Category Archives: my life

update: the sorta graduation

For months, I’ve been locked indoors trying to get enough of my dissertation finished so that I could walk in graduation. Last week, I handed something that sorta kinda looks vaguely like a maybe dissertation to my committee, much to the absolute joy of my family, I walked in Berkeley’s graduation. Of course, that does not mean that I’m graduated so don’t go calling me doctor. Oh, no, au contraire! This only means that I’ve walked and that my committee has full faith that I will be finished within six months. So, now, I have six months to file. ::gulp:: But it can be done!! It will be done!! I will finish!!

Graduation was a trip. My grandparents took their first flight in 13 years to come to California and join me on a very sunny day in Berkeley. I got to graduate with an amazing crop of Master’s students and four of my beloved PhDs. My former mentor Genevieve Bell gave a very inspiring talk filled with “anthropological advice” about how to approach the world like a fieldwork project. Post-graduation, I got some quality family time that involved a lot of food and wine tasting. It was a fantastic break, even if I’m now back to the grind.

As much as I’m a bit stir-crazy from all of the dissertation work, there’s a part of me that is absolutely loving the opportunity to hibernate and get clarity on what exactly I’ve been thinking about for the last five years. Lots of folks have told me that dissertations are archaic and silly, but I am soooo glad to be doing this. Having the opportunity to do some sustained thinking, get regular advice, and try to actually take my thinking to the next level has been a joyous thing. The downside is that it means that I have no life and am a complete hermit that has forgotten how to interact with humans. I now see how academics become the kooky creatures that they are. Tehehe.

Anyhow, I’m still gonna be a sucky communicator and blogger until I file this darn thing, but I feel as though progress is being made and graduation was a really nice reality check. Now I know that I. Am. Going. To. Finish. Grad. School. Darnit. W000t!

my creative environment

Anil Dash asked folks to tell him about their work environments, about what the environment is like where they feel most creative. In a moment of procrastination, I responded and I thought I’d share. If you’re so inclined, I’d love to know what is on the other side of your computer. I do love to hear how people’s lives are organized.

Two weeks before I hunkered down to write my last mega treatise, all of my CDs were stolen from my car. I whimpered on a mailing list and this super kind guy burned off 200 of the ones I lost and sent them to me. That week, I also bought the new Son Kite album. I took the 201 CDs with me to the cottage where I hibernated. One small problem… the CD player in the house in the middle of the woods did not play burned CDs. So, for 10 days, I listened to one CD on repeat: Son Kite’s “Perspectives Of.”

Ever since then, whenever I hunker down to write something longer than a blog post, including all of my articles and most of my essays, I mostly ignore the other 10,000 songs in my iTunes and play Son Kite. On repeat. Every once in a while, I expand out a little bit.. some Dr. Toast here, bluetech there, a little Antix, Ticon and Vibrasphere. But it mostly comes back to Son Kite.

To separate serious writing from anything else (since I never leave my house), I switch to more organic sounds. Blog posts get a little jazz, a little downtempo. When I am emotional and need to just run around the house screaming as a coping mechanism for writing, I turn on Ani DiFranco. Anyone who has followed my Last.FM lately probably realizes that there’s been a lot of screaming.

As for environment, my living room (a.k.a. office) has been the same for years. Two fuzzy green couches with 5 separate sitting options. Legs up on fuzzy stool. Surrounded by 1200 books, organized obsessively by topics and catalogued in a database for easy locating… a dozen or so sitting on the couch beside me. Lots of plants, all organic colors, no TV or monitor of any kind. A big calming buddha statue that weighs over 200 pounds and a variety of paintings from friends and travels. Huge windows with lots of light streaming in and birds chirping outside. Candles for nighttime. Twelve different lights that can be combined in different ways in relation to my mood. No fluorescents, all incancesdents.. I love the environment, but lighting really affects my productivity. Most importantly, my cat Marbellio sits on my left side or above my head on the windowsill all day while I work.

