#EmotionalLaborDay

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Image shows a genderqueer Asian sitting in a light blue inflatable kayak in the middle of a lake surrounded by trees. They are grinning and holding a black paddle.

Today I’m celebrating what I’m calling #EmotionalLaborDay, uplifting and honoring the often-invisibilized emotional work that goes into our communities and movements.

Holding space; processing trauma; building relationships; offering care; setting, navigating, and respecting boundaries; holding ourselves and others accountable — all of these acts are beautiful and necessary, and they are also work. I am grateful to the femmes, women of color, and QTPOC who are my possibility models and inspire me to grow, to do and be better. I see you, I see your labor, and I appreciate you.

I am also celebrating my own work, my difficult / rewarding / beautiful journey toward healing, the ways I have learned to become accountable to myself by stepping into my values. I am uplifting my recognition that organizing is not just #clipboardface, it is building and growing and love and hope and visioning and manifesting the universe we want to thrive in.

I am celebrating and honoring rest. At the beginning of June, I drafted a note on my phone asking for support in taking a temporary step back from organizing to focus on self-care. Instead of posting that note, I took on new projects and coordinating roles and kept pushing beyond my capacity. All of this work has felt necessary and rewarding and beautiful, and it has strengthened many of my relationships with comrades and friends I’ve been organizing with, who have offered care and support and wisdom and creativity and laughter over the past few months. AND ALSO I know that I am tired and right on the edge of burnout (or, to be honest, probably three months past my edge of burnout), and that constantly burning through all of my spoons is affecting my physical, emotional, and mental health. Being constantly tired and emotionally drained also makes it harder for me to live in my values. (All of the values, because it is hard to be cranky and tender at the same time, but particularly values around agency and self-determination; when I take on labor that is beyond my capacity, I do not honor myself or the fact that we are interconnected, not alone, in our work. I do not allow others to move in to take on what they can.)

Last December, I started a series of posts about self-care, and then I started a new job and haven’t finished the posts I planned about community care and interdependence. Over the last few months, I have seen beautiful care support teams flourish around loved ones who have gone through surgery and in the ways allies have rallied around the #DecolonizeLACityHall encampment led by the LA chapter of Black Lives Matter. In addition to wrangling supplies, offering rides, coordinating schedules, and gathering resources, I have seen folks show up hard (physically, digitally, and emotionally), and I am grateful to have participated in and witnessed this labor.

At the last full moon, I set an intention for stillness and art, and ⅔ of a lunar cycle later, I hope to spend the next few weeks focusing on both of these things. My motto for September is going to be “work hard, introvert hard.” I am committing to not taking on any new tasks, projects, or coordinating roles for the rest of the month, to re-learning how to say no, and to making time for reflection and creating for myself.

I just searched through my coaching notes to look for something my coach told me about rest, and I found this from a mid-July session:

what are the gifts of stillness?
opening up possibilities, being able to see past the present moment and also be in the present moment
opening up space and time in a way that isn’t constantly moving
what’s important about opening up that space and time?
it feels like the opposite of trauma
allows folks to just be
cultivating the opposite of trauma, when you say that, recognize that, what do you notice?
the first thing is that I haven’t been making that for myself
so there’s something about feeling like I can’t rest, recognizing that I have been contributing to that, not just the things around me
what stops you from being still, Audrey?
feeling like there’s too much in the world, if stop, won’t ever be able to start again

My original plan was to close with a quote about the importance of rest, but instead I offer you this glimpse of the things that feel most terrifying and most hopeful. Rereading my own words, I remember how grounded I felt when I named stillness as “the opposite of trauma.” I wish this feeling & truth for myself, and I wish it for you.

[Edited to add accountability tips I posted on FB, feel free to borrow, edit, and use for yourself!]

Ways you can support/hold me accountable:
– Please feel free to reach out and/or check in, but be aware that I may be slow to respond or not respond.
– Tell me how you take care of yourself! Comment below, send a message / email / text, etc.
– Keep inviting me to things, so I know what’s going on in the world & can also practice saying no.
– Send affirmations / gifs / memes about self-care as community care, taking breaks, rebirth, growing, and/or healing.
– Model rest and self-care and healthy boundaries for yourself. The more we practice these skills individually, the better we all will be at holding space for each other.

self-care: cultivate your bubble

content note: white supremacy, examples of

At the beginning of this year, I started working with a coach through Black Girl Dangerous’ “Get Free: Healing For the Revolution” program. I saw this part of the program description, and my immediate reaction, was “Yes, I want that.” (Also, are you still looking for places to make your end-of-year donations?)

Our program provides personalized support so that you can:

  • Let go of things you’re holding onto from the past that don’t serve you.
  • Identify, and do something about, areas where you feel stuck in your personal healing and growth.
  • Be accountable for areas where you’re not taking responsibility for your life.
  • Speak and live truth.
  • Do activist work in a way that nurtures and makes you come alive.
  • Cultivate healthy and supportive relationships.

I wasn’t really sure how to set goals; the biggest thing I could think of was “build resilience.” I felt like the microaggressions I experienced in Portland were affecting me more than usual, like I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly, if at all. Looking back now, it’s obvious to me that the change wasn’t just internal. I moved away from a support network and community of organizers that I had spent 10 years cultivating in LA, and I was surrounded by post-racial white liberals — like Board members who talked about the importance of equity (Oregon funders’ buzzword for diversity initiatives) and then also said that they “don’t get white privilege, because their (rich, white) kids were raised not to see skin color”; and poets writing spoken word pieces about how Ferguson, Ohio (sic) taught them, as white women, to fear the police; and people who called me a racist for asking them not to invite me to culturally appropriative events.

I felt stuck and sad and isolated, even though I was lucky to be in community with a handful of wonderful QTPOC organizers. Without going into all of the detail in this post, through coaching, I realized that one way to be accountable to myself for my happiness  was move back to Los Angeles.

“You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more (but I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later)

(Note: In the interest of the “open-source mind” aspect of this blog, the part below is the kernel that this chunk started from. It’s mostly, like, “oppressive people are poop, poop bad, cut out the toxic poop” but thanks to Tk’s wisdom, I’ve spaced out the posts and I get to add nuance. Yes, limit the toxic poop in your life as you are able to given the context of your safety and finances, but also, curate the bubble you do want to live in!)

So how do we minimize the need for emergency self-care?

In different conversations with my mother about community, she’s asked me variations of “Why don’t you hang out with straight people?” and “Do you have any white friends?” First of all, I have plenty of exposure to white cishets in pop culture, politics, positions of leadership, and work — and some of my best friends are straight white people [citation needed]. Second, the subtext here is also that I’m not “living in the real world,” but as people I love and respect have pointed out, constantly surrounding yourself with trauma and sadness is just as much a bubble. And if I have to choose between a bubble of grounded joy and QTPOC magic and a bubble of poop, guess which one I’m going to pick?

