The spinsters are coming! And they’re feminists!

spinster tattoo

Nicole Georges’ knuckle tattoo. Photo by Shayla Hason.

I was raised with the imperative that I build a life for myself. What was a life? I could decide, but my family made it clear to me that my education and establishing a career the were the bedrock of anything I wanted to achieve. When I was in my teens and twenties my mother encouraged me not to focus on marriage or prioritize romance over understanding myself and creating a foundation for my life. “It’s the time for you to explore,” she said. And explore I did.

I finished college, traveled to France, launched a career as a museum educator, went to grad school for public administration, shifted my career to focus on creative business, shifted my career again to focus on tech, played in bands, spoke at SxSW several times, became fluent in French, wrote a book, moved in with a boyfriend and then a few years later broke up with him and started living alone, went to a lot of therapy, built a freelance writing portfolio, and overall became more grounded in myself and understood who I was as my mother instructed. And in my late 20s and early 30s I went to weddings. A lot of them. When I was 31 I attended eight weddings in one year, so many that I adopted a wedding uniform and started to treat traveling to weddings like going on a business trip.

So here I am solidly in my mid-30s wondering “Why ‘it’ hasn’t happened to me,” like it did for all those friends who got married. By “it” of course I mean finding that big love for my big life.

Some days I feel a sense of echoing, lonely isolation that verges on physical pain.

Kate Bolick captures exactly what I feel in her excellent book Spinster when she describes a meltdown she had at the McDowell Colony , “This, I thought, is what it means to be alone. You are solid, intact, and then, without warning, a hinge unlatches, the chimney flue swings open, the infinite freezing black night rushes in, and there is nothing to do but grope in the cold to get things right again.”

I know the right person in my life won’t make the reality of that freezing night go away, but my heart so hopes to find that someone with whom I can face it together, who will give me an extra push of encouragement and warmth, and who will help be an insulation against the subzero windchill of life.

Recent articles I have read all seem to have one thing in common: they are about single women in their 30s and 40s. Given the frequency in which these articles come out lately I start to feel like single women in their 30s and 40s in the United States are part of some kind of pandemic.

However, glancing at the titles and focuses of these articles tells their readers something important: single women (even in their 30s and 40s) are anything but monolithic. Just a sample from my own very biased selection: Where’s My Wife Already; The High Price of Being Single in America; Wealthy Women Can Afford to Reject Marriage, Poor Women Can’t; All the Single Ladies (Kate Bolick’s 2011 piece that inspired her book contract for Spinster); the Dear Sugar podcast series about looking for the one…

Of course I gathered a lot of these articles from personal interest and the fact that many people (across the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation) in my social networks who are sharing them are also single people in their 30s and 40s (and hence the Internet information echo chamber). Really though, nothing makes me feel like my personal angst is insignificant than realizing I am part of a larger demographic trend.

Overall, what I’ve gleaned from all the more self-reflexive toned articles is this: to feel lonely is to be human, so don’t beat yourself up about it; finding love is about luck not work; and focus on creating a “big life” for yourself and to be “that [person] you want to marry” (to paraphrase Glory Steinem and make the phrase gender non-specific). Well enough.

What I don’t hear these podcasts and articles take on is how to truly navigate the profound sense of isolation, exhaustion, anxiety and self-doubt that comes with being single. It’s a huge emotional, and physical effort, to pull myself through the world. Some days I kick myself for ever expecting, or hoping, I would have a fellow traveler along the way to make things a little easier.

Sara Eckel’s excellent book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You Are Still Single has helped me be kinder to myself and to push away well-meaning but ultimately damaging advice about how “He didn’t deserve you,” “You need to focus on grounding yourself and the right one will come ,” “You need to envision what you want,” “Have you tried online dating?” “You need to meditate/go to yoga” and all the versions of these ad nauseam. Her writing has been a source of strength for me when things get dark.

Maris Kreizman puts a finer, more irreverent point on the terrible advice given to single women in her recent “Unlove Me: I Found Love Because I Got Lucky, Not Because I Changed Myself.” I hope reading this will refute any inclination to tell me, or any other single person, cliche and tepid pieces of advice and chase away the notion that coupled people somehow have it “figured out.” My favorite bit, about the advice to “date like it’s your job,” “Do you have a job that inspires you and brings you joy? Then delight in how wonderful your career is and enjoy it. Do you find your job to be tedious or dead-end or soul-crushing? Then why would you want to take on a whole other job that feels exactly as miserable? One terrible job is more than enough.”

Kate Bolick’s Spinster, an excellent part-memoir, part-literary history, in which she reclaims great “spinsters” and independent women throughout history has also served as a touch point for me as a navigate the road ahead. I enjoyed how she adopted women like activist and author Charlotte Perkins Gilman, New Yorker essayist Maeve Brennan, and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay as her personal guides to help her build a full life as a single woman in her now 40s. Of course reclaiming the idea of “Spinster” has long been a central idea among my group of friends. My friend Nicole got it tattooed across her knuckles in her early 20s. My best friend (and roommate for 7 years) LJ and I made plans to live together again when we were “old spinsters” at the end of our lives.

