[Image: November 2019 Shenanigans banner]
Last week in the part 1, I expounded on how sidetracked I’ve gotten in caution and preservation simply for the sake of beauty and avoiding a mess.
Which was a long-winded way to get to my point. And that point was that in my mission to raise kind and courageous kids, I’ve been focusing way too much on the building a glorious future while trying to keep my hands clean in demolishing the shitty parts of the present.
And this will be an even longer-winded thingie where I just infodump atcha. I work daily with fear that if I don’t clean up my infodumps and neatly package them for quick consumption, folks will wander away and resent me. Or worse – just not get it, but think they get it.
But it’s okay, because in this space, you are my people, you are smart and complicated thinkers, and if this isn’t the safe place for long-windbaggery infodumps, nowhere is.
Grab some tea & settle in.
We need so many types of people in this next generation of kind and courageous kids. I allude to this in our book collection on raising luminaries. Right now, let’s dig into the skill-set of our most under-appreciated leaders – the demolition crew.
Why don’t we celebrate the demolition crew?
My skill set is teaching grown-ups about critical social theory but only if I can tie it to a children’s picture book. I have found zero satisfactory books that explore the necessity and chaotic beauty of kids who are naturally…destructive. This has been a source of consternation for me over the years.
BTW, these were the books that looked most promising, but don’t have that one THING I really want to get this point across.
- Builders & Breakers (Light) – Just construction references. Too shallow.
- Bloom (Cronin & Small) – So close! RElies too much on allegory.
- Little Book of Hindu Deities (Patel) – Specifically the book about Kali Ma (goddess of preservation & compassionate destruction) & Shiva (the destroyer). I’ve been looking for a good children’s book about Kali Ma for ages but this is the only one that gives her a passing mention, and it’s shallow at best.
- Legendary Ladies (Shen) – Also references Kali Ma, but not for kids.
Why is it taking me so freaking long to solve racism?!
No seriously this is a thought that goes through my head every day. I’ve gotten it into my skull that if I can just use the right words, in the right way, without overwhelming folks, with the right formula of knowledge + capability + urgency, we’ll kick folks off toward action and racism can be solved in like 15 years.
As if solving inequity is as simple as making a few collections of picture books. Like folks way smarter than me haven’t tried to solve racism before. My arrogance!
So there’s this document that’s been floating around in white-run racial justice spaces (SURJ, FORJ, etc.) by Temka Okun, called White Supremacy Culture (pdf link). It hits many bullet points of things I’ve been trying to get across in picture books and parent guides. I like that it’s spelled out – but it’s a document with limited use. The thing makes me nervous.
I don’t like giving anti-oppression guides with bullet points to powerful people. They tend to read it and are like “Oh, okay, got it. I am not racist now.” and then like 15 minutes later they’re tone-policing and speaking over marginalized voices and asking me for free emotional labor, and all that bingo-chart of supremacy mess.
Like, it just doesn’t sink in, but reading it makes folks believe they got it when they don’t got it! Bullet points on equity give folks the confidence of Sara Hagi’s mediocre white man. Dangerous.
Onward with the shenanigan updates!
So anyway, this is what happened when tried to solve racism using book collections
This autumn I posted a poll so you could help me narrow my focus (ohmygosh so helpful THANKYOU) and the winner was racism. Which is a SUPER BROAD and complicated subject.
Figuring out the starting point was easy, which we covered in part 1 (admit that the social construct of race is a thing.)
And then we moved on to part 2 (acknowledge the role of power in racial discrimination) –
This weekend I finally finished it and posted on the website now, so feel free to share both of these.
I spent the second half of yesterday just trying to figure out our next step. What concept are new readers ready for? Which of these have at least a handful of books I can use to illustrate it? So I did what I do, and I mind-mapped it because flow charts are my jam.
This is what happened. It’s the big thing on the top right. Didn’t even fit within my janky little mindmap from 2017 (the colorful stuff on the bottom left). For folks who aren’t into flow charts, I have about 50 different book collections I need to publish before I can get basic new visitors up to speed on what racism is.
That’s just learning about it. From there, it’d be a whole different set of book collections on actively dismantling it and rebuilding something better.
Seeing how huge this thing is – and how it actually slows down my internet accessing the document, makes me feel a little better about not solving racism already. I only have so much time.
