Somebody That I Used to Know…

I believe that as much as art informs culture, culture informs art. It’s rare to see this emerge in the traditionally vapid world of pop music, but there is a current over-played song that strikes me as unintentionally illuminating a troubling aspect of our society.

I believe that the song “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra illustrates a fundamental disrespect that has run rampant in our society. [Disclaimer: I realize that the writing of a song, especially a duet is a complex process. For the sake of this analysis I will name the characters by the artist who voiced them. I realize this likely does not directly reflect either of their lives and I hope you realize that too.]

In the first verse Gotye describes the “good times” of a now expired relationship:

Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember

Already Gotye describes not only that he’s being dishonest with himself; he’s telling himself it’s a good match, and trying to ignore a lonely feeling when around his partner. Perhaps even more alarming he says “but that was love” implying that either the feelings or the dishonesty are part of love.

In the second verse Gotye develops the theme that he was unhappy in the relationship:

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over

The amount of suffering described so far makes me concerned that Gotye is, in some way, perpetuating his victim-hood. If he was unhappy, why didn’t he address it in a straight forth manner? The way it’s worded makes him appear to be in a passive victim-like status.

In the bridge we find the turn of the tale:

But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know

Here it appears the up-to-now passive character is lashing out at his past lover: she “cut him off” and “stooped so low,” treated him “like a stranger.” It’s only natural to lash out at someone who’s hurt you, however the transgressions he describes seem only reasonable: “make out like it never happened,” “treat me like a stranger,” “have your friends collect your records and then change your number.” These seem like perfectly reasonable post-break-up attempts to be gentle to one’s own psychological healing. After breaking up with someone I’m likely to treat someone as a stranger if I’m not ready to interact with them again yet. I might also ask friends to get my stuff from the ex’s house so I don’t have to put myself through that. And if it was a particularly bad relationship, it’s totally within my right to change my phone number. Gotye, why are you whining about all this?

And this is when the ex-girlfriend’s response comes in:

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

This new perspective sheds light on the fact that Kimbra feels screwed over, coerced into believing it was her fault, and lied to [I’m extrapolating from tone and context that “you said that you could let it go” is a direct response to the prior portion of the song, combined with a pre-song statement on the part of Gotye.] The tone of this portion of the song sounds assertive and is in contrast to Gotye’s tone. This is the end of new lyrical content in the song.

Overall I see this story telling the tale of boy who is not only confused, but perceives himself to be helpless in his current position. The woman, on the other hand, has taken a stand, taken care of herself and is trying to move forward while still annoyed at her ex’s position on break-up.

Gotye’s character in all this is the part that deeply troubles me. As he and his ex describe it, it appears he has deeply betrayed/pissed off his ex. His response seems to be to whine and complain, and do so to her. This isn’t constructive for him and it shows a basic lack of respect for his ex. When faced with an ex who changed her phone number to avoid him, the more constructive choice would be to ask yourself “what was my part in causing such a strong reaction?” and use it as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth. Also, if she changed her number, she doesn’t want to talk to him, so why has he engaged her in the dialogue that is this song? The description of her actions in the song make a case that she is establishing a very clear boundary. By engaging her in this dialogue, he’s disrespecting this boundary.

So, the lesson to be learned here: Whining is bad. Self-reflection is good. Learn to identify boundaries and respect them.

Well-behaved women seldom make history

I was reading this article on a woman who spoke up during a comedian’s bit on rape jokes, and subsequently became the butt of a rape joke/threat and my absolute first reaction was, “wow, she actually spoke up.” I’ve been noticing in myself and in people (mostly women) around me that there’s a trend towards not saying something because, as this woman even admitted, it’s “disruptive.” But what does that “disruption” really mean?

To continue with the example of this woman, she was probably feeling in every fiber of her being a sense that what the comedian was saying is truly wrong. (“rape jokes are always funny”) I suppose this because I got this feeling in my gut just from reading her synopsis of the story, and it’s that feeling that will make me speak out. Whether or not she was justified in her perspective is actually not the point I’m trying to make here; the point is that she felt a strong opinion in a certain direction.

I have the experience that I feel these types of things all the time, and often they’re in contexts I don’t deem as “safe” to bring up my opinion. For example, a large auditorium with an audience full of people laughing about rape is not a “safe” space, in my perception, to contradict the crowd. (Why do I perceive it as not safe? Because I fear precisely what happened.) At Occupy Seattle, or Gender Bender Blues Recess I would be much more likely to contradict the flow of the crowd.

