Monday, January 23, 2017

Five Take-Aways from the Introvert Book

The book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, released in 2012. It's been on my to-read list for a while after popping up on my Goodreads feed over the last few years. While the book could be less long-winded, a common critique I have of many non-fiction books, there's a lot of great materials in there. As someone who is an introvert myself and work with many introverts in an extrovert culture and, more specifically,  an extrovert field (college residence life), I identified with a lot of the material and was glad to name many of my experiences and felt responses. It's high time to own and champion my introversion.

I'm having trouble stringing a lot of the material into a coherent single thesis so I'm typing up five take-aways that especially stuck with me. I'll give a quote and a few thoughts on how I've seen it play out in my life or those around me.

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1. Leadership
"Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited form the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motive them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words" (p. 57).
I've consistently received feedback from the student leaders with whom I work that I excel at listening. It feels passive and it's not a skill you see touted on many resumes. But I'm learning that it's a specific strength of mine which I want to own and develop in addition to encouraging within the students and colleague peers of mine with whom I work. My form of leadership may differ from the culture's ideal; that's alright with me.

2. Ideal work & learning method
"... the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts ... introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation" (p. 74).
As education and work cultures trend towards group work and open work spaces, the limiting aspects are aplenty for introverts. I enjoy connecting with my colleagues on a daily basis and feel like I get in a rut if by myself all day. But, I often find myself unable to be productive (or as productive) when working alongside others. There's too much happening. I'm over-stimulated. Likewise, later on in this particular chapter, brainstorming as a way of idea-generation is identified as a poor method of creativity and coming up with a way to think anew. I've found this to be true in so many meetings. Feedback and ideas are requested and I don't have developed ideas to contribute. I wish I had time to concentrate deliberately by myself. I'm just as guilty of this in leading others. Note to self: give team-members time to think of ideas on their own, with space to do so.

3. Appropriately stimulating environments
"Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality - neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making" (p. 124). 
I've long known I had specific preferences for environment, work or otherwise. Lamp over fluorescent lighting, music that engages but doesn't distract, pleasant or no smell. I've also recently added a kinetic sandbox and essential oil diffuser to my office. Few people prefer chaotic environments, but boy do I love an office that is calming or a living room where the throw pillows are in their place. Introverts are more easily stimulated (read: distracted and worn out) than others and I'm happy to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

4. Making decisions
"... extroverted clients are more likely to be highly reward-sensitive, while the introverts are more likely to pay attention to warning signals" (p. 158). 
At a rudimentary level, extroverts get a buzz from opting to do things. This can be great in a lot of situations. But more destructive if in risk oriented fields like trading stocks. Later on it's commented upon that introverts are especially good at making a plan and sticking to it in a disciplined way. So I'm not great at making decisions quickly. My Input Strength doesn't help here either. But there's something to be said about slow-decision makers. They are prone to consider the plethora of outcomes and think a few steps down the line of reasoning. I have to prepare myself when serving on-call in my residence life role. But I shouldn't downplay my ability to reason and make good decisions when given the proper time and space.

5. Free Trait Theory

"According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits - introversion, for example - but we can and do act out of character in the service of 'core personal projects'" (p. 209). 
A majority of my days are filled with meetings, many times in one-on-one settings. I often finish my days drained and tired. But I also don't tire of the work I do. I couldn't explain the dissonance very well. This little theory does a lot to help me think through what my "core personal projects" are - facilitating student learning, discussing important topics - and better understand why I'm willing to act outside of my personality trait for the majority of my days.

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There you have it. There were plenty of other coherent, insightful take-aways from the book but those were five that stuck out to me. Likewise, introversion/extroversion is one aspect of our personality and thus our personhood. So here's to better understanding one more aspect of our selves.


Reference

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. New York, NY: Broadway Books.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Best Movies of 2016

It's been a good year for movies. From action to drama to comedy to animated movies, there were solid offerings throughout the year along with the usual plethora of Oscar bait movies in the holiday season. As has been noted by many others, 2016 was a rough year so I find it all the better that we have a wide spectrum of voices being represented. The film industry has a long ways to go on gender, racial and other forms of equality but I was happy to see a wider spectrum this year.

10. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
OK, this is my guilty pleasure favorite. I generally enjoy Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island guys but I sat down to this movie with very mediocre expectations and those expectations were surpassed. They were surpassed not by an especially heart-felt plot line or biting satire of celebrity culture though the movie holds up fine in those categories. The reason I enjoyed this movie as much as I did is because of the insane joke-density, specifically in the first 45 minutes. It had me laughing. Non-stop. Never-stopping.


9. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater has a way of putting his finger on life as it actually is. Boyhood and the Before... movies are prime examples. Everybody Wants Some!! gets college right. While set in a frat-like house for the college's baseball team in the 1980's, I saw parallels to my own college experience and the experience of my own students. My and (most of) my students have less alcohol and hookups in the few days leading up to the first days of school. But there's an excitement and uneasiness that Linklater captures so well. A constant searching for place and social positioning. This movie was a lot of fun and it's tone was spot on.


8. Finding Dory
I saw this one at home later on in the year after hearing scores of "Good, but not as good as Finding Nemo" reviews over the summer. I'm a fan of Nemo but don't have any strongly held attachment to it so I came into Dory with an open mind. And I was very entertained and impressed. I'm not sure why I don't come into Pixar movies with crazy high expectations but the joke density, artistic animation, and story line were on point. Another great installment for the Pixar people. 


7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Well, if this is the standard for the Star Wars spin-offs, count me in for the next 8 movies most likely coming our way in the next decade. I loved the new cast. The banter wasn't quite at the level of the originals or The Force Awakens but I never felt like it was overly somber. I didn't have a desperate need for this particular Star Wars story to be told but I found it making the particular universe all the more richer.


6. Midnight Special
Director Jeff Nichols and lead Michal Shannon paired up for the excellently off-kilter Take Shelter back in 2011. When I saw them back together I was intrigued and excited for what was to come. In Midnight Special (as a spiritual sequel to Shelter), the story remains weird and mysterious but larger and more susceptible to being a blockbuster without losing the specificity of characters and plot development. I saw the movie twice and enjoyed the ride on both occasions.


5. Moonlight
Moonlight was making waves at festivals early on in the year and was a fairly unanimous critical darling. When I got a chance to see it, I understood why. It's the three-act story of Chiron, struggling to find his identity amidst adversity and unfair circumstances as a child, adolescent, and adult. The movie never feels sorry for its lead, nor does it dip into any sort of emotional manipulation. It does chronicle the formative relationships and experiences of Chiron, doing so in a beautiful, meditative way. Go check this one out if you haven't already.

4. La La Land
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling starring in a movie directed by the Whiplash guy, it would be a pretty big disappointment for this movie not to crack my top 5. Not one particularly into musicals, I loved the music in the movie. The visuals matched, both for the music numbers and throughout. And back to Emma & Ryan, they have an ease and comfortability between them that can't necessarily be manufactured. Oh, and the movie isn't all eye-candy and catchy tunes, it expertly depicts what it looks like to follow your dreams and, more importantly, what must be sacrificed.


3. Zootopia
Thanks to a wife that has a deep appreciation for both animated movies and animals and, more particularly, the intersection of the two, I saw Zootopia in theaters. (I also saw The Secret Life of Pets and Sing on the big screen.) It was excellent. The animation was fun. The jokes (largely puns) did their job. The movie speaks clearly, confidently, and with nuance on the importance of diversity and the danger of prejudice. It's a great movie for kids and adults.


2. Don't Think Twice
I recently read an article from The New Yorker on how and why improv comedy is the new sensation for so many bored and lost college educated. It helps with thinking on your feet, reading other people, and being creative within the constraints of a format. While I could certainly improve in those areas, I would be fine never attending an improv class nor even see a live performance. But Don't Think Twice tones down all the annoying parts of improv and pulls out all the nuanced aspects of the subculture. The movie focuses on the lifers, those who live and breath improv and are actually good at it. But how long do you keep doing something doesn't really pay the bills and doesn't really have that many spots available to progress? The ensemble cast works through those questions in mature (and funny) ways unique to themselves. No real answers are arrived at but isn't that how it is?


1. Arrival
Arrival is an excellent, thought-provoking blockbuster sci-fi movie that also comes at just the right time. Distinct from his previous movies though also distinctly within his wheelhouse of tone and theme, Villeneuve hits the nail on the head this time. Amy Adams carries the weight of the lead and Jeremy Renner and the others do fine. To me, Arrival sets itself apart through its story-telling. Earth receives extraterrestrial visitors and Adams' character is tasked with communicating with them. The movie is an exhilarating ride and there are some important points made along the way about being patient and intentional about listening to others. But then as the movie progresses, you start to realize that the entire structure of the movie mirrors the communication of the visitors and your mind is blown but not in a cheap way but more in a, "Wow, that was impressive, I need to re-watch this" way. Arrival is great and fun and important. 
 
