Author Krista Tibbs

Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Reprise: To Potential Employers on Behalf of Part-time Writers

In Being Human, Commentary, Integrity & Freedom, Politics & Government, Spirit on February 13, 2018 at 8:59 pm

For the vast majority of authors, writing is necessarily just a part-time gig. This means we have to balance professional identity and writer identity in some way without compromising either. So, on occasion, I feel compelled to re-share the following thoughts.

I made a conscious choice to write this blog under my own name, because I think very hard before I speak, in person and on paper. But no matter how carefully one words an essay, if it is worth thinking about, there will be readers with a different opinion — and those people may interpret the article personally but judge the writer professionally, even if one has nothing to do with the other.  That’s the risk we take when we write.

A web search is a fact of the background check these days. So, beyond rehashing every interview, part-time writers also have to wonder about the effect their public writing will have on their “real-world” careers. I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me, below are a few things I would want potential employers to keep in mind:

  • When I write about the voices in my head, it’s okay; I’m just referring to my characters.
  • My cats write my blog sometimes, but don’t worry; they refuse to go to meetings in my place.
  • My characters’ actions don’t always represent what I would do in the same situation. In fact, they are often just the opposite: I think of something I would never do or say and let my characters try it and see what happens.
  • Just because one of my characters advocates it, it doesn’t mean I advocate it. See previous bullet.
  • My essays are just one perspective at a point in time, a snippet designed to provoke thought and conversation; they are not my entire world view set in stone.
  • If you disagree with the viewpoints or beliefs in my essays, it doesn’t mean we can’t work together. Half of your best teammates probably share my point of view but have just never said it aloud in your presence. Diversity of thought is the best antidote for groupthink.
  • I write under my real name to be accountable to everything I say. So you can rest assured I will also conduct myself with accountability and integrity in your organization.
  • If you ask me in an interview what is the biggest risk I have taken, I will tell you it is writing my books and exposing myself to public judgment. Is it worth it? Yes.

Postcard Shorts

In Uncategorized on April 17, 2016 at 11:48 am

blank postcard airmail

I just realized that I neglected to share with you all this interesting site that features stories that fit on a postcard. “Polar Opposites” was picked up at the link below, and you can click on  “Read a Story”  at the site for a random sampling of other stories by a variety of writers.

Source: Postcard Shorts: Stories that fit on a postcard

Thinking Independently and Colorful Liquids

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on February 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm
Florida Citrus Commission, 1951    artist Pete Hawley

Florida Citrus Commission, 1951 artist Pete Hawley

It occurs to me on  occasion that most of the obstacles, judgments, frustrations, disappointments, and embarrassments in my life could have been avoided if I had only drunk the kool-aid of the moment. However, then I realize that everything meaningful I have ever done was a result of not drinking the kool-aid.

This thought is, of course, no reflection on Kraft Kool-Aid®, which is a rainbow-flavored beverage enjoyed by millions since 1927, as chronicled in this  History of Kool-Aid at The Hastings Museum in Nebraska.

Speaking of history, the phrase “drinking the kool-aid” has a rather dark origin .

Grocery Shopping on the Wednesday Before Thanksgiving

In Being Human, Commentary on November 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Normally I consider grocery shopping to be a chore, but I actually enjoy going on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. Sure, I like the festivity in the air, but I also like to watch the clientele. Solid core cooks have already bought most of their supplies before the big day, so on that Wednesday afternoon, a lot of what you see are men and teenagers wandering around with lists.

The teenagers and younger men are usually on a critical mission for supplies that the cooks assumed they had plenty of but didn’t: like the vanilla that always runs out at the worst possible moment or a can of pineapple, which will be listed next to the word chunks in big letters, because you can’t make a fruit salad with pineapple mush. These men take their time standing in the aisle staring at the shelves, partly to make sure they get the right thing so they’ll score the full set of points for the errand, but mostly because they’re in no rush to get back to the den of crazy and whatever other chores await them.

The older men go up and down every aisle, marveling at all that’s changed since they were last in a grocery store, this time a year ago. They’re usually looking for something obscure: for example, today a man picked up a jar of mincemeat and read the label, then read the list, then read the label again, then muttered to himself, “But there’s no meat in that.” The wives of these poor men just made up a vital need to get them out of the kitchen. The beauty of the wild mincemeat chase is that these men can be counted on never to ask anyone for help, providing a good hour of peaceful cooking time before he returns.

