Outrage, shock, empathy, and shaming.

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I’m writing a book on videogames culture that heavily focuses on the online harassment within it. (It will be out in March 2016.) As part of my research I read Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”, along with a few others. I found it a fascinating book, and I enjoyed the ways it made me uncomfortable, and the ways in which it made me ask questions. So I thought I’d do a little mind dump about it. I’ve also been reading Roman Krznaric’s book “Empathy, a handbook for revolution,” and found that they complement each other quite well. Not that they’re saying the same things, but rather they have elegant moments of dovetailing.

Earlier this year, we lost our friend and great writer, Kat Muscat. Tattooed on her arm were three words that were without a doubt her personal motto: “Defiance. Feminism. Empathy.” She lived this way, she wrote this way, and after losing her, it felt like a constructive way to grieve for me to devour as much about the three topics as I could. To become adept at them, to understand their anatomy, and maybe then feel closer to her. If I didn’t, then at least I’d learned some stuff? It beats crying every time someone looks like her.

In studying empathy in terms of enacting social change, I’ve discovered it to be not only a loving approach but an essential one in the anatomy of Getting Shit Done, as long as it doesn’t stand alone. When we think of empathy we often think of putting yourselves in someone’s shoes, and possibly even seeking a rush of looking as though we’re Better At Human Feelings than others. “Look how well I can empathy” is often a hidden subtext behind the sharing of a confronting article on Facebook, or Twitter. Without forthcoming action, empathy can be performative at best, and self-indulgent wank at worst. But used in conjunction with other things, in a certain order, it’s some powerful stuff.

Lots has been written about “outrage culture”, mostly scoffing and piousness about how “sensitive” we’re all becoming. How quick we are to get in a tizzy about something. It’s all too familiar to hear this as a woman, we’re so often told to calm down or stop being hysterical, that the hairs on my neck stand on end whenever anything even slightly resembles this narrative, even if I have to squint to see it. It’s like Spidey Senses. This squinty reaction happened quite a few times during Ronson’s book. At times I felt it as a call to settle down, all a bit too convenient for all the people trying to shut up marginalised voices. But in reality, it was a call to have more empathy. It was someone shouting to the pillory “Hey! Hey I don’t think this is right!” and it was hard for me to balance this raising-hackles instinct with the (very necessary) call for more empathy. I wanted more empathy.

What I’ve been finding is that there might be legs to the idea that outrage is entirely necessary to social change, but it needs tempering and nuance in order to actually do anything other than act as someone’s personal catharsis. Philosopher and professor of psychology at City University of New York Jesse Prinz essentially says there’s more to social change than stepping into someone’s shoes, because at the end of all that, all you’re doing is standing there in someone else’s footwear.

“To say you’re against empathy is like to say you’re against puppy dogs, but I do think that these self-help books that give us this sense that there’s a kind of panacea — there are investments and government programs dedicated to increasing empathy, that is simply a misallocation of resources.” 

If you think about the kind of outrage we experience when we witness an injustice, when we think about major problems of global poverty that have structural and political origins, that outrage can be extremely motivating. Feelings like outrage and injustice are much more successful at motivating more moral emotions than these vicarious forms of distress that are associated with empathy.” 

When we want to achieve real societal change, we need to first hit Empathy, to make people care. This then helps us make them Outraged enough to want to help. If you finish this pattern with a call to Action, something you can give them to help, they most likely will. When “shock” tactics are used, without empathy, outrage, and action coming next, they are, in my humble opinion, total bullshit and exist purely for people to wank about how much they care about something more than everyone else. It’s why “raising awareness” is becoming eye-roll inducing for so many.

A shock tactic, by definition, is meant to render us motionless. To stop us in our tracks. That on its own cannot be a motivator to action for it’s the exact opposite. Let’s take the example of the social media feeds of certain kinds of animal activists, just to pick one out of thin air. A bear in a cage, weeping, or dead animals, or animals caught in rubbish or traps, will often scroll down our social media feeds, shared by an animal lover who “just can’t.” We feel shock, we feel empathy for the animal (for we have our own animals at home, or have had pleasant experiences with animals, or anthropomorphise them), but unless we’re allowed to feel outraged at who ever is responsible, we’re stuck there. We’re stuck in “Oh my god that’s awful” land. That land reaps no crops. If that viral post is followed by who is doing this to them, and what we can do about it (which is hopefully more than just donating money, but that’s a whole other discussion), then it might actually enact change. But “shock value”, on its own, is a myth.

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I think a lot of what Jon Ronson discusses in his book is the ugly mob mentality that appears when we get stuck in the shock or the outrage part of this cycle, and the only action afforded is to fire off missives at people. When people were angry at Justice Sacco for making a really poor taste tweet (that many would argue is racist) they wanted to destroy her. People were braying for blood and they weren’t going to be satisfied until she got off that plane and found out she was fired. People went to the airport hoping to snap a photo of the moment she found out, so we could all revel in it together. Half of this is because she’s a woman and people hate women. The other half is that people found her actions disgusting, and had no way to take action against the structures and reasons that enabled her to say it, so they attacked her. In their quest to be righteous they thought they could take one brick from the big wall of racism. But in reality, they eviscerated a woman who made a dumb tweet, and had no regard for what it would do to her life, and didn’t think about the fact that a huge part of this was because she was a woman. Yes, I think her tweet was racist and in incredibly poor taste. But it’s so important to have empathy for her situation, because we’ve all fucked up and said dumb shit. Empathy isn’t complacency, it’s hard fucking work. Misogynists came out of the woodwork, some of them even pretending not to be racists for 5 minutes so they could jump on the bandwagon and publicly flay a woman.

There’s nuances in the topic of public shaming via social media that I wish Ronson explored a bit more. Most of the victims of the public shaming he spoke to had admittedly done something stupid or regrettable. He spoke to a plagiarist who was found out, a woman who wrote a dumb tweet, and many others. What I think was lacking was just how easy it is for people to be publicly shamed for *doing absolutely nothing wrong*. We’ve seen in the last few years, women being attacked for doing incredibly reasonable and non-controversial work, especially in the field of videogames. People being shamed and attacked viciously for doing work that would be considered completely innocuous in any other setting. He did say how important social media was for marginalised voices. He didn’t stray into “Oh you silly things” territory about how we should all just turn our phones off and get over it. But I would have liked to have seen people represented to hadn’t done a dicky thing first. Of course, it’s his book, he can do whatever he wants, and if he didn’t find that interesting that’s totally okay. (Check me out having empathy for him instead of getting mad, topical!)

It’s very easy to read Jon Ronson’s book as “everyone settle the fuck down, don’t get your knickers in a knot,” but that would be doing it a disservice. He’s not saying that. He’s asking for us to question the social media pile on. The mob mentality. He’s telling people to put the pitch forks down, no matter how righteous you may be. It’s a good point. What I especially like about it, is that it’s normally marginalised voices that get piled on the hardest, and I want to see that happen less, but also what I liked about this view is that if we don’t waste our time on the pile on, we can dedicate it to moving toward actual change instead. I still think social media is an important way to speak truth to power, much like physical protests or collectivising, but I think when we don’t have any rules for engagement and the systems in place profit from these shitfights, that we could stand back and just consider even for a brief moment if we want to participate in it. I’ve jumped in a bunch of pile ons, when they’re punching up. Sometimes it feels like a tiny win. But Ronson’s book has given me food for thought about what constitutes a win at all. Just because something feels like a win doesn’t mean it will be one, and the book has helped me see it more clearly, as someone who was of the “DON’T CARE, SENDING TWEET TO MISOGYNIST IDIOT FOR CRIMES AGAINST BRAINING” persuasion, and is easily seduced by the whiff of promise that comes after.