I deal with enough poop all day; when I have a choice, I am not going to intentionally curate more poop. A hugely important part of my self-care journey has been finding ways to center people who move me toward healing and growth, folks who embody a commitment to building and personal accountability, folks who I want to laugh and cook and celebrate and create and mourn and heal and process and share love with.

The argument about “living in the real world” comes up all the time, and it is toxic — and false — because it assumes that the real world is a fixed, oppressive nightmare that is impervious to change. When people criticize students organizing on college campuses by saying they “lack resilience” or won’t be able to survive outside of the bubble of college campuses, they are not just being ageist (and often ageist, ableist, classist, racist, and anti-feminist); they are upholding the status quo and cynically accepting it as the only possible reality there is.

In short: Cut the toxic folks out of your life. Refuse to accept that being an adult means accepting that the world is and will always be a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness. There are many practical and emotional and financial considerations here, that make this less of an actual choice or possibility in many situations, but where you can: Cut out the toxic poop. Cherish the unicorns around you.

Find your unicorns: Curate the people who are not-poop and pour your intention into these relationships.

When I say I hate capitalism, the toxic poop is why. It forces us to navigate shitty situations, be in community with folks who harm us but have economic control over our lives, and sacrifice our wellness in order to be able to put food into our bodies and pay for shelter. (More on this in the last post.)

With that context in mind, I think it’s absolutely necessary that we cultivate relationships that help us move toward healing and wholeness. (And even when I say “cut out the toxic poop,” I recognize that in my own life, I don’t want to give up on folks who are invested in learning, and I also believe that part of how we will win is moving folks toward embracing justice and working toward our collective liberation. However, I do think it’s important to recognize that this work is draining, and for me, a huge part of self-care is knowing when to disengage.)

A month or so ago, I put up a support request on Facebook to talk through an incident I was grappling with. As I typed the names of friends into the filtered post box, I felt gratitude toward each person, recognizing that I trusted each of them enough to talk through something I couldn’t process on my own and that was bringing up a lot of uncomfortable realizations I wasn’t ready to confront.

Looking back later, I thought about how writing that post and choosing who to share it with gave me a moment to process who feels safe and why, what it meant that the list was relatively short (people who I trusted, who would understand the context, and who I could trust to listen without judgment), and also whether I behave in ways that would make folks feel safe reaching out to me to process their shit.

So here is a random list of thoughts on how to cultivate and curate a bubble:

  • Think about who feels safe and doesn’t, and why. I like to keep in mind that no space will ever be absolutely safe, but seeing how folks hold themselves accountable and react when they commit harm is a very good indicator.
    • I’ve linked to Ngọc Loan Trần‘s article “Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable” before, and I value the way they don’t pit calling out/in as a binary, and also the way they point out that it’s important to think about what makes a relationship with another person important: “Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?”
    • Thinking through why a growth conversation matters helps to maintain perspective throughout navigating harm; and when I don’t want to call someone in or address their mistake, it also helps me to understand the limits of my relationship with them. Maybe I don’t trust them enough to be able to carry out this conversation; maybe I do think they have the capacity to grow in this way, but in this moment, I can’t be the one to navigate harm with them. And that’s OK.
  • What kinds of time and spaces makes me feel more free? A lot of my healing and self-care comes from time spent with cherished folks. I also spend a lot of time in community space that is nourishing to me in other ways, because it feels important or necessary, or we’re having conversations that need to happen, or it’s a party and it’s fun. But I need to check in with myself and see “was being in that space part of my self-care? was that healing? do I need to be alone to recharge?” (keeping in mind, of course, that none of these are binary answers, and that healing work can also be draining).
    • Internal indicators that work for me:
      • Did I feel like my guard was up? Do I need to mentally and emotionally gird myself in preparation for being in that space/with those people?
      • How did my body feel before, during, and after the event/hangout? Am I relaxed or tense? Do I feel energized or tired?
      • Also, here’s a list of “15 Ways to Catch Up With Friends That Aren’t Grabbing Coffee or a Cocktail” (There is also a better list of ways to show up for and spend time with SDQs, and I a)m looking for it in my thousands of bookmarks … will update when I find it.)
  • Emotional labor: Do you have people in your life who share the emotional labor in your relationships? How do you talk about and navigate boundaries? Are you able to successfully communicate when you need space?
      • This piece by Mahfam Malek is about dating, but the questions are good to consider (and to answer for yourself).
  • Who do you want in your corner? Think about moments that have brought you deep joy, that have made you feel grounded, that have moved you toward your own liberation. Who was there with you? Who do you wish had shared that moment with you? What about the last time you were deeply sad? Who did you turn to? Who did you wish you had reached out to?
  • Who do you have in your life who will tell you when you’re being an asshole? Who will tell you if your behavior is out of line with your values?

You may have some people who fill all or some of these needs, and you also definitely have needs that are different from mine, because we are different people. For me, it helps to remember that each relationship is unique and nourishes me in a different way, and that growing intentionally requires communication, trust, and care — and not just with others; if I want to get free, I need to trust myself enough to listen to my intuition, be honest about my needs, and cultivate the community that moves me toward wholeness.

self-care: context matters

The numbered points below were my outline notes to myself while fixing this draft; I figured I could just leave it as a tl; dr. (The 3rd point will actually be addressed more in the next post.)

  1. people are tired
  2. we’re tired because we’re oppressed
  3. so don’t bring that shit into your personal life

In my intro post to this ~self-care series~, I mentioned that this year has been challenging but amazing, and also tiring. For me, personally, it’s been a year of healing and growth, along with processing a lot of learning that came out of living in Portland for a year and being miserable for a lot of it. (More on that in the post about curating and living in a bubble, but here’s a preview.)

I have also felt tiredness from people around me, and I think a huge factor in feeling that from the community has come from intentionally focusing my energy and time on building community with QTPOC and centering these folks in my life. When I think about the daily trauma we experience on the intersections of multiple axes of oppression, I am often amazed that we’re not more tired.

I also believe that there are different kinds of tired.

There’s the kind that comes from dealing with all the bullshit around us, the tired of having to explain for the 47th time (today) that “reverse racism” is not a real thing, the tired of being constantly misgendered and having a piece of your identity forcibly and repeatedly erased, the tired of feeling invisible and hypervisible, the tired that comes from having to expend a huge chunk of your energy to pass as neurotypical for a full work day (while also remembering all the different edits to yourself you have to make to fit in to the norms of professional workplace behavior), and then also the many things I’m privileged not to have to experience, including navigating institutional ableism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, and classism, and all the ways these tired-making things intersect.

And then there is a different kind of tired that comes from holding hope and believing that a different world is possible, and dreaming alternative realities and bridging gaps between people to bring those worlds into existence, and making beauty out of the terrible.

That second kind of tired, for me at least, comes from a place of wholeheartedness, and it feels much easier to bounce back from. That kind of tired feels like next-day-sore muscles after a good workout, or the slight buzz of finishing a Sunday crossword.

