Three Things That Helped Me This Morning


Image is of a dozen overlapping conversation bubbles in a range of colors with the words “let’s talk” underneath.

My initial reactions to Tuesday night were, in order, disbelief, anger, and hopelessness. Over the last couple of days I’ve listened, watched, and participated in a number of conversations about moving forward. Earlier today, I posted the following on Facebook:

We’ve come to the point where it’s about “survival” for 99% of us, but we 99% are divided about what survival requires. Those divisions are fueled by decades of residential segregation, fear-mongering, and economic exploitation. Trump’s middle-America voters who are hoping for that Carrier plant to stay open? They’re going to be angry and disappointed. Others whose bigotry has been emboldened threaten those of us whose skin color, religion, or relationships offend them, making it really fucking hard for us to talk to those who are mostly just worried about that Carrier plant. Many of us across the political spectrum stand to lose health care, access to education, and jobs. The 1% that remains in charge no matter who wins elections has the rest of us right where they need us.

That seemed to resonate with a lot of people, and it got me thinking about the small things we can do to contribute to the building of a future that truly sustains many more of us. I’m thinking about how our social media bubbles insulate us and harm us. I’m thinking about how our communities feel vindicated or threatened. I’m thinking about the fear-mongering and about the very real dangers many of us are facing. I’m thinking about how desperately we need to be able to talk across difference and about how hard that is when we feel more and more polarized and threatened. The threats are real and yet the polarization is greater than it needs to be. In my classrooms I work with students who are often for the first time interacting with a diverse group of peers. Facilitating conversation, even being present in conversation, when the underlying inequalities are so deep and yet often rendered invisible, is a challenge. That is a challenge many of us need to take up.

This morning over breakfast I read three pieces that helped me think about the complexities we face in trying to talk about this election and all that it touches. I want to share them, just as three possible levers to use in moving conversations about the future.

The first was a news article from The New York Times, “Can Trump Save Their Jobs? They’re Counting On It,” written by Nelson D. Schwartz, asking what will happen if Donald Trump can’t save the Carrier manufacturing plant in Indiana that he used as a central figure in his campaign speeches.

The second was a more personal piece with the title “What a Gay, Muslim, Pakistani-American Immigrant Learned Traveling to Rural Alaska the Week Before the Election,” written by Riaz Patel, and published on Patel talks about the people he met while traveling across the United States, including a trip to Alaska, meeting and getting to know – and getting known by – exactly the kinds of white working class voters that have been so central to discussions about the 2016 election.

The third was an open letter from, a coalition of leaders who are women of color and who are committed to continuing the work of organizing for social justice. They recognize that it is often the work of women, and often of women of color, queer women, immigrant women that pushes the nation to do the right thing, focus on on solutions and breaking down the politics of hate.

I’m sharing these three pieces because they come from very different sources and because they identify some of the ways that survival is at stake for so many of us.

I’m thinking of all of the small things we can each do to contribute to one another’s survival. One thing I commit to doing is to sharing three articles a week that were meaningful to me as I think about the issues we have to face. This campaign didn’t create the issues. Instead, the issues created the conditions for the campaigns we watched and the election outcome we’ve all just witnessed.

Here’s one small thing I’m going to do. I’m going to start a weekly email newsletter – just a very small thing – that will share three articles I’ve read recently that helped me think about and talk about these issues with people who don’t immediately share my perspective. I’ll include a brief summary (no more than what I’ve included above), that explains what prompted me to share the article. I might include a couple of questions that the articles prompted me to ask. And maybe a cat picture or some small bit of humor.

If you’d like to receive such a thing, SUBSCRIBE HERE.



“Lets Talk” conversation bubble image is by Ron Mader on Flickr and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike generic license.

Rocking The Boat

photo by Will Van Dorp

photo of Tug Hackensack by Will Van Dorp

My partner Will has a thing for boats. In fact, we lived on a boat for the first three years of our relationship. It was beautiful, and challenging. One of the beauties of boat life was that we were tied to a dock but we floated up and down with the tide. I’ve never been so tuned in to natural rhythms. No matter how much stress there was in my day or how chaotic the world seemed (and given that we’re talking 2000-2003 there was a lot of chaos), there was a regularity and a rhythm to my immediate environment. No matter what else was happening, the tide came in and the tide went out two times a day. Just like the tide marked daily rhythms, phases of the moon marked monthly rhythms, and bird migrations marked annual ones. All of this was visible, tangible, and inextricably woven through our everyday lives. There were beautiful sunrises.

