In this update: Invisible stuff I'm working on to make things awesomer for you, how decomposition makes us stronger, and book lists to make holiday shopping a little easier
The Invisible work of decomposition
I showed my partner a few of the project manage tools I use to navigate my executive functioning disabilities and get through the week. He was floored.
Apparently the work I put into getting through the first two hours of every day is more work than he does in a week (he's the CTO of a startup - he does a LOT of work).
He sees my sticky notes on lamps and doors and handles that I use to get out of bed, make myself coffee in the morning, put on my socks, etc. (I have a LOT of these). But I guess the other stuff behind that - the spreadsheets and flow charts and bookmarks and sub-task lists that these sticky notes lead me to have been invisible to him.
We've been together for almost 20 years. He sees the tip of the iceberg, but not my brain working furiously to manage the stuff underneath, the stuff that his neurotypical brain does automatically.
I think this is invisibility of labor is probably pretty normal. Making hard things look easy from the outside, especially if you've been at it for 37 years, that's the stuff of expertise. It's just magnified when living in an unsuitable environment (like being a woman of color in a tech, or an autistic person at a grocery store.)
We all have burdensome assumptions that hold us back from doing awesome stuff. One of mine is that I have to whittle down the stuff I feel compelled to do into digestible chunks for outside consumption.
I used to think I'm not creating enough. When really the problem is that I'm creating too much to tell folks about without overwhelming them. Does that make sense?
If 20% of my energy is spent on learning, progress, and creation, and the other 80% is spent on curating, whittling, and censoring, then gosh - that's a whole lot of good stuff lost in translation.
We need winter compost for a spring burst
So what I'm getting around to with all of this is - a lot of my work for Raising Luminaries is invisible, even though I assume that everyone knows how much behind-the-scenes stuff is going on.
I don't write about a lot of the work I do, mostly because I'm worried readers will get overwhelmed. But also because I just assume you must do it too.
I don't know what it's like to for thinking to be easy. Doesn't everyone spend a hour each Friday setting alarms for the following week so they remember to put pants on? This is my normal.
But in the 2020 spirit of letting things get deliciously messy and chaotically ugly, let's talk about the boring/ugly/tedious behind-the-scenes stuff.
I like the idea of this being a monthly post. Folks who like getting in the weeds with me can read it, and folks who hate infodumps can skip it while they wait for the 'THIS IS ALL DONE!' updates.
Process matters...maybe more than the final result.
Capitalism tells us that products are more important than process. That's silly.
We envisiont kids flying the nest as if we launch them out of our family cocoon into the adult world when kids turn 18, as a mostly-cured human butterfly. Everything between us and our kids before that is like a mysterious metamorphosis. The childhood/cocoon stuff is important and it affects the final butterfly, but we talk about the adult/butterfly as if this is the only stage when the bug matters.
But the process is THE THING. The creature and what it does is important at every stage.
The stuff we do is important at every stage - not just when it's on the shelf shiny and enticing.
We see these processes: caterpillar > cocoon > butterfly, as finite stages. But it doesn't work like that. It's not a POOF kind of set of discrete identities.
There is no 'before' and 'after' to raising our kids, or our relationship with them. It's all goo. It's all important.
The way we consume stuff - particularly digital and consumer stuff, is that there is a 'before' it existed, and then our acquisition of it, and then the 'after' of consuming or discarding it.
But those published 'products' that I'll show you next year - those exist now. Not like, in the pretty butterfly shape curated for easy consumption - they exist right now, in this goo:
- lists of reader-submitted challenges and obstacles - thousands of them, from guardians and educators trying to do right by the kids in their care
- a messy list of books I haven't gotten my grubby hands on yet, mostly filled with stuff I'll later recognize as filler and garbage and problematic cautionary tales
- nonfiction grown-up books I'll need to build a foundation of understanding for my own learning, piled on my nightstand
- every day interactions with my kids as we experiment with these concepts at home, testing, growing, learning, discussing, bedtime cozy-dozy conversations, 2am discussions with my partner about whether or our parenting is helping or harming them
- discussions with parent and teacher and activist friends about how to turn all this learning into praxis
- Bedtime stories together while I discuss these books and concepts with my kids.
- Messy reflections on these interactions and the impact of these lessons days, weeks, years later.
