Month: May 2018

Stepping Outside My Bubble (Sort of)

When I was a teenager headed off to college. I was firmly of the opinion that I didn’t want to raise kids inside the Utah “Mormon Bubble.” I had Utah-raised cousins, and my California-raised self saw patterns in their thinking and attitudes that I felt indicated they were out of touch with reality. Because life is not always what we plan when we are 18, I’ve spent my entire parenting life raising kids in Utah. I did what I could to broaden their perspectives, but my kids are totally bubble raised.

Except, so are everyone else’s. That’s the thing I did not realize at 18. I’d grown up in my own bubble. I lived in a town where a significant portion of the kids where children of parents who worked at a National Laboratory. These parents were gung ho on education and demanded opportunities from the school system. There was a series of honors classes at the school, and there was a group of us who took all of them. It created a bubble of “honors kids” who pretty much had the same people in their classes from elementary school all the way through high school. We all shaped each other. And we were shaped by the teachers, and the town, and a dozen other factors we shared. All of this combined to create a sense of “this is how the world works and how we should view it.” I could clearly see the ways that my cousins participated in their cultural bubble. My own cultural bubble was invisible to me.

This weekend I’m back in my home town. I’m sleeping in the bedroom that was mine when I was a teenager and then was my Grandma’s, and now is guest space. All evidence of my residence is erased, but my Grandma’s existence is still evidenced by the wall decor and furniture that remains in the room. In this space I am definitely outside my usual life. I’ve stepped out of my usual way of living and I’ve stepped into patterns that are familiar-but-not-really-mine. I went for a walk in a park where I used to run cross country races with a woman I’ve not seen since we both graduated high school. Talking with her helped me see and remember the bubble I grew up in. Thinking about our conversation helped me pause and identify the bubbles I live in now.

My life is venn diagram of bubbles. I suspect many lives are. Yes I have a Utah Mormon bubble that consists of a neighborhood of fellow church goers who function as a small town inside the larger city. I also have a speculative fiction writer bubble which exists in my online spaces and at the conventions I attend. I know there are other bubbles: political, familial, etc, however these first two bubbles were the ones that became visible to me as I talked with a friend who shared neither one.

The thing about bubbles is that they are necessary. Human brains can’t hold all possibilities equally all the time. We have to decide what we think is acceptable and what we think is wrong. We have to find ways to spend time with people who share those attitudes and allow us to relax into them. We have to develop a sense of “I fit in” and “this is normal” Maslow’s hierarchy of needs teaches us this. We need to belong. We need periods where we can rest and be comfortable, because if we’re never able to rest that does things to our brains which are often expressed as anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Of course the risk of cultural bubbles is that the walls are reflective. It is sometimes hard to see outside them. And when we do sometimes we get baffled and angry at the lives and choices of others. Their choices make sense in their bubble (which we can’t see) but not in ours.

This is why it is good for me to step outside my usual bubbles. It is good for me to remember that the world is full of ways of being human that are different from my well-worn and familiar paths. This is particularly useful to me right now, since I’m taking specific steps to reduce anxiety in my life. I’m changing my physical spaces to disrupt some of my habitual patterns. I’m trying to bring in new ways of thinking about my life. Traveling outside my bubble gives me new perspectives and a reinvigorated desire to make changes, to shift my bubbles and expand them. I can take that desire and perspective home with me to view my habits and patterns in new ways.

GDPR Compliance

Today is the day that GDPR (General Data Protection Rights) goes into effect in the EU. It applies to EU citizens anywhere they might go on the internet. I’ve looked over what it takes to be GDPR compliant and it just seems like smart data management to me. So we’ve been working this week to make sure all our sites are compliant. It’s been a busy week. This blog is the last piece that needs to be updated with a privacy policy. Unfortunately today is a travel day for me, so I’m not certain when I’ll get to it. Signing up to comment is the only way this blog collects data. I’ve turned off commenting on the site temporarily. (Thus not collecting any new data from any of you) Commenting will come back once I have a privacy policy posted specifically for this blog.

How to handle a harassment complaint at your event

Alternate title: Good practices for organizational management of a harassment complaint

Note: This document is not exhaustive and may be updated with additional suggested policies. I am not a trained harassment manager and there may be more detailed documents that you should reference when planning your event.