It’s important to think about “self-care” in context because 1) We should understand that our need for self-care is directly related to the harm we experience and 2) For me, and it seems like for many of the folks I consider my people, it’s hard to make time for self-care when we feel like there’s so much work to do.

On that second point, I genuinely want to move toward a place of self-care because we need it, but that truth seems to be constantly drowned out by the nagging voice saying “maybe we all need to try a little bit harder.” It has helped to try to consider these two voices not as a dichotomy, but as two things that are true to me.

Am I saying that people who aren’t doing the work aren’t worthy of care? No. But a part of me still has a lot of feelings that come up around this. That is, I’m not writing a bunch of posts about self-care for the people who are jetting off for the weekend to do yoga on a mountain so that they can feel fit and recharged the following Monday when they go back to work for their multinational corporation.

However, I do think for organizers (and everyone) that the need to disentangle our worth (and that we are worthy of care) from the work is an important part of moving toward wholeness. I am looking for ways to think of worthiness and self-care as things that are inherent to everyone, including myself, regardless of what they or I contribute to the movement.

I was lucky to get a ticket to see Laverne Cox speak at USC last week (thank you, Queer and Ally Student Assembly!), and in addition to talking about her life and tying her own journey as a Black trans woman to Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I A Woman?”, she also took questions from the audience. The last question was “How can organizers doing social justice work sustain themselves (emotionally, etc.) in the movement long-term?”* Laverne’s response centered on recognizing that “the list of injustices is really, really long,” and that for her, it’s important to detach from the work and not become “codependent” with it. That it’s possible to separate her own self-worth from the work, without losing her will to fight the fight:

I have so many moments of ‘Laverne, you could be doing more, you should be doing more,’ and I’m doing the best that I can. And I have to be able to just give that to myself. And I think that it’s important to give that to ourselves; to know that we’re doing the best that we can, and when we know better, we’ll do better. […]

So many of the challenges I’ve had throughout my life, my worthiness has been on the line. I have been hustling for my worthiness, trying to be enough.

And those moments when I can take my worthiness off the table, when I can understand that worthiness is a birthright, those are the moments that are deeply healing for me — when I understand that because I am a child of god, I am worthy — those are the moments when I can stand in my truth, and stand in various spaces, and feel like I am enough, I have enough, and I do enough.

I recognize that this is still a process and that I easily fall into the habit of leveraging judgments on myself and others, that I carry guilt around feeling like my own care is selfish or solipsistic. (And I do think that there is room for necessary critiques of how folks with privilege can mobilize “self-care” as a concept to reinforce their privilege.)

But if for no other reason than that getting stuck in guilt does nothing to serve the movement, I am repeating, until I internalize it fully, “I am worthwhile. I matter because I exist.”

Readings and resources:

  • Original title: “Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)”
  • Autostraddle: 36 Reasons Why QPOC-Only Spaces Are Very Necessary by Gabrielle Rivera (please do not read the comments)
  • Kama La Mackerel’s piece “What’s love got to do with our politics?,” particularly the part where Kama addresses the question “How did you learn to love yourself?”
  • Social Justice League’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Polite: The Issue of Nice versus Good” — I link to this post all the time, usually as a starting point for folks who don’t understand why tone-policing is oppressive, but I think it also has a great breakdown of kyriarchy and how folks demanding “niceness” from oppressed people are part of the problem. (This piece is a good reminder of how structural inequality functions in insidious ways, and how this loops in to microaggressions, gaslighting, and silencing of oppressed folks, as well.) Note: Piece includes the (transmisogynistic) t-slur, as an example of how that slur is not equivalent to being called a racist.

* She answered my question! BASICALLY WE HAD A CONVERSATION IRL.

thoughts on self-care: I have a lot of them

This is an intro post to a multi-part series (of an indeterminate number of parts) on self-care and community care that started as one post, and then it was too many words, so now it is more than one post.

This year has been … a lot of things. A huge part of me wants to curl up into a ball (maybe surrounded by puppies and kittens, also curled up, resting their fuzzy little faces onto their tiny fuzzy paws) and take a break from everything. I am tired, and it feels like people in my communities are also tired.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about self-care and trauma, with links to resources, for at least the last 6 months. I’m recognizing in finally writing this post that I have been thinking “I need to write that self-care post,” while my heart and life have been traveling down a different path of “What does community care look like?”

selfcare.jpg

By the way, this is my favorite hobby/self-care practice (working on my photo book “Hey, can I hold that?”)

Thankfully, this hard and tiring year has also been amazing and rewarding in many, many ways, in large part because I have met and deepened relationships with so many rad, radical QTPOC organizers. I have learned so much from reading their status updates and blog posts, from talking through trauma and #organizerproblems over meals, from observing how folks hold space.

I’ve learned about what I want care and access support and communities to look like, how I want to show up for folks, how to ask for support and articulate needs and boundaries. These are all things that I recognize are ongoing practices, things I hope I will strive to be better at for the rest of my life.

So. I am accepting that I don’t have all of the answers, which is like, probably important to growth? And part of my self-care process and accepting imperfections? I guess?

My original post had paragraphy subheads to help break up the text, so I will leave them here as a preview of what I think follow-up posts will be, with links added in once other posts go live:

  • Context matters: Maybe we should be thinking about why we need so much self-care. (OR the world we live in is often a deeply fucked up place and instead of feeling guilty about not being more grounded, maybe we can shift the blame outside of ourselves)
  • “Self-care for sustainability” is part of the problem. If we’re only doing self-care so we can work more, how can we disentangle our self-worth from the work? Hint: I don’t think we can. (Also, this is capitalistic and ableist.)
  • “You’re living in a bubble”: Yes I am, and also you’re not invited any more. (But I also believe in transformative justice, so here’s some reading and a snack, I hope we’ll be able to share bubble space later.)
  • What does the opposite of a bleak disastrous hellscape of loneliness actually look like?* Moving from self-care to community care.
  • [Something about trauma, secondary trauma and therapy, which I had already decided to break out into a separate post.]
  • Here is an oddly curated list of resources.**

* This is particularly odd without the context of the section that comes before it, which might not make it through edits.
** I may break up the resources a bit to go with each post, and then create a final post with all of the links, along with any additional suggestions I gather from the comments or Facebook. Please comment with resources you’ve found helpful!