Unfortunately he’s getting a lot of flack about this book, and he wrote about it on Monday for the Guardian. The thing about the hasty world of social media is we lose nuance, that’s something I don’t think many people would disagree with. The nuance he is calling for is that we can be righteous in challenging systems of oppression and hatred, but we should be ever mindful of oppression and hatred being the tools we use in order to achieve this. In the book he says, “I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high dramas, everyday a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people. What rush is overpowering us at times like this? What are we getting out of it?”

We need to turn our Shock and Outrage into Actions that don’t hurt other people. This would be Defying the urge to pile on, Feminist in its consideration of intersectionality, and Empathic in its reminder that we’re all humans behind those screens. Keep telling those who abuse power to fuck off, but we need to be mindful of our own power, too.

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Why Courageous Jack Kilbride Is Not The Answer

 

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The New Matilda published an article today titled “Why Courageous Clementine Ford Is Not The Answer”, presumably Jack Kilbride is The Answer? What is the question, anyway?

The article was… not good. I have no doubt his heart was in the right place, but I doubt whether the point of it was worth publishing. I think if Kilbride wants to call himself a feminist ally that there are plenty of us here who will help him, and welcome him, but that it is important for him to know how he can go about feminist action in the best way he can. This article is not the way Kilbride can engage best practice, and I feel the urge to explain why. It’s not saying anything new, in fact, many of my friends actually thought it was satire, that’s how tired we are of tone policing and ‘mansplaining’ articles. At first, I thought the article had no point, until I came to the daunting realisation that the point is very clear: women need to calm down, lest they set back the feminist movement.

Oy vey.

Kilbride starts off his ill-advised Let Me Tell You What You’re Doing Wrong rant without a shred of self-awareness (or historical knowledge, or feminist theory, or…) saying “There are many ways to skin a cat, and just as many ways to re-educate a misogynist”, followed up with, “I am a man and I am a feminist.” In just 30 words, Kilbride has promised us the Answers to The Pesky Patriarchy Problem.

Only problem is, his answer is to further reinforce patriarchal practises. Ugh, and I was so excited, too. It felt like his Feminist Laserbeam was focused and charged up and ready to go, but fired off in the wrong direction, to the disappointment of many NM readers. Perhaps even a firework that’s fallen over. Kilbride’s enthusiasm in trying to help is cool, we guess. But the problem is in doing it without any acknowledgement of the fact that his worldview completely shapes his entire comprehension of what is actually going on, in regards to being a woman online.

Kilbride posits that “The problem with writers like Clementine Ford is although their sentiment is justified, their vitriolic writing style means that people will always get offended.” Which by virtue, is suggesting that politeness and civility are the only ways to get things done. We know by looking throughout history that every revolution was started by someone using their manners and asking very politely, right?

The problem with writers like Kilbride is they don’t acknowledge how their worldview and background shapes their ability to think critically about an issue unless they actively try and fight against that programming. What have you done for us lately, Jack? For Kilbride to show he’s actively fighting against this would be for him to get half way through this article and really ask himself why it bothers him when women get mouthy. Is it because I worry they will get mouthy at me one day? Is it because I’m told to think women should be more submissive? Is it because I, as a man, feel the need to control this debate in tone and content? The lack of self-awareness in the article is supremely disappointing to the point of wondering how it got past (presumably) two people (author and editor) without anyone bothering to ask what the point of the article was, or whether he was the most suitable person to be writing it.

I have no doubt in my mind that Kilbride thinks he’s doing good works here. I have no doubt his heart is in the right place and he’s trying to help in the best way he knows how. The problem is he hasn’t had his epiphany yet about men’s place in feminist discourse. Maybe it’s coming now, in the wake of his piece? You do not tell women how to feminist, and that is exactly what this article is attempting to do.

The point it makes is to tell ladies to pipe down.

This point is no good.

It’s too similar to what the misogynists Kilbride claims to condemn are saying, and too similar to what feminists have been hearing for centuries. This is not new. The reaction Jack Kilbride is getting from feminists is such because this is shit we’ve heard before, and shit we’re sick of.

There is no safety in this State as long as these shrieking women are running about… old frumps… gawks… tabby cats… trash”A member of Victorian Parliament describing suffragists in 1906. 

Men have used (ridicule and) tone policing to obfuscate, detract, and override women in this country for a long, long time.

“Mr Staughton” was quoted in 1896 in “The Australian Women’s Sphere” as saying The class of women who are now howling about women’s suffrage would be at every little dirty corner, arguing and quarrelling and fighting. It is their nature”

To exclude women from the right to get angry (and anger is absolutely a proportionate response to being told someone is going to come after you and kill you) is to try and control them, and it’s as old as water. “The mission of feminism is to make these men change and starting fights with them is only making that mission harder,” Kilbride says. Starting fights? Perhaps a handy timeline of events would benefit: Say someone threatens a crime against a woman via twitter, and she reacts with a snarky tweet. Who started it again? Anger is a perfectly reasonable response, and if patriarchy doesn’t make you mad then you haven’t read enough yet.

What Kilbride has done in his quest to help us out, is fail to listen to us, engage with us with self-awareness, or learn from what women are doing or going through. He has forgotten to step outside of Jack and into the role of woman, to try and have a look at our worldview as best he can.

If Kilbride stood in our shoes before writing this he’d realise that he is in a position where opposition to his words may seem confronting today as he wakes to see the reaction to his article, but that he is in the privileged position where people are critiquing his ideas, not his genitals, sexual past, or appearance. How fucking luxurious.

Before Kilbride gets defensive about the feminist reaction to this piece, it would behoove him to realise how lucky he is that people are engaging with his ideas instead of threatening him with rape and murder. Precisely because no one is going to threaten Kilbride with rape, he can write this. He can suggest people “be nice” because he’s never been told by someone that they’re “too ugly to rape” for writing an innocent tweet about a videogame. It’s easy to tell people to calm down if you’ve never been on the receiving end of a tirade that would make the most zen of Buddhists want to clean a guy’s dial.

If you have not been through what Clementine Ford (and many other prominent feminists and women online) have been through, which is *years* of vitriolic abuse, and specific criminal threats, you have little right to tell them how to conduct themselves during it.

Kilbride wraps up his article with a vague seemingly-meaningful call to action. “If we want to actually change our world we need to stop trying to knock down the wall and instead, start helping people climb over.” The wall is patriarchy, right? Why wouldn’t we want to smash it down? Fuck the wall! Fuck the ways in which certain people would be chosen to be helped to climb over it over others, and presumably by dudes. May I (politely, of course) invite you to grab a sledge hammer and help us with the wall instead of telling Clem Ford how to react to things? It may be a better use of your allied energies. It may even be The Answer.