The holiday patrons also include the occasional couple who had decided to forgo Thanksgiving because their kids were off to college and not coming home until Christmas this year, but decided at the last minute to enjoy a dinner for two. Each thing they pick up is accompanied by a tale: Oh, potatoes, Katie always mashes the potatoes. Or, remember the time when Johnny dumped cranberry sauce all over your mother’s Irish linen?

Going through the check-out line is nice on this day, because people are all wishing each other “Happy Thanksgiving”, and no one has to worry about whether they’re saying the right thing or if they should have wished a “Merry Meal-sharing” instead. Even people who try to make the holiday into an opportunity for enlightenment have a hard time getting offended by a hearty “Happy Thanksgiving!”. Because on this day, anyone can give thanks about anything and to whomever or whatever they wish.

This Wednesday afternoon is also the time when the last of the donation bins are picked up to go wherever the massive volunteer meals will be cooked on Thursday. I offered my time to every mobile meal service and charitable dinner venue in my new home city and was told that they are all full up with volunteers. So I’m thankful this year that there are plenty of people who not only think of those less fortunate during their holiday, but also choose to spend a couple of dollars and a couple of hours doing something about it.

Things I Want My Niece to Know/Be/Do

In Being Human, Commentary, Light Menu on October 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm

© kjraff11 –

There are some things we figure out the hard way, and maybe that’s what makes them meaningful. But if there is ever a chance for me to spare my niece some tears on her way to a full and happy life, then I will offer these bits of advice:

1) Push through the difficulties of learning, because there is a great joy of accomplishment and internal reward on the other side.

2) Whenever you feel the wind, believe in the power you can’t see.

3) Understand that a stranger’s meanness has more to do with herself than with you, even though it seems personal.

4) Look for the goodness and intelligence and strength in everyone you know, but forgive them when they fail. Especially your friends. And yourself.

5) Realize that friends sometimes fill the parts of us we wish we could be but aren’t. That’s a recipe for jealousy; don’t let it spoil what matters.

6) Get close to other people but don’t rely on them for your happiness. When you figure that out, teach me.

7) Never doubt that your parents love you even when they don’t answer your pleas of the moment. The same is true of God.

8) Know your own soul that follows you all the way through your life. At the same time be willing to change and experience new things and grow.

9) You feel how you feel. Acknowledge it, but don’t dwell in it. And don’t let anyone stifle your sensitivity; it is a beautiful part of who you are.

10) Learn a ballroom dance.

Watching Baseball

In Being Human, Commentary, Light Menu on October 11, 2012 at 2:39 am
I like to watch baseball, especially the post-season, for the suspense, of course, but also to see grown men with the excitement of little boys. It never fails to make me smile. Even in professional baseball, with the many millions of dollars in talent who have worked hundreds and hundreds of games, all the players–even the arrogant ones who say it’s just about the money–come to the edge of the dugout and shoot their arms in the air while they shout.

I once watched a rookie get three two-run homers in Game 7 of the division series, and he tried not to smile as he ran the bases, keeping his jaw slack so as not to grin. But he couldn’t withhold it as he landed home and his teammates crowded around to hug him. Full-on hugs and then some to that same rookie they like to pick on. The team warms my heart.

I like to remember the 2007 Rockies when they made it to the World Series. Those grown men leaping tree feet in the air, piling on top of each other with giddiness. And what Red Sox fan can forget Game 4 of the 2004 World Series? The pitcher catches the ball, there is one last out to win the game and the series of a generation; all he has to do is toss it to first base. He hesitates with the realization of what is about to happen, runs toward first base as though he’s going to make the out himself, then finally tosses it underhand ever so carefully, all the teammates making sure it is firmly caught and the out is called before the mad celebration begins.

Such moments conjure pictures of these men as they must have been after a Little League game, that joy of play, the thrill of accomplishment, the chance of a lifetime. How many professionals get that level of excitement? (Not many that I know, unless they’re just leaping on the inside.)

Why does it make me smile? I guess anything that makes grown-ups feel eager like children has my vote. We could use a lot more of it.

