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Initiating the Books For Littles Self-Destruct Sequence
I’ve been noodling on this interaction of unchecked capitalism + social media behavior + fake news + disobeying natural cycles + production schedules
In addition to these things contributing to expanding inequity, this stuff messes with us.
Not just socially, but on an individual, emotional level. So I’ve been paying attention to these pings and bloops of “whoa that doesn’t sit right.” when they pop up.
Things that make me feel messed up and disoriented:
- Stocking sweaters in my retail job – in July
- Searching, screening and writing about books featuring a Black Santa – in September
- Creating holiday shopping lists and setting price alerts in October
- Checking my email before I get out of bed in the morning
- Urgently responding to someone who dares to be wrong on the internet making some ridiculous comment, where I feel compelled to engage, while simultaneously loading the washing machine with my kid’s barf-covered teddy bear.
- Checking my email and social media after I lie down in bed. On a cycle of browser tabs. Then repeating the cycle. Then putting down my phone three hours later, exhausted and hollow.
- Binging Netflix at 1am because I’m too tired to do anything else but am too exhausted to transition to bedtime
- Responding to comments, emails, notifications, and requests from strangers on my phone while also ushering my kids off the school bus and across the street.
- Having a plan for the week and then getting an urgent email 8am on a Tuesday with a task that needs three hours of my attention and is due the next day.
- Eating strawberries indoors.
- Watching someone eat strawberries in January.
- Clicking ‘like’ on a friend’s pregnancy announcement as a way to maintain the friendship, but not seeing each other for several years despite living like three miles away.
- Reading about the lunch of the person who sat behind me in Algebra II when I was 15, on my Instagram feed, even though we have never actually exchanged words in person, but following them would hurt their feelings. So I deal with it.’
- Move on to researching Black history (in November), because I’ve gotta get my post topics and articles locked and loaded by February, when folks suddenly start caring about Black history. Even though I’d really much rather keep researching ageism, which I’ve only just scratched the surface of during the 31 days allotted to that topic.
- Grocery shopping. Just grocery shopping – anytime. Which isn’t relevant to the point of this list, but it does disorient and mess me up.
But most of these things – I have to do*. Because there’s a social contract we’ve got to adhere to if we want to be a part of the group. Answer emails in a socially acceptable time frame. Look people in the eye. Say ‘yes’ to things. Don’t flap your hands. Do organized, deep work, but quickly. Produce content like tomatoes grow in summer, but all year round, and make it juicy.
To do otherwise is a breech in our social contract. You know that social pain is real pain? Like – tylenol helps with social pain, it’s that physical. So it makes sense that we do these things. It makes sense that we’re afraid to stop doing things that uphold that social contract.
But what if our social norms are, at the root, fundamentally messed up? What if some of them need to be demolished?
*What if I don’t really have to do them? What if it’s my responsibility to not do them so we can set a path for a healthier, more sustainable way to be a person in this holy year-of-our-robot-vacuum-
The benefits of winter
In that book Powwow Summer, that I mentioned above, we learn about how life is a cycle, like the seasons. Birth is spring when new life pops up. Summer is childhood, a busy time of learning and doing and growing. Autumn is adulthood, when we harvest and support. Maybe a little death. A bit of decomposition to feed the earth. And winter is elderhood, where we share our knowledge and wisdom and rest, followed by death, then spring, repeat.
I dunno about you folks who live in places without four seasons, but this feels fundamentally right to me. It feels comforting.
Contrast that the the production schedule we maintain to survive in a capitalist society. New clothing styles each season (why?). New homework assignments (exhausting). New holiday decorations (ugh). New recipes to try! (no.) Annual reports! Weekly library visits! Monthly website posts! Twice-daily social media posts, on each channel (gah.)
You don’t really plan it that way. It just happens. New things happen, don’t wanna miss out. (Or worse – have your kids miss out!) Pick up a new thing – squeeeeze it into your schedule. Repeat.
