In good company

Haven’t been blogging much lately but that’s not for lack of thinking!

close up of new green plants in carton pockets: view of 3 x 3 section of a larger container.
Photo by Markus Spiske on

In many ways I’m very much back on my BS. Still on Twitter, still putting out my newsletter, still engaging in my school and regional #DEIJ efforts. Oh yeah, still teaching full time. And parenting; all while living in the world as it is. Adequately engaged and not yet overwhelmed. Fine. Feeling privileged to have most of the day to myself to read, write and think.

Something I notice as I accept opportunities to speak or contribute is a certain accompanying ambivalence. What do I gain from occupying the spotlight? What can I contribute to the context into which I’ve been invited? How am I adding value to the event and participants’ experiences? Am I really the best person to be speaking/writing here? I will not call this imposter syndrome because there are reasons I said yes to invitations in the first place. Before accepting every invitation, I try to be as transparent as possible with organizers about what I feel best poised to offer at a particular gathering. I will not volunteer to do something that I can’t deliver. So, no, I don’t feel like an imposter. I know who I am and what I can offer.

The ambivalence I experience seems to have more to do with questioning whole systems of assumptions under which most events and major projects are operating. What is the role of a keynote speaker? What kinds of hierarchies are we buying into by elevating certain individuals as worthy of holding the floor for an extended period? How do we position our particular levels of expertise and understanding as participants/listeners in those contexts? What options do we have for disrupting our ideas of what a keynote can and should be, given the particular context?

This last question is the one I am taking into my planning for upcoming events. Every time I show up as a featured voice on a stage, in a publication, on a podcast, it feels vitally important to point out who else is with me/part of me as I speak. If you are listening to me at all, then that may be due to my role as an impassioned and eclectic curator of the world as text. My greatest joy is to gather whole orchestras of ideas and share various compositions with all of you.

Book cover: SABOTAGE 
In the American Workplace: Anecdotes of Dissatisfaction, Mischief and Revenge 

Edited by Martin Sprouse

Features a dark collage of a male face that includes a telephone receiver, 3 clock faces surrounding the face; a painting of the American flag at shoulder. Title is in bold White letters across top in 3 lines.

Recently, I pulled a beloved book off my shelf: Sabotage In The American Workplace: Anecdotes of Dissatisfaction, Mischief and Revenge, edited by Martin Sprouse. (Who, I’ve just learned, is thriving as a designer in SF/Oakland area.) At any rate, this was the very first book that I ordered through the mail. It came out in 1992 and I caught wind of it in the “Readings” section of Harper’s Magazine, which typically pulls together a wild mix of texts and images. Exposure to that format on a regular basis was huge in my development as an eclectic reader. Delving into the whole of Sabotage proved to be absolutely delicious in its range, reach and mission. In its own way, the compilation of stories, statistics and labor-related quotes read a bit like Twitter way before Twitter existed.

So here I am, here we are 30 years down the road and I realize that my mind was built for Twitter: the reliance on text punctuated by clever and often pointed images; the potentially-but-no-longer semi-random flow of information from a range of sources; the opportunity to curate, collect and respond as desired. Harper’s Readings formed the gateway; Sabotage lit a fire, and Out of Twitter, I’m able to cultivate my own particular nest and networks of stories, tendencies and possibilities.

With a mental excursion into my literary roots I give myself some credit. I clarify my foundations. I remind myself that I am a product of time and opportunities thus far. Clearly, I wasn’t born yesterday.

When it is my turn to step to the mic, I’ll remember that I’m bringing a full combo of voices and instruments to accompany me. My assessment of various contexts draws on varied sources. My dedication to participants’ growth and well being remains central. Joy and fellowship justify standing up at all. These are the tools I need to create an experience that builds community and song. That features many voices rather than just one. That celebrates the emergence of new sounds of our collective making.

The Chumps Are Winning

I have a draft post that’s still waiting to be finished. Perhaps it will never be completed. I wanted to write about Twitter and user migration, about the tension between staying and leaving, about anticipated loss and diminishing returns and I stalled out. No great insight was revealed to me in the placing of words on the page. I’m reminded of the first months of 45’s term in the White House. How we hissed and scratched against his wanton disgrace of the office. We were not just upset with the awful policy decisions. Those of us who could afford to protest loudly without ever having to feel the immediate effects of said policies, could barely contain ourselves over the gaudiness of each new affront. So much of what was uttered by that ill-mannered and seemingly inarticulate brute was just plain dumb. Logic and reason were not required protocol. The country chose a chump as its leader and our embarrassment was unbridled.