Anyhoo – I figured it out. The third part of our anti-racism series will be about white fragility. Now all I have to do is this complex series of tasks to make sure the collection is clear, accessible, and conforms to my accountability standards. Oh also a few weeks of researching more books.
A short document with bulletpoints is great. But it’s surface knowledge, it’s not sinking deep into your skin and invading your lungs and becoming a part of you. It’s not stories that sink into your brain that inform your actions. It’s not pinging your lizard brain on an emotional level. It’s not practice discussing these concepts – that hard praxis of identifying the bones of each idea so it’s easy enough for a 2-year-old to understand. It’s not going out into the world and making this anti-racism work a part of your daily life.
Practice that gives us the courage to say no to that pushy dentist who insists you replace your bamboo toothbrush with an electric one (it matters – climate justice is environmental racism is disappearing Indigenous land!). Practice that gives us the gumption to stand up to that gross dude at a cafe making the barista uncomfortable. Practice that compels us to speak up against racist kindergarten curriculum and PTO inequity. Little things.
That’s the stuff we’re doing here – making it become a part of you. I don’t make bullet points and air freshener, I’m working on making oxygen you can breathe.
So it’s gonna take a while. And it’s gonna get ridiculously complicated – and messy.
Hard swerve on topics – I’m gonna harp on seasonality again
this is relevant and I’ll tie it together later on, bear with me.
Every autumn I deep dive into Indigenous topics – decolonization, Indigenous history & heritage, Indigenous futures, #OwnVoices stories, all that good stuff.
What keeps coming up is
1. How we should decolonize (obvs.)
but not: 2. What decolonization is, exactly, for young families
and also not: 3. How to decolonize, or like, at least start it.
So I make that my job to figure out. I experiment with stuff and incorporate it into our family life here at Bumblebee Hollow. See how this like rain gardens and honoring Indigenous Day of Mourning turns out. Test more. Tell you about it (or rather, I would, if I just had the time to write up all this stuff without overwhelming you.)
So in 2020, I’m gonna make the experimental leap into breaking up with this toxic stew of time & capitalism.
Books I’m thinking about now:
- Powwow Summer (Rendon & Walsh Bellville) – Too didactic and bland for 7 and under, but it starts by telling us about the cycles of life as symbolic of seasons. Most importantly – accepting these seasons.
- Beaver Steals Fire (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) – On the importance of controlled burns to prevent wildfires and accepting Indigenous wisdom on respecting seasonality even if you’re a naive settler, because they have centuries of scientific knowledge that we just lack.
- Rabbit’s Snow Dance (Bruchac & Bruchac) – Because it’s adorable, and also – reminds us of how ignorance + impatience + false urgency is harmful
- Coyote Tales (Thomas King) – Because it’s a fun story about capitalism and greed that pokes fun of capitalist settlers without us really realizing it.
- Coyote Solstice Tale (King & Clement) – Consumerism!
- Nerdy Birdy Tweets (Reynolds & Davies) & Tek the Modern Cave Boy (McDonnell) & Doug Unplugged (Yaccarino) – Addressing behavioral screen addiction. For kids! Tek is a little problematic re: sexism and language, so watch out.
- So Few Of Me (Reynolds) – A false sense of urgency & overwhelm
- Frog and Toad (Lobel) – the one where Toad loses his list. The challenges of getting through the day with executive dysfunction disabilities (Toad codes as autistic throughout the series.)
- A Broken Flute (Seale & Slapin) – Now that I’m disengaging from social media and email (to be discussed another day), I finally have time to read this non-kids book cover to cover. SO GOOD.
I’m doing you a disservice here, because we need more than a reading list – we need to have long, deep conversations about each of these stories and what we can get from them, where they swerve left, and how to use them.
While researching for part 8 of our Wealth Inequality series, I’ve been noodling on this interaction of unchecked capitalism + social media behavior + fake news + disobeying natural cycles + production schedules
Here is what I’ve noticed (other than the fact that all of these things insidiously contribute to the expanding wealth gap, we’ll save that for that part 8 post in 2020) – 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-overlords-and-child-internment-camps-2019?
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.
2020 is for demolition
All of this is a long meandering way to say – I’m breaking shit up for next year.
