Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: My year in review

I just took a look back at my resolutions for this year...I did not accomplish one of them. Not one. Wow. Not sure if that's something I should be advertising, but my goal-setting was WAY off this year.

I don't know how I'll look back on this year, 2015. While there were some big milestones for me personally, this year was a lot more about our kiddos. I think that's ok. As they get older, I love getting to know them as the people they are growing into and enjoying the time we spend together.

We have a lot of really cool kids.

So here's a few highlights from the year, in no particular order:

My new tattoo

  • New job! This is really the biggest one for me personally. I'm loving the new adventure of heading up the Product group at ShipHawk. 2016 is going to be a very big year.
  • New tattoo! I finally did it! My third tattoo, but by far the most ambitious...I got my pirate mermaid with her jellyfish and octopus. 
  • I did the service on gender at USSB that I've always wanted to do. It felt good. I hope others got something out of it, too :) You can read the transcripts of my reflection here and my sermon here
  • We have redone a significant portion of our house...our room, our family room, our living room...and we did it all ourselves.
  • I finally got to the Monterey Aquarium.
  • I saw Oingo Boingo perform Dead Man's Party live onstage for the first time in 20 years.
  • We really got involved in and learned a lot about the trans community. I can use they/them like a champ.
  • We hosted 2 Spaghetti Western Wednesdays, and attended a few TuTu Taco Tuesdays. I like our new traditions.
  • We had a getaway to a dome treehouse and a private dinner in the trees. Highly recommended :)
  • We attended the Edward Gorey Edwardian Ball for Valentine's Day. 
  • We got married in Vegas by Elvis. Viva Las Vegas!
  • We finally made it whale watching! We saw an actual whale. We called him "Spouty." We saw some dolphins and sea lions, too. 
  • I jumped into some super interesting virtual reality ventures.
  • John saw color for the first time. It was inspiring.
  • Only fools rush in? Nah.
  • We made significant progress on getting HelloYello to market - 2016 will be the year!
I'm sure there is more that I'm missing. Our kids had great successes and great struggles this year. We laughed a lot. We cried less than we laughed. We dressed up in silly outfits on a regular basis. We were spontaneous. We tried to always say yes to adventures. We tried to be present in the moments and enjoy this time of our lives, with our kids, and not take anything for granted.

2015 wasn't a great year in the world. I feel like we were surrounded by injustice and sadness and pain. I struggled with how women are treated, how minorities are treated, how immigrants are treated...I struggled with how much we allow people to be marginalized, victimized and ignored. People are angry, but often at the things I think are insignificant. People are complacent about the things that scare me. I hope that 2016 is the year of hearts and minds prevailing, of us standing up for what is right even when it's hard, and for thinking globally and acting locally. Good bye, 2015. Thanks for the memories and lessons you've taught me. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

What does equality look like?

On November 9th, I led services at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. The service focused on gender equality; previously, I posted my opening reflection, "What Would Geraldine Ferraro Do?" Here is the transcript for the sermon I shared in that morning's service.

A few months ago, I heard through my "family grapevine" that one of my kids was not a feminist, or at least he had been saying negative things about feminists. I was in complete disbelief and that night at dinner, I asked him about it directly.

Here's how the conversation went:

Me: "I hear you've been saying negative things about feminists."
Him: "Well, yeah. I mean, I don't get how they want to be treated better than men."
Me (seeing red, freaking out inside): "Feminists don't want to be treated better than men, they want women to be treated equally to men."
(at this point my husband and the other kids made some excuse to leave their half-eaten food at the table...)
Him: "I don't understand. Women ARE treated equally to men. These feminists want to be treated better."  
At this point, I totally broke down into a rant about how women are NOT treated equally, citing numerous examples of bias and discrimination against women in general, but also bias and discrimination that I've experienced personally. I pointed out all of his privileged statuses (sex, gender identity, race, class, geography, able-bodied, apparent sexual orientation...he's at the top of the privilege chain). My son sat there wide-eyed and in silence, finishing his tacos.  
I believe I ended with, "I can't believe you're MY son, you live with me, and you don't know that gender discrimination exists."

As I was preparing for this service, I recalled the stories shared last year when a group of women in our congregation who were having  a decade birthday gathered in celebration. During one portion of the day-long event, we shared what life was like in different decades and I was struck by how much, but how little, things had changed for those of us turning 40 compared to those turning 50, 60, 70, 80 and even 90 years old last year. Some of the women talked about having to choose between having a career and having a family. Others shared how career options were limited to teacher, nurse or secretary. It was a day full of reflection and joy, and still I left feeling a little disheartened. For all of the progress that feminism has made in promoting equality, there are still so many ways we fall short.

Women still only make 79% of what men in similar positions make. 

Only 29% of speaking characters and only 20% of employed characters in films are women. 

