A Thousand Tiny Loops

We get a thousand tiny checks a day that keep us from being jerks to each other. Someone grimacing at the joke you’re about to make, blog entries from Captain Awkward, twinkles and blocks at a meeting. Some of these are empathetic – knowing how you feel when someone looks at their phone when you are talking might deter you from doing the same to someone else. Some are explicit – mailing list rules you agree to when signing up. Generally, there’s little chance of you doing something super awful if you’re surrounded by good people, and invested in learning about the world and your role in it. This is part of how we society. This is part of why and how we social movement.

encountering people and other interactions with social contracts make path-finding easier.

encountering people and other interactions with social contracts make path-finding easier.

 

When those checks aren’t working

Given my incredibly limited understanding of the autism spectrum, it seems that some of these feedback loops simply aren’t able to be processed by some folk. But there is a thing which I do know about where the ability to care about the check-back, adjusting part of the feedback loop breaks down. Let me take you into the brain of a manic person. IE, me.

Being hypo-manic (slightly manic most of the time) is like having a super power. I have a ridiculous amount of energy and drive. I will joyfully get things done that many might find insurmountably daunting. My response to chaotic no-win scenarios is to role my sleeves up and get going. I tend to think, that in one week: giving a talk, teaching a class, moderating a multi-hour discussion, spending time with people I love, and still pulling 40 hours of standard work of all sorts of rad projects and foundation-building is maybe not actually as productive as I would have liked to have been.

The stiletto of this persistent silver lining is that it also means, occasionally, feedback loops quit being as such during severe manic episodes. Social understandings I’ve agreed to, upheld, even helped create just… quit mattering. Explicit agreements are left to the wayside in enthusiasm to enact SOMETHING WHICH IS GOING TO BE TOTALLY AMAZING. Everything is going to be fine! The people I have those agreements with will understand this change in plan! Have some faith in me, while I trample your ability to be a consenting adult in this situation! In short, my brain’s connection between action and consequence (not just to me, but to anyone involved) is broken.

the only thing that matters during a manic episode is that thing you've decided you want to do.

the only thing that matters during a manic episode is that thing you’ve decided you want to do.

I’ve experienced a grand total of 2 episodes severe enough to merit people calling me out in ways I couldn’t ignore in that state, and the subsequent depressive crash while I figure out what to do about still being a person of integrity even when I am not myself is pretty fucking mind-melting as well. Which is where I am right now.

The fallout

After the episode collapses, the fallout is the most sickening experience in the world. People and projects I love have been exposed to injury by the same mechanism which I advocate for the hardest otherwise — our ability and desire to build greater things together than we could on our own.

To see an episode after it has passed is to be alienated from one’s self. To lack any connection, empathy, or understanding for who I was in a moment (or moments); in the same way my other-self had lacked any connection, empathy, or understanding for those I cared about in those moments. Of course I know better. I not only try to demonstrate how people can Suck Less, I try to provide scaffolding for such as well. How could I have done this thing that I help others know not to do?

Despite that disconnect, I’ve still found it vital to be accountable to my actions. “It wasn’t me” isn’t an excuse I wish to explore. It was me, some strange, terrifying part of myself that I don’t understand and that I’d rather didn’t show up at all. I can only hope that owning up to these glitches in my brain-system can rebuild the trust I destroy in those moments. I feel like I’m picking up the pieces after a destructive family member I can’t help but love has wrecked havoc across a project I love. “That was not ok,” other people say. “I know,” I respond. Because I do.

This is a process

Selfishly, I want us to figure out how to deal with people like me. People committed to causes, with (hopefully meaningful) things to offer on a pretty solid ongoing basis. But people who also cannot be 100% trusted all of the time.

Yes, I see someone about this. Yes, I sometimes take things to help regulate it. But I’m more interested in society’s take, as always. We’re starting to have dialogues about depression – how to signal it, how to take care of ourselves and others, etc… and we need to keep figuring those things out. I’d like this to get figured out, too.

None of us is perfect. None of us should be. Dealing with our flaws in healthy ways is yet one more way we build futures better than our selves. 