Perth

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Last week I went to Perth to talk at a “Survival Skills Workshop” for postgraduate and postdoc students, and I was asked to speak about non-academic pathways. Given my pathways have had very little academia in them, I felt like this was something I could do.  It was the first time I’d been “flown out” somewhere by someone, and the University of Western Australia were gracious and generous hosts. There was a driver waiting at the airport with my name on a sign! Well, it was an iPad, but you know, times are changing.

Perth itself was (albeit I stayed only 2 nights) a lovely seeming city. Given its conservative political leanings I was expecting it to be more hostile, but was actually struck by how gentle a city it was. I was also struck by the amount of construction going on, and how much they love them some Monarch. Kings Park. Queens (well, Elizabeth) Quay. King St, Prince Lane, Queen St. But I guess it’s not that different from the King, William, Queen, and Elizabeth Streets of Melbourne, after all.

I was staying on the opposite side of Kings Park to the CBD, and from looking at the map thought I might spend my first day walking across the park to the CBD to be a tourist. The driver quickly informed me it was more of a national park than a botanical gardens for the most part, and that it would take me at least an hour’s walk to cross it. Being on my own and not knowing my surroundings, I was hesitant. The fact my body registers any kind of exercise as a trauma cemented my decision not to. I decided to walk around the university campus, which was absolutely stunning. Apparently there resides a striking albino peacock, but I wasn’t lucky enough to sight him.

I started wondering where the arts precinct was, to go have a look around and find ‘my people’ and possibly find some galleries or art spaces to check out. I was feeling particularly fragile and wanted to make sure I didn’t run into any machismo in a scary new city. I walked to the local servo to get some snacks for my room, and on the way home smelled an *amazing* sausage sizzle. I was guided by the waft’s hand, like a cartoon character, levitating off the ground, in a trance. Plane food was nothing on a good sausage in bread. When I got there, I realised it was a bunch of 3rd year fine arts students (and the Dean) trying to raise money for the gallery space they ran near the university, called ArtLaab. They were encouraging people walking past to contribute a line to the work they would hang the next day, as a collaborative work. I started my walk wanting to find art, and within 2 hours of touching down in the city, I was making it. They had a bucket of materials to work with to do the painting, most of them sourced from the local park, and we were encouraged not to use brushes, but could if we wanted to. I was asked to meditate on it for a moment and really think about what I wanted to contribute. I felt like I needed to do some rectangles, and a non-continuous line. I chose a reed, cut to about 2 inches in length, and some white paint. My line is the staccato white pattern on the brown paper. Some of the shapes looked like M’s as my fingers were preventing the paint touching the paper, every shape was different. We talked about interactivity, about public engagement, Melbourne, and what I thought of Perth (the whole 2 hours I’d experienced of it!) It felt like being welcomed with a warm embrace. And sausage. With onion.

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Luckily I wasn’t to miss out on Kings Park altogether, as the lovely @sunili saw that I was in town and generously offered to take me on a tour. We knew each other through the feminist cabal known as Twitter. She’s a human rights lawyer and all round feminist badass so I was super excited to meet her, given we’re usually so far apart. She picked me up and we went on a (driven, much more civilised than walking) tour of Kings Park.

 

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We drove to the observatory side and I was gobsmacked by how perfect a vantage point it was to check out Perth’s CBD. The sun was soon setting, and we were surrounded by joggers, tourists, picnicking families, and giant lycra-clad trees as we exchanged strategies of dismantling the patriarchy. Right at Magic Hour, we saw a tree the Queen planted in 1954, now dressed as the Queen herself, more lycra (on trees and thighs), and enjoyed the warm breeze hitting our faces as we looked down at Perth from our cliff-faced garden view. More construction. More Rio Tinto. More BHP Billiton. Lots and lots of those signs, everywhere. Even in the Botanical Gardens. “Sorry about all that mining and environmental damage but um… here, have some flowers!” We then retired to Northbridge, which I was told was the Fitzroy of Perth, for a tasty beverage as the sun went down. This is called a “Sundowner” in Perth, and everyone makes a big deal out of it. This I could get behind. It was a truly lovely night. From my limited experience with this Conference Gambit, it seems to have unlimited potential for extreme loneliness, and being shown around by someone kind and lovely went such a long way to not feeling so far from home. I was writing notes for my book while in Perth, and after this first night the sentence “Never underestimate the healing qualities of feminist company” took on a deeper and more cherished meaning. I was a little sad/guilty about missing #LightTheDark in Melbourne, and luckily Perth was holding their own vigil right near where we were, so I felt lucky to be able to bear witness even though I wasn’t home. I don’t think I could have handled it without Sunili there, feeling fragile and far away, and I’m so grateful she took me. Afterwards we had burgers and healed and talked and shared strategies to smash more evils, emboldened by Perth’s show of compassion and love. I went to bed wanting to rouse some rabbles.

 

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The next morning was workshop morning. I was wide awake at 5am (thanks time difference) and ready to go. GIVE ME YOUR RABBLES. I made the rookie mistake of relying on the hotel hairdryer though. Oy vey. Not my best move. But I set off to my breakfast at the dining hall of one of the university’s halls of residence. Here I was able to be the gobshite I was born to be, rebel extraordinaire, unable to be tamed. EFF YOUR RULES, MAN!

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I played with my phone more than ever. I couldn’t put it down. I was ready to be challenged. I had my speech prepared. “UNDER WHAT JURISDICTION, SIR?!?”. Sometimes tiny rebellions are enough to keep you energised for the big ones.

I started my walk through the university campus toward the workshop space, leaving a little earlier so I could take a leisurely stroll. The weather was stunning. Perth does blue sky like no one else. They don’t even use Instagram filters over there. They don’t need to. Everything’s pre-filtered. The grounds were stunning. There was this fascinating mixture of architecture, between the Very Oxbridge Looking sandstone buildings dripping with ivy, to brutalist buildings, to very Californian-looking archways with terracotta tiles. You could easily spend a whole day just taking photos of that campus. There were interesting sculptures scattered around that I wish I took a photo of because they’ve stuck in my memory. They each had specific vantage points, some up to 5 metres away from the work itself, where you had to climb a step and poke your head through a peep hole to see the intended perspective. “Here is the perspective in which to enjoy the art” made me think about videogames and how we’re rooted in an authored experience too, with a limited scope of perspectives. One of my favourite pieces that I did actually take a photo of, was on the University Club’s wall, of Shaun Tan’s “Hours to Sunset” (pictured on the right.)

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My talk was a little ambitious for my 15 minute timeslot, perhaps, but I didn’t get boo’ed off stage, so that’s good. Seeing as the brief was about non-academic pathways and where these postgraduates are choosing to go – into further academia or out into the scary world of practice – I thought I would present it in the form of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. They were being asked to chose theirs, after all. I decided to combat my impostor syndrome (which was flaring up like a full-body rash, sharing a stage with Actually Important People) with EXTREME PERSONAL EARNESTNESS because that never goes wrong, right? So I shared my life and career as a CYOA, using the engine side of Twine. I started from my conception, where there was probably more choice involved than your average Josephine. My attraction toward CYOA was born in utero? Here were two of the slides:

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I used these slides to explain to people that their life path (and that includes their career paths) are never linear, and are constantly changing. To encourage people to see their life as a series of options and choices, and to never feel like you’re stuck on rails. I felt like that was particularly important to tell people really struggling to get their PhDs finished. I asked people to plot out their life so far in Twine, and to have a look at all their current pathway options and explore each one. The reception to my talk was positive, which was reassuring. Some seasoned academics would say “I liked your paper!”, which was quite jarring. It was a talk! But it’s part of that academic jargon I began to learn on my trip.