Many of these articles focus on heterosexual, white, middle-class, educated women, which more-or-less pegs me too. I am one of those who never wanted to have my own children (I’m open to raising children with someone, maybe, but that’s another issue), so the tenure of moral panic around single motherhood and the biological clock frankly bores me. In addition, I’ve noticed the rah rah empowering articles about having and raising kids on one’s own by choice are targeted at wealthy, mostly white, women. There’s a whole other problematic moral panic around children of color raised by single mothers, as is well documented and outside the scope of this particular blog piece.

Speaking of privilege, in so many ways I feel ridiculous writing about this – from the outside I have the definition of that “big life” all these authors encourage as a way to counter feelings of isolation and loneliness. I hold a meaningful job that pays me fairly; a “room of my own” in an apartment of my own to write and build a life the way I envision it; a strong group of friends that I’ve cultivated over the years with whom I take trips, spend holidays, take about all the things large and small; time and desire to travel; the curiosity to meet new people and seek new experiences; and a creative practice I imperfectly nurture despite the stress of city and work life. I also have feminist thought and practice to keep me humble, reflective, and clear eyed.

I feel lucky. And grateful. On good days I feel grounded. But I can’t cover up the fact that I am fucking sad.

“But!” my darling friends and family say listing off my qualities, “You are smart, educated, motivated, positive [hah! Have they talked to me for more than five minutes?], friendly, healthy (except you do eat a lot of pizza), generous, a great conversationalist, an interesting person, with your own apartment…”

Sometimes I think this is perhaps exactly it: I have focused on building solid life of my own because I had to and because I wanted to. I didn’t want to obsess over marriage or finding a partner, but believed that the right partner and I would find each other if I followed my own path. Reflecting on all of this, and the outpouring of thought around single, adult women, I begin to more deeply understand sexism’s subtle perniciousness.

I think that still, in 2016, smart, well grounded women, outspoken with their own lives and careers are still intimidating to heterosexual men. Sexism (and so many other isms) still dictate our most intimate and supposedly personal choices. Especially when our culture, economy, and government policies rewards couple hood at every turn. I would like to see a cultural and policy shift around couples: stop rewarding coupling with lower tax rates, health care, and cultural attitudes that they are somehow more “evolved” and the social bedrock of our society would be a nice first step, but I didn’t set out to write a policy white paper here.

I’ve been in a few terrible relationships, made questionable choices, and learned from them. I have pushed myself to recognize my and my partners’ mistakes and shortcomings and extract myself from toxic situations, which has made me stronger and more decisive. I know when something isn’t working and when a relationship is damaging to me. I am thankful every day I live the life of my choosing instead of having to deal with the chaos, loneliness and darkness that a bad relationship brings. I’ve also dated some wonderful people who have become amazing friends. I’m oddly reverent of the calm clarity that has come with heartbreak.

However, I’m a person who wants to give and share and always imagined I’d find a partner to share with. I’ve staked my life on building community, through punk shows and zine conferences, feminist art and DIY business, tech and creative entrepreneurship. I’ve spend my waking and working hours facilitating and laying the groundwork for people to make meaningful connections that will enrich their business, creative and personal lives. And here I am, a cliche of a single career woman.

I knew that being a feminist and an outspoken woman wouldn’t endear me to many men, but those weren’t the kind of men I wanted to be with anyway. I don’t regret my choices and I certainly can’t and won’t change who I am. There’s no quick solution to the daily grind of loneliness, which sometimes feels so sharp it catches and pricks my lungs like inhaling icy air on a cold January day.

Once when spilling out these woes to my friend A., also an accomplished single lady in her 30s, she pointed out, “Nothing I can say right now and nothing you can do will make you have a boyfriend.” She’s right.

And here’s the thing: I’m not asking you to do anything.

I’m a doer and when it come to matters of the heart there is nothing to do. At the end of the day, after I’ve read all the memoirs, digested all the statistics, listened to all the advice podcasts, reflected on my privilege, identified my feminist icons, pushed myself to build my career, spent time with the friends who sustain me, gotten out there to meet new people and try new things, traveled to rad paces, made time to tell my family I love them, and focused on my own self-care I just can’t help but feel it doesn’t add up to enough to fill what is in my heart.

En fin, je ne suis pas Charlie, mais oui, je suis Charlie!

NYC est avec Paris ce soir et tellement triste #jesuischarlie #charliehebdo

Impromptu homage to Charlie Hebdo, Union Square, 1/7/2015

Settle in, friends, because this post is a long one and I can’t promise it is perfectly edited or articulated, but given the events of the past week, as a self-proclaimed Francophile and someone with deep emotional, friend and family ties to that country, as well as a dedicated scholar of post-colonial studies and staunch believer in social justice, I felt that I had to say something about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.

When I heard the news last Tuesday morning the first thing I said was, “Oh shit.” I went into work late, staying home to listen to BBC and text my sister and friends in Paris, knowing some of them lived and work close by to the offices of Charlie Hebdo. I texted friends working as journalists, wanting to give them the biggest hug for doing what they do.

