Sandra Tayler

Anti-Racism Accountability Update

I have mixed thoughts about making this post. There has been a lot of discussion going around about performative allyship or performative anti-racism, and I believe it is important to define and discuss that so that people can self-analyze whether they are motivated by helping those affected by racism or whether they are motivated by attention for their declarative posts. While sometimes performative behavior is obvious from the outside, very often it isn’t because the difference is internal. There is no way for me to make a public post about the steps I’ve taken to be anti-racist without calling attention to myself. Making the post is an inherent ask for attention, even if I’ve emotionally detached from the approval (or lack thereof) which results.

On the other hand, humans are social creatures and we learn many of our behaviors by watching the example of others. In an aerobics class, the instructor stands up front and does the steps so that other people can watch and learn what the steps should be. If everyone who is doing anti-racist work is quiet about it, then those who would follow an example are left to shuffle around making things up. Also, if we all go quiet about our anti-racist work, then many people who were partially ready to make changes will settle back into their old habits. Systems that preference some people over others will stay in place. The major media has moved on to the next story, which means the conversation only continues if people are willing to continue speaking up.

On the whole, I’ve decided to risk performance and post about what I’ve done in the past month and what I intend to do for the next months. It forces me to examine whether I’ve gotten complaisant.

  1. Read at least one non-fiction book that specifically addresses understanding racism or anti-racism (Many people had a similar goal and the books sold out. I’m still waiting for mine to arrive. However I did do a lot of online reading. I watched Just Mercy and Malcom X. I’ve watched Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.)
  2. Seek out books of fiction written by marginalized writers. The books themselves do not have to be about marginalization. I’m just expanding the range of perspectives in the storytellers I give attention to. (Did this one. I have more books arriving from a local bookstore as well.)
  3. I’ll celebrate the 4th of July by spending a week posting on social media to promote the work and businesses of POC or LGBTQ creators. BUT the focus is on promoting the work not on their marginalization. This means I need to do the homework and find brilliant works that fit my criteria. They’re already out there, I’m just ignorant of them. (This was fun. I liked the challenge of seeking out new sources for things I liked. I found some amazing things.)
  4. Take steps to expand my professional networks beyond my currently existing network of mostly white, middle-class, American people. I am missing out on amazing talent because I haven’t taken the time to become familiar with their work. I’ll start by following some new people on twitter. (I followed new people on twitter. I’ve started learning where I can reach out to make sure that when I do a project I’m actually finding the best person, not just grabbing who is closest/ familiar.)

Going forward:

  1. Read the Anti-Racist non-fiction book as soon as I can get my hands on them.
  2. Continue to read books written by marginalized authors, people who have different perspectives than I usually read.
  3. When I need to purchase things, don’t just default to the nearest big box store. Instead do some research to find small businesses I can support, particularly small businesses that serve communities which struggle more.
  4. Continue to expand my professional networks. Work to connect with and understand the new people I’ve followed on twitter. Listen to them.
  5. Examine the power I have in my communities and be willing to use that power to make space for voices which the community norms tend to sideline or exclude.

WXR Summer Reunion

Yesterday was the Writing Excuses Retreat Summer Reunion. It was an event run on Zoom where more than a hundred writers entered the same space and circulated through breakout rooms just like circulating through conversations at a party. One room had a bartender to talk people through making their own cocktails and mocktails, another room had a book bartender to help people triage their TBR pile. There was a room with a dance party and a room with Karaoke. Mostly I set myself up in one of the quiet rooms and enjoyed conversations with small groups of people. There were so many friendly faces that I was glad to see. I came away after six hours of being on Zoom, truly exhausted, but feeling happy and more balanced than I’ve felt in a while.