Anyway, here’s Wonderwall a partial list of things that help me maintain perspective:

  • my hobbies: baking bread and picking up animals and taking pictures with them
  • journaling, even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time (if 10 seems daunting, start with 5; if it helps, try promising yourself that you won’t go back and read what you wrote for a month, or 6 months, or ever, and find a good hiding spot for your journal)
  • QTPOC workouts: being able to move in a space that is affirming and inclusive, that welcomes all bodies, openly encourages modifications, and where folks are actively respectful of pronouns and thoughtful about how they are communicating feels almost unrealistically magical but it’s real
  • Chani Nicholas’ weekly horoscopes
  • Lucille Clifton’s short, powerful poem “won’t you celebrate with me” (full text, video, skip to 30 seconds in)

And some additional things I’d like to share:

blog inertia + random list of thoughts

I have three different drafts of blog posts about different things, many of them heavy, and because I haven’t written a blog post for so long, I feel the need to write about everything, and to do it well, and instead I have spent large chunks of the last few days scowling and/or frowning at my laptop with WordPress open. So instead of a full blog post, here is a random list of thoughts:

  • I talked to my parents about Vincent Chin for the first time today, and until then I never realized they’d never brought him up before. I asked my dad if he was scared at the time, and he replied simply, “There were just some places we knew not to go.” He mentioned being on a business trip with a black co-worker in the South a while back, and he remembers that co-worker telling him how nervous he got when he got lost on the way to a presentation. “You just couldn’t be sure, so you knew not to go some places.”
  • We talked a lot about happiness and what that looks like, and values and work ethic and what it meant to grow up in the community we did. I asked my mother what lessons she hoped she imparted on her children, and she started to answer, then asked, “Isn’t this kind of cheating? Shouldn’t you know?” In a way, it does feel like cheating, as a writer — why bother with metaphors and signs and allegories and trying to figure out the subtext, I’ll just ask her.
  • The Poets for Ferguson cypher was amazing, and powerful, and so heavy. I talked to my friend Ami about it today, and we are both working our way through the hours we didn’t see live. I feel an absence, almost, now that it has wrapped up, and I realize how much I crave space that is centered on and exclusively for people of color.
  • I am grateful to have a friend I can Skype with for three hours about everything we are thinking and fears and feeling stuck and not being sure what lessons our parents wanted to teach us and what we should be doing next.
  • I am thinking a lot about inertia in general, and about living up to one of the poems I performed — one of its conclusions is that the road to progress is long, but that it’s important to keep moving. So often over this past month and a half (and in other stretches before), I have wondered how we are supposed to keep moving forward, and whether we will be able to. And I keep reminding myself to balance the need for self-care against the knowledge that my ability to turn away — and the instinct to do so — both of these are rooted in privilege.
  • Today was my mother’s birthday. Her 33-year-anniversary with my father is coming up soon. They went to get Thai food to celebrate. This morning on the phone, my mother misheard me say I would call her back and thought I’d said I’d be at the house at noon. “My heart jumped for a second,” she told me in disappointment.
  • I have been sitting on a post about “The Giving Tree” and motherhood, and I wanted to talk to my mom about it first. She said she doesn’t find it sad, just accurate. I texted my brother about it later, as he got ready to head to the Thai restaurant to surprise my mother.
    (does the boy come back? / As an old man he returns and sits on her stump / oh, happy book then!)
  • What is a sad story about motherhood, then? Is it a tree that keeps waiting, having given away all of its fruit to show how deeply and unconditionally she loves? Will she continue to wait, forever, unable to move past the spot of her last and most painful sacrifice? How can we ever begin to heal the wounds of boys who never return and trees who will always be kept waiting?

Poem recognize poem

Oh, hey there. It’s good to see you again. I really appreciate the feedback on the last post; it’s led to a lot of great follow-up conversations, and I can’t begin to quantify the healing power of knowing that I can surround myself with people who understand both the stakes and complexities of social justice issues.

This post is decidedly more upbeat, as it’s about the joys of that surrounding effect — definitely a related topic. Whereas the last post was all about the distinction between being nice (and/or polite) and being good, it is quite nice to know that I get to spend a hearty chunk of my time with nice, polite, wonderful — and good — people, working for, toward, and through social justice.*

Last night I stage managed Tuesday Night Cafe (time-lapse!),  fulfilling a decade-long dream of getting to introduce myself to people as “stage manager.”** I suppose I could introduce myself as anything, to anyone. And maybe I will. Anyway, it was a fantastic experience, learning and otherwise. I particularly enjoyed the moment where we were in our pre-show circle and I realized that one of the artists was missing — you know, one of those minor details that just magically works itself out. (He showed up, like, two minutes later.) This was our second collaboration with Common Ground, an excellent group of excellent people.

Look at all these beautiful artists! Posing post-show on May 1 in the JACCC courtyard. Sorry this is such an obvious FB screen cap. Not fixing it! Photo by Steven Lam.

As I was sitting back and soaking in the third set, Claudia (a totally dope poet, check her out with Duende!) caught me off guard by dedicating her second poem to me, because it was inspired by one of my poems. I will note that this is not a humble brag — it was an entirely humbling and inspiring moment, and it was exactly what I needed after all of the nonsense I mentioned in my previous post.

Two posts ago, I wrote about how excited I’ve been to be around live poetry and music, and to be spending chunks of time with artists who constantly surprise and challenge and inspire me. Two Wednesdays ago, I came home from a MidTones Open Jam at Bar Nirvana, and I could not go to bed because I was so excited about how excited I was to be alive at that moment in the exact place where I am  in my life, having spent the day working at a nonprofit I love, followed by a meeting with the aforementioned surprising/challenging/inspiring artists, followed by a couple of hours of musicians rocking out and having fun. (I will also admit that I realized, “Wow, my life right now is cooler than I thought it would be.”)

Anyway, long digression. Back to poems. Also a few weeks ago, I was at LAnguage, a spoken word show at The Last Bookstore curated by Mike the Poet (co-curated that Sunday by Traci Kato-Kiriyama, of Tuesday Night-founding fame), and a bunch of poets I admire were reading poems about their fathers.***

As Traci was reading “Rain,” I started scribbling a few lines of what I hope will some day grow up to become a deeply personal account of my relationship to my own father. Right now it’s an awkward teenager and doesn’t want you to look at it. Unfortunately for poem, I need to share this part of it:

Two of my favorite poets read about their fathers today
with words that reached straight into some part buried within me
striking chords
reminders
echoes

I panicked for a moment, felt guilty

When you go, what pieces of you will I hold tight to?

Claudia’s poem includes the stanza (among other, excellent stanzas, which I have! Because she let me keep the copy she read last night!):

I told my mom I heard a poem once
About a girl who was ashamed to be ashamed of her culture
I told her I felt like that was me
That’s why we have to keep it alive, she said
That’s why I still practice this language with you
This isn’t the same poem, but
Today my heart will send a postcard to my mother
Because love and apologies transcend these zip code barriers

The last three times I saw Claudia perform, I a) wanted to call people up and say, “Hey you need to see this!” and b) wished desperately that I had a teleporter so I could whisk people in to experience it for themselves. This time, I was just trying to keep it together, not just because I was moved by her dedication, but also because there is something profound about having another person articulate the secret parts of yourself that you are still searching for.

Art is a bridge, and a mirror, and a whole host of other metonyms about seeing self and others and connecting. It is also, wonderfully, a catalyst for change, dialogue, questioning, and more art. I have said it before, and I will say it again. I am so damn lucky to get to be part of this community of artists. Thank you for reminding me that I love people.