And then one of those days that I wish I never had to experience, but have become too common over the past few years. Glued to the media. Could not turn away from social media. Obsessive hitting of the refresh button. Needing to look away, but unable to look away. And then another day like that. And another. All week I’ve been reading a lot in French and in English this week, keeping windows from Liberation and Le Monde open on my browser.

As events unfolded again I felt a feeling that has become all too familiar. A feeling that this is surreal. A feeling that this cannot possibly be happening. A feeling that this is a political turning point and we don’t know where the chips will fall next. Overall, I was heartbroken.

Le crayon qui pleure par Mademoiselle Stef

My sister has lived and worked in Paris since the late 1980s and I remember when I talked to her shortly after September 11th, 2001. I had just arrived in New York City weeks before, and she told me brusquely, “Of course it was Al Qaeda, that was the first thing I thought of. Of course it was Bid Laden.” In my 20 year old naivte then, I didn’t even know who that was, or that such a thing might be even imaginable, much less possible. Now we are living in world where such radical acts of extremism are possible, and have been possible for quite some time. It is also a world where slavery was possible. Where colonialism was possible. Where massacre in the name of religion is possible. Where exploitation of all kinds in the name of faith, capitalism, and consolidation of power have been and are possible.

In all my years visiting and studying in France I never picked up Charlie Hebdo. I saw it as a very old school, very French magazine, comfortable at thumbing its nose at everyone. It was a publication that I, who believes in being sensitive to all viewpoints and backgrounds, felt was one note and too abrasive for my personal tastes. However, I thought that it was indicative of a larger attitude in French culture. This is a position that privileges satire, flouting of authority, and snubbing ones nose at what is considered socially acceptable and polite.

Yes, it is a pompous position that comes from a former colonial power that still struggles to acknowledge the impact that colonial legacy has on its current policies (the riots in working class suburbs and housing projects in 2005 being a very clear example). Yes, it is a position of privilege that often does not acknowledge the (often straight, white, male and well educated) position of the author, and yes, I personally found some they published offensive or at least in “bad taste,” but that was part of the point. This piece in the New York Times explains well the satirical, comic tradition that Charlie Hebdo comes out of and summed up a lot of my feelings about the place of political humor to boot. Media Studies professor Catherine Lu wrote this piece about the specific intellectual history that Charlie Hebdo comes out of and urges intellectuals to resist making overly easy and prudish conclusions about racism or history.

Overall, these cartoons were just part of a range of a media landscape that seemed to me part of a democratic debate and one very particular viewpoint – the kind that likes to be offensive for the sake of it and you know that, but occasionally they have something very prescient to say.

Place de la Republique by Aurelia Bonfait

Place de la Republique by Aurelia Bonfait

This comes at a moment of rising Islamophobia in Europe (and the US), which is also another indication of France (and Europe’s) unexamined colonial legacy. I cringed as I watched American news media interview old French ladies in furs in classic, posh looking cafes griping about how they felt like “those people” did not understand the nature of “being French.”

I, like all of my French friends who I have talked to, fear the political backlash from these events. That like the United States after 9/11 there will be a turn towards the conservative, the patriotic, the unquestioning idea of what constitutes “France,” “Frenchness,” and “European.” And, yet, look at what else happened in France on Sunday the 11th. The massive united rallies across the country, with supposedly the one in Paris drawing over 3 million people, seemed free from an overt, jingoistic overtone. They were respectful, they were reflective.

I could hardly imagine the same thing happening in the US, and certainly the only post-9/11 demonstrations I attended were massive anti-war rallies, as I was convinced (and remained convinced) that a violent retaliation to a violent event will only lead to more violence. There were not masses of people chanting the French equivalent of “USA! USA!” but rather a show of respect and solidarity for the victims and a clamoring for the right for freedom of expression as the basis for a democratic society. And the far right Front National actively discouraged from participating.

I think back (murkily, it’s been a long time) to the broader American response post-9/11 and I remember as a newly minted New Yorker the crises of “We are all NYC!” rankled me. “Are you breathing the air full of corpses and asbestos?” I remember asking rhetorically, “Then you are not a New Yorker.” For my Parisian friends, how do you feel about the “Nous sommes tous Charlie” sentiment? Similar? Different?

Place de la Republique 1/11/2015 by Aurelia Bonfair

Place de la Republique 1/11/2015 by Aurelia Bonfait

My former neighbor and comic artist Matt Madden, who has been living in France for the past few years, wrote this touching piece about why yes, “I am Charlie,” despite his initial hesitation. I think the piece that summed up my feelings most of all was this one my friend Michel shared, the title which translates to “I am not Charlie, and believe me, I am as devastated as you.” It looks at the institutional and systematic conditions that have created homegrown extremists in France – the same conditions of political disenfranchisement, grinding poverty and lack of real opportunity that create extremists and criminals the world over.

Let us not forget that this is also happening at a time in the United States where unarmed Black men are being killed by overzealous law enforcement and we are experiencing a moment of intense questioning what it means to be in a society that promotes “justice” as a value the world over and yet denies that to our own citizens here at home. The systems that shape extremism in Europe are similar to the ones who shape extremism, hate, fear and violence close to home as well.