Step 1: Have a harassment policy
You can call a Code of Conduct, or some other name, but you must have a policy that clearly states what behaviors are not allowed at your event. The policy should state that failure to follow it can lead to expulsion from the event without refund. It should also have clear instructions for how to report a violation. All of your attendees should be asked to agree to this policy if they want to attend your event. If you do not have a policy, stop running your event until you do. This is for your own legal protection as well as the protection of your attendees. You need legal grounds to remove disruptive people from your event.

Step 2: Safety Committee
You need some people who are designated to handle any violations of your behavioral policies. They need to be trained and given a detailed instruction set (like this one you’re reading) for how you expect them to handle any issues. Having set up your committee, TRUST THEM. If you do not trust their judgement, then you have an organizational problem. You as event organizer have enough things to handle, don’t spend time second guessing your committee. There may be situations where you need to be involved in the decision process, but for the most part let your committee have the power to handle things.

Step 3: The victim comes to you
When someone comes to you to report a violation of your policy, the first concern of the staff member should be to make the victim feel safe. If there is an imminent danger or ongoing disruption, that must be managed first. The victim should be brought into contact with a member of the safety committee as quickly as possible. Either walk them there (if in person) or perform an email introduction (if online). Any staff who are not on the safety committee should step out of the process at this point. Helping the victim feel safe might include finding a private location, getting a friend to sit with them, switching to a safety person of similar gender. Always thank the victim for coming to report the incident. Reassure the victim that you want to know what happened.

Step 4: Listen
Listen to an account of the incident. Have the victim write it down, or write it down as they tell it to you. Be sympathetic to the victim. Validate their feelings. Ask for clarifying details. Find out if there are corroborating witnesses who are also willing to report. At the end of this step you should have a document signed by both the safety person and the victim that states what happened. (and additional reports from any witnesses) Both the victim and the safety committee should get a copy of this document. This document becomes a critical legal protection to both you and to the victim should things get complicated later. In a case of false reporting, this document also functions as a protection for the accused. Do not promise the victim any specific outcome from the report.

Step 5: Help the victim process
As part of listening to the victim and validating their feelings, discuss with them what they feel would be an appropriate consequence for the incident, ask “what would you like to have happen?” Document this answer in the report. It can help your committee’s decision making. Thank the victim for making the report. Give them contact info for the person who will be case manager for this incident. (Probably the person they reported to.) Tell them they can reach out and add to their report as needed. If they do reach out, note that on the report with date and time. Tell the victim that you will confer with your safety committee to make a decision about what is to be done and that you will get back to them within 24 hours with further information. (A longer timeline is acceptable if the victim is informed about why the longer timeline is needed.)

Step 6: Immediately contact your committee
They should be on call for exactly this sort of thing. If any committee members are close friends with either the victim or the accused, they should remove themselves from the discussion. If the entire committee is friends with either the victim or the accused, then seek out someone who can be impartial about the incident and hire them to arbitrate. Share the report, the victim’s requested consequence, and any observations the safety person may have. Compare the report with your policies to see if the consequence becomes obvious. Decide on a course of action. This can include anything from taking no action at all, to immediate expulsion from the event for the accused, to contacting the accused for more information or their own report, to contacting law enforcement, to consequences for a false report. Get a counter report from the accused. Have one of your staff advocating for the accused. The step-by-step process you are reading does not cover what actions are appropriate as consequences. That is a separate and nuanced discussion that is outside the scope of this document. Hopefully you had that discussion in detail while writing up your policy. Deciding what action is appropriate is tricky. Impartiality is critical. Part of your decision is choosing who will confront the accused (if confrontation is merited) and what back up they might require to keep everyone safe. Also who will advocate for the accused.

Step 7: Report to event managers
This step may take place between Step 6 and Step 8, or it might be something that just comes up at the next business meeting depending on the severity of the incident and how empowered the safety committee is to make decisions. Do not allow this step to be a blockade that prevents action. The key is to make sure that event managers know that an incident happened and have enough information to not be surprised if they are asked a question about it.