* I apologize that I keep lumping together complex, intersecting issues under the broad umbrella of “social justice,” without having really defined how I’m using it and my own relationship to the term. Topic for another post. (“Topic for another post” being a strong contender for tagline to this blog.)

** Once, in high school, I was offered a stage manager role for the spring musical, but then the drama teacher found out that I was also in mock trial. Sigh, art and law — never the twain shall sit down for a cup of coffee and hash out their differences.

***(Hey, also, you should buy Cara Van Le’s “A Roof & Some Refuge.” I can’t find a public link and don’t want to post her contact info sans permission, but maybe if you think really hard about chapbooks, she will appear in front of you with one in hand. Ordering information!)

Number of tabs opened while writing this post: 15. Number of references I decided to save for another post: 2.

Three things I’m thinking about: bowling leagues, poetry, making things

Oh hey, remember when I used to blog? Easing myself back in with a “three things” post.

1) Bowling leagues

At our all-staff meeting last Thursday, we had  a guest speaker (as we often do) Bill Parent, Associate Dean at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. For a three-hour lecture on the state of the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, I could have done with a little less on the history of the United States as it relates to civil society. (It was really interesting, but that part lasted beyond the first hour, and there was some really interesting data at the end that we flew through. If you’re curious about nonprofit funding and growth over the last decade or so, check it out here.)

The middle portion of the lecture was about social capital and effective civil society, and Bill brought up Robert Putnam’s study of Italian cities. He assigned students to walk into a police station and say that they thought they had a broken arm, then timed how long it took for them to receive treatment. There was a strong correlation between the amount of time to get treatment and the number of choral groups in the city. (Bill said the number “correlates perfectly,” but I’d want to see data before repeating that claim.)

Putnam concluded that the number of choral groups is a strong indicator of deep community ties, as well as a way for people to “get together with a purpose.” That intentional group membership correlates with higher trust levels, increased civic participation, and “things working,” as Bill put it. Putnam repeated the study in the States, by analyzing the density of bowling leagues* (and the decline in membership nationwide) and concluded some things about people caring about each other and being in communities and stuff.

Anyway, at our next department meeting, we discussed the all-staff, since a lot of the discussion was around nonprofit funding, and as the development department, knowing about that kind of thing is important. Boss lady asked us to write down all of the groups we belong to now, had belonged to in college, and had belonged to in high school, and to rank them based on level of participation. She asked us whether our periods of highest group membership correlated with stronger feelings of community engagement. Then we went around the table and answered the question “Is LA a community?” Seven nos, most of them definitive, a few with an asterisk (along the lines of “LA doesn’t feel like a community, but neighborhoods do/I belong to sub-communities.”) The only yes was from our newest staff member, who moved back to LA from San Diego last weekend. So … yeah.

It was interesting to hear my co-workers describe the ways they make LA feel like home for them, though; I love that I work with people who say things like “I felt disconnected, so I started a writing/cooking group.” My list for current groups also made me happy; I think this is the most intentional I’ve been about group membership ever. In college, the Daily Bruin and the rowing team were the two big groups I was part of. In high school, I was in a ton of groups formed around extracurriculars, and I felt deeply engaged within the community, but it was a narrow school- (and for a year, district-) based community.

Now, though, I have strong ties to the people I served with during my City Years, I have a tight circle of roommates and college friends (plus an affinity member) that work at spending time together, and I have Tuesday Night Project, which is a constant reminder that there is good and art in the world. Also some other groups.

2) Poetry and self-reflection, etc.

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” — Joan Didion

Traci asked me to open for the upcoming Tuesday Night Cafe, in celebration of National Poetry Month. Actually, she asked if I have any new pieces, and I replied that I have two in progress, and I agreed to take the set, hoping that the deadline would force me to finish these poems — I’ve been working on one of them for, like, six months, and it’s driving me crazy. Four days later, poems are done. (Thanks in large part to Syd, who is crashing in our living room and has been subjected to me reading poem fragments and drafts at her from Tuesday to Thursday nights. THOSE ARE THE PERILS OF COUCHSURFING, OK? Captive audience!)

Anyway, poems. I was going to read this piece, “Homecoming” that I wrote during Session 26 of The Undeniables, plus a haiku and two new pieces and “native tongue.” Then I had the epiphany pictured below.

This is the first time I’ve worked on two pieces at the same time (the second piece was born out of trying to give up on the first), and now I’m practicing all of them together and realizing that there’s a ton of imagery about going home, not being able to go home, feeling rootless, and not being able to sleep. I just saved myself three years of therapy. Thanks, poetry!

3) Making things

Other awesome perks of Syd crashing here:

  • Conversations
  • She makes things
Last weekend, we all sat around with the front doors open, reading and listening to music and enjoying the weather. Then other people came over, and there was some quality porch-sitting. Syd picked and squeezed lemons from the backyard, and I harvested some of the lavender that is overtaking the front walk, then everyone consumed snacks and lavender lemonade and ironic self-deprecatory comments about our bohemian hipsterhood. Mason jars were involved.
I brought lavender lemonade to work a few days last week, and my mason jars are currently the only watertight containers I have, so I’ve had a nice porch-like week all week. Also, Syd has been cold-steeping coffee and leaving it in jars in the fridge, and on Thursday I came home to baked tofu and asparagus.**
I can’t really remember what this section was going to be about. Mostly mason jars and finally getting around to harvesting lemons and lavender. Also, cooking, or something. I am done with this post, because the kitchen smells like fresh-squeezed lemons, so I’m going to go make some simple syrup and make Arnold Palmers with the iced tea I’ve been steeping. Mason jars will be involved.

Communities and groups and stuff. Comment about it.

* Bill asked us to guess what the American counterpart of choral groups would be, and of course two of us said “bowling leagues,” because we’d read the study and are competitive and like to ruin everyone else’s fun in the interest of winning. I love that about my co-workers. (We’re actually competitive in a friendly way, just very intensely so.)

** Unfortunately, she said no when I asked her to marry me.

Two wishes to change the world

In my last post, I briefly mentioned having attended a Meetup at The Last Bookstore; the theme was “The City as a Canvas for Creative Envisioning,” and the event featured a panel of speakers from various nonprofits and community orgs discussing the challenges and rewards of the type of work they did. It was really exciting not just to hear from them, but to see the broad range of people who attended the Meetup. More than half were interested in urban gardening, as a way to promote green spaces, to improve community health and nutrition awareness, to reduce the carbon impact of food through hyperlocal sourcing and/or to help funnel fresh produce into food deserts.