I would like my pathways to lead toward Perth again, perhaps next time with the family in tow, and some friends. I never got to see Fremantle, which mortifies almost everyone I say that to, and I wanted to see more of what the gentle giant city had to offer.

After this talk, I’ve been reflecting on my own pathway options in the future very intensely. I think this talk came at a good point in my life. I’ll be thinking of your blue skies and your reflective qualities for quite some time, Perth. Thanks for being a babe!

 

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“Lean Out: The Struggle For Gender Equality in Tech and Startup Culture” – edited by Elissa Shevinsky

I’ve never done a “book review” before, so I find the concept intimidating, so let’s not call it that. Let’s call it a “book chat” or something. Regardless, this is for my WiDGET BroadBand. The best band of broads a girl could hope for. 

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It’s been A Bit Of A Shit Time lately. I’ll spare you the details but it’s been rough. The kind of rough that has you coming over all existential every 5 minutes. The kind that shakes your core and has you questioning what you’re doing in life, and all-consuming doubts are a dime a dozen. Let’s blame those feelings for how disjointed and rough this post is, instead of other things like Not Being Very Good. I’ve been asking myself what I’m trying to achieve by working in games, feminist activism, writing, everything. This book, Lean Out – The struggle for gender equality in tech and start up culture, an anthology edited by Elissa Shevinsky, came into my life at the perfect moment, with all these questions swirling around in my headbox, like they were looking for a drain.

“Men invented the internet” – Wrongy McWrongerson 

(read a book mate, jeez)

The book has a carefully planned chapter progression as to mimic the familiar feelings many women in tech experience. “Am I alone?” “I’m not alone!” “Am I in or am I out?” “What are we going to do?”. It starts out with what feels like Shevinsky patting the chair next to her, telling you to sit down and have a chat about making sense of it all. I recognised and related to what she and the authors after her described. I swung between feeling entirely hopeless and committed to leaving, to wanting to punch the world and take no goddamn prisoners. During every despair and every contradicting feeling, I felt supported, galvanised, and safe in the hands of these writers. I felt part of something bigger, when I was feeling particularly small.

“Women in tech are the canary in the coal mine. Normally when the canary in the coal mine starts dying you know the environment is toxic and you should get the hell out. Instead, the tech industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying “Lean in, canary. Lean in!” – Kate Heddleston 

The first chapter, “What we don’t say”, a gut-wrenching recollection of abuse and violence from Sunny Allen, first had me wondering whether I was strong enough to read the rest of the book in my current state. I cried as I read her words, the make up of my tears being 50% anger that this happened to her, and 50% just raw and brutal heart-sick empathy. I’m glad I kept reading. Allen’s family were coal miners, most eventually succumbing to black lung, but responsible for powering the Industrial Revolution. By the end of the chapter, I was in awe of and reinforced by Allen’s strength as she proudly said, with the spirit of her forebears behind her, that she too was “powering the revolution”. What a fucking mensch. This chapter made me refuse to be anybody’s canary.

Leigh Alexander’s chapter generously shared her personal path to activism, deftly manoeuvring between sharing experiences that made her realise maybe she couldn’t bootstrap her way out of this after all, and a stellar call to arms for other women and other feminists to cut the hair pulling and band together, reminiscent of one of my core texts by Molly Lambert. Being a big fan of Lambert’s “Befriend the other woman. Even if she’s shit” approach to feminist action, I felt like I could easily slide into Alexander’s advice and truly bask in the full and beautiful strength of her words when she said “remember who and what the real enemy is”. Constantly checking ourselves not only for our privileges but to see where the crosshairs are pointed is a crucial part of all feminist activism, and we would do well to listen to the women that remind us of this.

“It’s deeply ironic to fight for choice and agency for women while demanding they bear only one sort of battle scar” – Ash Huang 

Katy Levinson’s chapter “ Sexism in tech” focuses on whistleblowing, and calls for companies who really care about making their workplaces healthier for women to make sure there are concrete protections for people to point out when something is tragically broken. Her concepts about there being two kinds of trust in this context resonated deeply with me. Levinson goes on to explain that believing a whistleblower could be defined as a “factual trust”, and the belief that the whistleblower is not doing this for personal gain could be described as a “motivational trust”. This distinction between the two is how you can find your allies – they have both of these trusts in you. To take it one step further, Levinson then explains how when one of these trusts is missing due to someone wanting to “find out all the facts” before committing, the more time goes on the more this lack of trust ferments into making you the dreaded “liability”. This parallels the feminist (read: not jerk) concept of Always Believing The Woman, because the stakes are so so tragically high when we don’t. This chapter made me realise I will not stand for anything less than factual and motivational trust from people I work with.

Elissa Shevinsky’s chapter “That’s It, I’m Finished Defending Tech” was the catalyst for this anthology, and is an absolute corker. It mirrored a lot of my feelings about the Exhausting Optimism Machine spruiking tech and games to the masses, hoping they won’t notice that there’s a huge hole in the floor with a spiky pit at the bottom of it. It rubs up against difficulties I’ve had trying to encourage girls into my profession, feeling guilty of leading lambs to the slaughter. Her chapter later in the book “The Pipeline Isn’t The Problem” is a perfect companion to this one, and required reading for everyone who thinks getting women involved in tech is a numbers game only, and that changing the systems these women enter into isn’t something that is required. If you think that, read this chapter and sit there and be wrong in your wrongness.

We start to delve into the nerd identity from this point, and “cultural fit”. Katherine Cross’ chapter “Fictive Ethnicity and Nerds” was (as you’d imagine) a huge meal for the brain. In this chapter she posits that there is a clash between masculinities, that of the “conquistador” (or the jock, the combative and physical) and that of the “counting house” (the clever, adept at systems and solving problems with wit and guile instead of fists), and that women often bear the brunt of the clash between these two masculinities, each with their own challenges regarding entitlement and toxicity. Squinky’s first chapter was a tales from the trenches account of “Notes From a Game Industry Outcast”, that wrenched at my heart. Followed immediately by the chapter “Making Games Is Easy, Belonging Is Hard”, Squinky told of the difficulties faced by people who didn’t “fit” the cultures they worked in, and that this isn’t helped by critical success, as one may (incorrectly) assume. This was another Leena Cries chapter, as I shared Squinky’s relief that games spaces may finally be progressing to something more accepting, when I read the line “It’s like I was waiting for you all this time, and now you’ve arrived”. It made me think about my BroadBand.

“There’s no shame in taking your hand off of something poison” – anna anthropy 

I thought about my BroadBand again in the next chapter by Krys Freeman, who extolled the virtues of listening to the wisdom that came from the women before us, in “2nd Generation In Tech”. The importance of role models cannot be understated, and Krys was lucky enough to have one in very close proximity. Krys’ mother is a BAMF! Having a baby the same year as graduating high school didn’t stop Krys’ mother becoming not only the first woman in Bloomberg’s “Console Room”, but the first black woman, too. I also really appreciated Krys’ take on why Lean In rubs so many of us the wrong way, underscoring the importance of making a distinction between the amount of work it takes a white male with a wife and permanent childcare to accomplish their professional goals compared to that of a black single mother. It’s unfair to compare the two and tell one of them to just “try harder”. Krys’ call to not lean in but lean on your own authenticity, is something that will stay with me for a really long time.

