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Talk less. Smile more.

The signs are up. Everywhere. Mayor. District Attorney. Ward 2. State representative. Long ago in art school, we studied the

history of branding and advertising--a fascinating rabbit hole of graphical persuasion. I was always one inclined to read meaning into the world around me, but this class pushed me over the edge. All I could see were words, angles, and colors designed to entice me. YELLING. ALL THE TIME. From every billboard, box store, lane of traffic, and humble small business. Letters making words, angles making shapes, colors making emotions. Sometimes clever; all the time invasive. I would often close my eyes to dampen the visual chatter.

I'm older now (an understatement according to Peyton and Justin who claim I am ancient). The YELLING affects me much less. What does affect me are the leaders close to home. What do they stand for? Their social media followers are obvious in their binary, countering philosophies: "Defund the police! Make me safe! Be tough on crime! Mental health now! More funding for education! This is a police state! More rehabilitation! More jail time!" It really goes on and on. And in return, the signs lining yards and fields take a more Aaron Burr approach via Hamilton, “Talk Less. Smile More." Official websites offer endorsements and well-intentioned wish lists without much substance (there's the odd exception, but it's not really the medium for details). But here's what I know: when it comes to leading, whether it's a town, district, or business every real action--meaty, purposeful action, hinges on an ability to collaborate with intelligence, humility, and curiosity. Vision is helpful, but without collaboration the air gets a little stagnant and we all fall into stasis.

I watched a camp across the street from Peyton's school this morning. They were putting out the embers that kept them warm through the night. The inhabitants are older; a way of life selected, yet an eye sore that will be reported through various perspectives on social media throughout the day. From this, I came home and admired my rock pile that I have collected from the shop over the past two years. These are rocks that have been flung through or near the window with the intention of breaking and scaring us. My favorite is the last one I captured before my departure with an unsmiley face scrawled across one side and "I've been watching you" on the other. It's lovingly signed by Mr. Meany. The video footage of this attack is similar to all the others. Foot traffic up and down Commercial in the wee hours of the morning. A mix of boredom, menace, mental absenteeism, and opportunity. In these moments, I want it all as I suspect we all do: I want to be safe. I want others to be safe and healthy. I do not want to be held captive by fear or other people's fear. In the heat of the moment, I want justice. Sometimes even a head on a stick. However, when the embers are no longer warm, I want compassion and solutions. Note that plural. Solutions. Crime, addiction, education are easy to rattle off as intertwined topics to tackle, but ongoing care and feeding requires an understanding of nuance, historical context, existing programs that work, and reasonable action plans. It requires an ability to see the contradictory humanness in us all, care, and do right anyway.


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