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.

Accepting Religions

I went to Catholic school for 9 years – my atheist parents sent me as it was the best education available in my hometown of 20,000 people. My best friends and extended peer group, the same 15 other kids in my class for those 9 years, thought that I was, at my core, wrong. We found other things to talk about. As the only atheist in the class, I was constantly and consistently told I was going to Hell by other students, instructors, and priests. In response, I vindictively aced “religion” (not really “religion” but rather “teachings of Catholicism”) class – I knew what answer was wanted, and it drove them nuts that I would answer what they were looking for, rather than what I believed. On bad days I would get in arguments with teachers about conflicting parts of the bible. The day I found the passage on questioning faith as the best way to strengthen it was particularly rough. Occasionally it would escalate to tears – rarely mine. And the whole time, they didn’t kick me out because my parents didn’t belong to the parish, and so they were providing income sorely needed for the school. Talk about weird privilege.

From this, I learned to stand up for what I saw in science, even when every. single. person around me (peer and authority) thought I was drastically wrong. I learned how to have long-term, deep relationships with people with whom I had conflicting core views. I also learned to have an immediate and visceral reaction to people who expressed strong religious views. There were a few years where I envied people who were religious, seeing it as an easy comfort I was fighting so hard to gain. After resolving to learn more about this thing that had such a strong hold over me, I took one of my minors in Religion, specifically around the Old Testament. I learned that others had celebrated, and continue to celebrate, the questioning of those texts. I learned to think about religion in a sociological context, and became more fascinated than envious. But still a visceral reaction, even if more subtle.

When I moved to Camberville, my new set of friends meant that I was invited to a few Judaic holiday gatherings. I heard stories, drank wine, and asked questions; comfortable with friends I already knew and respected. Their joy at sharing upon request, without expectation, was a different interaction than I had experienced in the past. Far enough from the Catholic structures of my youth, curiosity bloomed in a way that was safe for all of us. More of my generally-directed anger faded. I learned to think about religion as a way of describing the world, rather than as a mandate of being.

After begin in Camberville for about a year, an academic cohort I thoroughly enjoy working with, who does incredible things around gay rights and gender equality, “came out” to me about being Evangelical. I got my still-present visceral response in check, and we talked. They experience incredible ostracization in both of their main groups – from those with whom they has a spiritual home because of the work focus, and with their academic crew because of their beliefs. This caused a lot of mixed feelings in me. This is someone I care about, who is in turmoil, and who I had no way of helping.

At a dinner gathering a few days after this conversation, I was still mulling it over, and brought it up while keeping the person anonymous – I could only assume people would be dismissive of my friend in the same way of my now tamped-down knee-jerk reaction. But instead, these friends told me about their similar experience – bringing equal access to their churches in the South. Using sermons to teach about inequality and to support those most in need. Their being ostracized by those who would otherwise have been their friends in social and academic circles. This also made me sad. Unable to provide these amazing people the solidarity they needed, I put them in touch with each other. They’re now all meeting regularly, along with other people in similar sets though different faiths.

From all this, I’ve started noticing how dismissive and demeaning the attitudes around religion are in my social groups. It reminds me of when I started understanding the language of feminism, understanding how it relates to me, and being hyper-sensitive to the smallest turns of phrase and utterly oblivious to some of the worst bits. I’ve started looking for signals that friends are closeted in their faith, trying to make safe space for discussion. One amazing, long-time friend ends up to be Mormon. And I realize how many times I’ve made off-handed comments which must have cut to the bone. But that’s just a part of his everyday existence.

I still don’t know what to do with all this. I love my friends, and I want them to be safe and welcome for who they are. I also believe in critiquing flaws in systems, and that religion (on the whole) allows and encourages flaws, as well as detracting from the encouragement to examine and act. But, just like everything, it can be more nuanced than that. In their religion, some of these folk are finding language to discuss experience and intuition that otherwise doesn’t have definition nor words. They’ve found a way to express care and intent in the world, both of which tend to be sorely lacking. But now, instead of being jealous, I’m deeply grateful they’re willing to share that, without expectation that I’ll carry it in the same way. We’re seeing each other as individuals, not as the systems of which we are a part.

Happy Birthday Debcha!

I’m about to get on a plane to the West Coast. Three incredible guitar players practice so adeptly nearby that the desk folk have turned the overhead music off – think Triplets of Belleville soundtrack. This morning I kicked off SpaceApps Boston, and then I got to sit for awhile to listen to a great lineup of my friend Deb‘s friends give talks for her birthday. My talk was to draw everyone else’s talk, and then show them at the end. I’d usually post this over on bl00viz, but it’s more personal, and I do try to not cross the streams too much.

