My “I 💙 Mom” tattoo

This is part of a series on my Santa Perpetua tattoos. You can read the rest in the tattoo category on this blog.

I loved my first tattoo from Santa Perpetua so much I knew I wanted to get more, and that we had just started a long journey together1. So the next thing I wanted to do was to find a way to find a cohesive visual story across my existing tattoos, to pull the new style in with. This felt like a mildly bold thing to ask a tattooist to do – connect their work to existing work, without a live collaboration with the other artist(s).

This is my shortest entry in this series because it is the most private one for me.

Looking at Willow's back, reflected in a mirror. We see blue water color tattoos with a bit of purple, plus some black circuit lines going to the ASCII hex code already on their back. There is some blue hardy on their shoulders from run-off during a bike ride.
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Maze of existence

I want to tell you the story of some of the art I carry with me. I want to tell you about Santa Perpetua.

I first got started getting tattoo’d back in maybe 2014, despite my parents’ best intentions. The first thing I ever got tattoo’d was “Death is the road to awe”1 in ASCII hexadecimal down my spine because 1/ I couldn’t get the phase out of my head2, 2/ “death” is change in the tarot, and what is wrong with that, anyway, and 2/ encoding it in ASCII hex would mean that even if my feelings on the quote changed over time, no one could really call me on it.

It was, it ends up, the beginning of a long journey.

The first couple tattoos of hex code were from a total weirdo in my college town I’ll always remember fondly. The ensuing few were from a generally lovely gent in Seattle who was exceptional and exact about lettering and numbers. But I wanted something more – our few forays into creativity left something lacking. At some point I realized I had been following Santa Perpetua online via tattoo blogs for a handful of years, and that I could just, you know, go get a tattoo from her if I was willing to travel for it. 

The backs of some very pale legs with blue shoes, and a watercolor tattoo with a tree, a maze, and skeletons on it on the back of the left leg from ankle to disappearing under a dress.
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Preparing the neighborhood

As y’all probably know, I got married, moved to the suburbs, and had a kid. Because I’m figuring out how to be involved in local politics, I joined the neighborhood association (not an HOA). But I’m still thinking about crisis response. So the natural combination of these things was to get involved in preparedness in my neighborhood. The association has an open meeting twice a year, and I requested that the one last month be focused on disaster preparedness.

We first heard from the city emergency manager. We’re a mid-sized city in the shadow of both SF and Oakland. We have about 100k people who live here, and have 5 public works employees and 80 police. Our fire department is “on lease,” whatever that means (I didn’t want to completely derail the presentation with a deep dive into this) (also, why we prioritize having our own police but not our own fire people is beyond me). The message in this presentation was the same that I’ve heard elsewhere: folks really need to be able to fend for themselves for the first 72 hours. We were told about a risk map (state and neighborhood) and the basics of being prepared (have predetermined emergency contacts; store water, food, and other supplies). The city representative told us about their main issue being how to get the word out – emergency alerts don’t seem to be getting the job done (again, I want to know more about that), so she suggested we sign up for a thing called NIXLE alerts (text your zip to 888-777) that works if the cell towers are up. Radio is still used. We have sirens in my town, but they don’t work. 

We also have resilience hubs in my town, and we heard about them from a college intern for the program. These centers keep racial equity in mind when approaching quality of life year-round. The disparity even in the urban tree canopy was called out – more affluent neighborhoods have more trees, which also means they’re cooler in heat waves. Their goal is to help groups “bounce forward” in climate adaptation. Their programming has a few arms – Community Care and Belonging, Disaster Preparedness, Climate Solutions, and Equity – during everyday, disruption, and recovery times. They also strive to have great buildings that can be useful in crisis; plus communications, power systems, and operations abilities (including conflict resolution protocols). I am clearly stoked about all this.

After hearing from the two speakers, I asked attendees to break into smaller groups and talk about what they would like to see happen in our specific neighborhood, and what questions they still had. This was amusing – the attendees hadn’t been asked to be participants beyond taking a mic to speak to a board in the past – but we got some good results! Based on the feedback folks had, I’m going to work with a small group to put together a risk and resource map of our neighborhood for our next Chili Cookoff and BBQ in August, which folks can add themselves to as resources. I’d also like to privately start collecting names and addresses of at-risk neighbors for block captains to check in on during the next heat wave or earthquake or whatever. At the same event, we’ll probably do a prize for the best go bag, and hawk this phenomenal guide another neighbor has put together for preparedness called Here Comes the Apocalypse. I am delighted by this fun visual guide and hope you check it out. I hope Jen and I get to be friends, because she’s brilliant for this.

It’s exciting to merge two things I’m so passionate about – the disaster cycle and my neighborhood. Fingers crossed we never need it, but if we do, we’ll be more ready than we would have been otherwise.

