Beam Me Up, Scotty!

It’s worse than I thought…

Not only did I have to jettison poor Captain Kirk from my magazine article, but I had to give the very people – note that operative word, people – my article on People Development was supposed to be about the heave-ho.

It was another howl-at-the-moon afternoon.

Were this an article about investigating, say, fraud in Brooklyn, I could understand these strictures about not focusing on the people in the article, but rather on the business practices they employ doing their job.

Great! Fine! I’d be cool with that. Cool beans. I’d be on board. I’d be on the same page as management.

If it were a people development (business education) piece about a particular educational class – Detecting Auto Fraud (how can you tell a car has been in a flood – the rusted metal and the musty odor of mold) – hey, that’s great! I’m all for that.

But evicting the people in a story about People Development because they’re people, not just cogs keeping the machine going, that just boils my tea kettle.

People are everything. They can be rude, arrogant, mean, cruel, selfish, stupid, lazy. They can be a royal pain in the butt. But they’re what it’s all about. That’s why God put Man at the top of the food chain (if Man doesn’t watch himself, God could change that order).

My first lesson in photography came not from my journalist parents, who were also excellent photographers, and not from my eminently helpful colleagues who taught me the difference between an F-stop and a bus stop, but from my piano teacher when I was a teenager.

Mrs. S. was old. Her memory dated back to the previous century. She remembered when my band and her father’s band were first formed, when the two bands were rivals.

We had taken a vacation out West to the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains. Proudly, I showed her my landscape photos of the majestic mountains and the sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon.

She looked through them and nodded politely. When she was finished, she said, “Well those are very nice, dear. But where are the people?”

“What do you mean, Mrs. S. (there were a few photos of my family, but I was chiefly interested in photographing the scenery)? These are the Rocky Mountains! That’s Pikes Peak and there’s the Colorado River!!”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, dear!” she replied. “You’re very proud of your photos. But those are just mountains. Rivers. Trees. When you get right down to it, they’re all very much the same.

“But people!” she went on. “People are always changing. No two are ever exactly alike, not even identical twins. They’re as unique as their fingerprints. There’s always something new to see and learn about people.  You never know what they’re going to do (or why).”

You can take a picture of a tree, and the change of seasons notwithstanding, the tree will be the same year after year. But people grow and change. They’re full of varying moods. The same person’s face will change from moment to moment and year to year.

How can that ever compare to a tree, she asked rhetorically. I wound up applying that lesson not only to my photography, but my writing as well. Photos are one thing; but a story without people is static, lifeless, and dull.  I enjoy taking nature photos, but people pictures are my real passion, photographically speaking.

Still, I believe in balance and have pictures on two of my cubicle walls. One wall has soothing photos of flowers and lovely trees in bloom. The other, photos of various people – a baby having a bad hair day, an American Indian in full regala, my nephew, graduating from high school.

The environmentalist wackos seem not to understand or appreciate the importance of people except when they’re looking for votes. Then they trot out the violins and start hugging trees and babies. They denounce big companies as heartless and impersonal (an argument hard to refute sometimes…).

But they’re not doing people any favors, either. One minute they’re bemoaning the plight of the poor, and the next, accusing people of being the worst thing to happen to Planet Earth since the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.

So ends my people rant. I strayed from my mission today.  I apolgize; but I just had to vent.  I must remain faithful to whatever readers I have who come to my blog seeking conservative inspiration. Tomorrow, it’s back to defending the country.

And the people who love her.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 11:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nose to the Fake Grindstone

It’s a golden rule of blogging that unless your company is paying you to write a blog for them, you never mix business with personal blogging. In this day and age of privacy issues, it’s an unwise blogger who refers to their job even obliquely.

My company’s communications are scrubbed so squeaky clean you could run your finger along them, listening to that squeaking sound. I have no problem with being appropriate, but I do mind the crushing of imagination.

That’s one of the reasons I haven’t moved beyond the position I first took on ten years ago this month. I love writing. I never, ever mind writing about the activities in my market area or its employees.

But I do find myself wistfully wishing for more. And yet, I know it’s not going to happen. I would love to be working on social media communications, on a regional level, not corporate. I’m not “politically” connected, though, and have never been much of a boot-kisser.

Thus, I sealed my own fate.  My experience has been, if there’s something you really want to do, that you have a passion for, the surest way to make sure it never happens is to tell your superiors that that’s what you’d like to do.

I’ve been assigned to write an article about business education, something in which a particular vice president is interested. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s write – and take pictures. And recognize the bigger picture.

Yet, I’m stymied by this corporate, nose to the grindstone mentality. I’ve been tasked with explaining, in this article, why business acumen is important. I can explain it perfectly, in a way my readers will understand and appreciate, and yet I won’t be allowed to do so.

What comes to mind is the episode of the old Star Trek series where Captain Kirk is brought to an alien planet to do battle with some creature called a “Gorn.” Neither he nor this Gorn are given any weapons with which to fight. The aliens tell them both, “You’re on your own.”

