this one is the highest ranked of the three (others are at #44 and #38), and deservedly so. I just love how deep and ominous her voice sounds on this song. Her band plays along well: the funereal of the guitar; the soft, but pointed drums and the quiet, streaky horns in the background.

33. Out My Mind, Just In Time – Erykah Badu

I’m sure that this song was a bit of surprise for Badu fans, if you know her primarily from her Grammy-winning debut album, ‘Baduizm.’  The beginning of it may remind you of some of her previous neosoul tracks, but then starting at 2:35 it gets beautifully trippy with such poignant lyrics as “Never knew. I was blind. What it through. I can’t see there. Mama say. Let there be. Easily. Said and done. I can’t feel. I am numb. Bitter dream. Fruit so raw. Winter cold. Let me out.” The quiet drums, piercing guitars, spacey sound of the keyboards – the music just matches perfectly with Badu’s dreamy, psychedelic vocals. This 10+ minute song is worth every second.

32. Milk & Honey – Celeste

Celeste’s music and vocals have a jazzy sound to it with a mix of R&B and electronic music. Yet, ‘Milk & The Honey’ is like warm caramel that coats over you, but the lyrics tell a bit of a different story. The beginning of the song sounds soft and gentle, but the opening words are of pain: “You should thread carefully in my shoes. Would you rather it be me instead of you.” Her vocals, the music and lyrics make for a hypnotic song.

31. Cold Game – Maverick Sabre

This is the first of three songs by Maverick Sabre that are on this list. As much as I love Maverick, seeing this song on the list slightly made me question the algorithm I used to create it. I’m not saying that it’s not a good song, but it’s not even close to the several songs by Maverick that I’ve listened to endlessly. That being said, what I do like about this song is that it reminds me of the 1970s soul/R&B music that I heard growing up, such as Curtis Mayfield or New Birth. Of course, Maverick adds his own style to the old school vibe with his usual singing and bits of rap verse. It’s the kind of song you listen to while you’re laying around contemplating the universe as it’s raining outside.

30. Hallucinations – dvsn

This was the first song by dvsn that I ran into the ground. The duo (producer/vocalist Paul Jefferies and lead vocalist Daniel Daley) are so damn talented, which is why this is the first of two of their songs that are on this list. Whenever I get in my ‘Whatever happened to R&B Music?’ funk, I put on this group and everything is alright with the music world again. They specialize in R&B love songs that make the soul ache whether from happiness or hurt, especially with lyrics like “Tryna rewind ’til we’re back where we started. Yeah that’s all I want.” Daley’s vocals on this beautiful song are sweet and heart-rendering, the music production by Jefferies is tight and slick in that nothing sounds out-of-place. If you don’t have this group in your music collection, you’re missing out.

29. Warm – SG Lewis

This is SG Lewis’ second song on this list (the other is at #47). The fact that Sampha, one of my favorite artists, is the lead vocalist on this song is surely one of the reasons why I like it so much. Also, I’m a fan of SG Lewis, a producer, songwriter and DJ who, according to AllMusic, specializes in “emotive, atmospheric approach to dance-oriented, electronic-based music.” That’s a pretty apt description. ‘Warm’ just makes you want to close your eyes and just let it wrap yourself around you. It’s a supple and appealing song.

28. Tennessee Whiskey – Chris Stapleton

I stumbled across Chris Stapleton, thank goodness, via a WordPress blog that I follow. Before then, it had been quite awhile since I had listened to country music. Most of it sounded too pop-like and homogenized for my liking. Maybe because my idea of country music was influenced too much by my mom (Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Hank Williams, etc.). Must admit, I debated whether to give Stapleton a listen, but I’m so glad that I did, which is why this is the second of three songs he has on this list (previous one is at #49). ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ gives me the old-style country music vibe that I remembered, without it feeling like an imitation. It’s a nice, bluesy number, which amazingly isn’t my favorite song by him (we’ll get to that one later), but it still shows off his fabulous vocals very well. I never fail to sing along to the lyrics “You’re as smooth as Tennessee Whiskey. You’re as sweet as strawberry wine. You’re as warm as a glass of brandy. And honey, I stay stoned on your love, all the time.”

27. We Exist – Arcade Fire

The lyrics to the song are stark and pretty fierce. It’s about being yourself, facing your fears and being accepted. Arcade Fire’s style is layered in that their vocals and music overlap, in that neither one or the other is ever truly in the background. They have a pop sound (though their lyrics aren’t light-hearted) that plays a lot with electronic music. I do like this song, but my appreciation for it really starts at the 2:22 mark, when it kicks-ass with its operatic, electronic sound. It just intensely pounds away as the vocals and lyrics speed along and become more epic. When they sing “Let ’em stare! Let ’em stare! If that’s all they can do! But I’d lose my heart, If I turned away from you.” It’s not a loud song, but it packs a wallop.

26. The Line – dvsn

Oh my goodness, this song is just so damn luscious to the ears. The lyrics are so tender and dvsn’s vocals are incredibly beautiful and heartfelt. Guess you can tell that I just LOVE this song. This is the second song by dvsn on my list (the first one is at #30). Sadly, you don’t hear R&B music like this more, though that hasn’t stopped dvsn from rewarding their fans and attracting new ones with their producing and vocal talents. This song always takes me to church in that whenever I hear it, I have to stop myself from singing to it with my eyes closed, swaying softly while raising my arms in rapture. This is an alluring song from beginning to end. Hell, even the live version is fantastic. I hope this group sticks around for awhile.

25. All the Things She Said – Simple Minds

I’m not sure if I would’ve ever guessed that this song would’ve made this list. It is one of my top songs by Simple Minds, but I didn’t think I listened to it this much. Some of you probably remember them from their bigger hit ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)‘ from the movie ‘The Breakfast Club.’ Others are probably thinking that if any Simple Minds song is on a music list, it would’ve been the aforementioned one. What can I say? I gotta be me! As for ‘All the Things She Said’ the lyrics are what I think about, such as “Through the eyes of God, you never know what hate is” which has still stuck with me. The music on this song is typical Simple Minds in that it has a mini world music vibe to it, along with some heavy use of synthesizers. The background vocalist, Robin Clark, always adds needed heart and heat to their songs. Though it’s the oldest song on this list, it’s still a good one.

24. Helvegen – Wardruna

This is the second of four songs by Wardruna that are on this list (previous one is at #43). I’m not sure how this has happened. I’m guessing it is because when I listen to one song by them I have the tendency to just let most, if not all of the songs on the selected album play. ‘Helvegen’ reminds me of a funeral procession, though not exactly a mournful one. The Norwegian-to-English lyrics have a lot of weight to them, like this section: “Who shall sing me, Into deathsleep sling me. Whence I on the path to Hel go. And this track I tread. Is cold, so cold, so cold.” The Gregorian chant-style vocals really makes the song reverberate, along with Wardruna’s usual, yet original folk-style music.

23. Oh Miah – Blackmill

Blackmill is another music find that I discovered via Pandora. Electronic music has a lot of genres and subgenres. Yet when it comes to chill electronic music, you can’t do any better than Blackmill. So it wasn’t a surprise to see that Blackmill has two songs on this list (the other is ranked #42). ‘Oh Miah’ is a soothing and sensual mix of atmospheric sound, with vibrating vocals and a dreamy electronic backing (keyboards, synthesizer, electric guitar). If you’re going to take a dive into Blackmill’s music catalog, you can’t go wrong by starting with this sublime track.

22. Wolves – Kanye West

There are songs by Kanye West that I like, but I’m not a Kanye fan. As a result, here’s another song on this list that I’m not sure how it made the cut. Again, just because I’m surprised it’s on the list, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve to be here. I’ve always liked the robotic, stop-and-start sound of the song, which goes well with Kanye’s calm, yet reflective rap style. Also, the hollowness and stark techno sound are nicely-complemented by Vic Mensa and Sia‘s backing vocals. It’s a somber song, lacking the usual antsy and bravado that infiltrate most of West’s songs, which makes it float around in your head a little longer.

21. Fast Lane – Bilal

The first time I heard this song was on an episode of the long-cancelled NBC Show, ‘Boomtown.’ I completely forgot that I liked it, when out-of-the-blue it wiggled its way back in my head. I was so happy about it that I played this song on Spotify quite a bit. Interestingly enough, when I think of Bilal, this isn’t the song that comes to mind (it’s actually another song by him, ranked #35 on this list). Though at times I think the song tries too hard to be all things (R&B, hiphop, old school), it’s still a good musical outing by Bilal and for those coming to his music for the first-time.

20. Number One – Koven

Koven is a good group to start with you if you’re an electronic, melodic music newbie. The vocals (Katie Boyle) and production (Matt Rowat) make for a good, electronic music version of alternative rock with an anthem feel to it. The lyrics to the song are straight-forward such as “No thought for anyone. Not giving a damn who you step on. Looking out for number one. The only thing that matters to you is what you want”, but Boyles’ vocals puts some nice, splendid-sounding heat to them.

19. Drunk On Your Love – Brett Eldredge

This is definitely a feel-good song about love. The chorus is just joyful: “I woke up, up still drunk, drunk. On your love, love, on your love, love, love. Now I know whyy, I’m feeling so high, high. ‘Cause I’m still drunk, drunk on your love, on your love, oh yeah.” I’ve gotten looks when I’ve blasted this song while driving my car, the ‘That black chick is listening to country music!’ type of stares. Whatever, a good song is a good song, doesn’t matter the genre. The sweet-sounding harmonica and guitar along with Edredge’s full-of-warmth voice is why I’ve yet to get tired of this song, to my husband’s distress.

18. Man of the Year – ScHoolboy Q

This must be a good rap song, because the female-butts-bouncing-in-slo-mo video (not the one above) didn’t deter me from it. SchHoolboy Q has a bit of a fast rap style that kind of side-swipes you, in that it may take a few listens to fully grasp what you’re hearing, lyrics-wise, let alone trying to rap along with him. Luckily, his melodic style is catchy, which means you’ll eventually pick-up on all the words that are flying at you. The sample he uses (‘Cherry‘ by The Chromatics) helps set the beat and mood for this song, with Schoolboy’s rap bouncing readily along with it.

17. Let Me Go – Maverick Sabre

This is the second of three songs by Maverick Sabre (a previous one is ranked #31) that are on this list. It is also the song that truly turned me into a big Maverick Sabre fan. I love the retro, 1960s James Bond-theme music sound of it, aided by its samples of Issac Hayes’ ‘Ike’s Rap II‘ and Simon Haseley’s ‘Hammerhead.’ Of course Maverick’s one-of-a-kind singing and rapping style adds to the slickness and coolness of the song. I really like the verse “You made me feel, you understand. With you I won’t be, a better man” in that the simple word “won’t” changes the whole meaning of what seems like a typical song verse. I honestly don’t get why he’s not as well-known as he deservedly should be. His music style crosses a lot of genres, yet he still puts his own stamp on it. Plus he can actually sing and rap, normally it’s one or the other. On a side note, the video for this song is pretty good, in that it tells a story from beginning to end. You don’t really see music videos do that anymore.

16. Cigarettes – Noah Gundersen

Another repeat artist on this list (previous songs are ranked #48 and #41). Gundersen is such a strong lyricist, combine that with his earnest vocals, you get a fantastic song such as ‘Cigarettes.’ Yes, he’s metaphorically comparing a woman he loves to cigarettes (“Once you had me, you don’t have me anymore. I don’t crave you in the morning or at the company store. I don’t use you to escape, in my fingers out the door. Once you had me, you don’t have me anymore.”), but the song is more than that. It starts kind of quietly, with a mournful harmonica and an acoustic guitar, Gundersen and a female background vocalist. Then at 4:30 it kind of crescendos in which other instruments follow-along with Gundersen until the end of what’s a sad, yet also kind of uplifting song in that the protagonist has finally moved on from an unhealthy love. Gundersen’s vocals are the shining moment of this song, which he never fails to put to excellent use, especially live.

15. Come Fly Away – Maverick Sabre

This is the third and highest-ranked song by Maverick that is on this list (others are at #31 and #17). It was the first single he released from his contemplative second album, ‘Innerstanding.’ He actually sings a lot more on this album, which is a bit unusual in that he normally bounces back-and-forth between singing and rapping in his songs. From what I can tell, he hasn’t used any samples as well, it sounds just like a band in the background. The song is about life and how it can beat you down, which he laments with his strong vocals during the chorus (“Come fly away somewhere. Been here for days wanting. And nothing has changed for you. You’re tired and you don’t want to live like this.”). This is another song by Maverick Sabre that I’ve played endlessly. It’s that good.

14. Hunger of the Pine – alt-J

English band alt-J’s sound is a mix of indie rock and folk with sometimes a hint of electronic music (dub and pop) via their synthesizers. Don’t let the latter use give you the impression that they’re heavy music samplers. In ‘Hunger of the Pine’ the only sample you hear is Miley Cyrus singing ‘I’m a female rebel’, the rest is all alt-J. According to band member Gus Unger-Hamilton, “The lyrics [to ‘Hunger of the Pine’] mainly suggest the idea that missing someone — pining — can be a physical pain much like hunger.” The song has a stark and futuristic vibe with slightly uncomfortable lyrics, all of which makes it worth a listen.

13. Without – Sampha

I’ll refrain from waxing poetic, again, about how much I listen to Sampha, which is exemplified by the fact that this is the second of three songs (previous one is at #36) of his that are on this list. I just love his mix of R&B, pop and electronic music that flows with his soft, yet raspy vocals. The samples he uses are so seamless that sometimes I forget that they’re samples and not an actual band. ‘Without You’ is about someone in love with another, but not sure how much they should show it. It has such pointed lines such as “I can’t stay forever. But if this would go straight. I conquered the catastrophe.” A lot of people are still sleeping on this talented artist. Here’s your chance to no longer be one of them.

12. Isa – Wardruna

This the third of five songs by Warduna on this list (previous songs are ranked #43 and #24). I honestly can count on one hand how many times I’ve purposely selected this song via Spotify or on my iPhone because I wanted to listen to it. So if I had to pick any song on this list that I’m completely confused about how it made the cut, it’s this one. When I looked at my Spotify downloads I see that it follows ‘Laukr’ (#10 on this list), so I can only assume this is another song that I just let play after hearing the song I chose to listen to. ‘Isa’ isn’t a bad song, it hits all of the usual musical notes (hypnotic vocals, atmospheric vibe, New Age/Norwegian folk sound) for this band. It’s just that they’ve done better ones.

11. Work It Out (Live) – Tye Tribbett

The main reason why I love this song is that it never fails to lift my spirits. I’m religiously-ambivalent and I’m not a fan of a lot of the new gospel music. The lyrics to ‘Work It Out’ aren’t exactly original theme-wise, if you’ve listened to gospel music over the years (“The enemy tryna make you feel like pain will be (always). But you know like I know that trouble will never last (always). So hold ya head up high. God is on your side. And He loves you. And He cares.”). However, Tribbett and his background vocalists put a lot of emotion and gusto into this song, which adds to its inspirational tone. Plus, you have to give Tribbett props for making great use of trap music style for a gospel song, definitely not a style you hear in gospel music. Note: I stumbled across this video by Lifeline Dance Ministry, who do a wonderful dance set to this song. The women kick-butt and the audience loved it.

