You know the drill. Before the month is out, I just want to take a moment to give thanks for a few things that have been giving me (sorely-needed) life this month.
1) Drake’s “Nice for What?”
I’ve been having a tough month and this song and video came right on time. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history, folks.
2) BBCAmerica’s Killing Eve
I have had a big crush on Sandra Oh ever since I saw her in the 1995 short film Preywith (the also swoon-worthy) Adam Beach. I unfortunately didn’t really dig Grey’s Anatomy so I was waiting for her next thing and am excited to be able to watch her as the lead every week in BBC America’s fantastic new crime thriller Killing Eve. Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who is also the star and writer of the excellent Fleabag on Amazon Prime) is genius and the villain played by Jodie Comer is creepy and brilliant. Three cheers for a thoroughly female-driven thriller!
3) Autonomy Institute’s “Keynes, Foucault and the ‘Disciplinary Complex’: a Contribution to the Analysis of Work”
The Autonomy Institute is devoted to rigorous study of work. I am a big fan of everything they are doing to question the meaning of work and beginning to envision a post-work world. This article delves deep into work’s role as a means of creating and enforcing social order. I encourage you to read it and then peruse the rest of their site as they are putting out a lot of great scholarship and commentary.
Over the past few years, I’ve played host or guest in startup offices here in New York City surely a hundred times or more. In that time I’ve begun to notice some bothersome patterns that I thought I’d share with you along with suggestions of best practices in startup office meeting space design.
The lights are on but….
The latest in startup hospitality seems to be to let people emerge from the elevators and have absolutely no one great them. The guest stands there awkwardly scanning the walls and listening for some sound of life until they catch the eye of whatever (usually female) employee is nearest to entrance and that person sets forth the chain reaction that connects host to guest.
In the absence of this interaction, the guest is prompted to type in their information into an iPad, take a seat, and wait eagerly for the footsteps of someone who will come and retrieve them.
People, can we stop the madness?!
Offices have receptionists because there is warmth and kindness in being received. Trust me, I have worked as a receptionist. It is not a great job, but humans welcoming and directing other humans is the right way to treat people. If you don’t want to have someone’s sole job be receptionist at your company, then making it a rotating duty amongst the team, but someone must be there to great and direct guests so:
Tip #1: Hire/be a receptionist.
Catch a signal
The first thing I usually need when I get to a new office is access to their wi-fi. Unfortunately, this is almost always the one thing the host never has. I’ve seen people run clear around their office trying to hunt down the password. Time is wasted, silliness ensues.
Tip #2: Just post the wi-fi password prominently in every meeting space.
Tour de l’office
From confusing directions to elaborate lock, key, passcode systems, so many things have stood between me and getting into the bathroom when I am in a new office. Again, time is wasted and awkwardness ensues as I wind my way around people’s desks to get to the facilities. This is a toughie since this is likely one of the things that is hardest to control, but whenever possible…
Tip #3 Minimize the distance between the bathroom and the meeting room(s).
Can you hear/see me now?
How much time have we all spent trying to get our screens mirrored or locating the right dongle for the office television. I’ve often had hosts ask me to send along my login or presentation so they could just present from their laptops which had already undergone to elaborate configuration to work with the company’s A/V setup. Then of course, everything falls over when we add the confusing, laggy, and altogether bugginess of video conferences. While so much is still so wonky with modern, digital meetings, there is still a little within our control.
Tip #4 Leave clear A/V instructions and keep all necessary cables and adapters in every meeting room.
So those are the top 4 things that drive me up the wall in startup offices. What about you?
A few things I have been grateful for as I get into this month.
For some reason, I missed it when Beck dropped his latest album Colors in October of last year. I am glad I stumbled upon it recently. It is JAMMIN!
#Rojava playlist. In northern Syria, women are leading (and literally fighting for!) an all-encompassing revolution. This playlist is a beautiful tribute to them and the continuing struggle.
I was on a flight the other day and with time to kill, I finally sat down and watched Big Little Lies. I seriously thought I would hate it, but it gripped me from the first episode. The formation of this sisterhood of mothers was really moving to me. I love my mamafriends!
I’ll be honest: I don’t love my job and I don’t think I’ve ever truly loved any job I’ve ever had since I began my working life in earnest. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had several lovely work environments in beautiful offices with truly fantastic co-workers — many of whom I still count as my closest friends — but I’d still not call that loving my job.
No, I’ve had jobs from unbearable to perfectly survivable, and the older I get, the more I realize that here in late-stage capitalism, a job I love is not the goal, –being able to put time and money and resources into things I want to see flourish is. I don’t do what I love, I fund what I love.