“What I wouldn’t give to have a good phaser in my hand,” the frustrated Kirk laments in soliloquy. The answer is all around him (as he later discovers), but he can’t see it. All he sees is a barren landscape of rock and sand.

Eventually, Kirk figures out that the materials are present to create gunpowder and he defeats his enemy.

The scenario for the importance of business education is right there in that dusty, alien scene, disguised in the form of a silly science fiction television show, with its fake boulders, rubber-suited aliens, and rube Goldberg weapons.

My editors and our executives will not be able to see the lesson in all this for those fake boulders that the Gorn uses to menace Kirk. They won’t see the lesson-within-a-lesson when the good captain realizes the materials he needs are right there in the dust.

Our company’s future leaders await in humble guise, sorting mail, settling claims, inspecting property damage. From the seeming dust of lower level positions, with education they’ll rise up to solve the company’s future problems.

If the current leadership can recognize them, that is. Without a proper education program, they wouldn’t be able to develop these employees’ potential and prepare them for distant battles with competitor Gorns.

Luckily, our company has an excellent business education program and it’s my job to promote it.

My lead will be too “imaginative” for them, though. They will suffer no nonsense. My editor will very quickly remove this “distraction” from the article, until the story is reduced to the dust from which it sprang.

(I shouldn’t really say that, because I did some of the “student” interviews yesterday. The Class of 2010 has it all together.)

Nothing but the grist would remain, the husk of a very dry, uninteresting lead they’ve probably read before and won’t bother to read again. Nor am I particularly motivated to give them an interesting lead they’ll only reject. Give them what they want. That’s the long-standing homily.

Meanwhile, my more savvy co-workers will give leadership the dry dust they crave and be well-rewarded with future plumb assignments and lucrative bonuses for writing nothing more than advertising copy.

Hey, it’s a living. And another clichéd platitude. I’ll shrug and go home. The next morning, I’ll awake either to the scratchy static of my clock radio (the daily wake up call from the Coast to Coast crazies) or my cat barfing on my rug to get even with me for not rising earlier to feed him.

Whichever comes first. Those are negative things to get a rise out of you in the morning to be sure (Coast to Coast can be funny at times, but rather grim with its end-of-the-world diatribes).

What does get me up in the morning is my blog here. It may not pay the bills. I may not have many readers and I’ll never get a raise for writing it. But it’s all mine.

My own professional development, ironically, is sadly lacking. I’d sooner my bosses pulled out my fingernails than send me to a night class.

Even if I took classes, got an MBA, what would that degree avail me, if, like our leaders and our editors, I became so “focused” I couldn’t see the dynamite for the fake boulders? For better or worse, my job isn’t to process insurance claims day in and day out.

My abilities would be wasted forcing my nose to the grindstone, trying to prove I can “focus”, trying to be “serious”. My other job, as a company photographer, has taught me, oddly enough, not to focus but to see the bigger picture.

It’s not enough, indeed, to take pretty pictures but to understand their import, and I do. Far better than I’ve been given credit for. As a photographer, my job is to hone my technical accuracy, to focus on the details.

As a photographer, it’s my job to make sure that my pictures tell a story. As a writer, it’s my job to make sure my words paint a picture. As long as that picture doesn’t include Gorns or fake boulders. Nothing imaginative, that would make the lead stand out.

My editors have urged me not to include unnecessary details in articles. But in a photograph the details are everything.

I have three lenses on my camera: a medium range lens, a wide angle, and a telephoto. Turns out the medium range takes exactly the ordinary photos you would expect. Nothing extraordinary about them.

It’s the telephoto lens that brings far distant objects into view and the wide angle that permits a broader focus that allow the most creativity and generally make for the best pictures. When my equipment was stolen (it was my property, because our department managers couldn’t understand the necessity of these “extraneous” lenses), the editors complained bitterly about the lack of creativity in my photos.

I was finally able to replace those two essential lenses, and my photographs are back to their old, superior quality. The editors are happier now, and so am I. It’s another lesson in not limiting yourself, only focusing on the basics, pressing your creativity to the grindstone until it’s worn away.

They would never listen to me, not even my kindly present manager. They didn’t listen when I told them we needed to purchase these lenses. It was one of my co-workers who finally convinced them. But they may yet rescind the order to purchase them. Financially, these are hard times and the economic landscape is barren.

Like the camera, the blog is all mine and I’m not sorry to possess either of them. That I suppose is the true advantage of liberty and freedom. I wouldn’t trade my freedom for all the letters of recommendation in the world.

In their quest to find out everything about their employees they were afraid to ask, perhaps my company will stumble across my blog and learn what they don’t know about me and in their ignorance, never bothered to look into, discover the potential they’ve overlooked.

So, spy away, company. Invade my privacy. I beg of you. Please!! Maybe you’ll LEARN something!!!

God knows, every other way has failed. Meanwhile, it’s back to my magazine story on business education and how to make it as dry and uninteresting as the Planet Gorn.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 7:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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