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.

Continue reading

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.

Collaborative note taking : a practice for distributed meetings

Now with a few edits via suggestions from Dirk. Thanks, Dirk!

I was recently on a call with a humanitarian group. They were wanting to make their now online-only meetings way better. There were activities, there was polling. It was a good time.

But the same problem arose for many of the participants I’ve seen in many past meetings — connectivity issues caused people to lose chunks of audio, meaning they lost the thread, meaning they couldn’t fully participate. It was frustrating for everyone in what was otherwise a really solid time.

I realized not everyone knows about collaborative note taking. This is something I started doing as part of digital disaster and humanitarian response in the Open community, and later honed more by live blogging with the Civic crew. The benefits of collaborative note taking are many-fold:

  • People who are dropping in and out (or who are simply late) can catch themselves up by looking at the notes.
  • An accessible, lower bandwidth way for those in low connectivity environments to follow along and participate.
  • A way to collect audience participation, feedback, and questions in an effective way when the group is too large for everyone to speak much (or at all).
  • A way to guide the audience into different channels, to links, etc.
  • A way for audience members to participate rather than being distracted by outside stimuli.
  • You have notes at the end of your meeting! Bonus points for turning it into a blog entry your participants can share and reflect on. Be sure to turn your intros section into a thank-you section.

To make this work the way I’ve been doing it, you need a few things:

  • An app that allows multiple people to edit the same doc at the same time. I’ve used etherpad and Google Docs most.
  • An agenda that you can clearly define.
  • 2-4 people willing to lead the way with note taking.
  • Some norms.

Picking Your Tool

Etherpad is from our lovely open source communities. It’s great for quick and dirty, little formatting, etc. Piratepad was a favorite of mine, with the caveat that pads disappear after a set amount of time. Google Docs is nice if you want to have more embedded structure and formatting, and if you don’t mind Big Brother so much. There are some great options out there in addition to these. Pick your tool based on the circumstance you’re in.

The Agenda

I’d suggest setting up your doc in advance with your agenda. I use headers in Google Docs and then use the “table of contents” function to build the agenda at the top with space to take notes below. Use italics below the header if you want to add more detail than a header allows. You can also add in links to outside activities into the agenda so you don’t have to scramble later.

It’s also nice to have an “intros” section in the agenda because not only is it good practice to have each person say at least one thing to get them involved, it also gets them practicing adding and correcting things in the doc for the rest of the meeting. If folk fill out their part in advance of the meeting, all the better.

Your agenda will change, expand, and contract as the meeting happens. Let it. Trust the note takers to update the headings.

For a retro, I lay out the steps we’ll take and what should go into each section. The “Generate topics” header is followed by “take screenshots of all the cards and post them here.”

The Note Takers

From the Civic team, I learned that 3 is an ideal number for live note taking and live blogging. One to capture the meat of what’s being said, one to edit for clarity and typos, and one to pull in outside links and images. Other participants may jump in to edit names they know, fill in more detail, or find more esoteric links.

For that retro, different people would jump in to take notes for each other, so everyone got a chance to fully participate.

The Norms

Give each other space

When there are no carriage returns after where you’re typing, no one can add things in. The text gets awkward. Give some space between yourselves by hitting enter a few times, and maintaining that space. You can always delete the space later.

In retros, we would sometimes end up with the next agenda item on another page, so far away! But people had plenty of space to add things in after one another.

Encourage audience participation

Add in bullet points when you want the audience to participate. Remind them of the prompt in text. Start asking questions in nested bullet points below what they’ve put in. Others will start doing the same.

For a retro, we would ask people to add a plus sign after the action items they thought they were worth investing time in doing. We’d total them up and have a live prioritization of what to spend time on.


Tired of being the person pulling in links? Type it. Ask for someone else to take over. Someone watching will type that they will, you delete the communication, and they get started.

In the retro, I once typed “brb, phone call” and returned to notes still being robust, as someone had immediately taken over for me.

We’re better together

Most folk are scared of taking notes because they never have before, or they disdain it because it seems like administrative work. By making it a group expectation, you end up with more participation, better notes, and everyone is on slightly more equal footing.

Let me know about your experiences or questions in the comments!

On aborting a pregnancy

People keep treating me as if it’s a bigger deal than I think it actually is. “Like” (my therapist said) “when a toddler falls and you rush to their side and they start crying because you’re scared.” (This is when I asked them if I was heartless for not being devastated about the whole thing. Was I not feeling much because I was protecting myself or because it actually wasn’t that big of a deal? Therapy is great. More people should do it.)