I think as a socially anxious introvert, it is really tempting for me to opt out of social interactions. I’m pretty content hanging out by myself watching a show, reading, or thinking my own thoughts. The pandemic has made it even easier for me to go nowhere and talk to no one. Then I hit an event like the one yesterday and I realize (again) that just because withdrawal into solitude is my natural inclination, it is not necessarily the best thing for me to be doing. Like eating healthy exercising, I should probably be putting effort and attention into making sure I spend time being social. I’m not sure yet how to accomplish this during the pandemic. My preference would be to show up at online social things that other people host, because then I could lurk and duck out at will when anxiety built up. However I suspect that many of my friends feel the same way and would appreciate coming to an event where they didn’t have to host. More thought required.

In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to October when WXR is teaming up with Surrey International Writer’s Conference to hold an online event. There will be parties like the one I attended last night, writing dates, and (of course) classes. I even get to teach some classes, which I’m excited about. You can register here if you’d like to join me. For today, I’m going to rest and remember the fun conversations I had. Then tomorrow I’m going to get back to writing, because talking with all my writer friends got me motivated again.

No Going Back

I remember visiting at my parent’s house for two weeks after my first year of college. It was technically my childhood home, but it had been completely reconstructed after a fire nine months earlier, so it was an odd mix of home and not-home. I had a lot of emotional sorting to do evaluating the newness and not-newness of my surroundings. During the course of my visit I realized that my imbalance was not just that my home had been rebuilt, it was also that the emotional space that my family had held for me to return to was slightly the wrong shape. I’d grown and changed while I was away. I no longer fit neatly into the family patterns or habits. I still remember the surprise of that not-fitting when I’d expected to fit, and the micro-surprise my family expressed when I didn’t respond as they expected. It was all subtle and thoroughly mixed with the joy of being home to visit.

When my daughter came home to visit during her first year of college, she was only a couple of months into her growing and changing. When she came home for the summer after her first year, we sat down and talked about how to create a space for her that was an adult space rather than the child space she used to inhabit in our house. I remember a moment when she realized that there was no going backward, no way to retreat into the comfortable childhood she used to have. She could use the memory of it to sustain her, but she could not have it again. Not in the same way. She had changed, and we had changed, and while we would always hold space in each other’s hearts and lives, our mutual existence had to re-shape around those changes.

I am once again looking around me at surroundings that are both familiar and different. Pandemic has changed my world. It has changed my communities. It has changed the ways that everyone interacts. In the past week I have had conversations with three of my four young adults where they grapple with the idea that a level of security that they used to enjoy (without even consciously realizing they had it) is now gone. They don’t get to have it back. There are hundreds of possible futures where security is rebuilt, but they have to participate in the building of it, they don’t get to just enjoy it. This is their coming of age moment where childhood is gone and they realize they don’t get to go back. None of us do.

I remember sitting in the room which was both my teenage bedroom and an unfamiliar space. I remember sitting with my daughter as she looked at her childhood home unfamiliar. I sit here now in a world shifted around me. It is normal and needed to grieve for what is lost, even when that loss is a necessary part of moving forward, but the moving forward is the more important piece. I can’t unknow the things I have learned about racial injustice, and I wouldn’t want to. I can’t make the economy boom the way that it used to. I can’t reclaim the events which were canceled. Instead I have to plan a future which adjusts for the ongoing pandemic. I have to learn new ways to stay connected to people I can’t see in person, new ways to move through the world so that I protect others as well as myself, new definitions for what safe means. I have to participate in building a new stability, and so my young adults who are coming of age in this tumult. Sometimes this knowledge is exciting: I get to help build a better world. Other times it is overwhelming: there are so many sources of chaos right now. No matter how I feel about it, there is no going back, only forward.

July

It is full summer now. The world outside is hot during the day and comfortably warm at night. When my kids were little this was the season of running through sprinklers, eating popsicles, and playing with friends. Once the kids got older, summer was unscheduled days and lots of video games while mom and dad both worked. Sometimes there would be family gatherings and outings. Holidays like Independence Day were an opportunity to look up from the habits we’d fallen into and gather together. This year I watched fireworks from my front lawn by myself. Howard joined me for a bit, as did one of my sons, but mostly it was me watching explosions in the sky. Some furnished by the city, but most from the hands of neighbors. I had a moment of sadness for how different life is now than it used to be. Yes the pandemic, but also the natural shifts of children moving into adulthood and family events not coming together the way they used to. I’m not sure if my failure to orchestrate these events is evidence of me being tired, or if it is simply the natural result of kids growing up.