Deb was/is a core part of why I now feel so at home in the Boston area. She reminded me that part of having a history with people was building that history with them, inviting me out to dinner parties, talking on Twitter, checking in on text. And always amazing music, Zoe Sighting, Emergency Leroy. Thanks for being persistent proof that people can be amazing, intelligent, kind, calm, and stimulating. Happy Birthday.

10 Years Later, My Soul Still Flinches

I was recently triggered by a dear friend. He had no way of knowing – I don’t talk about these things, and on the rare occurrence that it comes up in any context, I take care of it myself. But we’ve been close for awhile now, and he deserved some sort of understanding as to why I nearly walked out, no reasons, to clear my head and calm my breathing.

My tendency is to not talk about things until I have both a clear understanding and a clear action to take. If understanding is all that is needed, I sometimes keep that to myself, unless it benefits everyone to express it. Mind you, with a high emotional metabolism, these processes can take from minutes to hours – rarely on the scale of a full or multiple days. But I suppose it’s important to talk about abuse, especially as someone who apparently seems functional.

Corey used to leave me places. We lived in a bad neighborhood in Suffolk, and I was new to the area, and I worked doubles at an Applebees a few miles from home. The one time I tried to walk home late at night, a car stopped to proposition me, and became quite angry when I didn’t accede. I was 19 at the time. I didn’t have a phone – we only had one, and Corey had taken it, but wasn’t answering. Being that poor also meant I didn’t have cab fare, there were no buses, and my new coworkers were uncaring. I didn’t have my car – he had taken that, too. To do… something.. while I worked and he didn’t. After that, even when I couldn’t get ahold of him, I would wait at the restaurant, sometimes for a couple hours, until he would come to get me. He would then “tease” me for how often I had called or texted him.

When I would insist on taking my car with me, it became an argument about trust. Why didn’t I trust him to have the car? It was just going to sit in the parking lot all day, whereas he could use it. Didn’t I trust him to come get me? Did that mean I didn’t trust him at all in anything else? I was a horrible person! He was simply absent minded. My lack of trust was undermining the relationship.

Later, things slowly escalated. We would get into regular yelling matches. He broke his hand from punching the floor when I stated my intentions of leaving, permanently and immediately. I drove him to the hospital instead of driving myself to my cousin’s, crying because I knew the ensuing hospital bills would threaten the move back to Indiana so I could return to school (my parents’ sneaky trick to get me back into a social safety net). I still don’t know the laws about physical abuse if you hit back. It wasn’t pretty. And always the underlying thread of distrust. Any fight always came back down to my not trusting him. I finally left him after 2 and a half years, discovering that the problem was not my lack of trust but his untrustworthiness. We still had to live together for awhile, again from his financial insolvency. There was a final morning with him not letting me leave the house, my finally calling the cops as he slammed doors back shut and then stood in front of my car.

Recovery takes time, and I’m still not done with it. I reflect less often, but more publicly. But it’s important to know that even badasses like me have baggage. So do others.

  • 2007 : http://willowperson.livejournal.com/129303.html
  • 2008 : http://willowperson.livejournal.com/167449.html
    • http://willowperson.livejournal.com/186020.html
  • 2009 : http://willowperson.livejournal.com/197463.html
  • 2010 : http://blog.bl00cyb.org/2010/09/diaf/
  • 2013 : http://brainmeats.net/ep8-social-scripts-for-abuse

When an ex-lover in Seattle had pulled my motorcycle battery to get his own going, I lost my shit. In his  excitement over mechanical triumph, he tossed his feature phone towards me to gain my attention while stopped on the curb. He had just removed both the ability to communicate and my transportation. Of course he had no idea why this would be so bad. Nor could he, until I expressed it.

The thing that makes emotional abuse difficult to overcome is that erosion in the baseline of trust. The initial giving of trust is still pretty easy to me, it’s the response to being in an iffy situation and determining how to navigate it. My attempts to vocalize about being uncomfortable in the past meant all the structure of the relationship was torn away (not by me, I know that now). So my knee-jerk response to situations now is that of having to choose to quietly deal with the feelings that I’m having, or having trust itself questioned. My heart doesn’t understand there can be an third option between stoicism and complete tear down. And I like the trust established with the Boston Sweetie (who I’ll note wanted to be called the Boston Strangler here, that is how awesome he is).

But now I have space again to ask questions and think through things safely, I don’t have to have a rational reason for feeling the way I feel. Maybe someday I get to be rational about all this again. Maybe. In the meantime, I just have to accept that the people around me might actually want to help, not take my need for help as a personal affront. All I have to do is be brave enough to explain what’s going on in the tumult of feels, even if it doesn’t yet make sense. Especially if it doesn’t yet make sense.