In “Beyond the Binary: A/B Testing Tech and Gender”, Brook Shelley shared her unique insight afforded to her by being seen by the world as a man for the start of her career, and how that has changed since the world now sees her as a woman. Hearing first hand from someone that it is a completely different experience depending on gender was an odd relief that it’s not just me (us) suspecting things are rough — it’s proof they are. Shelley also had wonderfully sweet words about the importance of the internet in her life that I really related to, albeit for very different reasons. Shelley’s writing style felt particularly warm, even when she was talking about really difficult situations.

(I should have instituted a Cry Jar by now, I’d probably have money for a couple of wines. Wines I felt very entitled to at this point). 

Erica Swallow and Gesche Haas both told their stories of sexism and othering in tech and venture capital, and what happens when you “go public”. This has been on my mind a lot lately, how often women are left with no other recourses other than to publicly name and shame in order to feel any sense of justice or exert even a skerrick of power. If we had systems in place that dealt with these problems in an appropriate manner, we could avoid this mess altogether. They complimented Levinson’s whistleblower chapter really well.

Here’s one that *slayed* me. In a good way. I think. I don’t know. Can you just hold me? This chapter will possibly stay under my skin for the rest of my life. It was jarring, loving, and confronting, all at once. Someone loves you when they see something is bad for you and tell you to stop doing it, and I felt nothing but love coming from anna anthropy in her chapter, when she was honestly and frankly suggesting that it’s okay to acknowledge that games and tech are bad for you. She went even further than that and made me really question The Big Question: “Is it killing you?”. It echoes and mirrors conversations I’ve had with people who love me, who ask me what I’m doing and why I’m bothering. I felt this chapter reverberate around my chest for days. There was no elegant shedding of the single tear here. It was the full blown sob. The Ugly Cry. She touched on how damaging “passion” can be. How easily it can be taken advantage of and used against you. We see so much of this in games, on so many levels and in so many ways. I still can’t really articulate what this chapter means to me, or unpack why I get the shakes thinking about it, but maybe I will be able to do so better one day. I don’t think today is that day. All I know is that I’ll always be grateful I read it and that it exists.

“Given all the talk in the press and social media posts about supporting women in tech, you would expect there to be actual support” – Jenni Lee 

Erica Joy’s chapter “The Other Side of Diversity” was super fascinating to me. We often speak of the benefits diverse teams bring to corporations and to art and products, but we rarely get an insight into the HUGE weight there is on the shoulders of the people expected to magically fix things by just existing there. What it’s like to be that Diverse Person, and how it feels on a day-to-day basis there at the coal face. How it hurts, how it feels to be that isolated different person. How easy it is to lose ourselves in the face of ‘enculturation’, how every time we adopt another person’s characteristic in order to fit in, we drop one of our own, and what happens when we try and take inventory of what Being Us actually is, and find it’s mostly stuff inserted there by other people. This helps me frame my feminist support. I have no interest in helping capitalists make more money from diverse pools of workers, so that argument doesn’t really light my fire — but I am interested in helping women stay true to themselves in the places they want to work, doing the work they want to do. This chapter made me reflect on what ‘supporting minorities’ actually looks like on the ground, and how easy it is to get caught up concerning ourselves with getting people hired, instead of helping us stay us.

Leanne Pittsford opened my eyes to the distinct challenges that queer women face in her chapter “Lesbians Who Tech”. It’s so easy for LGBT-themed tech events to centre on the experiences of the gay male, and that women are often lost in the throng yet again, under-served and ignored. Gay men tend to make more money than lesbian women in tech, and lesbians are statistically more likely to have children than gay men, and Pittsford explains the importance of remembering that this means queer women can find themselves at a massive disadvantage — one that approaches like “Lean In” tend to ignore in favour of a straight perspective. This chapter fortified in me the importance intersectionality has in any feminist action. If it’s not intersectional, it’s bullshit.

“But Leena, what concrete measures can we implement to help?”, I hear you ask. Well Jenni Lee’s chapter “What Young Women In Tech Really Need” lays it all down for you in black and white. With dot points, even! This is an outstanding chapter that pulls no punches about precisely what helps, and what is meaningless lip service. “You can teach a man to fish, but what if he’s not welcome at the pond?” was a fist-pump moment. There were a few of those in there. This chapter helped clarify so much for me, and not only that, helped me realise I could fucking ask for precisely what I thought we needed. Which oddly, doesn’t occur to me as much as it should. Ash Huang’s chapter “Runners” serves as a great companion to the chapter before it, in that it’s a How To Guide for the women running these actions. How do we survive while implementing these things. Following this and continuing the “Actually… maybe I can do this” tone, Dom Deguzman uses the 5 Stages of Grief to talk us through coming to terms with the cultural fit of the “brogrammer”. I too have been in situations where I’ve told myself it’s nothing (denial), only to disappoint myself or be disappointed by others (anger), before trying to see where my line in the sand really was (bargaining), followed by a cloud dawning over me (depression). The final stage is supposed to be acceptance, but Deguzman makes sure to never advocate putting up with exclusive workplace cultures, and encourages the reader to consider the fact there might never be a final stage at all.

“Careers are not ladders. It’s rock climbing” – Dom Deguzman 

Just when some readers might be making their decision to Lean Out entirely (a decision I would find it really difficult to disparage), Melanie Moore implores readers to “Build a Business, Not an Exit Strategy”, and do it their way. This particular form of chutzpah is admirable as much as it is scary to me, not being someone who is particularly business-minded, but Moore held my hand through the whole thing and it wasn’t as intimidating as it first seemed. Even with lots of numbers talk, which my brain seems to register as a trauma. As with many of the authors in this book, I felt like if I were to give money to their causes, not a cent would be wasted.

The book ends with an outstanding call to arms for women and allies everywhere, in “Where Do We Go From Here?”. Lauren Bacon absolutely smashed this chapter out of the (GODDAMN) park, and left me thinking I could make a difference in some small way before I decide to Lean Out for good. Oh that’s right. She’s not going anywhere just yet! Bacon’s clarity and forthright nature really reminded me in a spectacular way of one of my favourite local activists, Van Badham. Both have lead the call to start with shifting public opinion, and then the systems will be forced to react. The genius of this approach lies in it’s simplicity. Systems are not going to change when people push back against that change, and by nature they are change-resistant. Bacon identifies that given the current climate for women in tech and the mainstream coverage of large scale criminal movements against them, public opinion has shifted from “They have women in tech?” to “Holy shit that’s really rough for them, that’s not good enough, this has to stop”. If we don’t move on this shift, it will blow away with the wind. This chapter (this whole book, really) is a bible for any feminist activist in tech. Bacon even gives us DOT POINTS, in no uncertain terms, with how we can change the fucking world. No joke. Just like that. A 6-step plan, with forging alliances being a huge part of facilitating these changes. We might all need separate things, us intersecting groups, but when we plot it on a Venn diagram and overlap with another, we need to rally together for a shared goal. I felt inspired, and reminded of the timeless adage “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose”.