I sat down to do accounting on Saturday. Because of a conversation I’d had with Howard earlier in the week, I opened up my Accounting Instructions file. These are a series of documents designed to walk someone else through my accounting processes, just in case there comes a time when I’m not available to do the work. The were in dire need of updating, and I discovered that some tasks which are supposed to happen quarterly hadn’t been done since June of last year. That gave me pause, I’m usually far more conscientious about the accounting. Then I remember the series of events from the past year. How I spend all of last summer tearing apart my house and then fixing it again (all while in a blind financial panic at the massive hole blown in my finances) because we had to replace the sewer line. That project wound to a conclusion just before my daughter became engaged, which led to me acquiring a wedding planning job (across the Christmas shipping season and holiday celebrations.) We’d just triumphantly celebrated the wedding when Howard got sick, and then the pandemic changed everything. I haven’t had a period of emotional/event stability for more than a year. No wonder I’m tired. And no wonder I’m not spending extra effort to pull my kids from their settled pursuits into an activity that would expend more energy in service of bonding. I know the value of bonding, but energy is still in short supply.

I wonder how much of my emotional state in the past few weeks is because of remembered trauma from last year. Even though I’m not consciously thinking about it, the limbic lizard brain inside my head tracks things like daylight and weather, then it sends alarms “Last time conditions were like this, things suddenly got very stressful. Remember all that stress?” Of course this year has a sufficient supply of stress all by itself. I just think I got a dose of remembered stress on top of this year’s stress. No wonder I’m nostalgic for the Before Times, but I need to reach past 2019 to find memories I’d like to dwell in.

I still have half a summer ahead of me. During it, I want to teach my son to drive. I want to finish a patio. I hope to buy flooring for the next stage of the kitchen remodel. In service of these things, I have work to do to bring in funds, and new ways to work that still need to be figured out. I need to fully embrace being in July and not waste energy trying to see beyond it. Hopefully I can do that.

All the Scattered Thoughts

On the day before Independence Day, my brain is full of too many things. I’ve been struggling to pull them into some sort of coherent order and failing. So instead I’m just going to list stuff without trying to make anything relate to anything else. Welcome to my brain which almost always has piles of unrelated thoughts in it.

I’ve been following through on my plan to spend the week prior to Independence Day posting links to people I think are helping my country be better. It has been fun to seek out people doing good things and to share them with others. The twitter thread is here.

I’m still watching Covid 19 graphs and case counts in my state. I don’t like the look of the graphs. I don’t like that Howard ran a fever last weekend (Covid test still pending, I expect it to be negative.) I really don’t like that apparently a worker at the Orem Driver’s License division was Covid 19 positive on the day I took my son to get his driver’s permit. I’ve reviewed the visit in my head and I think transmission to us is unlikely, but it still shows me how this is everywhere. I’m trying to not spend brain cycles worrying about what to do for school in the fall. We can’t make those decisions yet.

Howard continues to have good air days and bad air days. With the pulmonary function test claiming that his lungs work just fine, we’re entering a new round of testing where we kick the tires on every other system in his body. Blood tests, echocardiogram, various other labs. Surely some of this additional data will help us form a path forward. If nothing else it will help us prune some branches off of the massive contingency tree I’m holding in my head. I’m trying to stay focused in now, to answer today’s needs with today’s resources, but on the bad days, when Howard is really struggling to function, my mind races ahead to the things I might have to manage, to what long term looks like. In the mean time, Howard has focused all of his available energy on delivering a good ending to the Schlock Mercenary comic. Once that is accomplished, he’s under orders (from me) that health comes before work. And we’ll build a new life structure which prioritizes his health.

