Mastering Your Craft...

In a world that is so obsessed with social and economic status, it often feels difficult to be comfortable with what you have and where you are. At every turn there are messages telling us to have more and be more. For many of us, these messages are the basis for diseases that form within our minds and hearts, informing the ways in which we view ourselves and our significance in the world. Each and every person has a unique purpose and while a few of us may be led to fame and fortune as a result of pursuing our special assignments in life, most of us will take our final breaths and leave behind a life and legacy that are only celebrated and remembered by a few people who knew us well and loved us for who we were and hopefully despite who we were not.

So if fame and fortune aren't what we're all driving toward we may pause to ask ourselves what is it that ties us all together in our journey toward fulfilling our purpose and finding some level of significance. I am learning and believing that what we should be striving toward is mastering our craft, whatever it may be.

Living a life of joy and fulfillment involves doing your very best and that doesn't necessarily mean doing your best in a particular space, or doing your best with a particular task, but rather striving to do your very best wherever you are.

I spent some time last week listening to speeches and sermons by the great Dr. Martin Luther King and found myself scratching my head when King shared a story of a man who shined his shoes. In his story, Dr. King spoke in detail about this man, another Black man, who was masterful in shoes shining.

Dr. King, talked about the man's focus and the level of thought he seemed to be putting into his work and as I listened I could feel something within me wrestling with an emerging paradox.

What struck me was a tension I felt somewhere in my mind where an image of one of our nation's greatest advocates for equality was passionately praising the work of a service provider in a role that would garner little or no respect whatsoever in our tremendously hierarchical society shaped and informed by social, cultural, educational and economic elitist sentiments.

In my mind, there was something odd about King's excitement over this man's shoe shining skills, a man who likely faced great obstacles in the segregated south and had very limited opportunities to take advantage of the privileges afforded to his white brethren at the time because of the overt systemic racism that ruled this nation.

As I continued listening though, I began to understand the point of Dr. King's message. His reflection wasn't an assessment of the man's worth but rather an observation of this man's focus, intent, drive, passion and brilliance all utilized in his efforts to be his absolute best. The man's title and role may not have had value to those who took advantage of his service, but he was not concerned about status.

His only goal was to determine, for himself, the value and quality of his position by doing what he was called to do as best as he could possibly do it and the truth of his mastery, made me think about the significance we all possess despite what structures we operate in that are determined and sustained by external forces.

Dr. King struck something in me that pulled back the lenses through which I view the world and adjusted my vision in a way that allowed me to think about the potential we all have to simply do our best with whatever the assignment is that we have been given.

Our craft, no matter how big or small, does not determine who we are but it is through mastering our craft that we reveal to ourselves and the world who we are and what we're made of.

No matter what it is that you are positioned to do, don't just do it, but do it as best as you can!

My First Time Taking An HIV Test At Home

Unlike the average man in America, I see my primary physician at least every six months. I’ve never had a fear of the doctor’s office and as my family—like many American families—has become familiar with illness, I want to ensure that I’m doing what I can to live a long and healthy life. My doctor specializes in preventive care and we have a great relationship that allows him to ask very direct questions knowing that I am comfortable sharing equally direct responses. He does his job well, but I don’t expect him to be solely responsible for every aspect of my health. In fact, I have recently expanded my participation in several areas of personal care including HIV testing.

At the top of my list of tasks on a recent Monday morning was my routine HIV test with an unusual twist. Instead of getting tested in a cold examination room, I got my results in the comfort of my home using OraQuick, the FDA approved over the counter test. I made a quick trip to my local RiteAid and $43.00, a gum line swab and twenty minutes later I got my results before even making breakfast.

Surely, many will raise concerns about the accessibility of such a test and the process by which the test is performed. While legitimate questions will continue to be raised about the product, I must say that I was pleased with my experience.

As I always do—regardless of what I know to be the case—I was nervous, but there was something about being in my own home and having ownership over the process that made me feel more at ease than usual. Waiting for my results, I sat patiently reading about the science of the virus and resources for care should I need them.

That morning I thought about the millions of lives that have been impacted throughout the international community because people didn’t know or didn’t have the resources necessary to know their status. I thought of how this test can empower millions of Americans to participate in making HIV testing a normal part of our daily lives.

OraQuick and similar tests that may hit the market in the near future will not replace testing services but rather expand them, putting personal care closer to our fingertips.

For many of us, health and medicine are strictly private matters that live in very rigid spheres of our lives.  Even those of us who participate in regular testing find some comfort and security in keeping medicine separate from daily life. However, we should all feel empowered to be our own best health advocates. Do you know your status?

Please note that OraQuick, like most HIV tests, only tests for antibodies formed by the immune system. For more information visit http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/

For more articles like this check out MUSED MAG ONLINE

A Note on Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer

  “I don’t do that. I don’t tell people what they should get out of a film.” This was Spike Lee’s response last Friday evening when I asked him what he wanted his audience to take away from his latest work Red Hook Summer.

 Like many of Lee’s films, this newest addition to the Brooklyn filmmaker’s repertoire is filled with many themes and lessons on which any conscious viewer could walk away reflecting.

From confronting the devastating realities of one American ghetto to debating the viability of traditional methods for rearing children through religion in a rapidly evolving culture, characters in the film meet a number of complex situations that force their mindsets to shift a bit as the audience receives powerful tokens of wisdom and profoundly gripping images that rattle the mind in between moments of laughter.

An uncompromising Brooklynite, Lee crafted a film that explores the realities of Red Hook which is presently fraught with gang activity and sobering levels of economic disparity, while, as some sources indicate, it is on the path to becoming Brooklyn’s latest gentrified area.