“And whatever you do, DO NOT drink the Kool-Aid!” – Melanie Moore 

I know what you’re thinking. “This book kinda sounds okay I guess, but I really think it would be better with a Robot Startup Dinosaur?” Have no fear, my love, for FAKEGRIMLOCK has contributed 2 chapters to this book, as well! In true FAKEGRIMLOCK style, they have your best interests at heart, and say just what you need to hear, right when you need to hear it. Sometimes it takes a Robot Startup Dinosaur to drop some truth bombs on us for us to really listen. FAKEGRIMLOCK is to be seen to be believed, and is hard to describe, so allow me to quote them directly, with an amalgamation of my two favourite lines:

“LOOK AROUND. THIS NOT WHAT WORLD COULD BE. 

THIS NOT WHAT WORLD SHOULD BE. 

THIS NOT WHAT WORLD MUST BE. 

YOU WILL FIX IT. 

——

YOU WILL GET BACK UP. YOU WILL PUNCH THE WORLD. 

AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN. “

Lean Out was a fortifying read for me. It distilled in me the importance of intersectional feminist activism, learning from each other, not taking any shit, and caring enough to make things better. Even though certain parts were concerned with capital a lot more than I personally am, I still left feeling stronger and wiser for it. I’m blown away by these inspirational bolshie babes, just doing their thing and doing it with pride, confidence, and love. I feel lucky to have read their words.

This book came into my life at a time where I’m finding it hard not to consider it a kismet. We just lost a dear friend, suddenly, and shockingly. She had a tattoo that I found inspiring when she was alive but now that she’s gone I feel especially fired up about living by. “Defiance. Feminism. Empathy.” I don’t believe in the supernatural and I’m not big on the Higher Power stuff, but in my soul it feels like this book was printed with the same ink as that tattoo, and I think it will always have a special place in my heart, accordingly.

I often say it’s hard to speak up against injustice when you’re on your own, but with other women behind you, you feel like you can do anything. This book brings a gift to those who read it; Lean Out immediately provides 19 siblings to women feeling isolated and struggling to find their place in tech culture. As for trying to sum up my feelings about this book in a concise way (she says 3500 words later), I’m afraid I’ve been outdone by a Robot Dinosaur:

“IF YOU LET SOMEONE ELSE BUILD TOMORROW, TOMORROW WILL BELONG TO SOMEONE ELSE. THEY WILL BUILD BETTER TOMORROW FOR EVERYONE LIKE THEM” 

– FAKEGRIMLOCK

How to not blog self-care

Hey so I have a blog. Who knew.

I know I forgot.

I intended on blogging a year of self-care, because it was becoming abundantly clear I was rubbish at it. I thought this accountability would be good for me.

 

Hooooooooooo boy.

 

Turns out, the worst thing I could have done for my self-care was to give me more things to do. So I retreated.

 

Not only did this not work just on concept, but my first few posts were giving myself even more jobs. “Oh hey you know that hard thing, DO IT in the name of self-care!”. It was pretty contradictory and short-sighted. So now I’ve renamed my blog and I’m just going to use it for whatever I feel like. I want to do more personal writing and blogging so this seems like a good spot for it. I’m thinking of using my Tumblr for writing exercises and prompts and sprints etc, and this for other stuff. We’ll see how that goes. I have some thoughts on a book I might put on here. But then I might not. We’ll see how that goes.

 

Takeaway: When going on a mission to care for yourself, maybe give yourself a break and don’t make things harder.

Writing the bullet

keep-calm-and-bite-the-bullet-9

Biting the bullet is a really grown up thing to do, sometimes.

I created a list on my to-do list app (I use the app called “Things” if anyone is looking for one) of all the “grown up” choices I need to make. Because I’m constantly tempted to opt for the childish decision, I’m trying to actively do the opposite. I’m going to tackle them by breaking them down into small, achievable tasks. Bear with me.

Floordrobe… or hang it up?

Laundry later… or laundry now?

Keep playing videogames… or go for a run?

Continue being scared and anxious about workload and ignore emails like they don’t exist… check, flag, and respond to emails now?

Ice cream for dinner… or ice cream for dinner? (No one’s perfect)

Then the slightly harder/more arduous ones:

Sort out household paperwork properly (HUGE job).

Make sure the contents insurance is thorough.

Then there’s some that are right up there on the difficulty level. Hardcore mode. Things I’ll only ever really get one good shot at — permadeath options:

Sort out my will.

Ask the people I know would do an amazing job raising my kids if they would be willing to look after them if my husband and I died.

Write back to my birthmother.

These ones are really hard. Sometimes I use that hardness to force perspective into the non-hard ones and tell myself to grow up and do the washing. But most of the time they just make me whimper and give me hot tears behind my eyes.

I’m not going to make a habit of just opening a vein and spilling out red feelings all over the page, in this blog. But at times when you’re on your journey of self-care some things are going to be Big Things, and some things are little lifehacks and cool reminders to be kind to yourself. This is one of the Big Things. An Everest. Once I write that letter, a weight will be lifted from me that I’m not sure I even comprehend the size of, yet. This isn’t about gushing or complaining about A Sad Thing in my life. This is about getting all the shit done that I need to get done so I can look after myself and be a better human. Sometimes you gotta unpack some shit. (I don’t know why I feel the need to have a disclaimer about over-sharing but there it is. If it makes you uncomfortable I can assure you it feels worse from over here. Very vulnerable indeed)

I’m a writer by trade. I wrangle unruly words into certain orders that please some people enough for them to give me money in exchange for this service. Despite that sentence just now! Amazing, no? My syntax and grammar and breadth of vocabulary and hodge-podge structure and run-on sentences and those god damned em and en dashes all need work. But I’m totally at peace with that. A woman’s not a robot. I’m learning.

You’d think then, that because words can flow from my fingers quite easily sometimes, that I’d be able to write lovely letters filled with loveattacks and pretty prose and articulation not seen since… I don’t know what. But I have written draft after draft of that letter since I was 14. Her letter has been needing a reply for 15 years. That’s now longer than how long I was alive before reading it. I don’t want to say it’s “haunted” me, but it’s the less scary version of that. It’s just always been there, in the back of my mind.

14 sucks at the best of times, and I was going through some stuff on top of that. Looking back, I don’t think I was mature enough to deal with reading the letter right then.

Not sure if I even am now, really.

Earlier this month I saw “Philomena” with my husband, for our 7th wedding anniversary date night. We had a yummy steak dinner and then because I’m an idiot thought that movie looked like it would skewer my heart in that perfect way to make a date night really fun be interesting. It’s based on the true story of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who found herself pregnant as a teen and given to a nun-lead workhouse, where she was forced to work to pay for her board, and her child was forcibly removed from her and given up for adoption. Naturally I cried the whole way through, even at the parts where I was gushing over how amazing Judy Dench’s performance was. Philomena was going on her journey to find her son, and “just wanted to know if he thought about [her]”. Her request was simple to answer. It was binary, even. Yes, or no. It made me reflect; maybe I was over-thinking this whole letter writing business. (15 years is a long time to think, after all) Maybe she just wanted to know she made a good choice and that I’m okay. Maybe she just wanted to know if I hate her.