Many people rightfully take it hard when pregnancy doesn’t work out for them. Whether because of religion, or because they’ve been trying so hard, or because of whatever… and I respect that. But this isn’t that story. If hearing that perspective will be harmful to you in some way, please stop reading now.

When Reed and I first started rolling around together, we talked about kids. (As anyone having sex should.) It was off the table between us, but we kept enjoying each other while I sought a person to procreate and raise children with (ah, the bonuses of polyamory). As our relationship deepened, it was put back on the table. We decided to be primaries, to cohabitate, to get hitched, to try to procreate. Like many things we do together, we set a timeline and a budget. If it didn’t work out within those constraints, we’d both get sterilized and pick up hang gliding.

Our plan worked out surprisingly quickly for us. Reed found a great OB, and as things developed on track we carefully told our families and made plans at our workplaces. All the tests were in the clear for the first trimester. We heard a heartbeat and saw tiny raised fists on an organism that was bizarrely growing inside me. Side note: AS A NONBINARY PERSON HOLY SHIT THE GENDER DYSPHORIA. I opted to know All The Things All At Once via a microarray CVS at the beginning of the second trimester. Why keep honing in on probability when relative certainly is an abdomen-puncture away?

The results came back, and we talked about them, and the micro deletion that showed fell outside our acceptable risk profile. In short, we should try again on our own or via IVF (still figuring this out). EG, having a second trimester abortion.

The dilation was the worst part. The actual procedure is fine, although I’ll end up with bruises from an IV as usual. And the thought that so many other people don’t have access to harassment free clean care and caring nurses is fucking horrific. As I’ve said in other places, if this story moves you to any action, please let it be supporting Planned Parenthood.

So we’re going to try again. Maybe it’ll work, or maybe I’ll get to learn hang gliding. I now know I can survive the first trimester and still be gender queer while I do so. I know I’ve got loving, supportive people around me and a Reed who is amazingly present.

I know this is a big part of many people’s stories, but it’s not for me. It’s just another thing that happened. And that’s fine.

Redistributing Wealth

Thanks to Ride Free Fearless Money and to Reed for helping me to not shrink away from conversations about money and my responsibility in its orbit.

So I grew up with some money. I think my parents did a pretty good job of navigating it – we were spoiled with things like good health care, good mattresses, healthy food, and comfortable shoes. I didn’t have a lot in the way of clothing or toys or other “frivolous” things, but we did have our basic needs well met. They helped with my school until I got a scholarship that paid for the bulk of it. At both times I worked part time to cover the rest. I graduated without debt. When I was in an abusive relationship, they covered my costs leading up to and after I left him. I am privileged.

I also have had the luxury of being principled about what jobs I do (and don’t) take. I’ve asked for (and gotten) loans from my parents (as well as gifts from an aunt) in the long stints between jobs at places I could work at in good conscious. I’ve since paid them back for the support, but I want to acknowledge the impact their support had on my career path.

And so now I can take jobs that I enjoy and feel are net positive impact and which pay well. To get here without the level of support I’ve had takes a bigger badass than me.

Now that I make dirty tech money (that, while less dirty than most, is still a part of the narrative of over valuing some skills and under valuing others) I’ve found this stupid thing to be absolutely true: having money makes it easier to get more money. In fact, people tend to just give you more money once you’ve gotten to a certain point.

It’s broken and I hate it.

Back in 2015 when I got my first steady-income job making a bit more than I needed to live off of, I started thinking about how to responsibly invest that money. In addition to that starting point, I also give to nonprofits and GoFundMes and Patreons. But there’s this thing that is still really awful to me, and it’s this: I am now wealthier than some of my dearest friends and some of my family, and to have a microcosm of society’s larger ills so close to our faces fucking sucks. I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to just give people money (also one of the most effective humanitarian interventions!) in addition to the organizations I support.

Can I just give people money?

Enter the Protestant Work Ethic, AKA “the American Dream.” What it says in brief is that your moral goodness is evident in how well you do in the world. EG, you don’t have to wait for your rewards in heaven, you get signals that you’ll go to heaven based on how successful you are while alive. It’s some bollocks and it’s what I think of as a core illness in American Society.

So I can’t just give people money because it’s indicative that they didn’t earn it and therefore to have it is an evil (even tho money is just being given to me without being based in merit or need). While to me at this point it’s just another resource I’d really rather share, I can’t because of Protestantism. Or maybe they have other reasons of their own.