Now obviously, addressing crowds is a difficult beast. But I see this also happening in little day-to-day things. Let’s take dance, as an example. There are countless times when I experience or hear someone else’s experience in which we experience discomfort (physical, or a social faux paus or space-bubble invasion) that we do or say nothing about. In the moment I often find myself frozen in a mental loop of “How do I change things so I can be comfortable without being impolite or hurting his feelings?” When I stand back and think about it, though, the actual meaning of that thought is “How can I become more comfortable without making him uncomfortable?” When I look at it that way I start to realize that I’m sacrificing my comfort for his. It might appear beatifically self-less of me to sacrifice my comfort for him, but come on people, this is dancing not church! My comfort is the only thing in the equation that I actually have control over. [I could ask if he’s comfortable, but even still, I don’t have control over his choice to lie or not lie in answer to my question.] In an effort to preserve his comfort I will do everything in my power to address the issue in a polite and gentle way, but when all is said and done, my comfort has to come first. Why are we afraid to ask for the space to be comfortable?

Let’s flip this on it’s head for a second: you are dancing with someone and having a great time. If s/he is not having a good time; if s/he is uncomfortable and you could do something to make her/him more comfortable, wouldn’t you do it?

So then: Why are we so afraid to address our discomfort with someone who could help? or conversely: Why are we hurt/upset/shaken when someone asks us for something that would make them more comfortable?

I really don’t have the answer to these yet. I’d love thoughts and feedback and I’ll probably post more in the future while I chew on this.

Hi, I’m Maggie Karshner…

Hi, I’m Maggie Karshner and I’m a behind-the-scenes people lover and strategy-focused thinker.

Being a behind-the-scenes people lover has two facets: I love amplifying my ability to get things done by working with other people, and I love people being excited by getting what they need/want, and I either supported the person who delivered the product/service or I showed them the path. (i.e. direct sales, being a service provider and HR don’t do it for me. I hypothesize this would make me a good fit for a Program Manager type role, maybe? …maybe someday? …if someday, how do I get there?!?!?)

As a strategy-focused thinker, with any task I think “how can this be done better? more efficiently? is this even the right thing to be doing in this circumstance?” This crosses with my people-loving side and provides me with an intuitive sense for what people need to hear and how best to say it. That suits me really well in marketing positions and entrepreneurial settings; I believe this natural talent could expand into a broader business setting given enough knowledge of the game and the playing field.

On top of this I value honesty and transparency; I do not do well in contexts where politics and posturing get you ahead.

I wrote this message because I’m trying to figure out where people like me are and where I fit in the world. (More specifically, that part of the world that keeps food on the table.) Wanna help me find out? Contact me!

Four Key Competencies in Blues Dancing

At a recent Burn Blue meeting I had a conversation with a fellow officer which got me thinking about skill level in dancing. In discussions about dance skill level it can be very difficult to see eye to eye on what makes a beginner, intermediate or advanced dancer. I think part of the problem is that there are multiple facets and multiple areas that one dancer values and ascribes to their assessment of another dancer.

I see a natural grouping of dance values into four major groups, which I’d hazard a guess exist in all partner dancing. Technique, partnering, musicality and showmanship; graphed for your pleasure:

Let me describe what I mean by each of these:

Musicality: responding to the music, using rhythm and body movement to translate aspects of the music into physical form.

Technique: your ability to control your own body and use it effectively, including having a vocabulary of moves. (At some point learning more moves reaches a point of diminishing returns, and focus then has to be applied to improving the execution of moves as well as basic movements.)

Partnering: connection, your ability to convey/receive movement instruction and make it a gooey, feel-good experience. This includes social considerations (i.e. not creeping out your partner) and floor craft to the extent that one doesn’t crash their partner into other people.

Showmanship: making the dance look good; aesthetics, lines, flashy moves, etc.

Perhaps these could be sliced or diced in other ways; from my perspective these seem to be the most divisive dividing lines.

I think that every person has a natural inclination towards one or more of these areas and a disinterest in others. I also think one’s interest in these areas can change over time.

In my own dancing I can see that I first focused on partnering and musicality. I learned some technique, but only to the extent that it allowed me to partner better or be more musical. For the past few years I’ve been focused on technique and only recently have I begun even thinking about showmanship. So here’s how my dancing might be represented:

I think when advanced dancers start talking about “good” dancers, or any dancer describes their favorite people to dance with, we invariably make this judgement through a lens of which of these areas we find most important. For example, if a beginning dancer partners well and has good musicality, their technical skill can be barely existent and I’ll still love dancing with them. I tend to find technique focused beginners as neither good nor bad, and showmanship focused dancers as downright intolerable. I’ve heard other dancers speak highly of showmanship focused dancers, but I fail to agree until that dancer’s technique and partnering come up to a certain minimum level.