And here we are again faced with the reality that another chump is gobbling up all the airtime, because he bought it. The point is that we as a public are not wiser. We continue to conflate wealth with intelligence; power with inherent value. Our media structures, harnessed as they are to capitalism’s logics, support these confusions. Actually, many amplify and promote them. And do so widely for the benefit of clicks, which is apparently the only way to stay alive among the conglomerate media sharks.

The chumps are winning. They are having their way. With us and then without us, they are having their way. And please let’s be honest that it truly galls us that they do it with zero attention to style or sophistication. If only they were clever about it! we lament internally. It pains us, with our multiple degrees, elevated humor and lust for nuance, that these loser dudes are dominating the attention wars. That their branded cruelties continue to find supporters across time zones and income registers, still appalls and confounds us. Think pieces, explainers and primers flow generously from various platforms promising to illuminate the obvious for the non-believers: The chumps are winning – here’s why.

If I seem angry it’s because I am but also kinda done. The accompanying theatrics of a media landscape as corrupt and jaded as the villains they report on leave me cold by now. We are caught in a spin cycle of billionaire power plays and we, the public, are not even collateral anymore, not even pawns. That’s maybe my most significant takeaway from this: Neither this billionaire nor that cares one whit about my micro platform, or communities, or political leanings. My existence does not register for them. It simply does not.

Given that, I feel a bit freer. I can stay on my BS with abandon. I can plant seeds, fertilize ideas, cultivate cultures with or without billionaire controlled platforms. I really want more of the so-called liberal elite to get wiser, but that’s a fool’s errand, like waiting on white folks to eradicate racism, or for the West to unhitch itself from neoliberal doctrine. I will do what I have done until now: Write into the wind. Speak as if someone, somewhere might be listening. Read alongside readers. Become an illustrator who paints big pictures with words.

Anyway, I think everyone should listen to these smart things that Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom has to say about the current state of affairs. She has a habit of making sense, even when the chumps are winning.

Where I am

Where I am could be where I am also not
My boundless ignorance offers the negative space of my knowledge
How I seem continues to vary even when I am still so much the same
Off one platform while hanging onto another
and another
salt will dissolve in water until the sodiumnity of it takes over
and the water becomes something else no longer potable

How I consume becomes the feature 
and I let the bug consume me
I am an animal, a creature not lost but amply surviving
Instinct matters as much as genius
especially when I have neither
Creativity sparks interest but is actually an
uneaten crust of who I might be

You cannot trouble me 
If I flock I am open to flounder
do I need wings or gills or legs
when I come to my senses
which ones will be denied

Knowing that to fit 
magnifies the jest of our striving
In the saltiest sea, one cannot swim
only float.

You don’t say

Can't talk about exhaustion or talk about grief or talk about 
being neither here nor there
you're an echo, a shadow, a shifting fog
a scattershot, detritus, an abandonment
a loss.

Can't talk about what you miss, where it hurts, what the damage
you're a stalwart, an anchor, the guardrail
the glue, the elastic, the duct tape
You keep holding on, holding up, holding it

Can't talk about what's up, what's brewing, what's
at stake.
You buck up, stand tall, fix your face
plant your feet, stand your ground, dig your heels

What is loss? What is grief? What is it? You don't say.

*Original draft, 11 Sept. 2021

Every Single Time

Every single time 

laying claim proves fraught

Belonging can feel like battle
without a winner

Familiarity think it be knowing,
says go here, x marks the spot

Not home, not ours, not only
a place

where arrival meets departure

every single time

guessing that here and mine go hand
in hand
Praying that here and mine stick
together like sisters

But no
just passing fancies
strangers who stay that way
here, not mine

Not from here
familiar stranger
comer and goer
I am strange and familiar
I know

every single time

*Original draft, Jan 1, 2022

Tasked, Not Forced

Welcome slide of the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force: Pair of hands, palms painted in henna, intricately decorated. gold bracelets on both wrists.
Welcome slide of ISADTF Oct. 2022

A few thoughts, in no particular order, following the inaugural meeting of the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force called together by AIELOC (Assoc. of International Educators and Leaders of Color) in cooperation with ECIS (Education Collaborative of International Schools), IBO (International Baccelauriate Organization) and hosted by the International School of Geneva (Ecolint).