I’m pretty new to all this, so I expect to be immature in my approach, and I’m eager for feedback in the comments.

After consulting many great humans I respect, here’s where I think we’re at:

If they’re noticeably younger than you

It seems to be ok to give them money without a lot of explanation. Can just be marked with “for a rainy day” without further explanation. This may also come under the expectation of middle- and upper-class environments based on “if money goes from your parents to you, you’re middle- to upper-class. If it flows from kids to parents, you’re lower class.”

If they already have an endeavor

A Patreon, an artistic practice, etc: commission something from them. Pay them as good or better than market rate so they also value their work more and can point at the sale in future negotiations to uplift their entire business. If you’re already supporting their monthly Patreon (or whatever), increase your amount.

This is also a great chance to give gifts. If someone is into a new hobby or embarking on a new adventure, giving gifts to get them set up well can launch them and not feel invasive.

If they have a specific goal in mind

Offer an interest-free loan you’re potentially willing to forget about. If not willing to forget about it, work on clear, flexible ways to do the repayment.

Another great point for gifts.

If it’s not any of these and you’re still set on it

Include a note about how wealth disparity in general sucks, how a windfall was just come into (inheritance, signing bonus, etc), and that you’d like to redistribute it. Make it clear there are no strings and what they chose to do with it is up to them. Don’t be offended or mention it if they don’t cash a check.

Any of these might change your relationship with each other.

Money is a point of deeply personal stress and pain for many folk. It is not easy to talk about, to need, to offer. And you know your friends and family better than I will, so your mileage may vary. I anticipate that if you’re kind and loving and up to make mistakes you’re willing to own up to and you’ll be fine.

Do you have other thoughts or ways you approach this (or would be comfortable with it being done)?

Stick ’em in the comments!

Wish me luck as I embark on enacting these even more in life.

Burn your ships

Liminal space has long been my favorite, yet most exhausting, place to be. It is where new things are being tried, where curiosity lives, where people are stepping out of their comfort zones to acknowledge the vastness of the world.

I’ve been slowly making my way through a book about liminal space, called The Mushroom at the End of the World: on the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. It speaks of people who harvest the Matsutake mushroom, a highly sought after delicacy which thrives in human disturbed forests. It tells a tale of how to survive in, and move beyond capitalism.

Liminal space is also queer space, where there aren’t (yet) norms to follow. Every movement is a question, and therefore full of oxytocin and peril. It is exhausting. Nothing is assumed.

And I do love me some infrastructure. I thrive on predictability. So what is the step after entering (and lingering) in liminal space? It is to fully commit to the new course of action. And while nearly all the phrases associated with committing have to do with military conquest and colonialism (including “burn your ships”), this won’t be the first time the nuanced meaning of such a phrase will continue to be a reminder to me in my life.

I transitioned in December 2017 to a job doing govtech work. I don’t focus on community-led crisis response any longer. While I still get to nerd out about it sometimes with excellent people, there are only so many hours in each day and I have chosen a new path to be on. It has come at a cost to my ego, and possibly to the domain (although they’ll be fine without me). I am continually reminded of this excellent comic from SMBC about living lives across one lifetime. To be a beginner at something, after being at the top of a field I helped create, is humbling and scary. But it is also necessary for me to grow, and for the things of which I have been a part to grow without me.

I spend a year and a half between when Aspiration and I decided to part ways, and settling into a delivery manager role at Truss. It took another 9 months for me to feel certain in the value I had to contribute at Truss. We’re now working on our delivery management playbook which I expect to be shared externally.

I’m also learning about how organizations grow and change. We were about 14 when I joined. We’re now 70. The team I was delivery manager for has grown from 12 to 37. Everything breaks from 15 to 50, and now we’re gearing up for the transition to 150. Being intentional about what should be centralized and what should be distributed hails back to what I learned in crisis response, although it’s in a completely new environment. I wouldn’t be able to be in the liminal spaces of learning these new skills if I hadn’t fully committed to the life in which I now live.

So three cheers for liminal space. But burn your ships for sanity and growth.

Identity Work

As anyone who has ever spent more than 5 seconds with me probably could have predicted, I hang a lot of my sense of self-worth on my work. And while I don’t always mean what I get paid to do, I certainly do mean that as well. As I once said at a hacker conference panel on taking money from tainted places: “no one could ever pay me enough to not do what needs doing.” As in, while other folk can be happy doing net-neutral (or even net-negative) work as their day jobs, I cannot. I have a complete mental block on it and cannot do it, regardless of how I spend my non-work hours. To each their own – others are able to balance the impact they have in the world in various ways, and I’m honestly a bit envious of them.