After the panel, the audience counted off into five groups and had 45 minutes to come up with a proposal to improve the city, based on the earlier topics of conversation (financial improvement/investment downtown, increased bike access, urban gardens). Ro Kumar, one of the people in my group, shot and cut a video of the event:

Ro also co-founded localblu “an online community exchange” based on economist Gunter Pauli’s idea of the “blue economy,” which seeks to realize the full potential of small local economies. (Incidentally, Ro and his brother converted their home into a farm and learning center, and Ro’s brother now gets his entire income from produce sales. )

My group ended up discussing ways to improve Pershing Square to make it more of a central gathering point for downtown. We didn’t get to discuss the specifics in very much detail, because we had one woman in the group who kept hijacking the floor with lengthy non sequiturs, essentially every thought she’s ever had about Pershing Square.* One of the points she brought up, though, was that Pershing has no water fountains so that people who are homeless won’t gather there. (I haven’t verified this — she said a security guard told her that.) At the 10-minute warning, I suggested that we had discussed a lot of the issues of the park and could start brainstorming solutions, which of course meant that I was volunteered to represent our group in the presentation of proposals.

There were a few interesting ideas, although I can’t remember any of the specifics all that clearly because I was a) exhausted from being up really late the night before b) trying to assemble a proposal to cover for our group. One idea was to have an Art Walk-style event in the Warehouse District, especially if those spaces applied for mixed-use licenses and were able to host different types of events. (The Last Bookstore is already this type of space; have I mentioned that I love it? Read this article.**) Most of our conversation ended up being about intentional design for community spaces — figuring out what a neighborhood’s values are and bringing in businesses, organizations and individuals to achieve specific goals and a sense of community. (I spoke last, so I kind of piggybacked and pulled those ideas together — and you thought humanities discussion sections would never come in handy, psh.)

The next generation is better at everything
Even though the conversations could have used a bit more active moderation (the panels, too), I loved the intent of the Meetup, the people it drew in, and the atmosphere. Everyone was there because they wanted to be part of creating stronger community ties in LA.

Lorena and I were discussing the event a few days later, and we both realized we’ve been spoiled by working for City Year*** the last two years; if nothing else (and City Year does plenty, trust me), being part of that organization teaches you how to participate in a conversation and pull together diverse people and their ideas into a cohesive vision. I would love to have an event with the same people, with a few tweaks to how conversation was structured; the organizer wanted everything to be free-flowing, but I think it would have been helpful if people chose what group they were in based on a neighborhood or cause they were interested in, and to have more active moderation during presentations to promote more dialogue between panelists.

The group sessions reminded me of a workshop I ran on one of our last Young Heroes days. We started by brainstorming different issues they were interested in doing something about, then let them split into groups for half an hour to discuss why they cared about the issue and how they would address it. They then split into groups of 3 or 4, with a team leader assigned to each group, and had another 30 minutes to create their own non-profit and fill out a simplified logic model. The team leaders then acted as potential funders, circling among the groups to listen to speed pitches and ask questions.

The results were awesome — and mind you, it was the end of a long day, and we’d done two hours of community service outdoors, my team had been awake for more than 30 hours, the team leaders were exhausted. One of the groups I talked to proposed a mentorship program that would connect LGBT youth with adults to create anti-bullying presentations; and the group had decided not to open a physical office until they had piloted the program for a year with one school partner and could prove their success. Another group decided to take on drug and alcohol abuse, and wanted to offer family counseling and community service opportunities as a way to teach job skills to the addicts they treated. These were middle school students, mostly sixth graders, by the way.

If you had two wishes …
So on to the title of this post. One of the interview questions for City Year is “If you had two wishes to change the world, what would you wish for?” (Let’s hope I don’t get sued for this, or give some potential corps members an unfair advantage.) It’s also an interview question for Young Heroes and City Heroes (similar program, but for high school students), and over the last two years, I think I asked young people the question at least 50 times. A large majority of the middle school students wished for cleaner neighborhoods, less gang violence or that drugs and alcohol didn’t exist — issues that reflect some of the most noticeable problems in the areas from which we recruit students. I remember one boy wishing that money didn’t exist, so that everyone would be able to have the things they need and everyone would be equal.

If I remember correctly, when I answered the question in March 2009, I said that I wished that everyone would see others as they see themselves — that is to recognize each other as complex, complete human beings — and that everyone would have access to the resources they need to thrive (and I think I specifically mentioned education). After two years of service, I’m not sure those wishes would change: I think the first is what drives my passion for working to build community, as well as reflects the influences of CouchSurfers I met while abroad,**** and the second is the only ambiguous enough way I can think of addressing economic, educational, health and rights disparities.

In any case, it is always amazing to see how people open up and relate to one another when they know they’re in a space dedicated to creating community, and that the other people share their dreams of living in a more connected world. How amazing would it be if we all felt like we always had permission to start these types of conversation? How amazing would it be if we all took on the responsibility to foster these conversations?

You should leave me comments. If you had two wishes to change the world, what would you wish for? Alternatively, what’s the best community-oriented nonprofit, idea or business you know of? (Also, it’s likely that some variation of these questions will be the theme of September’s Thoughtluck, so let me know if you’re interested.)

* This was actually really disappointing, because we had an interesting mix of people, including one woman from Finland (who left early because she forgot her bike lights, so moot point) and another from London, and people from different backgrounds and interests. We chose Pershing Square because Derailer started by talking about taking her dog there at night, and then over the course of the next half hour, talked about how Pershing Square is aesthetically displeasing (true), not a place where the community can meet (we decided this was not true), is not an effective dog park (true, but … irrelevant) and has no water fountains (true). I’m condensing and omitting a large portion of Derailer’s comments. In any case, we had a lot of promising starts to good conversation, but each time, we were Derailed by Derailer, since no one really stepped up to moderate,^ though at one point someone finally pointed out that she had interrupted Lorena.

^ I also tried to interject, or at least have a side conversation, especially once we hit the 10-minute mark and the woman started discussing her dog again, but I didn’t want to be an actual moderator, because I was worried I’d be volunteered to present, which is exactly what happened.

** Let’s be real; most of you never follow my links. Here’s an excerpt:

Located on the ground floor of the Spring Arts Tower downtown, the Last Bookstore is a mix of old and new. It has pillars stretching 25 feet up to a painted, vaulted ceiling; underfoot are intermittent mosaics, all part of the former Citizens National Bank, which opened in its grand location in 1915. The light fixtures are new, created from bicycle wheels by Brad Goldhorn, and high on the south wall flows a sculpture made of wire and old paperbacks. …

*** I no longer work for City Year. All views expressed in this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.^^

^^ Disclaimers like these always confuse me: If someone is going to be offended by what you’re saying, they’re still going to run charging with pitchforks at whatever organization you’re associated with. It’s not like politicians can post a disclaimer on Twitter (or Grindr, lol) and say that the photos of their junk don’t reflect their political views or public office. Identity. What does it mean.

**** Believing in shared humanity and wanting others to share that further reinforced, of course, by all of the community organizers, nonprofit folk and fellow corps members over the past two years.