Step 8: Take the action
You may cycle through steps 6 to 8 multiple times as you gather additional information and reports. The key in this step is to act decisively and in a way that ensures safety of everyone involved. Make sure your action matches your stated policies. Also make sure that you extend as much courtesy and kindness toward an accused person.

Step 9: Inform the victim
Within 24 hours of the report (or on the previously agreed timeline), the victim should be contacted with either an update or the resolution of their issue. Make sure you assign a safety person who knows it is their job to keep the victim updated and to relay any ongoing concerns from the victim to the committee. Document those contacts and concerns in the report. Maintain contact with the victim until the incident is officially closed.

Step 10: Appeals and press
Someone is likely to be unhappy about the decision your safety committee made. They may post angry things to social media. They may outright lie about the events that happened. The only answer you give to any questions about the incident from people who were not directly involved is “For confidentiality reasons, we do not discuss any harassment complaints.” This is the answer that protects everyone. It preserves the confidentiality of both the accused and victim. It saves your event from legal liability and ongoing drama. The only time you ever release information from your harassment reports to anyone outside your safety and event management committees is if there is a legal case in which those documents become evidence. You do not need to prove you made the right choice. You as event organizer have the right to expel anyone from your event. At least you do if it is in your written and posted policy. Both the victim and the accused have the right to go to a court of law to challenge the decision you’ve made if they so wish.

Step 11: Post Mortem
The safety committee should meet periodically to discuss any incident reports and make sure appropriate follow up actions are taken. Equally important is that they examine their own handling of the incident to identify any weaknesses in the process or in the written harassment policy that need to be addressed. Make changes so that the next incident is handled as well as this one or better.

School is almost done

The last weeks of school feel like limbo. My kids are so ready to be done. I’m ready for them to be done. All that remains is a few final tests at the high school. Three more days. Technically there are some days of school next week, but we’ve already been told that attendance will not be taken on those days. In fact classes aren’t really held. Students just carry their yearbooks and leave campus at their leisure. Oh, and for the seniors there are graduation related events. My kids already know they aren’t going to bother with next week. Which means, three days.

At this point we know which classes are going to be failed. All the scrambling to rescue grades is completed. They’re either rescued or not. We’ll be doing some classes over the summer, making up credit for the failed classes. I’ll also be stepping back and trying to shift. When I weigh my kids school experiences these past few years, the parts that I can see are heavily weighted toward stress and depression. They simply don’t have the positive peer interactions, friendships, or activities that would provide a counter balance and make the stress worthwhile. This must change. My kids need to know how to live balanced lives. They need to have activities that take them out of the house.

If we want our lives to be different, be have to be willing to change. Sometimes that means changing things we don’t want to let go of. This summer (between all the business tasks, shipping, and conventions) I’ll be stepping back and getting a bigger picture so my kids and I can make decisions about what needs to change. Because I’m tired of ending the school year feeling beaten and exhausted.

Discoveries of the day

Good discovery: happening across a food truck round up when I’m out with a kid having an important conversation. The kind of important conversation that often can only happen after there was an exceedingly unfortunate and unpleasant conversation the day before. But then the important conversation goes well and you happen across a food truck round up, and then the world feels brighter and better even though the sky is pouring and you get wet waiting for your yummy food.

Less good discovery: Finding ants in the breakfast cereal. In quantity. Then realizing that the ants probably got into the cereal out in the garage this morning before it was brought inside, and that at least two kids have eaten cereal since it was brought into the house. So there is that.

Contemplating Mothering

My relationship with motherhood is tangled and complicated. Most of the time that isn’t a problem, but Mother’s Day brings the snarl out into the center of my attention and I spend some time, once again, pulling on various threads to see where they come from and where they lead. I suppose that someday I hope to make sense of this mess that used to be clear.

Motherhood took a long time to sit easily in my brain. The actions of it, the nurturing, the teaching, the loving, those came easy, but self-identifying as Mom felt uncomfortable. Like wearing clothes that were the wrong size. When I wrote notes to my kids I signed them “mom” because that was the correct designation. I think it began to feel not-strange when my oldest headed off to college and we did a lot of communicating via email. I signed things Mom, and she reverted to calling me Mommy, which she hadn’t done since she was very little. She was off and being an adult in new ways, and she needed me to be the Mommmy she fled back to when adulting got too hard. The moment I knew when I had fully integrated my mother identity was when I said something to a writer peer, and he joked back at me “yes mom” which was when I realized I’d totally Mommed at him. My statement had been a quintessential Mom thing to say and it fell out of my mouth by pure habit.