It’s important to know that even the ability to speaking about the abuse is what is ripped away. This is why it is difficult to speak out. The podcast, listed above, has some pretty heart-felt conversation from a variety of people in it. Worth checking out. And speak out. It helps. Even a decade later.

Goddamnit, Annie. Goddamnit, America.

Annie and I were fighting in that way you can fight with people you’ve known for awhile. She thought I was blissfully optimistic and, in expressing that, was disrespectful of people in difficult positions. I was also not good at being a friend at a distance. I thought she was being overly rash and weird. She was upset that I thought her that un-self aware. We dropped it when my dad went into surgery, and we didn’t bring it up when I offered to help pay for a medical visit when she collapsed recently. I thought it was anxiety. She refused to get treatment because her insurance wouldn’t kick in until today. Today. She disliked this country, for the same reasons she died in it. It doesn’t take care of its people.

terrorists

She was the lynchpin of our sharebro group, bringing together these strange collections of people around long-form analysis and banter. And when Google Reader went away, she was the one who pushed to find a new space, and brought us back together again on The Old Reader. In all these deep conversations, Annie was still hard to know. Intensely private. Irate when images were captured without consent. Always interrogating the blasé assumptions of sharing, preferring it as an act of intentionality rather than of status quo.

I met Annie not too long after moving to Seattle, a long-time friend of some of the Bloomington Diaspora. She was this persistently present enigma in our shared social circle that I didn’t take the time to get to know more. She didn’t take on casual friends, and I have trouble interacting with people unless it’s on a project. We talked about ideas and society on Reader, but never really got to know about what was in our ribs, sticking to what was in our skulls. Annie was an intimidating intellectual sparring partner, steadfast in her outrage at The Patriarchy and Capitalism.

Some rant she went on about if games were useful for things other than play, and about gender, and about all sorts of other things sparked a “what would it take to fix this?” conversation. We met at Jigsaw, a block away from us both, for what we thought would be a few hours of talking. Instead we launced GameSave together. For 3 months, we shared a project. We lived across the alley from each other, and I would walk up the appallingly uneven steps to the back door of her building, she and Gretchen just back from their walk. She would make eggs and coffee, her apartment in the colors I now recognize as the Icelandic pallet. She conceded to playing my “fairy glitch” as opposed to her preferred metal, sitting for hours at a time on her awful futon. We talked through what was possible in disaster and humanitarian response, and what was people-dependent, and what large-scale logistics supported through crowds and gaming structure would look like. We took on a seemingly impossible project, and pulled it off. I was proud to live up to what she saw as possible.

And one night, tired of working, we binged on YachtRock and Aquavit, and actually opened up to each other. She was a person, and she was my friend, and she was utterly, utterly stubborn. I didn’t know her nearly as well as some of the other Seattle crew, but I knew her more than most, and that was an honor to hold.

I bought a plane ticket when Lindsay called. I didn’t know if I’d be taking a watching round at the hospital or holding people’s hands, having mine be held. It’s the latter.

So I’m sitting in the last Seattle coffee shop I saw her in, wondering what of our shared experiences are for my public tendencies, and what are to keep in my ribs, strangely territorial of the the grief I feel for this intensely private person. I hope to help make the world that wouldn’t have let her die for lack of money. I hope to not alienate the people unlike me by failing to include them in that language. I hope to live up to what she saw as possible.

Annie's feelings on creatures

Goddamnit, Annie.

We’re not even sure you need that

In talking to someone I would rather see as both infallible and immortal about going under the knife, I lightened the situation by telling them they could be altered within several deviations of themselves and still be tolerable. Bantering with SJ around what are organs even for, if you don’t need entire parts of them, lead us somehow to my drawing this image.

doctor

Thank goodness for humor.

 

How I Got Here (the unused Statement of Objective)

This is about 3 times too long, and definitely too waxing-poetic to be my statement of objective for grad school applications. But I’m proud of having written it, and wanted to share.

Back in 2006, I was discovering my first ever capital-F Future. A class at Indiana University called Religion, Ethics, and the Environment took a couple weeks to explore transhumanism. As a superhero-apathetic comics nerd, I had known about weird futures, but had never quite understood that I could have a role in building them. Suddenly, here was a route to building a better world, rather than failing into another stopgap of less-wrong. I was set on a path of not only understanding, but intentionally building a world in which our constructed technologies meant making it easier to be a Good Person connected to other Good People.