Adventures with the TSA

In the last month, I’ve had two interesting experiences with the TSA. Both times, the airline ended up saving the day. I’m writing this not as a “LOOK HOW BAD THIS HAS BECOME!” as I have friends in targeted demographics as well as friends on lists who consistently get detained, and they already write far more eloquently and intimately about that side of things than I could wish to. This is more a “look at what this is like, for someone who is socially aware but also not in a tracking system” (that I know of).

What’s in a Name?

The back issue on my end is this: I like my first name, but it’s not my social name – that’s “Willow,” my middle name. I have no desire to change my names, especially not to simply make the job the state has taken on easier. This means, when I travel internationally, my full name is listed with the airline from my passport, which also means my frequent flier programs have FIRST MIDDLE LAST. Which means when I book an intra-continental flight, my FIRST LAST shows up, while MIDDLE LAST are on all of my locally-relevant IDs (driver’s license, credit cards, academic IDs, etc). I have usually just brought an ID which indicates my first initial, and everything’s dandy.

This hasn’t been an issue until the last two months, when it has suddenly become enough of a red flag that merits extensive measures be taken that I’m not a dangerous person. Which means going through all of my stuff and a thorough pat down. Which is often used as a threat, not as a heads up. As someone who has consistently opted out of scanners which can store and transmit images of your body (and therefore into pat-downs) for the past 5 years of heavy travel, I’m pretty acquainted with the less aggressive version of this process. I asked to see the policy stating that they had a right to touch me, based on my name. TSA informed me that no one is allowed to see their policies, and to please wait on a supervisor.

A gold sticker replicates a TSA-agent's badge and reads "TSA Team Boston, Junior Officer" with the Department of Homeland Security emblem and eagles all over the place.I waited. And waited. My flight began to board. I was still on the other side of security. Finally, I went to the airline desk and told them what was going on, and they changed the name on the ticket to match the ID I had on hand. I made my flight. I’m not sure if the airline did a legal thing, so I’m not naming them, but holy shit am I grateful.

Victory point: the TSA staff felt so badly about their process and supervisor being so shitty that they gave me a junior TSA agent sticker. To which Jenbot responded “You’re just two more pasties away from the world’s funniest private screening.”

Nonconsensual Pat Downs!

Last night had significantly less humor. I, for once, went for the full-body scan thing. My emotional fortitude to opt out of every process is slowly being worn down, which just pisses me off even more. I hate rolling over and showing my belly, but I also hate being touched by strangers who think I’m a fucking villain 3+ times a month. The scan showed an “anomaly in my pants” (lulz), and the female-identified TSA agent started patting me down before verbal acknowledgement nor even eye contact were made. I stopped her, saying I hadn’t consented to a pat down, at which point she indicated the anomaly and stated a pat-down needed to happen. I said I understood, but I hadn’t yet consented. She asked if there was going to be a problem, I said “with you touching me without my consent? Yes.” She then deployed the mantra of “going through all of my stuff and a thorough pat down,” but this time with about 3 additional TSA agents, a manager, and 2 federal officers around me, with them holding onto my stuff.

I balked. I’d rather spend another night where I was than deal with this (I was in a lovely place with lovely people). They tried to take my ID to scan it for a report I wouldn’t see. I instead put on my boots, got my bags (they didn’t resist my taking my things, but they also didn’t make it clear in any way it was possible), and walked towards the airline counter to sort things out. As I was walking away, one of the federal officers told me in a surprisingly friendly tone that if I attempted to make it through a different security line that night, I would be arrested and criminal charges pressed against me.

The airline informed me that I could use the ticket’s cost towards a future flight, but that they couldn’t book me on another flight the next day free of charge. That was between me and the TSA. I went back to the security line and talked with state officers, the TSA manager, and their manager about my general work, large-scale conflict resolution, sexual assault survivors, trans friends, and the TSA’s lack of empathy and effectiveness. I should have left the last part out, but I was pissed off. They allowed me to go through the process that night, if I were willing to go through the pat-down and stuff-going-through. And fuck it, my going home was more important in that moment than my civil liberties. And yes, I’m also well aware that basically no other demographic would have been able to have this privilege (because while it was personally deeply uncomfortable and not ok, it was still a systemic privilege to be able to have a re-do).