10. Laukr – Wardruna

This is the fourth Wardruna song on this list (previous ones are ranked #43, #24 and #12). It is also the first song I had ever heard from Wardruna. I was watching The History Channel’s ‘Vikings’ and this mournful song came on. The show barely went to commercial over before I hit-up my laptop to find out the name of the group. This song is all about sorrow, which you hear in the brief lyrics (Danish to English translation): “Laukr is water tears from the eye waterfalls from mountains drops from ice waves on water. The waves rock me and deeply, I fall asleep.” The song has an end-of-days feel to it, yet it’s somehow not depressing

9. Wait For It (Hamilton Soundtrack) – Leslie Odom, Jr.

Odom, Jr. deserves all the kudos in the world for his stellar rendition of this lyrically intricate song written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the Tony Award-Winning Broadway musical, ‘Hamilton.’ I’m sure when Odom first saw the words to this song, he probably thought ‘There is now way I’m going to be able to sing this without f*cking it up!’ Well, maybe he didn’t think that exactly, but I’m sure that sentiment has crossed the minds of vocalists when tackling this song. Luckily for Odom, it became one of, if not the biggest song from the musical. Odom’s vocals are so clear, crisp and soaring in this song. He starts kind of slow and gentle, but when he gets to the part “I am the one thing in life I can control” is when you really recognize how special his voice is and the song. ‘Wait For It’ and Odom, are a show-stopper, plain and simple.

8. All Hands On Desk – Tinashe

Tinashe can sing and dance, and has been pretty busy putting out music. Yet, she hasn’t come close to re-capturing the pumpin’ vibe on this R&B/electronic music jam. I must admit the captivating video (wide-screen shot of dancers in cargo holds, the choreography), at first, did increase my interest in the song. However, in the end, her crisp, sexy vocals and the catchy beat ruled the day. Plus, I love singing the chorus: “All hands on deck. All in front all in the back just like that, like that. Imma blow your mind take it out on the floor like that, like that. Imma blow your mind like that.” It’s a song that will get you moving whether you’re in the dance club or home alone remembering the last time you went to a club.

7. Nara – alt-J

This is the second of two songs from alt-J on this list. I would’ve never guessed that two songs from alt-J would be on this list, let alone one of them being in the Top 10. Of the two songs, I actually prefer ‘Hunger of the Pine’ (#14 on this list) over ‘Nara’, not that the latter is musically inferior to the former. Lyrically, this song, which seems to be about a love between two men, is less dense than most songs by this group. As for the vocals, I really like the high falsetto parts, which make for a nice contrast to the semi-eerie music. If I was going to introduce someone to alt-J’s music, this song wouldn’t be the first one I would play for them. I’m not sure if it’s a good representation of their music catalog, but it’s definitely not a bad one either.

6. 4 Degrees – ANOHNI

It’s kind of weird to enjoy a song that’s about the annihilation of nature due to global warming (“I wanna hear the dogs crying for water. I wanna see fish go belly-up in the sea. All those lemurs and all those tiny creatures. I wanna see them burn, it’s only four degrees”). Yet, Anohni somehow accomplishes such a feat on this song, with her soft and lilting singing-style, which somehow isn’t drowned out by the glorious techno bombast of the layered horns, drums and keyboards. It’s a nice mash-up of pop, dance and electronic music with a serious message that doesn’t get lost, mainly due to Anohni’s haunting, yet succinct vocals.

5. Doesn’t Matter – Andrew Huang

Huang is an unknown and unsigned music artist and video producer. According to his website “[Huang] has released over 2,000 songs in a massive range of genres. He is perhaps best known for the strange feats of musicianship which have earned him over 1.3 million subscribers and 170 million views on his YouTube channel.” So, how did I first hear about Andrew Huang? I was on Soundcloud, letting music play randomly, when I heard ‘Doesn’t Matter’, which immediately caught my attention. The pumping sound right at the beginning sets the tone for the entire song. It is a funky, electronic music jam, that will have your head-nodding and body-popping.

4. Kiss It Better – Rihanna

Rihanna’s music never really made a mark with me until I heard several tracks from her ‘ANTI‘ album. It’s a really strong album, and ‘Kiss It Better’ is stellar. Her reedy vocal style blends really well with the soaring electronic music on this Prince-like song. You can tell she really likes this song because her vocals are a lot firmer on here than I’ve heard on her previous songs, especially when she sings (or practically laments): “I’ve been waiting up all night. Baby, tell me what’s wrong. Go on and make it right. Make it all night long. Man, fuck your pride. Just take it on back, just take it on back babe. Take it back all night. Just take it on back, take it on back. Ooh do what you gotta do, keep me up all night (all night). Hurting vibe, man, and it hurts inside when I look you in your eye.” It’s ridiculous that this song wasn’t a massive hit, because it’s a damn good one.

3. UruR – Wardruna

The last and the highest of the five Wardruna songs that are on this list (others are at #43, #24, #12 and #10). I like this group, but I don’t love them, though the algorithm used to create this Spotify list would claim otherwise. However, what it did get right, data-wise, is that this is my favorite Wardruna song. It has a trance-like, stealth vibe that is really compelling, along with the call-to-arms horns, resonating drums and deep, chanting vocals. Whenever I listen to it, I find myself stomping along to the beat as I close my eyes and let the song take me away to wherever Wardruna emotionally-goes when it plays this song.

2. Fire Away – Chris Stapleton

I played this song so much that my then-preteen song knew most of the words, which was not something he was trying to achieve. Stapleton’s vocals on this song are sorrowful and sincere that you almost forget that he’s accompanied by a band. Right from the beginning, the lyrics set the tone for the song: “Honey load up your questions and pick up your sticks and your stones. And pretend I’m a shelter for heartaches that don’t have a home.” The rest of the song tells a story about someone who has taken an emotional beating from a loved one and/or has put them through the wringer. Yet, they’re still trying to stick around, to be there for them to the very end. ‘Fire Away’ shows why Stapleton has been crowned the savior of country music, though it’s a crown he doesn’t want. He’s a talented singer and musician, not just a country artist, which is exemplified by his gritty cover of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares to You’ – and the fact he has three songs (others are at #49 and #28) on this list.

1. Incomplete Kisses – Sampha

When I first decided to take on this musical task, I had no doubt that this song was going to be at the top of the list. If it wasn’t, I would’ve called total bullsh*t on the algorithm and this article would’ve never existed.  This is the third song by Sampha on this list (the other two are at #36 and #13), though I’m mildly surprised that there weren’t a few more since I listen to his music a lot. However, ‘Incomplete Kisses’ is the one I’ve constantly come back to, and for good reason. There is a softness to this song in that it makes me feel good whenever I hear it. Musically, the electronic-piercing keyboard sound adds to Sampha’s gentle vocals and tender lyrics. I’m sure my family can’t wait until I finally get tired of it, though I honestly don’t see that ever happening.

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PLAYLIST: My ‘Top 50 Most Played Songs’ On Spotify 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hollywood’s ‘Asian’ Shuffle And The Overlooked Jason Scott Lee

Updated May 25, 2018

On the Hollywood food chain it seems that Asian actors are “lint” or maybe “less than lint” – to borrow a line from the 1998 movie Dave.

Like Asian actors, Black actors and actresses always lament, with good reason, the lack of roles that are offered to him. They complain about being pigeon-holed into the usual stereotypical roles such as street thugs, sexy divas, loudmouths, wife abusers and the religious matriarch. Sometimes they’re offered good roles because the casting people, fortunately, came down with a case of color-blindness

Jason Scott Lee as "Detective Kaleo" in 'Hawaii Five-0' (2011)

Jason Scott Lee as “Detective Kaleo” in ‘Hawaii Five-0’ (2011)

But compared to what is offered to Asian actors (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, etc.) Black actors have a plethora of acting roles. Asian actresses are mainly cast in subservient roles such as the quiet, dutiful wife or  sexually-submissive girlfriend or prostitute. Sandra Oh’s strong and complex character “Dr. Yang” from the television series Grey’s Anatomy being one of the few exceptions to this rule.

Asian actors may, arguably, have more work opportunities than compared to their female counterparts, but the acting stereotypes are still there. Asian males are chosen to play roles that require them to be martial art experts, lords of wisdom, honor-bound samurais, extremely-strict fathers or stressed-out, academic over-achievers with nerd-like qualities. Mostly they’re cast as what I refer to as the “Five O’s”: obstinate fathers, omnipotent fighters, overly dutiful sons, obsequious man-servants or old wise men.

Jason Scott Lee as 'Bruce Lee' in "Dragon: The Bruce See Story" (1994)

Jason Scott Lee as ‘Bruce Lee’ in “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” (1994)

But for a brief moment in 1993 there was an Asian actor, Jason Scott Lee, who could have become a major star. Within a two-month period of that year he was in two films – a romantic drama as a WWII pilot the other as the iconic actor and martial arts expert Bruce Lee (no relation). The latter film did cast him as an Asian playing a famous Asian, but he was so much more than that as an actor. He should’ve been so much more.

Unfortunately, Hollywood just wasn’t ready. Hell, it still isn’t ready, though Asian actors keep trying. But sometimes I’m sure they feel like Sisyphus with that damn rock – constantly pushing at it, only for it to roll down and over them time and again.

In the Not So Distant Beginning

Mickey Rooney as 'Mr. Yunioshi' in "Breakfast At Tiffany's" (1961)

Mickey Rooney as ‘Mr. Yunioshi’ in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” (1961)

Most of us have seen one or more racist Asian stereotypes in movies and films during our lifetime. I can’t recall the first one that I saw, but there are some I haven’t forgotten. Mickey Rooney’s visually and stereotypically buffoonish and obviously myopic Chinese servant in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Gedde Watanabe cringe-worthy role in Sixteen Candles as the Chinese exchange student whose English and social skills are child-like and idiotic.

Of course there was also David Carradine in the television series Kung Fu as “Kwai Chang Caine” an Amerasian shaolin monk skilled in Buddhism and martial arts spreading his mysticism throughout the American West. “Kwai” was originally written to be Chinese and was to star Bruce Lee who had cut his teeth in television as martial arts crime fighter “Kato” in the Green Hornet. Not surprisingly, Lee ended up going overseas in order to become a ‘star’ in Hollywood, albeit a posthumous one.

Bruce Lee in action from 'Enter the Dragon' (1973)

Bruce Lee in action from ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973)

It has still been a very tough road for Asian actors since Bruce Lee. Over the past twenty to thirty years a select few East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.) actors born in or  outside the U.S. have entered the entertainment mainstream via television and/or feature films with various levels of visibility and success. Actors such as Chow Yun Fat (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jackie Chan (Rush Hour films), Jet Li (Romeo Must Die), Daniel Dae Kim (Lost, Hawaii Five-O), Russell Wong (Joy Luck Club), Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and John Cho (Harold & Kumar films)

However, most owe their career livelihood to the martial arts and/or action-film genre. Asian male actors who can’t, won’t or don’t do martial arts exclusively – who primarily just ‘act’ seem to be few and far in between.

Gedde Watanabe as 'Luk Duk Dong' in "Sixteen Candles" (1984)

Gedde Watanabe as ‘Luk Duk Dong’ in “Sixteen Candles” (1984)

Back in the late 1980s Jason Scott Lee (JSL), an American actor of Chinese-Hawaiian descent was probably aware of the Hollywood odds. He started with small roles in television series such as Matlock and Wolf. He lucked out with a few television movies and small-to-major films such as The Lookalike, Born in East L.A. and Back To The Future II.

According to Internet Movie Database, JSL had acting gigs in only nine television  and movies between 1987 and 1993, with 1993 being his breakout year. However, things were about to change, at least they should have changed, according to every happy-ever-after story in Hollywood.

A Double Film Slam Dunk

In April 1993 a small film called Map of the Human Heart was released which was followed in May by Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Both films happened to star JSL in lead roles.

Map of the Human Heart was a romantic drama that takes place in the 1930s in which JSL played Avik, a Canadian Innuit who joins the Royal Canadian Air Force as a bomber pilot. The film revolves around his childhood then adult love for a French-Indian girl played by Anne Parillaud and the impact of his WWII actions – especially the firebombing of Dresden, Germany –  had on his emotional well-being after the war. In the film you get to see JSL in various stages of his life, as a cocky pilot, man in love, shell-shocked war veteran and a despondent alcoholic. One of the stand-out scenes in the film is of Jason Scott Lee and Parillaud naked, making love on top of a barrage balloon. Seeing an Asian male actor in such an obviously romantic film scene is a rare occurrence.

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert said that JSL ” brings a joy and freshness to the early scenes, and makes a good contrast to the older Avik, who has lost his way.” Ebert concluded that ‘Map of the Human Heart’ was “one of the year’s (1993) best films” and gave it four stars.  The film only made little over $2 million, but it was critically-acclaimed and JSL received excellent reviews.

A month later JSL was on the screen again in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. The film was based on the book Bruce Lee: The Man I Only Knew by his widow, Linda Lee Caldwell. The semi-biographical film chronicled Bruce Lee’s childhood and young adult years in Hong Kong (though he was born in the U.S.); his move to San Francisco, going to college, meeting his wife and having a family, creating the martial art Jeet Kuen Do and his television and film work up until his death after filming Enter the Dragon, a marital arts classic.  Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story had an epic Hollywood biographical tone that played a bit loose with the facts (i.e. he hurt his back lifting weights, not in a battle defending his martial arts creation). However, it also delved into the racial hardships Lee faced as an Asian-American trying to become an American success story.

JSL struck the right tone for the movie which showed his physical prowess (he learned martial arts for the film), comedic timing, dramatic skills all while handling a love story. The film did well, pulling in $35 million at the box-office – a much better haul than Map of the Human Heart.

Roger Ebert said JSL was a “gifted young actor” who like Bruce Lee “use film to give them power over time and space.” Desson Howe of the Washington Post said it’s “[JSL’s] acting that makes “Dragon” so watchable – that “[w]ith a personality like firecrackers, he charms and crackles his way through this movie.”

One can’t help but think that parts of Jason Scott Lee’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Dragon reflected his own experiences dealing with racism. Yes, the movie wasn’t completely accurate in its telling of Lee’s story, but JSL made you believe you were watching Bruce Lee. Jason Scott Lee is powerful and electric in the scene (video below) in which, as Bruce Lee, he rages against Hollywood’s racist treatment of him and Asian actors. You can’t help but wonder if some of JSL’s experience with Hollywood helped him bring such anger, passion and hurt to the climatic scene.

