Gratitude: April 2018

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

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I have had a big crush on Sandra Oh ever since I saw her in the 1995 short film Prey with (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” 

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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.

Fund What You Love

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.

Why I Have Mixed Feelings About Working from Home

“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

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Image credit

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

No commute

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…

Better Self-Care

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.

Considering that black people have to do twice the amount of work to get half as far  (and make that double for black women!), I can’t see myself working at home too very much if I want to get ahead.

Fewer Social Interactions

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.

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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.

Beyond “Childcare Available”: 4 Tips for Making Events Parent-Friendly

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I was just talking to a group of activists about the fact that while a lot of events both in the activist and tech space do offer childcare, that childcare always seems to be sort of dashed together by a bunch of people who clearly have little to no sense of what people with kids need in order to feel welcome/ like they can attend. The people I spoke to admitted they were clueless about what was needed and felt that “Childcare Available” was part of the standard for inclusive events and not something  to which they actually gave much attention.

*sigh*

So, in the spirit of illuminating people and moving our communities forward, I’ve pulled together a few ideas to help move “Childcare Available” from just words on a page to an actual living breathing service that empowers people with children to learn/grow alongside their peers, engage in projects they care about, and frankly just have a little break from the rigors of childcare.

1) Schedule the Event At A Child-Friendly Time

Children — especially small ones — generally need to get to bed at a certain time, which varies from family to family but usually is sometime around 7/8-ish. At the very least, parents want kids home in the evenings to settle down, not trying to hustle them onto a subway or pull them out of their carseats and get them to bed at 10pm or later. It happens — and I certainly can’t speak for everyone — but if you want people with children to participate, consider scheduling some childcare-available events on weekend days.

2)  Childcare Provided By? 

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The ChiChiCo Team

Again, the gesture of providing childcare is a kind one, but as a parent, it’d be helpful to know who the childcare providers are ahead of time. I know, for example, in Chicago that the Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) partners with many groups to provide free childcare at meetings, protests, and other events. Here in NYC, Regeneracion does much the same.

Whenever possible, partner with groups like this and let parents know who will be available to watch children and what sort of activities are planned. I am much more excited to bring my kid to a gathering if I know they are going to be engaged in fun things with other children and supportive like-minded adults.

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The Team at Regeneración Childcare NYC

3) Childcare Money Available

While it is great to be able to bring my kid to events and share my interests, sometimes it is easier for me to focus if my child is not on the premises. In those cases, it’d be great if organizers — and here I am focused mostly on the corporate-sponsored tech events — could offer childcare reimbursements. My kid is most comfortable at home with a trusted caregiver, so if I could provide that rather than having to take them to say a hack day or an all day skills-building event — and inevitably have to do care work — it would be preferable.

4) Center Mothers/Caregivers 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to make your event more parent-friendly (for example I imagine nursing moms would want a clean, comfortable place to pump/breastfeed), so whenever possible just ask people what would help them attend/participate. Don’t fall over yourself making accommodations based on assumptions. Just ask, listen, and see what you can do.

For further thinking on this topic, see this excellent two-part series on conference childcare by by Allison McMillan.

Gratitude: January 2017

Boy did this month blow by super fast. Wowee. Before it’s gone for good, here’s a list of a few things I was grateful for this month.

My pals over at Help Scout summarized my SupConf NYC talk into a schmancy looking blogpost. Check it out here – https://www.helpscout.net/blog/avoid-burnout/
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Believe it or not, I only just sat down and listened to the Hamilton soundtrack this month. It is so adorable and catchy!  Lin-Manuel Miranda kept reiterating in interviews that the soundtrack is the whole show but it only clicked for me when I heard him say it again in this chat with Damien Chazelle, Donald Glover, and Issa Rae.

I bingewatched season 1 of Chewing Gum and I am officially obsessed with Michaela Coel. Issa Rae is cute and all, but I am LIVING for Michaela Coel right now. She is my cool younger cousin in my head and since her family is also from Ghana, I am hoping it turns out that we are somehow related. Not likely, but I can dream. Oh, also no Season 2 spoilers please.

The Women’s March was controversial and problematic (this interview really resonated with me) but it still felt huge and important and I was glad that I went. This is a sociopolitical moment I have been waiting for, and if it were anything less than messy then we’d surely be doing it wrong.

What were you grateful for in January?

Burning Out, Bowing Out, and How Bridges Sometimes Burn

Groucho Marx popularized the saying, “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” I, however, am quite the opposite. For years, I have been honored to join so very many clubs that invited me to be a member, and, furthermore, when I felt a new club needed to be created, I was ever at the ready to start/co-found it. From feminist book clubs to food cooperatives, I have been an eager member or initiator for all manner of activity groups. Over the years, this “hyperinvolvement” has enabled me to become:

  • a good participant
  • a skilled facilitator
  • a strong but self-aware leader
  • a system creator/corrector
  • a pretty accurate judge of character, and
  • a person with a pretty good ability to think high-level.

As you can imagine, a person who is good at being in groups is often approached to join and start more groups, and so it is that I am fairly regularly being approached to lend a hand in This, That, or The Other initiative. As I am sure you can ALSO imagine, as a wife, mother, and human being with a full-time job at a certain point I run out of steam and have to bow out — usually gracefully but sometimes not so much. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I am definitely in a reluctant bow out/quitting cycle (in order to make time for work, family, marriage, and socializing/sanity restoring self-care) and so I wanted to share some thoughts about it that might be useful to you.

Some Reasons to Bow Out

  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of commitment to the cause
  3. Lack of health/well-being
  4. Lack of money
  5. The group has gone in a direction you don’t like.
  6. Loss of momentum/motivation
  7. The group might be better off without you and/or has been overly dependent on you
  8. Conflict with an individual or faction of the group that was unable to be resolved. 