That means the jobs I have, I believe in. Whether it was Jigsaw or Geeks Without Bounds or Aspiration or now Truss, I see my “job” as being part of a collective effort to change the world for the better. I don’t leave my work at work, and I don’t like taking vacations. The world is a mess and the only way it changes is through our active effort. No, I will not put my laptop down. (I am actually working on this, to my benefit.)

This also means I can be a mess sometimes, because of work. Because of financial needs, and political systems, and growing pains, my ability to act within or through an organization can be disrupted. Which would be fine, except I have rough time with it. It is, as I like to joke, a direct reflection on my moral character.

So I brought this challenge to my amazing therapist. They asked me great questions about how I interact and perceive needs, and my identity in regards to (and beyond) work. But it still didn’t land.

In thinking about who I would be without connection to others or beyond the actions I take, I realized how much I ascribe to the Buddhist idea of just being a collection of molecules brought together in this moment. That life is meaningless but that we give it meaning. And that meaning is created through action and connections. So to try to describe an identity outside of connection and action is impossible for me to do.

What does this mean about my relationship to work?

A great conversation came up in the #kids channel at Truss a bit ago, about how people explain to their kids why they go away all day. And folk fell pretty squarely into two camps: “everyone has a job (including you),” and “capitalism is a system we exist in.” And I realized in this conversation about managing 4 year olds that I have grown up in an environment which says “everyone has a job,” but that the “we have to survive in capitalism” narrative far better aligns with how I actually view the world. There is a difference between responsibility to a system (the former), and responsibility to the people within that system (the latter).

How do y’all think about responsibility and creating meaning, and how it does or doesn’t overlap with your work?

PS, aside on how the American Dream / Work Ethic is actually protestantism and a plug for this great piece from back in the day from Quinn.

2018 in Review

This will be my fourth year in a row doing these, so you can also read about 20152016, or 2017 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 2018 goals.

Oh dear 2018. This about sums up how I’ve been thinking about this report, and the past year:

Which also reminds me of this excellent piece.

Stated Goals

I set out in 2018 with the phrase Space for Foundations. I do think I’ve done that, despite the above. Continue reading

Technology as a Means to Equality

I had the honor recently of speaking at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF / Doctors Without Borders) Canada Annual General Assembly (AGA). While an international organization, each location has a very large group of people who work on decision and policy for their specific group for the year – usually in the AGA. These are three days of talks, debates, and dinners. The international group defines a focus for the discussions, but it’s up to each pod how they act around that focus. This year, it was how MSF is using (or not) technology. While most of the talks were internal, the bit of time I was there the topics ranged from telemedicine to social media in conflict zones. They asked I come speak about technology and disaster/humanitarian response.

The gist of the talk I gave (15-minute video follows) is that technology is a means to more equality in the world – a way to be inclusive. That there are many people in the world who want to use their technical skills to help groups like MSF out, but we absolutely need them at things like hackathons. That there are many people with voices and connections to the globe now, and that groups like MSF have a responsibility to listen to them directly. And that technology, when done in codesign, will be aligned with what their needs are, and is an ongoing relationship, not a one-off delivery.

Again, most all of the discussion happened behind closed doors, but I recorded my laptop and voice while I did my own presentation.

It seemed to go pretty well. We’re keeping the conversation going, and I’m excited for more points of connection. You can follow the prezi at your own pace here, and see the full #vizthink for the panel here.

Some other highlights:
The other exceptional panelists and myself advocated for F/OSS, especially in light of security, for inclusion. MSF is rightfully anxious about infiltration, ways to be transparent, and usability. Ivan and I re-emphasized open source communities, that people are committed to examining (and re-examining) code for backdoors and optimizations. That open source has been around for decades, that most technology is built upon it, and that it’s a way of performing mutual aid between countries and cultures.

Someone asked in Q+A about using things like Facebook and Twitter in the field, if use could cause problems. Problems of location or images suddenly not being as private as you thought, and kidnappings and killings resulting. Or, what if things just get hacked by governments or by insurgents? My response was that MSF, with all their weight and influence in the world, has a duty to insist upon things like Coercion-Resistant design. Insist that these companies treat their customer bases humanely.