Pete Rainer of the Los Angeles Times summed up what most movie critics and film goers thought of JSL at that time”:

“What’s exciting about “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” is that, in Jason Scott Lee, the movie has created a new star out of an old star. The film is a tribute to Bruce Lee but it’s also a tribute to the transforming powers of performance. Lee does justice to Bruce Lee while, at the same time, creating a character out of his own fierce resources. He is, quite literally, smashing.”

After I saw both of these films I kept my eye on Jason Scott Lee, hoping against hope that he would blow-up, big-time on the silver screen. I remembered how Daniel Day-Lewis in 1985-1986 had an actor’s year similar to JSL. Daniel Day-Lewis played played a working-class, gay man in an interracial relationship in My Beautiful Laundrette and then followed that up with a role as a proper upper -class gentleman in Room With A View. Hollywood definitely took notice of Day-Lewis’ diverse acting skills. Maybe the same could happen to Jason Scott Lee.

In reality, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Jason Scott Lee probably knew it too.

Sound and Fury – Then Nothing

After the banner year of 1993 things were pretty quiet work-wise for Jason Scott Lee. Between 1994 and 2013 he was cast in approximately 25 roles, mostly small parts in television shows (The Hunger, Hawaii Five-0), voice-over work (Lilo & Stitich), low budget-films (Tale of the Mummy) and straight-to-video films (Timecop:The Berlin Decision).

Jason Scott Lee as "Noro" in 'Rapa Nui' (Photo/Foto Cinema, 1993)

Jason Scott Lee as “Noro” in ‘Rapa Nui’ (Photo/Foto Cinema, 1993)

He had some screen time in four big-budget films during this period; two of which he was the lead actor – 1994’s Rapa Nui and The Jungle Book. He played an Eastern Island warrior finding love amidst a civil war and a jungle boy raised by wolves, respectively. Not much of a casting stretch for Hollywood. As for the cinematic quality of these films – the less said about them the better.

After Rapa Nui and Jungle Book he didn’t work for three years. Whether this was on purpose or not, it’s hard to determine. Maybe Jason Scott Lee had simply had enough. In between his sporadic television and film work JSL kept busy with local Hawaiian theater, personal documentaries and working on his martial arts skills

Unfortunately what happened to Jason Scott Lee happens to a lot of actors, Asians and non-Asians, so it’s nothing new. But it’s still a shame nonetheless, given his talent.

In December 2010 Jason Scott Lee was interviewed by Guy Aoki, writer for Rafu Shimpo, a Los Angeles Japanese News Daily. Aoki asked JSL if he had been too “selective” in the mid-1990s about the type of roles he wanted. JSL said:

“Back in the ’90s, my effort was to do films with meaningful content, which I believe is still the goal of many artists in Hollywood. For an Asian American actor, it’s that much more difficult. I had a tough time back then accepting the redundant action hero opportunities that were placed before me. It now makes me realize that ‘Dragon’ was somewhat before its time, and trying to find a challenge that would capitalize on that performance was completely non-existent. I’m hoping to find positive challenges in the current situation of movie making.”

I have watched Map of the Human Heart and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story several times over the years. I still shake my head at Hollywood’s missed opportunity. It almost makes you want to keep your fingers crossed for every ‘person of color’ actor and actress trying to make it in Hollywood because the opportunities are few and the chances for success are even fewer.

Most don’t make it or if they do, they end up catching fire quickly or only for a moment. But then the embers don’t last and the smoke eventually goes away. Just ask Jason Scott Lee.

Notes: 1) You can watch Map of the Human Heart in its entirety here and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story here. 2) In this 2016 CGTN America video, Jason Scott Lee talks about whitewashing (casting of white actors in Asian roles) in Hollywood. 3) See articles/links below to learn more about racial stereotypes, whitewashing and ethnic assumptions in Hollywood casting (and beyond).

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Actors of Color on Racial Stereotypes (Film Courage) – A seven-part video series in which you hear from Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native American men and women discussing their journey, frustrations, surprises and heartaches as they navigate being an actor/actress of color in Hollywood whose default casting is always white.

Black Actors Are Too Often Overlooked. It’s Even Worse for Other Ethnic Minorities (The Guardian) – A British/Asian perspective on the difficulties actors of color in England have in getting work, especially since, according to research by the British Film Institute “[60%] of British films made in the past 10 years [2005-2015] featured no named characters portrayed by black actors. Just 13% starred a black actor in a leading role.”

11 Stereotypes Black Actors Must Play Laid Out in One Scathing Takedown (IndieWire) – “Mamoudou N’Diaye has no need to make an audition reel; the actor has perfected every role he will ever need to play in Hollywood. In a hilarious and scathing parody for Mic, N’Diaye runs through the offensive and reductive stereotypes that too often pigeonhole black talent.”

For Older Actors of Color, The Movement for A More Diverse Hollywood Has Come Too Late (Washington Post) – Jenifer Lewis (Black-ish) discusses being an older actress of color in the era of Hollywood’s trumpeted march towards diversification. The noteworthy comment in the article is when Lewis is asked if actresses like herself “feel reflected” in such diversity efforts. She said “not particularly” because nonwhite actresses of her generation have “no real voice.”

Forget Playing Terrorist No. 3. Middle Eastern Actors Seek Roles Beyond Hollywood Stereotypes (Los Angeles Times) – “Actors, especially those from Africa and Arab states, often contend with Western screenwriters and studios that have reduced a complex world to cursory and at times racist story lines that seldom differentiate between a Shiite or a Sunni Muslim, much less between a Pakistani or a Kuwaiti.”

From Breakfast At Tiffany’s to Hellboy: The Ongoing Problem of Hollywood ‘Whitewashing‘ (Independent) – “Whitewashing is not new. It was a common practice in classical Hollywood, where some of its most egregious examples include John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror and Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audiences know instinctively that whitewashing is bad – hence the criticisms of other whitewashing films and the resulting hashtag #StarringJohnCho that went viral in spring 2016. As a cultural practice, having white people play, replace and stereotype characters of colour obscures and erases their history, agency and power.”

Hollywood Movies Still Stereotype LGBT Characters, Depict ‘Gay Panic Scenes’ (The Wrap) – Article discusses how lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender characters are mostly missing-in-action in films, and when they do appear it’s for laughs or fear of gay people or being viewed as being gay. “Leaving LGBT people out of the picture — or including them only as a punchline — keeps old prejudices alive and creates an unsafe environment, not only here in America, but around the world,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in an introduction to the annual Studio Responsibility Index.”

Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans (Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia) – Concise and digestible research paper that “[identifies] seven historical racial stereotypes of African-Americans and demonstrate that many of these distorted images still exist in society today. Additionally, strategies for intervention and the implications of this exploration into racial stereotypes will be presented.”

‘We’re the geeks, the prostitutes’: Asian American Actors on Hollywood’s Barriers (The Guardian) – “While much of the recent debate around Asian representation in Hollywood has centered on whitewashing – when white actors are cast to tell Asian stories – working actors said a lack of opportunity was only one part of the problem. Asian American actors said they rarely, if ever, got auditions for leading roles, and when they did get parts, they were frequently secondary to the plot or portrayed offensive tropes.”

Why I Won’t Wear War Paint and Feathers In A Movie Again (Time) – Actor Brian Young (Navajo) discusses his experience in Hollywood and the industry’s racist history when portraying Native Americans.

Yellowface is a bad look, Hollywood (Vox) – The video provides a nice overview of Hollywood’s history of casting whites as Asians in its movies. As the video states “Scarlett Johansson’s casting in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is just one of the latest examples of a white actor playing an Asian character, a practice that goes back to the earliest days of Hollywood. These casting decisions have made Asians invisible at best and, at worst, the butt of a cruel joke.”

 

 

Take the ‘Knowledge Road’ Less Traveled For Black History Month 24/7/365

Black History is American History

Post updated February 1, 2018

Black History Month is a wonderful time in February (though it shouldn’t be the only time) for people to increase their knowledge and awareness of the significant and ongoing contributions African-Americans have made to American society and its culture.

Unfortunately, celebration of the month has become stuck in the mud topic-wise for quite some time. The same historical facts and biographies are trotted out time and again ad nauseam. Martin Luther King. Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X. The Civil War. Thurgood Marshall. School Desegregation. Frederick Douglas. The Voting Rights Act. Rosa Parks. Slavery. I Have A Dream.

As a result and not surprisingly, important African-American figures, historical events, work and legislation that have had an impact on Black Americans and the United States have become muted or an afterthought.

Of course there will always be those, young or old, who learn something new during the month which will resonate with them. However, there are others who find Black History Month (BHM) no longer interesting because for them it has turned into a form of ’28 Days of Trivia’ instead of it being a deeper dive into the ‘Black History’ knowledge pool.

For those individuals who need a history recharge or just want to learn something new, YETBW is here for you. Below is a list of articles, audio/interviews, books, documentaries and movies that is off-the-Black-History-Month-beaten-path. Learn and enjoy – not just during the month of February.

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AUDIO, VIDEO AND MULTIMEDIA

William A. Scott, WWII servicemen interviewed by U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (Image taken from October 1981 interview)

William A. Scott, WWII serviceman interviewed by U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (Image taken from October 1981 interview)

WWII Black Soldiers In Europe. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum interviewed several U.S. black servicemen who served throughout Europe during World War II. The soldiers discuss their experiences dealing with racism from American white soldiers and those soldiers who served under Nazi Germany. As historian Stephen Ambrose has said “[Black] soldiers were fighting the world’s worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world’s most segregated army…[t]he irony did not go unnoticed.” Besides instances of racial conflict, you also hear about the soldiers’ combat experience, serving under General Patton, the impact of seeing German labor and concentration camps and even the mundane such as trying to line up a date. More than half a million Black Americans served overseas in various parts of Europe but their stories aren’t mentioned as much as they should be in WWII lore. Hearing these oral histories is more than worthwhile and keeps their history alive.

Dr. King gives his speech 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' in Memphis the day before he was assassinated. (Photo: Archie E. Allen, April 3, 1968)

Dr. King gives his speech ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ the day before he was assassinated. (Photo: Archie E. Allen, April 3, 1968)

I’ve Been To the Mountaintop.’  Yes, it’s a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but it’s one that is shamefully overlooked. He made this speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers. It was also on the night before he was assassinated. It is such a personal and powerful speech; more like a sermon. It’s not uplifting and hopeful like his most famous speech ‘I Have A Dream’ which he gave in 1963. By 1968 he was on a different path and you can hear it in the words and tone of this speech. He is contemplative and tired; not sure how long he has to keep fighting, but he hasn’t laid down his gloves. The words in the last part of the speech are eery in hindsight, yet joyful given the fact that he was speaking on the eve of his death. When he loudly proclaims “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” it will make your hair stand on end.

Isom Moseley, October, 1939 (Image: Library of Congress )

Isom Moseley, October, 1939 (Image: Library of Congress)

Voices From the Days of Slavery. During Black History Month you hear about the topic of slavery, but you don’t hear much from or about the people who actually lived it. The Library of Congress’ ‘Voices From the Days of Slavery has “almost seven hours of recorded interviews [that] took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom.” Unfortunately, the quality isn’t top-notch, but it’s still worth a listen. Not everyday you get a chance to listen to people who lived through one of the harshest and inglorious periods of American history.

BOOKS AND ARTICLES

Bloods: An Oral History of Black Vietnam Veterans Bloods: Black Veterans of Vietnam War: An Oral History. Unfortunately, the history of Black Veterans is woefully minimal and marginalized, as if they weren’t part of America’s military or war efforts. The twenty veterans in this book (from private first class to colonels, poor to middle-class, all parts of the U.S.) tell their stories of what is was like fighting in Vietnam and the impact it has had on them. You also hear about how they dealt with being a Black American in the U.S. military while living in a country that was going through major racial and cultural upheaval. You can feel their pride, pain, confusion, cynicism and disillusionment concerning the war and themselves. Their stories and experiences are sad, dark, humorous, violent, insightful, and poignant. Terry did an amazing job of putting these stories together without getting in the way of the storytellers. This book is a classic and will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.

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Vicki Thompson-Simmons and her sister, Lynda Thompson-Lindsay, manage the Lawrence H. Woodward Funeral Home (Photo: Dave Sanders/The New York Times)

Dignity in Death for Black Families at a Brooklyn Funeral Home. This article encompasses so much, so well. Readers will learn about the important role black funeral homes have played in the Black Community through the eyes and work of the two women who manage the Lawrence H. Woodward Funeral Home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Vicki Thompson-Simmons and her sister, Lynda Thompson-Lindsay understand the seriousness of their work, its legacy and the emotions that come with it while doing their best to honor the dead and their loved ones. It is a wonderful, informative and heartfelt piece. Simply put, it is more than just about the management of a black funeral home.

The Bluest Eye book cover The Bluest Eye. Morrison has written other well-known books, but this Nobel Prize-winning title shows her at her writing best. It’s the story about an 11-year-old African-American girl named Pecola, growing up in 1940s Ohio who feels inferior because of her skin and eye color. She’s constantly being told she’s ‘ugly’ so she keeps wishing she had blue eyes so that she would be deemed worthy. Controversy has followed this book since its 1970 publication because it deals with racism, pedophilia and rape, all experienced by the main character. The story isn’t just about Pecola, but also her parents – their marital fights, their frustrations living in a mostly white community; her dad’s volatility, her mom working as a servant to a white family. Sometimes the various stories are told matter-of-factly, in a childish tone or in a harsh, painful or surreal manner. Morrison deals with the uncomfortable issues surrounding black vs. white beauty and the bitter reality of Black Americans in early/mid-twentieth century America. It’s a complex book that can be a challenge to read, but it’s worth the effort.

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography. Ralph Abernathy played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement in that he worked closely with Dr. King and was viewed as his successor after King’s death. Yet Abernathy, like many others involved with Dr. King saw their involvement in the Movement overlooked and sometimes forgotten. When this autobiography was originally published in 1989 many African-Americans, Black leaders and other activists were apoplectic about Abernathy airing Dr. King’s ‘dirty laundry’ (i.e., he regularly cheated on his wife, used expletives, wasn’t always a nice person, FBI was spying on him) instead of simply writing about King’s humanity and his tireless civil rights work. Many thought Abernathy had an ax to grind; that he was finally showing his jealousy about King and bitterness over his limited post-Movement success. Maybe some or all of the accusations are true, but this book is still a must-read in that you get an insider view, warts and all, about the people within King’s circle, the actions and decision-making process of other well-known black leaders, the roles played by politicians, governmental actions and the struggles and triumphs of the Movement. As a result of this book future publications on King and the Civil Rights Movement stepped back from the deification of both by providing more insight than reflexive accolades, which is a good thing.