A friend who happened to be in the airport at the same time (small world is small) had seen some of this happening, and waited past security for me to be sure everything was all right. I’m deeply thankful for this act of kindness and manifestation of social fabric. Also that the TSA manager enacted the pat-down, as a personalized moment of “I know I’m a part of a fucked up system.” I made it through security at the core of the airport just as my flight was meant to be taking off in a peripheral gate, but I jogged to my gate anyway. And the goddamn airline held an entire flight for 15 minutes just so I could still get out that night. So much gratitude.

Internal Consistency is How the Terrorists Win, Apparently

It’s worth noting here that I fly a fair amount. I also tend to detect patterns and systems fairly well. I dread the inevitable next agent-splaining of how TSA policies work, which are always attempts to be kind and to let me in on “how things work,” but are never remotely consistent. Fuck you. The haphazard nature of enforcement has little to do with “let’s keep ’em guessing!” and far more to do with “what equipment is working today and what rules we’ve been chop-busted about most recently.”

Which Just Adds To…

The cycle we’re caught up in right now does little to nothing to “catch the terrorists” (which is also just slapping a band-aid on a gaping wound of systemic problems) and a whole lot in further ostracizing and demeaning historically marginalized demographics.

I have no idea what to do with this – the work I can’t not do (for passion, for frustration, for specialization) merits traveling a fair amount. The people I love are a distributed lot. But I also can’t handle instances like this happening too much more before… something has to change. Me, or it.

Here’s something I used to do a lot more, and which now I’ve been worn down out of doing, so I can still have emotional capacity for other things I care about. And that also pisses me off.

Accessibility


While I’ve long been interested in Cochlear Implants, a combination of consistently reading Mel Chua’s blog and my ongoing fights for space for visual expression on Wikimedia Commons has reinforced my investment in accessibility. The more ways we express ourselves, after all, the more chances we have of being understood.

While it’s great to be aware of a need to become more accessible (see Benetech’s Diagram or this talk at Cascadia.JS by Alex Qin), it’s a bit more difficult to figure out if you’re “doing it right” when attempting to become more accessible. I have the terrible habit of adding in footnotes, or of linking things thoroughly, which can disrupt the text-to-speech experience. Sorry, everyone.

The most basic step I’ve taken is adding the “Accessibility plug in” on WordPress. Then, based on feedback from Twitter, running Apple Voice Over, which shows I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s also far better than it was in the past. I now think I get things just well enough to realize when I’m making layout choices balancing visual appeal and audio accessibility.

I have started taking audio recordings for some of my entries, and I’ll continue to slowly flesh this out. Additionally, some image descriptions are now far more detailed and… poetic?… than they have been before, as inspired by discussion with Diagram at Aspiration’s DevSummit. If you have requests for either image descriptions or audio files, please let me know. This has the added benefit of reminding people there’s a real live person behind the entries on this blog, stumbling speech and all.

But I still don’t know if I’m “doing it right.” How do I find out? I feel strangely like someone stumbling on social justice… is it on people already marginalized to lead me to doing things less wrong? Regardless, I’ll keep bumbling along on my own, open to learning more.

You belong to society

I’ve been unable to continue ignoring a notion that most people I see in online debates about gender1 carry, which is that those in these debates do not think they impact society, and subsequently have no individual responsibility towards it. It is simply a soup of which they are a part, where they are a stone — immutable to the broth around them, of no consequence to the overall flavor.

Let’s talk about emergence, here from the Complex Systems perspective, as the interaction between the parts and the whole. “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” as not being able to see the big picture because one is so focused on the next-scale-down of units (trees), despite these composing the next-larger-up scale (forest). Each has different behaviors, which slightly or drastically effects the other. Or, “the devil is in the details,” in which the opposite happens, the smaller-scale being skipped over while the next-larger-scale is focused on. You’ll note that these things matter to each other. They influence each other. In many circumstances, these two scales are caught up in creating each other in at least some small way2. To claim that one is more important than the other glazes over this connection. Plus, the math doesn’t work out right.

Let’s talk about values. I would like a just and equal world. I bet most of the people I talk to would also like some version of this. Some folk hold other amazing core values such as inclusion or empowerment. Here’s the thing to understand: anyone you interact with3 will be holding something like this inside of them. Maybe not so explicitly, maybe not as an active part of their interactions, but it is there.

