Month: May 2011

A White Woman’s Thoughts on a Black Woman’s Post

Today I read Tempest Bradford’s post alerting her readers that Wiscon will have a room named The Safer Space which is set aside for people of color to meet and have discussions which are pertinent to them. The logic behind the decision to have the space is outlined in her post. I’m not going to be attending Wiscon this year, but I found myself pondering this choice in a cascade of thoughts. I particularly pondered it because I am considering attending Wiscon sometime in the future.

First I felt alienated knowing that there is a place at Wiscon where I would be unwelcome.

Then I pondered that the alienated feeling is rare for me, but that there are people who feel that every single day. I thought that this mild feeling of alienation was probably good for me as a reminder of how privileged I am in so many areas of my life.

Then I wondered if increasing the quantity of alienated feelings in the world is a good thing for anyone.

I re-read the post and completely agreed with Ms. Bradford’s statements that communities need private spaces which are free from judgment by those outside the community.

Yet I still felt alienated and a little sad, because The Safer Space would probably be host to dozens of conversations from which I could learn. I know that I am ignorant on many racial issues. Hearing those conversations would teach me much, but I would be excluded from them.

I thought about posting my thoughts on the issue, then pondered whether as a middle-class white woman I have any business posting opinions about an issue which is not mine.

But shouldn’t the issue of inclusion and exclusion belong to everyone?

I pondered whether my thought processes might be interesting/valuable insight for the people who suffer at the hands of racism to explain why so many people stay silent. Not because they don’t care, but because they’re afraid to offend. Unfortunately silence sounds like support of the status quo. Speaking up is scary, particularly on the internet. There is the chance of saying something ignorant or offensive without meaning to. Speaking up risks exposing my prejudiced or racist thoughts. We all have them because the human brain is wired to categorize. It takes conscious effort to see the people in front of us rather than categories.

In the end I decided to be brave because silence does not increase understanding. Only conversation does.

Some people think that The Safer Space is important and necessary. Others feel that it is an additional barrier to understanding. I’m not sure which position I hold. I’m still learning the issues and afraid I’ll get it wrong. But I know that having a conversation about the existence of The Safer Space is a step in the right direction.

I welcome commentary, please disagree politely. I’ll use my moderatorial powers to make disrespectful comments disappear.

Preparation for Challenges

Yesterday I wrote a lovely post about how I’m going on a trip because I need to challenge myself and my children. So naturally I am going to spend the remainder of the week deliberately setting out to make sure that everything is as easy as possible for the folks at home. I will do all the laundry, make meal plans, stock the fridge, and a dozen other pre-planning things. Am I undermining what I hoped to achieve. Maybe. But I would like us all to experience a bit of a challenge not a major trauma. I don’t want to set anyone up for a stressful mess. Also, if I do everything I possibly can in advance, I hope to be able to shut down the guilt circuits in my brain. Then I will be able to focus on the other purpose of the trip, which is me getting to do something I’ve always wanted to do, but never dared to allow. I’ll have three days during which my primary factor in minute to minute decisions is “what do I feel like doing?”

So hypocritical or not, I’m off to make lists and get everyone prepared.

Removing the Invisible Help

“Next weekend is going to be really different.” I said to the kids gathered around the table for Sunday dinner. “I’m going to be gone all weekend.” They accepted the news almost without comment. After only a short discussion of likely ways that things would be arranged, the kids moved on to talk of other things. I wanted very much to plan specific details, call people, get commitments. Instead I let the conversation drift elsewhere. The whole point of my going is to force me to stop trying to manage everything and to let them step up and sort challenges without me jumping into the middle. It is very hard for me to stop helping.

Everyone has assignments around Sunday dinner. I called Link into the kitchen to clean and set the table. He came slowly and worked at the project with many moments of distraction. Three different times I found myself picking up garbage or dirty dishes from the table. I was right there. I wanted the job done. I was only helping a little. Three times I carefully put the thing back down. I am fully capable of “helping a little” so much that I do 90% of the work. Learning to work is important. Learning to tackle challenges and over come them is important. These are things my children must fight for and struggle with. The more I help, the less task completion will feel like a victory. I know all this logically, and yet I pick up dirty socks instead of making the kids come get them. I put away back packs. I mop up water on the bathroom floors. I sit next to a child and help with homework. All of this is so habitual that I don’t even realize how much help I’m providing and my kids have no idea how much work they do not do for themselves.

Helping and serving are good things. I know that they are, which is why so much of my energy goes into them. Children need to be helped and taken care of. They need to be nurtured. They also need to be challenged. At some point the mother bird has to stop bringing worms and start shoving the baby bird out so it can learn to fly. Humans are far more complicated than birds. There are hundreds or thousands of aspects of growth. Kids need their financial costs covered until their late teens (or longer), but they need to start cleaning up after themselves when their ages are still in single digits. The trick for a parent is figuring out where to challenge and where to nurture. I am really good at making life easier for those around me. I have a hard time making things challenging.