Photo by Amelie Nello, Place de Bastille 1/11/2015

Photo by Amelie “Morning by Foley,” Place de Bastille 1/11/2015

My friends Michel and Sabine shared this moving piece from a French school teacher who teaches at a middle school in Seine Saint Denis, a working class suburb northeast of Paris that was at the epicenter of anti-police and anti-government riots in 2005 (not far from where where then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy famously declared that he would to “nettoyer la cite au karcher”[clean up the housing project with a high powered pressure washer] and called working class youth “racaille” or scum). The author talks about how their students, the majority of them Muslim, are critical, smart, nuanced and grateful to talk about the situation, and how in all of this we need to resist simple ideas, solutions and generalizations. It reinforces my feeling that the only way forward is through critical dialogue, thought and critique.

And that is what is at the crux of all of this. The way forward, the way to heal, is not through more dogmatism about what should or should not be allowed to be printed, or who is or is not a certain nationality, but towards building societies that are actually open to debate, disagreement, and mutual respect. That is not a fast moving solution, but a long game. It is not convenient for those who see answers that lie in capitalism, religion or any particular state. I believe it will only come about by looking at the historical roots of the contemporary conflicts that we are facing around the world and doing our best to unravel them. Dialogue and debate are uncomfortable. They are uncertain. When we engage sincerely we sometimes look like idiots. We have to admit where we are wrong and also be strong enough to stand up for our values and what we believe. At the end of it all, I believe this is what the illustrators and journalists working for Charlie Hebdo did, whether or not it’s the way I personally engage in the debate.

As Nick Keppler, a journalist friend, wrote on Facbeook, “I’ve been a journalist my entire adult life and a hopeless irreverent smart-ass for much longer. No one should die for either.”

Nous sommes tous Charlie.

Paris et NYC, avec toute ma cœur je vous aime...

The empire state glows bleu, blanc, rouge in tribute to France 1/11/2015

 

2014 Year in Review: Travels, New Opportunities, Building Blocks

Of course it happens every year. I look back over the course of the past twelve months and think, “What, I’m back here already?” 2014 was quite the year for me with new opportunities, unexpected detours and of course a few road blocks on the path of my life. In some areas (especially for me right now professionally) possibilities seem to be opening or evolving, but of course nothing in life is smooth sailing, and while I’ve found some of what I hoped for and sought after I also felt like many things fell short or flat. In summary, it’s been another year of my life and I wanted to share the some of the highlights of the past twelve months with you.

January

Vision board 2014: what am I trying to manifest, Internet?

I kicked off 2014 by making a vision board that summarized what I envisioned for myself in the year ahead: technology, travel (to France), and cultivating a no-nonsense sense of style and self possession. Looking over it now, it’s amazing to see how much of this did materialize.

Saturday code looks good to me

I spent the first two months of the year mired in code and learned the basics of the Ruby on Rails programming language. While now my programming skills are pretty rusty, my taste of code was enough to kick off a career change and orient myself towards technical applications of my interest in creative entrepreneurship.

February

This commuting creature is really sad today is not a snow day

Winter 2014 was terrible in NYC. It was a never ending parade of ice, snow and below freezing temperatures. Note the two scarves in the photo above.

LA Zine Fest fashion: space tights! + docs, shorts & Gal's Rock tshirt!

I escaped the crushing NYC winter for a trip to LA that was focused around the LA Zine Fest. I got to hang out with my friend Meredith, who I met through zines and music over a decade ago in Portland, Oregon.

Zine fest redux!

March

Like the BO$$ of SXSW

My escape from the NYC winter continued with ten days in Austin for SxSW where I managed to speak on three panels at the Film, Interactive, and Music festivals and generally bummed around Austin seeing friends from all over, eating breakfast tacos, drinking free alcohol and riding a borrowed cruiser bike around like a boss.

Looking happy pre-music data happy hour talk #datarocks #sxsw

I had barely touched down from Austin and recovered from my ten day Tex-Mex hangover when I started my job on the Community team at Shapeways, a 3D printing service and marketplace. Thus began my introduction to the wonderful world of 3D printing and design, as well as some of the nicest and hardest working colleagues in the business.

Object of the day: mini-me in 3D! #3dselfie #shapeways

April

California real/surreal

With winter still lingering into spring I snuck away, yet again, to Southern California to present at the Craftcation conference and to talk about the themes of goal setting and budgeting from my book Grow. I also got to meet some of my crafty, entrepreneurial inspirations, like Michelle Ward and Kari Chapin, and spend more time with my friends KC and Sharon, the masterminds behind the Academy of Handmade.

Craftcation Author SoCal DIY

At Craftcation with the amazing Michelle Ward

May/June

Double Gemini Birthday Girls!

For the 13th year in a row I celebrated my birthday with my Gemini twin Lauren and our amazing group of friends in Brooklyn. I also spent time at the NYC Popfest and the Northside Festival, leading me to coin the term “friend rock” or “young lifers” – a group of friends in about their 30s who all go to see each others’ bands. We’re not as cool as the young hotshots from Bushwick, but we’re not disconnected from them either.