Some Ways to Bow Out

  1. Discussion with the group leader
  2. Friendly note or email to the group
  3. Strongly worded note or email to the group.
  4. A knockdown drag out physical or verbal battle with the individuals with whom you have conflict or the entire group (NOT ADVISED.)

Some Reactions You Should Prepare Yourself For As You Bow Out (and Suggested Responses)

  1. Some people who like you might try to bargain with you to stay on. You’ve already made your decision and you are not likely to change it. Feel free to thank them for their sentiment. You don’t owe them any explanation but can provide one if you wish.
  2. Some individuals may be angry that you are leaving. Again, you don’t owe them anything more than the time you gave to the organization. If they express their anger towards you, you can calmly tell them you are sorry that they feel that way. In some cases, these people may cut you off. It sucks, but it happens and there’s rarely anything you can do about this. I find that trying to pre-empt this or any blowback/blow to your reputation to this usually just makes things worse and, as such, is not advisable.
  3. Some people will be happy that you are leaving. Good for them.
  4. Some people don’t care that you are leaving. Good for them, too.

Some Practical Things to Remember to Do As You Are Bowing Out

  1. Pass along any keys/passwords/accounts for the group, as well as access to any group accounts that you may have in your name.
  2. Have the organization’s administrator remove you from any relevant insurance policies (for board members are usually covered by D&O insurance) as well as an corporate documents.
  3. Make sure you have received reimbursements for any outstanding expenses.
  4. Unsubscribe from the group mailing list (or ask to be unsubscribed).
  5. Clean out any physical or email inbox you might have that will be cut off to you once you are no longer part of the group.
  6. Document or pass along documentation of any systems or materials you put together during your time with the group.
  7. Supply group members with your personal contact information if they have only been using a contact email under the group’s domain (or phone or whatever) to contact you up til now. They may realize that you still have something they need or they might need you to walk them through one or two more little things after you are gone. (I advise you to not let this go on too long).
  8. Do your best to help the group find a successor if they want you to. (This is another one to not let drag on for very long. It is their group now and while you don’t want to leave them high and dry, you can’t be handcuffed to the group indefinitely.)

 Some Things to Do As You Walk Out The Door

  1. Reaffirm your decision. It was well thought-out and you are doing what you feel you need to do right now.
  2.  Remind yourself that you are super capable and experienced and there are always going to be groups that want you to join and people that want to start groups with you. You will join/start something else when you feel the time is right. It’s in your nature.
  3. Hold your head high. You did the best you could during your time with this group.

Some Things Not to Do As You Walk Out The Door

  1. Don’t let the haters get you down or make you feel like you need to do anything rash that youni will be ashamed of later on. If a bridge burns maybe it was constructed of the wrong stuff to begin with. When you need to, you can likely cross to the other side by more reliable means.
  2. Don’t beat yourself about your failures or what “could have been”.
  3.  Don’t backpeddle and allow them to rope you in to do “one more thing”. You may be available for a quick call here and there just to help them finish the transition but you are OUT. They will sink or swim without you.
  4. Don’t go rushing out to find something else to join or start. Those opportunities will be there. The decision to join something should be as considered (if not more!) than the decision to bow out. Remember that the organization you found today will be the org you have to bow out of tomorrow (or well, ya know, many tomorrows from then) so CHOOSE WISELY (I wrote about that here.

OK, so what about you? How do you decide to bow out? How do you carry it out?

Acceptance

“What if not just women, but both men and women, worked smart, more flexible schedules? What if the workplace itself was more fluid than the rigid and narrow ladder to success of the ideal worker? And what if both men and women became responsible for raising children and managing the home, sharing work, love, and play? Could everyone then live whole lives?” 
― Brigid SchulteOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

Stuff I Would Like to Do/Be Doing These Days
Go thru Think Python and work on Python coding
Audit the Maps and The Geospatial Revolution course on Coursera
Attend more PyLadies NYC Meetups
Get my eyes checked
See a movie in a movie theater
Blog more often
Buy some new pants

Stuff I Must/Most Need to Do These Days
Go to work
Spend time with my family
Keep house (cook, light cleaning, shopping)
Exercise
Watch at least an hour of TV a night
Occasional social engagements
Eat
Sleep

All of this (and more!) has been rattling around in my head for weeks as I have been trying to find a moment to write this post. I recently read (or OK, read most of) Brigid Schulte’s book Overwhelmed: Work, Play, and Love When Nobody Has The Time. The book had the overall result of making me feel less overwhelmed. Hey! Look at me! I am reading a book! I am not totally bowled over by life! I do not think it is particularly cool to be busy all the time!  That said, I must admit that I read the book while riding the train on the way to work or laying around on the sofa, but most of the things on that top list are not things that can be done on my morning commute or while I waiting for pasta to boil. Most of those things require a longer and more focused period of time, brainpower, and energy — none of which I have right now.  So, I am just trying to take the time to accept that I don’t have the time to do all the things I *want* to do / feel I should be doing right now this very instant. I am also sitting with the fact that I might never have the time to learn how to code and frankly I have no great need to know how to code nor do I have any problems that I believe I could code my way out of. In fact, I almost think coding could unearth problems that would just open the door to a bunch of new stressors.

So that’s that.

None of this is to say I feel calm and guilt-free about it, but the direction I am going in is not towards finding the time to do the things on the top list but instead in accepting the fact that the life I live and love is comprised of all the things on the bottom list.

Although I think I *can* reasonably squeeze in the pants purchase if I play my cards right.