Only 20% of Congress and the Senate are women. 

Only 14% of top executives in the Fortune 500 are women. 

Eroding abortion rights. Rape culture. Catcalling. Gamergate. Mansplaining. 

Interviewing an all-woman team of astronauts and asking them about hair, makeup and men.

There are still so many ways, large and small, that gender influences your choices, opportunities and life experiences.

So why did my son believe that women are treated equally? And why, when I asked a female member of YRUU to share a reflection today, did she answer that she couldn’t share a reflection because she has never been discriminated against? Is the world that our kids are seeing more equal or inclusive than what the data would suggest?

One answer may be that we feminists have done such a good job of promoting equality that it has been ingrained in our children. My son truly believed that women are treated equally, and some of that I’m going to take credit for. He’s grown up watching me, after all: in his lifetime, I led and grew a very successful division of an agency, I started my own company, spoke internationally, wrote a book, and have been at various times the primary breadwinner at home. He’s also seen me speak on this chancel.

In fact, he’s seen a lot of women in leadership in our church. From Reverend Deborah Mero who led the congregation we joined while living in Pennsylvania, to Reverend Julia and Reverend Caitlin here at USSB, all but one of the religious leaders Jackson has had personal experience with have been women. And that’s likely true of a lot of Unitarian Universalist youth. Currently, almost 60% of UU ministers are women.

But even that majority percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. Although women are 60% of our clergy, they are still very underrepresented in the leadership of our largest congregations.  Senior ministers of large congregations are overwhelmingly male. And maybe in part because of the size of the congregations they serve, female ministers still make less money than their male counterparts.

Still, all of this could easily be lost on a teenager whose mom has been instilling feminist beliefs into him since he was born, or on any children of highly privileged feminists who have only been told what equality should look like and not shown the inequality that still exists. My son looked around his world and seeing his successful mom and women in leadership roles all around him, made the assessment that this is what equality looks like.

Our current world, however, is definitely not my vision of what gender equality looks like.

As I’ve thought about it, I realized I have no idea of what it WOULD look like. What is my vision of a feminist utopia? How might it be the same or different from your vision?

Last month, a new book, The Feminist Utopia Project, was published. It is made up of short stories, artwork, and other depictions from 57 different feminists of what the world might look like if gender equality existed. Each of these stories focuses on an aspect of society that the author or artist is passionate about.

Digging into these visions, I started to notice a trend. In their depictions of what a feminist utopia looked like, it wasn’t just about gender equality. Their works painted a picture of overall equality: gender, racial, class...the visions incorporated what the world might look like if we were all treated equally, respecting our differences and providing for freedom of choice.

I have a confession: lately I have been struggling with the label feminist. As our family has been learning more about trans identities and the gender spectrum, the word feminist has felt too limited, too tied to the binary concept of male or female. I have always been a loud and proud feminist, and yet, I have felt a tension in fighting for equal rights for women when there are other marginalized identities that feel left out of that fight. There are even tensions among people who identify as feminists in how to advocate for women of color or trans women. And what about people who are agender, like my oldest child?

And yet, as I’ve heard celebrities recently claiming, “I’m not a feminist. I’m a humanist,” my reaction to that generalization is a strongly negative one, as has been my reaction to the #AllLivesMatter counter-campaign to #BlackLivesMatter. Doesn’t it make it harder to fight for the rights of a marginalized group when you don’t name them? Doesn’t it become easier to obscure the struggle of gender equality if it’s lumped under the label of human equality?

The label of feminist is unique in that no other group fighting for equality have a name. There is no name for people fighting for racial equality. There is no label for people passionate about equal rights regardless of your sexual orientation, or immigration rights, or for fighting against poverty. The only other social justice group with an identity label are environmentalists, and even that name has fallen out of style.

So what is a feminist like me to do?

Maybe the place to start is to embrace the concept of intersectionality, a term used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc. are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. A vision of a feminist utopia wouldn’t be complete without addressing all types of discrimination, because our identities are not limited to our gender identities.

Feminism is meaningful to me as a starting point for thinking about equality because of the intersectionality of my identity and privilege. Perhaps for you, racial equality is where you start. Or accessibility drives you because of your disability. Wherever you start, whatever the inequality that inspires you to action is no more or less meaningful than what drives me or her or them. Much like how each of the pieces in The Feminist Utopia Project are from the author’s or artist’s particular view and perspective, so too will each of our utopian visions spring from our reality, our privilege, and what we feel passionately about.