Kindred is the kind of book that will resonate with you long after you’ve read it. Imagine being a black woman in 1976, living in California and about to celebrate your 26th birthday with your new husband when suddenly you’re away pulled away through time and end-up on a pre-Civil War southern plantation where slavery is alive and well? Though time travel is somewhat of a stereotypical science-fiction trope, Butler uses it as a tool, not as a story gimmick. As Dana tries to survive in the slave era you learn about what it meant to be a slave: the fear, the beatings, the rapes, the humiliations – of being seen and treated as being not human. Butler makes you feel everything that Dana is thinking as she tries to deal with the impact of moving between time-periods at a moment’s notice – wondering how long she will be there upon each ‘visit’ and if/when she will ever return home. Octavia E. Butler has written other books and has been called the ‘grand dame of science fiction,’ but the quiet intensity of Kindred is her crowning achievement and should be on everyone’s ‘must read’ list.

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‘The Case for Reparations’ (Photos/Carlos Javier Diaz, June 2014)

The Case for Reparations‘ by The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is a ten-part, heartbreaking magnum opus of an essay about why African-Americans should receive reparations from the United States. Coates argument is not based on slavery (which he doesn’t discuss as much given the article’s title) nor on how much money is ‘owed’ to Black Americans (which isn’t mentioned) but the long, cumulative effect of discrimination on generations of African-Americans. The article makes it case by interweaving the generational story of African-Americans and the obstacles they’ve faced (white supremacy, inequality, governmental discrimination) by way of Clyde Ross, a sharecropper’s son who escaped the Jim Crow South who ended up in Chicago fighting for black homeowners. Coates 15,000 word piece is dense in that you might find yourself having to revisit it after the first read, because there is so much interesting information, history and emotion in the piece. Whether you’re an opponent or proponent of reparations this article will give you a better and more complete understanding of the reparations argument.

DOCUMENTARIES, MOVIES, SHOWS AND PROGRAMS

Brother Outside: The Life of Bayard Rustin Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. The title of this documentary sadly sums up Bayard Rustin‘s life as a key member of the Civil Rights Movement. Besides being the chief organizer of the March on Washington and a major influence on CORE and SNCC activists he was also a leader in other movements such as socialism, non-violence and gay rights. It was that latter stance and the fact that he was gay that has kept Rustin out of most history books. Brother Outsider rectifies that mistake by giving viewers the opportunity to learn about a major civil rights player who was marginalized by most of the black civil rights community though they were more than willing to make use of his knowledge and planning skills. In 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House Press Release regarding Rustin’s award said he was “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.” Rustin should be more than just a historical footnote in the fight for civil rights and social justice. Note: The documentary is available in its entirety here via YouTube.

Unforgivable Blackness: Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Johnson didn’t act the way black people were supposed to act in the early part of the twentieth century. He didn’t know his ‘place’ and he eventually paid the price for it. But at one point in time Johnson was the  most fierce and dominant boxer that America had ever seen. He was the first African-American heavyweight champion who annihilated black and white opponents, the latter of which caused major debates amongst whites regarding black superiority and led to race riots. Add to that his unrepentant flashing of his success and riches while cutting a sexual and marital swath through a string of white women, Johnson was too much for many whites and blacks to handle. This documentary (based on the same-titled book by Geoffrey C. Ward) really digs into Johnson’s personal and professional history via archival film, photographs and interview with boxing experts. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate this film.

Boondocks Return of the King The Boondocks ‘Return of the King’ When ‘Boondocks,’ an animated show on the Cartoon Network, first broadcast ‘Return of the King’ the outrage came high and fast (though it did end-up winning the prestigious Peabody Award for ‘Best Storytelling‘). Mainly because Aaron McGruder, the show’s creator and writer had Dr. King dropping the n-word several times while raging against ‘shiftless Negroes.’ But the brouhaha obscured what the episode was really about – the reimagining of history. What if Dr. King wasn’t assassinated in 1968? What if he had just been shot; remained in a coma for 32 years and woke-up in 2000 America? The episode shows an aged King trying to adjust to the new media and culture that is just too loud and fast for him. Huey Freeman, Boondock’s 10-year old, socially-conscious main character sees King’s return as an opportunity for African-Americans to start a new revolution, but King and Huey soon realize that they have their work cut out for them. The episode is full of cynicism, along with anger, disgust and sadness, yet still hopeful. It is an enlightening, ballsy and fierce take on a historical icon and U.S. and African-American culture.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-6-06-02-pmThe Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Pittman is not an actual person nor was she based on a historical figure. She is the 110-year old black woman and protagonist in Ernest J. Gaines 1971 novel which was the basis for the same-titled movie. This 1974 television movie (made before the miniseries ‘Roots’) was ground-breaking in that it showed many facets of the African-American experience that was rarely seen in movies or on television, such as slavery, plantation life, lynchings and poverty. The viewer sees and hears about Pittman’s life as a slave girl during the Civil War era and up to and beyond the Civil Rights Movement. We also see America grappling with its racial, cultural and military wars amongst its black and white citizens.  It’s all done through the eyes and narration of an elderly woman who lets us know that she has seen, battled and lived a lot over her many decades. Cicely Tyson as Jane Pittman is simply fantastic in the film. She brings Pittman to life, so it’s understandable that people over the years have taken the movie and book title seriously and thought Pittman was a real person. The movie isn’t an official autobiography, but it is a biography of America’s history that is definitely worth seeing. Note: The movie can be viewed in its entirety online here via YouTube.

Cooley High (1975) Cooley High. Teen movies have been around for decades, but most film buffs say the genre really started with American Graffiti (1973).  Since then Hollywood has been producing teen movies like they’re going out of style. Unfortunately movies about black teens are still MIA, which is what makes ‘Cooley High’ (1975) still so special forty years later. Plainly, it is just a movie about black high school students in Chicago during the 1960s or as its screenwriter Eric Monte described it “a movie without a plot.” It may not have a storyline but a lot happens in the film such as dating woes, failing grades, carjacking, drugs and the joys of cutting class along with a killer Motown soundtrack. The teens in the film were the usual suspects: jocks, jokesters, nerds, pretty girls and bullies but instead of it taking place in white suburbia the setting was south side Chicago in the rough Cabrini-Green public housing projects. It’s considered a black cinema classic, but it also ranks up there as one of the best high school movies.

A Soldier's Story A Soldier’s Story. This 1984 movie is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Off-Broadway play, a tone and feel which shows up in the film on occasion. There a lot of soon-to-be-well-known actors  (Howard Rollins, Jr., Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend, David Alan Grier) along with seasoned broadway veterans (Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, Scott Paulin). However, its the work of Rollins, Washington and Caesar (nominated for Best Supporting Oscar for his role) that creates the foundation for the film. The plot centers around a black officer (Rollins) who is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant who was killed during the end of World War II. The film chronicles the racism and Jim Crow South that the black military men have to deal with on and off the army base, but also the intra-racism that they have amongst themselves based on speech, education, class and geography. A provocative film set inside a whodunnit scenario with a strong cast.

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Do you have any off-the-beaten-path suggestions (books, movies, programs, etc.) regarding Black History and/or African-American culture that are interesting, informative or note-worthy? If so, feel free to leave them in the comment section.

Initial Tips for Taking Care of An Aging or Elderly Parent

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My mother and me (Photo/Ronald Foster)

I have become my mother’s keeper. I’m still surprised at how fast it happened. It was as if I had climbed up a steep hill and before I had a chance to catch my breath – the earth started crumbling underneath me; causing me to run like hell – scrambling to find safe ground.

Two years ago my then 83-year old mom was relatively self-sufficient and in good health mentally and physically. There were minor signs where she gave me moments of disquiet, but my mom and I handled them. Then in Spring 2016 she got dizzy and fell; resulting in facial and arm fractures. At the time I thought it could’ve been worse and that she would recover. She healed physically, but changed mentally and emotionally. She’s gone from being an independent person and I’ve become more than just her daughter who lives out-of-state. I’m now responsible for my mom’s custodial, medical and financial care.

For some adult children they may have more than two years before they find themselves taking care of an elderly parent or relative. Others wish they had two years instead of the months, weeks or even days before the caregiver role was thrust upon them. Most of us aren’t fully prepared for this role, even those who think they’re prepared discover that is far from the case.

Who are  Caregivers?

According to a 2013-2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey there are “40.4 million unpaid eldercare providers (caregivers of adults ages 65 and older) in the United States.” Along with the ever-increasing number of caregivers has also been a change in the role and responsibilities of caregivers, which has gone from simply checking-in on an elder to more complex duties.

2013 Pew Research Center survey reported that the role of caregivers “encompasses everything from buying someone groceries and managing their finances to helping them with bathing, dressing and other tasks of daily life.” In a 2012 survey conducted by the American Associate of Retired Persons’ AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund stated that the  role of family caregivers “has dramatically expanded to include performing medical/nursing tasks of the kind and complexity once only provided in hospitals.”

Adjusting While Learning

It has been an unexpected transition for myself – since like most kids you expect your parent(s) to grow old, yet still be somewhat the same. That hasn’t been the case for my mother. I have watched my mom transition into various stages: from living on her own to post-surgery recovery then rehabilitation; acknowledging that she can no longer live on her own; not wanting to relocate out-of-state to live with her daughters to accepting that she will be in a senior care facility for the foreseeable future. In the interim, I have spent a lot of time with my mother while also interacting with her physicians, friends and business contacts on top of our family members. I have had to deal with a lot of information and make short and long-term decisions regarding my mom. Luckily family and most of my mom’s friends still live in the same city/state as my mom – so they’ve been my eyes and ears concerning my mother. At times it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a lot on the way. Most importantly, I’m glad that I’ve been able to be there for my mom.

Below are some tips (NOT legal advice) for those who may find themselves having to take care of an aging or sick parent/relative. Keep in mind, there’s always going to be a new or unexpected situation that will arise when caring for your parent. However, these initial tips will save you some initial pain as you begin this journey.

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COMMUNICATION

ParentTalkingWithAdultChild.GettyImages.Edwards1. Talk and Listen to Your Parent– If you have a decent-to-great relationship with your parent, then that’s half the battle in being a good caregiver. However, when you do talk to your mother or father make sure to talk to him/her about what’s going on with them day-to-day. Not just in generalities, but the details (i.e. what’s bothering them physically, emotionally, financially, their doctor appointments, prescribed medications, friends, activities, errands they usually run, etc). Find out who they talk to and spend time with when you’re not around or available. Don’t turn it into an interrogation; which may inadvertently put them on the defensive. Just make sure to be fully-engaged in the conversation, which means having your listening ears on, asking questions and being patient. If/when you have to step-in for your parent due to an accident or an emergency you will have a better grasp of what’s going on with him/her, which will be important when speaking with medical professionals.

ManOnSmartphone.GettyImages.Woo2. Add Your Parent’s Phone Contacts To Your Phone – Your parent’s contacts are those individuals whom you have heard him/her mention more than a few times such as friends, doctors, acquaintances, former co-workers, physicians, organizations, and businesses. Your parent’s contacts may be listed in his/her personal phonebook or their cellphone/smartphone (if they’re a member of the digital age). Adding their contact information (name, phone numbers, home address, email) to your smartphone (or having them written down in a notebook) will make it easier to reach out to them, if necessary, concerning your parent.

WritingDownContactInfo.GettyImages.spxChrome3. Provide Your Parent’s Close Friends With Your Contact Information – Your parent’s friends will want to visit your parent, to check up on them and make sure they’re doing okay. It is important that they have your contact information (name, phone numbers, email address), especially if you live out-of-town. Your parent’s friends can let you know how your parent is doing or if something is amiss. They can be a valuable asset information-wise in helping you take care of your parent. Don’t wait for them to call you, make a point of calling them as well. They will appreciate that you care.

ExtendedFamily.GettyImages.DavidSacks4. Keep Family Members In the Loop Regarding Your Parent’s Care – If you happen to live some distance from your parent, you will need back-up to help you take care of your parent. Your ‘back-up’ could be a family member, friend of your parent or members of her community – anyone who have expressed interest in helping you take care of your parent. Use phone calls, texts or detailed FYI emails to keep everyone updated regarding your parent’s care. This type of information exchange will make sure that everyone’s on the same page information-wise concerning your parent’s care, especially when interacting with medical staff.

MEDICAL CONCERNS

FamilyMeetWithDoctor.GettyImages.ThomasBarwick1. Go to Medical Appointments With Your Parent – Meeting your parent’s general/primary care physician and specialists in-person (even if it’s only once) are golden opportunities to get to know your parent’s doctors, ask questions about your parent’s health and remain in-the-loop in regards to your parent’s medical care. Plus, once you’ve met the physicians and staff it will be easier to get updates and information via phone calls because they have met you, which is especially beneficial if you don’t live in the same area as your parent.

NotepadAndPen.GettyImages.Westend612. Take Notes When Meeting With Medical and Administrative Staff – Unfortunately, the medical profession has a bad habit of dispensing information and medical terminology much too fast to its patients, especially its elderly ones, for them to readily grasp. If you happen to be hospitalized it’s even worse because physicians and nurses sometimes fail to identify themselves (i.e. name, title/medical specialty) and tell you succinctly when you’ve been prescribed X or need to do Y. As your parent’s advocate it is important that you stop physicians, nurses and other medical staff in their communicative tracks with questions (i.e., what is your name, what is your medical connection to my  parent, what medication did you provide my parent, etc.) and make sure you write it down and keep records (or get copies) of what you’ve been told.

MedicalRecords.GettyImages.RezaEstakhrian3. Get A Copy of Parent’s Most Recent Medical Records – This information is important to have in case of an emergency or when you’re dealing with new physicians. If you’re in contact with your parent’s primary care physician you should be able to obtain this information readily. Also, if your parent is hospitalized make sure to get a copy of the discharge papers for your records as well. The discharge papers will include important information such as the names and contact information for the physicians who treated your parent, medications prescribed and the procedures that were performed (i.e. surgeries). Note: Some physicians – possibly those you haven’t met – may request a copy of your Power of Attorney document before releasing your parent’s medical records and/or be willing to speak with you about your parent.

PrescriptionBottles.GettyImages.VstockLLC4. Keep A List of Their Medications – You should know what medication (prescriptions and over-the-counter) your parent is taking, its usage and the prescribed dosage. You should be able to get a copy of your parent’s current medication from his/her primary doctor. Another option is to check your parent’s medicine cabinet (or wherever he/she places her medicine) and write down the information. It’s also important to know the name and contact information of the pharmacy your parent uses. This information could come in handy in case of a parental emergency if medical staff are in need of an updated prescription list.

FINANCIAL/BUSINESS/LEGAL AFFAIRS

StackOfCheckbooks.GettyImages.StevenPuetzer 1. Have Your Name Added to Your Parent’s Bank Account – You and your parent must be in agreement with this decision, plus you will both have to go to your parent’s bank to make the change to his/her account. Once your name is on the account it will be easier to manage your parent’s finances if/when they’re unable to do so (i.e. make online payments/pay bills on their behalf, check for suspicious activity, etc.). This type of access is wonderful if an emergency arises and you happen to not live nearby or out-of-state from your parent. One of the things that will help your parent recover from an accident or hospital stay is knowing that their financial/business affairs are being taken care of while they’re temporarily incapacitated.