I’ve transported this setup to four different apartments since 2002. I can’t work in offices or anywhere where the lighting is headache producing. I can’t work at desks. I’m not so good at working without books surrounding me or my cat purring next to me. Environment really really matters when it comes t me producing anything of value.

After the storm…

After deciding that I couldn’t go to New Orleans for V-Day because of my dissertation, I started having pangs of regret. At the last moment, I called up my former colleagues and told them that I bought a last minute flight and would fly down there to be at their beck and call. I realized that I would forever hate myself for failing to go help in New Orleans.

I didn’t go to New Orleans to sit and watch the talks and enjoy the food. This is probably a good thing since I didn’t see a single talk or eat a single beignet or poboy. I landed at midnight and began working at 1AM. I worked 20 hour days for the next two days, eating whatever food ended up in my hands by accident. I worked my ass off and, even though I’m sore and emotionally exhausted, I don’t regret one minute of it.

V-Day’s 10th Anniversary was something special. I don’t even know where to begin. There were the dozens of international activists that we flew in to have them tell their stories, activists we had spotlighted over the years – women from Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines, Kenya, etc. Next year, our spotlight will be the Democratic Republic of Congo and with us this year was Dr. Mukwege from the Congo. He is part of the V-Men movement and was given an award for his work. He reconstructs women’s vaginas after they’ve been brutally torn to pieces while being raped during war. He has reconstructed hundreds of women and his work never ends.

We helped 1200 women who were victims of Katrina return to New Orleans for the first time since the storm. On the first morning, we stood in a line and hugged them and welcomed them. Thus began the tears. And oh the stories, dear god the stories. There were also thousands more women, Katrina Warriors who came to the Super Dome for the event. Many had unbelievably dreadful stories of what it was like to live in the Super Dome after the storm. After the storm… After the storm… So many sentences began with “after the storm.” What followed moved me in every which way and then some. Heartwarming stories of neighbors working together. Terrifying stories of being stopped from leaving New Orleans or the Super Dome by police officers and military. Personal stories about losing loved ones. A story of a dog rescued and then the rescuer refusing to give her back to her owner. Frustrating stories about FEMA. Oh, FEMA. No one had a single nice thing to say about FEMA. Asking local women about FEMA was kinda like asking a teacher about NCLB. Anger seethes through every pour.

The focus of this V-Day was obviously the women of the gulf south. The Super Dome was transformed to be a positive space for these women. Women of the Gulf South were treated to massages, aromatherapy, beauty treatments, yoga, and health services. All for free. Thousands and thousands of women showed up.

I played beck and call girl, doing what was needed whenever it was needed. I shuttled things from one place to another, tracked down activists, helped women get services. I held the hands of women who needed to be heard, hugged women who were in tears and needed to be validated, and even stood and took it when women needed to yell at me out of frustration. Many of these women needed to hear that someone cared. Many were at their wit’s end. The stories of suicide in New Orleans continue. The horror stories of bankruptcy and loss, alienation and disease continue. The victims of Katrina feel abandoned. And for good reason. As a nation, we have abandoned them. And it breaks my soul into pieces. I am embarrassed by my country, by our willingness to let this situation go untreated.

My friend I.S. keeps telling me that things down there are really bad, still really bad. I only half believed her. I mean, I heard it but I didn’t get it. On my way to the airport, a taxi driver drove me around town, including to where the levees broke. He used to work as an engineer in the chemical plant. It hasn’t reopened so he now drives a cab. He showed me how bad things still were, told me stories. There’s still spray-paint on the houses marking the dead. The mold is still visible and you can see through houses, or what was once a house and is now a crumbled shadow of a house. There are people who have rebuilt but most of their neighbors haven’t, creating a truly eerie feeling around there, especially in the rich neighborhood right under where the levee broke. The taxi driver explained how they patched the levee in a way that was strong and secure; he then showed me the difference. But next he sighed, pointing out that the levee is bound to break at a new point with the next storm. Until the levee is rebuilt, it’s going to keep on happening. It could be fixed, but well, the government…

On the first evening of the event, we showcased a play called “Swimming Upstream” by a group of local New Orleans’ writers about what it was like to live through Katrina. All true stories. Powerful, painful. Stories of neighbors, stories of friends… positive and horrifying. Once again, not a single nice thing to say about the government. I started getting a picture of just how corrupt and fucked up FEMA really was.