For me, imagining what utopia looks like is still a struggle. As much as I want to be able to work towards a vision of what equality looks like, it’s hard to see it clearly through the day to day realities that obscure my view. If I can’t articulate my own vision of utopia, how can I explain the difference between the reality of today and my vision for the future to my son? In the introduction of The Feminist Utopia Project, the editors acknowledge the challenge we face in imagining a gender-equal world. They write:

“When we yearn for more - food, power, sex, love, time - we are gluttonous, egomaniacal, slutty, desperate, silly. To want less, to be less hungry, we are told, is to be “reasonable.” After long enough, we tell ourselves this, too. Sexism justifies itself by commandeering our logic and, quietly, the limits of what is constrict our logic of what should be. Misogyny comes to taste like air, feel like gravity: so common we barely notice it, so entrenched it’s hard to conceive of a world without it. So how can we propose new ways of living when misogyny fogs even our imaginations? And even if we tried - where and when would we organize not just to preserve what we have but to build a wildly better future?”

Where and when would we organize to build a wildly better future?

Where and when can we talk about, form, and challenge each others’ visions of what equality looks like? Where and when can we collaborate, support and inspire each other to reflect on our privilege and plan actions to move our world closer to equality?

Here. Now. And every Sunday.

Please join me in a few moments of reflection on what your vision of utopia looks like. Think about how we might think differently about gender, race, body size, sex, family or governance. Imagine about what equality would look like for you.

[Closing Words]

As we leave each others’ company this morning, hold on to your vision of equality. Share it with someone after the service. Share it with a friend over coffee this week. Write it down. Draw it. Know that it’s a work in progress. And as you go through your week, acknowledge the instances where reality differs from your vision. Name it. The only way for us to get to utopia is to work together today to build the path. Go in peace, go in love. Let us call out a blessing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Stand up to one

There's a lot of fear going around these days, and with it, a lot of fear-mongering.

Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook:

At the risk of inciting the ire of the Internet, here are some truths. Daesh (ISIS) are already in the US; there's not enough security or shoe screenings in the world to keep them out. Worse, we are bombarded with terrorism from our own citizens daily: school shootings, church bombings, people gunned down while sitting in a movie theater. We don't have the systems and controls in place to secure ourselves from ourselves, let alone from some unknown villain. People love to point fingers at others, to blame other people. It's easy to blame someone else. It's so easy to fall back on fear and hate to guide decisions.

Choose love instead. There are people suffering; we should help them. That is what good people do; they look violence and hatred in the eye and meet it with love, compassion and kindness. Those are the heroes, those are the free, those are the brave. That is how we win. We stop building walls and boundaries and we reach out our hands in peace. We take loving action. It's not enough to change your profile pic or post articles of support on social media. Open your hearts, open your homes and help those in need in real, tangible ways.

There will still be violence in the world. Innocent people may be hurt or killed. We may not change every heart filled with hate. The best we can do is try to overpower it with love and lead by example. The best way to win is to represent the opposite of the hatred and violence; be stronger and more powerful in our resolve to not give in to what terrorists ultimately want to create: a culture of fear and hate that they have created, in which they hold the power. The best way to win is with love.

Yesterday evening, I saw this posted on Twitter, and responded: 

Evidently, Dr. Scipioni didn't like to have his data challenged, because here were his subsequent tweets: 
So, because I cited a source with a different number of homeless veterans, I subscribe to a "that can't be" philosophy. I have pre-programmed beliefs. I am sub-literate. A pot-stirrer. A rabble-rouser. 

I actually found a few sources to back up my data. Here they are: 

I haven't found any sources that would bring the average number of homeless veterans on any given night to 3.2 million. So far, Dr. Scipioni hasn't provided any. I am happy to be proven wrong if anyone can provide me with data to support his claim. 

If, however, that data doesn't exist, why am I being called names for pointing it out? Why am I being personally attacked and called names? Why are assumptions being made about who I am? 

This is why social media is such a toxic place: the name-calling, the bullying, the threats are allowed to happen. Misinformation is spread without anyone fact-checking, and those who try to hold people accountable to data are attacked.

Why do we allow people to behave in this way? Why do we allow this type of behavior? Aren't there more of us that can keep our conversations civil even when we disagree? I committed the grievous act of challenging uncited data and somehow I'm the problem? 

No, Dr. Scipioni. You are. 

If someone you worked with behaved this way, they would be fired. If your kid talked to you this way, they'd be grounded. But on social media, we allow it. And it's ruining it for everyone. Aren't there more of us than there are of them? Can't we stand up and say "this is not ok"? 

The truth is, Dr. Scipioni could have responded with a citation of the source of his data. He didn't. He could have said, "Oh, my bad. Still, 50k is too many." And I'd agree. He could have just ignored me. But he responded with an attack and an assumption that I don't have the right to respectfully challenge his words. I believe that I do have that right. I believe we all have that right. 