FinancialStatements.GettyImages.090420162. Get Copies of Your Parent’s Banking, Credit Card and Other Financial Statements – It is important that you know your parent’s monthly income (pension, social security, etc.), savings (bank account, CDs, investments) and expenses (i.e. credit cards, utility bills, mortgage/rent payments, life insurance, health insurance, burial plot, etc.). Knowing your parent’s income may be important in terms of how much your parent and/or yourself can afford when selecting a rehabilitation center, nursing facility, assisted living or in-home nursing care for the short or long-term. Also, some rehabilitation and nursing homes will have income-sensitive requirements in order for your parent to become a resident such as 1) financial limit to how much your parent can have available resource-wise (i.e. amount in checking and savings accounts, life insurance value, stocks and bonds, etc.) and/or 2) proof of your parent’s expenses in order to determine your parent’s monthly custodial costs (i.e. food, bed, medical care). Therefore, it’s important that you are aware and have an understanding of your parent’s financial status.

LastWillTestament.GettyImages.090420163. Know Where Your Parent Keeps Treasured Items and Important Papers – You need to know where your parent keeps her prized possessions or significant belongings such as their last will and testament, birth certificate, deeds, heirlooms, emergency funds or photos. Don’t assume that everything will be in one place or in an obvious location such as a safe deposit box, desk drawer or bedroom closet. Your parent may feel uncomfortable that you’re asking him/her about this because it reminds them that they’re getting older, but don’t let that deter you. You don’t want to be in the situation of trying to locate items on your own because your parent is no longer mentally able to provide you with any guidance.

HospitalRoom.GettyImages.090420164. Have Your Parent Complete A Living Will or Advance DirectiveA Living Will allows an individual to give explicit instructions about when/how medical treatment is to be administered when he/she  is injured, terminally ill or permanently unconscious. An Advance Directive pertains to decisions or instructions regarding a patient’s end-of-life care. It is important to have your parent complete a living will or advance directive while he/she still has the mental capacity to do so. Depending on the state, the process can be as simple as your parent filling out a form with a witness and then having both of them sign-it. Other states may require more of a legal step such as a notarized durable power of attorney for health care which names you as the person trusted to make health care decision on behalf of your parent. Check your parent’s state-of-residence statutes or guidelines for details and guidance.

PowerOfAttorney.GettyImages.090420165. Make Sure You Have Power of Attorney – A Power of Attorney (PoA) gives you the authority to operate on your parent’s behalf in regards to their medical, financial, business and legal affairs. These ‘affairs’ can range from selling your parent’s home, handling their medical care, canceling cable service, discontinuing utilities, or making monthly bill payments. Most companies will require a PoA from the caregiver in order to cancel any type of service, that is, if the parent is unable to do so himself.  Whether a PoA is needed to fully manage your parent’s affairs and what is required to process a PoA varies from state-to-state (i.e. simple letter authorizing PoA, notarized PoA forms, completed PoA forms submitted by a practicing attorney, etc.). It’s very important that you check the state’s statute of where your parent resides to find out what is legally required regarding PoA arrangements. If you are still flummoxed about the PoA process,  most cities and counties have a Department of Aging that could be helpful. Another option is your local American Bar Association’s (ABA) Pro Bono Section which can help help you through the process. Of course you can also seek out a private attorney- via personal contacts or the ABA- who specializes in elder law to help you with this procedure. Note: Some financial institutions have their own PoA form (separate from the general PoA) that you and your parent might have to complete and have notarized in order to legally access/manage your parent’s bank account(s). Check with your parent’s financial institution regarding their PoA requirements. Banks generally don’t post its PoA form online, so you will have to get copy of the form at your parent’s financial institution.

socialsecurity-image-yetbw-blogpost6. Get Legal Authorization to Manage Social Security Checks. More than likely as part of your parent’s income he/she receives a monthly payment (also known as a social security check, social security payment or retirement benefits) from the Social Security Administration, (SSA) a U.S. federal government agency. Since the SSA doesn’t accept the validity of Power of Attorney authorizations, you will have to become a Social Security Representative Payee in order to legally access and manage your parent’s social security checks/payments. Becoming a Payee will require a visit to your local SSA office – the process can’t be completed online. You can expedite matters by bringing your parent with you to the SSA office. However, if you and/or your parent are unable to visit the SSA office jointly (e.g., you happen to live out-of-town from your parent, your parent has limited mobility and/or health issues) an SSA customer service representative should provide you with a medical assessment form (determination of your parent’s ability to handle his/her social security checks) to be completed by your parent’s doctor and returned to the SSA. If you’re approved by the SSA to be your parent’s Representative Payee, you will receive paperwork from them detailing your custodial rights to manage your parent’s social security payments. Also note, if your name is on your parent’s banking account you will be required to set-up a non-joint account in your parent’s name specifically for SSA online check deposits. This process may seem annoying, time-consuming or unnecessary, but keep in mind that SSA wants to protect “beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or SSI (supplemental security income) payments.” Plus this ‘step’ will also give you another layer of protection concerning your parent’s income and finances.

SetOfKeys.GettyImages.090420167. Make Copies of Key(s) To Your Parent’s Home – Having access to your parent’s home will make it easier to take care of your parent during an emergency. The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling around trying to find her landlord, a locksmith or a family member to help you gain entrance to your parent’s home. If your parent has his/her own home then duplicating the key is a simple task. However, if he/she lives in an apartment and has a master key (which prohibits duplication) you might have to pay for a duplicate key via the property manager. If you live out-of-town from your parent it is probably a good idea to provide a trusted family member or friend  with copies as well. Note: If your parent has other areas that require access (i.e. car, mailbox, home security) make sure you have the keys and codes to these as well.

EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING

RelaxingInPark.GettyImages.09042016Take Care of Yourself And Keep in Mind That This Is A Journey – When you find yourself on this road with your parent it will be hectic, tiring, aggravating and disheartening. Your parent will have good and bad days – and when the bad days come you might find yourself the recipient of their anger, depression or hurt. You will also feel like you’re not doing enough and too much  for your parent logistically, financially, emotionally or spiritually. As a result, there will be times you simply don’t want to spend time with and/or talk to your parent because they’ve worn you down, made you feel depressed or even angry. These feelings are normal and you shouldn’t run away from them, though occasionally it will be hard not to beat yourself up over having them. For some, these feelings are connected to the fact that they miss the way their parent used to be or some of the things they used to do, even if it was just the simple ‘how was your day’ chats. In order for you to manage this phase of your life you can’t let it consume your life. Worrying about your parent will always be in the back of your mind, but it’s important that you do things to alleviate the pressure such as allowing others to help you, talking to an understanding friend, going to the movies, reading a good book, joining a support group, hanging out with family and friends or simply taking a day to spend time with yourself. You should also make a point of seeing a physician and/or counselor if you’re noticing a change in your physical and/or mental health (i.e. loss of appetite, lack of energy, depression, anxiety, resentment, etc.). Remember – in order for you to be able to take care of your parent you have to take care of yourself.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

AARP Resources for Family Caregiving – The American Association for Retired Persons’ (AARP) website has a lot of information for caregivers (e.g. guides, tips, resources, etc.) whether you’re new to the role or are a seasoned caregiver.

American Bar Association Commission On Law and Aging – Has toolkits and information on making legal and healthcare decisions on behalf of an aging parent or relative.

Caring for the Caregiver – PBS resource webpage specifically for caregivers. It includes links to finding support groups, getting started in the caregiver role, and a self-assessment test to help caregivers recognize symptoms of stress and how to take care of themselves.

Five Facts About Family Caregivers – Pew Research facts about “caregivers of older Americans.”

Family Caregiver Alliance Caregiving Across 50 States – Profiles contain each state’s background characteristics related to caregiving and aging as well as information on publicly-funded caregiver support programs.

Mayo Clinic: Living Wills and Advance Directives for Medical Decisions – Information and documents from Mayo Clinic Staff in regards to medical arrangements when “you’re not able to speak for yourself.

Power of Attorney Forms – This website provides ‘power of attorney’ (PoA) form templates for all 50 states. Note: You should only use these forms as a starting point, since the forms may not be current due to changing state PoA laws. Make sure to check 1) the statutes of your parent/relative’s residential state for the most recent PoA laws or 2) an elder law attorney to ensure that your form is accurate and up-to-date.

Propublica Nursing Home Data – Allows you review and compare nursing homes in a state based on the deficiencies cited by regulators and the penalties imposed in the past three years.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging – Links to information, resources and services regarding older individuals and their caregivers

Understanding the Rules: Medicaid Payment for Nursing Home Care – Booklet designed to provide family and caregivers with “information and answers to some of the [nursing home-related] questions [they] will encounter.”

Dear Hollywood: I Need A Break From Your Comic Book Obsession

Photo: Getty Images/Vasjakoman; Text: Angelia Levy

Photo: Getty Images/Vasjakoman; Text: Angelia Levy

Dear Hollywood:

It pains me to write this letter to you. We’ve had a wonderful time together, but it’s time for some honesty.

I’ve been struggling. Struggling to find a reason to watch Jessica Jones – yet another show based on a comic book character. I guess I shouldn’t have to find a reason, especially since shows with female leads, comic books or otherwise you normally treat like kryptonite. I know that as a comic book fan you’ve expected me to watch your comic book shows and movies – to critique, discuss and support them, even if they’re a bloated piece of crap like Avengers: Age Of Ultron.  You’ve told me ad nauseam that Jessica Jones is a fantastic show, but something has been holding me back from watching it. I couldn’t figure out why until it suddenly dawned on me.

To paraphrase Samuel Jackson from his stellar work in Snakes On a Plane – “I’ve had it with these motherfucking comic book shows and movies on my motherfucking screens!”

My apologies for the expletives. I know that you prefer everything to be PG13 between us, especially in the movie theaters.

Eides Entertainment - music, comics and video store in Pittsburgh, PA (Photo: Angelia Levy, Dec. 26, 2015)

Eides Entertainment – music, comics and video store in Pittsburgh, PA (Photo: Angelia Levy, Dec. 26, 2015)

I’ve told you about my comics malaise and yet your response is always “I  don’t understand! I thought all you comic book fans, nerds, geeks or whatever you call yourselves would be happy with all of the comic book stuff we’ve made!”

Well, I was at first. I still remember my preteen comic book years and your awkward forays (1978-1980) into our world with Superman, Heavy Metal and Flash Gordon. But you got better! Those halcyon days of the first Batman, Blade, Spider-man, and The Crow movies still make me smile. You made me so happy and thrilled to be a comic book fan. You were still hit and miss with most of your endeavors then, but I truly appreciated the effort.

Then came the Batman reboot, which was spectacular and I don’t even like Batman. I was so proud of you. I saw that you had finally find your path and knew that more good things were going to come. But I should have known that it wasn’t meant to be once you released the first Avengers movie. Once that movie made billions of dollars all you saw were dollar signs. You forgot about me.

You no longer cared about our love – our love for comic books. Hell, I’m starting to wonder if you ever read any of them. Maybe that explains why you thought cutting Cyclops and Storm‘s leadership balls off in the X-men movies was a good idea though it’s contrary to the their actual comic book storylines. Why do I still bother explaining these things to you?! You’ve never really listened to me. Maybe you just pretended to like me to get me to tell all my comic book friends about your shows and movies; to help you save money on marketing and promotions. I was so gullible then.

Instead of trying to do different types of films and shows you became obsessed with only making comic book-themed productions.

Photo: IMDB.com (2015)

Photo: IMDB.com (2015)

Wherever I turn there you are, constantly smothering me with your obsession. The Walking Dead. Daredevil. The Flash. Gotham. Arrow. Black Panther. Aquaman. Batman v. Superman. Justice League. Agents of Shield. The Preacher. Ant-Man. Agent Carter. Into the Badlands. Superman. Three Fantastic Four Movies. Three Thor Movies. Five Spider-man Movies.  Five X-men Movies. Two Wolverine Movies. Three Captain America Movies. Three Avengers Movies. Eight Batman Movies.  I can’t even name them all anymore. Can you?

It’s like you want to turn our lives into a live action Marvel Comics and DC Comics universe. Just because I cosplay doesn’t mean that I’m not a real person!

Sometimes I just want to see a good show or movie that’s not based on a comic book. Why do you think I went behind your back and renewed my Netflix subscription and accidentally joined Amazon Prime? These are the only places where I can find solace from your comic book mania.

You keep telling me that I’ll get over my unhappiness by all the money you’ve made. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve enjoyed your financial success, especially all the comic book-themed clothing I’ve been able to buy, though I’m still not sure about that X-Men Storm dress.

Though you have tried to hide it, it’s apparent that your feelings for me are now mostly box office-related. I’ve seen you looking at those new and clueless comic book movie attendees, making me feel like a starter wife you’re about to kick to the curb.

I just need some non-comic book time away from you. But I’m sure we’ll see each other again…probably once ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ hits the big screen. God help me.

Love,

A Comic Book Fan

My ‘Top 25 Most Played’ Songs According to iTunes

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 4.21.24 PM

Does iTunes truly reflect what we listen to on a regular basis? I decided to find out if that was truly the case.

I have had an iTunes account for several years. I almost exclusively use it to upload, purchase and play songs randomly. I don’t bother with much else regarding iTunes, which maybe it would be disappointed to hear (but I doubt it).

I am not much for playlists, since my patience level for such endeavors are minimal at best. As a result I have barely paid any attention to any iTunes self-created lists such as its Genius Playlist, Recently Played or its tracking of my ‘Top 25 Most Played’ based on my iTunes Library.

I finally decided to check my ‘most played’ list to see what songs iTunes data had determined to be my Top 25 versus what I thought would be on the list.

I was very surprised to see that a bunch of my popular artists were MIA from the list. Sade. Blind Willie Johnson. Depeche Mode. Maverick Sabre. Sam Cooke. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Movie Soundtrack (don’t ask). Nneka. Tori Amos. Journey. Florence & the Machine. Marc Cohn. Note: I do listen to some of these artists outside iTunes through other apps such as YouTube, Pandora, Soundcloud and Spotify.

Even more surprising was that there are songs on the list that I had no idea that I listened to that much. Also, there were a few that I’m sure made the ‘most played’ cut simply because I just didn’t skip over it after hearing a song I had previously selected. All that being said, most of the songs on the list are ones that I do enjoy listening to regularly; some a tad incessantly.

Below are my top 25 ‘most played’ songs (ranked #25 to #1) along with commentary, links to artist profiles and songs for your listening pleasure. 

FYI:  I did my best to find videos that were free of advertisements. Initially I had planned to use music sharing app such as Soundcloud or Spotify or WordPress’ audio files set-up. Unfortunately, Soundcloud and Spotify didn’t have most of my songs in their respective catalogs (no surprise there) and WordPress’ system didn’t mesh with my desired visual aesthetics for this blog post.

Time to start the countdown or as Referee Judge Mills Lane from ‘Celebrity Death Match’ would say “Let’s get it on!”