A year later, having completed a Bachelor’s in Sociology and an honors thesis, I landed on my feet in Seattle. I was ready to go to one of the law schools I’d been accepted to, around the overly specific topic of the meeting of organic and digital in prosthetics. Who would own the data going through your cochlear implant? Could you opt into a more dexterous mechanical hand if you still had a healthy biological one? Continuing on with the transhumanist discussion groups I had been organizing and moderating in Bloomington, Indiana, a new community of Future-thinkers began to form in Seattle, from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines. Upon discovering the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I suddenly had the freedom to build those strange Futures alongside the likes of those in the discussion group, those I would have dedicated my life to defend.

But in building those strange Futures in hackerspaces, -camps, and -conferences, I started to be unable to ignore a concerning trend: these were event and physical spaces for those already self-aware- and resource-enabled-enough to participate. Where were those who were less advantaged? The appalling narrative of “they’re just not trying hard enough” made me reconsider the groups I had come to call family. The lack of historical awareness in the entire community was in myself only mitigated by an acceptance that the world was full of things I had not yet learned. Focusing on spawning our future family, I turned attention to establishing Jigsaw Renaissance in 2009, one of the first makerspaces.

Makerspaces are schools of the future, intergenerational and transdiciplinary project-focused communities. They are extroverted versions of necessarily-introverted hackerspaces. I spent another two years focused not only on Jigsaw, but also on Space Federation, a way to link together spaces, to share non profit status, tax processing, zoning negotiation, etcetera in the same way we geographically shared milling machines. We were more frightened of papercuts than of laser cutters, and making do in the existing world while building a new one was no small task. Again, we intentionally built the Future we wished to see. But this time, the arc matched that of my (arguably onging) goth and cyberpunk days. The idea was so good and accessible that everyone wanted a piece of it, at least for a moment. We fought internally about who we were and what was worth negotiating. The clear paths to legibility which would make rent easy to pay also made us less of what we were. We had been a new Future, but slowly changed instead into blocks filling gaps in understood structures. Shop class returned to high school, but what made  makerspaces what they were (and some still are) – the wide open space of possibility and innovation – instead stifled in the inorganic and proscribed state that also made your insurance agent know what box to tick.

As this happened, before it was a clear pattern, I had also started building Geeks Without Bounds. The same primordial ooze of possibility and energy in hacker- and makerspaces was also in digital humanitarian and disaster response space. They made things, but they also made them with purpose, many focused on not leaving populations affected by horrible situations dependent upon the aid sent to them. This was it for me – all of the starry eyes, coupled with an ability to get hands dirty, and the clear intention based on historical awareness of including all parties in the process. I still travel the globe helping people from San Francisco, to Port-au-Prince, to DC, to Nairobi, to Berlin understand just how much they have to learn from each other. Unsurprisingly, the formal sectors in this space care to learn from the informal and disruptive – but many of us on the informal side have gone through the co-option cycle at least once, and are wary of how to interact. In part due to this, no one benefits from the experience and ability of the other.

The same tensions from hacker- and makerspaces exist here, manifest most clearly in hackathons. Born from hacker-spaces and -cons, adopted by open source and commercial endeavors, now taken up by entrepreneurship initiatives and my own response and social good space, these events have the promise of actual revolutionary innovation in the same shallow breath as being mere publicity stunts. Digital response groups struggle with, I kid you not, nearly the *exact* same issues that hacker and makerspaces have as they gain traction. This is most clearly an issue of how to standardize and transmit history in an agressively informal space. I simply cannot stand by and watch these trends happen again, especially not in such a promising endeavor. With the clear understanding and credibility a Master’s degree would provide, this is a trend that can go less wrong this time with the right sort of guidance, and even better in the future. We can have that capital-F future, but it’s not just about building another technological advancement.

At first we spoke of a gleaming future, but didn’t know how to build it. Then, we could build things, but didn’t understand to what purpose. Now, snuggled (or forced?) down into this niche, any lesson learned is necessary to extrapolate by setting it up to be translated and universal. This is not a universal-design approach, this is a self-examining and correcting social script. First, we reach the people building things with purpose and awareness, to make their lives and their interactions building that Future easier. From there, we will mentor those building things, but lacking awareness. Then we can move to those who wish to build but also need context. These are social constructs which can be built with the same intent as our well-designed technologies and transmitted via workshops and comics. More than a possibilty, though – this is an imperative.

These trends are so clear cut as to be glaring. And the solution is not more technology, it is stronger social fabric through intentional building. If the distributed, adaptive, aware systems we build truly are to make humanity better off, humanity itself must also be tended to.

