Monday, February 24, 2020

Seeing Both Sides: The Bike Path

I'm a frequent user of the multi-use paths around my house. I bicycle to work almost entirely on trails. I walk with my parents, my neighbors, and occasionally a group of friends. I run, and in the last decade I spent a lot of time jogging with a stroller and/or small children on their bikes.  I walk a dog when we're dog sitting. When it snows enough, I have even cross-country skied.

Participating in so many uses has made me realize how easy it is for the trail users to get in each other's way.  Dogs wander all over the trail, connected by a leash that blocks the passageway. Children on bikes need a lot of space and make sudden, erratic moves. Joggers wear headphones and so don't realize people are coming behind them. Groups of walkers focus on their conversations and are unaware of how much space they take.  Bike commuters are focused on getting to work instead of paying attention to how high their speed is relative to the other users.Walkers find the ski tracks an easy path to take through the snow.

I've felt my anger rise when I've come across examples of people acting these ways. Yet, since I've almost always been in the other user's place, I know how easy it is to make those mistakes myself. Having the perspective of both sides means I can understand why there is a conflict, and I can forgive others for making the mistakes because I hope to be forgiven myself. I've come to believe that those are the two keys to maintaining the peace of my day.

First, seeking understanding of the other person's experience. Putting myself in their shoes: what it feels like when a bike comes flying by a precious child, what it feels like to be late for work when you're already putting in the effort to save carbon emissions and getting exercise, what it feels like when your dog won't listen no matter how much effort you've put into training, how great it feels to be lost in conversation with your friends, or surrounded by music or an audiobook.

Second, forgiving their mistakes. The hiker doesn't know how precious those unspoiled cross country tracks are to the skier. The cyclist might have been under stress and forgot to proceed cautiously. The parent failing to steer a jogging stroller might be on the cell phone with a doctor who finally called back. The dog walker might be unprepared for how vigorously the dog will want to meet another of its species. The group walkers are getting exercise and socializing, both keys to their health, which benefits all of society. Should we be angry at that? Does it help annyone?

These two actions--understanding and forgiveness-- can go a long way toward resolving many conflicts that naturally arise from occupying the same space as other people, which is basically life as a social animal.  My spouse and I are trying to teach our children both to strive for an awareness of the other,  and at the same time forgive the other when they don't meet our expectations. I'm starting this series of posts to explore these sorts of topics; not to claim one side is better than the other, but to seek understanding within apparent opposition.

Are there issues you find yourself on both sides of, or have come to understand the other side? Please comment!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review: Let Me Hear a Rhyme

Let Me Hear A Rhyme
 by Tiffany D. Jackson

I loved the use of mystery: small and large. Small questions are raised that kept me reading, and as well as a story about a group of kids trying to get their dead brother and friend's music heard, the story is also a murder mystery. The author drops clues, and none of them lead straight to their obvious conclusion. The answer involves many of the players in ways I never guessed. (An interesting point raised by the Educator's Guide is that my incorrect guesses are a window into my "beliefs, biases, knowledge or ignorances of Brooklyn and [its] kids").

The characters were complex: characters who seem like jerks end up being helpful; characters who seem helpful end up being jerks. On smaller scales, too, like when a serious character appreciates the joy of a dance club (according to the author's note, this was taken from her experience). This is great for any novel, but when combined with the murder mystery, it adds to the possibilities and surprises.

I read through most of this thinking the multiple POVs weren't necessary. I cared a lot about the female protagonist and didn't find myself too invested in the two male friends and didn't think they were contributing much to the plot. On reflection about those complex characters, though, the two strongest examples were known in their initial state by those two friends, and those secondary characters play a pivotal role in the conclusion. So, as I preach to my critique group, I will continue to maintain that many stories could be stronger by the writer figuring out how to supply the reader information through fewer points of view, but I'll begrudgingly admit it paid off in this case. 

The flashback POV chapters worked for me because I cared about the dead character (probably because I cared about his sister, and she cared about him) so I relished hearing from him, much like the other characters relished hearing his recordings after his death. My only complaint was that these chapters dipped into omniscient POV; I'm not as biased against this as the current publishing environment seems to be, however, it was jarring not only because it was different (the 3rd person was, too, but that wasn't a problem) but because it was about ninety-five percent in the one character's POV with occasional pop-outs. I think it would have been stronger to either stay in the limited POV or make much more use of the omniscient.

The author worked hard to make the teens' scheme believable, including by showing the characters themselves arguing about feasibility. I could buy some of the rationale for their plan but I couldn't believe they didn't come up with a better excuse/cover to start with. They did eventually try to come clean and the author did a good job coming up with a way to delay that reveal. My main concernn with believability, though, was that there were no shown consequences for what the characters did at the end.

I learned a lot about hip hop without feeling lost or preached to, and I was stoked to find a soundtrack to listen to the songs mentioned, as well as a recording of the verses written by Malik-16 for the book. There is also quite a bit of Brooklyn and Black history. I happened to be listening to the School Colors podcast simultaneously, and learning from both about Weeksville and Bed-Stuy and even Brevoort. I'd highly recommend that to others unfamiliar with the area.