Let’s talk about fault. The people that got us to where we are now were doing the best they could under the circumstances. Maybe some were malicious, but generally. they were just surviving. People in power tend to want to continue doing well. People who are out of power generally make do, though they’re likelier to have a generally more shitty time. Inequality makes both sets unhappy. It’s not the fault of the people in power that the structures which allow them to be in power exist; it’s not the fault of those out of power that they were born into a setting that keeps them out of power.

Let’s talk about responsibility. While no one currently alive is to blame for history, we are currently building the next generation’s history. Hell, we’re building our own. And we have a responsibility to act in a way which upholds our values, rather than shirks responsibility as bizarrely tied to fault. I don’t want to take the responsibility to respond kindly to this person because their upset is not my individual fault. I don’t want to help clean up after dinner because not all the plates are my fault. I don’t want to take responsibility for mending the rifts in society because they’re not my fault4.

In each of these, it is not just what you are asking for yourself, but what you are changing in the people around you. When a child is being surly, and a parent reacts badly because a nerve got struck5, the wrong lesson is being imparted. It’s not about the parent’s feelings in that moment. It’s about how the child learns how to react to someone expressing their feelings in a not-yet-eloquent way6.

Sometimes taking on this responsibility to society means shutting up, even when you’re right. Sometimes taking on this responsibility means speaking up, even when your voice trembles. Sometimes this means cleaning the common area, even though you haven’t even been around for the past week. It means having differences and resolving them in a way that makes sense for future generations to also resolve them, even if you’re not happy with the results.

When anyone says “my individual experience matters more in this moment than how we as a society deal with moments like these” I see them as throwing a tiny tantrum rather than building a better world. It’s not their fault. Why should they have to do anything to fix it? This is why I continue to think Laurie’s piece is so great and I get filled with rage and bile at StarSlateCodex. This is why I find GamerGaters outright laughable7. This is why I find some of my geek feminism friends so aggravating at points7. In all of this, I see why they’re saying what they’re saying. Of course those feelings are valid. But that’s not the whole point, is it?

Get our shit together. Focus on where we want to be, and manifest that in each interaction we have. This is what I assume most people are doing, and why I’m now so comfortable saying “I don’t like how we’re doing this, can we try another way?”

I don’t like how we’re doing this. Let’s find another way.

 

1. And race, now, too!
2. Exceptions of pragmatic lock-and-key example, and the theoretical molecule representation of same self model.
3. With incredibly rare exception, not based on if you get along with them or not.
4. Are you fucking kidding me, this is how we get ants.
5. children can be astute little fuckers
6. I am in no way claiming to be amazing at this, merely that I am aware of, and subsequently actively working on, it.
7. “You need to listen to me!” they say, while not listening.

Expressions of Solidarity

Aside

I wonder if, what Scott means, in this whole storm recently, is actually:

“Your struggle is my struggle. While I had a really rough time growing up, it must have been just as hard for people like me, and even harder for those facing structural oppression. I want to fight these systems with you. When you say I’m ‘privileged,’ I feel like my experience is being discounted and it makes it difficult for me to be in solidarity with you.”

I feel like this is what Laurie is asking for. I know it’s what I would ask for.

Teaching People to Fish

When people tell me that Cartesian systems are optimized, I want to laugh. Of course they are, but we’ve optimized for the bits we know about. We’ve focused on optimization of output, not on optimization of adaptability. And the Quest for the Upper Right Quadrant (aka Capitalism, aka the Singularity, aka any overly simplistic idea of infinite growth and eventual overall simplicity) is always about output. In systems in which the power distribution is also hierarchical (aka, the ones we’ve got), people are not empowered to deviate from set tasks to cover those unknown parts. This is why the idea of innovation and entrepreneurship is so fraught. To some, it’s about empowering for adaptability and connection, for gap filling. For others, it’s about hurry up faster to that upper right.

Which brings us to this article I referenced a bit ago as abhorrent.


The following comments are worth looking at, as well.

Please Do Not Teach This Woman to Fish

After all, which economy is more productive — one in which every single person is an entrepreneur, or one in which a minority of entrepreneurs employ the majority of people?