I’m thinking about this because I’m planning for a transition in my own life, and it’s one that will require me to give up quite a bit of something that I’ve been holding on to tightly for the last 15 years: stability. I had very little stability growing up, and so creating stability as an adult is something I’ve prized more than just about anything else. I am proud of the fact that I pushed through college and graduate school and had my Ph.D and a tenure-track job before I was 30. I had tenure by 34, and along with that came a lot of security: a solid career path, good pay, excellent health insurance, a retirement savings plan, and work that combines intellectualism and social justice in a way that I think truly improves my students lives and their communities.

But it’s time to rock the boat, and thinking about boats is really helping me see that giving up some stability is not necessarily as scary as I thought. Boats are designed to move through water, unattached to the earth. They pitch and roll with the waves, an experience that can be terrifying and yet relatively safe at the same time. A sailboat flies through the water heeled way over on its side and then returns to its upright position when its sails are pulled in. A boat can’t balance itself on stable ground, but put it in the dynamic environment of the water and it’s resilience is immediately apparent. I remember being surprised during Hurricane Sandy when Will blogged about the large boats and ships that were staying safe by staying away from the piers and docks. Even during a storm, the resilience of a boat is greatest when it is not tied to a stationary point.

That’s what I’m holding dear right now: resilience. I’m going to focus on the strength of rolling with the waves instead of the stability of maintaining position. When I took my current teaching job sixteen years ago and we lived on our boat, I used to joke with colleagues that if the job didn’t work out I could just “cut the lines and go.” I never did, and that’s not what I’m contemplating now. But I’m definitely planning for a life with more fluidity, one that requires putting more emphasis on resilience than on stability. I will find new rhythms, and perhaps some beautiful sunrises!

Why Now?

live-511566_1280Four years ago at Christmas, my sister treated us both to an aerial yoga class. At the end of the class we were instructed to wrap ourselves in our hammocks for a suspended relaxation exercise. It was blissful. The instructor asked us to think about one thing that we needed to add or subtract from our lives in order to feel happier in the coming year. As I floated in my hammock, and tried to clear my mind, two things happened. First, tears came to my eyes. Thinking intentionally about happiness was a very moving experience. Second, the phrase “one-on-one” floated into my mind. The phrase was accompanied by a deeply felt need to do more direct helping work.

At the time I was teaching full time, working as the treasurer of my faculty union, volunteering as a strategist for Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance, and of course navigating my own personal life. Each of those activities brought satisfaction, but each also came with its own peculiar frustrations. Over the course of the winter break I thought a lot about that moment in the hammock and as I did, it became less and less surprising. I love working with students in the classroom, but what I love even more about teaching is the one-on-one work I do when a student needs advising or individual help with course material. I loved my work with the union, but the things I loved most about it were our small executive committee meetings, where we’d solve problems and plan for the future, and the times I’d be able to sit with an individual faculty member to address a troubling workplace issue. And I love just about everything about working with Woodhull, but what I love most are my one-on-one strategy calls and meetings with Ricci Levy, our Executive Director.

About six months after that Christmas, my mother got sick and I took time off from work to help take care of her. I learned a lot during the last months of my mother’s life. There were lessons in the importance of love, the intensity of caregiving, in the complexity of health care and in the vagaries of mortality. And there was a radical break from my everyday life during which, out of necessity, I stepped away from the classroom, the union, and even to some degree from Woodhull.

After my mother’s death at the end of 2012, I began to slowly reassemble my routines. I went back to the classroom, but not back to the union. I picked my Woodhull work back up with a renewed passion. I noticed where I was feeling the most fulfillment and where I was experiencing the greatest frustrations. I started to wonder about a life beyond full-time teaching. Then I was awarded a year-long sabbatical to write a book about my mother, and in the process of writing that book I thought more and more about how to shape my life so that I can have more of what I wanted all those years ago in that hammock.

And slowly, that is what I’m building towards. This launch is not a sudden change, but rather an outgrowth of deliberate and strategic thinking. My intent is to build slowly, thoughtfully, and carefully while opening myself to the risks of starting something new. If it surprises me and grows like a proverbial weed, I’m confident that I can keep up with it. It will mean that I focus less on stability and more on resilience, something I’ll write more about in my next post. And it means that while the future looks less certain than it once did, it also looks brighter and happier.