And now, a recap of that 2004 moment, for all the Red Sox fans (I dare you not to smile):

Crazy cat ladies and mad cows

In Commentary, Light Menu, Science on September 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm
Over the summer, I celebrated my birthday with a single cupcake and a can of tuna for my two cats. Shortly thereafter I read an article about how crazy cat ladies have a higher risk of suicide. After wondering if my tax dollars paid for that study, I became slightly alarmed. Does a person know when she is on her way to being crazy cat lady? Or is it one of those things that only your friends can see and you wouldn’t believe them if they told you? I spent several panicked minutes gauging every interaction with Spunk and Teddy against the crazy-o-meter, but then I came to my senses.

I have cats because they are amusing and furry. This doesn’t make me insane; in fact it could be the most normal thing about me.

The suicide article about cat owners was not an issue of mental and emotional health; it was about a particular parasite, T. gondii, that somehow changes a person’s brain and drives her to strange behavior. I find that creepy and gross, for sure, the same as I did when I read Deadly Feasts, a book about prions that lie dormant in your brain for decades until they turn your gray matter to mush and spring you with full on mad cow disease. The truth is, there may be any number of no-see-ums inside you that have been there since the turn of the century, eating away at your brain without your knowledge (no pun intended). There’s not much that can be done about it. Mad cows, crazy cats — when it’s your time to lose your mind, I guess it’s your time.

But when it comes to common health issues that we can control, like moderate depression and immune dysfunction, pets beat pills in every head-on study I’ve read (there aren’t many). In fact, if you own a cat, you may be 30% less likely to have a heart attack than petless people. Seems like a decent trade-off to me.

So, does anyone need a starter kit?

Ray Bradbury, Bullying in Politics, and the Potential Kindness of Kids

In Being Human, Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on June 6, 2012 at 12:47 pm

I read today that Ray Bradbury died. He was 91, so I suppose it wasn’t a surprise, but it is always sad when a light of insight is extinguished.

I remember the story “All Summer in a Day” that we read in junior high school. I have probably mentioned it before, but only because it twists my heart whenever I think of it. It was essentially about bullying, and maybe that’s why the teacher chose it, although I don’t remember any aha’s at the time. Kids already know other kids can be cruel. It was true in 1954 when the story was written, and it is true today.

The means of spreading cruelty are different, and faster, and other writers have explored these phenomena more deeply than I. All I want to say is that kids don’t come pre-wired. There are ringleaders, and maybe they have stronger propensities, but ganging up can’t happen without followers, and followers usually walk the best paved path. The way I see it, the path to cruelty is paved by adults. They bait and anger each other online, they gossip and form cliques even in church, and they bully each other in politics. I mean, what greater ringleader is there than a President himself when he uses ridicule to belittle his opponents?

But kids can just as easily follow kindness, especially when the leader is one of their own. I saw this demonstrated in the following video this week. Sure, kids can be cruel, but they can also try pretty hard to be great.

“I think the sun is a flower, that blooms for just one hour.” – All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury

Politically Untenable Suggestions

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom on May 20, 2012 at 11:06 am
On the 360-degree feedback for my annual evaluation at work, one person commented that sometimes I make “politically untenable” suggestions. I have been trying to figure out how to interpret that. Fifteen people provided feedback for the evaluation, and I don’t know which one said it, nor does it matter. What matters is why it was categorized as a criticism.

In my mind, “politically untenable” means that the opposing political powers-that-be or public have a stronger voice and more influence. My suggestions are always what I understand to be the right thing to do for the people we serve given the data available. So the opposition is either a legitimate difference of opinion about the right thing to do or different priorities and constituents and/or lack of information (willful or otherwise).

I think in all these situations, it’s not a bad thing to have the discourse and to get all the information and motives into the open. I have said before that I believe two people can have the same data and legitimately reach different conclusions. Sometimes you just have to pick one and get behind it. But if you never make sure that both sides have all the information, then I don’t think there can be a legitimate conclusion. And if no one ever speaks up because they’ll get shot down, then the bullies win.

My job is currently funded through a grant, so maybe I’ll have a job next year and maybe I won’t. I’m prepared for either situation. I’m not a political appointee or an elected official, so I don’t have to worry about getting votes. There is no more perfect position from which to make “politically untenable” suggestions.