To understand why, consider a common-sense question: How big can a business be in a rural village? There aren’t many customers there, and incomes aren’t very high either. A business would have to serve several villages to start creating jobs in any significant numbers. Now, consider rural women with families. They may be reliable repayers of loans, but they’re much less mobile than single men. Single men can move to cities, or at least cover a lot of ground in the countryside, in an effort to win new customers.

Of course, these jobs won’t always go to the rural women helped by microfinance programs. Microfinance programs may be one of the best ways to help them, short of having their children take jobs in cities. Nor are these jobs necessarily the ones that fulfill the social goals in the mission statements of Western nonprofit organizations. But they are the kinds of jobs that brought hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and could someday do the same for Indians, Haitians, and Congolese. In these countries, the quickest way to escape poverty is likely to be via bus to the nearest city for a manufacturing job. Hundreds of millions of economic migrants know this, but so-called antipoverty experts are just beginning to understand it.

Two things in this that bring out my “are you fucking kidding me” reaction.

  1. I find it distracting and ridiculous when untenable living situations are equated to financial poverty, and focus only on the funds, not on the conditions which the funds MIGHT alleviate. It’s possible to work and still be miserable. Wage labor rant. Being slowly crushed by capitalism (or communism!) rant. Capitalism is but one way to attempt to interact, not the only way. Sure, it’s good at propagating ideas quickly, at fast iteration, etc, but too often it leads to:
  2. The idea that we have a hierarchy as a necessity in any business. That there are employers, and there are those who do the shit jobs to keep things running. We are all humans, we are all equal, and it is just as possible to find joy and honor (or misery and bitterness) in driving a taxi or gutting fish as it is to find the same in leading a multinational business or making the internet work. To insist otherwise is to discredit the experience of millions (billions?) of people. To want to reinforce the idea that those jobs are actual shit is to actively demean everyone doing them.

No business, organization, relationship is dependent upon power structures being in place, where some work is “more important” than other work. A business, organization, and relationship where all parties are encouraged and expected to examine, innovate, and contribute is one which is adaptable and successful. It is one which is scalable in a complex and networked world. So yes, teach that woman to fish. Better yet, ask her to teach you. She’ll catch more than you ever will, with all your business and economics training.

editor’s note: While this entry was initially posted as password-to-view in September of 2014, I made it publicly viewable on April 22nd, 2016. I did this because 1) the court case with Diggz is now settled and GWOB is the rightful owner of its collateral, 2) I had made it clear that Diggz should only ever contact me again if he had gone through an abuser- or substance-abuse-recovery program. He violated this boundary a few months ago, and while I don’t have the bandwidth to take legal action against him, 3) I am in a stable enough place that I feel like I can cope any potential fallout from this. I do not want this to become A Big Thing, I’m just wanting to be sure my truth is in the public record.

I really hadn’t wanted to write this. This is one thing I really didn’t want to have to learn in public about. Because it’s without the consent of all involved. It’s not giving props to someone. But it’s been terrible, and now have people and something I care deeply about under attack. Obviously, this is the story of one person, and I’m sure it differs from other takes. Get those stories if you can, discretely, and be sure you’ve read to the end before doing so, so you can understand my concerns. Here goes.

When we tell the story of Geeks Without Bounds, it’s always about Diggz talking about (then) Geeks Without Borders at Gnomedex, right after my speaking about Transhumanism, and us sitting down to lunch together and talking about how to actually make it happen. He helped be sure it could be funded through Tropo, which is an organization full of incredible and gifted people. We went on tour to ask people in hacker and maker spaces what they would want to see out of an organization like GWOB, how they would want to help the world be a better place. It was a month on the road after just meeting someone, and we didn’t talk for 3 months afterwards.

Part of that was because there were attentions he directed at me, which I very clearly indicated were unwelcome. Hotel rooms with shared beds (an issue I’ve never experienced discomfort with, when involving friends, near-strangers, unstated crushes, etc because most people in this world understand that “not interested” transfers to the whole shebang, not just the current thread of interaction) became uncomfortable after boundaries were drawn but not-quite-respected. He dropped it, but brooded. I was just glad to be home.