Leaders in the friend rock scene: Brian, Aileen and Stephen

Young lifers: Brian (of Shelter Dogs/The Planes), Aileen (of Space Merchants), Jon (of The Black Black), Stephen (The Planes/Big Quiet)

I also go off my duff to compete in the Punk Rope Games and my team, Team Henri for a certain depressed French cat, did not come in last!

Let the Punk Rope Games begin! Let's go Team Cats Meow #cattitude

July
Jump!

I went to France for nearly two weeks! It was awesome! You can see my full photos of what I saw, where I walked and what I ate and bought on Flickr.

Paris nightwatch

I spent several days walking around Paris seeing friends and my favorite places and then jaunted off to Brittany with my family for a week in the picturesque harbor town of Paimpol.

Fishng boats, Port de Paimpol

View through the sea grass

And then back to Paris with my parents to witness the finish of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees.

Yellow Jersey!

Family Portrait II

August

Nothing motivates me to do yoga and Pilates more than my new tiger tights!

After my French excess of cheese and wine I decided it was time to start a regular yoga practice, which I’m proud to say I’ve kept up at least twice a week since August! These awesome tiger yoga pants help.

Beach Day!

I also spent a weekend in beautiful Cape May New Jersey for the marriage of my niece Heather and her amazing (now wife) Renee!

September

Rules had our debut show at Cake Shop in early September

Rules had our debut show at Cake Shop in early September

My band Rules had our debut show at Cake Shop on the Lower East Side in September and then jumped into recording for the 4 Track Challenge organized by Stephen from The Planes and Hearts Bleed Radio. You can hear the EP we created on Soundcloud.

We are double ready for the #4trackchallenge

The end of September was unseasonably warm, so I got one final bike ride to Rockaway Beach in, as well as got to indulge in a small feast at Rockaway Taco and hold on to the summer for one final gasp.

Summer redux: forever in our hearts

October

Aileen "Rock Locks" Brophy and The Space Merchants mainline the sun #zerofest

The Space Merchants play at Shea Stadium as part of Zero Fest

October kicked off with Zerofest, an awesome weekend-long fest celebrating the DIY music scene of Brooklyn that took place in friendly apartments, DIY spaces and low-key clubs all around Bushwick hosted by the ever energetic Jon Mann and Derek Hawkins, the forces behind the great Square Zeros music blog.

Dutch Evening #1

In mid-October I jetted off to Europe again for week-long trip to Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, where I spent most of my time working at Dutch Design Week, eating at Onder de Leidingstraat (below), and celebrating the opening of the new Shapeways factory!

Onder de Leidingstraat

You can see the complete photos from my Eindhoven work adventure on Flickr and read about my recommendations for where to eat, shop and party earlier on this here blog.

Back in the US I managed to organize a one-day conference on building a small business with 3D printing and you can see the complete proceedings on Shapeways’ YouTube channel.
November

Just Richard Hell, Debbie Harry, Alice Bag and Courtney Love hanging out

Liz Flyntz as Richard Hell, Amanda B. as Debbie Harry, me as Alice Bag and Marisha C. as Courtney Love at Pet Rescue

And then, Halloween! I collaborated with Brian LaRue at Pet Rescue to put on a Halloween Party that included rockers reading from rockstars memoirs in character and Operation Ivy, Smashing Pumpkins, and Guided by Voices cover bands. It was a magical evening and I hope it will be come an annual event.

My replacement dress for my friend Rachel's wedding in Durham, NC

My replacement dress for my friend Rachel’s wedding in Durham, NC

I spent a whirlwind few days bouncing from Detroit to Durham, North Carolina where I managed to forget the dress I brought for a friend’s wedding and had to find a quick (and equally beautiful) replacement. I think I succeeded!

Playing guitar in Rules at Bar Matchless

Playing guitar in Rules at Bar Matchless

Rules squeaked in another show and then I had the luck of seeing all the members of the “Young Lifer/Friend Rock” scene play in a jumble of new bands in the first ever lottery band showcase – so much fun and especially poignant as I just found out that Trash Bar, where the show was held and where I spent many a drunken evening circa 2006, will succumb to Williamsburg’s insanely high rents.

Lottery Band Show: Brooklyn Indie Rock Class of 2014

Lottery Band Show: Brooklyn Indie Rock Class of 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December

December, all told, was a pretty quiet month and concluded with a trip home to Maine and a party with friends here in Brooklyn. I don’t have any huge conclusions about 2014 except that I think it was a year of building what’s to come next – it wasn’t a year of breakthroughs, but a slow turn towards figuring out what it means to live my life how I want it to be, in my 30s, here in Brooklyn.

A coveted pair of LL Bean duck boots

A coveted pair of LL Bean duck boots my Mom found for me for Christmas

Maine winter sky

Here’s to you and more adventures, opportunities and changes to learn and grow in 2015!