So today, I call on each of you. Those of us that believe in civil discourse, even when we disagree. Those of us who love social media and don't want our spaces filled with vitriol and attacks. Those of us who want to make decisions and form opinions based off of accurate information. Those of us who are sick of being called names for standing up to mis-information. Stand up to one person. Say that it's not ok. Stand up with love to the personal attacks. Stand up to name calling. Stand up for the truth, and be willing to do the work to back it up, and be willing to be wrong. But stand up to those who don't want us to question, don't want us to challenge them. 

When we stop challenging each other, we all lose. Don't let intelligent discourse die because a vocal minority doesn't want to participate. 

Stand up to one person today. Let me know how it goes. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

What would Geraldine Ferraro do?

This Sunday I had the privilege of leading services at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara; I chose to tackle the topic of gender equality. The following is my reflection on gender discrimination.

I know the exact moment I became a feminist.

It was 1984 and my elementary school was holding mock presidential elections. I knew I was a democrat because, while Walter Mondale was running for president, I barely noticed him in the shadow of my hero, Geraldine Ferraro.

My mom had raised me to believe that I could do ANYTHING I wanted to do, be anything I
wanted to be. But when I learned about history, specifically US history, and I saw that endless parade of white guys, I wasn’t sure that being president was included in that word “anything.”

I was only 10 years old at the time, but I also remember that about the time that I was learning about political party affiliations, I also learned about sexual orientation when I heard Geraldine Ferraro called a lesbian and asked my mom what that meant. While my mom answered me with definitions not emotion, I understood from the way the media was depicting Geraldine that the only thing worse than being a female Vice Presidential candidate was being a gay female Vice Presidential candidate. I didn’t understand either as being an insult, although that’s how they were being depicted in the media. In spite of all the vitriol flung in her direction, I hoped and prayed that Walter Mondale would win so that Geraldine Ferraro, a woman, would be 1-step away from being President.

It was, of course, not meant to be, and I heard all of the commentary after the election that maybe having a female running mate had been a publicity stunt, or that it cost him the election. I was angry: angry not only because Geraldine Ferraro wasn’t going to be Vice President, but because so many people thought she shouldn’t, or couldn’t, be because she was a woman. I realized that while my mom told me I could be anything I wanted, a lot of people didn’t agree. I was frustrated, I was confused, I was sad. And I was angry.

I know the exact moment I decided to stop taking math classes.

My junior year of high school, I was taking a class called math analysis, which was the name for the honors pre-calculus class. My teacher had been teaching this class and honors calculus for over 40 years. I was getting a B in the class, which was driving me crazy because it was ruining my straight-A grade point average. About half-way through the second semester, I was frustrated when I got another test back with a B grade. I reviewed my answers and couldn’t figure out why I had gotten one of the problems wrong. I compared my test to my friend’s; he had gotten an A. We reviewed my wrong answers and found that they were exactly the same, except his were marked correct and mine were marked wrong. I remember walking up to my teacher with both tests in hand and asking for an explanation for why my answers had been marked wrong.

My teacher answered, “Because you’re a girl.” I wish I could tell you that he was joking, but he wasn’t. He refused to correct my test grade. There were only 2 other girls in my math class. They had gotten lower grades, too, but didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

You’d think that I would have freaked out, and you’d be right. I went straight to the principal’s office after school and showed him the two tests, then told him what my teacher had said. I told him I wanted the teacher fired, and I wanted my grade changed. The principal said, “Your teacher has Parkinson’s disease, so he’s only teaching for another couple years. There’s nothing we’re going to do.”

For the rest of the year, I despised walking in that classroom. I didn’t take calculus my senior year so that I could avoid having another year with that teacher. But something else happened, something that I didn’t acknowledge for another 10 years. My perception of math gradually changed from “I hate this situation” to “I hate math” to “I’m not good at math.” By college, I truly believed that I wasn’t good at math and I avoided any majors that required math classes. I actually changed the whole trajectory of what I believed I was capable of because one math teacher in high school told me girls weren’t good at math. Even though I was angry and didn’t believe what he said was true, the power of his words changed the course of my life.

Years later, I took a calculus class at a community college because it was a prerequisite for a graduate program I was applying for. I aced that class. I loved it. I realized how many years I thought I couldn’t do calculus, that it was too hard. I thought about all of the doors I closed, what potential paths I didn’t take, because I thought I couldn’t be successful because of my gender.

Geraldine Ferraro is my hero. She had to have faced a million of those obstacles along the way, people who told her she was less than because she was a woman. People who wouldn’t hire her into their law firms because they weren’t hiring women. People who pushed back against her fight for wage equality. People who said a woman wasn’t qualified to be Vice President. She faced much worse opposition than a sexist high school math teacher, and she had the strength to move forward.

I remember Geraldine Ferraro when I’m ignored or marginalized. I remember Geraldine Ferraro when someone implies that my abilities are limited by my gender. And when I look at my daughter, I hope that next year, when she is 10 years old, she sees the first woman elected President and grows up trusting that she can be anything she wants to be.