Despite some of the changing tides we hear about in the film, the main characters in Red Hook Summer are not at all shy about the challenges they face. Among many arguments concerning the economic state of both our nation and his small piece of Brooklyn, the film’s Deacon Zee, played by Thomas Jefferson Byrd unabashedly reminds viewers that Red Hook has 80% unemployment.

In addition to the state of Red Hook, the minds of viewers are stretched far enough to be exposed to both the realities of the community as well as the troubling experiences of Lee's key characters.

In the film we see the violent product of one former church-going boy’s transformation into a member of the gang, The Bloods as well as the struggle of the film’s lead character, Flik Royale, who—like many young Black men—is missing the presence of a man in his life after the death of his own father. Most riveting perhaps, is the emergence of a man who visits the local church and knows the congregation’s bishop through a dark past.

Regardless of what Lee intended, this film is not a break from his tradition of creating thought-provoking work.

With a little help from Clarke Peters who plays a well-known minster in Red Hook and the grandfather of the film’s protagonist Flik Royale, played by Brooklyn’s own Jules Brown—who was discovered by Lee in the eighth grade—Red Hook Summer is sure to leave audiences with a great deal to think about with universal themes including forgiveness, friendship and love.

Just don't ask Lee what you should learn from all that he offers in this film. If the 55 year old actor has some concrete ideas, he's not sharing them and like many artists, is living the work open for interpretation and understanding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LksGNgOgLsY]

3 Ways To Own Your Email

I don't know about you, but the overwhelming email culture in both the non-profit and business sector (so I hear from friends) is out of control. Three weeks ago, I became ill and spent two days away from my email prior to returning to work after a weekend. Though I knew for sure that I would have some unread email to filter through, I did not expect my total unread emails to reach what I considered a depressing 387 on a Monday morning. Granted some of these messages were from the previous week, but too much damage had been done in my short absence for my own comfort. After spending more than half of my day responding to these messages I did something I've never done before. I courageously declared email bankruptcy.  Highlighting all of the messages in my inbox that had not yet been filed I calmly and cautiously pressed delete and held my breath for a few seconds waiting for a helicopter to suddenly appear outside of the window and a tactical team to sweep into the office and detain me for violating some complicated unknown law regarding national security. It never happened... To my surprise my world did not suddenly come crashing down and I exhaled releasing one of the heaviest work related burdens I carry, email overload.

Feeling good I then took my war against excessive  email one step further. I posted a permanent automatic email response  message with three fundamentally radical ideas that I hope will spread like wildfire among my colleagues.

Do you find yourself sometimes being owned by your email? Well you don't have to suffer anymore. Turn the tables around and begin your personal journey toward owning your email with three suggestions for all of those dear friends and colleagues who just can't seem to avoid reaching out to you.

1) Abandon the body and use the subject line. Suggest that task related messages focus solely on the task. Tell your colleagues to skip the inquiries into the quality of your weekend and get straight to the point by simply stating what they want from you in the subject line of the email. They don't need to write anything in the body of the email itself. When possible suggest they be as short as possible and simply state "Send updated project plan."

2) Phone a friend. Unless you're a part of that microscopic segment of our nation's population who don't believe in modern technology and suspect cell phones are just another way for the government to keep tabs on us (which they are by the way), you have a phone and that phone allows you to have quick conversations that avoid the back and forth steps one usually has to take to facilitate a conversation over email.  Ask that when feasible your colleagues simply pick up the damn phone and give you a ring.

3) The 200 Character Challenge. Twitter gives us 140 characters. Be nice and throw in an extra 60 characters. When the message can't be summed up in a subject line, ask your colleagues to be as short as possible and send you "tweet like" emails. To accomplish this they may need to cut out some words and write incomplete/improper sentence (Ex: need to analyze data for upcoming meeting. would like your assistance. send times of availability.) Come on! This is our chance as adults to keep it simple and stick it to that mean, rigid English teacher we had in high school.

These steps are easy and while they may not cure the problems you see with your own email culture, I can assure you that my own experience tells me that they're a step in the right direction. Best of luck!

When Functionality Beats Aesthetics

Among the list of things that push me to practice my highest level of anger management, readers will notice an asterisk next to poorly designed products. In our ever-evolving world of technology, designers across the globe have to be committed to giving consumers the latest and the best products they can get their hands on. Whether they're cell phones, clothing or—as in my case—website themes, designers have to find new and creative ways to produce highly engaging products that both capture and sustain consumer interest. It's not easy to stand out in this competitive world that can very well be an oyster for highly effective designers from all areas of expertise, but there are a few things that must remain constant as we continue to see thousands of new toys and trinkets emerge.

Funky colors, uniquely manipulated structures, interactive features, smoothly cut edges; you name it and you'll find all of these characteristics in the products pushed in front of us at every turn. Who doesn't want a product that fits with the times and stands out?

The one concern I have as a consumer is that there's one characteristic I see being ignored far too frequently—functionality. Who gives a damn if you design a futuristic can opener made with platinum and colorful glass if it can't cut paper let alone a can of tuna?

The less mechanical but more technical products are no better. Anyone who has purchased a theme for a website in the past six months because of the cool ways you can manipulate images and provide an interactive feel for your viewers will tell you that some designers have a top secret competition to create the most obscure and confusing buttons you have to press to make anything work.

The point of technology is to make life easier and though beauty is of great value, if it ever came down to it and the two clashed in a back alley somewhere in Brooklyn at 2 a.m., functionality would pimp slap aesthetics.

If we're not careful, we'll all end up living in homes where doors look like they should be pushed or pulled when in actuality they slide, surrounded by products that were supposed to serve some function but in fact sit on tables and hang on walls as a new form of "art" which consists of dysfunctional reasons we spent our hard-earned money.