So I will be providing a challenge by removing all the invisible helping I do on a daily basis. I’ll be away for three days. I’ll also be challenging myself by going someplace new which will only have a few familiar people. I expect there will be fun. I also expect that it will be hard for all of us. Yet we’ll come out of the experience having learned new things. It will be good. More importantly it will show us all the hidden assumptions we carry. From this new knowledge we can craft new patterns in our family structure so that I am not overburdened and so that the kids are learning to fly.

At the Beginning of the Query Process

I first saw this picture over two years ago. My thought upon seeing it was “Oh that’s it exactly.” It was how I expected to feel at the moment I sent a query to off to an agent about a completed manuscript. I was so sure that this was how I would feel that I emailed the artist Ida Larsen and asked her permission to use the picture in a blog post. She kindly gave it. I filed a digital image, ordered a print, and then took a really long time revising my book.

I sent out that query letter today. To my surprise, this picture is not how I feel about it. I expected sending queries to feel like my first step into a world of adventure and danger. Instead it feels like sending a kid off to school. I worked, cajoled, and struggled to get the thing ready to go. In theory I should be worried or excited, mostly I just feel relief. For the next little while the future of my book is out of my hands. I can rest. It will come back, probably rejected, perhaps with more work for me to do. I expect it to come back many times. Then I will expend effort to send it out again. Eventually, hopefully, someday it will sell. At which point I will have yet more work to do. Not having work feels very good at this moment. I can look around and pick my next project.

So what is this book that I just sent off to two agents? I call it Stepping Stones. It is a book of essays in memoir form about one woman’s struggle to balance work, family, spirituality, community, and self. The essays are drawn from the essays I’ve written in this blog. They are combined in such a way to tell a narrative spanning about two years. If you like this blog, you’ll probably like the book and vice versa. I hope you all get to read it as a book someday because it contains lots of things which never got mentioned in the blog.

I must say that there is a sense of satisfaction in having a book in the query process. It is a milestone, a marker that I actually finished a book instead of dwelling endlessly in revision land. I know that this will not change the opinion that my friends have of me, but I feel incrementally more confident about myself. This is a good thing.

Making and Wearing Hats

I went to a tea party yesterday. It was a mother daughter event which included no actual tea, but the lemonade was served in tea cups and there were scones. “Come dressed in your finest.” The invitation said. I did not actually pick my finest, formal wear is not quite right for afternoon tea. I did put on dressy clothes. Gleek did too. Then she got quite upset when she had no pretty shoes to wear. I’m not quite certain how we ended up with no nice shoes in her size. I guess she outgrew them during the past 9 months when she refused to wear anything but tennis shoes to church.
“I’ll be the only girl there with ugly shoes!” Gleek lamented as we got into the car.

By the time we arrived at the church building two minutes later, shoes were completely forgotten. Gleek found us seats at one of the tables. The first activity was hat decorating. The organizers had purchased and array of straw hats and hat trimmings. A long table was covered in faux flowers, ribbons, feather boas, feathers, tulle, glittery stickers, and pom pons. Gleek approached the project with high enthusiasm. My first reaction was more reluctant than hers, but as I arranged ribbon and flowers on my hat, I found myself enjoying the process of making something beautiful. We wore the hats for the tea.

Gleek’s hat was either a complete wreck or an absolutely brilliant expression of individuality and creativity. I loved it. I loved even more that she wore the hat to school today. As she disappeared into the school building I had a momentary fear that someone would make fun of her for her hat. Then I realized that Gleek’s absolute fearlessness meant that her peers were much more likely to decide she was cool than that she was weird. She was still wearing the hat at the end of the school day, so all went well. Now I just have to figure out when and where I am brave enough to wear mine.

Gleek Present and Future

I am more vigilant of Gleek than the other kids. When she gets in an argument with other kids, I intervene. When she’s wandered off my radar then I go find her. It occurred to me today that this is not fair to her. True she is more quick to anger than my other kids, but she keeps it in bounds. True I often have to figure out where she has disappeared to, but I always find her in a place that she is allowed to be. I keep reacting as if she is unpredictable and this is manifestly untrue. Gleek is awesome. Even in the midst of fury she chooses her words and actions. She sometimes says mean things, but she thinks even meaner things and chooses not to say them. That level of self control in a ten year old is amazing. When I look at who she is, I am always impressed. Unfortunately I often view her through a lens called “fears for the future.” Wearing this lens gives me the false belief that today’s behavior will be carried into the future. It is not true. Kids develop and change. I need to address the Gleek of today with kindness, love, and appreciation. If I can do that every day, then the Gleek of the future and I will have a good relationship. It will all be fine.

Giving Gifts

There is a formula for gift giving. It is not mathematical and requires quite a bit of attention or intuition, but it is very real. The formula is Effort times Interest divided by Expectedness. In other words the perfect gift is one which fits the interests of the recipient, demonstrates effort on the part of the giver, and is unexpected. Unfortunately the expectedness variable is the one that trips people up on holidays and birthdays. The more someone hopes for a gift the less likely they are to be pleased with what they receive.