Monday, October 5, 2015

My next adventure

Three and a half years ago, I started my new job at My own company had been acquired a few months earlier and I needed something new. Taking the position at lynda meant moving across the country. It meant selling my house and buying a new one, getting my kids settled in new schools and it meant making a big decision about my budding relationship with my now-husband, John. It meant going from being the boss to being part of a system. Taking the job with changed my life in every way you can imagine.

Today is my last day at lynda. Over the last few years I've had 10 bosses, 3 titles and 4 desk changes.
Moving (On) Day
I've been through numerous restructurings, shifting company priorities and this spring, the acquisition of by LinkedIn. I have learned to navigate through the changes of a rapidly growing company, to hold on to what's important, and to live by the wisdom:
If you're ever in a situation where you aren't happy, ask yourself two questions:

  • Can I change it? 
  • Can I live with it (and I mean really live with it, without bitterness or regret)? 

If the answers to those questions are both no, then you have to move on.

Over the last few months, I've been thinking about, as LinkedIn calls it, my "next play." One of the things I've loved about LinkedIn is their understanding and openness to people's personal growth and career paths. I felt like I was at a crossroads, just like I was many years ago as I entered college. I had been asking myself, "what do you want to be when you grow up?"

The Universe has a great sense of humor and timing, sometimes. I was presented with two dream job opportunities on the very same day: one in learning and one in product. One allowing me to leverage my expertise in immersive design, practice what I preach in my book and to build a team of instructional designers; the other allowing me to apply my experience and passion for product development and build a team of product and UX rock stars. One providing the safety of a large organization with big budgets and benefits; one providing me the opportunity to lead a small company to greatness. One that would be the culmination and professional recognition of my career so far; one that would push me to learn and grow.

I had a mini-breakdown under the weight of the decision. I talked to my mom. I asked my girlfriends for advice. I talked to my husband, my VERY PATIENT husband, about it ad nauseum. I got differing views: Follow your passion! Take the easier job! Don't underestimate the importance of flexibility! Take the one that makes you excited!

Any guesses which I took?

In the end, I had to take the position that would leave me with no regrets, the one that I knew in my heart would enable me to be better, the one that is a challenge and an interesting problem to solve, the one that made me light up whenever I talked about it to my friends and family.

Today is my last day at and Wednesday is my first day as VP of Product at ShipHawk.

For me, it's never about what's easy. It's about solving the puzzle, finding the solution, learning and growing and constantly challenging myself to be better.

I will miss my colleagues at and will forever be grateful for the experience of building something great. I've learned and grown in the last few years more than I thought possible. And I am THRILLED for this new opportunity to do something amazing; I can't wait to jump in with the ShipHawk team!

After all, shouldn't we all be striving for passion and greatness?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Taking a break to get in the flow

One of the most interesting concepts in learning is the idea of "flow," a concept proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe the state of not so challenged that you're frustrated, but not so easy that you're bored. 

When applied to game design, this makes a lot of sense. Tic tac toe is the perfect example on the too easy end of the spectrum; at some moment in time, you realize that you can either win or tie EVERY SINGLE TIME (depending on the relative skill of your opponent). I tried to explain this to my 8 year old a few weeks ago at dinner when she tried to challenge me to a match, and then went on to show her that if she played her first play in a corner or in the center each game, and she made sure to pay attention, she'd never lose. I almost felt bad, ruining tic tac toe for her, but I honestly could not be excited about playing her. It is the game equivalent of absolute boredom for me. 

Opposite for me is any Call of Duty or, more recently, Flappy Bird. Seeing as I can't get past the first or second challenge (in CoD, I have yet to make it past "training"), I give up because my hand-eye coordination is not good enough to make me successful in these games without more effort than I'm willing to invest. In other words, they are too hard and I give up, frustrated. 

What does flow look like for learning? There are metrics we can look to, such as time on task or self-reporting channels like surveys. Research on flow in learning typically relies on experience sampling to gauge engagement. When it comes to flow, it's all about the feeling. So what are those feelings? I like this definition from David Farmer (1999)
  1. Completely involved, focused, concentrating - with this either due to innate curiosity or as the result of training
  2. Sense of ecstasy - of being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity - knowing what needs to be done and how well it is going
  4. Knowing the activity is doable - that the skills are adequate, and neither anxious or bored
  5. Sense of serenity - no worries about self, feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of ego - afterwards feeling of transcending ego in ways not thought possible
  6. Timeliness - thoroughly focused on present, don't notice time passing
  7. Intrinsic motivation - whatever produces "flow" becomes its own reward

In the end, flow is about optimizing what you're getting out of what you are putting in. When I think about this for learning, it's not just about the feeling, it's about the outcome. I'm in the flow when I am engaged and learning and excited about what I'm doing. I'm feeling proud of my effort and good about myself. I'm having fun. 