When it comes to assessing a skill level like “beginner” “intermediate” or “advanced” I think all four areas should be taken into consideration. In my graph, each quadrant is significant enough that most people consider me an advanced dancer, or are willing to overlook what I lack in the “showmanship” area, and still round up to advanced. (However, I believe I don’t do well in competitions because of what I lack in the “showmanship” area, since competitions necessarily look for that and necessarily cannot see partnering skills.)

If a ballet dancer started learning how to blues dance, much of their technical skill would be easily adaptable to blues dancing, however, their partnering would probably be lacking. A graph of their skill might look like this:

(The scale on these graphs is totally not standardized, and is purposefully arbitrary for sake of this post.)

My motivation in bringing up this topic is that I feel like the egalitarian in all of us doesn’t like the idea of saying “that person is a good dancer” and “that person is a bad dancer.” However a fair assessment of people’s skills is the only way for people to progress in their dancing. If you don’t know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, then you have no idea what you need to work on to be a better dancer. (Even more problematically, you might not even realize that you need to advance, or that advancing is even something you could do!) Having a massive check-list of every dance skill known to man is not a very usable tool. Grouping skills into these four areas allows statements like “That person has great showmanship, and good technique and musicality, for which I’d count them as an advanced dancer, however I don’t enjoy dancing with them because I like someone who partners better” which is a much better, informative statement about a dancer than “I don’t like dancing with that person.”

I could see a more in-depth investigation of the skills and the range of competencies in each of these areas as being valuable, especially for instructors and their students.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this idea, these four groupings, and other ways to incentivising dancers towards improvement without crushing individual expression or reducing a culture of acceptance in the dance community. I’d like to see dance environments where people who want to improve can, and people who are happy where they are can be recognized for their strengths and comfortable with that too; maybe even recognized for improving when they don’t intend to.

Soup

The bulbs are coming up and the fruit trees are starting to bloom, and I’ve nearly perfected this soup recipe. I’m calling it Leeky Veggie Noodle Soup. Here’s about how it goes:

  • Cooking oil of your choice
  • 1/2 a large yellow cooking onion (i.e. not sweet) chopped
  • 1 lb sliced mushrooms
  • 2 carrots sliced
  • 1 leek, cleaned and sliced
  • 5 cups veggie broth
  • 3/4 cup orzo
  • water if needed

Saute onion and mushrooms using oil in soup pot until mushrooms are soft. Add carrots and leek (I like to add them as I chop them.) Let the carrots soften a little bit. Add veggie broth and orzo and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 10min (or whatever amount is directed on the orzo box.) If it’s too porridge-y and not soup-y enough add water to desired consistency.

I am a busy person, and I need to accept this.

My last boss used to say “want something done, give it to a busy person.” I guess a part of me just figured I was only busy because I spent 8hrs per day at work. One glance at my schedule will tell you how much that assumption was wrong. Obviously my time has not been filled lately with writing blog posts, but that does not mean I’ve been sedentary in the least.

On the fun and silly end of things, I’ve been an extra (with a line!) in an independent film while also coordinating the dancing-extras, and I’ve posed for a picture that will become a quilt by the infamous Luke Haynes. I can’t wait to see how it comes out.

Of course I’ve kept up with my volunteer work in the blues dance community. I’ve been hosting at least twice a month at two different venues. Keeping the idiosyncrasies of each venue straight is becoming tricky.

I’ve been working with a couple friends to help them with their businesses. One is a dance instructor who just acquired a master-lease on a space, and the other is a newly minted yoga instructor (website still in the works.) So much of this work is the weekly progress report, which ensures work gets done as much as it helps illustrate how much has been accomplished. I also bring focus, organization, goal-setting, marketing and business prowess. And plenty of cheer-leading! I’m finding it very fun and rewarding. Maybe someday I could make this job pay the bills; until then I’m getting dance lessons and yoga classes out of the deal and that’s awesome!

This past weekend I participated in the SocEnt Weekend, which was modeled after start-up weekend. Unlike start-up weekend, this event involved significantly fewer programmers, so less proto-typing was done and more business planning, market research and conceptualizing the proto-type. I learned a ton. Top of the list are “good people management skills are invaluable” and “going back to where you started is not a bad thing.” My brain was so fried after the 50hr weekend, I slept for 12 solid hours. I’m chewing on some of the key things I learned here and it’s likely there will be subsequent posts about it. So look forward to that! 🙂

oh wow, wordpress

I just got a bright little alert cheerfully telling me I’d made my fourth post, yay!! And it informed me I’ll get another “award” when I’ve reached my next “goal” which is a whopping total of five posts.

Since the next goal is one post away from the first, I just couldn’t help myself. …I’ve apparently been well conditioned by my FitBit,which is really the only appropriate use of this stupid four-square pioneered award-goal system. ah, well, what ever make the internet go round, right?