And even as I write that paragraph, I think maybe it isn’t the full truth. I remember the very early days of my motherhood. I cuddled my baby, trailed after my toddler. I remember sitting in a rocking chair, one child asleep on my chest and another on a bed three feet away. Neither could fall asleep without me there. I remember thinking how I’d reached the best part of my life, that everything prior had been foundational for this. I dove into motherhood, turned all my hobbies to its service. And I was happy. Tired, overwhelmed, frustrated, but even those emotions lay on top of a bed of happiness. This is also truth about my motherhood.

Later, the kids were older, I was older, I no longer dealt with hourly hands-on care of little ones. The toys stayed tucked away in the cupboards instead of exploding across the floor on a daily basis. I was so glad to not have to manage little ones anymore. So glad to have hours at a time to myself. There was joy in children who could join me in adult conversations. They could make jokes that actually surprised me with full laughter rather than the polite laughter that was required during the ages of Knock Knock jokes. My calendar no longer had cute sayings scribbled in the margins, but I no longer did their laundry nor spent hours trying to convince them to go to bed.

And yet, somewhere as we began this older kid stage, we left the map. The young years were exactly as I’d expected. Exhausting and joyful in ways that made me cry and laugh. Looking back, the kids’ atypicalities were always there, but they blended better. Then one day, they didn’t. The parenting-a-teenager experiences that I expected did not happen. No waiting up for dates. No watching my kids abandon home to spend hours with friends. Few teams or clubs. Instead I had endless meetings with teachers. Far too much diagnostic testing. Hours of listening sympathetically while my kids told me all their thoughts. Or alternately staring at a closed door because I’m shut out. Coaxing kids out from under furniture. Having my suggestions rejected.

It sounds like whining to say “this isn’t what I expected.” But the grief of that experience is very real. It feels like terrible ingratitude to be sad and grieving when I have four healthy children who’ve all grown tall. They have so much potential and here I am crying because they haven’t bloomed at the same rate as others. On days when I have good perspective, I can see that the bloom is coming. On the days when I’m down, the current state seems unending.

On Mother’s day I feel grateful for the opportunities I’ve had as a mother and grieved for other opportunities I’ll never get. I feel bad that I can’t just remember the gratitude. I know I’ve done a good job, and I have a long list of all the ways I could have been better. I think about how I should step up and do more. I also wonder if they’d be better off if I stepped back and did less. I think of my friends who wanted to be mothers and never had the chance. I think of others who had motherhood taken away from them. I think of women who decided not to become mothers. I think of my mother and feel guilty that more of my thoughts are not centered on her instead of on my own tangle of things. I think of other women who mothered me and who are due thanks. All of these thoughts swirl and tangle around each other until I can barely see where one thought ends and the next one begins.

Some mother’s days feel beautiful and full. This one, I wanted to hide from. And all of these words only cover a small portion of the mother-related things I thought about and cried over today. Fortunately the day is almost complete, a mere 15 minutes remain. Then I can get back to living motherhood instead of contemplating it.

Study in Contrasts

I’m living an emotional tug-of-war.

We’ve just received the bulk shipment of RAM books and I’ve been organizing to place the bulk order for Schlock t-shirts. The shirts are likely to arrive before all of the RAM shipping is complete. Also, I’m nearing the very end of set up on our new storefront. Today I sent some test shoppers through to make sure that every step of the purchasing and delivery process is working smoothly. All of these things are invigorating and engage my brain in ways that, while making me physically tired, are sort of fun. My brain likes organizing.

Across the same days I’ve had multiple communications with school personnel, discussions with my two kids and made decisions about which classes they’re going to go ahead and fail because trying to pull out a last-minute grades rescue is not going to happen this time. If I were willing to devote a pile of energy to it, maybe we could un-fail the classes. But I have all those shipping and organization things that need my attention. Also, we’ve done the last-minute-crunch-to-un-fail-classes three times now. And we still end up in the same place. It is time to do something different. And in this case, that means home school will be continuing into June until all the requisite credits are made up. There are few things more wearying than sitting with one of my kids while we are both frustrated that the kid can’t seem to do the things that the educational system believes all kids can handle.

