Swim out of the Fishbowl

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

The next one came up about one of my great loves, made manifest in a phase of my life. I have always loved the concept of liminal1 space. I first became aware of it as a concept at the Ann Arbor Film Festival2, spending 3 minutes with the audience watching a minute hand move from just after one marker to just before another on a watch face, the movement so slow it was imperceptible until they showed where it had started. The idea of being between things intrigued me. I cherished it when traveling constantly, always in airports and rarely anywhere at all. It was good to have a name for a space that can be so exhausting when I was between work, before I had realized that work didn’t need to be my identity.

When Reed and I started trying to get pregnant, I realized the roller coaster of waiting, then not knowing, and then of one moment of clarity followed by the same cycle every month might break me. Given how much Santa Perpetua and I had talked about liminal space in previous rounds, I figured it was time to go all-in on that topic.

Willow rides a bike. Towards the top of their left arm is a circle with the numbers 39 40 on it, a city scape above it, and a forest with a ship below it. Blue water color streaks down the arm, with numbers alongside it, down to the wrist. At the wrist is a cute little fish.
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Killing ants

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

Now that Santa Perpetua and I had started our collaboration and set up for future work, it was time to dig in and really explore some existential angst. The next one was about my political ideology, the tension I feel behind nearly every act I take, and was one of the originating conversations behind Jigsaw Renaissance1. And that is – what is the responsibility of the individual, and what is the responsibility of society? When one is out of alignment with the other, which course corrects, how, and how much? If they’re both doing ok, should more attention and intent be paid to further progressing the individual or society? I tend to lean towards societal progress, but I also deeply respect and acknowledge individual autonomy and inclusion in that as necessary but insufficient.

Tilde and Willow's right thighs are nestled together, with Tilde's tattoo of purples and greens with a mirrored person as posable figure on one side and a more realistic human on the other. Behind the realistic person, water color and shapes. Beyond the model, simpler shapes and more contained colors.

On Willow's thigh, a circle surrounds two children poking at an ant hill. Outside the circle, a child's sillouette looks at plants in orbit. Another small circle holds an ant. There is blue and black water color around it all.
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My “I 💙 Mom” tattoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Formal/Informal Crisis Response birthday party

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

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

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Trauma without regret

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

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

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

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

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

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

2023 in review

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

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

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

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Where the Internet went Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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