Beyond the Aesthetics of Progress

Reflecting on the events in and in response to Ferguson, Missouri I wrote this on Facebook, “So if you want to know how I really feel: I was talking tonight about how despite my radicalism I had this naive idea that culture would “progress” and politics would have to follow. But now I feel like we’ve only “progressed” aesthetically, sort of, and really what we are left with is a legacy (and current practice) of slavery, colonialism and extreme racism (as well as sexism and many other ugly things). But because of those aesthetics of progress those who call out injustice are often shut down and made to feel crazy and like they are “subjective.”

benetton_handcuffs1

With so many trolls and often unproductive exchanges I’m reluctant to talk about politics online, but I thought more about this idea of the “aesthetics of progress” and wanted to write a little more about that. In the past ten years I feel lucky to see some kind of “progress” on a political front in the United States – gay marriage is legal in the majority of states, Barak Obama is President,  Sheryl Sanberg and Beyonce feminism is part of the norm, we see big pop culture movies with strong female heroines… and these things are powerful and some of them have a profound impact on peoples’ lives, but at the same time there’s been so many disturbing things happening that it can make all of this supposed “progress” look a bit wan.

A friend who commented on my Facebook page commented, “I agree that we mask our shit much better than we used to, but I also think that we are digging at deeper and deeper psychological levels of hatred. 300 years ago the murder of an unarmed black teen in would have barely caused an eyelash to bat, now it’s world news.” And while I completely agree, I have to ask, at what price this perspective and slow progress?

In our progressive society we see brute racism such in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown, the erosion of a woman’s right to choose whether or not she will have children (or even have access to health care and birth control), violent backlash to feminist critiques of tech and gamer culture (or event the suggestion of the important of diversity) that we’ve seen in gamer gate, the erosion of job security and the middle class at the benefit of the super wealthy… and the those are just the examples I could think about off the top of my head.

I know that addressing injustice is uneven, but this is more about political stagnation and back tracking on political gains, a culture that is hostile to all those who are not white, rich and male under the guise of diversity and empowerment, United Colors of Benetton style. I feel we are living out the specific legacy of George W. Bush’s policies and culture, as well as the influence of groups like the Tea Party – conservatism, restriction on women’s right and belief in trickle down economics – combined with a sense of entitlement and a willingness to ignore connections between issues and events.

There’s nothing new to this, but I’m realizing that what I want is not just aesthetics of progress, but an end to what bell hooks called in her more politically pointed earlier writing the “white, supremacist, capitalist, [heteronormative] patriarchy.” I realize I sound like the late 1990s cultural studies student that I am, but there’s real truth and power in remembering that oppressions act together. It may sound strange to bring up Ferguson, MO and “Gamergate” in one short post, the point is that what we are witnessing is a violent crack down on “difference” and a society that is becoming more and more closed and hostile, while spewing rhetoric of progress and greater equality.

I find myself returning to James Baldwin, one of my favorite writers, not necessarily for answers and hope, because he wrote of the same cultural forces and histories 60 years ago, but for a reminder to keep analyzing, keep going deeper into the histories and prejudices that drive these events, and to keep fighting and taking care of ourselves and nurturing the vision for a society we truly want to see. And so I’ll leave you with a (long) quote from Baldwin:

“The idea of white supremacy rests simply on the fact that white men are the creators of civilization (the present civilization, which is the one that matters; all precious civilizations are simply “contributions” to our own) and are therefore civilizations guardians and defenders. Thus it was impossible for Americans to accept the black man as one of themselves, for to do so was to jeopardize their status as white men. But not so to accept him was to deny his human reality, his human weight and complexity, and the strain of denying the overwhelming undeniable forced Americans into rationalizations so fantastic that the approached the pathological.”

And finally, “I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

– James Baldwin, from Notes of a Native Son

 

Growing DIY

Talk tonight! Thanks Handmade Madison!

Sign for my talk in Madison, WI

A year ago today I set off on two-week loop through the Midwest for a major leg of my book tour for Grow.  It was a chance to revisit places I’d visited several times and loved, like Minneapolis, Detroit, Kansas City and Chicago, and return to other places that I had not been to since I drove across the country three times in two years between 2001 and 2002, such as Madison, Wisconsin and Indianapolis. It was also my first time in places like Tulsa and Omaha.

The trip was an amazing opportunity to see a part of the United States, which honestly, can get a bit of a underrated wrap by people who don’t live there, and to understand better how the landscape and culture unfolds. Driving gave me a much more direct feeling of distance and geography of what is sometimes deridingly called “fly over country.”

I recapped my learnings from my book tour here and shared pictures of my time in the Midwest here.  Now that it’s been exactly a year since I shoved off to hawk Grow in cities I barely knew to a mixture of old friends, new friends and friendly strangers, I started to think about how different my life is since that time. While last year was one of learning and growth that was sometimes painful, today I’ve been thinking about what it has meant for me to have this funny little book full of passion, ideas and bullet points about growing the work and life you want out in the world.

When the book first came out I had this naïve idea that now that I was a “published author” my life would change. While my life has changed a lot, my book did not bring upon those changes. I made changes slowly and gradually, as I implemented the very strategies and lessons I outlined in Grow to strategically define and accomplish a personal, creative vision.