After a few months had passed, we picked things back up. We wanted to keep building GWOB. But an unhealthy trend formed: about once a quarter, Diggz would indicate interest. I would decline, and we would have long, heart-felt conversations about relationships, love, desire, etc. He seemed to be getting a lot from the conversations, growing, being accepting (as proven by his change in attitude around non-heteronormativity). But always, a few days later, I would get explosive phone calls and emails about how everything in the set up wasn’t working, that he was going to fix it, that I needed to get out of the way or be run over, that he was going to pull funding. At first, I would be upset – what was he talking about?! How dare he act so arbitrarily. But this was also accompanied by his pulling hard with me for the thing we both cared about, and getting it funded, and supporting my broke ass while all that was being worked out. I realize in writing this just how abusive this is.

Eventually I saw the pattern, and tried to broach the subject with him. It wasn’t me being narcissistic, it was clearly response to his being turned down. He had none of it. I finally took the matter to the person connected to our joint endeavor. I had written a letter to Diggz’s superior, and I wanted solidarity in sending it off, honest feedback on how it might land. Instead I got a “I will take care of this” – exactly what I didn’t need. Getting shut out of my own restoration was infantalizing. I expressed as such, and was told I had dealt with enough already, and should let the person take care of it. I dropped it.

Just as upsetting to me about all this is not simply how I was treated, what these people thought was acceptable behavior — but also that I thought it was just par for the course. Which is is. But just as I experience righteous indignation when someone tells me a rule is upheld because “it’s policy,” I am outraged that they thought this was acceptable simply because it’s widely accepted.

Tired of the drama and constantly being in jeopardy, I set up a stand-alone non profit, filed all the paperwork, and asked that the name and collateral (trademark, domain, etc) be signed over to it (and so much love to the person who helped with this path). This would be less complicated. He did sign all the things, and it was less complicated. For a long time. Diggz pulled his funding, but stayed nominally involved. The transition of assets was slow, but forthcoming. There were a few loose ends, but we were friends again, so it was ok. There weren’t the complications, we got to hang out in a way that didn’t have a power struggle in it, and he’s honestly a good friend in those circumstances (this is why it’s so hard for even those close to an abuser to see that they can be so awful to others). There were still moments of “heyyyyy” when he had been heavily drinking, but those can dealt with, despite it not being ok.

GWOB evolved, and Lindsay and Lisha became the main carriers of it. I was doing work at Civic and Berkman, related to GWOB, but I was now focusing more on the work itself rather than the maintenance of GWOB as an entity. We had internal turmoil, but always with each others’ best interests in mind. Lisha stepped into the role of executive director for a multitude of reasons, and we updated the advisors, and the teams, and the website, etc.

While this was happening, Diggz was going through some rough times. He claims to have been blacked out while he sent me pornographic messages regularly over a week. I finally got tired of talking to him in the mornings about what he was going through, and told him he needed to see a therapist before I’d be willing to talk to him at all. He messaged me a short time later to indicate he’d gotten sorted out, and was ok again.

At the beginning of a very long series of trips for me, Diggz finally read some emails about role transition at GWOB and flipped his shit. The night before I gave a keynote, he kept badgering me about giving GWOB back to him, that Lisha was going to ruin everything, etc. I asked him for space, he didn’t listen. I insisted on space, he didn’t listen. And I finally snapped. I informed him that I was going to block him on every platform, and if he attempted contact, I would file charges.

And then, as always with a turn-down on advances or shutting down of aggression, there was a period of strange calm followed by an explosion. Which is what his happening on Twitter and Facebook right now. But this time, it’s worse. One of those last threads from collateral transfer was the domain registration. Which he used to get to our servers. Which he then nuked, cascading to ability to use email. Which disrupted work, AND is just an awful thing to do.

So now we’re figuring how legal courses – can we talk about this online? Defamation suits are winnable if you’re telling the documented truth (which we are), but still expensive. So I can’t talk about this in public. And I have to ask you not to talk about specifics online for the same reason. Getting the domain back will either entail either his agreeing to hand it over, or going through expensive channels of domain contestation.