Three things I’m thinking about: math, bikes and cynicism

1) Standardized tests, blaaaaaaaaargh

Over the past two months, I’ve been teaching an ISEE math prep course at a tutoring academy, helping students about to enter the sixth grade take a test to place into competitive private schools. Obviously, this brings up certain amounts of angst related to class, race, my notions of the importance of enjoying the summers of your childhood and my absolute disdain for standardized tests.*

I recently found this communitychannel video about how math problems aren’t relevant in real life, which is hilarious but did not make me feel better: “So you remember those crazy math problems they made you solve in school? Yeah, what was that for?”

(I love Natalie, but she’s not kidding about having forgotten how to solve these problems. Check out the problem at 0:26 — her friend would be 0 years old, and her friend’s sister Anna would be -5.)

One of the challenges I had while working with students from high-poverty neighborhoods over the last two years was in drawing the connection between schoolwork and real-life application. But thinking about it now, I realize this isn’t an issue that’s relegated to low-performing schools. I struggled in middle school, not because the material was difficult, but because I felt that all of seventh grade, except for algebra, was a waste of time — the curriculum wasn’t interesting, and the coursework was less challenging than what we’d done in elementary school. I was disconnected from my classes because I wasn’t being asked to think.

Back to standardized tests: I think they’re terrible. The students I worked with over the past two months are pretty advanced in math (they can easily manipulate positive and negative numbers, fractions, decimals, etc.), but they’re becoming intellectually lazy. I commonly asked them to explain how they solve problems, and a lot of the time, they were using guess and check. As a test-taking strategy, this is excellent. As a learning strategy, it’s terrible. My solution, or as close to a solution as I came up with, was to create my own problems for them to solve, mixing concepts and adding unnecessary language so that they had to decipher what information they were looking for and how to solve for it.

The middle school I worked at from 2009 t0 2010, uses connected math, a conceptually interesting approach that pushes students to conceptually understand curriculum by identifying patterns and making discoveries. Why “conceptually interesting”? Because it wasn’t effective. My students didn’t have a strong enough foundation in basic arithmetic to identify patterns, and they were expected to fulfill learning standards that were dependent on previous understanding.

David Bornstein provides great analysis of some of the problems with math education in “A Better Way to Teach Math“:**

Despite the widespread support for “problem-based” or “discovery-based” learning, studies indicate that current teaching approaches underestimate the amount of explicit guidance, “scaffolding” and practice children need to consolidate new concepts. Asking children to make their own discoveries before they solidify the basics is like asking them to compose songs on guitar before they can form a C chord.

The rest of the op-ed is interesting, too, and since you’re following a link, it won’t count against your NYT quota.

Natalie’s video sticks out for me for two reasons: One, I feel complicit in the class-based test disparities. Two, I don’t think it’s true that we don’t encounter crazy math problems or that we don’t need math. As Natalie says, “In real life, people just tell you the answers.” In general, people are comfortable saying they’re bad at math, in a way that most wouldn’t be OK with admitting they were illiterate. It’s a bit frightening, if you ever poll a group of journalists, to see how many struggle with math;*** since accurate holding-truth-to-power bad-assery is contingent on thorough, comprehensive data analysis. Compound poor math reporting with the general public’s shaky math skills and misinterpretation of statistical significance, and think about how easy it becomes for those who do get math to mislead and manipulate.

Leonard Mlodinow’s “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives” provides a bunch of interesting examples of how people misinterpret numbers and statistics. (Ironically, it’s as much about the theory of randomness as Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” is about irony. It’s mostly just random in the meta sense, and it also kind of provides more biographical information about mathematicians than seemed absolutely necessary … or interesting. Wait, here, just read my GoodReads review if you’re still on this parenthetical.)

So my point, I guess, was that standardized tests, are like, the opposite of learning, but that math education in general is flawed, anyway. I find myself using math all the time — mostly for basic computation, which I will concede that calculators do faster — and I also find myself wishing all the time that strong number sense and conceptual understanding of probability was seen as more critically important. But hey, I also think that about literacy, poetry, sustainability and ethics education.

2) Biking is awesome

I always plan to go on bike rides, but the activation energy involved in getting my bike down the stairs and out the front door and two gates often stops me. I went to a Meetup on Wednesday at The Last Bookstore about using the city as a creative canvas, and hearing everyone else talk about biking was a great catalyst. I biked to my friend’s new apartment on Wednesday, and it took about half as long as it would have by bus. I also biked from her place to work the next morning and beat the bus that GoogleMaps suggested. (I had looked it up because I was worried about tutoring students drenched in sweat, but I got there early enough to cool down, anyway.)

I only went about six miles in all, but it was wonderful. I felt completely in control and free from the clutches of LA traffic. LA public transportation is not what I would call reliable, and walking places limits my exploratory radius. I’m also a fan of mixing Metro and biking, at least until I get in better shape. I always forget how freeing biking feels, but getting somewhere using myself as an engine completely changes the way I view the city and my own sense of agency.

3) Cynicism, and our struggles against it

OK, let’s be real. When I started this post as “Three things I’m thinking about,” I was planning on writing about 300 words on each topic, but I got a little carried away with the math part.****

This conversation continued for five more comments. I may digest/analyze them more later, but if you're reading this blog, we're probably Facebook friends, and you can just find it yourself.

In any case, I was also going to write something about the struggle between cynicism and idealism, the search for meaning and everything else that I write about on this blog and elsewhere, always.

The LA Times ran an article last week about the use of facial recognition software in advertising, and I was most disturbed by the kicker (I’m literally rehashing the image, sorry), a quote from a 27-year-old who describes himself as “hyper social”: “It’s not that scary. … I always get upset at new Facebook privacy settings, and then I get over it.” Umm, just read the image.

I also just finished reading “Up, Simba,” David Foster Wallace’s article about John McCain’s 2000 primary campaign, in which, inter alia, he discusses how deep political cynicism among young people helps incumbents:

“[T]he lower the overall turnout, the more the Establishment voters’ ballots actually count. Which fact then in turn … helps explain why even though our elected representatives are always wringing their hands and making concerned noises about low voter turnouts, nothing substantive ever gets done to make politics less ugly or depressing or to actually induce more people to vote: our elected representatives are incumbents, and low turnouts favor incumbents for the same reason soft money does.”

Speaking of DFW, NYT Magazine blames poorly done “post-ironic sincerity” on him, sort of; the problem is that his writing style, part of his appeal, is also infectious (see this blog, for one):

And if, even from Wallace, the aw-shucks, I-could-be-wrong-here, I’m-just-a-supersincere-regular-guy-who-happens-to-have-written-a-book-on-infinity approach grates, it is vastly more exasperating in the hands of lesser thinkers. In the Internet era, Wallace’s moves have been adopted and further slackerized by a legion of opinion-mongers who not only lack his quick mind but seem not to have mastered the idea that to make an argument, you must, amid all the tap-dancing and hedging, actually lodge an argument.