  • The things that we most hope for require active choice by the people involved.
  • The things we most hope for which involve other people require the most patience, persistence and clarity of purpose that we can muster.
  • Because it’s rarely effective to rely on individuals, groups or institutions to consistently act in favor of the greater good without the promise of clear beneficial outcomes, we often try to build forms of compliance and accountability to incentivize positive participation.
  • A demand is an imperative. A request is not.
  • The pace of change may not be up to us but it can be influenced by us and our coordinated efforts.
  • We cannot wordsmith our way to equity.
  • I am not convinced that we as individuals or as group members are naturally inclined towards equity. We appreciate fairness when we experience it; may not be equally prepared, however, to sacrifice our own comfort, ease or privilege in the service of fairness towards others, especially over an extended period.
  • Backlash is a message in response to change. It’s a sign to press on.
  • When we are preaching to the choir, at least we have an idea about who’s in church.
  • We anticipate, plan and prepare for resistance which makes it hard to dream big at the same time.
  • When asked how I was entering the space, my response was: tempering my cynicism.
  • I am not sure what motivates humans to prioritize and enact equity as a rule rather than a rare exception.
  • I do not consider myself a hopeful person but a trusting one. I believe in people’s capacity to do good and hard things, even when many things are both.
  • I have said before that I am an impoverished radical dreamer. Given that, I look and listen for radical dreams voiced by others. If I balk immediately, it’s a sign that I need to move in that direction.
  • I have stopped worrying about getting people on board. I’m on the crew of those who have already set sail. I’m learning the ropes as we press on.
  • When in doubt about what I’m doing, where we’re going, what good it’s doing – I need to listen to students, to colleagues on the margins, to voices from backgrounds different from my own.
  • Certain structures I imagined to be compulsory are, in fact, voluntary (i.e., accreditation).
  • Pay attention to the most radical messengers, they tend to be ahead of their time.
  • Joy is revolutionary.
  • Whenever the conversation turns to harm in schools I am reminded that not all harms must be experienced directly for their effects to continue to reverberate.
  • Although we may come together in a shared space, based on our identities and contextual status profiles, we may not all have the same assignment. Developing the awareness and capacity to recognize and successfully negotiate those differences is everyone’s work, however.
  • Role authority must not be mistaken for universal awareness, competency or knowledge.
  • Blowing up our traditional notions of leadership seems absolutely necessary.
  • The wisest/ most radical/ most generative among us may not be the most vocal – how many avenues are we using to elicit participation?
  • In any identity-related exercise, try to spot which aspects of identity are missing. Make this a habit.
  • We can hold multiple truths at one time; identity is never singular or an isolated constant.
  • Interrupting harmful behaviors is something we all need to practice. It can also be done with grace; clarity is the prerequisite. Notice an exemplary model when it occurs; discuss and elevate it.
  • Strong allies, reliable accomplices foreground listening, learning, and recognizing when and how to open doors and pave ways.
  • While much can be accomplished in short time frames, some things need lots of repetition over a long time. Other strategies require steady nudging, trustworthy feedback loops and adaptive timelines.
  • Love is tangible. Care is tangible. We know it, we feel it when they are present in the community and in our institutions.
  • Re-entry into our respective contexts demands sensitivity and care. The temptation to overwhelm others with our new perspectives will be strong. Resist the tendency, circle back later, share in manageable doses.
  • Keep showing up as you are, as we are.
  • We are not done and we are also beyond beginning.
  • I am tired and energized; proud and equally humbled. Extremely grateful to have been a part of this event and connected to the outstanding membership of participants. Thank you.

Tired is not the word

Old park bench in wooded area surrounded by and partially covered by fallen leaves.
Photo by Markus Spiske on
Tired is not the word you use when you really mean weary when you really mean tapped out when you really mean that you just don't have the words or the patience or the foresight or the wherewithal. Tired is not the word you use.

When they ask how it's going you say that it is, going which is true because in fact there is no stop, no pause, no break in the action, it's going as you said, there are no lies, it's going and hardly matters how just that it's going and we see that's going and we ask how it's going as a courtesy not an investigation. It keeps going and I keep saying so.

Tired is not a word you use when you really mean overextended when you really mean depleted when you really mean imbalanced when you really mean that you are no longer sure what counts as any of those things only that you expect to keep going until you can't because if you can't find the word, how can you possibly define the reality?

When they ask you if this is the best you've got and if this is what it's going to be and if you're planning to send it out like that and if you're sure this is how you want it to look and you don't say, you just stare and stare and stare. Tired is not the word you use. Tired is not the word.