I’m tired. We’ve got other shit to do. It’s upsetting to me that his desire to control a thing (I assume to make it awesome?) is what is currently messing it up. So. That’s where things are.

Turning Anxieties into Productivity

I’ve had a few people over the past few weeks make a special point of pointing out how (overly) productive I am. And because part of the way I do things is doing them in public, I figured I’d put together an overview of how I work for The Internets. Much of it is not healthy – I battle with temporal compulsiveness in a way I can only imagine is similar to the exerted control over diets those dealing with eating disorders display. So this is a less a “how to be productive if you find yourself uninspired” and more a “how to funnel your anxieties towards good use.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 2.06.05 PM

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This is actively not a way to interact with people you’re Not Working With. This is a constant battle with me, as it’s easiest for me to interact with people around projects. But that’s not fair to people I care about AND work with. It might not even be a way to interact with people you are working with. I’ve tried to have that tension/disfunction show through in this post – the same things that make me really good at productivity are what also make me have unreasonable expectations of carbon-based life forms.

Some of the following advice also has to do with deceiving yourself or other people, primarily about timelines, in exchange for projects being delivered on time. Every person is different – it’s important to ascertain if someone can self-regulate on time and deliverables, or if they need to be managed and reminded. It’s ideal if you can have a frank conversation with someone about this – but I’ve had this go both splendidly (“I’ve got this” or “Yes, please pad my time”) or horribly (“you lied to me? How dare you” (while still delivering late)). YMMV. Informed consent is important. Continue reading

Expressions and Understanding


We have such an investment in the written word in our world right now. And it’s beautiful. Uses different parts of the brain at the same time, allows for storage of thought to be passed down and through and re-examined and loved through time. I love the written word.

But I am also dyslexic. I love books, but I hate reading – I feel like an idiot. I have to read each sentence twice (at least), at the same pace that I’d read aloud. I still don’t always understand what I’m reading – not the concept, mind you, simply the written words which are used to express it. I know the deep knowledge represented on each page, and yet I dredge through it like a 7 year old, frustrated by the time it takes to get through the simplest components. Still. At 30.

Listen – I ingest information best audibly, loving stories read aloud, going through most of my online reading through text-to-speech (thanks, Quinn), and learning best from the lecture, not the readings. Because of this, my writing cadence matches my speaking cadence nearly exactly – mainly because there were years where I would record myself speaking, and then transcribe it. It wasn’t writing. I don’t know how to write. I know how to speak. But that dyslexia isn’t just in reading, it’s in general language processing, and that includes the spoken word. Which means I miss chunks sometimes – able to hear beyond the normal audio range, but the content simply doesn’t land at times.

When I started drawing, 4 years ago, it helped me link together what I was hearing, with what I knew, in a way I could see how it all connected. No more missing gaps. There was something new that was coming out in this way of understanding and expressing the ideas that were already being expressed verbally or textually. It seemed that I like to ingest information audibly, but process and re-state visually. And try this out – I can make a proportional sculpture, because it feels right, while my stick figures are disproportional in order to indicate movement, and because I can’t get two dimensions to be technically correct. Each method lossy in its own way.

At Wikimania, I’ve been surrounded by incredible, intelligent people… all of whom place a huge value in cataloging, expressing, and defending through the written word. They use copyright to protect copy. It’s been like visiting an alien world I know I can never emigrate to, where my methods of expression are valued but not import-able. Something you’d see in a museum, but never purchase a gift for your loved one as you exit through the shop.

Understand this: When Tricia gave her talk at Berkman, she had visual cues, she delivered verbally, on a subject she had written about, and I expressed that visually. Each of these is a different expression of the same idea. It is not the same expression re-done verbatim (ha!) in another format. I don’t want to listen to a re-reading of the transcript of the audio. I want to listen to the writing on the subject she did. These are different aspects of the same knowledge set.

Another example: when the always fantastic RadioLab did a particularly stunning episode on color, there was a bit on the visual capabilities of the Mantis Shrimp. While a diagram of the eye’s capability can be drawn and compared (see diagram), and what happens with that extra perception vectors can be described in text, it was the choral rendition of complexity of vision that made what was actually going on readily understandable to we who have 3 vectors in our eyes.