Interested and anticipatory vs weary and discouraged. Both states exist in my head these days.

On top of that, I look at the society and communities around me, church, city, neighborhood, state, national. Everywhere I look, I’m seeing shifts. Things (both good and bad) are normal now that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. I keep thinking about the saying that the flap of a butterfly’s wing can affect the weather half a year and half a world away. That feels true to me. Small changes in trajectory can change a destination entirely. And everywhere I look, there are butterflies flapping away. In just the past two months my church has made some changes that will have significant cultural impact. The community I depend on as a safety net and security is going to change. No one is quite sure how yet. The visions for what intended are lovely, but intention meets human nature and sometimes twists around. I’m optimistic, because I know the good hearts of the people around me. We’ll band together and make it work.

I try to hold the same optimism for political and legislative changes. I’m quite afraid of the consequences of decisions being made at every level. There is a sales tax decision pending in the supreme court which could have huge financial implications for me personally. My healthcare premium is crushingly huge and I don’t see any legislators taking steps to fix the broken system. Net neutrality may vanish in just a month. Headlines are full of posturing politicians, racism, massive investigations, and violence. Decisions are being made that could lead to war or could tank the economy. It all feels chaotic and fraught, so much so that I’ve pulled back from engaging with it. I’m not communicating with legislators as I was six or eight months ago.

All of these swirl in my head.

And on the same days as all of that, our kitten is cute. A pair of quail visit our bird feeder. I spend and evening out walking with my daughter. We collaborate with a neighbor to repair a broken fence. The weather has warmed and lilacs are in bloom.

Life does not sort itself neatly. Yet when I really look at all I wrote I realize most of the bad stuff is expressed as anxieties for what might happen. Today has more goodness in it than bad. People have more goodness in them than bad.

I’m not truly certain what I’m trying to say here. I don’t have a conclusion, just a record of all the things happening at once. And butterflies everywhere.

On “Bad Parenting”

This evening I read a social media post from a friend whose family has had a really rough year. They’ve got the trifecta of health issues, emotional issues, and financial issues. They are a family seriously stretched to their very limits. And today a teacher scolded them for their “bad parenting” because an elementary school kid wasn’t getting homework done.

I was so angry on their behalf. What they’re dealing with is bigger than what I deal with, but I know how awful it feels when a teacher implies that “bad parenting” is why my kid struggles in their class. It pokes me in all my anxious places because I’m always convinced I could/should do something more. Yet it also makes me think of a larger principle that I think is worth examining.

What if we as teachers, neighbors, community members began recognizing the “bad parenting” that we witness as a symptom of an ailment instead of as something to be judged. Because I truly believe that most parents want to be good at parenting. When they fail it is because they are stressed, or overwhelmed, or don’t have resources, or have never been taught. When we identify “bad parenting” that is a moment to step in and help, not stand back and judge.

Cleaning Up for Shipping

Shipping season will begin soon. I thought it would begin in a couple of weeks, but yesterday I got word that the bulk shipment of RAM will be arriving sometime this week. Fortunately I’ve been working to prepare the warehouse, because we never fully cleaned up after Planet Mercenary shipping and then holiday shipping. In fact, my warehouse space looked like this just a month ago.

This state of affairs was a problem since “shipment of books” means 4-6 pallets and there was zero floor space for pallets of books to be dropped off. We hauled off fifteen big black bags of garbage, two carloads of cardboard, a dozen wooden pallets, and two more carloads of assorted other waste items. As much as possible I recycle and re-use, but it still ends up being a lot of work to remove things that are in the way so that we can make space. The good news is that as of this morning my warehouse looks like this:

Four pallets of books will fit easily into that space. As will the shipment of shirts which I’m expecting not too long afterward. Also the shipments of boxes that I will use to mail the shirts and the books. The physical spaces are ready for work. Now I’m preparing shipping lists, combining orders, and generally organizing so that when the books (and shirts) do arrive we can send them on their merry way to homes where they’ll be loved.