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25. ‘Hiroshima’ (2002) – Bryan Ferry

I am a big, big Bryan Ferry fan. I would have been absolutely shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. This is easily my favorite song from his album ‘Frantic.’ I listen to a lot of Ferry’s solo music and a good portion of his work with his former group, Roxy Music. But this song is the one I play the most. It is spacey, oddly robotic, yet soaring at times. It doesn’t get its due from Ferry fans.

24. ‘Darshan’ (2001) – B21

Not surprised this song made it on this list. I first heard it while watching the movie ‘Bend It Like Beckham.’ It’s one of two songs that I really like from a solid movie soundtrack. Its exuberance will get your hips moving, even if you don’t know the Punjabi lyrics. It makes me smile, especially when I’m dragging my feet. The day when I will be able to sing the lyrics to this song successfully will be a good one.

23. ‘Murder’ (1997) – Alana Davis

I didn’t think that I listened to this song this much. Davis is most known for her song ‘32 Flavors‘ but to me she is much more than that. The lyrics and vibe (fingers snapping, simple guitar strumming) to this song are strong; soaked in feelings of dread and paranoia. It makes for a heady mix. Too bad she was a bit before her time musically. Davis probably would’ve made a bigger music mark in our current digital music age.

22. ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ (1995) – Radiohead

I like this group, but I wouldn’t have guessed that one of their songs would have made this list. Then again I do sing to this song whenever I hear it because of the poignant and quietly raging lyrics. I especially like when lead singer Thom Yorke’ voice starts to rise, then falls as he sings “But I can’t help the feeling. I could blow through the ceiling. If I just turn and run.” It is a great song from a solid sophomore album.

21. ‘Ruiner (Live, 2009)’ – Nine Inch Nails

‘Ruiner’ is a recent download/addition to my iTunes account, a song that I have played almost obsessively. So its addition to this list is a given. This is a live 2009 version that I recently discovered via YouTube, which has now become my preferred version of this song. Hell, it’s almost coming close to being my favorite NIN song, but I still enjoy ‘March of the Pigs‘ a bit more. Whenever I hear this version of ‘Ruiner’ my head and body rocks out hard while I sing the lyrics along with NIN founder/lead singer Trent Reznor.

20. ‘Rain On Me’ (2003) – Ashanti

I haven’t listened to this song in a while, so seeing it on the list was unexpected. I had assumed that ‘Only You‘ would have made the list, since I do prefer it over ‘Rain.’ Nevertheless, I can’t complain about this song making the cut since it is a good one. Plus you can’t go wrong with sampling The Look of Love‘ by Issac Hayes. Ashanti doesn’t have a strong voice, but she puts it to good use on this track.

19. ‘How Much I Feel’ (1978) – Ambrosia

There is no doubt that I play this song way too much, which iTunes has confirmed. Unfortunately, 1970s soft rock gets a bad rap, which has caused many to overlook some of the great songs that came out of the era and genre. This song has it all, harmonizing vocals, heartfelt emotion and lyrics that tell a love story starting from the middle to the end. I love the part when David Pack sings, practically laments “Then you both realize. Just how foolish you’ve been. And you try to make amends. But you’re better off as friends.” That is some serious songwriting.

18. ‘Rolling In the Deep’ (2011) – Adele

I thought this song would be in a higher slot since I ran it into the ground and then some.  I had to deselect it from my iTunes Library so that I wouldn’t end up causing the song to wear out its welcome. Adele has had other hits, but this is still my favorite. I just love the 1960s vibe to it and the toughness of her vocals. She sounds like a woman, not a girlish pop star or some manufactured boy band singing and prancing obliviously about like show horses. Adele is simply fierce.

17. ‘Inner Smile’ (2000) – Texas

Definitely a ‘go-to’ song for me whenever I need a mood pick-me-up. It’s also another song from the ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ movie soundtrack. It’s simply infectious and should have been a big hit in the United States. Guess an English band named ‘Texas’ that sings pop/R&B was probably a hard sale in the States. That’s too bad because it’s a damn good song that you can sing and dance to and will make you feel better afterwards.

16. ‘Fallen’ (2003) – Mya

Not sure how this song made the list. I’m not saying that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it this much. I’m positive that this song’s addition to the list is pure happenstance in that it’s just been played randomly by iTunes. Nevertheless, it’s a nice song that has an atmospheric vibe to it, which sadly, isn’t a style you hear much of in the R&B/HipHop music world. Mya can sing, but really hasn’t been provided enough songs to show off her vocal pipes.

15. ‘Safe From Harm’ (1991) – Massive Attack

Another recent iTunes addition so I’ve had it in heavy rotation, therefore its mention on this list is pro forma. ‘Safe from Harm’ is a moody, sexy song – a Massive Attack specialty. This song is in a tie with ‘Joy Luck Club‘ as one of my top songs by them. I’ve had it on replay for quite some time. Shara Nelson’s vocals are strong and sexy and Robert Del Naja’s rap is crisp and hypnotic, both a perfect match to the music.

14. ‘Love Rears Up Its Ugly Head’ (1990) – Living Colour

I honestly can’t recall the last time I’ve listened to this song, yet it’s somehow in my top 25. This act was way before it’s time. Hell, they’re probably still before their time. People just couldn’t get their heads around a Black music group that played a mix of alternative rock, heavy metal and hip-hop. ‘Cult of Personality’ is still their biggest hit, but I don’t think it represents them well as this song does. When Corey Glover, the lead singer, starts wailing “Oh no, no, no, no. Not that again…” along with the loud and striking guitar work – you will recognize this group’s awesomeness.

13. ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ (1994) – Brownstone

Another ‘high song rank’ surprise. Then again I do have a weakness for good cover versions (the 1979 original was written and sung by The Eagles) such as this one. What makes ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’ a stand-out is that Brownstone makes this song their own. If it wasn’t for the lyrics you would think it’s an original. There are various versions of this song, but this one (official video version – not on the album) is the best. I love when contralto Nichole Gilbert starts semi-scatting the lyrics then repeats in a deeper voice the line ‘Why don’t you please tell me why’ near the end. It’s too bad the original line-up of this R&B group (from their debut album ‘From the Bottom Up‘) didn’t remain intact. Brownstone would’ve put a lot of female group acts to shame. They were full-throttled, talented women (not sex kittens or wannabe adults) who could sing their asses off.

12. ‘Remedy’ (1992) – The Black Crowes

Was a tad surprised that this song by the Crowes made the list. I thought that ‘Sometimes Salvation‘ would have made the cut instead. However, after ‘Salvation’ this is one of my top songs by them. ‘Remedy’ is a bluesy, rock song that is stripped down to its basics: strong lead vocals, slinky backing vocals joined by a tough guitar sound. This song is from their should-be-considered-a-classic album ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion‘ one of the rare albums I can listen to in its entirety.

11. ‘The Main Thing’ (1982) – Roxy Music

I absolutely knew Roxy Music would be on this list! ‘The Main Thing’ is from their ‘Avalon’ album. The album title/song was a big hit, but I gravitated more towards the quiet, brooding, techno sound of ‘The Main Thing.’ The song is short on actual lyrics but long on creating a sound that is eery, like a drug-induced Gregorian chant. People either get Roxy Music or they don’t. If you’re a member of the former you are lucky indeed.

10. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ (1977) – Fleetwood Mac

Of course this song made this list. If I had to pick a song that sums up what I love about Fleetwood Mac it would be this one. Stevie Nick’s scratchy and evocative singing. Lyndsey Buckingham’s crazy guitar work and backing vocals. Mick Fleetwood’s pounding drum work. John McVee’s deep bass strumming and Christie McVee’s harmonizing adding depth to Nick’s vocals. It all comes together on a distinctive song that keeps ramping up until the band just leaves it all in the dust (pun intended).

9. ‘Life’s What You Make It’ (1985) – Talk Talk

I simply like the lyrics and the piercing, soaring guitar work on this song. Therefore I listen to it a lot, hence its placement on this list. The lyrics aren’t that complex, “Baby, life’s what you make it. Celebrate it. Anticipate it. Yesterday’s faded. Nothing can change it. Life’s what you make it” nor lengthy. Yet, the way Mark Davis Hollis sings the words somehow adds more significance to them. Makes you pause and think after the song is over.

8. ‘Homesick’ (2009) – Ryan Kickland

This song is stark and beautiful and will stick around with you long after you’ve heard it, which is why it’s on this list. I was watching an episode of  ‘Justified’ a few years ago when I first heard this quiet, twangy, fantastic song. I love Kickland’s haunting vocals and the simple, yet sad sound of the guitar. This is a woefully overlooked song that deserves a long moment in the sun.

7. ‘Moment 4 Life’ (2010) – Nicki Minaj featuring Drake

I’m not a Minaj fan since she raps with too much manufactured braggadocio and not enough heat. Yet, I must really like this Minaj song since it made the Top 10. The best parts of ‘Moment’ is when she’s not rapping because then she is letting you know what she’s feeling. Hell, Drake out-raps her on her own song. Nevertheless it’s a jam that I like listening to, especially when I’m driving in my car with the windows down.

6. ‘Out of My Head’ (2013) – John Newman

I have become a John Newman fan over the past eighteen months. I would’ve been shocked if one of his songs hadn’t made this list. Though I did think that his acoustic/live version of ‘Not Giving In‘ would’ve beat out this song, but apparently I was wrong. Newman has a distinctive singing style which inexplicably have caused some people to assume that he’s a black guy. The ethnicity assumptions are a result of Newman’s music style, which is heavily-influenced by old school R&B. This song has a semi-epic orchestral feel to it that goes well with his mournful vocals. Love the song’s chorus: “To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Lost everything around me. Not dealing with it well. To shut out feeling lonely; I get out of my head. Why would you want to love somebody when love hurts in the end?” Hope he sticks around for a bit.

5. ‘Hide and Go Seek’ (1967) – Bunker Hill

Hill’s song gets me nodding my head every single time, which is why I listen to it almost daily.  I just love the exuberance of the song, Hill’s energy and the back-and-forth response he has with the back-up singers. The lyrics are basic and goofy such as “Went down the road. The road was muddy. I stubbed my toe. My toe was hurting. Who all hid (yeah). If you ain’t hid. You better holler Billy goat (baaaa).” I’m forever thankful to the movie ‘Hairspray’ (1988 original directed by John Waters, not the 2007 remake) for helping me discover this freakin’ wonderful song.

4. ‘Love Me Again’ (2013) – John Newman

I have played this song so much that eventually my preteen son knew most of the words and came to like it. Therefore I had no doubt that it would be on this list. It was the first song I ever heard by him and turned me into a Newman acolyte. It starts out strong with the words “Know I’ve done wrong, left your heart torn. Is that what devils do? Took you so long, where only fools gone. I shook the angel in you!” and just keeps getting better. The Motown vibe and his throwback, yet original vocals makes for a very good song that you will have on repeat.

3. ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’ (1982) – Frida

I was really shocked to see this song on the list – let alone ranked this high – though I did play the hell out of it for a while. This was Frida’s (Anni-Frid Lyngstad), formerly of ABBA, big solo hit. I have always loved the vocals and drums (courtesy of Phil Collins from Genesis) on this song. This song popped into my head out of nowhere a year ago, so I downloaded it. It definitely has a 1980s song vibe, but don’t let that deter you. When Frida sings the words “I know there’s something going on” and you hear the drums banging along with her, you will think ‘This is a cool song.’

2. ‘Dying For Your Love’ (2011) – Frank Ocean

I thought that this song would have topped this list because I have yet to get enough of it. I have played this song so many times back-to-back; just leaving the repeat button on to make it easier for me to listen to it almost continually. It has a gorgeous, dreamlike sound aided by Ocean’s soporific vocals. The song’s hooks are so personal: “On the same side of the battle. I’m on the front line of disaster now. All make sense, I’ve put it together. Guess what we have doesn’t matter. You have me dying. Every night, just because. You have me fighting. Every night, to prove my love. Cause we never get enough of fighting. In the club, I’m dying for your love. I don’t know what you want. You got me fighting. Every night, to prove my love.” This is his best song though he has other strong, potent and more well-known contenders.

1. ‘Earned It’ (2015) – The Weeknd

My number one Most Played Song’ according to iTunes! As much as I like this song the fact that it’s my ‘most played’ has me flummoxed. I haven’t listened to it regularly in months. I can only deduce that its placement on this list is because of its heavy play rotation; some of it purposely, most of it by random. This song is from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey’ which I haven’t seen nor do I own the soundtrack. The first time I heard this song was on Pandora and the rest is history. I like the overlapping orchestral instruments, the soft and emotional vocals with a mild techno/auto-tune sound. Not sure if this song has long enough music legs in that I won’t eventually discontinue listening to it. But for now iTunes has spoken about its musical hierarchy and tenacity.

So – that’s my list. What’s on your iTunes ‘Top 25 Most Played’ list? 

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Fighting Gender Inequality In the Tech Industry, Underwear-Style

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Updated March 18, 2018

Was it a good idea to have women technology CEOs and coders pose in their underwear as a form of empowerment? Dear Kate, a company that sells “performance underwear for high performing women” has been dealing with this question since pics of its latest advertising campaign (2014) showing women techies in their undergarments were first released.

Some are not pleased with the campaign such as Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of the startup Glimpse Labs and author of the Business Insider article “That’s It—I’m Finished Defending Sexism in Tech.” She stated in Time Magazine that “[women] posing in [their] underwear undermines the message that [women] aim to be taken seriously as a technologist.” She added “This ad is like a parody,” and concluded. “I’m struggling to believe it’s real.” Natalie Matthews of Elle Magazine seems to disagree stating that “[t]here’s certainly no reason we should freak out over tech professionals embracing their feminine, sexual side…”

2014 Employee Gender Diversity Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

2014 Employee Gender Diversity Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

Dear Kate Founder and CEO Julie Sygiel came up with the campaign idea to help launch its Ada Collection, named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Sygiel sees these ads as part of its continuing efforts to promote real women, in this instance women in the tech industry.

Sygiel told Time “I think a lot of traditional lingerie photo shoots depict women as simply standing there looking sexy. They’re not always in a position of power and control” hence the ads showing the women coding in a tech/work environment. “In our photo shoots it’s important to portray women who are active and ambitious. They’re not just standing around waiting for things to happen.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t negate the fact that women have had a tough time in the technology industry, let alone reaching managerial echelons in the field. In the past few months several tech giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook finally released their employee demographics in response to grumblings regarding the tech industry’s lack of gender and racial diversity. As was expected the majority of tech employees are white and male (see side charts; other charts available at Fortune Magazine).

Combine the gender disparity with the ongoing misogyny in the field, women techies rightfully feel as if they are overlooked, underestimated and sometimes mistreated by their male counterparts in the industry.

But are these ads the right way to raise the issue of the lack of women in the tech industry?