Coding and software, and more recently the opening up of fabrication technologies, are about more people being able to express themselves in a way that is best for them, and that also means people who ingest information in those formats have a better chance to understand more of the world. The more vectors we have of expressing, the more vectors we have of understanding. And isn’t that what being human is about?

If that’s not enough, consider this: one of the things about code is that it has opened the doors for some to income and prestige that otherwise would have been closed. It broke down entrances to what “legitimate expression” is. When we stick to only the knowledge expressions and storage we understand, those who are best able to use those (i.e., those who have already been in long practice) will continue to benefit. And now, so many other things are possible to digitize, to pass on and posterityze. Why remain so hyper-focused on the written word?

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

I care less about “accessibility” as “bringing ‘disabled’ people into a world as ‘able’ people experience it,” and more into “everyone having the best opportunity to express themselves, and to be understood.”

Lovingly Dealing with Abuse

I’ve told you all before about my past abusive relationship. I’ve also been doing a lot of work in how to be more accepting of people. It’s a strange and new thing for me – to stand up for myself, to know my Self well enough to NOT be trampled on, not in a way that requires blustering or forcing respect.

I had wanted to tell you a story. But that’s not something that’s allowed in these situations. Our social and legal systems prevent me from talking about what, specifically, happened1. I don’t believe in unexamined support, and so asking people to express solidarity when I can’t express all the details (nor do I particularly want to, in the interest of the other person maybe… changing… one day?) is pretty weird. So let’s say this: I had to cut someone off recently for abusive behavior. Not one of my wonderful partners2. And while the situation is being handled, I wanted to talk a bit around what the experience has been like, socially, and how I think it can be handled responsibly.

Of those people I can talk to about it (for legal and social reasons), their responses are aiming for protective, seeking understanding, and solidarity. But these can easily end up instead falling into one of the following buckets: infantalizing, dismissive/justification, and overkill. While in this situation, it’s more difficult for me to do affective labor (cognitive and emotional processing) for other people. I need them instead to help me with mine. So here’s a general breakdown, in the hope that it helps me out, as well as others (if it fits with them/you as well).

  • I want to help you deal with this” / “You shouldn’t have to deal with this any more than you already have” can quickly shut out the person from the process of their own restoration. A big part of what sucks about abusive/bullying/harassing situations is being disempowered. Further removing someone from the process of recovery and justice does not help. The person on the receiving end very well might end up wanting to not have to deal with it… but it needs to be by explicit choice.
  • How long has this been going on?” can come across as questioning or justifying rather than for understanding. Maybe it’s not real, or as bad as you think, etc. Coming forward about these things is HARD, and not a pleasant experience at all. Even if the individual asking these questions is doing so to better understand and assist, much of our culture is based upon being dismissive of the person coming forward. Many times the affected person will explain the context in a story format as a way of processing. If they don’t offer details or a story, ask yourself how important it is that you know details not readily offered.
  • I will destroy everything that person has ever held holy” is honestly my knee-jerk reaction as well, but now having been on the other side, feels like having to manage even more people. Will this person I’m talking to take actions which later make dealing with everything less effective? Expressing upset is one thing – expressing a desire to act in anger can be disempowering for the affected person. And so much anger has often already been managed in unhealthy relationships.

To me, what it takes to be a good ally in these situations is to simply say “I am sorry” / “that sucks” + “What do you need right now?” That gives space to decide what is needed, in relationship to the person asking. Often the same places are gotten to, but together. And remember, listen to the person who is affected. Just like codesign. Just like anything else in life. The person living it is likely the expert in their experience.

So far as the person I cut off, I went through these steps, which I find important: expression of care, re-statement of disregarded boundaries (and how those had been crossed), new boundaries (ie, “don’t talk to me, on any platform”), consequences for crossing those new boundaries (legal action), and recourse (“until/unless you’ve completed an abuser program”). This leaves no ambiguity in the situation, and I’ve also laid a path to action for myself that I can read and stick to when/if things get complicated.

  1. Although support from some will be contingent upon my explaining myself, the other, etc
  2. See, even here I can see how I want to caveat and manage. How to express things in a way that doesn’t seed distrust, but still encourages people to consider the people they spend time with, and their responsibility to not take part in bystander effect.