In the last few weeks I’ve given up on writing fiction. I’ll come back around to it, but I have to quiet my brain first.

The kitchen project is stalled because the next step is purchasing flooring, which is a big spend. With not being sure the extent of testing that will be required to chase down a diagnosis for Howard, and with the end of the comic meaning that our income streams are about to shift, and with the national economic downturn, now is not a great time to be doing a big spend. So instead I’ve done a much smaller spend on concrete pavers to create a patio in my back yard. I now have hours of digging, leveling, and setting pavers ahead of me. I’m really glad to have some sort of project where I can visibly see that my work turns something ugly (a dirt patch) into something pretty (a patio.) It is also work I can do with my hands no matter what state my mind is in. I need something like that right now.

I still don’t know how to build a path forward for my young adults who are cloistered in my house. The driver’s permit is our one push, and it is stalled because the car my son is learning how to drive has its Check Engine light on. Probably because the car didn’t like being repeatedly stalled while a 17yo learns how to drive a stick shift. It is such a tiny roadblock, but when I’m this emotionally worn any bump is enough to make me stop.

Local temperatures now top 90 degrees daily. This impedes my ability to bake as much bread as I would like because the AC struggles to keep the house comfortable when it has to fight with both heat from the oven and heat from outside. I’ve been exploring more stove top cooking as I’m trying to find uses for all of the vegetables that came in my farm share bag. I only get a bag every other week, but so far it has taken me that long to use what came in the first bag. Figuring out savory uses for fruits, and ways to make beets delicious has provided me with some focus during the hours when it is too hot for me to work on digging for the patio. Also, people need to eat anyway. Right?

I’m still paying attention to national conversations about race and police reform. I’m still learning new things and holding myself to the resolutions that I made several weeks ago. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m also spending some thought on how people hurt each other and how communities should prevent someone who habitually hurts others from doing that. I’m thinking a lot about punishment and shame as tools to control harm. They concern me because punishment and shame inherently cause harm even when used trying to prevent it. There needs to be a structure where we can prevent harm completely instead of just shifting the recipient.

I’m struggling with feeling like I am not productive enough, like I’m not using my time wisely. Then I sit down with that feeling and ask exactly what I mean by “productive” and why that should be more important than personal satisfaction in house tasks done. In some ways it comes down to money and stress over money. Because I’m worried about other things, the financial squirrel in my brain wants to stash away all the resources against possible future need. I want to make debts vanish and build up reserves so that I can handle every single one of the branches on that medical contingency tree. So I feel guilty when my day is spent on tasks that use resources instead of accumulating them. Which is silly, because the point of having resources is to use them. This includes time. However stress reactions are hard to short circuit and this is apparently one of the ways I react to major life shifts in the middle of a pandemic that has no end date. I’m working on letting go of the guilt, while simultaneously being understanding with myself that it shows up.

I’m being impressed with how kind some people are even when their kindness is invisible to everyone.

There are so many more thoughts in my head, but they are so fragmentary that I can’t even put them into sentences. Hopefully these pieces of thoughts will either coalesce or fade away. For now, I need to go make lunch.

Kitties Vs Plants

I decided that the flowers in my Aerogarden had reached the point where they were fading out. So I emptied the hydroponic unit and started a batch of herbs. The pods were in place and the little domes over the top waiting for the seeds to sprout. This is the third or fourth time I’ve launched a batch of seedlings since we acquired Callie and Milo. They’d pretty much ignored the process each time. Yet the morning after planting, I noticed that someone (I’m scowling at you Milo) had nibbled the edges of the cilantro pod pulling part of the paper out from under the little dome. I figured if that was the worst, we’d be fine. The next morning I discovered all of the domes knocked free, the cilantro pod looked like it had been dug into, and the thyme pod had been pulled free completely and batted across the room. I was headed out for weekly grocery shopping anyway, so I looked for a “Keep the cats out of my aerogarden” solution. I found deer netting.