Formal/Informal Crisis Response birthday party

A couple weeks ago was my 40th birthday. And as you may know, I occasionally throw conferences for my birthday party (CatCon in 2013 & 2016, Animal Talks in 2020, and governance structures in 2022). This year I did the same, focusing an intimate group on the interface between formal and informal groups in crisis response. You know, my jam

I was graced with the presence of John Crowley, Liz Barry, Joseph Pred, Evan Twarog, Suzanne Frew, and Schuyler Erle. I will forever be so grateful to these folks for showing up to share their brains and hearts on this topic. 

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Trauma without regret

We have a tendency, at least in this culture, to celebrate the shit we had to go through if we like where we ended up. Or we’re happy with where we are if it was hard to arrive at. This seems to be slipping – pushback against “I had to pay off my student loans, so you should have to, too” as an example – but it’s still tempting to do when making sense of a personal journey.

Being a birthing parent has left me with my own little bundle of trauma. While I won’t go into details (if you want them, ask for the password to this entry), in short: being nonbinary while interacting with a medical system that insists on calling me “mama” in every interaction, delivering 2 months early via emergency c-section while alone because of covid restrictions, spending a month in the NICU, not bonding for the first LONG while, and then surviving Reed’s PPD was a Bad Time. I was exhausted. My career was set back significantly. My relationship with Reed was damaged. It was hard to not think about those things when trying to care for Locke.

Slowly, through Reed’s and my commitment to each other, an understanding leadership team at work, and my own tenacity for making things different even if I’m not always sure it will be better, things are back on track. Home life is excellent. Locke is in preschool and thriving. I’m being given interesting challenges at work again and rising to the occasion.

Now that things are predictably good on most axes of my life, I decided it was time to look into that trauma. I’ve been seeing a specialist in birthing parent trauma for ketamine-assisted therapy. It’s an effective setup and I’m making gains into understanding myself, the trauma, and how to meet moments and people as what they are rather than the baggage previously associated with them.

Doing the work has NOT been fun. I am sad and testy again. Reed and I are having long, heart-felt conversations about topics that had seemed resolved. I’m having to own up to which parts of the traumatic experiences could have been avoided if I, say, advocated harder for myself; and which are really circumstantial and not an area of growth for me. I am both finding my power and being made painfully aware of how little in this world I control.

While I love my life and my child and my family now, what we went through to get here was not ok and I don’t have to say it was ok or worth it. I do not regret where I have ended up, and also the journey to get here was untenable. I don’t think I’m a better person for it.

2023 in review

This will be my ninth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about the years since 2015 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my goals for 2022.

The phrase for this year was consistency. I like my life, and I’d like to continue making small improvements but holding steady on the things I’ve figured out. I did an ok job at this – with some slip-ups, but also needing to appreciate where I did a good job.

This year had some extreme ups and some extreme downs. It also felt like it was a solid foray into what life looks like with a kid – traveling some (but not as much as I used to), reengaging with work after a rough restart, and really getting into spending time with the family.

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Where the Internet went Wrong

The Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society had its 25 year reunion this past week. I spent two years with BKC, one as an affiliate and one as a fellow. Between that and being at the Center for Civic Media, I had some of the most stimulating years of my life to date. My understanding of the world and my place in it transformed to something more nuanced but also more powerful. And while I’ve lost touch with some of the folks, many of us still talk.

At the reunion, things were generally framed as past, present, future; with the breakout groups and lunch convenings I loved in my time there. The main thread that came out through most of the conversations, was “what did we get wrong?” Or perhaps in our more gracious moments, “what have we learned?” In that context, there were a few recurring themes in the circles I ran in for the 2 days of the conference:

  • Defending free speech and exclusion of regulating speech didn’t land us where we expected
  • Lack of intersectionality and limiting who has a seat at the table has constrained what we can learn and do
  • Influence in law and regulation not transferring sufficiently to market forces left us with blind spots.
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The expression of anger

One of my characteristics I’m most proud of is how even-keeled I am. It served me well in disaster response, it’s served me well in interpersonal dynamics, it’s served me well at work. But it wasn’t always the case – I was a very angry child, and I’ve had to actively learn to be calm through self-discipline, meditation, and empathy.

I had good examples in this – I have never heard either of my parents so much as raise their voices. The only slammed doors in the house were from my brother or me being angry, and then getting grounded for it. We are good Midwestern quiet people.

However, now, when I get angry, I immediately shift into must-win-at-all-costs-including-being-mean mode. I may be quiet, but I can be a cutting jerk.

I don’t trust a relationship until I’ve been in a disagreement with the person. How people navigate a misunderstanding or difficulty, and whether or not they can fight fair with each other, is vital to me knowing if a relationship is sustainable or not. So when Reed and I had our first disagreement, it was interesting. He is a big dude, and he emotes a LOT. (This is one of the many reasons why I love him – he cannot hide how he is actually doing, so I have no anxiety about anticipating what’s going on with him.) This didn’t scare me, as I can handle myself physically (he would never actually hurt anyone, but it can still be scary to have a big human waving their arms with a raised voice). And when I got mean, he responded with “do you really mean that?” which I didn’t. So we enable the other person to fight fair with us. It works out well.