By this I mean, I am a donor of my money and time and skills. I currently do unpaid work for at least five different groups and give money and/or advice to dozens more. I don’t work on the front lines of any efforts to cure the sick or free the encaged or smash the empire, but I do my best to give to groups that do. And I’m finally coming around to realizing that funds and funders matter.
I recently facilitated a dinner event attended by people from both the commercial and nonprofit spaces, and I noted a distinct snootiness towards people who hadn’t committed their lives to radical struggle defined as working in a cooperative or a foundation-funded NGO. I’ve encountered this sensibility throughout my journey as an independent activist/organizer and it’s lame and wrong. The “revolution” will no more be funded by large non-profit donors than it will by Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
The truth is that the struggle has and will always require a diversity of tactics, as well as a diversity of funding and energy sources. The more we radicals understand and accept that, the easier it will be to start building cultures and structures of support that help us better share responsibilities and promote self/mutual care.
Activist guilt, that feeling that you constantly should be doing more for the movement, is real. Survivor/thriver guilt is real, but so is activist/organizer burnout and illness. If we embrace a model of funding what we love rather than doing what we love to death, we just might move our lives and efforts into balance, and begin modelling that new world we seek.
A few things that have been making me happy recently.
The Improbable Dome Builders
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the brilliant thinker and architect R. Buckminster Fuller fell in with a ragtag group of Puerto Rican teenagers on the Lower East Side that came to be known by the name of CHARAS (a nonsense word combining the first initial of each member). Fuller would come down to the neighborhood and teach the young people geometry and how to build his geodesic domes.
They went on to revolutionize the neighborhood with a community-empowering eco-minded project of build renovation and self-education. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the soft release gathering for the re-release of this magical project here in Brooklyn at Pioneer Works where many of the original members spoke about this magical experience. You can read more about and buy the book here.
Build An Ark – “Dawn” (2007)
I’m revisiting the beautiful Build An Ark 2007 album “Dawn”. Good 70s jazz vibe. Highly recommended! Just click play above.
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
Laugh if you want, but this old white man is saving my life daily. I heard about this book I think from Russell Brand, and I got it on audiobook. It first felt like a gut punch, but then I woman’d up and felt such relief. I’ve been recommending it to people left and right.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first woman to make a serious run for president. She was underfunded and underappreciated but courageous and brilliant. Watch this document to learn your history and be reminded of the long history of liberal and Democratic “lesser evil”-ism that continues to lead people nowhere.
This summer I co-founded CoLET: The Collective for Liberation, Ecology, and Technology. It’s a much-needed space for politically radical technologists. We finally got our website to a good place. I am excited to make a radical intervention in tech spaces and a tech intervention in radical spaces. Our time is SO now. Check it out when you get a moment!
4) Bookchin on Streetfighting with Nazis back in the day
I’m still on a Bookchin kick and someone in the social ecology community sent along this timely clip. Know your history, people!
These two women have gotten me through many a tough day and given me my whole life with their groovy, funky, punky selections on this monthly independent radio show brought to us live from the streets of London. I love you, Ruby and Josephine!!
“Technology has played a major role in eliminating the domestic drudgery that for centuries culturally stupefied women and reduced them to mere servants of men…” –Murray Bookchin, The Next Revolution
Like many tech startup workers, one of my work benefits is the ability to work remotely from home or elsewhere. In my case, this came as a result of my team gradually becoming geographically-distributed while still maintaining just one office.
Nearly half of my teammates work exclusively from home/remote. However, I am based where the company is headquartered, and, as such, I am expected to work primarily from the company’s office. This is not a huge problem for me, except for some days when I am either traveling, have personal or family tasks, or those days when there are major issues with NYC’s illustrious public transportation system. In those cases, it is helpful to be able to work from home or wherever I am currently staying. Unfortunately, that is never without its own complications.
First, the good.
The Benefits of Working From Home As A Working Mother/Wife
Working from home means I don’t have to go crazy with the minutiae of femme gender performance (what to wear, how to do my hair, making sure I have a full face of makeup), rush to drop off my kid, and then race to the train. Cutting the commute often also means…
While I can’t stay in PJs all day since I still have to leave the house to drop off my kid, I usually get a better breakfast and can get to the gym if I have those two hours of commute time in the bank. As a working mother and wife, any extra minutes to myself are a total gift. I am also sometimes able to schedule local appointments on those days or even just grab a quick coffee with a neighbor.