No promises for monthly book collections on the website. In fact – the website might look completely different, with individual book critiques, interviews, guest posts, I dunno yet!
No promises to respond to email. In fact – In December, I’m just sending all incoming email straight to the trash (YES. I SAID IT! I’m breaking that social contract! Taboo!) And aiming to check email only three months out of the year.
No dallying about in social media. Just gonna get some folks to mind the weeds and water the cats, and then like, bounce.
Just deep work, mindful of the seasons. Mindful of my disabilities and how I want this next generation of autistic kids to see how they are allowed to be. Experimenting with new ways of spreading ideas and information. Experimenting with really sinking my teeth into a subject so we can get to the root of it (that’s what radical means, y’know.) instead of getting distracted by the next urgent deadline because it’s Robot Awareness Month or whatever.
No more following the whims of humanity while it’s caught in the grip of social media distractions, poorly-vetted news flashes, and false urgency.
Just following the seasons of what we know feels right in our squishy human guts.
Some posts will look the same. Some will be messy, ugly failures. If my patterns hold up, I might post more and probably overwhelm folks, followed by long, excruciating silences.
No promises for any particular production calendars. No promises for polished, pretty stuff.
Just lots of ugly, fantastic messy stuff we need to tackle so we can raise kind and courageous kids. And we’ll do all of this together. Kind of like a Rosenwald school. It works better when we collaborate together.
PSSST next week I’ll do another poll, so you can help me narrow down what we’ll work on next. Stick around for shenanigans!
also psssst: stuff I made this month, because I keep forgetting to update/share it with you. If any of these sound awesome, hold it in your heart for next week, because Imma make a poll so we can figure out a plan of attack next monday:
- Along with my Ambassador To The Real World, Kerry P., we organized a citywide event for families (this makes me sound more powerful than I am, we had lots of help and used our privileged) in an attempt to revolutionize the way our local white-oriented racial justice group does things. I used about a quarter of our patreon contributions (pre-tax) to pay #OwnVoices Wampanoag educator Annawon Weeden to teach us about the real history of ‘Thanksgiving,’ and created this hyper-local Reconciliation toolkit to support families in taking the next step.
- Also our generous members raised over $600 to donate to the Indigenous Youth Council & the Wompânaâk Language Reclamation project (I didn’t even intend to. last weekend was super weird. I don’t understand money.)
- Mentioned this, but Racism & Power (part 2 of our anti-racism collection) is all done, and I’ve started the background work of Part 3 (white fragility)
- I’ve started compiling all of my articles across all of our channels into a single spreadsheet so folks can keep track, but that’s not done yet. So follow Raising Luminaries on Facebook and Books For Littles (also on Facebook) – as I’ve posted at least twice a day all month, mostly about Indigenous civil rights but also a bit on other stuff. Or better yet, don’t follow me on FB, because I’m gonna hustle to make all this stuff accessible without feeding reader social media behavioral addictions. later.
- I’ve set a deadline for myself to get off of email throughout the month of December. After that, anyone who wants to contact me has to become a patreon supporter – if they want my time, they gotta pay for it (setting boundaries! it feels weird!)
- I’ve unfollowed and blocked Facebook from all of my devices, so I only pop on each morning to create new posts, then bounce. I’ve stopped compulsively clicking ‘like’ just to show people that i’ve read comments, and unfollowed everyone, even folks I like. Which is weird! We can discuss why another time.
- I’ve removed our presence from Instagram, because it still remains too complicated to make posts accessible for Blind/Low-vision/low-connection users, and I can’t deal.
- I’ve set a deadline to remove our presence from Twitter, because twitter confuses the shit out of me and I just don’t have time for this nonsense.
- I’ve started on an Indigenous Day of Mourning toolkit, which I will finish…umm…sometime?
- I’ve been working with the kickass ladies of Little Feminist Book Club (that’s an affiliate link, because they’re cool like that) to create the board books that I’ve been wishing for my whoooole life.
- I’ve been hosting a series of posts about building interdependent support communities for our kids over in the Luminary Brain Trust, checking in once a week to connect with these awesome folks, and discussing our grown-up book club books.
- Also other stuff, probably. It’s hard to keep track of all this. holy crap are we only halfway through November?!