But as our relationship continued on, I started to judge Reed more for his expression of anger. He would slam doors, yell (not at me or anyone else), and stomp. It seemed like a loss of control to me. Initially, I thought it was just the price of admission and I could deal with it. But when we had a kid, I didn’t want the behavior modeled. In talking about it, Reed also didn’t want the holding in of anger (and just getting mean instead) to be modeled for Locke. So we had to figure something out.

In talking to my therapist, friends, and Reed more, the consensus has been that expressing anger, so long as it isn’t directed at someone, is actually healthy. My Midwestern sensibilities are shook.

So for Reed, we have a ranked list of things that are always ok to do, things that are on me to try to work on being ok with, things that should really be avoided, and things that are never ok. He’s done a good job of adhering to the list, and now instead of responding to him expressing anger with “please stop doing that,” I say something like “thank you for picking from the top of the list.” For me, I’m working on muttering angry things when no one can hear, and writing angry emails but not sending them. We’re both making progress at meeting each other.

It still feels like a loss of control, but also just being quiet jerk when I’m angry isn’t a reasonable reaction, either. Eager to hear more thoughts on this topic if anyone has them.

2022 in review

This will be my eighth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about the years since 2015 if so desired. They are inspired by Tilde, who has taught me that it can be a Good Thing to remember what the last year has been like. Many of the headers in this post are based on my goals for 2021.

The phrase for this year was neighborliness, as I settled into being a home owner, the life of a parent, and simply shifting focus from showing up for people far away to showing up for people nearby.

A donut of data about how Willow spent their time in 2022. 3401 hours on sleep, 4484 at home, 209 on work, 108 on a bicycle, 75 on transport, 40 in a car, 37 on a motorcycle, etc.
Where I spent my time in 2022

I felt pretty boring this year – I can’t talk about work, I like riding bikes for the meditative values and not because of bike minutia, and babies are frankly pretty boring. But I did do a significant amount of work on myself, and feel stable in my life. And hey, I actually met all my goals for the year.

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Hosting Aleks and Viktoriia

It all came down to this: they needed space, and we had space.

The longer version is this: I had always wanted to host either refugees or LGBTQI+ displaced youth. But I had been traveling too much, and/or living in community housing with only a small space to call my own. When Reed and I got together, I thought it would be off the table indefinitely – Reed has many great characteristics, but flexibility is not one of them. Having other humans in our home would have been too difficult. Getting on the same page about cast iron is a network effects problem, after all.

But then something about the Russian/Ukrainian war broke his heart open, and he said to me one day “we have space, and they need space. We should host a family.” We have a large house – Reed and I both have bedrooms and our own offices, generally a necessity for two extreme introverts to be successful in the long run. We agreed he would move into my bedroom, and we would offer up his to whoever moved in with us. We knew it would be hard on us (doing this with an infant, while we juggle childcare and my return to office, for instance), but we agreed it was the right thing to do.

So Reed started investigating. There was a program the US Government was offering where you could expedite Ukrainian entry to the US by agreeing to sponsor them for 2 years – a place to live, cover their financial needs, etc – but it assumed you already knew them and were paired with them. The issue was too new for many organizations to be offering to pair folks up, and those that existed hadn’t been vetted yet. We finally found Nova Ukraine and registered with them to host a family. We were open to up to two adults and two children, so long as they would be ok in the single (quite large) room. We thought that’s what we could manage financially and chaos-wise. Instead we got paired up with a young couple, Aleks and Viktoriia, and a few days later they moved in with us. They had only been in America for a few days at that point, and wanted to try out being in California.

The difficulties we had with them were all good problems. After a few days, they made it clear they wanted to help with the house – something I was initially vehemently against as their staying with us was not contingent on them doing labor for us, but they made it clear it was about autonomy and contributing as equals. We also agued in a friendly way about our paying them for taking care of Locke or the cats – it is labor, and also they love them and like spending time with them.

Frankly, we don’t know if it’s possible to have been happier with who we were paired up with. We shared many meals together, we found a good balance of taking care of the house together, we all doted on the cats, and we were all quiet folks who were willing to take care of cast iron pans the same way.

The hardest part was perhaps that Reed and I don’t have a car, and there were many things Aleks and Viktoriia wanted to go see or experience, including ESL adult learning classes that were far away. We first loaned them our Bromptons as they’re easily adapted to various heights. Eventually, we went to Rivendell to test ride some bikes to show them what actual bicycles are like, and they loved it! So Reed sourced some bicycle frames and parts from the community, and I paid for anything that needed to be bought, and he built them up two bicycles for their own use. And then they took to it immediately – going for rides regularly, and even being game to ride to San Ramon for ice cream (a relatively serious ride it took me months of riding to get into condition for).

But their true dream was to live in LA, not some suburb in the Bay Area. So after their working papers came in (something I helped expedite by navigating bureaucracy), they found a new set of folks to stay with down there while they find employment and then move into their own place. We’re excited to visit them once they’re all settled. We miss them regularly, and we’re also happy to be back to our normal routines and space. I can pee with the door open again!

If you have the space, please consider sharing. It’s both a huge thing, and not a thing at all.