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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I was going into 10th grade at a new school, I encountered my first summer reading list. I believe I had to choose one novel from maybe 5 or 6 options and have finished reading it before the first day on campus. I chose Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I have no idea what the other choices were or what made me pick that novel but I do remember reading it and being fascinated.
Reading as an assignment that turned out to be quite enjoyable. Yay!
As an adult, I’m a committed reader who enjoys the collection, discussion and contemplation of books, books, books. In that I am my mother’s daughter. What’s different, I suppose, is that I get to write about some of that reading and share it publicly. It also feels as if I simply read more than usual: more books, more fiction, more hours. Writing it down is more for my own benefit than anything else and sharing can’t hurt. Maybe there’s something in here for you.
I started off the summer finishing up my sci-fi streak that had me reading three Ursula K. LeGuin novels in a row and continuing with my first N.K. Jemisin title, The Fifth Season. All of this new exploration of science fiction was set in motion by a single podcast episode, Crafting With Ursula: Social Justice and Science Fiction with adrienne maree brown. I knew basically nothing about LeGuin beforehand and afterwards I rushed to the library and checked out The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. Bowled over by LeGuin’s versatility, I picked one more, The Eye of the Heron, which charmed me maybe most of all three. Imagine, that’s only the backstory for why I picked up The Fifth Season.
While I knew that Jemisin is a Black woman author who has a remarkable track record in her field. I heard one of her award acceptance speeches (really worth your time!) and began following her on Twitter a few years back. Even so I wasn’t ready to spend time reading a genre I was convinced was not of real interest to me. On recommendation from my favorite librarian, I decided I was ready to tackle my first. And I was not disappointed. While I struggle to recall the details of the story line several weeks after reading, what struck me was Jemisin’s capacity for deeply original world building in really every aspect: societal structures, energy sources, languages, transportation, architecture, natural world – truly everything! Just breathtaking! And following adrienne maree brown’s assertion that social justice organizing and science fiction revolve around creating radically different worlds in the mind’s eye, I was able to see the possibility in a genre I had previously shunned. Yay!
Of course, brown’s Emergent Strategy has been on my radar for a while but this summer I felt more urgently drawn to a pamphlet she wrote in response to intra-movement conflict: We Will Not Cancel Us. She referenced it in the interview with David Naimon and it stuck with me. I’ve often felt uncomfortable with the dynamics of what she terms a “feeding frenzy” in response to a reported harm within community. She uses these pages to inquire what’s going on in those instances; to express her “unthinkable thoughts.” I suppose what I was looking for and also found were the kinds of affirming messages about the complexity and value of living and struggling in community. brown writes,
“I want us to do better. I want to feel like we are responsible for each other’s transformation, not the transformation from vibrant flawed humans to bits of ash, but rather the transformation from broken people and communities to whole ones.”
adrienne maree brown, We Will Not Cancel Us, p. 74
Partly in parallel I was reading Akwaeke Emezi’s Dear Senthuran, A Black Spirit Memoir. Now, I cannot tell you what I was expecting but the immediacy of each letter left me shook, rattled and/or moved. There was one passage that I promised myself to hold onto because I need/have needed/will need it:
We never understand how vast we are. We may spend the rest of our lives finding out that we have no borders, no boundaries, pushing into greater sizes, being both terrified and delighted when we discover there’s nothing there to stop us.
Akwaeke Emezi, Dear Senthuran, p. 149
I mean, what? and YES! I hesitate to say more but I felt seen while reading, collected, even. Emezi is a young, dynamic and eclectic artist whose insights on what it means to be alive, to be held on the earth in a particular body sang through me. There was a way that their analysis of self and the world laid bare some realities that I know as a middle aged person but had managed to avoid looking at. All in all, I felt strengthened by Dear Senthuran and need to get my own copy soon.
Imagine following that up with The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr., previously known to me as Son of Baldwin on Twitter. In June Jones announced his departure from social media in an open letter, “To Fare Well.” I kept that tab open for days. The letter felt personal and instructional. I continue to refer back to it. My decision to read The Prophets had to do with me trying to catch up with the culture.
Described as a Black queer love story set in the slaveholding South of the 1800s, The Prophets won me over early on with the rich cast of characters. (“Rich” is really inadequate here, forgive me.) Each one was surprisingly real to me. The story, however, and it’s mutifaceted telling are what sent me. The book is so expertly constructed – every detail contributes to the whole in a meaningful way. It’s not light reading but it is extremely tender in many parts. You just have to read it for yourself to see what I mean but wow, the whole package is simply astounding in all that it contains.
Everybody Looking is a novel written in verse and it was my spontaneous YA choice for the summer. Fairly breezy reading about a young woman entering college and figuring out who she is and balancing that against who she believes she needs to be for various others: dad, mom, friends. Objects of Desire is a short story collection that I read in between other things. The stories worked like palate fresheners – crisp, tasty and fleeting. I should also add Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi here. It was such a fast read that I gobbled up in a couple of days. It’s also YA fiction and the prequel to PET which I adored.