Starting the “Second Shift” Early
As described in Arlie Hochschild’s seminal book of the same name, the “second shift” describes the additional unwaged work many women are expected to do both before and after their waged work day. This shift includes childcare, cooking, cleaning, and responsibilities to/with extended family/community. While my husband is extremely helpful, I am still very much expected to be the “captain” of our domestic sphere. When I work from the office, I have to do this shift outside of work hours, but when I work from home I can sometimes squeeze a bit of it in. A load of laundry can go down at 9am instead of 7pm and dinner can get started hours before stomachs start grumbling.
While I’d love not to have to do this stuff at all, since it is on my plate, it can be handy to to use some of the daytime hours to try and tackle it.
The Downsides of Working from Home as a Working Mother/Wife
Missing Important Work Conversations/Opportunities
Everyone I know who works remote for a company that actually has an office tells me they inevitably miss out on the hallway banter, and I know that when I work from home — despite having a distributed team — there are many discussions that I don’t overhear and decisions that I hear about much later on because I was out of sight and out of mind. The more I can be in the office, the more I can keep an ear out for how I can be an advocate for myself, my team, and our customers.
The fact also remains that at many companies, leadership opportunities are not extended to people who work remote. I was promoted last year and I think without the day in/day out interactions with my boss, it would have been much harder to demonstrate my value. I put in the fleshspace face time, and he saw me putting in the work day in and day out.
Although I must admit that I don’t talk to my co-workers that much whether in the office or when working from home, there is always something to potentially be gained from quick water cooler conversation or post-lunch banter. The people I work with are very different from me and talking to them can give me new perspectives on our work and the world. I don’t get any of that when I am not in the office and people also don’t get any of that from me. While I have expressed my exasperation with “diversity in tech”, I will say that if we are going to push for diverse teams but everyone is working remote, then it seems the value of said diversity is greatly diminished.
Also, while I have no plans to stop the presses and take up the picket at my current place of employment, I do wonder about the future of unions with an increasingly stratified work force. Unlike the 40 hour work week or disability, remote work wasn’t granted after long-fought struggle, and that makes me suspicious. I can’t help but believe that this whole business of letting people enjoy the “freedom” of working from home is undoubtedly geared towards further alienating workers not just from their labor but from each other.
Expanded Second Shift
As outlined above, second shift work does often happen when I work from home. When I work from the office, I always go out and pick up lunch — sometimes even a coffee. When I work from home, I have to take time out to prepare my own lunch which is always a slippery slope into doing several other tasks in the kitchen and sometimes throughout the house.
Being at home means I have more time to run my eyes over everything that needs taking care of throughout my house, which inevitably leads to something needing to be wiped up or swept away or vacuumed. I, of course, can’t be doing that mess if I am not in the house.
Longer Work Day (if I am not careful)
The lines between home and work are blurred when I work from home. Whereas in the office I see my peers packing up and signaling quitting time, at home I can carry on working until well into dinner if I am not careful or if I let Second Shift cut into First Shift and then feel the need to “work off my debt”. This means that my goal of taking positive advantage of the two hours of commute time often goes unrealized.
All in all, I am glad that I have the ability to work from outside of the office when I need/wish to, but as a black working mother and wife, I am not a remote work enthusiast. While the freedom of the nomad life might be wonderful for a great many, the opportunity to be temporarily freed from the domestic sphere and also possibly increase my opportunities for career success seem to outweigh the joys of working in pajama bottoms.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of going up to beautiful Vermont to take part in the annual gathering of the Institute for Social Ecology. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been delving into the work of activist-scholar Murray Bookchin, and the Institute for Social Ecology is an institution that he helped to found over 40 years ago. The annual event is a chance for eco-anarchists, ecofeminists, Green Marxists, libertarian communalists, and every other persuasion of social ecologist (who can afford to) to make the trek and gather in the dual spirit of conflict and collaboration.
Despite my objection (that were clearly voiced over the weekend) to the glaring whiteness of the gathering and the lack of focus on female voices, the three days were still so packed full of useful information and brilliant quotables that my hand started to cramp up from how feverishly I was taking notes.
While I won’t attempt to summarize everything that occurred, I will share a few of my favorite quotes, as well as links to interesting groups/gatherings I want to research and potentially useful further reading.
My Favorite Quotes from ISE 2017
“When someone accuses you of essentialism, reject the argument but then go on to refute the category.” – Ynestra King
“We’ve all learned that if you take control of the state, the state eventually takes control of you.” – Lincoln Van Sluytman
“The crisis of our time is that we haven’t really explored what it means to be political.” – Eleanor Finley
“Don’t just share the ‘conscience experience’; share the capital.” – Cora Roelofs