Friday, May 29, 2009

Say cheese!

I have one friend who like me is not a big smiler -- our faces don’t naturally assume an expression that includes a smile. Jokes will make as laugh, exchanging looks with one another as a response to something, but our standard face lacks an upside curve. This doesn’t mean we walk around with a scowl, though sometimes I think maybe that is the case, especially when I hear other guys call out to me to smile. Maybe my mind can’t control my facial features as I’m sucked in a daydream or thought while carrying on in public.

These remarks to "Smile!" remind me of a tenth grade National Honors Society initiation ceremony I sat in at my high school. The already members described introduced each new scholar young man or woman by noting his/her achievements, academic or otherwise and without fail, all the young women were noted at some point for their smile. Who cares? Why make a point of the girls smiling? I don’t remember one high school male scholar described as having a radiant smile, or any kind of smile. I don’t remember the male scholars being described in uniform as having one characteristic that wasn’t used to describe the female scholars for that matter, though this did happen some time ago. The fact I had heard comments up until that ceremony questioning my own deadpan expression likely made me more primed to hear the ‘smile’ comments.

Back in high school I was asked at times why I don’t smile, and sometimes I’d pick on George Harrison’s quote to the same question and say, “I’ll hurt my lip.” I don’t understand the difference in expectations between men and women. Women, if you don’t want to go out of your way to smile, I support you.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A bit about my case management job

In my day job I'm a case manager.* After college I expected to find a job where I could write -- something I've consistently loved doing. Case management came as a surprise, because while I like people -- at least, the concept of people -- working intensely with them was not work I expected I'd do well, if for reasons of being introverted or because I never had the opportunity to try it so I didn't know what to expect.

I work with people who are vulnerable, often come from underprivileged backgrounds and many have recognized or unrecognized (by themselves or the state) mental or physical disabilities. In the past two years of doing this job, I've learned extremely useful skills -- diplomacy, which in this context means using non offensive descriptive words to describe people's situations. Some may call this being politically correct -- I don't think this is the right word. A simple example is not to say 'homeless person', but 'person experiencing homelessness', but it can be terms that are less subtle than that.

A case manager doesn't tell other people how to live; at least, that's not the goal. It's more about empowerment, something I find extremely rewarding. To guide a person to realize her worth and support a person when she doesn't have someone else in her life. Sometimes I joke with my coworkers that, God forbid, we'll have a supportive person like that should we be in a similar situation.

This work has also made me reconsider systems of mental health and treatment, specifically mental health institutions. The idea of bringing tens or hundreds of mentally ill people together. It's not surprising that an environment like that is not conducive to healing mental illness. It's comfortable for the rest of us when the 'crazies' are hidden away from us. I'm not sure what the alternative to mental health institutions would be -- and sure, I understand the hesitancy of putting people who are ill and violent with the 'normal' folks but there has to be a better way to deal with mentally ill without hiding them from society.

For more about the nitty gritty details of my work, see my post:
Homelessness prevention and emergency assistance

*Originally this line read "I'm essentially a social worker without the Social Work degree." I wrote this because I sometimes explain what I do by saying I'm a social worker; people recognize more clearly what that means as opposed to saying case manager. I don't presume to have the academic background of a social worker, but I expect I share similar duties with many social workers.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Susan Boyle -- now that it's all calmed down

Weeks after the story has aired, comments lose their freshness, but at the time I was thinking about this and didn't put it in writing -- I had read an article about the discovery of Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent, where a plain looking, 50 year old woman dazzled the audience and judges with her strong and beautiful voice. Middle aged, and for that matter, lesser attractive people everywhere rejoice! I had watched the video and was very moved. But something crept in my mind while watching it, and it wasn't exactly what the article said.

The writer made a point that If Susan wouldn't have had an amazing voice, no one would've given her a second thought -- in that sense she'd join the other hundreds of less than attractive faces we see auditioning for these talent shows. What I was thinking about wasn't exactly this -- I was thinking that she was standing out because of her looks -- as if a person who's not conventionally attractive is somehow not expected to be talented. In which case if Susan was beautiful and had a beautiful voice then we wouldn't be surprised -- we would expect it. The whole 'beauty is good' belief.

Bottom line, I loved her performance and of course I was rooting for her. I can't judge others for believing she would fail right there on stage before she started singing -- I had a feeling that if I was watching the video it was most probably not to see another horrendous performance. But it's always good to stop and look at the way you think about something. Why do you think the way you do. Analyzing's a game you could play for hours.