When I first saw the ads the words ’empowerment,’ ‘awesome,’ or ‘sexist’ didn’t come to mind. I was mildly flummoxed about why these women were posing in their underwear with laptops. I was immediately reminded of commercials where I’ve seen young women talking about how they’re taking college classes online while in their pajamas. However, my bewilderment regarding the campaign turned into incredulity once I saw the other ‘Dear Kate’ images (where the women techies were still in their undies) with block quotes in which the women pontificated on the tech industry. This is where the campaign went off the unintentional deep end.

2014 Employee Gender Diversity By Leadership Team Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

2014 Employee Gender Diversity By Leadership Team Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

How can the quotes or thoughts of these women be taken seriously when juxtaposed with them in their undies? Sadly, it actually makes them seem vapid – like listening to a not-so-bright beauty queen discuss world hunger – which is exactly the opposite of the goal of the campaign. It’s as if the ads were trying to do a two-for-one-deal in showing that women should be proud of their bodies no matter what shape or size and that there are women breaking barriers in the tech industry.

But the problem regarding women techies hasn’t been about their actual bodies, in a general sense, but about the small number of women employed in the industry or in leadership positions. Also, why do women have to take off their clothes to show that they’re comfortable about their bodies as a form of empowerment? No one is expecting tech CEOs or leaders such as Apple’s Tim Wise, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page, Twitter’s Dick Costolo or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to drop down to their skivvies to show the tech industry that they are a force to be acknowledged and reckoned with.

Nevertheless, Matthew has a problem with the need or requirement that women should remove their sexuality from their professional lives. She says that the “idea that if women want to eliminate gender biases in STEM fields, they must first separate their sexual selves from their “serious,” professional ones” is a “double standard” that she views as “backward.”

Adda Birner, Founder of Skillcrush, and one of the women featured in the Dear Kate campaign, said to Time “I speak to a lot of women who ask, ‘Is it possible to be a woman in technology and be happy and like your work and not be sexually harassed every day?’ And showing more images of the women who are working in tech and love it and are kicking ass and taking names is a really good thing.”

Maybe we’re over-thinking Dear Kate’s ‘Women In Tech’ Ada Collection campaign in that it’s not about empowerment, sexism or exploitation. Maybe it’s just about showing women who happen to work in technology, looking comfortable in their underwear while working.

Sygiel seems to think so, stating to Elle “I believe women should be taken seriously regardless of what we are wearing, and this should hold true for all professions.”

What Matthews, Birnir and Sygiel have said sounds nice, but the fact that we’re still primarily discussing seeing these women in their undergarments, and not their professional accomplishments in the tech industry is telling. It’s just another example that women still have a ways to go when it comes to optics not being the determining factor in how they are viewed by men and women, no matter Dear Kate’s female empowerment intentions. Then again, the company is in the business of selling underwear so they may have accomplished their goal, if not anyone else’s, involved in this campaign.

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What do you think about the Dear Kate underwear campaign? Below is a one-question survey to voice your opinion.

 

If You Are Still In Need of Some Parental Advice…

As my 11-year old son prepared for his first day as a sixth grader, I had begun to think about what I’ve done as a parent to get him to this stage. Though I’m not a fan of sports metaphors, I can’t help but think of my parental ups and downs as home runs, doubles, foul balls or woeful strike outs. Luckily I’ve had more successes than failures.

My son, Noah Collins, hanging out in his room with his guitar (Image Source: Angelia Levy, May 2014)

My son, Noah, hanging out in his room with his guitar (Image Source: Angelia Levy, May 2014)

There have been prospective, new and overwhelmed parents who have asked me for general parental advice, like how to handle situation X or prevent incident Y from happening again.

I never attempt to pass myself off as a child psychologist or a licensed counselor when giving advice. Furthermore, I don’t pretend to be the Martha Stewart of parenting and have found those who act as such arrogant and pretentious. I always listen closely before I dole out advice nor do I take umbrage if it’s not followed.

Though my journey as a parent is not complete, there are rules that I have discovered and followed that have served me well, which I’ve passed on to others.

So here are my ‘Top 10’ Parenting Tips that have helped make my preteen son a responsible, observant and thoughtful individual (when he’s not driving me semi-bonkers by bouncing between ages 7-17 without giving me prior notice):

1. Make sure your child knows he/she will face consequences for their actions, no exceptions. If your child figures out that you’re what I define as a ‘serial warner’ (i.e. someone who gives their child constant and repetitive warnings with little or no follow through on their ‘threats’) then you’re setting yourself up to be challenged by your child regarding every request or demand you make of them. The last time I’ve had a major challenge from my son was when he was 5 years old. He was giving me a lot of backtalk because he thought it was funny. I wasn’t sure if the backtalk was just a phase or something that would become a bad habit, therefore I decided to play things by ear. Unfortunately, it only got worse, which is when I threw down the hammer. I told him that if he did it one more time I was going to take away all his toys for a week. He didn’t believe me so he ended up watching me bag up all of his toys and remove them from his room. Afterwards I taped a calendar to his door with a big ‘X’ over every day he would be without his toys. He was stunned. Sometimes he would sit on his bed and just stare at his empty floor. When the seven days were up I returned his toys without saying a word. Drastic? Yes. Successful? Most definitely. He finally learned what consequences meant and that I meant what I said, which improved our relationship significantly.

2. Show respect for the body and its bodily functions. I cringe whenever I hear parents and their kids use cute nicknames for body parts such as calling a penis a ‘wee wee’ or a vagina ‘little girl parts.’ How are you going to teach your child to respect their body and the bodies of others if you mystify it so much that they inadvertently don’t value its importance? I’m not saying that you should use the word ‘excrement’ or ‘sh*t’ instead of ‘taking number two.’ However, using proper names for body parts, explaining how they work and the similarities and differences between the male and female anatomy will go a long way in helping your child understand proper and improper body boundaries and most importantly his/her sexuality when the time comes.

Image Source: Everyday People Cartoons. Cartoon by Cathy Thorne

Image Source: Everyday People Cartoons. Cartoon by Cathy Thorne

3. Don’t run from questions because you feel that your child isn’t ready for the answer or you didn’t see it coming. Most of the times it seems parents are the ones who don’t want to deal with a question. I ended up having my first serious talk about sexuality with my son when he was eight-years old. I was watching a Boondocks episode when two male rappers/characters on the show admitted they were attracted to each other and started kissing. My son happened to walk in on the episode and asked ‘Why are those guys kissing?’ I could’ve said something to the effect of ‘I’ll talk to you later about it’ or ‘you’re too young right now for that conversation’ but I didn’t. I somehow knew that this ‘talk’ was going to happen now so I answered his question, which led to other questions and discussions about heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender relations. As a result he is receptive to all forms of expressed affection and to those who are part of the LGBT community. Most importantly, my son realized that he could ask me anything without being prejudged or shutdown. I’m not advocating that all parents should be as forthcoming because obviously each child’s emotional maturity is different. However, before you go into deflect mode on topic X make sure you feel it’s necessary and not because you simply don’t want to deal with the topic yet. Remember – it’s not about you – it’s about your child.

4. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. This lyric from Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler’ song is also apropos when dealing with your child. You have to figure out what battles are worth fighting. Are you trying to teach your child a lesson or are you just standing your ground to prove you’re the one in charge? For example, when my son hit fourth grade we used to battle over what he would wear to school. I would try to make sure that he went through most of his wardrobe so that he wasn’t wearing the same combinations all the time  or clothing combo nightmares. We locked horns regularly which started to drive my husband up a wall. I eventually realized that by forcing my son to wear what I picked out put us both in a bad mood. We eventually came to a compromise where he could pick out what he wanted, but if his mom and dad didn’t like his wardrobe selection he had to change. In this instance, my decision to ‘fold’ made things better for mom, dad and son. As a parent you will find yourself having to re-learn this lesson with your child so don’t be surprised that you will be traveling this road again several more times.

5. Sometimes you have to let your child struggle in order for them to learn how to accomplish things on their own. As a parent you want to help your child at all times, especially when they’re young. But at some point you have to let them figure things out on their own, even when they’re not successful at it (ideally without allowing it to turn into a meltdown). Whether it’s looking up a word in a dictionary; opening a container or getting dressed. It’ll teach them to keep trying instead of immediately running to you or others for help.

6. Don’t overschedule your child with activities. We all want to keep our kids active so that they remain physically and emotionally healthy and hopefully have a good time. But think about the many things your child does on a regular basis: school, homework, childcare, extracurricular activities, hanging out with family and friends, tutoring, afterschool clubs and much more. Your child has a very busy life. But just like adults, kids need downtime as well. Don’t look at it from the viewpoint of you being a bad parent for allowing your child to occasionally to sleep in late on weekends, chill out in his/her room or watch television zonked in the family room. Look at it as allowing them time to rest, which they will always need.

My first and only 'mean note' that my son gave me. He wrote it when he was age 6. I immediately pointed out his misspellings and handed the note back to him. We then had a 'stare down' contest until he decided he had enough for the day. We still laugh about this moment. (Image: Angelia Levy)

My first and only ‘mean note’ that I received from my son. He wrote it when he was age 6. It was supposed to read  ‘Dear Meany, I am going to leave. I don’t want you anymore.’ I immediately pointed out his misspellings and handed the note back to him. We then had a ‘stare down’ battle until he decided he had enough for the day. We still laugh about this moment and my ‘Tiger Mom/English Teacher’ reaction. (Image Source: Angelia Levy)

7. It’s not too early to assign chores/responsibilities to your child. By the time I was twelve I was assigned several chores, including cleaning the bathroom. I’m not one of those old-school parents where I think today’s children are completely infantilized. However, I do think that parents are waiting too late to assign their kids regular chores to do. As a result, their child doesn’t handle responsibilities well – or worse, you end up doing it yourself. Just start small such as having them cleaning their room, helping to unload/reload the dishwasher, putting their dirty clothes in the laundry bin, taking out the garbage or placing dishes in the sink after dinner. This will get them in the habit of doing things for themselves without prompting from their parent(s).

8. Sleepovers and playdates are great for children and parents. When you have your child’s friend over for a playdate/hangout or sleepover it’s a win-win for the child and the parent. Your child has someone to play with, and it gives you time to do other things. If your child goes over to someone else’s home then you have that much needed quiet time for yourself or with your significant other. Therefore strive hard to connect with the family of your child’s close friend(s) so that you both get in the habit of having hangouts and sleepovers at each other’s homes. Besides it being a good idea for your child’s social and emotional development, it will save you a lot of money on babysitters.

9. Do your best not to fall into ‘assigned’ parenting roles. This is sometimes hard to do. Depending on the set-up of how your family works (i.e. single parent, working parent with stay-at-home parent), this can dictate the parental dynamics of how you interact with your child. Nevertheless, don’t allow how you interact with your child to be determined by your gender, your preferred interests or disciplinary ideology. You don’t want to be viewed as the no-fun, no playtime, always-make-me-do-stuff-I-don’t-want-to-do or ‘drill sergeant’ parent. Mix-up your roles from time to time; do things that you don’t normally do with your child so that he/she sees you in different a light. For example, if you’re the ‘homework parent,’ maybe next time when you go to the park you should seriously hit the jungle gym with your kid. If you’re the ‘basketball coach,’ take a detour and hang out at the library with your kid on occasion. Going outside the box a bit will bring more parental balance in a two-parent household. And for single parents, your child will be more aware and hopefully appreciative of the many hats that you can and do wear.

10. Don’t inadvertently put them in a bubble in your effort to protect them from what’s happening in the world. As a parent you don’t want your child to experience any bad feelings (i.e fear, hurt, pain, embarrassment, etc.) until they’re able to handle them. But sometimes things don’t work out that way, so you have to prepare them to handle these emotions when that time comes. My husband and I have had talks with our son about life and death; we’ve also talked to him about racism/racial bias, driving while black, and police brutality because we know that it may be just a matter of time when he will have to deal with these issues as an African-American male. He has seen videos, news, movies and documentaries about the black experience in America (Roots, Fruitvale Station, Central Park Five case, civil rights movement, death of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, etc.) to help him understand his history better. If I had a daughter I would’ve added gender bias to the conversation as well. Kids need to know that the world isn’t always so wonderful, which is possible to do without scarring them. Start slowly by picking a movie or program for you to watch together and make sure to allot time afterwards to discuss it with them, to answer any questions they may have. It’ll be a teachable, bonding moment for both of you.

Not all children are alike so don’t push them down a path that they’re not ready to take. However, don’t hold them back just because you’re not ready to take that journey with them. Yes, the advice sounds simple, but following through on it will be hard. You must always keep in mind that your job as a parent is to help your child grow so that he/she is eventually able to take care of themselves.

Anything less than that then you’re not doing the one job you should be doing as a parent.

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Suggested Parent Resources:

Mr Nussbaum: A wonderful website has extensive reading, math, social studies and science tools for grades K-8 that are fun and challenging. Lessons can be done individually by the child or in concert with a parent.

Khan Academy: If you find yourself flummoxed by math, science, history or any other academic questions that your child asks you this is the site for both of you. It’s a free site full of straight-forward information (standard videos, interactive videos, etc.) for students, parents, teachers or anyone who wants to learn.

Library of Congress: Their ‘Kids and Families’ page is chockfull of online information on books, history, geography, music and much more.

Scholastic’s Parent and Child’s 100 Greatest Books: List contains classics and other well-known books grouped by age and genres.

50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know: Books for ages preschool to twelve that have main characters who are people of color.

YouTube: A great place to see and hear music (full albums, videos, etc.) which you can share with your child. A lot of the music downloads have lyrics to them to aid in any sing-along efforts. It’s a fun, easy and informative way to spend time with your child while sharing and learning about a wide variety of music genres.

Common Sense Media Best Documentaries: Good list of documentaries that are educational, uplifting, serious and funny and can be viewed by the entire family.

PBS American Experience: Great learning tool for kids in that its documentaries are straightforward and handle sensitive material in an appropriate manner.

Stereotypes and Learning About Black Women From Watching Television

Cast of 'Girlfriends' TV show, an American comedy-drama sitcom that lasted eight years. (Image: UPN Television Network)

Cast of ‘Girlfriends’ TV show, an American comedy-drama sitcom that lasted eight years. Left to Right: Jill Marie Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks and Persia White. (Image: UPN Television Network)

As an African-American woman and television viewer for over thirty years there haven’t been many opportunities to see positive, let alone well-rounded portrayals of Black women on network and/or cable television. As I got older when I would see a black female character on a television show I would keep my fingers crossed and hope that she wasn’t poor, pregnant, ignorant, stoic or in an abusive relationship. Most of the times my wishes went unanswered, but that was just the way it was in Hollywood and for American television.

However, the past ten years has been sort of a watershed moment for black actresses and television in that more black women haven been on television in leading or prominent roles including Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Uzo Aduba, (Orange Is the New Black), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Angela Bassett (American Horror Story), Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane), Chandra Wilson (Grey’s Anatomy), Raven-Symone (That’s So Raven), Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne) and Regina King (Southland). No one has had a bigger role though than Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. Combine that with scripted or reality shows that have a significant or mostly black female cast such as Girlfriends, Soul FoodReal Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop – black women are more visible than ever on our televisions and computer screens, but also in our movie theaters.