Honorable Mention: (listed alphabetical)
10 Cloverfield Lane; Cafe Society; Captain America: Civil War; Captain Fantastic; The Edge of Seventeen; The Fits; Fences; Ghostbusters; Hail, Caesar!; Hell or High Water; A Hologram for the King; Hunt for the WIlderpeople; The Innocents; Jackie; Keanu; Life, Animated; The Light Between Oceans; The Lobster; Loving; Manchester by the Sea; Miss Sloane; The Nice Guys; Nocturnal Animals; Sing; Star Trek Beyond; Swiss Army Man; Weiner; The Witch

Highly Anticipated: (listed alphabetical)
13th; 20th Century Women; Allied; Doctor Strange; The Eagle Huntress; The Founder; Hidden Figures; I Am Not Your Negro; Lion; Moana; A Monster Calls; Paterson; Silence

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Best Albums of 2016

I sent the following to a group of music-loving friends a month or so ago and thought it appropriate to sum up the year in music.

What a year. Among the heaviness and division, I've been encouraged by the occasional glimmer of hope, usually through listening to the story of someone other than myself. And who does this better than the artist, the poet, the prophet, and the musician? I'm holding on to the joy of sharing, recommending, and discovering new music through the eyes and ears of my friends. So maybe we can all be encouraged by listening more.

Here's a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite tracks of the year.

And here are my favorite albums of the year.

10. Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love
Donald Glover dropped this funk album late in the year. And it came as a surprise following his previous hip-hop and pop stuff. But it is a good one. I'm still getting into it a little bit but I respect Glover as an entertainer and look forward to hearing more about this side of him. Track to check out: "Redbone."


 9. Explosions in the Sky - The Wilderness
Okay, I primarily listen to Explosions as background music. But it's great background music while working. It calms but isn't boring. It builds and falls. Track to check out: any will do.



8. James Blake - The Colour in Anything
The third full length from Blake, it's probably his most meandering but it's still his classic electronic R&B and is beautiful in it's own way. Track to check out: "Timeless."

7. Frank Ocean - Blonde
Perhaps my (and many others') most anticipated album of the year, Ocean finally released another following his channelORANGE masterpiece. It wasn't what I was expecting. It's parse and weird but excellent in it's own right. Track to check out: "Self Control."

6. Phantogram - Three
I have a soft spot for Phantogram. They hit all my buttons: catchy electronic-pop coupled with a female vocalist. They've put out another solid release this year, good from top to bottom. Track to check out: "Cruel World."


5. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth
I'm not one to typically fall for a country album yet Sturgill has a distinct sound that's honest and comforting without falling into the beer and pick-up truck tropes of pop country. I've given the album a lot of spins this year. Track to check out: "Brace for Impact (Live a Little)."


4. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
After Radiohead's The King of Limbs mess, I wasn't sure what to expect from their follow up. But it's one of their most listenable albums. Personal and political and an overall fantastic album. Track to check out: "Daydreaming."



4. Bon Iver - 22, A Million
Justin Vernon moves at his own speed, recording and releasing when he feels it appropriate. I would get frustrated but each new installment in his discovery is new and different and yet still very Bon Iver. Track to check out: "22 (OVER S∞∞N)."


2. Beyonce - Lemonade
Queen Bey. Picking a single genre to slot this album in would be nearly impossible. For most artists, this would feel disparate and messy but Beyonce holds it all together, telling a beautiful story from her point of view that feels both personal and universal. The visual album is gorgeous and only aids in creating cohesion for the album. Track to check out: "Formation."


1. Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
This is the voice 2016 America needed. Chance is full of hope and joy while never once glossing over hardships. He's someone that can have a tracklist that places the song "Same Drugs" after "Blessings." He's full of multiple emotions and experiences. The album was wonderfully written about by my man David Dark on MTV and his SNL performance was just magic. I loved this album and it brought me a lot of joy this year. Track to check out: "Blessings."


Honorable Mentions: (listed alphabetically)
Gallant - Ology
The Head and the Heart - Signs of LIght
Local Natives - Sunlit Youth
Lucius - Good Grief
The Lumineers - Cleopatra
Rihanna - ANTI
Solange - A Seat at the Table
A Tribe Called Quest - We got it from Here... Thank You 4 Your service