I was thinking about this today as it was my oldest child’s 16th birthday. Some birthdays weigh more heavily in the psyche than others and I felt some pressure to try to give my daughter a solidly good day. On the other hand, I have never felt like Bigger and Flashier is the same as Better. So I needed to facilitate her having a good day in ways that fit her and our family without making a big production out of it. I made a special before-school trip to the store to buy cheescake for her to take to school and share. She’s been wanting to take cheescake for months, but kept asking last minute when running to get it was a huge inconvenience to me. I handed over the box to her and she knew that even though I won’t always rearrange my days for her convenience, sometimes I will. She loved it and all was well.


In the month of April I watched a long time friend, Dave, turn himself into a writer. He’d long been capable of writing things which were entertaining or insightful, but in April he took up a challenge to write 30 short stories in 30 days. He decided they were allowed to be awful stories because he would learn from the awfulness. I think it was somewhere in the second week when there was an almost audible click in his thinking. He changed from someone who occasionally wrote things into being a writer.

About two years ago I was tucking Patch into bed and he told me very solemnly that he’d had a vision for his life. He was going to be a cartoonist and draw Halo comics. He spent quite a long time detailing the ways that he planned for this to work. His plans included lots of practicing and would start the very next day. Morning dawned and Patch sprang out of bed to implement his plan. He discovered that drawing was harder than imagining drawing. Yet he still comes back to this dream and remembers it because it allowed him to picture a creative future.

Several months ago and online acquaintance Silvia Spruck Wrigley talked about becoming a writer. She gave me permission to quote what she said:

I wrote a diary from a young age without much belief in it or any thought that I would be a writer. I remember one day, I must have been about 12, I was upset at my grandfather and started creating my diary entry in my head. “Life isn’t fair! Or at least Opa isn’t!” I was pleased, this was a good opening. I was looking forward to writing it into my journal that evening. I repeated it to myself. It was a revelation that I had composed this with malicious aforethought. I was reading a lot of Judy Blume at the time, so I’m pretty sure that was a part of it, but it was a stunning realisation: that I could plan my words, that what I wrote could be improved, that there was good and bad presentation.

All three of these stories demonstrate an emergent moment. It is the time when a person’s self image shifts and new paths for the future become possible. If you ask any writer, they can probably tell you one of their emergent moments. I remember beginning my first story at 6 years old and being proud of using quotation marks. At 13 I saw that Terry Pratchett had first been published when only 17 years old. I decided to do the same. The results for me were quite different, but belief in that dream carried me through my teen years. In 2005 I wrote a short piece of fiction which made me a writer again after a decade’s hiatus. In 2009 I had an epiphany in which I realized that my blog counted as writing. Those are just my writing emergences. I’ve had them for parenting, gardening, being grown up, and dozens of other life roles. The moment of emergence will be different for everyone, but we all have them.

Emergent moments are inherently vulnerable. They shake the foundations of who we think we are and it does not take much to drive a person back away from the newly emergent possibilities. The first emergence is particularly fragile. My friend Dave had an emergent writing moment when he was 13 and unfortunately phrased criticisms made him shy away from writing. Writers at their early emergent moments need encouragement that this new future they can suddenly see is possible. They need to be told “Keep Going.” Detailed instructions and criticisms can wait until the path is set.

One of the coolest things I get to do as a parent is to witness the emergent moments of my children. I watched Patch’s comics with delighted amusement. More recently there was an evening when Kiki was feeling overwhelmed and doubtful about her ability to succeed at being a freelance artist. She talked to me. She talked to Howard. She did some thinking and reading. Then she came to me and her whole countenance had changed. “I can do this mom. I don’t know every step, but it is what I am supposed to do. It will work.” I looked into her eyes and knew that it was true. Like most paths it may wind some places that she doesn’t expect to go, but the trip will be a good one.

Emergence, like triumph and being grown up, is not something that can be given. Each person must reach out and take it when the time is ripe. However there is much I can do to help provide fertile ground so that those I love can ripen their moments of emergence. I can build patterns of possibility and encouragement into our lives. Then I can meet those emergences with quiet love and encouragement.

Short Saturday Updates

I spent 8 hours of Saturday in my office prepping the PDF of Massively Parallel for Hugo Voters. It looks good. Then I sat and watched Spiderman with Kiki. She’d seen it before, but at 15 she has a much better grasp of social nuance than she did at 7. She loved it. I can’t wait to show her Spiderman 2, which she has not seen before.

In all, a very good day.

Things I found on my kitchen counter upon waking up from an afternoon nap

A package of strawberries with only two berries left. (It was full when I lay down.)

A leaf.

A bowl full of orange liquid and two Popsicle sticks. Under it a note states: “Gleek’s Popsicle!”

Two additional orange stained popsicle sticks (I haven’t purchased popsicles for months.)

Two bags of open potato chips.

An eraser collection.

A note stating: “Dear Hakaber, Good. Now deliver the girls as fast as you can, the people in mervill are geting bored with the old princesses.”

I almost don’t want to know what the game was.