In the same way I used to shake my cyberpunk fist at my steampunk friends, the issue is this: to act upon, rather than bemoan an incomprehensible system does not mean recreating steam engines so you can see where the gearing is warped, it means learning how to solder. In this moment, we cannot blame socioeconomic differences, atrocities, and low adoption rates on failing computer technology, we must start to look instead at understanding human connections in the new digital age, and constructing that with even more intent than with which we lay out a new circuit board design.

Nairobi (2/2)

We went on safari in the national park, waking up so so early and adventuring first around parts of Nairobi to find Andy, new cohort in action and humored outrage. Backroads and hanging out of the car window asking for directions, every interaction a moment of pleasantry and shared experience. Francis, exhausted from funeral travel the day before indulging our awkward questions and changing plans, finally looking less emotionally exhausted after a chicken lunch.

giraffesA giraffe rather immediately looming on the left, blended with the forest, perturbed to be interrupted but not worried about us. The immediate dispersal of any remnants of jadedness I might have felt about being outside, and joy in seeing a creature move in unconstrained strides. Later seeing young giraffes fighting, I hope in play, but likely not. Spotting the “Kenya Express” of warthogs nestled down in the distance, called as such because they run from wherever they are to whatever their next stop is. I might like them a lot, given that.

Stopping into the animal orphanage, Andy and I excited about animal conditioning and release back into the national park, our wilted demeanor as it dawned on us both that the area is essentially a zoo. At some point, lingering behind the guides for this area and our expedition, I referenced the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon I had been thinking about, and he laughed that quiet desperate laugh shared by so many people with a certain level of awareness and care. We took our weary selves to iHub, and immediately met up with Kevin, an amazing human being and fantastic guide for further adventure, of course also connected via Sasha.

We took the matatu to Kibera, instead of a taxi, walking after we arrived to the area, exploring the new permanent building being built at the outskirts. It will hold toilets, and offices, and a meeting space. The solid walls are a rarity here – especially the doors – and a welcome shift from the compounds we’ve been on for the past week. Bankslave is around the corner of the building, laying down the priming layer for a mural he’s working on with other folk, expressing hygiene as empowerment. They’ve run into a problem – a small swimming pool, or rather, ditch, in the way of the scaffolding they’ve set up. We work with them on problem solving before wandering deeper into the slum.

KiberaWe walk for a bit, and then pause, waiting for some folk to join us. Nearby, children crowd, staring, whispering and laughing. When I turn around, they point at my head. I remove my hat, they shout “blue!” One asks “are you a boy?” “Nope.” “Why are you dressed that way?” “Because I look good.” They nod. One notices tattoos peeking out – I went for the dress shirt but not bow tie and vest – and I discretely show the top of the ink. They chatter and gather around. I hand out dum-dums, and they run away.

Before we head down the next road with our growing cohort, the difference between “politically dangerous” and “physically dangerous” is explained. The folk working on Human Needs Project take us through the slums, insisting we take pictures, showing us local artisans, subtly and simultaneously protecting and showcasing us and their home to/from each other. They have born a hole so deep that it brings clean water. They have set up a way to collect it, and the surrounding building will hold laundry, and toilets, and offices for local initiatives. They will have wifi and computers. It is too expensive, and too daunting, to go see the innovation centers of Nairobi, so they’re bringing a center to Kibera. We speak of education, and of shared joy, and of politics.

I’ve seen, this week, what it is to be surrounded by people who give freely of whatever they have, without question or obligation. What it is for someone to know what actions must be taken to see the community of which you are a part be better off. There is an unassuming but persister baseline of giving in Nairobi. Any overt transaction is heavily negotiated, but giving is freely done.

The stressful process of the Nairobi airport, seeing Brenson and Josh and Oliver from State Department again, what are the chances (passed them also on safari), and hugging and wishing each other safe travels. Two more security checkpoints after that one, the first having separated Lindsay and myself rather abruptly. And now I sit on the first leg of a very long journey, obviously but not comically demonstrating the opening and using of our food packets and seat configurations. The gent in the seat next to me carries an International Organization for Migration packet, and studies from the sides of his eyes.

I’m ready to be in another home, and feeling heart-warmed and -torn for finding yet another one. Three homes in as many weeks, Boston> Nairobi> Seattle> Boston.

At Peace

Blog entries will follow about being in Nairobi. But right now, I’m sitting in Arabica on Capital Hill in Seattle, lovingly crafted cappuccino in hand. Patrick Watson plays on well-placed speakers. Everyone wrapped in layers of natural and earth tones, typing, sharing space, and air. Branches cast shadows on skulled wall paper, and I am happy and at peace. I love it here. So many homes, and somehow always home sick.