The past few months I've been trying to learn a few new things, but the one that has been the most challenging has been learning the ukulele. I hate to admit it. It has been hard for me. Me, voted most musical in my high school graduating class, has been struggling with the ukulele. IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE EASY, I tell myself. I get frustrated. I am definitely not in the flow. 
This is a small image of my Evelyn Evelyn ukulele
from Amanda Palmer. I love it. I need to play it. 

That's the thing about flow. People tell you to get in it, but HOW do you get in it? When you need to learn something hard, how do you get past the point of frustration to get to appropriately challenged? 

The truth is, you have to practice. You have to persevere. Eventually, things get easier and you get better. But in that point of frustration, you take a risk if you keep pushing. You can start to HATE the thing that is frustrating you. I will tell anyone who asks that I don't like Call of Duty. It's not because it's a bad game (although first-person shooters aren't really my cup of tea). It's because the day that I was trying to learn the controls to make it through the game orientation, I felt pressure. I couldn't do it. I was frustrated, and then I gave up. All of my negative feelings transferred to the game. I know that if I played again, in a less stressful environment, MAYBE I would like it, but I would have to get past my negative feelings towards the game and my previous poor performance. 

It's why people who struggle to read say they don't like to read. 

It's why girls who are told they aren't as good at math don't go into STEM careers. 

It's why women who go into STEM careers have a hard time staying when their work environment is gender biased. 

When we can't get into the flow, it's hard to love something. It's hard to want to do it all the time. We all seek flow. 

So what can you do to get past the frustration? Here are some tips I try:
  • Find a patient coach or teacher. Sometimes you just want to feel supported. Don't find someone who wants to do it for you. Find someone who wants to be your cheerleader.
  • Walk away for a little while. You may need to take a break before you jump back in. Don't let your negative feelings build up; find ways to shake off your frustration before trying again.
  • Break down the task into smaller pieces. In learning the ukulele, I needed to admit I wasn't going to start out playing a whole song. If I just practiced transitioning between chords, and practiced until I was good at it, it felt like a victorious step along the journey to playing my first song. 
  • Decide if the effort is worth it. Sometimes, it's really ok to walk away. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything because I never learned how to play Call of Duty or because I never scored higher than 4 on Flappy Bird. Some things just aren't worth the effort or frustration. 
The ukulele is worth it. I'm still working up to my first song :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Raising a generation for the world we want, not the world we have

A few months ago, after experiencing a particularly discouraging incident of gender bias, I came home crying and frustrated. How can people not see this? I thought, probably asked out loud to myself. How often is this going to happen before people will call it out as wrong? How long until everyone, EVERYONE, stops discriminating based on gender? 

I had heard through my "kiddo grapevine" that one of my kids was not a feminist, or at least he had been saying negative things about feminists. My heart literally was in my stomach. He is MY kid! How could he NOT be a feminist? Hadn't he lived with me his whole life? I was in complete disbelief and that night at dinner, I asked him about it directly.

Here's how the conversation went:

Me: "I hear you've been saying negative things about feminists."
Him: "Well, yeah. I mean, I don't get how they want to be treated better than men." 
Me (seeing red, freaking out inside): "Feminists don't want to be treated better than men, they want women to be treated equally to men."
(at this point my husband and other kiddos made some excuse to leave their half-eaten food at the table...) 
Him: "I don't understand. Women ARE treated equally to men. These feminists want to be treated better."  
At this point, I totally broke down into a rant about how women are NOT treated equally, citing numerous examples of bias and discrimination of women in general, but also bias and discrimination that I've experienced personally. I then continued on to point out all of his privileged statuses (sex, gender identity, race, class, geography, able-bodied, apparent sexual orientation...he's at the top of the food chain, I made sure to point out...). My son sat there wide-eyed and in silence, finishing his tacos.  
I believe I ended with, "I can't believe you're MY son, you live with me, and you don't know that gender discrimination exists."

I've been thinking a lot about that conversation, and specifically my son's opinion of the world, since that conversation. The truth is, he's a really earnest, sweet kid and he'd be the last person who I would think would be perpetuating bias against anyone. When I thought about it, I realized that he wasn't. He HAD lived with me his whole life, and what he learned from that has been that women are equal to men. He TRULY, HONESTLY believes that. He couldn't comprehend what feminism is because in his world view, women are already equal to men and he treats them that way.

It was this same kiddo who, when he was five years old, got into a verbal argument with a cashier in a department store because he said, "I like your brown skin." and the man said, "I'm not brown, I'm black." My kiddo responded, "I can see your skin and I'm pretty sure it's brown." The cashier was NOT happy about it, and I had to explain to my 5 year old on the way home why the man was upset with him. I felt the same way, full of sadness and frustration and worry, explaining to him the meaning of and reasoning behind feminism.