Money Talks

Anne Helen Petersen hosts a community publication, Culture Study. I suppose one could call it a newsletter since it’s on the Substack platform, but in fact, it is so much more. Not too long ago I dubbed it “my new intellectual hub.” Anne-Helen posts at least two discussion prompts per week, some of which arise from community members and others that seem to be a culmination in response to a recent event and related conversations. This week she asked folks to talk about their understanding and/or experience of family wealth. Following the announcement of the student loan relief package, almost everyone had something to say about money, debt, responsibility and inequality.

Here’s part of her prompt:

Family wealth is similar to societal privilege, but it is also different in some tangible ways. When multiple people in a family have some form of wealth, there are also multiple wells to draw on. When only one person does, there’s less wealth to save, to replicate. Wealth begets wealth, but usually only when you’re also not supporting an entire extended family and/or community.

So the question is: what has familial wealth made possible in your life? And, alternately, what has lack of familial wealth made really fucking difficult in your life? AND EVEN MORE IMPORTANTLY, how do you and your family think of “wealth”? Do you call it that? Why or why not? What *do* you call it? And what have been the effects of that choice? Be as explicit as you’re willing to be.

Anne-Helen Petersen, Culture Study, Friday Thread, Aug. 26, 2022

I first read this on my phone and immediately began reading the responses which seemed to be pouring in minute by minute. I wanted to respond too and also knew that I needed time and to be seated at laptop keyboard in order to get my thoughts together. When I finally found the words, here’s what came out:

Wow, this is a powerful prompt and necessary discussion! There’s a lot that comes up for me as Black person who grew up in a family of educated working class folks in the 70s. I’m hesitant to call us middle class because the disparities between white and Black middle class are simply too great to consider them equivalent experiences.
My parents were homeowners who borrowed against the house to put 3 kids through college between 1975 and 1987. I was able to pay off my undergrad and graduate loans in my mid 30’s. My siblings and I (at 75, 61 and 57) seem to be in relatively stable financial shape which is great news! But the house my parents worked so hard to own was virtually worthless once they passed away. Through no fault of their own. It was simply located in a deteriorating Black neighborhood that was not being gentrified (and therefore invested in). My siblings decided to let it go and gave it to the city in order to stop paying taxes on a property that they could not use or develop. So that major potential source of wealth creation did not materialize for us as a Black family.
Now in middle age, I feel like the best I can do for my own kids is to try to leave this earth without any debt for them to have to deal with. It’s hard for me to think in terms of inheritance and having the potential to pass on wealth to my kids. It might happen but I’m not (nor are they) tied to that outcome. For me the financial stability I enjoy living in Central Europe, with great health care and without debt, is my first real taste of wealth. I am cautious in my optimism and fierce in my realism. I have no expectation that the advantages that I now enjoy will necessarily grow or expand for my children and their children. History says Black wealth is never a safe bet. Which helps me understand my parents’ emphasis on cultivating our *independence*. That was their mission: to see us become independent adults and we did it. That’s a more enduring form of wealth in our family it seems.
I’m sure these questions will keep turning in my brain for a while to come. Thanks to everyone who has contributed here. It’s eye opening and instructional to read so many different stories.

In both reading the hundreds of other responses and thinking about my own experiences, I felt grateful for the degree of financial stability I have been able to enjoy throughout my life. The pursuit of wealth, however, feels foreign to me, like that’s not what I’m here for. I realize now how that has been fundamentally shaped by my upbringing. Also the very real understanding that Black wealth is never guaranteed. That’s another factor that sits deeper in my bones than I have previously acknowledged.

Instead, the legacy of independence is what I have held onto, perhaps beyond reason at times. We cannot talk about our relationship to money without reckoning with our ideas of what constitutes “enough.” While my own definitions have certainly shifted over time across various material contexts, I have generally felt most content when I have enough money to do the things I/we want to do (travel, buy books, attend desired events…). That’s it.

So when my marriage broke up a year and a half ago, while I had a lot of extra expenses with moving and other start up costs, I was financially stable enough to manage it. That’s my idea of wealth. It’s having the resources to keep going after setbacks. Where my approach seems to diverge from several of the people responding in the thread is my lack of focus on providing certain outcomes for my children and grandchildren. My cognitive financial temporal organization seems more present- rather than future-oriented.

It’s not that I don’t think of my children and providing for their needs into adulthood as needed and possible, but it’s not the primary focus in how I’m thinking about what to do with my money. This may be a fault and something I’ll regret later. I mean, I’m not in debt but I also don’t own any property. Some would call that a foolhardy and precarious position to be in at my age, and perhaps that is the case. Or not. We’ll see.

dark skinned hands cupped underneath a metal faucet with water pouring out.
Photo by Kelly on

One resource that has helped me develop my own sense of financial health is The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. She talks specifically about understanding money as something that flows through our lives. I appreciate the distinction she draws between allocation and accumulation as well as her advocacy of building sustainable legacies for and with our children:

More valuable and useful than any amount of money itself is to leave our children a relationship with money that is healthy. Leave them with an understanding that money flows in and out, that it should do that, and that it is a privilege to be able to direct the flow toward their highest commitments.

Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money, p. 241

That seems worth striving for. What is financially attainable at any given time can shift. Developing the kinds of supportive relationships that allow funds to flow when and where needed becomes the greater investment of my lifetime. Which also means rethinking my reliance on stalwart independence. So there we have it: the investment and the challenge – hand in hand.

Anxiety Flares and Control Moves

field of yellow flowers, green stems, blue, cloudy horizon. Pair of brown skinned arms and hands sticking up in the middle.
Hands in Sunflower Field via @alyssasieb /

I’ll try to make this a quick one. Last week, I had what I’m calling an anxiety flare up. The feelings were neither entirely new, nor overly threatening but for a couple of days I just felt out of sorts. I was both dissatisfied with myself and annoyed at my relative vulnerability. At least one night’s sleep and a rocky day at work were the tangible prices. But of course it was also a significant blow to my ego, so the last few days involved nursing my ego back to some sort of equilibrium.

The nursing process is what I want to share here. I mean, how do we rein ourselves back in after an emotional setback?

Well, in the night that I couldn’t sleep, I journaled. I described what was going on in my head. I named my fears and frustrations. In fact, I began using a stem phrase: “My anxiety has to do with…” and created a list of 10 things. There was so much more there than the triggering incident. Writing offered some immediate relief that rippled out over the next days.

I read an article on Autumn Anxiety by Jennifer A. King that provided some further context for why I might be feeling the way I was. Two characteristics in particular seemed to hit the nail on the head:

Sense of Control. Situations where we have no control over what is happening or what outcomes may be.
Threat to Ego. Situations that leave you feeling as though your competence is in question.

Jennifer A. King, Do You Have Autumn Anxiety?

These could not have been more on target! Gaining validation for my emotional state let me know that I was not alone, that there are many reasons why I could be experiencing a degree of disorientation given my recent return to work, the interpersonal professional demands that entails coupled with whatever personal frailties I had going on anyway.

This weekend I made space for recovery. I..

  • Had a long zoom chat with my best friend,
  • met friends for drinks and a movie – absolutely delightful time!
  • got outside for exercise on both mornings,
  • did a load of laundry,
  • washed, conditioned and braided my hair,
  • prepared nice meals and ate slowly,
  • took time for reading and writing.

These all belong to what I call “control moves:” actions that help me feel in control – of my time, energy and body. They are not the cure, they are the process. As a result, I feel less anxious, more grounded, closer to how I would like to experience myself on the regular. Each task functions like a mini-reminder: “You’re still here, you’re OK, take your time.”

I have no idea if this will be helpful to anyone else and I’m sharing anyway because there’s a chance it might be. In How We Show Up, Mia Birdsong reminds us of the following:

We are living in a contradiction – we are made for interdependence, connection, and love, but part of a culture that espouses the opposite…There is a tension between existing in one world while trying to live into another one. That place in between them is full of friction.

Mia Birdsong, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship and Community, p. 226

Living in contradiction challenges us which makes our sharing of struggles and recoveries all the more important. It is in that spirit of building community and living in connection that I offer this window into my experience.

Be well, friends.

16 Sentences

Perhaps I am very late to the party but I see now that capitalism and justice are incompatible.

The longer I write, the more I chafe against established structures in form, in genre.

Maybe it’s something about middle age but I’ve also started to hate my bras no matter how stretchy and temporarily comfortable.

I keep wanting out but without actually wanting to go out.

I wonder what anti-capitalist bookmaking looks like because I might want to do that.

Talking to my bestie on Zoom I just realized that my summer has been about loss and recovery.

After peak experiences my body goes through a phase of recalibration.

I need more rest.

I have an idea that’s so hot and trying to figure out a way to realize it while resisting a capitalist structure is blowing my mind wide open.

Much to my surprise, I may have a literary future in German.

I’ve made a lot of promises in the last 24 hours.

What makes me click on an essay that suggests laughter but is really about suffering?

I seek out evening sweetness as a private reassurance; sugar and rejection are fundamentally at odds.

We broke a family pattern today which was hard, and then fun.

No one tells you that show-and-tell in kindergarten exists to prepare us for adult office parties later in life.

The final sentence dreams of greatness and barely manages closure.