Yet, even with the variety of black female roles on television Hollywood still traffics in obvious stereotypes of black women when writing black characters.

Below are some those stereotypes and imagery that still rear their ugly head in portrayals of black women on the small screen – no matter our evolving educational, cultural and economic impact on American society:

1. They are noticeably loud. Everything they say is said in such a booming and emphatic manner in comparison to others around them. Are they suffering from a debilitating auditory condition? Is their loudness due to a fact they don’t care that their voice is dominating the conversation and causing heavy wincing? The American Medical Association has yet to commence research regarding this ‘Hollywood’ medical condition though the problem still exists.

Black woman standing in clean kitchen (Image: Feature Pics)

Black woman standing in clean kitchen (Image: Feature Pics)

2. They browbeat their loved-ones as a sign of affection. They will tell their husbands, siblings, sisters and friends how much they’ve screwed up their work life, relationships or financial situations in sometimes amusing but mostly painful and humiliating fashion – all because they care about them. They’ll eventually express how much they love the person, but not before making them feel really bad about themselves.

3. They are born with Southern accents no matter where they live. Whether they were born in New York, California or somewhere in-between, they will eventually sound like they were born and raised in the Deep South. Maybe it’s something they have picked up subliminally from their mythical great aunt or grandmother while hearing their mythical tales of the how glorious the mythical South was for blacks back-in-the-day as long as they worked hard and lived right.

4. They are addicted to cleaning. Nothing makes their day like having a clean home, especially a spotless kitchen since that’s where they love to spend most of their time (more on that later). Sniffing the air of a clean home and smiling happily when their family comes home and acknowledges their hard work is the highlight of their day. Because of course every black woman has had a grandmother, mom or aunt who used to clean white people’s homes for a living.

5. They are genetically pre-disposed to suffer hair loss. They appear to become follicly-challenged once they enter their early teens, hence the heavy usage of wigs, weaves, braids and extensions to supplement their thinning hair and/or to protect what little hair they have left. By the time they’ve entered their forties full-fledged wigs have become the norm for most of them.

Irma P. Hall as 'Grandma Joe' the matriarch in the movie 'Soul Food.' (Image:  IMDB)

Irma P. Hall as ‘Grandma Joe’ the matriarch in the movie ‘Soul Food.’ (Image: IMDB)

6. They are biblical scholars. They can pull a quote from the bible as fast as Dirty Harry can draw a gun. Old Testament. New Testament. Revised Standard. King James Version. They keep one around at all times on the rare occasion that they have to reference it as a refresher or to fend off evil spirits.

7. They have unstable necks, resulting in excessive circular head movements. On occasion their heads become unusually heavy when they experience a bout of emphaticism (aka making a strong verbal point to their conversation partner). When this situation occurs their neck can no longer support the size of their head, hence the head-nod-to-headroll-in-a-counter-clockwise physiological anomaly.

8. Enjoy being sidekicks or third-wheels to white women. This is mainly due to their innate shyness that they cover-up by being extremely bossy towards their white BFFs. However in the rare instance that their white BFF decides to give them a wee bit of limelight the black woman will scurry back to the sidelines because that’s where she is obviously most comfortable.

9. They are always financially-challenged. They are constantly worrying about how to pay their bills because they never have enough money to pay their bills. It’s not because they blow money fruitlessly, but that they never seem to have enough money to do anything due to working one or more crappy jobs because they’re a single parent or have to support a sick mom, a deadbeat husband or a lazy boyfriend.

10. Love to cook jumbo-sized, down-home meals no matter the occasion or time of day. Black women are true believers of their own axiom that ‘All problems can be solved over a home-cooked meal.’ Accordingly they will break out their pots and pans for Thanksgiving-styled meals throughout the year, whether the problem is big or small, or even if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup would suffice.

Kerry Washington as 'Olivia Pope' in the television show 'Scandal.' Pope is the rare character that doesn't fit the usual black women television role. (Image: ABC Television)

Kerry Washington as ‘Olivia Pope’ in the television show ‘Scandal.’ Pope is the rare character that doesn’t fit the usual black women television role. (Image: ABC Television)

11. Their life goals are very exacting. It seems that their dream jobs are  to own a hair salon, be a nanny to a precocious white child, a talk show host, music video vixen or to get married. Nothing else is remotely acceptable to them.

12. There is a correlation between their weight and their behavior. If they’re skinny they are mean and vain. If they’re plump they are warm and sassy. Average-sized black women seem to have low survival rates, hence they’re rarely spotted beyond their teen years.

13. They have infinite amounts of wisdom no matter the topic. Whatever the situation they will find a cliche, parable or homily for the moment in an attempt to make you feel better or to sum up the situation in case you have no clue what’s going on. Like your own personal ‘Gone With the Wind‘ Mammy.

Black women are not asking for Hollywood to portray them as flawless human beings or, as some sort of uber black female that is attractive, strong and respected. Cinematically, that has always been the demand from African-Americans and civil rights organizations because of the decades-long onslaught of negative imagery of black people, especially black men.

However, having black female characters who have ‘made it’ professionally, academically or financially but still act stereotypically ‘ghetto’ is incongruous and frankly asinine, yet it still happens (see ‘Angela’ in Why Did I Get Married movies).

Black female characters should run the gamut just like their white female counterparts. Hollywood producers should portray us as rich, poor, upper class, lower class, smart, clueless, serious, sassy, tough, scared, healthy, sick, overweight, sexy, nerdy, beautiful, ugly, friendly, deadly and any other social, emotional and economic variations. Why? Because black women are not a monolith or part of some collective Borg where we have the same thoughts, ideas or experiences. We are individuals with similarities and differences – imagine that.

Maybe one day Hollywood will put this particular conversation to rest, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Because for every Olivia Pope Tinseltown will always have black maids waiting in the wings.

As they say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

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Related YETBW Blog Post: Learning About White Women From Watching Television.

For more information: The Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism describes itself as the “premiere research think tank in the world dedicated to addressing issues of inequality in entertainment.” It may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. They do extensive research on diversity and the lack thereof in the entertainment industry. Their work is highly cited by those interested and concerned about the issue. You can read their annual reports and other research here.

When Nepotism Is A Double-Edged Sword: The Case of Jay Paterno

Jay Paterno, former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach (Image: CNN, undated)

Jay Paterno, former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach (Image: CNN, undated)

Jay Paterno is still mad and he’s not going to take it anymore. The former Penn State University Quarterbacks Coach and son of the late Coach Joe Paterno is suing PSU to get what he thinks is owed him by those who have done him wrong.

In his $1 million lawsuit against the university which he filed last month with another former PSU coach, Jay Paterno is alleging, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was “improperly terminated” when [he was] retained as an [assistant coach] by [former] Penn State coach Bill O’Brien in January 2012″ and that the university has [engaged] in civil conspiracy against [him]” which has made him “unemployable for other football coaching positions.”

In other words, Jay Paterno has been unable to get a coaching job since PSU cleaned its football house in early 2012. As you might recall, Jay Paterno’s dad, Joe Paterno and other head administrators were fired by the university in light of the 2011 child abuse scandal in which Former PSU Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky was accused and eventually sentenced to 30-60 years for 45 counts of child sexual abuse against ten boys.

Once the Sandusky case rocked the university and his dad’s less-than-stellar handling of one reported sexual assault by Sandusky came to light, Jay Paterno should’ve known his coaching days at PSU were numbered, especially once his dad died from the stress of it all or of a guilty conscience.

Yet he seemed shocked by the termination. I guess having been employed by your father for seventeen years, twelve of them in a high profile position, means never having to experience the ‘new coach = possible job termination’ phenomenon. Therefore when it happened to Jay Paterno courtesy of O’Brien it was probably a major kick-in-the-gut moment for him though he did receive a severance payment given to ‘Paterno Assistants’ who weren’t retained by O’Brien.

It would be hard to argue that the Sandusky scandal hasn’t been an impediment to Jay Paterno’s post-PSU coaching career. What university would want a coach on their team who might have turned a blind eye and/or deaf ear to Sandusky’s sexual assault of young boys (though it has never been alleged or proven that Jay Paterno had knowledge of the incidents)? Of course Jay Paterno’s last name has probably proved more of a hindrance than a help–which isn’t normally how it has worked for him. Hiring him might bring unwanted attention to a school regarding a topic or coach that they don’t wish to discuss.

However, there is another question that hasn’t been fully vetted regarding Jay Paterno’s lack of coaching offers. Is it solely because of  his ‘connection’ to the Penn State/Sandusky scandal that he hasn’t been hired or could it also involve something else, such as his own coaching history?

Underwhelming Coaching Achievements

Most of Jay Paterno’s college football experience has been playing and working for his dad. He was a member of the Nittany Lions football team for four years (1986-1990) though he was never a starter. In his final year he was a reserve quarterback for the team.

After he graduated from PSU he was a graduate assistant for the University of Virginia football team for a couple of years (1990-1992). Next up, he was the Quarterbacks and Tight Ends coach at the University of Connecticut for one year (1993-1994). His final stop before returning to PSU was a one-year term as the Quarterbacks Coach at James Madison University (1994-1995). From 1995-1999 he was PSU’s Tight Ends Coach and Recruiting Coordinator then became their Quarterbacks Coach in 1995 until he was terminated in 2012.

His football coaching experience amounts to 19 years with 17 of them at Penn State working under his dad. Not exactly a prolific coaching road he’s traveled. Nevertheless, Penn State’s bio of Jay Paterno lauds his quarterback coaching work at the university.

[Jay Paterno] has been instrumental in the development of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin, both of whom have delivered school record-setting performances. Paterno was influential in the development of two-time first-team All-Big Ten signal-caller Daryll Clark. Co-winner of the 2009 Big Ten Silver Football (MVP), Clark was 22-4 as a starter, breaking Penn State records for season (24) and career (43) touchdown passes, season passing yardage (3,003) and season total offense (3,214), among others. Under Paterno’s guidance, Clark gave Penn State a 2,000-yard passer for the fifth straight year. Paterno was instrumental in the development of record-setting quarterbacks Anthony Morelli and Michael Robinson, the 2005 Big Ten MVP. Robinson broke Kerry Collins’ Penn State season total offense mark en route to finishing fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy. Paterno also coached Zack Mills, who owned or shared 18 school passing and total offense records, including the game passing (399 yards) and total offense (418 yards) marks.

Sounds like he’s done some solid work molding successful quarterbacks, but I doubt any of the above QB names beyond Collins (whom he only worked with for one season) rings much of a bell to most NFL fans and with good reason. Yes, some of his quarterbacks broke a few Big 10 Records and two of them finished in the Top 10 of the Heisman Trophy Race during their PSU years (Kerry Collins and Michael Robinson). But if you’re a well-known football program what you hang your hat on is how many of your players make it to the NFL.

JayPaterno.QBsCHART

Under Jay Paterno’s coaching tutelage only three of his QBs  have made it to the NFL, with one of them playing as a wide receiver. Also PSU quarterbacks during his tenure didn’t exactly do a lot of passing during their games, with only Zack Mills and Matt McGloin cracking the 150 yards per game average. Yes, PSU has traditionally been known for its running game and producing linebackers. However that doesn’t mean PSU wasn’t interested in putting up large QB numbers, especially since it was in the Big Ten. For the eleven quarterbacks whom he coached at PSU during his 12-year period they only averaged 144.4 passing yards per game. You stack up that data against other well-known or Big Ten quarterbacks during that time period (Kyle Orton, Tom Brady, Chad Henne, Drew Brees) Penn State’s signal callers suffer woefully in comparison, let alone their QB Coach.

Neither Penn State or Jay Paterno attracted big-time quarterbacks and they definitely didn’t produce them. Is it any wonder that college football programs haven’t been clamoring for his quarterback coaching services?

Grasping At Career Straws

Cover of 'Paterno Legacy' 2014 book written by Jay Paterno (Image: Amazon.com)

Cover of ‘Paterno Legacy’ 2014 book written by Jay Paterno (Image: Amazon.com)

Due to a lack of college coaching offers Jay Paterno had to find another career path. Maybe he could’ve stepped back a level and done some high school coaching or become an athletic administrator at a smaller school, sensible decisions to most people, unless you’re a Paterno.

Instead, he decided to run for public office. In a somewhat ‘go big or go home’ political move he announced in February 2014 that he was running in the Democratic Race for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. As to be expected,  his campaign was practically over before it started. The validity of the 1,000 signatures his campaign collected to have his name officially put on the ballot became a legal sticking point. In addition, he had zero political experience, was running against six other politically-seasoned candidates and the issue of him being accused of trading off his family name for votes was a salient one. Inevitably, on March 28, 2014 he dropped out of the race.

Luckily for him he had another career back-up plan. While he was running for office he had been working on his first book Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father, which was released this summer. The books’s purpose in so many words is to remind others that they shouldn’t allow the Sandusky issue to define Joe Paterno’s life and football legacy. Jay Paterno has always defended his dad’s actions surrounding the Sandusky child sexual assault scandal, stating that “in no way shape or form would Joe Paterno have put anybody in harm’s way” though the Freeh Report which investigated PSU’s actions regarding the Sandusky matter stated otherwise. Nevertheless, the book will probably do well among PSU Alumni who still strongly believe that PSU should honor Joe Paterno for his service to the university, if no one else.

Jay Paterno must think being a writer/author will be a good career move. Besides his bi-monthly column for StateCollege.com, his official website (formerly his campaign website) mentions that he is working on a second book tentatively titled ‘School Colors’ that will “take readers inside a year of big-time college football.” Guess he’ll be speaking from personal experience.

 Assessing Blame

Jay Paterno may believe that Penn State has sabotaged his coaching career because the university is trying to run as fast as it can from all those who were employed by Joe Paterno and/or connected to Jerry Sandusky. Given the fact that Jay Paterno has never been accused of having knowledge of Sandusky’s actions it would seem that maybe the scandal hasn’t tarnished him as much as he alleges.

Jay Paterno (Image: Mark Pynes, PennLive, July 24, 2014)

Jay Paterno (Image: Mark Pynes, PennLive, July 24, 2014)

What seems to really be at play in Jay Paterno’s post-PSU work history is good, old-fashioned nepotism. He worked twelve years as the quarterbacks coach for his dad churning out mediocre talent at best with a couple of bright spots. Given his coaching record with his quarterbacks he wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long if he was at another college football program. The only reason why he did is because of his last name. He knows it and so does the college football coaching community. His short-term dive into politics (which was probably his first truly obvious attempt to trade on his family’s name) was, to be blunt, a vanity-filled, waste-of-time. In this instance, nepotism and politics weren’t on friendly terms. As for his writing career, maybe he will become a successful author, but given his track record it seems unlikely.

In the end Jay Paterno might be good at only one thing – being the son of Joe Paterno. Can’t blame Penn State, Sandusky or O’Brien for that – only himself.

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