I feel disheartened because my son sees the world the way I wish it actually was: where skin color is just a color and everyone is treated equally. I've shown him that through my example, through what I've modeled in my own behaviors and attitude. And now I have to teach him that's not what the world is really like. While the lessons have been heartbreakingly easier around race and sexual orientation because of tragedies and recent victories in the news that lend themselves to discussion at the dinner table, gender discrimination continues to be mostly invisible. It's not, of course, but besides catcalling, discussions of campus rape and sexual consent, and GamerGate, there aren't big news stories. It's just the everyday-ness of discrimination and bias that continues and continues and continues.

Even though I know I have to start pointing out reality, I wonder what it would be like for a generation to grow up taking for granted that people should be treated equally regardless of their sex. What if we succeeded in teaching our kids that all people should be treated equally and with respect? If all little boys were raised believing that girls could do anything they could do, how would our world change as they grew into adulthood and challenged and then changed organizational and cultural bias? I want to live in my son's world where we don't need feminism. I hope by showing him the world we live in now, it doesn't cloud his view of the way things should be and how he has already been living in this world where he is more likely the exception than the rule. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Holding your breath

Yesterday I saw this article posted on Facebook: Breath-Holding In The Pool Can Spark Sudden Blackouts And Death

I thought about how much I've been holding my breath lately. 

Yesterday, Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover was released and took social media by storm. I held my breath, waiting for the transphobia and hate, because that's what you do when you have a kid who is gender non-binary. You hold your breath and hope that the world gets better and more loving and understanding. You hold your breath and hope that there are way more of us, allies and advocates, than there are of them (I'm looking at you Drake Bell and Fox News). 

I hold my breath, waiting for the transitions to shake out at work. Hoping that my work is noticed, that my passion is valued. 

I hold my breath when I travel, knowing that inevitably one of my kiddos or one of their schools will call me and I won't be there to fix it. 

I hold my breath as the side project I've been working on takes off like a jet, article published in TIME magazine and big meetings with important people that could mean big, big things. 

I hold my breath so my husband doesn't hear me wheezing the last few nights. He does anyway and knows that this cold I'm trying to ignore is kicking my butt. 

I hold my breath when I see a text from one of my sons. He is unhappy but fixing it would mean conflict and there's nothing he hates more than conflict. I hold my breath waiting for him to tell me he's ready for it. 

I hold my breath when I step out of my office building at the end of the day and the air is like breathing oil. Since the oil spill in Santa Barbara a couple weeks ago, there are times when the fumes are still so bad where we live that you can't ignore it. We shouldn't ignore it. 

There are so many other times I hold my breath. Sometimes I find myself taking a deep, gasping breath and realize I've been holding it in. 

When I saw the headline yesterday, I wondered if blackouts and sudden death were only symptoms from holding your breath under water. I worried. 

Today I listened in to a session at work with Matthieu Ricard, the "World's Happiest Man." I tried to follow his meditation exercise at my desk, but I couldn't stop worrying about my breathing. I thought about how I tell my bionic boy, when his ADHD overwhelms every cell in his body, to take a deep breath and he looks at me like, "mom, you really think that's going to help?" and I make him do it anyway. I even do it with him, trying to model deep breathing. 

Holding my breath is more than deep breathing: it's ultimate mindfulness, forcing to a halt my body's automation. Being still and not even letting the ebb and flow of air in my lungs distract me. It is ultimate focus. And it can only be temporary...until it's not. 

I used to have contests with my sister in my grandma's pool to see how long we could stay underwater. Sometimes we would race to see how far the length of the pool and back we could swim without coming up for air. Sometimes we would sink to the bottom and be still, feeling the burn in our lungs as air ran out until we finally pushed to the surface. I always won. Now I find out every one of those contests was inviting sudden death. I not only could hold my breath the longest, but I could also out swim the Grim Reaper. 

I think maybe all of this holding my breath I've been doing will not lead to sudden under water death but slow, above water tempting of fate. 

How do you practice NOT holding your breath? Isn't that just...breathing? 

I am thinking that instead of holding my breath with each challenge that, like lamaze for life, the important thing is to feel everything and still breathe through it. Maybe that is mindfulness. Maybe it's intention. I think it's better to not hold your breath. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Brave new world of color

Growing up, my dad had to have my mom or me or my sister help him pick out socks. He is severely color blind, and normally it didn't interfere too much with daily life. My dad didn't really talk about it. I knew that his favorite color was yellow, because he could see it.

When I had my first son, Jackson, I noticed that he, on rare occasions, colored his sun green instead of yellow. It was hard to tell if he was color-blind, because he could read very young and so picked out the crayons by name to color things what they were supposed to be. It wasn't until Kindergarten that we had him tested and found out that I had passed down the color blind gene to him.