I know my birthmother thinks about me every day, she said so in her letter. I was born by caesarian section (breech, still don’t like getting out of bed) and she says every time she sees her scar she thinks of how I’m doing. She gets moody on my birthday and her husband (not my biological father) knows she needs to be left alone. I think of her when I see adoption in the news, or Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness, or hear people talking about scuba diving, or the suburb of Frankston.

If I was feeling particularly histrionic I might be tempted to say “MY SCAR ISN’T ON THE OUTSIDE”, swish my cape, apply the back of my hand to my forehead and fall on the nearest chaise lounge, but I honestly don’t feel scarred. I feel lucky. I have no ill-will towards her in the slightest. I’m not putting off this letter because I have feelings I can’t explain, it’s because I can’t explain my feelings. That’s not the same thing. The letter has contained such literary gems as “Thanks for not having an abortion, I guess?” to “I’m pro-choice, I hope that’s okay”, to “I’m really sorry this happened to you”. There’s no right way to say any of what I feel like saying, but maybe I just have to pare it back, and keep it simple. Maybe she just wanted to know if I thought of her. Maybe she doesn’t need to know my entire life story.

So with that knowledge in hand, this is the year I’m going to write that god damned letter I’ve been trying to write for 15 years. I’m going to do it by whittling it down to simple achievable tasks. Yes, I think about her. No, I have no ill will. Yes, I admire what she did. Yes, I am thankful. A short paragraph each, and perhaps at the end a nice little self-indulgent paragraph about what my life looks like now. Maybe I don’t need to sit staring at a blank page thinking “How do I say everything I’ve ever experienced is thanks to you so cheers n stuff?”

Maybe if I break it down into little pieces, I’ll have less chance of breaking down myself! I’ll keep you updated about when I finish it. But in the meantime, bite your bullets. It’s going to feel really good and maybe we can do it together.

Getting strong (enough to ignore stuff)

(Trigger Warnings are common things in my online circles but if you’re not familiar with them, they’re little signposts that let people know the following text contains things that may have the potential to upset people or trigger some of their own personal issues or traumatic experiences. I want to tread lightly on this blog and don’t want to hurt anyone, so when you see these, please take heed! I’ll also tag the posts so you can easily avoid any certain topics that are triggering for you. So with that said…)

***Trigger Warning: This post mentions body image issues, body modification, plastic surgery, birth trauma, pregnancy, and fitness talk. It may be triggering to people with body image and/or eating disorders.***

So, having kids broke me.

That’s a pretty intense sentence to start with, let’s try again.

So, having kids broke me.

Hrm. Well then.

I guess that’s the only way it’s going to come out. I’m not a good pregnant person. Proof of that is the fact I currently have a 4.5cm separation of the abdominal muscles due to having my 2 sons. It’s called “diastasis recti”. The muscles separate in every pregnancy, but are supposed to go back together afterward, mine didn’t. Part of my physical self-care is fixing this problem, and I’m all for that, but I didn’t expect it to abut my feminism and rub up against my newly blooming body acceptance.

I don’t feel strong anymore. My core is shot and my back is sore because my front is literally not pulling its weight. I get random sharp stabby pains, dull aches, and wear an abdominal brace to prevent possible herniation. 20 years ago, phrases like “she just wasn’t the same after having kids” would be used to describe me. These days, we get advised to have abdominoplasty. I thought it would be a simple keyhole procedure, but a full “tummy tuck” is the standard prescribed method for fixing my problem. When I asked whether it was really necessary and my surgeon replied very much in the affirmative, my face fell. I was gutted (Oh STOP you’re awful! I’m all vulnerable, don’t).

Or at least I was about to be! (okay you got me, I couldn’t stop myself)

diastasis

I wasn’t expecting this news to irritate my feminism as much as it did. Getting support has been tricky. There’s an online forum full of women (and men) getting the same procedure as me, but only 2 for “medical reasons”, the rest are cosmetic decisions. I don’t judge people at all for wanting to modify their bodies, but when you start down that self-acceptance road, seeing the things you used to say and think seems boorishly obvious in its silliness. Almost farcical. I can’t quite explain it, but I guess I could draw parallels to the shit I used to say distancing myself from the term feminist. I was a “humanist”, god bless my little cotton socks. So original. Much fresh.

I don’t mean to make it sound like I’m some amazingly enlightened person, but it would be a complete lie not to admit that there’s a lot of self-loathing on those forums, and it took me beginning to wean myself off mine to really see it clearly. I’m finding it do-able to find the support I need and blocking out all the other stuff, but I tell you it’s really hard. There’s a girl who is 16 and desperate for a boob job for her birthday. There’s a whole forum section on Labiaplasty. Shit like that sends my feminist spider senses tingling. I had to find a way to be around it all when I really didn’t want to be around any of it.

In the spirit of self-care, I’ve had to do 2 things. Get over the fact this surgery is needed and good for me and will make me strong and strong is good; and ignore what other people think. A two-pronged self-care attack!

“I don’t want this procedure! Look at all the people that have this done! They’re not like me at all!” is not a healthy outlook. Plus it’s super judgey and mean. If I broke my leg I wouldn’t think twice about getting it set professionally and this is what’s happening to my abdominal muscles. Yes, some people are going to think it’s bad that I’m getting it done. But that’s their stuff. The occasional raised eyebrow at the term “tummy tuck”, “mummy tuck” or “anything-o-plasty” is going to come, and I’m much more ready for it now than I was.

Learning to mentally compartmentalise it into “Okay, that’s your stuff, and I’m just gonna leave that for you to deal with, while I’m over here tending to my stuff” is going to be essential to me. Whether it’s learning to block out the body-hatred found in these online support forums, or learning to block out the “your body is your perfect goddess you shouldn’t mess with it” from outside those circles.

Right now, I have to fix my broken body, so I can be strong again. I want to roll around the floor with my kids without worrying about pain. I want to pick them up without bracing like I’m that sticker on a box bending with the knees. I want those things more than I want people to always say what I want to hear. So my priority is getting well, and everything else can suck it.

This self-care thing is going pretty well so far with phrases like that, I think.

 

 

 

(PS: I’m really scared…)

She gave us buckets

I was going to make my first post about “making the grown up decisions” but I think it’ll be a long running thing throughout each post really, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this one.

My son started school last week, and (luckily) for him it wasn’t an emotional time at all. I cried. He didn’t see me cry, but I did. I had my sunglasses on with the hopes of hiding it, but after he walked into his classroom in a line of tiny school-hatted pairs holding hands, my shoulders or breathing must have given me away. I was held by another mother in that way that you can only be hugged when someone knows exactly how you’re feeling and what you need. It was very kind of her.

After a week and a half of school, I’m seeing the effect his amazing teacher (we’ll call her Miss Jenkins) is having on him already. His vocabulary is improving. He’s getting better at describing his day. At daycare I would ask him what he did that day, and he’d reply “played a lot”. At kinder I was hoping because it had more structure that he’d have more to tell me about what he did that day, but no. He “played a lot” there too. He’s telling me what classes he had now and who he played with, and what parts of his lunch were “uh-may-zing”.