Grow on the scrabble board! #growtour

Grow DIY in Minneapolis at Boneshaker Books

As I traveled the country talking to passionate, creative entrepreneurs I saw clearly that I was no longer passionately engaged in my fulltime job of arts administration and fundraising. While that had been evident to me for awhile, traveling the country and talking to those who were taking the leap to follow their passion made it clear I could not come home and keep doing what I had been doing.

Talking to all kinds of different people and taking in new cities and parts of the United States also reminded me about the importance of following my own curiosity. For several years I had been curious about innovative technologies and how they were intersecting with creative entrepreneurship in New York. As I traveled and got to indulge my curiosity about new places I realized I could do the same at home. This lead me to take a “deep dive” into the New York tech scene (if one can call it that) and explore startup companies where creativity, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation came together.

Lauren from Creative Outlet Studios helps with our sign

(OK, this photos is from California… Creative Outlet Studios)

Long story short: I quit my full time arts administration job, went freelance, took a class learning back end web development, got an internship at a startup, went to what felt like 100s of meetups, went on many, many interviews, wrote many cover letters and finally, ended up at the right place: Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace and community, as the Community Outreach Coordinator.

But this post is not about how publishing a book led me on a meandering path to my next job and a new career. Ironically, since Grow has come out I’ve written far less, though I did manage to put out a personal zine, and I feel like I have to actively re-engage creativity in my life and start working on the next writing project seriously which is most likely… a novel (gasp!).

This post is about expectations for projects. When Grow came out part of me thought, “That’s it! I’ve arrived, I’m a real author now!” When the impact of the actual book’s publication, and continued existence, felt far removed from my actual life I started to feel like the book had had no impact and, in darker moments that I was a “failure” (and not in the chic way failure is thrown around these days).  I worried that all the writing, editing, revising, designing, crowd funding, touring, and hustle didn’t matter. A year later I can see it did, but in a way that was subtler than I initially envisioned. Grow wasn’t about becoming an author, but building a life that I wanted and one that feels right for me and who I am now. And that’s the essence of the project. I wrote it into existence and hustled to make my life catch up to my words. A year later, I’m happy that it has.

Goodbye to All of You (who want to go)

Sunset Park at winter twilight is a surreal and magical place

I composed this post while I was walking home through the silent, Brooklyn, evening during a mid-winter snowstorm. I love the times when NYC is quiet and feels like it’s taking a rare, much needed pause. I just had drinks at my favorite local bar with K., the kind of place that is dim and mellow, with chatty bar tenders and perfect Manhattans every night of the week except Friday and Saturday evenings, when it seems to be taken over by obnoxious hordes. We were talking about the difficulty and constant hustle of establishing ones self and building a satisfying professional life in New York City. Somedays it feels particularly out of reach. The economy is markedly improved in recent years, because of that, more and more people want to come to live here. I always maintained that creative, smart people had a better chance to find work here than elsewhere because there were simply more opportunities available. However, there’s also a lot more competition.

New York will always draw the young, the not-so-young, the creative and ambitious. That’s part of what makes it an exciting place to be. But now with the “brand” of Brooklyn being synonymous with global cool, silicon alley rivaling silicon valley for tech innovation, and shows like Girls broadcasting an unrealistic version of what it means to be a twenty-something in Brooklyn the NYC cool factor is having a real cultural moment. I feel like it’s really putting a lot of pressure, financial and otherwise, on opportunities like jobs, social events and housing for people in my age range.

... Except if they do

Moments like this never fail… by Dzine

Lately I found myself discouraging my peers who casts doubts on living in NYC from moving out. “I spent time in 24 different US cities last year!” I tell them, “I loved them all, they are all interesting places full of creative, smart people doing cool things, but I don’t want to live in any of them! I want to live here!” I say.

“Look at the access you have to culture, public transit, great food, innovative projects, and you don’t have to own a car!” I’ll argue.

“Feel the lack of social pressure!” I’ll implore, “You can be exactly who you want to be here!”

But tonight I had a change of heart. I realized I wasn’t so much trying to convince them to stay as to convince myself that I have made the right decision. It’s as if I’m worried I’ll be left clinging to a relationship that’s run its course out of nostalgia of how things used to be when the object of my affection, and all of my friends, have moved on. What I realized is that I need to feel confident enough about my decision to dig my heels in here and stay and let others go through their own discovery process with what they need in a place to live and what they need in life.

I wrote this past fall about the backlash many artists and writers have felt against the city because they moved here to pursue their artistic dreams and felt that the reality fell short of their romantic notions. I start to wonder why I stayed and stayed devoted to the the idea that one can build a creative life here or anywhere. And then I realized this:

My romantic notions of my New York City life lasted about 3 weeks. I moved here in late August of 2001 to start college. On September 11th, I realized with a sinking feeling how little I knew about world politics, NYC, or what my life would look for feel like after that day. I realized quickly that the city owed me nothing and any attempt I might have to control my experience here would be in vain. It was in that moment I knew I could throw in the towel and go back to the life I had in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine or stay and tough it out. I knew if I stayed I was making a long term commitment to the city. I decided to stay.