The problem is that people adapt DFW’s approach of not explicitly making arguments without simultaneously undermining them as a way to say outrageous things and pretend that the hedging makes them somehow less culpable. (See also Jon Stewart criticizing the ways in which TV networks abuse the question mark.)

DFW was not unaware of what he was doing; Maud Newton, in the NYT Magazine article, quotes Keith Gessen, who “applauds Wallace for ‘trying, at last, to destroy’ the oppositions between ‘irony and sincerity, self-consciousness and artifice.'” Read “Up, Simba,” and it’s painfully clear that Wallace is aware of how deep cynicism, posturing, awareness of cynicism and further posturing, paranoia about posturing and insincerity are all ruining everyone’s belief in everything, or something.

But Wallace also urges voters to get beyond their cynicism, or at least to acknowledge their complicity and the inescapability of the system:

“Let’s pause here one second for a quick Rolling Stone PSA. Assuming you are demographically a Young Voter, it is again worth a moment of your valuable time to consider the implications. … If you are bored and disgusted and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

OK, fine, so I guess I wasn’t done with the post and, also, that the three things are somewhat related. It upsets me when my students shut down instead of trying to figure out a problem, because it reflects years of being conditioned not to expect to think. I really like Michael Gerson’s phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” (if not the reasons behind the coining of the phrase) — it makes a lot of sense in the context of education and learning outcomes. On a broader scale, too, our cynical acceptance of low expectations allows the perpetuation of systems of oppression and eroding personal rights. Inaction always supports the existing power structures.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”  — Bishop Desmond Tutu

You should leave me comments. Do I need to end posts with questions so people will reply?

* I should note that I hate standardized tests in a conceptual sense, for their purported ability to measure anything more than how well an individual can prepare for that test. As a nerd, I kind of enjoyed taking standardized tests in school,^ the same way I enjoyed math competitions, Odyssey of the Mind, and the WordMasters challenge. Once I hit middle school, though, the tests became much less interesting, and I became conceptually aware that they were taking away from instruction time.

^ Cf. this morning, when I woke up at my friends’ apartment and everyone else was asleep or at work. The only books they’ve unpacked were pop lit, a GRE prep book and a GMAT math review book. I went for the GMAT first, but got bored after taking a few chapter tests. I tried reading the GRE prep book, but it seemed kind of silly, since I’ve already taken the GRE. (This is also why I try not to go anywhere without my own books.)

** Article search deconstruction: I had the sense this article was somewhere in my gmail archive, but I realized that there were probably a ton of similarly tagged e-mails. I then tried to search for the opening quote about people being OK with announcing they’re bad at math, but realized that wasn’t specific enough either. Then I remembered the sentence “Is that a good day or a bad day?” (in his example about adding and subtracting integers). Third search result.

*** Of course, an informal poll of just a roomful of journalists wouldn’t give you a very reliable statistic. But since you’d be working with a roomful of journalists, you could probably get away with it by throwing out a bunch of percentages and interjecting “standard deviation” a few times.

**** (Pun intended, always).

Brain mush: Thought-luck

I just made up a new category! “Brain mush” will comprise posts about things that I’m mulling over, which means they will often be half-formed thoughts. But I often write to see what I think, and this is my blog, so … sorry ’bout it.

The like is from Aidan's roommate ... who has also heard me talk about cyborgs.

When I decided to launch this blog, I brainstormed a bunch of different categories of posts,* and I also wrote down the word “thought-luck,” with only a vague idea of what that would mean.** I was toying with the idea of some kind of digital or IRL classy dinner party where everyone brings a dish and a well-developed topic of conversation. I’m not exactly sure this is different from a regular dinner party, though, so I’m trying to develop more guidelines and considering whether themes would help.

I, for one, have realized that after I write about something, the next person who spends time with me and asks what I’m up to will at some point be subjected to hearing me rehash the contents of the post and what other people have commented about it, forcing them to take part in the conversation.*** I tend to be really intrigued by new frameworks of thinking or hearing about fields I don’t know that well, and I think I may also project that onto others. In the same way that I created this blog so people wouldn’t have to listen to me ramble about social media (cf Fig. 1), I feel like the thought-lucks would be a nice opt-in nerdfest (well, nerdfeast — there will also be food). Of course, the blog has become part of a virtuous cycle of conversations about identity and social media and whatnot, but still.

Anyway, here are my thought-luck thoughts:

  • There must be food, hence the “potluck” half of the neologism. Classy drinks are also OK.
  • There must be thoughts. I think it would be interesting to have everyone plan a 30-second sound bite of the topic they want to talk about, and to have everyone wear name tags listing their topic.
    • I imagine that people would talk about hobbies they’re really interested in, or random fields they’re into but don’t generally get a chance to talk about. No one can talk about their jobs.
    • Potential themes could be “hobbies” or “obscure topic you know a lot about” or “ambiguous thoughts you are trying to make sense of” or “something interesting you care about that starts with the letter ‘f.'”
  • Personally, I like movement during parties, but I also like the idea of having people sit at tables that are lined with butcher paper and leaving out markers. We did this somewhat often at my last job during group brainstorms and discussions, and it lets people doodle or jot down thoughts as they converse. (And I also think I’d want to throw down paper because it would make blog recapping the thought-luck easier.)
  • Update: (I just posted this, so chances are this is more of an edit than an update, but I thought I’d include the disclaimer anyway.) I think it would be neat if no one knew everyone else present, or if most people only knew about half of the others. This might not be necessary.
  • Other cool people already doing similar things: TeachUp, an experimental group, has a bunch of friends hang out and teach each other stuff, part of their quest to figure out the best ways to encourage peer learning. (They’re still getting their site together, so this hasn’t been particularly helpful on the planning front.)

So: Do you want to come? What should our first theme be? What food and what topic would you bring?

* I thought, at the time, that breaking the issues I wanted to write about would help me to keep my posts somewhat organized,^ as well as make coming up with posts a little bit easier. And I was really excited about starting the blog, and I like brainstorming on blank white paper when my mind is racing like that. I enjoy seeing ink fill pages, to the point that it’s kind of a trope in my poems.

^ I actually have come not to mind the rambling style I’ve taken on; I like to think of it as performative hyperlinking, or something. I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster,” and he uses FNs w/in FNs, so that makes it legal, right? Just prior to that, I’d finished Brian Christian’s “The Most Human Human” — blog post on this TK soon — and he mentioned the former book, as well as used DFW quotes as epigraphs, which is an interesting, in itself, analysis of influence and art and the ways in which we form our world views. Both books are excellent. 

** I have a long-standing dream of being cited as the coiner of a neologism, so it’s understandably important (I think, anyway) that I create a damn good meaning for this.

*** I feel like I sound more unhinged and socially awkward than I actually am when I describe my nerdiness in writing — I’m interesting and fun, I swear.

**** This isn’t related to anything in this post, but I wrote about kitchen essentials a few months ago for my work’s blog, and the post just went up, and I figured I might as well link to it here.