On my Kindle, I worked my way through The Wake Up: Closing the Gap Between Good Intentions and Real Change by Michelle MiJung Kim which I now consider social justice essential reading, especially for the US context. Above all, I welcomed Kim’s focus on the importance of context, positionality and tolerating complexity. The messages are clear, her approach is transparent, and understanding of the challenges lucid. In response to the question: “What’s the point of even trying if we’re never going to be anticapitalist?” she writes,
But what if the answers reside within the trying? What if the tension is the point that breaks open the pathways – not to a simple, singular, and reductive solution but to multilayered, collective, and complex solutioning toward possibilities?
Michelle MiJung Kim, The Wake Up, ch. 4
I also added Patriarchy Blues to my e-reader stack. Authored by Frederick Joseph, this book surprised me with it’s nearly mixed-media approach to looking at patriarchy. Joseph uses personal anecdotes, poetry and essays to illustrate all the ways that we are constrained not solely by patriarchy but all the other systems of oppression that intersect with it and/or rely on its support. There are some choice insights that again remind us of the multiple roads we can travel towards social justice.
Near the end of the summer I took the opportunity to reread Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley Ford. I’m glad I did that because the second time around I got to think more about the writing and what it is that draws me to Ford’s voice. The openness, yes, and perhaps more than just openness, there’s a delicacy and care in the choices she makes in telling us about her family. I suppose I appreciated the struggle it took to get the book done; letting that part also surface felt meaningful for me. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Almost done… The last book I finished is the one I started early on and put aside. Recommended by a dear friend, I wanted to find its charm but it took a minute. The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is like nothing I’d ever read before. A novel, but in oral history form. And it’s a debut by Dawnie Walton. At the end of the summer, once traveling was done and we were back to household lounging, I guess I was ready for this multiperspective story to claim some real estate in my brain. Once I got into the characters and the larger context I was absolutely fascinated by the complexity with such a careful, light touch. Nothing is overdone. Each voice maintains a radical authenticity that strikes me a remarkable achievement. Again, a wonderful revelation of what young authors are bringing into the world already.
Last book on my nightstand is a memoir I picked up at my local bookstore. While I have know the name Ai Wei Wei, I didn’t know much about his art or the source of his prominence. It’s interesting to read his telling of his parents’ histories and recognize the expanse of my own ignorance of Chinese history specifically and of Asian history more generally. I suspect I will be working on this read for a while. It’s very personal, real and for me, uniquely instructional. I’m looking forward to the ways this book will stretch me into new areas on interest and investigation.
This post turned out to be way longer than I anticipated. But that’s ok. It’s only words and time and a record of significant contributions. Once in a while it’s good to look back and remember where we got stuff: ideas, quotes, questions, insights. My reading life keeps me open and curious. That is actually a gift for the ages, friends. Truly.
This will be the 27th school year at my institution and my 30th year of teaching. I know my why; it’s selfish and social at the same time. My why is multifaceted and contextual, elastic and generous. There’s no one word to capture the whole. No way to condense all the benefits down to a spunky slogan. I keep choosing school because school (and children and colleagues and families and all the energy wrapped in that) choose me. In school, I am, in fact, chosen.
Debbie Millman says that after years of offering her workshop on visual storytelling all over the world she has found that there are two main stories: of love or of loss/longing.
I have told myself and others that I am not much of a storyteller. That is both true and false. We are, as humans, all storytellers. I do not see myself as someone who relates stories well or with great relish.
A title I do claim, however, is listener. Listening is my wheelhouse and making sense of the stories people share feels like a calling.
So when a loved one I have not seen in several years takes the time to tell me parts of her story I never knew, I listen intently.
I learn about myself when I hear you tell me about yourself. My response to your story tells its own story. What you choose to share reveals another story about trust and intimacy. As I listen I become a part of your next stories.
I notice how age calls us to learn our stories by repeating them over and over. We tell the same story in different contexts to show that we know our own minds. We tell the same stories to confirm not only who we are but that we are. Often, the truth and the story do not need each other as much as we think they do.
Not every situation demands a retelling. That is a blessing.
If you listen, you may be surprised to hear which story your own voice is eager to tell.
To create a story from scratch, to build a world far from my own strikes me as by near impossible. I am grateful to the artists who manage it, who demonstrate what’s possible. I sit close and listen.
I began this post while I was still elsewhere but now I'm here, I'm back, I've returned.
Re-turn, to turn again. Where I find myself without knowing exactly what I'm looking for.
A moment passes and instantly we traffic in the past. What came before is neither news nor novelty,
it's memory - unreliable and fuzzy, a liquid relic in a leaky container.
A jumble of instances, experiences within and without, so much to remember and forget.
Re-member, to piece together again. An instinct with difficulty, this process.
I am back and I remember. I return and tell myself stories.
I am here in the now and it is already past.
I return and pave the way to forget.
Story requires permission, right? Along the way to becoming it is subject to decision-making. The storyteller makes the rules.
What I hope you’ll hear could not be farther from my control. I release a story to the wind and its landing will always be a form of mystery. Understand: a feature, not a bug.
Author of fragments, assembler of impressions, writer/unwriter.
I’m back, I’ve returned and the exquisite dilemma of expression teases me with its dance.
For a few summer days this place is my own
backwooded insect rich heat resistant spot
Space for writing, reading, cooking, eating
slowpaced, downshifted, nature sounding spot
License for imagination and doing nothing both
who I am what I want what I see and don't