- Hastily scribbled notes on scraps paper and emails to myself, this mishmash of ideas I have in the middle of washing dishes or scraping mold off the bathroom ceiling, before I forget - tiny epiphanies that I'm sure someone else has come to already
- Emails and conversations and messages with people who are in this alongside me, doing their own experiments and research
- Checklists and flowcharts on how to get what is inside my brain (and off that 9" high stack of scrap paper) into a clear and concise booklist or article that will motivate folks to action
- Brainstorms on how to fill in the madlibs of Knowledge + Capability + Urgency = Action to get folks to start with a book and then MOVE THAT TUCHUS
- comments and revisions and hard conversations and continued education on how to refine and adjust and reiterate to improve what I've already published
...and so on. It's cyclical and none of the stuff we ever do is ever a finished final product. It's an ongoing process.
It's not a silent void and then BAM - here is a thing I made for you!
But I am complicit in making it look that way.
It's not x years of childhood goo, and then BAM - we make a semi-reasonable young adult. dust our hands off. get together for the holidays, hope they call on parents' day.
No! What a nightmare that would be! We love these little luminaries forever, and we're in charge of guiding them for the whole thing.
The furiously busy work of composting
I used to think the invisible stuff of breaking down what I've learned so I can nurture the new content I want to send out into the world could be done on the back-burner while I create other stuff
But no. Composting is a busy process. It takes time and care, and billions of tiny bacteria and spores or whatever to attend to it with caring dedication.
In the spirit of respecting the cycles of seasons and progress - last months advice poll, asking what should we focus on in December, turned out some amazing insights from a whole bunch of people.
I did NOT expect the majority of folks to choose 'secretly make the website more accessible' - but your insight in the comments made it so clear on why that was the most natural and effective next step. By focusing on this root thing that feeds the soil, all the other options become more possible. Neat.
If you're curious - here are the results:
- Secretly make the website more accessible: 44%
- Central resource list for all of our content 25%
- Good finds book lists: 14%
- Anti-racism 103: white privilege: 8%
- Radical Cartographers book map: <1%
- Irreverent adventures in digital minimalism: >1%
Winter (at least in this hemisphere) is for composting. Letting the ground settle and the flesh of fruit to decompose. Letting the dead branches break from the trees. Watching out for falling trees 'cause those suckers want to crush you dead.
(Me and nature have a strained relationship.)
If we make the website accessible and easy to navigate, I can create all the other stuff with waaaay less effort, seamlessly integrated and findable on the new website. And it will be much awesomer than it would have been if I had created that content and tacked it on to the body of work we have now, with superglue and buried links in old posts.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out with this. You are so smart.
Decomposition takes time
I am not a patient person. My patronus would be like, one of those busy squirrels who is always running around collecting nuts and ripping up people's gardens to hide acorns and then dig them back up. (We have a lot of disruptive squirrel friends here at Bumblebee Hollow).
So it's...frustrating to wait for our compost bins to rot or whatever it is that they do. But I'm also too busy to do it 'right' - we just chuck all the stuff into a big pile in the yard, and when that pile gets too big, we make a new pile. After 10 years here, our yard is very lumpy with these mounds of semi-cured compost.
But if I took a moment to tend them, they'd convert to soil much faster! So impatient!
So this is the news I'm scared to tell you: When I titled that poll 'things to do in December' I didn't expect ANYONE to select the website thing. Didn't occur to me we'd select something that might take longer than a month.
But doing the website, and doing it right will take a lot longer than one month. So I'm hoping you will be patient with me while I do a lot of behind-the-scenes busywork to make that happen.
Stuff like I did over the last few weeks:
- Brush up on web usability & accessibility practices (I know a lot of stuff from my years as a graphic designer, but my info is 10 outdated at this point.) Research software, plugins, vocabulary, disabilities that make the internet hard to navigate, and so on.
- Learn how to build a website. It looks like I know how to build a website, but I don't! I've actually built all of my websites by randomly clicking buttons and typing bits of code and then checking to see what happens. It's very time consuming. But once I learn the difference between what a 'host' is 'domain' is, and when I figure out how to update the code (?) on the website every morning (while crossing my fingers) without crashing it and panicking, I think I'll have more time left for actually filling the website with content everyone can enjoy.