The second night was a production of The Vagina Monologues. After helping out backstage until curtain, I finally got a moment to sit down. I watched the show. I cried and I cried and I cried. The new pieces were all so amazing. And the gift to the Congo Doctor. And the local gospel choir. And then there was the final monologue… It was supposed to be played by Oprah but she was sick. It didn’t matter though because the woman who played it was far better than Oprah. The piece was called “Hey Miss Pat” and it was performed by Liz Mikel, a young actress Eve met in her travels. The piece was about an older New Orleans woman who cooked for all of her neighbors. It was telling the story of Katrina from the POV of someone who prided herself in taking care of her community… whose community was gone because of Katrina. It was heart-wrenching and Mikel had all of us in tears. Then, when it ended, Eve Ensler got on stage to thank Mikel. And then she told the audience that a special guest was here tonite – the real Miss Pat. Mikel gasped and said, “Oh my Lord!” before bursting out in tears, bringing the audience with her as the real Miss Pat came up on stage to hug her. What it was like at that moment…

I don’t have the language to capture the sheer energy of the women involved with and participating in the V-Day events this year. All I can say is that the event moved me more than I’ve been moved in a long, long time. And I am so grateful to have been able to help. And I’m so grateful to be a part of V-Day. Until the violence stops.

does work/life balance exist?

Reading the NYTimes over my Puffins (yes, I failed at staving off that addiction), I noticed this article: In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop. The article is painfully sensationalist and fails to really highlight the core issue regarding blog culture: bloggers do it cuz they wanna and cuz they lurve it. By and large, blogging is part of geek culture. Just like those who code, bloggers go late into the night doing their thing out of passion. Personally, my health improved when I switched from coding to blogging. I no longer down 2 2-liter bottles of Mt. Dew every day. I now have a gym membership and visit semi-often. And if you think that I’m pale now…

Underneath the sensationalism, there’s a core point here: those who are passionate about what they do do it to extremes. And when there’s the perception of a race (even if it’s self-imposed), it’s far too easy to take the extremes over the edge. I certainly spent my 20s running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying not to miss a single thing. It wasn’t for my blog per say – it was for “research.” I had to know everything the moment that it happened and I followed web developments like a hawk. My blog turned into the space where I spewed all of my pent-up energy out.

I can’t help but wonder if all of this is leading us down a dangerous path. The young and highly motivated turn into self-competing workaholics, often fueled by stimulants – legal (e.g., coffee), illegal (e.g., cocaine), and prescription (e.g., Provigil). Older folks and those who want to “have a life” look at this insanity with horror and back quietly away trying not to startled the hopped up beasts.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t playing into professional culture more broadly. Increasingly, only those bent on workaholism are valued as employees. Those who don’t push it to extremes are disregarded as lazy in many industries. There is pressure to work 24/7 and there are plenty of folks who take this seriously, even if it’s not in their best interests let alone the rest of society’s. I get so ravingly mad at my (primarily male) colleagues who work 14 hour days even though they have small children that they never see. It’s one thing to be a workaholic as a single 20-something; it’s another thing to be a workaholic as a parent. I get to see the flipside of that one – teens starved for attention, desperate to please in the hopes of being given attention and validation.

The problem is that the corporate world values workaholism. Those who do pull away from 24/7 lifestyles “because they’re getting older” find that there is huge ageism in many sectors of American business. If you can’t work 24/7, you aren’t getting that promotion. Fuck your kids, fuck your family, fuck your life. That ain’t so good for any of us and it seems like a recipe for disaster. It’s one thing to get paid many millions of dollars as a sports star, knowing that you’ll burn out by the end of your 20s and can then “retire.” It’s another thing to get paid an upper middle class wage only to burn out with no savings.