But my favourite part is hearing the little sayings he’s repeating from his teacher. “Don’t just say no, give it a go!” is one of them. It’s one I think he is benefitting from already as he is a pretty hesitant kid unless he knows exactly what is expected of him and how to achieve it. He’s not a “learn by doing” kid, he likes rules and structure. If I put a bunch of art supplies in front of him, he asks me what he’s supposed to make. If I say “anything”, he just stares at it until I give him ideas. Whether this is an ingrained part of his personality or just an age thing time will tell. His kinder report adorably described this as “a restrained enthusiasm”.

 buckets

One of these sayings struck a chord immediately. I feel like a whole new method of communicating with my son has opened up, and a new way of treating communication with my family and friends in general. Hell, even self-care.

Him: “It fills my bucket when you say that”

Me: “Sorry? What’s your bucket?”

Him: “When you say nice things to people it fills their bucket up, and Miss Jenkins says we should try and make sure people never have an empty bucket because it means they’re really sad”

In a week and a half she’s given my son the ability to communicate when he’s sad (his bucket is empty) and needs some attention in a really clear and observable way. It’s also helped when teaching him empathy (“we should feel sad for people with empty buckets and try and help them fill them”), and kindness (“do you want to be a bucket-filler or a bucket-emptier?”) and when I’m exasperated and need some time alone I can communicate to him very easily the status of my bucket. I love it, and I love her.

The bucket is the perfect metaphor for self-care. Self-care is filling your own bucket periodically so you don’t end up empty. This year I’m focusing on filling my bucket with emotional energy, so I can do all the things I want/need to do without it being ultimately bad for me.

I’m going to fill my own bucket once a day. Sure, having others fill it is nice, but I don’t think it would be wise to rely on others to fill it. I’m also going to fill my loved ones buckets at least once a day, too. Taking it out of the abstract and into this specific metaphor could perhaps be considered oversimplification, but some of the best coping mechanisms and CBT strategies are the ones that look deceptively easy. They seem so simple. Which is why it’s easy to pull them out when you need them immediately.

I feel calm about school, calm about his emotional maturity, and a bit calmer about my own, and I’ve thanked Miss Jenkins for giving us our buckets. It’s been an unexpectedly tremendous present.

Try being a bucket-filler today, but start with your own.

2014: The Year of Self-Care

I’m not very good at being good to myself, and I want to change that. I’d like to think I’m a good friend, a good partner, and a good mother (most of the time), but to myself, I’m not very kind. (See? It’s so deeply ingrained to self-depricate that I couldn’t handle not putting “most of the time” after good mother.) There’s all these left-brain hip checks going on and double takes and “Ohhh maybe I shouldn’t”s going on in my mind that in reality aren’t healthy. They aren’t a good model of having a good relationship with yourself. I want to nip this in the bud before my kids pick it up, because it’s really hard and it’s something I’ve been sucking at quite well during my almost-29 years (see? check me out being nice to myself already! I sucked really well!). I need to get this inner monologue in check. For them but mostly for me. Self-loathing isn’t cool, it isn’t “a writer’s thing”, it’s just something that people to do themselves that is pretty unacceptable, that oddly, society accepts. Sometimes even demands.

After the Year of Luigi passed us by, I jokingly called 2014 The Year of Self Care on twitter, and had quite a few people saying they were thinking the same thing and were going to be kinder to themselves this year, or be more sparing with their emotional energies, or not let things get to them as much. So I thought I’d share my journey and encourage others to do the same, maybe we can be very cheap therapy for each other. I have a surgery coming up this year, I’m done having babies (despite them being the two prettiest children in existence ever forever), and I’m kind of ready to focus on getting all this *points all over body* sorted out.

My dearest friend KP — a true soul sister to me — has been calling me on my bullshit from the day we met, and I adore her (even more) for it. The phrase “Hey, don’t talk shit about my friend” became a staple, and I found myself saying it to other friends when I saw them being unkind to themselves (usually followed by “or I’ll snap ya”, when I said it, as humour breaks through awkwardness and awkwardness is like the worst thing that can ever happen to anyone, right? *sarcasm font*). Eventually this evolved to A Sit Down And A Chat whereby KP would tell me “You would never say those things about other people, so why say them about yourself?”. That’s a sentence that when uttered by a loved one — someone you know really loves you — really gets under your skin.

I would never say someone was stupid for not having a degree, I would never even DREAM of it. Yet I was saying it to myself constantly, I was beating myself up and feeling really inferior to a lot of VERY clever very academic friends. I would sit down to write and beat myself up, constantly. Lots of this, from this. Imposter syndrome can manifest into crippling doubt and self-hatred very easily. Being an emerging writer I still have no idea how anything works or even how I work, so everything feels really haphazard and like I’m pasting bits of things together all the time, which easily lends itself to being confident you have it all wrong. Each week I’m slowly realising that even people who have seen great successes and are tremendously happy sometimes feel this way. It’s all how you deal with your shit.

novaturient

During my efforts to Actively Try And Be A Better Human, I’ve recently started giving more fucks and trying to be more socially aware. The more I explored intersectionality, privilege, class, power systems, and feminism — the more attuned to other people’s struggles I became — being mean to myself started to make less and less sense. How could I treat others with respect and think so poorly of myself? Keeping tabs on my privileges and being aware of other people’s lived experiences and how they intersect — and differ — with my own made me realise that self-loathing isn’t just hurting me, it’s hurting other people too. Not just the people that love me, but when I let my loathing go unchecked I can unconsciously trigger others. If I want to be a better person that involves treading lightly where needed, and one of those places I need to work on going gently is in regards to myself. Hating myself and then trying to make interesting stuff that I love just doesn’t feel sustainable to me.

SO, I’ve put this together. Here I’ll explore many things that aren’t good for me, how I avoid them, how I frame them mentally in a way that is useful for my own self-care and preservation, and work on where I direct my energies. My notes flew out of my fingers when I was thinking of things to nut out in this pretty vulnerable public place. Including not baulking or second guessing whether you’re worth something (I cringed at the title of this very blog, and that’s when I knew it was perfect. It’s meant to be an homage to Something For Kate (very special to me), but I was instantly worried how self-centered or egoist it looked to call it Something For Leena. Then I snapped out of it and realised it’s a fucking blog about my brain maybe it’s allowed to have some me in it.), and things like Making The Grown Up Choice, what to do about toxicity in your life (both online and off), letting things go, and being cool with being honest and vulnerable with people.

I’m scared and nervous, letting people into this process, but I don’t think people talk about their own personal coping mechanisms enough. Working through my stuff is something I want to get better at, and who knows, maybe people will help me with that along the way if I let them in. So feel free to comment and share how you cope with things, how you stop yourself when your inner monologue is a total dickhead, or even about your CBT or meditation techniques. My first blog post (this one doesn’t count) will be about making mature choices versus childish ones, because right now the washing needs to be put out and I’m procrastinating which (spoilers!) IS NOT the mature decision and only ends up making life shittier later. I’ll try my best to use tags efficiently so you can avoid any possible triggers, especially regarding body modification and body image, but I’ll also put the appropriate warnings at the start of each post if I think there’s going to be content that may not be good for some people. It’s probably going to get quite hairy sometimes in terms of talking about difficult things, as this is me working through my shit, but I promise to make it easy to avoid the things you don’t want to read. Oh, um, but there will be swears. Sorry.

In short, I’m skrrd but maybe this will be good for both of us?