Fast forward a few years...I meet John. Some of our early conversations as we started dating and falling in love made me realize how much I focus on color. John could barely see anything. Where my dad and son had limitations, John had a complete block on seeing most variations. I had to work to reframe how I referred to almost everything; I couldn't use color as a descriptor anymore because John couldn't see it. I joke that he's got dog vision; I imagine his world has always been seen through a sepia lens, with anything orange, green, brown or red pretty much looking the same and blue and purple indistinguishable.

It hasn't been easy for John and I think being around me made it worse, his longing to see the world as I see it growing with every sunset we watched on our beach and every road trip we took through the beautiful California mountains. One night, we took the kids to get frozen yogurt and his universe ripped apart. He asked me what color something was, and I replied "it's kinda tan, brown like peanut butter." He froze for a second and asked, "Peanut butter is brown? It's not green?" And he reeled because he had thought peanut butter was green his whole life.

Can you imagine if everything you thought about the world was filtered through a lens, only allowing certain information through? I imagine it must be like how Roddy Piper felt in They Live when he put on the glasses that let him see the subliminal messages aliens were using to control humans. What if everything you thought you knew was wrong?

A couple weeks ago, John found this video from Valspar and their Color For All campaign. They have partnered with EnChroma, a company out of Berkeley who have developed glasses that allow color blind people to see color. When John started reading about it, I could tell he was excited. Nervous, but excited. We read that the glasses only work for 80% of people. John took a color blind test that said his chances were actually worse, only 50/50 that the glasses would work for him. I told him to buy the glasses. He hesitated. At $400, they aren't super cheap. I told him to get them for my birthday (still extravagent, but still...) and my present would be watching a sunset with him. He still hesitated.

The next day, after he had posted on the Color For All page about his experience of being color blind, he IM'd me, excited. Valspar was sending free glasses out to some of the people who had posted on their message board. He waited a few days and was disappointed that he didn't get picked. I told him to just buy the glasses. He didn't.

Then last week, he IM'd me again...Valspar had contacted him. He had posted again on the message board and this time they picked him to send glasses. As excited as he was, I could tell he was nervous. What if they didn't work? What if he got excited and ended up disappointed? How would he deal with that, his dream of seeing color unfulfilled?

Earlier this week, I had a meetup with some friends at our house after work. John came in later; there was a package there for him. My friends were leaving around 6 and John casually mentioned that the glasses had arrived.

I freaked out. "Let's go to the beach! The sun is setting!" John was doing some dinner prep and seemed in no hurry. I all but pushed him out the door. We drove to the main street in Carpinteria and I realized that he wouldn't see as much if we just went to the beach, so I parked a few blocks away so he could walk and see more colorful shops and flowers before we saw the sunset.

This is John when he first saw the world in color.

The first look
Fascinating shrubbery

I don't know what I expected. Watching John look around, I realized that his brain was trying to process everything he was seeing. He didn't talk. He just stared, somewhat in shock. Definitely overwhelmed. He stopped to look at bushes and plants that color-abled people walk past every day, not impressed by their variation of green and red leaves.

He stared at a brick wall, literally, examining the differences in brick color. He saw orange flowers in someone's yard, and said, "I think those are the most beautiful flowers I've ever seen." But mostly he was quiet, wide-eyed and staring. Just like a baby that just found her hand, John was fascinated and curious and intensely concentrating.

Looking at a reddish succulent, he asked, "Is it always that color?" And I said yes.

We finally made it to the beach. It was really windy, but luckily there were some clouds to decorate the sky. It wasn't the prettiest sunset I've seen on our beach, but it was by far the best. John just sat and stared. He said he liked the blue of the sky the best, the brightest blue he'd ever seen. He looked really deeply in my eyes, seeing the weird green/blue/yellow swirl that they are.


Before sunlight was completely gone (the glasses only work in daylight), we walked back into town, stopping to take pictures in front of that shrub that John was impressed with. He kept the glasses on as we drove home, eeking out the last of the daylight. He'd been so quiet that as we approached the traffic light, I jumped when he yelled out "Holy shit! Is that light green!?!" And we laughed because everything in the world is brand new and miraculous, seeing it through John's new glasses.

I remember what it was like when Vardan got his hearing aids and could hear S and H for the first time. He was little, but he was wide-eyed with wonder. And now, my husband is as well seeing the world for the first time. I can't wait to let Jackson try them too (although I think he's going to need his own pair!).

It's going to take some time for John's brain to make sense of all of this new color information. It will take some time for him to take it in stride. I love this part, this intense learning and excitement and curiosity. The world is brand new. I want to see it all with John.

Thank you EnChroma. Thank you, THANK YOU, Valspar. What a gift to give my family. What a gift to give the world.