Close your eyes. Quiet your mind. Let yourself think of one thing you need to add or subtract from your life in order to feel happier. What do you see? What will it take? Is there anything I can do to help?

Stronger together!


We are stronger together!

In a spot in the old city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, there is a place called Plazuela de la Rogativa. It stands on a high spot just inside the wall on the west end of the island and it looks out onto the harbor. The statue -pictured here – commemorates a night in 1797 when the island was being attacked by British warships while most of the city’s men were off fighting elsewhere. Here is the story, as told on

So the bishop and his congregation took it upon themselves to march through the city in an attempt to get the saints to help them. While they marched through the city they sang hymns and carried torches in their attempt to invoke help against the potential attack.

This procession of unarmed men and women was more effective then they had ever hoped it would be. On seeing the torches of the procession the British fleet came under the impression that the reinforcements had unexpectedly arrived early. The march scared off the potential invaders who left immediately abandoning their siege.

This story is often told as a way of demonstrating the power of religious faith. I am not a religious person, but I understand the power of being committed to a community and a set of ideals. This story is powerful not because of its religious message, but because it illustrates the way that a small group of organized, committed individuals working together can overcome an objectively more powerful group. In this story, cooperation trumps force. This is similar to what is meant by a quote generally attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

organization-152809_640It is what the “Organize!” fish poster illustrates, and it is the logic of unions and social movements.

When you look at the goals you are trying to achieve, look around you and try to identify allies that you might have overlooked, and ask whether the goal you are trying to achieve might be of importance to others. Even purely personal goals can be easier to achieve when we have the support and commitment of allies. I would not have been able to finish My Mother’s Cross without a team of people who believed I could do it and offered support and encouragement along the way.

We are stronger together!

Sharing Power: Buffy, Birthdays and Books

Mom in the hospital a few months before she died. She is wearing her favorite orange "Cuffed and Stuffed" t-shirt and using her grabber as if it is a rifle.

Mom in the hospital a few months before she died. She is wearing her favorite orange “Cuffed and Stuffed” t-shirt and using her grabber as if it is a rifle.

Yesterday Sophie Gilbert published an essay at celebrating the 18th anniversary of the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She describes the ways in which Buffy represented a conventional teen hero (pretty, blond, athletic), and then all the many ways in which Buffy the character and Buffy the television show were subversive in the sheer joy they took in displays of female power.

Today a friend posted a quote on Facebook by a different Gilbert: Elizabeth Gilbert, memoirist and adventurer – surely another powerful woman. In the post my friend shared, Gilbert is credited with saying “The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”

How cool to read these two very different reflections on female power, one day after the other, and at a time when I’ve been working on my own memoir about women, power, and, to quote Elizabeth Gilbert, “handling shit.” Continue reading

Be Yourself?


How many times have you heard people say “Don’t worry. Just be yourself!” And you’ve groaned silently thinking, “It’s just not that easy!”

You’re right. It’s not. Here’s the thing: “Yourself” is not a simple one-dimensional entity. You are complex, multifaceted, and unique. The question is not “should I be myself or should I conform?” The question is “How can I be my best self in any given situation?”

20130329_134724This statue, called Gatogirafo, stands outside the Museo del Niño (Children’s Museum) in the old city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was right across the street from our inn, and I was captivated by it immediately. The Gatogirafo sends a great message to children. It’s okay to be strange, different, intriguing, hard to categorize. It’s a whimsical statue standing in an ancient city reminding us that we are each made of a whole bunch of interesting pieces.

The Gatogirafo has a clear place in the world. So do you. But thankfully you are not a statue! You have the power to find places where you best fit in, and you have the creativity to decide how to present yourself in the place you are right now.

Find your niche!


I love pigeons. Pigeons are everywhere in NYC, and it’s easy to disregard them as a moving greyish mass of messiness. But when you take a moment to really look at them, they are quite beautiful, each with a unique pattern, and they fulfill a variety of niches in the city’s ecosystem. 

The pigeon in this photo was nesting in a niche in the wall of El Moro, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I took the picture for a friend of mine who says if she is ever reincarnated she wants to come back as a pigeon.

As I look at the photo now, back in NYC, I think about it as illustrating the creativity we need to find our own niches. The hole in this enormous city wall was not made for this pigeon. But this creative little creature has adopted it and made it her own. 

We need to find our niches where we can, and we need sometimes to look in unlikely places.