I thought this might help. I was very wrong. Deer netting is apparently a preferred cat toy.

Milo wanted to tug at it. Callie wanted to eat it.

I thought that even though they liked fiddling with the netting, it meant they would leave the little plant pods alone. Nope. When I sat down to write this post I discovered that they had reached through the netting and knocked half of the little domes off of the pods. So now I have a new solution.

The aerogarden will get to keep its box cover for a couple of weeks until the sprouts are large enough to remove the domes. At that point I’ll get to discover if the cats plan to also eat my plants this time around.

The Power We Wield

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that another round of Me Too accusations burst open in some of my online communities. The pressure cooker of the pandemic is making any problem that was simmering come to a full boil. Once again, my communities must grapple with harm that was done, with the harm that exposing the previous harm does, with trying to decide whether restitution is possible, and with whether apologies are sincere or sufficient. Once again, I’m reading through threads and posts, not to judge others, but in an attempt to understand how I can exist in these communities without accidentally doing damage to others. Power dynamics are hard, particularly when I don’t always recognize that I have any power. The thing that I’m learning is that if I have any respect or friendship in a community, then I have power in that community. Even if I feel like a tiny fish in a big pond. If I have power, then I have the ability to use that power as a shield to protect others or as a weapon to hurt them.

My own power can be hard to wrap my head around because women are socialized to abdicate their power. We’re trained to back down and keep the peace. Sometimes our survival (either physical or social) depends on keeping the peace or not making waves. Or maybe it is not about female socialization at all, but is instead my significant conflict aversion linked to my anxiety. Either way, I’m much more likely to try to de-escalate a conflict rather than lean into it. Much of this is selfish. Making people upset is a huge anxiety trigger for me. Even a small conflict has physiological and psychological consequences that last for days or weeks. Yet my efforts to save myself from that distress can have the effect of reinforcing a status quo that is inherently unfair or even harmful. I keep thinking about how different this week would be if, early in their careers, a friend (or three) had pulled the abusers aside and told them to cut it out. If there had been small consequences for small digressions, then the abusers may never have become abusers at all. It is my job to step up and have the uncomfortable, small conversations which could help prevent the formation of the next generation of abusers.

It is on me to honestly, and without self-deprecation, look at the power I have in my communities. I need to be brave enough to identify my power, name it, claim it, and then wield it with conscious choices instead of unconsciously knocking others over because I didn’t realize how much space I took up. I need to ask myself some questions. Who am I shielding so that they can have relief from pressure? Is my shield creating a space for someone to grow, or is it protecting someone from consequences they need to have in order to grow? Who am I making space for so that they can have a chance to step forward? Am I taking up space I ought to yield to someone else? Because community power is fundamentally different than structural power. It isn’t a zero-sum game. When I yield some of my community power to another person, I’ve increased the sum total of power in the community without necessarily reducing my own. Lifting up others makes the whole community stronger. Gently, privately (or aggressively and angrily if necessary) confronting bad behavior makes the whole community stronger. I need to be better and braver about this.

The Changing Social Cues

Humans are inherently social creatures. Even the introverts among us still interact with networks of others, live in towns created by cooperation, and rely on contact to keep us grounded. This inherently social nature means that we react instinctively to hundreds of thousands of social cues which tell us how to feel and behave. We do this on a subconscious level, which is why we can walk into a room and instantly recognize when two people have abruptly changed the subject because we entered. We can tell within moments whether a gathering is a funeral or a birthday party. This is why I found it interesting that the deli counter of the grocery store was no longer shuttered. Two months ago, everywhere I looked in the grocery store I was reminded by moved furniture, shuttered deli, empty shelves that the world had changed. It helped me to remember to be cautious about keeping distance, to not plan big family parties, to limit my outings. Now I go to the store and it feels more relaxed than it was. The re-opening invites me to relax too. I’m watching networks of friends decide to meet in person, decide to go to church, decide to go out to dinner. And I’m watching the graphs which say that all this increased interaction are increasing the Covid-19 infection rates across the state. My state stopped short of moving to green, but the governor has said he has no intention of shutting down the economy again. I think it will take weeks, until the hospitalization numbers increase dramatically, before he will walk back that statement. They’re saying “wear masks” with the implication that everything else can stay the same if only people will wear masks. Except all of the social cues are saying “there is no need to worry.” So people leave their masks at home.