Of course, I’m saying this from the POV of a workaholic who is trying to ween her way off of that lifestyle. Or rather, is hoping to ween her way off of that lifestyle once the dissertation is over. And who realizes that she’s said that at every stage like an addict – I’ll do it when XYZ. But still, I can’t help but wonder – is it possible to really be in the flow and have work/life balance? Or will I find that, at the end of the day, I have to walk away from my work culture to have a life?

practicing the word ‘no’

The next 6 weeks are going to be brutal. There are not enough hours in the day to do what I need to do. I’m in the throes of my dissertation and the MacArthur write-up. I’m working hard to cancel and push aside everything else. Draft #1 of my dissertation needs to be done by May. It needs to be cleaned up, packaged, processed, and signed by the end of summer. I will be a little more flex during the summer, but I will still be pretty wack until this is out the door.

Please accept my apologies if I say no to you, if I don’t respond, or if I’m otherwise absent. My blogging will probably be sporadic and weird. I’m not reading blogs; I’m barely reading email. My apologies to my friends, to the press, to academics, to everyone. I need to prioritize me for a bit (and not in any fun kinda way since I have no life).

Most of you know by now that I’ve been getting more and more hibernatory, so this probably isn’t a surprise. But I wanted to put it out there, visible and public, cuz I feel uber bad at the number of people I’m having to say no to. Don’t take it personally. Think of me as on vacation. Only I won’t come back refreshed.. Hmm…

Ebbs and flows, ebbs and flows…

(Those wishing me to speak at XYZ in the fall, please contact my agent.)

V-Day 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago, V-Day began with a massive Madison Square Garden production of “The Vagina Monologues.” As a non-profit, the goal of V-Day was to work with artists and activists everywhere towards a goal of ending violence against women and girls everywhere. Ten years ago, I got involved with V-Day. I was one of the first college organizers. I met Eve Ensler in the fall of 1998 and produced Brown University’s production of TVM in February 1999. I continued on to produce another production in February 2000, along with a Tracy Chapman concert (the one that cost me on-time graduation).

Y’all know me. I couldn’t just do my own production… I ended up working to build networks of all of the college students doing productions. I created mailing lists for people who had never been on mailing lists. I began building an online community, volunteering long hours to make sure that people could share information and experiences. This was before most folks had bought into the Internet. After three years of volunteering, I worked full-time for 1.5 years to build out an intranet and online community for organizers around the world. Since then, I’ve gone back to volunteering, mostly so I could focus on my research.

V-Day is celebrating its 10th Anniversary with a large-scale production of “The Vagina Monologues” and various accompanying events. These will take place April 11-12 in New Orleans. Those involved in the events include Eve Ensler, Jane Fonda, Orpah Winfrey, Calpernia Addams, Faith Hill, Salma Hayek, Glenn Close, Jennifer Hudson, and many others. It will be an unbelievable and unforgettable event. And it is absolutely amazing to think of how much has been done in the last 10 years. Hell, at the very least, I expect that most of you have at least heard of “The Vagina Monologues.” Did you know that every single production donates its proceeds to ending violence against women and girls?

If you are unable to attend the celebration, can I ask you to consider donating to V-Day? What we do with that money is pretty radical and life-changing. TVM productions raise money for their local projects – domestic violence shelters, anti-rape education in local schools, etc. The money donated to the organization directly is used for large-scale projects. We helped get women from Afghanistan to Germany so that women would be included in the Constitution. We funded the creation of a school in Kenya for girls who chose to run away from home rather than go under the knife. We’ve funded safe houses on the Pine Ridge Reservation and in Cairo. We’ve run educational, media, and PSA campaigns working to change the state of things. While we’ve done some amazing things, there are still so many more things to do. We can change the world, but we need your help.

V-Day has been one of the most important things that I’ve done. I cannot say enough nice things about the organization, the people, or the energy. I also cannot believe that it’s been ten years. Congratulations V-Day!