So if I don’t say what needs to be said, then who will?

I think there is only one answer to this criticism on my evaluation. It’s the same one I gave when I was falsely accused of plagiarism in high school: Thank you.

Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes, Statistics, and Stereotypes

In Commentary, Integrity & Freedom, Science on March 17, 2012 at 11:51 pm
I ran across this video today about a teacher in the 1960s who separated her third grade class into blue-eyed students and brown-eyed students and told them that one group was better than the other just because of these characteristics. It was uncomfortable to see how the kids treated each other differently and how it measurably affected their academic performance — in just one day. Equally disturbing was the reaction of adults who underwent the same exercise twenty years later. Although the impetus for the blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., it has relevance today for many issues from physical discrimination and achievement gaps to religious affiliations and political parties.

When academic programs are targeted to students with a certain color of skin or when the First Lady puts the spotlight on childhood obesity and uses it as a warning against eating fast food, it says to other kids that it’s okay to separate people and make judgments about their behavior and capabilities based on what they look like. In other words, it’s okay to assume all black kids need remedial preschool and it’s okay to call out the fat kids when it’s for their own good. These two things have bothered me for a long time, but I had never put them together this way before.

Maybe right now you’re defending the obesity crusade because of its intention or thinking that statistics show obesity is on the rise among children and that it’s a health problem. Okay, but statistics also show a rise in asthma and allergies among children, yet few people would suggest shaming asthmatics into breathing fresher air. I think solving a problem requires being honest about what is driving the selection of the problem to solve. Part of the overwhelming campaign against childhood obesity is driven by the pure discomfort at seeing fat kids. You want them to be healthy, but you also want to look away. If it were only a health issue, then a more comprehensive view of the data would show that kids are less healthy than they used to be in many ways, so the solution is for all kids to learn about living a healthy life, not just so they won’t get too fat or too thin or always have a snotty nose, but so they’ll feel good inside even if they don’t look like anything is “wrong” with them at all. Overall health and internal well-being aren’t measured by body fat calipers and a weight scale.

Statistics also show significant academic achievement gaps between racial groups and socioeconomic groups, which highlights an important problem that wasn’t acknowledged before it was measured. However, there is a high risk of exacerbating the problem if you treat individuals like the groups into which they fall. I believe this is one of several reasons why academic achievement gaps are widening. For example, Asian American kids typically do better on academic achievement tests than other racial or ethnic subgroups. A lot of people react to that with a nod, thinking yes, that makes sense. Ask yourself why. Then consider that for the same reasons, teachers might expect more, consciously or subconsciously, from the Asian kids in their class. If people assume you’re smart and competent, don’t you tend to want to prove them right, and mightn’t you learn faster as a result?

If that makes sense, then mightn’t it work the opposite way for Latino or African American students, who for years have been shown to perform lower on achievement tests than Asian students, on average? This is the danger of statistics; correlation does not mean causation. Just because a child has the same skin color as a lot of kids who are struggling academically, it doesn’t mean she will have trouble, too. But the reality is that she might be still be treated from the beginning as though she needs a boost just in case, so she might get simpler questions in class or more partial credit or more praise for easier tasks compared to her peers, not only depriving her of the challenges that will actually help her learn, but also creating in her an identity of someone who is not supposed to be good at school or meet high standards or solve hard problems. This is the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The video shows in gut-wrenching clarity how being the object of negative or positive discrimination can change even adults’ behavior and perceptions. To me, the frustration that was produced in just this short experiment goes beyond physical stereotyping to group stereotyping, especially religious or political. Organized religions and political parties are designed to provide a platform with which people can affiliate themselves, but just like statistics, what is true on average in a group is not necessarily true for an individual. So when you are viewed through the lens of your affiliation, and people treat you like the worst qualities of your group, and you can’t even explain your differing views because everything you say is interpreted against you, that’s a recipe for anger.

The video also highlights how easily people in authority can influence kids and adults to accept distinctions that originally seemed unfair. So I think it is particularly heinous when people in a position of influence use division by broad characterization (or mischaracterization) to further their own ends — even when, or maybe especially when, those ends are seemingly altruistic.

It’s a long video, but I hope you’ll watch it. (Thanks to Kelly Bliss for bringing this up.)

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