At the same time I’m worried that the social cues aren’t helping people be appropriately wary about pandemic, I’m noticing the shift in social cues around racial issues. I’m seeing statements made by middle-of-the-road or conservative people which were radical ideas only 2-4 years ago. The social norm has shifted. I’m glad of that. I think that the practice empathizing with the Me Too movement helped. I think the collective thinking required by the pandemic helped. I think the decades-long push for more representation has helped. Different conversations are possible today than were possible just two months ago. The conversations continue to be hard, and so they need to continue for months and years. We can shift the social norms into a place which is more fair.

Social norms and reading the room is also why I’m glad to see the news that the EU isn’t likely to open their borders to Americans any time soon. When my country’s leadership is so far out of step with all the other governments in the world, it takes steps like this to help wake up US citizens so we can vote in better leadership. It will not be comfortable to live in a country that is being censured by other countries, but maybe that is what it takes to change the social cues and create a course shift.

My brain is tired from constantly evaluating all of these shifting norms, from deciding which shifts I want to roll with and which I should stand against. Just being alive in the world requires more thought than it used to. And all that is without even beginning to evaluate the ways that social media allows the creation of illusory norms. If we’re basing our reading of social norms on what the algorithms of social media are choosing to feed us, then our perceptions of our communities become skewed. We feel beleaguered and attacked when few people actually wish each other ill. I don’t have any answers for any of this, I’m just noticing patterns and feeling tired.

Social Shift

I liked the “We’re all in this together” part of the pandemic more than the current stage where it becomes obvious that some people have advantages and others don’t. The governmental choice to release restrictions doesn’t make the choices go away, it just passes them downstream onto individuals. We’ve reached a point where most of the people in my communities are willing to go to small group activities, to attend socially distanced church meetings, to eat out at restaurants. Instead of being able to commiserate with people who are having the same experiences I am, now I’m having to say “No I won’t come. Sorry.” I know in the grand scheme of things, and on the scale of life hardships, this is such a small grief. But it is real and it is mine.

Miracles Unrecognized

In 1854 the pioneers were still new to the Salt Lake valley. They were struggling to grow food in an unfamiliar desert climate with limited resources. The possibility of starvation loomed large. That was when the crickets came in swarms to destroy the crops. The pioneers were in despair when seagulls came in great flocks and devoured the crickets to save the crops. It is a story that is part of the mythology of my people. When it is told in church, the arrival of the gulls is evidence of God’s miracles. I wanted to reference this event in a story I’m writing, so I delved into some first hand sources to see how accurate the commonly told version is. There were swarms on multiple occasions in the early years of settlements in the valley, sometimes crickets, sometimes grasshoppers. There is no doubt that the intervention of gulls helped save crops though perhaps not so dramatically as the retellings say. However the tidbit that fascinated me most was a small notation that for the indigenous peoples of this region it would have been the swarm of crickets that was considered a divine bounty. Insects are packages of protein for people who are willing to eat them. Upon reading that, it amused me to think that God noticed his people struggling, so he sent them crickets, but they weren’t able to comprehend crickets as their mode of salvation, so then God had to send a secondary miracle in the form of Gulls. This is not how I think God actually intervenes, yet the train of thought gives me pause. What if the things we view as the hardships in our lives are the very miracles we need, but it requires us to transform in order to benefit from the miracle?

I’m going to be sitting with this thought and examining its implications relating to the pandemic, system racism, and some personal challenges in my life.