I live in New England, where the four seasons punch you right in the face. We have pumpkin spice chunky sweaters, blazing humid summers, like three days of the most gorgeous spring, and WINTER THAT WANTS TO MURDER YOU.
But we don’t really have winter. Or even autumn. Because like I’m doing now on this gray and rainy day, I’m locked inside. I’m shivering my ass off, a tiny space heater under my desk, wearing a beanie and a blanket on top of my panda pajamas.
But I’m not doing autumn. I’m doing summer. I’m producing, producing, producing. Yesterday I finished Racism pt 2, and now I’m writing this. And when I’m done, I won’t even pause for a moment to grab another mug of tea.
I’ll change windows on my screen, and do spring – investigating new topics, researching, starting Racism pt. 3, responding to emails as if I don’t ever sleep, and I’ll stop every 10 minutes to compulsively check Facebook, just in case something neat happened.
Nothing neat ever happens on Facebook. But that little red notification icon suggests that one day it might.
We can band-aid this with vacation days, sick days, and weekends (which I don’t take, because I don’t have a boss who can force me to). We can duct tape things by installing blocking software on our browsers (which I do, but it doesn’t stop me from forgetting and checking just in case the blocking software glitches and I get to see Matt Flynn’ (from second grade)’s lunch today! But I must do it now. Can’t wait five minutes. I must check for his lunch noooooow! (I don’t even care! WHY AM I DOING THIS.)
Urgency. Urgency that we discussed in the Trauma Stewardship series in the Luminary Braintrust. Urgency that they discuss in that White Supremacy Culture pdf from above.
Urgency that drives us to do do do do, in seeking to destroy the kyriarchy, which really just makes it stronger.
I think perhaps 2020 is the time when we should demolish these false senses of urgency. When we break some shit and make things messy and explore – what does it mean to sit down for a minute…or a season? What does a real human winter look like?
I’m that weird bridge generation at the start of the millenials, where I entered high school without cell phones being a thing, and graduated when cell phones were a thing. We were never taught to sit still. We were never taught that some things (other than bell bottoms) go out of season.
I genuinely don’t know what winter even means. The idea of winter terrifies me.
If I touch winter…I could break it.
Or rather, I could break that social contract that keeps me supported within human society.
and then…it wouldn’t be pretty anymore. We could lose all of the members I’ve ushered along over the past four years. We could lose all of our patreon supporters. We could lose the whole mission.
and then I would be sad.
But then I remember – I don’t really care that much about pretty. I don’t care about making this financially sustainable – or making this project sustainable at all.
Books for Littles has always had a planned self-destruct button built in. We are so close to the original mission – getting families reading mostly books featuring not just characters with marginalized identities, but honoring those stories without whitewashing them.
SO CLOSE. In four years, we’ve come so far. Not single-highhandedly, there are lots of organizations pushing toward the same goal as us – but the publishing industry is changing, and it’s partly because of our members. Give yourselves a pat on the back for that.
And that self-destruct button looms.
I’ve always thought it’s…unethical to recommend books that you don’t test out with kids. BFL focuses on books for kids ages 0-7. I’ve been hoping, that like folks who make a living trying to cure cancer – we will make that finish like and then be out of a job.
What joy it would be, for my skills to be obsolete!
And then there is time. Q is already seven, itching to expand to books beyond BFL’s scope. R2 is five, and has never been into screening books the way his brother is.
We’ve got maybe two years left before I have to figure something out. Whether we expand the scope of ages (hesitant to do, targeting that age range to prevent implicit bias is POWERFUL), pass the baton to someone with younger kids (anyone out there capable of matching this hustle?), or expanding – which is why we have this whole ‘Raising Luminaries’ umbrella for BFL thing going on, which you might have noticed over the past couple years.
So now seems not only like a good time with experimenting with demolishing and rebuilding something different, but it also seems like the ethical thing to do. Because we’re so close to the finish line and progress for each generation means moving that finish line.