I’ve stayed in NYC through loneliness, depress, recession, my saturn returns (if you believe in that stuff), and long enough to build up a career and now, begin pursuing a different direction. I’ve earned two degrees, become fluent in a second language, started to learn to code, played in bands, written a book, become a confident NYC cyclist, planned and then abandoned plans to move to Paris or LA, and most of all, eeked out a somewhat stable life for myself working in the arts, culture and education field, while nurturing friendships, hopes, dreams and plans.

Our rock'n'roll lifestyle to do list

NYC rock’n’roll life style to do list at my band practice space

In high school a teacher told me, “You can live however you want in New York City,” when I confessed to her my dream to study and live here. Since then I’ve taken her advice to heart. But living how you want in NYC often means doing so on the city’s terms. And that can be a tough proposition. So, if you find you can’t live how you want here, there’s no harm and no foul. There’s a place out there for you. It’s waiting. Go. there are so many places to be be cultured, innovative and interesting. To launch new businesses and make new art. And no matter what, New York City’s frenetic rhythm continues, whether it’s the current barometer of cultural cool or not, and honestly, whether you or I are here at all.  But I plan to be here. You are always welcome to come back to visit.

Letting go of 2013

New badge, longtime life adage #diy

At the end of 2013 I set out to set my goals and intentions for the New Year. I’m not one for full on “resolutions” because the beginning of January rarely feels like a rebirth, but rather, simply the beginning of the long haul of the New York winter. I began 2013 with a lot of possibility and a lot of uncertainty and guess what… I’m starting 2014 the same way!
Getting ready for Grow's launch!

First of all, 2013 was a huge year for me personally. I put out my first book, Grow: How do take your do it yourself project and passion to the next level and quit your job!, and booked a national tour, visiting 24 different cities over the course of 3 months. It was really amazing to make so many new connections and get to spent so much time exploring parts of the country both new and already dear to me. Spending two weeks driving through the Midwest immensely grew my appreciation and understanding for the US as a whole. Though I’d taken my high school indie pop band on an East Coast tour and done several cross country road trips in my early 20s, to have the freedom and opportunity to explore with a focus of connecting and working with creative entrepreneurs was incredible. To connect with so many artists, handmade business owners, creatives and makers who are pursuing their dreams and figuring out how to fold them into their lives was awesome. Every day I was blown away by the honesty, focus and strength of the DIY community.

Work is love made visible. (Has there ever been a more Puritan statement?)

Coming back from all this traveling also made me realize that while the rest of the US is pretty awesome, I also love New York. I decided to shelve (for now) my plans to move to Los Angeles to focus on making my life what I want in the city where I’ve grown my deepest roots and community outside of my home state of Maine.

The air up there

I spent a huge portion of the year with views like this

As I reflected on what I really wanted, post-book and book tour, I decided to strike out on my own as a freelancer in order to be able to spend more time working on projects close to my heart, have more flexibility in my work schedule, and learn new skills so I can begin working for creative startups and consulting companies. Something that really surprised me is that one of the skills I started to develop out of sheer curiosity was learning to code. I entered into some weekend workshops at General Assembly thinking I would learn the basics of the web development process to help jumpstart my career shift. I wasn’t expecting to fall deeply in love with backend web development, specifically Ruby on Rails. I feel completely immersed, sometimes to the point of drowning, in this new world and I love every second of it so far. I’ve found the tech community in NYC to be welcoming, enthusiastic and supportive and have especially loved connecting with the New York Tech Women.

Well, this is the start of a new adventure

My love of code was a surprise to me

My newfound love of programming showed me, yet again, that you never know what you will discover about yourself, as trite and cheesy as that might sound. So where does this lead me for 2014?

My friend Tracy asked me three questions that I think sum up my year pretty well: what I learned, what I’m proud of, and what am I looking forward to next year.

In brief:

I learned how to think clearly. I’m better at assessing personal and professional situations clearly and setting realistic expectations. I learned that having goals is not as important as actualizing them or gaining momentum. Goals are key because they set you in motion and community is important because it provides the bridge for you to achieve those goals, but you still have to make your own opportunity.

Not Afraid Anymore I

My first tattoo

I’m proud of gaining the courage to take risks and to push myself emotionally, personally and professionally to move towards and deal with the things that scare me the most. I’ve also gained the courage to be humble and admit what I don’t know.
Who Dares Wins

I’m looking forward to establishing a routine that gives me a space to create and reflect through regular time to meditate, write, and continue to study Ruby and other languages.

2013 was a transformative year for me in that I went through a lot of very painful growth. It was not triumphant transformation, but some acute periods of loss and letting go.  Fortunately, with that release can come a new lightness and clarity which I hope will help me take a big leap forward in the new year. With that, what did you learn in 2013?  What was your proudest moment? And what are you looking forward to?

Don't I have the best cousins?

One of the best parts of the year was getting to reconnect with my cousins