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