- Compiled all those bits of scrap paper, mind maps, to-do-lists, emails, and idea flotsam into a wireframe of potential website ideas that incorporates all the stuff people voted for, and asked for over the years - creating a vision of what we could DO together. all the stuff I ever wanted to provide on a central, easily-navigable website. Obviously the final site won't have ALL this stuff, but having those lists of 'wouldn't it be neat if' out into one place so I can start prioritizing them makes the whole process manageable. This is tedious, but it's the only way I can manage my executive functioning when I tackle a project. You should see my cooking recipe flow charts, and my 'getting ready in the morning' flowcharts. it looks a lot like these.
- Crawling the entire internet to create a huge archive list of all the content I've created for Raising Luminaries over the years. It's so disorganized even I've lost track of it.
- Experimenting with no-email December (OH MY GOSH IT IS AMAZING) and creative interventions for trolls on social media. The RL Facebook volunteer moderators have turned what used to be a STRESSFUL AF job into one of manageable 'ugh' and delightful cat-gifs. If you want to join us while we experiment (messily) with new comment policies and creating collaborative social media spaces, come join us.
- Figuring out how to stay financially accountable while also doing this work, which you saw in last week's contribution transparency post/ We lost a few anti-abortion supporters for that one! Which is okay - and is the point! I want you to know where your contributions are going and how I'm executing this work, so there are no secrets that make you uncomfortable. Trust! And it's also safer if we don't have folks who are against a uterus-haver's right to bodily autonomy getting all 'no healthcare - you should die instead'. (True MIL family story!) Safety!
- Finished researching a round of picture books dismantling stereotypes against elders (ageism) and have initiated research on healthy masculinity - we'll be working on this over in the Luminary Brain Trust this month, so Luminary+ supporters, join us there for when I initiate that discussion.
- Came out the other side navigating November - which is a month fraught with stress and micro+macro aggressions against Indigenous people. Teaching our kids and our community how to support the local Indigenous nation (Wampanoag) whose land we are a guest on. While also internally wrestling with the discomfort of being a guest in my own birthplace, with no nation of origin to retreat to.
- Read a few non-picture books - Unidentified Suburban Object, the Ghost Collector, Emergent Strategy (via Rebekah L.), All You Can Ever Know, The Opposite of Everyone, How Long Til Black Futures Month, Mockingbird, Little Fires Everywhere, A Broken Flute, Through Indian Eyes, This Burns My Heart. Some of them were great, some were okay, some were AWFUL.
- Implemented some other micro-resolutions in the pursuit of digital minimalism, in the spirit of decolonization, environmentalism, dismantling white supremacy culture, and social change. Like - don't eat in front of screens! Lock my browser! Find alternative ways to put out urgent e-fires!
- Started looking into the latest round of picture books about progressive winter holidays
- Continued our Pod community series, as well as weekend open threads, over in the Luminary Brain Trust. Also some venting posts, because this month has been full of de-regulating potholes
- Dealt with the process of biased and dehumanizing disability assessments for one of the Earthquakes. trying to get him what he needs while also refusing to remain complicit in a system that harms kids with disabilities.
I really wanted to talk about composting this week, BUT the holiday gift-giving season is fast approaching. And I don't want to flood your inboxes with a billion posts. So I'll tack these helpful booklists on here, so you can use them as quick and easy resources to make your gift-shopping a little easier this week. Below, good gift books:
- Books for little leaders
- Diverse & delightful Santa origin stories
- Christmas stories - new
- Book + Toy pairings (even bibliophile kids can find book gifts a little underwhelming) gift sets
- Counting & Numbers - new. This isn't a gift list, it's just a list I made this week, and I wanted to let you know it exists now.
- Books normalizing girls of color
- Black women & nonbinary #OwnVoices books
- Feminist western dragon tales
- Booklists by age (super incomplete!)
- Inuit stories - These aren't holiday based, but something about the coooooldness of these stories pairs well with us during the winter. Be forewarned Inuit stories are SUPER METAL, and some will give sensitive kids nightmares.
You know what is awesome - and way easier, now that I'm not dealing with email? I genuinely have the spoons to deal with comments and feedback on these posts! EAGER.
So let me know what you think of all this messy behind-the-scenes stuff. Is it helpful? Boring? Overwhelming?
If you have questions about ANY of this stuff - leave a comment. I am eager to infodump more about it. And to incorporate your feedback into how we move forward with this winter's website metamorphosis.
I'll be back next week with an advice poll - once I've compiled ALL THE THINGS I'd like to implement on the website, I'll need your help prioritizing and narrowing our options so we don't spread too thin and lose the mission.